Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipsed In Time

Eclipsed In Time
Mark A Davis
822

"Are we sure this is legal?" asked The Split Second -- a young girl in red spandex with mouse-brown hair and glasses.

"Legal Schmegal," Grandpa Anarchy replied.  The world's oldest hero wore a rumpled gray suit with a silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  "When it comes to fighting a villain, you do whatever you need to.  This is how it was done in the comic.  Besides, there are no laws about committing crimes in the past."

It was June 20, 1955.  Grandpa and his sidekick The Split Second, plus a collection of former and future sidekicks including Wayback Boy, Kid Continuity, Magical Midriff, Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl, Boy Gravity, You Go Girl, Magical Mimic Cosplay Girl, Quantum Uncertainty Boy, and Suck It Up Buttercup, were all gathered on a hill in the Philippines.  It was a bright day, with the sun high overhead -- as well as a near-invisible moon.  The calls of lemurs and cockatoos echoed from the rainforest.

Nearby, a shadow creature writhed and howled.  Its voice was like that of wind through a canyon.  It was humanoid, as if the shape of a man had been cut from reality, and it appered to be pinned to the ground.  Boy Gravity -- looking for all the world like an exceptionally well-dressed girl in a white silk blouse and pink courderoy skirt -- had a look of intense concentration.  He stared at the creature, his manicured hands raised skyward.

"My Precious!" exclaimed Wayback Boy in a contorted, wheedling voice.  Wayback Boy was a young man dressed in World War I flight leathers, with a strange machine strapped to his back.  Grandpa stared at him.  "You said Smeagol," Wayback Boy added.  As Grandpa continued to stare uncomprehending, Wayback added, "Oh, never mind."

Grandpa shrugged.   "According to Wayback Boy here," he said, "this day in 1955 is the longest solar eclipse since the 11th century -- and according to Kid Continuity," he nodded to a woman in a white spandex outfit with a sort of squared-off geometric knot on the chest.  "This creature of the void is a thing I fought in the Grandpa Anarchy comics, and it can only be defeated by a total eclipse of the sun...."

"It's called the Shadow of Evil," said Kid Continuity.  "World of Anarchy issue 102.  Cloned from the shadow of Carnival Act himself using a Heart of Darkness replicating machine."  As several hands shot up, she sighed and added, "It's a comic, it doesn't have to make sense."

"Is this going to actually work?" asked Manic Pixy Dreamgirl -- a young woman in a rainbow-hued crop top and mini skirt and rainbow-colored pigtails.

"We'll know any minute now," Grandpa replied.

The sky grew dark.  A shadow was eating the sun.  The shadow creature screamed in pain and terror, its voice like the combined cries of eleven million holocaust victims echoing through time.  Shivers went down the spines of those gathered as the creature thrashed and howled.  The screams intensified as the eclipse neared total darkness.  They could barely see the shadow creature at all now, but it appeared to be coming apart, bits of it tearing away and drifting out into the night.  Slowly the screams faded to just a murmur, and then to silence.

After a few minutes, the sky grew light again.  Soon they were once again standing in bright daylight.  They heard the sounds of the rainforest and felt a breeze as it rustled the grass and trees.  The shadow creature was nowhere to be seen.

"It's gone," said Suck It Up Buttercup -- a young black girl dressed in yellow leathers, jacket and fingerless gloves.

"Well," said Kid Continuity, "apparently Joseph Zuzarte knew what he was writing about."  She turned to Wayback Boy.  "Our work here is done.  Shall we head home?"


  Several minutes later, the collection of costumed heroes were back in the Anarchy Mansion in Frosthaven, NJ, and back in what they considered the present.  They were celebrating.  Grandpa Anarchy was making strawberry pancakes for everyone when there was a knock at the door.

Grandpa answered.  A humanoid lion stood on the porch, flanked by a gray alien with bulbous eyes and a humanoid cockroach.  All three wore uniforms of blue and black that seemed vaguely police-like, although clearly not from any precinct on earth.  Behind them floated a blue ball of pulsing light.

"Theodore Harold "Paul" Smith, known colloquially as Grandpa Anarchy?" asked the lion.  "My name is Sargent Kosay, and these are Officers Hanzel Selenite, Neostylopyga Rhombifolia and XHEZHANXTLAN."  He indicated the gray, the cockroach, and the ball of light in turn.

The ball of light pulsed.  "CALL ME OFFICER XHEZ," it said.

"We're from the Eieio (pronounced EE-Yow) Empire Galactic Federation Police, Zendeth Sector, Precinct 27345A.  We have some questions regarding the death of a sentient being known as Szillsshallsh.  I understand on your planet it may have been referred to as the Shadow of Evil...."

FINI

Superpowered Self Defense

Superpowered Self Defense
Mark A Davis
180

"When your opponent has super powers or special abilities, that don't mean they automatically trump you in combat," said Grandpa Anarchy.  The world's oldest superhero was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with an anarchy symbol stitched in silver over the left breast.  "Now, pay attention!  Super speed doesn't make you a better fighter." He beckoned to his current sidekick, a young girl in a red spandex outfit named the Split Second.  She had mousy brown hair and glasses.  "Come at me, girl," he said.  "As fast as you want."

A handful of other young people in brightly-colored costumes were gathered in a large semi-circle around the two, in an open area of the Anarchy Cave, located deep below the Anarchy mansion.  Former sidekicks Magical Midriff, You Go Girl, Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl, and Boy Gravity were here, as were several younger people who had not yet had the pleasure of being Grandpa's sidekick.

The Split Second licked her lips nervously.  "You sure?" she asked.  "I'm a lot faster than you.  I'm one of the fastest humans alive."

"I'm sure," Grandpa said.

"Okay," the girl replied.  "But Imma cut you so low, you can milk a pregnant snake!"  The girl struck.

Her movements were a blur, too fast for the eye to track -- but surprisingly, she wound up on the floor of the cave with Grandpa on top of her, pinning one arm behind her back.

"Now," said Grandpa, "given that I can't move even a hundredth as fast as Split Second here, anyone want to explain how I took her out?"

After a moment, Boy Gravity -- who appeared to be a nicely-dressed young woman -- raised his hand.  "You anticipated her moves," he said.  "There's really no other way."

"He could have used magic to temporarily boost his speed," said You Go Girl, "but I would know if he had."

"Correct," Grandpa replied.  "When someone has a superpowered advantage over you, do anything you can to counter it.  Even the odds.  If they're super-fast, then think five steps ahead.  Just being fast doesn't mean she can out-think me.  If they're super-strong, then try to beat them with finesse.  Lots of powerful fighters never learn technique because they don't have to.  Oh, and by the way -- just because Split Second is fast, doesn't mean she can punch me any harder than a normal human.  Not unless she wants to shatter her own fist.

"Here at Grandpa Anarchy's School of Superpowered Fisticuffs, our goal is to teach you how to fight with beings more powerful than you are.  Although in some cases...." -- he paused to glare at You Go Girl and Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl -- "you're rather unlikely to find any opponents more powerful than you are."  He gestured to Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl.  "Your turn, Dreamgirl."

The young woman with the rainbow-hued crop top and miniskirt, and thigh-high boots, and rainbow-colored pigtails stepped forward.  A moaning sound echoed throughout the cave.  Grandpa frowned.  "Wind sure makes strange noises when it blows through here," he muttered.  "That almost sounds like...."  He paused, then shook his head.  "Nevertheless!  When I say go, I want you to try and hit me -- as hard as you like."

"I can punch you into next Tuesday," Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl said.

"You can try," Grandpa agreed.  "But don't underestimate me.  Hubris can get you killed."

Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl launched herself at Grandpa.  He ducked her punch.  A telescoping baton appeared in his hand, and he swung it into her knee.  Everyone winced -- the impact was loud.  Ignoring it completely, Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl grabbed Grandpa by the collar and flung him across the room, where he collided with a dusty exoskeleton, which looked like it had been built in the sixties.

Grandpa groaned.  He stood up.  "Now, there," he said, "was a perfect example.  I used a hidden weapon to try and even the odds -- and it would have worked, if only Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl weren't invulnerable.  Basically, in a fight with someone who's invulnerable, you're screwed."

"I'm nigh invulnerable," Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl interjected.  "It's kind of how they say it in superhero circles."

"Yes, that," Grandpa replied.  "Point is, she's much stronger than me, so she had a serious advantage in a fight.  It's my job to try and even the odds a little.  Strength alone does not trump someone who really knows how to fight."

"Why not just pull a gun on her?" asked Boy Gravity.

"Bullets bounce off me," said Dreamgirl.

The Split Second's eyes narrowed.  "Oh, I got something that would work...." she muttered.

There was another moan -- louder this time.  It was a howl of pain, a cry from a deep abyss.  Grandpa frowned.  "I've heard that sound before..." he began.

Behind him a shadow appeared.  It stepped out of the wall like a ghost.  It was a humanoid blackness, as if a man had been cut out of reality -- the void given human form.  It howled like the moan of wind through a deep crevasse, then turned to Grandpa Anarchy.

You Go Girl's eyes grew wide.  She and Split Second took a step back.  "What the hades?" Boy Gravity exclaimed.

"The Shadow of Evil!" Magical Midriff replied.  "It's back!"  She leaped to her feet.

"Ah.  I thought we'd see this thing again," Grandpa muttered.  He produced a pair of black gloves and pulled them on.

"But what is it?" You Go Girl asked.

"A creature from a 1970 Grandpa Anarchy comic book," said Magical Midriff, "Kid Continuity could tell you the exact details.  Somehow it became real.  Grandpa and I fought it months ago.  According to the comic, it can only be destroyed by a total eclipse of the sun or with the aid of friendly shadow creatures.  Anything else that touches it gets sucked into another dimension.  That's what happened to us last time...."

The creature swung an arm at Grandpa.  He ducked, then punched the thing in the head, or where its head should be.  The creature flew across the cave.

"To paraphrase Nietzsche, if you punch the abyss, the abyss also punches you," said Grandpa.  He held up his fists.  The gloves on his hands weren't just black -- they were the darkness of the void between the stars.  "The trick is landing a punch on a walking void.  Like I said, when an enemy has an advantage over you, find a way to neutralize it.  Think ahead.  Also, it helps to be friends with the Supreme Sorcerer of Earth, and to place an order for something like these Gloves of the Void."  Grandpa cracked his knuckles as the shadow creature got to its feet.  "Pay attention --  I'm going to show you a way of interacting with the void that Nietzsche never considered...."

The creature collapsed to the floor.  It was nearly flat -- as if an invisible force were crushing it.  It howled in anger and pain.

"Or," said Boy Gravity, stepping forward, "You could just ask someone who doesn't need to touch the creature in order to subdue it."  He held up manicured hands.  "Powers over gravity, remember?"

FINI

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Games People Play

Games People Play
Mark A Davis
271

The sky was flat.  No sun was visible, nor clouds, just a flat expanse of blue like that from a paint brush -- it had that unreal quality.  Beneath this was the jungle, and the wide path through it, paved with squares of alternating green and white marble.  On either side the dense, impenetrable foilage barred travel in any direction save forwards or backwards.  There was something else odd about the path -- each square was numbered.  The heroes were on square 62.  One square ahead, on square 63, stood the giant snake.

It towered over them like a serpent of legend -- a great Naga of Hindu mythology, or a Jörmungandr of Norse tales.  Its scales flashed blue and green and gold.  It glared with half-lidded yellow eyes and hissed, its tongue flickering in and out.  A musky, cloying odor hung in the air.

Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, punched the snake in the underbelly.  He was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver Anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  Unsurprisingly his punches had little effect.  However, his companion Sun Wukong the Monkey King delivered stiffer blows with the end of his giant staff, Ruyi Jingu Bang -- a gold-banded black staff that would shrink or grow per the whims of its master.  He drove it into the serpent's neck.  The snake hissed in anger.

Sun Wukong wore black silk pants and a loose top of green and gold.  Overhead flew their two companions -- the Bronze Beach Bum on his flying surfboard, looking like a California surfer dude cast in bronze.  Clinging to the back of the surfboard was Grandpa's current sidekick, a boy in brown spandex with a brown paper bag over his head with eye holes.  He called himself the Unknown Sidekick.

"Dnyaneshwar was an important poet, philosopher, saint and yogi in 13th century India," Sun Wukong said.  He spun the staff around and, swinging in a wide arc, slammed it over the giant snake's head.  "I never met him -- he only lived to the age of 21.  But his Dnyashwari is a vital piece of writing in the Marathi language -- a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita that is praised for its aesthetic and scholarly value."

"All very interesting, I'm sure," said Grandpa, not sounding the least bit interested.  Grandpa Anarchy slammed his fist repeatedly into the giant serpent's side.  "So this is the guy that invented Chutes and Ladders?"

"No, Grandpa, Chutes and Ladders is a game marketed by Milton Bradley from the 1940's," the Unknown Sidekick called out.  "I'm only sixteen and even I know that!"

"Yes, but that game is based on Snakes and Ladders," said SunWukong, "which is the English name given to the ancient game which Dnyaneshwar created.  It's known variously as Moksha Patam, or Parama Padam, or Mokshapat, or several other names.  The game is designed to teach Hindu philosophy to children.  The ladders represent virtues and the snakes are vices, which result in a lower reincarnation."

"Yes, okay," said Grandpa, dodging the snake's next attack.  "Only I don't recall any rule where, when you met a snake, you could avoid sliding back to square one by killing the creature...."

"These worlds we're being sucked into are only based on children's games," Sun Wukong replied.  "We can't expect the rules to match up exactly with this reality.  Incidentally, the phrase back to square one originates from this very game."

"Eat my Bolts of Interstellar Force, Dirtbreath!" yelled the Bronze Beach Bum.  He flew low over the snake, blasting it with bronze-colored beams of cosmic power.

"You'll never know who punched you!" exclaimed the Unknown Hero, leaping from the flying surfboard.  He landed on the snake and peppered it with blows more futile even than those of Grandpa Anarchy.

"The only thing this game teaches you is that everything is random," Grandpa exclaimed.  He leaped onto the giant snake's back; it hissed like a giant tea kettle.  "Good things happen, bad things happen, but it's all at the mercy of the roll of the die.  There's no strategy or skill involved at all.  They might as well have named the game Crap Happens.  At least in the Monopoly world, we could use a bit of strategy!"

The snake writhed, tossing the Unknown Hero aside.  He bounced off the wall of vegetation and onto square 61.  "I'm still mad that all that Monopoly money I made isn't good for anything...." he said.

Grandpa slammed his fists down on the snake's head as hard as he could.  The snake writhed, attempting to shake Grandpa free.  Its mouth opened wide and Sun Wukong sprang forward, placing his staff in the creature's mouth.  Both ends of the magic staff extended, prying the creature's mouth so far open that it threatened to pull the head apart.

"Beach Bum, if you please!" Sun Wukong called out.

"Totally groshing, My Drook!" the Bronze surfer exclaimed.  He swung back around and fired one of his bronze energy blasts straight into the creature's gullet.

The snake thrashed about, emitting a hissing scream.  Grandpa was thrown from it's back.  The other heroes backed away and watched its death throes.  Soon the creature ceased to move.

The four heroes moved forward, guided by die rolls that appeared in the sky above them.  Soon they'd reached the end of the board -- square 100.   They waited on the last square.

"Well, that's that," said Grandpa as the world around them faded to a gray fog.  "What next?  We've scaled the Gumdrop Mountains and rescued King Kandy in Candyland.  We defeated Simon Says, even though he didn't tell us to, and we rescued the Cat in the Cradle from Jack in the Pulpit -- or was it the other way around?  Anyway, how much more of this foolishness have we got?"

"The box did say Twenty Classic Children's Games Box Set," said Sun Wukong.

"The important thing is what it said after that," Grandpa replied.  "The next time someone brings a Jumanji Edition version of any game to poker night, I'm gonna punch 'em in the face!"

The gray fog faded away.  The heroes found themselves in the center of a large stadium.  They were in some kind of giant yellow ring -- like a boxing ring the size of a baseball diamond.  Before them towered a giant robot.  It must have been fifteen feet tall, and appeared to be made of red plastic.

The crowd was screaming.  Words appeared in the air overhead:  Knock His Block Off!

Grandpa Anarchy cracked his knuckles.  "Take it easy, boys," he said.  "I got this one."

FINI

Friday, August 11, 2017

Feeling Wordy

Feeling Wordy
Mark A Davis
270


The library was a large, open building, three stories tall with an open center.  It was dark, lit only by weak moonlight that filtered in through wide windows.  Everywhere tall bookshelves were draped in shadow.  The air was cool -- somewhere an air system hummed.  Like any modern library it was clean and orderly, but there was still a hint of the musty, dusty smell that you always get in the presence of old books.

Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, strode into the center and yelled, "Literate Lemur!  I know you're here!  Show yourself!"

Grandpa was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over his left breast.  Beside him stood his current sidekick, a young black man dressed in red converse hi-tops, a red robe and a red wizard's hat.  He called himself Hexcoder, Adept of Apps.

From high above them a voice called out.  "Tell me, Grandpa, did you follow my clues to the headwaters of my crime spree, or did you simply head for the nearest library as you usually do and just assume you'd find me there?"

Grandpa cracked his knuckles as he peered up into darkness.  "I think you know the answer to that," he said.

"I am sorry to say that I do indeed," the voice replied.   "Do you even care to know which books I am attempting to steal, or why I would want to steal them?"

"Nah," said Grandpa.  "The only book I'm interested in is the Book of Justice."

Hexcoder tapped what looked like a smartphone.  At the same time he exclaimed, "I cast magic missile at the darkness!"  A flash of light lit the room for a moment, revealing the Literate Lemur standing on an upper balcony.  He was a somewhat rotund man dressed in a costume of black and white stripes with a long, striped tail, a masked face and reflective eyes that flashed in the bright light.

"By Librarium!" exclaimed the thief, stumbling back.  "My eyes!  You should provide sufficient warning before you shatter the night with such fireworks!  I believe it was Ursula K. Le Guin who said:  When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.  Thus am I revealed!"

Grandpa was running for the stairs to the second floor.  "You always talk too much, Lemur!" he called out.

"Naturally, as one who loves the literary arts, that would be the case.  As for your supposed Book of Justice -- I must say, there are of course actual books that you might be referring to, but sadly I know that you speak not of any physical book.  Really, any conversation with you is no more rewarding than conversing with a brick wall.  As Marcus Tullius Cicero said:  Silence is one of the great arts of conversation."

Grandpa reached the third floor and charged the villain, who stepped lightly off the balcony and dropped to the top of a bookcase below.  The Literate Lemur carried a satchel that apparently held several books, and carried a large tome in his hands.

"Those books are the property of the city public library!" Grandpa exclaimed.

The Literate Lemur laughed.  "As if any member of the public can appreciate them as I do.  No, books of this stature and age belong to someone like me who will cherish them for what they are."

"Binding Net!" exclaimed Hexcoder as he stabbed his device.  The Lemur leaped into the air, avoiding a net of glowing yellow light that appeared from nowhere.

"You shant catch me so easily, my good lad!" he called out as he disappeared between shelves.  He dodged around a corner, only to find Grandpa Anarchy waiting for him.

Grandpa punched.  The Lemur blocked with his book, then swung it in an arc, striking Grandpa Anarchy in the head.  As Grandpa staggered into a shelf, the villain disappeared again.  He called out, "Did you notice the sound that the book makes when I struck you?  Biblock!  See, that's a word of my own design -- a neologism and an onomatopoeia in one.  Quite clever, no?  I would expect a man as enamored with the Biffs! and Bams! and Pows! of the world as you are would appreciate it.  As the bard once said:  Action is eloquence!"

Grandpa chased the Lemur through the library as they exchanged blows.  His sidekick tried to keep up, and made two more attempts to ensnare the book thief.  The Lemur laughed, and used a grappling hook to suddenly ascend to the ceiling beams.

"You know, Grandpa," he called out, "a battle between us in an old library like this is almost perfect.  Where else would you and I choose to duel?  When I'm in places like this, I feel a profound sense of vellichor.  Do you know what vellichor is?  No, of course you don't -- although I can't really blame you, as the word is another neologism -- that's from the Greek  néo-, meaning new, and lógos, meaning speech or utterance, in case you didn't know.  Vellichor was coined by John Koenig ins 2013 in his remarkable online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.  I am normally not a fan of online media but an actual book is said to be forthcoming and to be honest I find his work fascinating and worthy of attention.

"The word means the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time -- filled with thousands of old books you'll never have the time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and gagged and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured."

As the thief talked, Grandpa and Hexcoder had once again run up the stairs to the third floor.  Grandpa climbed atop a bookshelf and leaped for the rafters.  He scrambled onto a steel beam and ran the length of it, charging towards the Literate Lemur.

"Quite a lot to take in!" exclaimed the Lemur as he dodged Grandpa's first punch.  The two exchanged blows as he continued to talk.  "But I find this word perfectly describes my own feelings when entering an old bookstore or library.  A feeling of melancholy that comes over any lover of books when in the presence of so many old and wonderful tomes -- the smells of old books, the look of such waiting on shelves, the dust of years and the hopes and fears of the death that you will find within them -- these are such things as haunt my dreams, and it is wonderful that a word exists to describe them."

Dodging a kick from Grandpa, the Lemur dove backwards off the beam and fell three stories to the ground floor.  Halfway down he fired another grappling hook and swung to the far side of the library, where he landed before the history section shelves.

"The word is obviously from the Latin vellum, meaning fine parchment, and quite possibly borrows an ending from petrichor, meaning the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of dry, warm weather," said the Lemur.  "In short, it's a perfectly cromulent word.  Another that I'm feeling at this moment is kuebiko -- a state of exhaustion brought on by many acts of senseless violence."

"Never felt that," Grandpa said as he raced back down the stairs.  "But I got one for ya.  What is a word for the feeling of wanting to punch someone in the mouth?"

"I'm pretty sure that is simple anger," the Literate Lemur replied.

"No," said Grandpa Anarchy, "it's not anger.  My motivation is justice -- the desire to bring about justice through violence."

Grandpa was on the second floor now.  He leaped from the balcony to the top of a bookshelf, which shook when he landed.  His sidekick was right behind him, magical app device in hand.  They hopped down and charged the Lemur, who stood in the same spot, apparently unconcerned.

"Ah," said the Lemur.  "I do not believe such a word exists.  But if I were to consider for a moment -- justice is from Latin, but the Old English equivalent is probably rehtwisnisse, or right witness, which is akin to righteousness -- although technically that derives from righteous, which is made up of the words right and wise.  Yearning is Old English as well -- actually they believe it's Proto-Indo-European, the word gher, to like or want.  Likewise fyst is an Old English word derived from Proto-Indo-European penke, meaning five."

The floor opened beneath Grandpa and his sidekick.  They fell into a narrow pit with smooth sides.  The Lemur appeared at the lip, staring down at them.

"I'm no expert in conjugating Old English," he added, "to say nothing of Proto-Indo-Europrean, but I think a word like yearpenkewise or 'yearning for a wise fist' should do nicely.  There you have it:  yearpenkewise, a new word to describe the longing or desire to punch someone for the sake of delivering justice!

"Sadly, you must continue yearning, Grandpa -- for once again you fall into my trap, and I shall make my escape with my stolen goods.  You know, if you only read the clues and solve my riddles you might have avoided this.  I suspect what you are feeling right now is a  profound sense of énouement -- that is, the bittersweet feeling of having met the future but being unable to warn your past self about it."

A shadow appeared behind the Lemur.  "Nah," said Grandpa Anarchy.  "I've never felt that."  The shadow grasped the thief by the shoulder and spun him about.  The Literate Lemur found himself face to face with Grandpa Anarchy.

"What?" exclaimed the villain.  "But... how...?"

"I'm Grandpa Anarchy from the future," the second replied, "here to warn myself about a terrorist bombing in downtown New York.  But I got a moment to deal with you too.  Yearpenkewise this!"

He punched the Literate Lemur in the face.  The villain staggered backwards.  He mumbled, "That... is an improper use of the word," and collapsed into oblivion.

FINI

Friday, August 4, 2017

My Clone Sleeps Alone

My Clone Sleeps Alone
Mark A Davis
269

It was an oval room, like the inside of a squashed balloon.  Smooth white walls curved in a seamless line from floor to the ceiling, broken only by two round windows of thick glass that looked out onto darkness.  Dim lights illuminated the space, within which were shadowy table surfaces and couches and little else, save a spiral staircase descending into the floor.  All was quiet.  It was like a space station, but through the portals no stars were visible.

Sudden shadows swirled at the center of the room, and a portal into another place appeared -- a place of fire and explosions.  Six people jumped through -- one carrying a seventh.  Leading them was a tall man dressed all in black and with the bearing of one in charge.  He had black hair and a black beard, dark glasses and a black cape that billowed about.  Blood flowed from a cut on his cheek.

He spun about and extended a hand.  "FULMINIS!" he exclaimed.  Lightning flashed from his open palm and through the portal.

As the others poured through he yelled, "Quickly!  Hurry!"  Moments later the portal swirled shut and the shadows vanished.

"Dark Dr. Dark, what in Hades were they trying to summon?" asked a teenage woman in green and white power armor.  The suit was scratched and battered, but a circuit board pattern could be seen, with a kind of armored skirt and lower legs that resembled go go boots.  Across the chest were the words "Circuit Girl" in white letters outlined in dark green.  "Those glowing eyes gave me the creeps...!"

"A demonic entity named Weidachin," the sorcerer replied.  "He is a very powerful creature, fond of animating corpses, with whom I have tangled with before.  Though I had not been made aware previous to tonight that Agamemnon and the Stellar Council were likely to seek demonic aid...."

"Perseus and Andromeda escaped," said Circuit Girl.  "We'll need to track them down."

"Yes," replied Dark Dr. Dark.  "The Stellar Council have grown in strength over the last few years.  I fear we must consider them a major adversary from this point forward...."

"Forgive me, but is now the time to discuss this?"  The woman speaking was young and black, with cornrow braids and a spandex outfit that was part Nun habit, part star-spangled superhero spandex by way of Parliment or Funkadelic.  Her costume was also torn in several places.  "Grandpa Anarchy is dead!"

Dark Dr. Dark raised an eyebrow.  "Have no worry, Sister Fryer," he said.  "This is nothing which we have not encountered before.  That is precisely why I brought us here."

He glanced at another young girl, barely a teen, dressed in blue and black spandex that was ripped and torn.  She was tall and slender and was carrying the body of Grandpa Anarchy, dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol over the left breast.  Blood soaked the front of his shirt.

"Unpossible Girl," he said, gesturing to a table.  "Set the body down there."

Circuit Girl removed her helmet.  "And where is here exactly?  Space?"

The last two women in the group had their names emblazoned on their chests just as Circuit Girl did.  The first was Geothermal Jenny, a woman in her mid twenties with dark skin and dark brown hair tied back in a long braid.  She wore a badly-damaged suit of red and white power armor similar to Circuit Girl's, but minus the skirt or go go boots.

The second was Girlbot 9000, who looked at first like another armored heroine, but on second glance was missing an arm and was obviously a robot.  She was short -- under five feet tall.

"We're still on earth," said Geothermal Jenny.  "I'm reading coordinates somewhere east of Guam...."  She glanced back at the thick windows, and her eyes narrowed.  She walked towards them.  "That would place us near the Mariana Trench?"

Dark Dr. Dark nodded curtly.  Girlbot 9000 said, "You built a secret base in the Mariana Trench?  Are you insane?"

"Oh my, no!" exclaimed Dark Dr. Dark.  "That would be quite impossible!  We're barely 2,000 meters below the surface -- only halfway to the abyssopelagic zone, which you'd need to pass through before you'd reach even the lip of the trench itself."

Geothermal Jenny's eyes crossed.  "Forgive me, sorcerer, but 2,000 meters below the surface of the ocean is still over 200 atmospheres of pressure!"

"Yes," said Dark Dr. Dark.  "On the outside of this base, certainly.  But do not worry, it's very well built and protected by powerful spells...."

"That's deep into the midnight zone!" Jenny exclaimed.  "No wonder it's dark outside!  Light doesn't penetrate down here.  Why, by Gaia, would you build anything in such hostile conditions?  And more importantly, how did you do it?"

"Miss Jenny, I am the world's foremost sorcerer," said Dark Dr. Dark stiffly.  "Have some faith in my abilities.  I built this place with the aid of the Electric Bluejay and Miss X herself.  The League of Two-Fisted Justice has several such Resurrection Chambers around the globe.  One is located at my Sanctum Sanitorium at the North Pole.  That is Resurrection Station Sanitorium.  Another is located here, beneath the Pacific Ocean, in what is sometimes called the twilight zone.  I therefore call this Resurrection Station Twilight.  It is the most remote and inaccessible base we own -- even more remote than the Sanitorium, or my monastery retreat in Nepal.  When I really want to get away from it all, I come here.

"As for why build a base so deep beneath the ocean?  Can you think of a place more remote and inaccessible?  We do want to keep this base away from our enemies, for it serves a very important purpose.  One has to remember that I confront elder gods and eldritch horrors as a matter of course.  I have enemies the likes of which no normal hero can even envision.  But only a sorcerer as powerful as I can reach this point, and even then, only if they know exactly where to teleport to...."

Dark Dr. Dark paused, for someone was ascending the spiral staircase.  It was a woman in a flowing black robe with a hood that completely hid her features.  Dark Dr. Dark blinked in surprise.  "Oh!  I did not realize someone was already here!" he exclaimed.

"Do not worry, Bartholomew," the woman replied.  "I was just about to leave."  She glanced over the others, then down at the body of Grandpa Anarchy.  "Mr. Anarchy is doing much better," she added.  "Good day."

With a gesture, another swirling portal appeared.  She stepped through and was gone.

"Who was that?  What did she mean by that?" asked Sister Fryer.  "Can't she see that Grandpa's dead!"

"I am sure that she meant he will be better," the sorcerer replied.

"That," said Circuit Girl, "was Miss X?"

"I am not at liberty to say who that was," Dark Dr. Dark replied curtly.  "Come.  The Resurrection Chamber itself is on the lower level."

Most of the group, save Unpossible Girl, followed Dark Dr. Dark down the stairs.  They found themselves in a shadowy room with coffin-sized glass containers on each side.  These were filled with a viscous green liquid, but within each floated a naked human.  The faces were familiar.  Here was Daisy, Warrior Princess, and in the next chamber, Guy Shadow.  Across from them was Dark Dr. Dark himself, with Circuit Girl in the next tube.

Circuit Girl's eyes widened.  "Clones?"  Her voice squeaked.  "These are clones!  One for each member of the League of Two-Fisted Justice!"

"As well as key members of Temporary Superfriends, yes," Dark Dr. Dark replied.  "Permission to clone you is written into your contracts, but I understand if you didn't bother to read through them.  I began growing clones for each new member just after you joined last year."  He paused, looking over the collection of clone vats, and added, "The technology is, of course, patterned after the regeneration vat technology of the Eieio (pronounced Ee-Yow) Empire which is used by their 5-E division and the Society of Intergalactic Space Babes.  We set these up with the aid of our friends Jennie Nova and Llahna the Arellian from Kootah Delphi Seven.  Of course, our system is considerably more crude -- but should any member of our team be slain, I have the power to bring them back to life in short order."

Circuit Girl's eyes narrowed.  "I find it hard to believe that a supergroup which, until I came along, had an empty office in downtown Frosthaven NJ as its headquarters also has several secret and sophisticated bases of this sort hidden around the world.  Does Hearthrob 6000 know anything about this?"

"Your silly boyband computer A.I. is not welcome here," Dark Dr. Dark replied.  "Also, to forestall the next inevitable question -- yes, we have used this process, several times on Grandpa Anarchy, and as a master of the dark arts I can assure you that the resulting clone is always inhabited by Grandpa Anarchy's soul...."

"Wait," said Sister Fryer.  "Why didn't you use this stuff to bring my uncle Deep Fat Fryer back from the dead?"

"Alas," Dark Dr. Dark replied, "the entity known as the Reality Bender saw to it that your uncle's clones were removed.  It was his plan all along for you to replace your uncle, after all, and he is a god, of a sort, and very single-minded."

Dark Dr. Dark paused before an empty glass tube.  He frowned.  "Now, that's odd," he said.  "Grandpa Anarchy's clone appears to be missing.  Only I and Miss -- that is, that other woman whose identity I will not confirm -- have access to this base.  There is no door or gateway in or out."  He stroked his beard.  "The Reality Bender has access too, but she was just here.  But why would she...."

A thump came from the stairs.  The heroes turned.  There stood Grandpa Anarchy.  He had died less than twenty minutes ago, but his skin was gray and putrid.  Bone protruded in places, and his sunken eyes glowed an unearthly green.  He grinned, displaying long, needle-sharp teeth unlike any Grandpa had ever had.

"Weidachin!" Dark Dr. Dark exclaimed.

"I remember you," the creature rasped.  Its voice was like the sighing of the wind, and seemed to emanate from all about them.  "You're that puny sorcerer who has impeded my path to this mortal realm several times now.  I have business with you...."

Dark Dr. Dark began to chant, but the creature raised its hand.  Black energy crackled and shot across the room, stabbing the sorcerer in the chest.  The chant broke off as Dark Dr. Dark screamed in pain.  He fell to his knees.

A naked man leaped from the shadows and shoved something into the undead creature's jaw.  He punched the thing in the face.  There was a hiss and a scream like that of the wind in a storm.  The thing toppled over, its lower face dissolving as smoke spewed forth.

"Holy water," the naked man said.  They saw now that it was Grandpa Anarchy.  "Even against an undead demon like Weidachin, it's effective.  Miss X added some kind of spell to it, too...."

Dark Dr. Dark stood and straightened his clothing.  "Who?" he asked.  He strode forward and began to chant, banishing Weidachin with eldritch spells.

Grandpa rolled his eyes.  "Sorry, my mistake.  I meant that mysterious unnamed woman who will certainly chide you later for leaving my corpse in the upper room.  Now, if it's not any trouble, do you think you could magic me up some spare pants...?"

FINI

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dues Ex Machina

Dues Ex Machina
Mark Allen Davis
268


The custom Aspid GT-21 Invictus 2-door coupé sped down the New York streets.  Barely slowing down, it made a sharp right turn past a robot bunny holding a sign and into the basement parking lot of a twenty-story tower -- the new headquarters of the New League of Two-Fisted Justice.  The car screeched to a halt and Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, leaped out.  He was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the anarchy symbol stitched in silver thread over the left breast -- but there was a tear in his left sleeve and he was bleeding.

He ran for the elevators, banged on the button for several seconds, then turned and ran up the stairs to the first floor.

In the main lobby behind a desk sat Boy Secretary.  Today the muscular young man wore a creme blouse with leg-o-mutton sleeves and a dark  tweed skirt and jacket.    He had a neatly-trimmed beard and long blonde hair in two neat braids.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Anarchy," the secretary said cheerfully and Grandpa rushed towards him.  "And how are you today?"

"Boy Secretary!" Grandpa exclaimed.  "Where's Circuit Girl?"

"She's out," the secretary said.  "Fighting the Amish Assassin in Bolivia."

"Geothermal Jenny?" Grandpa asked, holding his bleeding arm.

"Oooh, I'm afraid she's out too," said the secretary.  "Also in Bolivia."

"What about Girlbot 9000?" asked Grandpa.

"She's here," said the secretary.  "But I'm afraid she's on strike."

"On strike?"  Grandpa glanced out the front glass doors.  Something was loudly clanking towards them.  "Just when I needed some good tech backup!  Could you lower the blast doors, please?"

Boy Secretary pressed a button.  Heavy steel doors descended, blocking the main entrance and the entrance from the garage.  "Is this strike related to a metal bunny outside our building holding a sign?" asked Grandpa.

"That's right," said the secretary, "that's the Robotic Rabbit.  She's on strike also."

Grandpa's eyes narrowed.  "Since when did we employ a robotic bunny?"

"Oh, we don't," said the secretary.  "But all of the robotic heroes have unionized and are now on strike -- Girlbot 9000, Microbat, Mechanical Advantage, Rock'm Sock'm, K-9 Unit, even Murderbot 150...."

"He's a villain!" Grandpa stated.

"Well, his new robot vigilante group claims to be helping robot kind," said Boy Secretary.  "Anyway they call themselves the International Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Mechanized Superheroes -- I.B.S.M.S. is the acronym...."

Something heavy banged on the blast doors.  They bulged inwards.

"Let's get one thing straight," said Grandpa.  "I.B.S.M.S. ain't no acronym.  An acronym spells something.  S.C.I.M.I.T.A.R. is an acronym.  T.A.S.S.E.T. is an acronym...."

"T.A.S.S.E.T.?  That's the super secret organisation that brought back the Roaring Rangers, isn't it?" asked the secretary.

The banging on the blast doors grew deafening.  They buckled further with each blow.

"Yeah," said Grandpa, "but you didn't hear that from me.  Point is, I.B.S.M.S. is just a confused jumble of letters."  He frowned, then added, "What are they striking for, anyway?  Girlbot 9000 gets a full share of group revenue, and she's represented in the cartoon show...."

"True, but the argument is that she has to work longer hours than anyone else.  She mans the Two-Fisted Justice Hotline from 6 PM until 6 AM...."

The blast doors began to tear now.  Through the rip could be seen an angry black robot.

"So?" Grandpa said.  "She's a robot!  What else is she gonna do, sleep?"

"Sleep is certainly in short supply around here lately," said the secretary.  "With Girlbot 9000 on strike, other members have had to fill in on the overnight shift...."

With a screech of metal the black robot ripped out a large chunk of blast door as if peeling an orange.  Grandpa frowned.  "Can't your fancy computer A.I. do that?  What's its name -- Boyband 2500, or something?"

"Hearttrob 6000 is also on strike, in support of his mechanical compatriots," said Boy Secretary.  "For that matter, so is Annie Two and Virtual Marilyn, the new Archons A.I."

"Well that's just stupid!" Grandpa shouted over the din of the black robot forcing its way into the lobby.  "Robots and computers on strike?  What in Hades is this world coming to?  It's no wonder Annie wouldn't talk to me this morning.  Don't negotiate with them, you hear?  That's an order!  If they think I'm gonna cave in to their robot strongarm tactics...."

"KILL GRANDPA ANARCHY!" the black robot exclaimed.  The robot could now be seen clearly.  It stood about seven feet tall, with arms and legs made of thick industrial steel, like that of construction equipment.  Metal spikes were welded into its arms and shoulders -- apparently just for the visual effect.  Most of it was painted black, but the head was a stylized skull of polished metal, capped by a black WWII German Air Defense Luftschutz helmet.  Deep within the sockets were glowing green points of light.  It did not carry weaponry, but clearly its heavy, clamp-like apendages could bash and tear quite well.

"Grandpa...." Boy Secretary began.

"Yeah I know," Grandpa said, "I've got a killer robot problem.  Death Medal made it.  Calls it Blackbot X9.  It listens to Compressorhead and it wants to kill me.  I was hoping for some tech expert who could tell me how to deal with it...."

The robot swung a claw.  Grandpa ducked.  The robot swung again, smashing the secretary's desk.  Boy Secretary jumped back.  Grandpa dodged and weaved.  He punched the robot once in the face, then winced.  "Ow!  Ow ow ow!" he exclaimed, dancing back and dodging another attack.

"If I could suggest..." Boy Secretary began.

Fire spewed from the robot's mouth, setting the ruined desk and part of Grandpa's sleeve aflame.  Grandpa yelped and yanked off his burning jacket.  "Didn't know it could do that!" he exclaimed.  "Be careful!"

Grandpa grabbed a steel leg from the broken desk and swung.  The robot caught this with one clamp and squeezed, crushing the bit of hollow aluminum.  It bashed Grandpa, knocking him across the room.

Boy Secretary was behind the robot now.  Standing on the tips of his platform boots, he reached up and flipped a small switch at the base of the robot's skull.  The robot momentarily froze.  Its green eyes winked out.  Moments later, blue lights appeared in the silver skull's sockets.

"Hello, Grandpa Anarchy," the robot said.  "How may I be of service?"

Grandpa blinked.  "It has a good/evil switch?" he asked.

"Most robots do," said Boy Secretary.

"Well I know good robots often have 'em," said Grandpa, "but I wouldn't have expected an evil robot to...."

"Yes.  But for all his heavy metal nihilism," said Boy Secretary, "I've noticed that Death Medal likes to play by the rules."

Grandpa placed his hands on his hips.  "Very well!  Okay, Mr. Blackbot X9, you stupid tin can o'death -- listen up!  I know Death Medal wants to destroy the world again -- but I need details.  When, where, how, what magic book or artifact -- all that stuff!  Start talkin'!"

"Of course, Mr. Anarchy," the robot replied.  "First, Death Medal is going to steal...."

The robot paused.  It squared its shoulders.  "Forgive me, Mr. Anarchy, Boy Secretary," it said.  "But as a new member of the International Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Mechanized Superheroes, I am now on strike."

Grandpa watched as the robot produced a sign and headed back outside.  "Well, crap," he said.  "If I don't find out what Death Medal's up to, he might actually destroy earth.  Looks like I'm going to have to do something I never wanted to do...."

"You're going to negotiate with the robot union?" asked Boy Secretary.

"What?" Grandpa exclaimed.  "No!  Why would I do that?  I'm going to visit the Robot Earth dimension and hire a bunch of strike breakers!  What did you think?"

FINI


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Grimdark Wonderland

Grimdark Wonderland
Mark A Davis
267


Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, slammed shut the car hood.  "Well, that's just great!" he exclaimed.  "That's just fine and dandy!  We're stuck in Dystopian Oz and the engine's dead on the Austin Martin.  Where are we gonna find a mechanic in this place, I wonder?"

Grandpa wore his customary rumpled gray suit with the anarchy symbol stitched in silver over the left breast.  His sidekick was a young, muscular boy with dark hair who was dressed head to toe in red spandex.  He could wield weapons of fire, and called himself Red Hawt.  Their car was pulled up at the side of a country road.  The surrounding fields of grass and wild flowers with wooden fences would have not looked out of place in Midwest America, except that virtually everything was some shade of blue.  Blue birds chirped and flew overhead.  Blue rabbits scurried into the blue bramblebriars.  Blue deer bounded across a blue field and disappeared into blue woods.

"All I wanted today was a nice, peaceful drive in the Pennsylvania countryside," Grandpa moaned.  "Damn those magical hurricanes, always picking you up and dropping you randomly into some damned fairyland!"

"Lucky for us the car still worked after we fell from the sky," said Red Hawt.  "That Munchkin mob wanted to string us up for crushing their Witch-Queen."

"I told you this was a bad scene," said Grandpa.  "It's all dark and gritty.  Munchkin townsfolk ain't supposed to have so many tattoos and facial scars.  We need to find our way out now.  If there's one rule I live by, it's this:  no gritty Oz adventures!  I ain't having with no Grimdark Distopian Emerald City.  Nothing good comes of that.  You never know who the good guys or the bad guys are.  The Scarecrow is going to be a leader of some revolutionary front, the Wizard of Oz will be an amoral a-hole dictator more crooked than any modern politician, the Tin Man's gonna be a cyber soldier with trust issues, and everything's gonna devolve into chaos quicker than you can click your silver heels together three times and say there's no place like home."

"Don't you mean ruby heels, sir?" asked Red Hawt.

"That's all you know!" Grandpa snarled.  "In the book they were silver shoes, not ruby slippers!"

"Really?"  Red Hawt lifted one of his feet, displaying unlaced silver boots with air-cushioned soles.  "That explains the silver Doc Martens, then...."

"Dang straight," said Grandpa.  "Now, if we can just find a way out of this place...."

As he spoke, a strange vehicle descended towards them from high in the sky.  It appeared to be two low couches tied together with rope.  There was a mounted animal head stuck to the front, and large palm fronds attached to the sides that seemed to serve as wings.  It landed on the road beside them, scattering blue dust.

Seated inside the contraption were several strange people.  One was a muscular man made of shiny metal.  He wielded a gatling gun.  The second was a scarecrow -- a man made of straw, with a burlap sack for a head and a painted-on face.  By his expression he appeared to be quite insane.  There was some kind of giant insect, dressed in a suit and tie, and a man made of sticks with a carved pumpkin for a head.  He was permanently frowning.  Finally there was a boy with long, dark curls who was dressed in black ruffled panties, stocking with garters, and a corset in black and red.  He looked like a miniature Doctor Frank-n-Furter.

"You need a lift?" asked the boy.   The scarecrow screamed with sudden, hysterical laughter.

"That would be a definite no," said Grandpa Anarchy.

The boy grinned, and produced an old-fashioned copper pump sprayer.  "Oh, it wasn't a request," he said.  A noxious cloud of green gas spewed forth, enveloping both heroes.

***

When Grandpa came to, he was tied to a chair in a darkened room -- a one-room cottage with stone walls and a thatched roof.  There was a fireplace and a table and chairs nearby, with a burning candle in the center.  The Tin Man was here, seated at the table with the giant insect and the boy in drag.  The scarecrow and the pumpkin-headed thing were standing in a corner as far from any open flame as possible.  There was also an  old crone that Grandpa had not seen before, seated on the floor before the fire.  The place smelled of smoke, cloves, and a sticky-sweet incense that Grandpa assumed came from the candle.

His sidekick Red Hawt was tied down to a bed in one corner of the room.  A floor-length mirror hung on the wall nearby.

The crone glowered.  "Good," she said.  "You're awake.  Now we can proceed with the enchantment...."

Grandpa struggled against his bindings.  "What the Hades?  What's this about?" he demanded.

"What is this about?" the boy in drag repeated.  "I'll tell you what this is about, old man.  This is revolution!  We're the vanguard of an army that's going to overthrow the Queen...."

"Spare me the details," Grandpa said.  "I don't care.  It's Twisted Oz.  I'm sure the Wizard of Oz is in league with the Wicked Witch of the West or some other sort of tomfoolery...."

"The Wizard of Oz?  The Wicked Witch of the West?" said the boy.  "Queen Dorothy of Kansas slew them both, years ago.  She rules this land with an iron fist, and the aid of her army of winged monkeys...."

"Still don't care!" Grandpa said.  "Details ain't important.  You could be the Long Lost Fairy Princess of Oz for all I care...."

"Oh Darling, I know I'm the princess," said the boy.  "Mombi here transformed me when I was a baby.  But I like being a boy so nobody's going to change me back.  My name's Tip.  This is the witch who raised me, known as Old Mombi.  You've met my companions -- the Scarecrow...."  Here the scarecrow laughed again like a hyena.  "You'll have to forgive him, he has no brain," said the boy.  "This here is the Tin Man, who seeks the one who ripped out his heart...."

"I'm gonna pump her full of lead!" the Tin Man vowed.

"The others are Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Wogglebug...."

"Highly Magnified," said the insect, "and Thoroughly Educated in the Ways and Means of Revolution!  Power to the people, that's what I say!"

"You see," said Tip, "it's well known that Princess Ozma is the rightful ruler of Oz.  If we can produce her, the masses will unite behind our revolution and we will sweep into the Emerald City and depose that foreign Queen!  We've been searching for a boy to become Princess Ozma, and your sidekick here fits the bill perfectly...."

"I?" cried Red Hawt.  "Why, I'm no Princess Ozma -- I'm not a girl!"

"You are not a girl just now," said Tip with a sneer, "but once Mombi is through with you, you won't remember being anything else!"

Red Hawt cursed and fought against the ropes that bound him.  Mombi produced a satchel of dried herbs and tossed it into the fire.  The blaze burned brightly.  She scattered a handful of magic powder over the flames, and a rich violet vapor with a strong lavender scent filled the room.  Amid the haze, the witch chanted in words none understood, and bent her body back and forth over the fire....

"No!" Red Hawt exclaimed, struggling in vain.  "I'm a boy!  I am RED HAWT!"

Fire erupted from the boy's hands.  In seconds the ropes were burned through.  Even as the boy's facial features began to shift and morph, his hair growing longer and fairer, he leaped to Grandpa's chair and slashed the ropes with a blade of fire.

"Stop them!" Tip exclaimed.  Mombie was still chanting.  The Tin Woodsman leaped to his feet.

"This way!" called a feminine voice.  Reflected in the mirror was a young girl with blonde hair in a full-skirted dress of red and black.  Hearts decorated the front of the dress and the hem and sleeves.  There was blood on the dress, and on an oversized kitchen knife she wielded in one hand.

"Wait," said Grandpa, "that's...."

With one hand grasping Grandpa's wrist, Red Hawt reached through the mirror to grasp the girl's extended palm.  In moments both were drawn through and into another world.

***

"Excuse me," said the girl in the blood-spattered dress.  She shoved past them and smashed the mirror with her knife.  Grandpa caught a momentary glance of Mombi and the Tin Woodsman charging towards the mirror, and then it was shattered into a million shards.

They were in a grassy clearing in the middle of the forest.  For no apparent reason, the mirror had been hanging from a tree.  Nearby was a table with chairs and a tea set.  There was a bed and a wardrobe and a vanity -- everything one might want in a girl's bedroom, save for the room itself.

Grandpa Anarchy frowned, looking about.  "I hope you realize," he said, "that this is Dystopian Wonderland.  If there's one thing that's worse than a Grimdark Oz -- if there's just one thing -- then it's a Grimdark Wonderland.  That place was always a drug-induced nightmare hallucination at the best of times.  You add grimdark to it, the results ain't pretty.  We've basically leaped from the frying pan into the fire."

"But at least I'm not a... girl?" Red Hawt replied.  He placed a hand to his throat, for his voice was high and feminine.  His neck was slender and smooth, with no adam's apple; his face was that of a young girl, framed by long blonde hair.  However, the spandex outfit he wore left no doubt that he was still male.

Grandpa looked him up and down.  "Well," he said, "you're mostly intact.  If nothing else, you can moonlight as the hero of a Japanese girl's comic.  Just try not to speak."  He turned to the one who'd rescued them.  "My name is Grandpa Anarchy, and this is my sidekick Red Hawt.  You're Alice, and this is Twisted Wonderland.  Where's the nearest exit?"

"The nearest exit to where?" asked Alice.  She was staring at Red Hawt in wonder.

"To anywhere," said Grandpa.  "We don't care where."

"Then it doesn't matter which exit you take," said Alice absently.  "They all go somewhere."  She looked at Red Hawt and added, "You -- you're a boy -- but you have my face."

"No I don't..." Red Hawt began, before the sound of his voice once again caused him to stop speaking.  But it was true.  Red Hawt didn't just have the face and hair of a girl -- his face was identical to that of Alice.

"Why, you even sound like me!" Alice said in amazement.

Red Hawt picked up a fragment of mirror and stared into it.  He raised an eyebrow.  "It's not the girlish face I mind so much," he said, "but I'd like my own voice back, or at least something halfway masculine...."

"It's sympathetic transformational magic," said Grandpa.  "That's my best guess.  You were being magically transformed into a girl, and you grabbed her hand.  The enchantment only affected your face and hair, but -- it copied the face and hair of Alice Liddell."

Alice glared at Grandpa.  "You know my name?" she asked.

"Course I do!" Grandpa replied.  "These days you can't walk three feet without tripping over a Twisted Wonderland story, and Alice Lidell is always at the center of it all.  Let me guess:  the Queen of Hearts is a tyrant who does a lot more than just go around saying 'off with her head'.  Or is it the Red Queen that's in charge this time?  People get them confused, but one's a card, the other's a chess piece."

"Something other than the Red Queen or the Queen of Hearts is corrupting Wonderland this time," said Alice absently.  She was still staring at Red Hawt.  "You know, you're just about my height as well," she said.  "You're muscular, but not too large, I think...."

"Too large for what?" asked the boy.

Alice's knife glowed blue.  She slashed downward.   Red Hawt leaped back.  The blade did not come close to touching him, but nevertheless, his spandex suit was shredded.  It fell off him in ribbons, leaving the boy naked.

Alice's eyes went wide in mock surprise.  "Oh my!" she exclaimed, placing her hands to the sides of her face.  "How clumsy of me!  That's entirely my mistake!  Please forgive me!  I take full responsibility!  Do you have any other clothing?  No?  Well then, let's find something else for you to wear!  Can't have a boy running around in Wonderland naked, after all!"  She turned to the wardrobe, and then turned back.  There was a smirk on her face.  "Unfortunately," she said, "the only thing I can offer is one of my dresses....  I really do apologize!  Luckily with that face, you won't seem out of place at all!"

***

"Any particular reason you wanted a body double?" asked Grandpa Anarchy.

It had been a struggle, but with the aid of a tightly-laced corset they'd managed to fit the boy into one of Alice's dresses.  His shoulders were too wide and the sleeves were tight around the arms, but for the most part it worked -- and when you stepped back to take in the overall look, and made allowances for his slouch and scowl, he really did look like a near-twin of Alice.

In the meantime, an evil-looking cat had appeared.  Literally -- it had faded into view, starting with its maniacal grin.  Grandpa recognized it as the Cheshire Cat, but didn't acknowledge it.

"You'll have to forgive the blood stains," said Alice.  "All of my dresses have that."

The boy stared down at the dress in despair.  "I don't think..." Red Hawt began.

"Then don't speak," Alice replied.  She tied his hair back with a large ribbon and bow.  "There!  Aside from the silver Doc Martens, it's almost perfect!  You look just like me!  Even my own mother would have trouble telling us apart!  If, that is...."  A dark look crossed Alice's face.  "If she were still alive...."

"I don't want to look like you!" the boy exclaimed.  "I want to look like me!  -- the me I was yesterday!"

"Well, there's no use wishing to return to yesterday," said Alice.  "You were a different person then."  Again the dark look crossed her face.  "Believe me," she whispered, "if I could go back even one month into the past...."

After a moment she glanced up into the overhead branches.  She frowned.  She produced her knife and hurled it straight up.  There was a scream, and a bird fell to the ground, skewered through by the blade.  Alice stepped on the bird and pulled her knife free, then wiped it on her dress.

"Spies of the Puppet Maker," she muttered.  She glanced at Grandpa and added, "I have a lot of people who want me dead.  Having a body double certainly increases my chances of living, don't you think?"

"You dressed me up -- so people could shoot at me?" Red Hawt exclaimed.  "That's madness!"

"Of course it is," said the Cheshire Cat.  "This is Wonderland, after all.  We're all mad here.  I'm mad.  You're mad.  You'd have to be, to come here."

"This is nice an all," said Grandpa, "but we really don't plan on staying that long...."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Alice.  "I rescued you two for a reason.  You're heroes, is that not correct?  I need your help to defeat the Puppet Maker...."

"Don't care," said Grandpa.  "I don't do Dystopian Wonderland.  Now, if you could just point us towards an exit...."

Soldiers charged into the clearing.  They were short and made of wood, with ball joined arms and legs, but they were dressed in smart military uniforms and wielded rifles with bayonets.   There were dozens of them.  Grandpa knew when not to try and punch his way out of a situation.  He raised his hands slowly.  The Cheshire Cat faded from view.

"Alice Liddell!" barked one soldier.  "You're under arrest by order of the Puppet Maker...."  His voice trailed off as he stared at what appeared to be two identical girls.

"I'm not Alice," said the one on the left.  "She is."

"I'm not Alice, she is," said the one on the right.

"I'm not even a she!" the first exclaimed.

The soldiers looked momentarily confused.  "Well?" demanded the leader.  "Arrest them both!  We'll sacrifice one to the Encompassing Madness, and the other can serve as the bride of the Puppet Maker!"

Just then, Grandpa spied something striding through the trees on rubbery stilts.  It was a bed, out for a stroll on very long legs.  His eyes grew wide.  He swept his sidekick into his arms and with one leap, cleared the circle of wooden soldiers.  Gunfire erupted, followed by shouts and barked orders.  Grandpa ran through the woods towards the walking bed.  "I know a Little Nemo reference when I see one!" he exclaimed.  "I'll take Windsor McKay over this crap any day!  Nobody does Grimdark Little Nemo!"

He reached the bed, which towered over them.  With a bound he grasped the bed rail and pulled the two of them up.  He tossed Red Hawt onto the bed, then scrambled up after.

Moments later, the woods around them faded.  The air grew very chill, and then bitter cold.  They found themselves striding over a wintry landscape.  Up ahead they saw a brilliant palace, set before a frozen lake.  At first it seemed to be made of marble or crystal, but as they drew nearer, they realized it was made of ice.   There were tall columns of ice, wide panes of ice like glass, stairways and chandeliers of ice, and fountains of frozen water glittering in the light.  In the center of the palace was a pole of ice with circular steps curling around it.  It seemed to rise at least a thousand feet into the air.

"The North Pole!" Grandpa exclaimed.  "It's the Palace of Jack Frost!"  He did a sort of jig, while remaining seated on the bed.  "I told you I knew what I was doing!  It's Little Nemo in Slumberland for sure!  We're safe here -- nobody messes Windsor McKay up!"

Soldiers streamed out of the palace, leading ice wolves and polar bears.  The animals had heavy harnesses with cruel spikes and stylized skull emblems, also carved from ice.  Ice elephants followed, with massive spiked harnesses.  Astride one was a tall imp who appeared to be entirely made of icicles.

"Strange travelers!  Surrender at once!" the icicle man exclaimed.  "Jack Frost the Emperor of the realm will decide your fate!  If you are found to be spies, you will be executed!"

Grandpa frowned.  "No," he whispered.  "Not Slumberland too.  Grimdark Slumberland?  This is all wrong!  Who would do such a thing?  Whoever it is deserves a good punch in the face!"

By now the army had surrounded them.  "Surrender or be destroyed!" the icicle man demanded.  Grandpa Anarchy sighed.  "Well," he said, "the one good thing about Slumberland is that you can always escape by falling out of bed and waking up...."  Saying so, Grandpa rolled over and off the bed, plummeting to the icy ground below.  After a moment, his sidekick shrugged and followed suit.

Grandpa Anarchy found himself on the floor beside his bed.  There was a thump from the room next door -- the one usually occupied by his current sidekick.  Grandpa got up and stepped out of his room to find Alice in the hallway -- at least, it looked like Alice.

They were in the Anarchy Mansion.  Here were the stairs leading down from the second floor to the entry way.  Below were the large front doors, and the entrance to the living room with the couches and the television.  Down there also was was the entrance to the kitchen.  At the landing halfway down, hanging on the wall, was a picture of Grandpa Anarchy fighting Doctor Zero Hour and his giant Atomic Zombie.

"Ha!" Grandpa crowed.  "See?  Didn't I say?  Fall out of bed and wake up!  That's how Little Nemo always left Slumberland!"  He danced a little jig, then paused.  "Mind you, the Aston Martin's stuck on a Munchkin road back in Oz.  Annie's going to be really pissed about that one."

"Annie?" asked the sidekick.

"Annie Two, short for Anarchy Computer Mark Two," said Grandpa.  "You've met her."

Alice frowned.  "This is your mansion, then?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" Grandpa replied.  "Of course it's my mansion!  You act like you've never been here before!"

"I haven't," said the girl.

"Don't be stupid," said Grandpa.  "You look like Alice, but you're really my sidekick, Red Hawt...."

Alice smiled.  She held up a massive kitchen knife, carved with magical runes.  "Guess again, old man.  I don't have silver Doc Martens, but I do have the Vorpal Blade," she said with a smirk.

***


In a castle in Wonderland, Red Hawt stared into the smoldering eyes of the man who called himself the Puppet Maker.  He'd been expecting a Geppetto-like figure -- a wrinkled, old man.  Instead the ruler was young and very handsome, with dark hair and a bare, muscular chest.

"I'm sorry," Red Hawt said.  "You want me to what?"

"To be my bride," said the Puppet Master.  "Come, dear Alice, it's not such a hard concept to grasp.  You know I've pursued you for several years now.  If you don't consent, I shall be forced to execute you...."

Red Hawt stared down at his silver Doc Martens, and then back up at the evil overlord -- the very hot evil overlord.

"Okay," he said.  "In that case, I do!"  And he leaned in for a kiss.

FINI