Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Splitting Hares

Splitting Hares
Mark A Davis

"No, no, no!" exclaimed Hairsplitter Man.  "I did not say I would gladly murder tens of thousand of people.  Please pay attention, Mr. Anarchy!  First, I'm not happy to see anyone die -- and if the cruise ship operators will just meet my generous ransom demands, then I won't have to.  Second, this ship barely holds three thousand at full capacity, so my killing tens of thousands is an impossibility.  Under optimal conditions I would only have the deaths of three thousand on my hands."

Grandpa swung a fist at the villain, who dodged easily and floated ten feet overhead.  He hung by wires from a small, helicopter-like device.  Hairsplitter Man was tall and impeccably dressed in an expensive Armani suit with an opera cloak and velvet mask.  He contrasted sharply with Grandpa Anarchy, who as usual wore a rumpled gray suit with a silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.

Meanwhile at the highest point of the ship, Grandpa's current sidekick -- the heroine known as the Harlequin Rabbit -- was chained to a radio tower.  Boxes of explosives were gathered around her feet at the tower's base.  Her costume was alternating brown and white, with floppy ears, a fluffy tail, and a mask that was bisected -- white on one side, brown on the other.

"Don't worry about me, Grandpa!" she called out, while furiously tapping at her smartphone.  "I've got a plan!  I just need to update Tumbler first!"

The Argent Queen was a luxury cruise liner headed from New York to the Caribbean.  The sun sparkled brightly on the water, and the ship glided over it like a curling stone, in no hurry to get anywhere but unlikely to be deterred in her journey.  Wind buffeted Grandpa's clothing and whistled past his ears.  Seagulls cried out overhead.  The decks were crowed with screaming people, although the area was clear where the hero and villain fought, and where the sidekick was strapped to the bomb.

Four sharply-dressed thugs charged Grandpa.  They did not look comfortable in their expensive suits -- like unruly children forced into tuxedos before an older sibling's wedding.

Grandpa clocked the first with a well-aimed fist to the jaw.  Two more pinned him against a bulkhead.  The last landed a blow to Grandpa's gut.  Grandpa wheezed, but then raised a foot and kicked the thug in the face.  Grandpa twisted out of the grip of the two that held him.  In the next moment he slammed their heads together.

As Grandpa and the thugs fought, Hairsplitter Man called out, "Do watch where you step, Mr. Anarchy."  He brandished a small device in one hand.  "Get too close to your rabbit friend and she -- and most likely you -- will be sleeping with the angels.  Mind you, that phrase is strictly used as an euphemism for being dead from an explosion, and does not in any way constitute my endorsement of,  nor any belief in, the afterlife, nor any concrete knowledge on my part of the existence of angelic beings.  You see, sometimes even I am not as precise with my language as I ought to be -- it is a great failing on my part."  He laughed a little laugh.

"You'll never get away with this, Hairsplitter Man!" Grandpa growled.  He brought interlocked hands crashing down on one thugs's head.

"Good one!" Harlequin Rabbit called out, phone extended.  "That one's going on Instagram!"

"Now, Grandpa, have we not had this conversation before?" asked Hairsplitter Man.  "Never implies no chance at all, but I think even a hero like you should acknowledge that there is some chance, however small, of my plan succeeding.  As I have said previously, imprecise language is the bane of modern existence, and this does include the making declarative statements of this sort which logically cannot always be true."

"Da boss is right!" one thug exclaimed.  "Youse gotta use da proper language!"

Hairsplitter Man rolled his eyes.  He produced a gun and shot the henchman in the head.

Grandpa's eyes widened.  He glared at the villain hovering overhead.

"But it is true," he insisted, dodging a punch from one of the remaining thugs.  "Good always triumphs over evil.  Always.  Anything less would simply be a bad story."

"Indeed?" asked the villain.  "And when Carnival Act blew up Arco Arena, killing thousands including your sidekick Circuit Girl, and you let him escape and refused to pursue him?  Was that a good story?  Was that good triumphing over evil?  What moral victory did you claim on that night, I wonder?  That at least he didn't kill fifty thousand?"

"Oh!  Good comeback!" exclaimed Harlequin Rabbit.  "I need to tweet that!"

Grandpa's face filled with fury.  He sent one thug flying over the side of the ship and into the water far below.  He punched another so savagely that you could hear bones break.  That left one thug, who circled Grandpa warily.

"If you two could just move to the left," the Harlequin Rabbit called out.  "I'm trying to post a hostage selfie with you fighting in the background!"

"Never say never, Mr. Anarchy," Hairsplitter Man said.  "That's the lesson here.  Also one must ask:  get away with what, exactly?  What is it to which you refer, specifically?  That I will fail to extort millions from the owners of this luxury liner, as was my original goal?  That much seems likely, as you have appeared to interrupt my plan.  I certainly did not anticipate having Grandpa Anarchy among the passengers on this trip.  But of course, now I have altered my plan...."

Music emanated from the villain's pocket -- the strains of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance.  He paused and produced a phone.  He stared at the screen for a moment.

"Well," he said, "would you look at that?  Argent Cruise Lines has agreed to my demands!  What do you know?"  He smiled, then read further.  "Oh.  No, no, this is no good."  He glanced back at Grandpa, who had just dispatched the last thug.  "They used there when they meant their.  Oh, and here's a double negative also.  No, I cannot accept this, it's too poorly worded...."

Hairsplitter Man was too distracted to notice Grandpa running to the top level of the ship.  Grandpa launched himself from the rails.  He sailed out and tackled the villain midair.  They crashed to the deck below.  The bomb device skittered across the deck.  Grandpa punched the villain in the head, knocking him out.  Cheers erupted from the watching crowd.

As Grandpa was untying his sidekick, the Harlequin Rabbit said, "Glad I could help out, Grandpa!  We make a great team!"

Grandpa Anarchy frowned.  "You didn't do anything," he said, "except tweet and post photos."

"Who do you think distracted him with that fake note with all of the grammar errors?" she asked.  As Grandpa stared at her, open-mouthed, she snapped a photo and added, "I told you I had a plan!  Oh, and that's going on Instagram too!"


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There Goes the Neighborhood

There Goes the Neighborhood
Mark A Davis

In a suburb of Frosthaven, NJ sat a home that was modest in most respects.  It had a nicely manicured lawn, Rhododendron bushes all along the front, and a path of paving stones leading to the front door.  The iron knocker -- depicting a glaring demon -- was a clue that not everything about this abode was so unassuming, but of course, before you ever reached the door you would have seen the looming, Gothic tower of black stone attached to the left side of the house, which stabbed the sky like the gauntleted fist of a goblin raised in defiance.

This was the home of Professor Victorian Honesty St. Normal, a scientist who spent much of his time holed up in his tower working his inventions.  He seemed a very decent fellow, for the most part.  It was true that the top of his tower was home to giant black raptors with fierce steel talons and blood red eyes, and no one was quite sure what kind of birds these were -- but this wasn't exactly against the neighborhood covenant, and they certainly helped keep the rats, raccoons, and stray dogs away.  It was true that his butler and right-hand man was called Igor, and that he had a humped shoulder and walked with a limp -- but he'd never been seen near the city cemetery, so people were mostly convinced that no scientific necromancy or raising of flesh golems was afoot.  And while sometimes mad laughter could be heard echoing from within the black tower in the early hours of the morning, people were willing to forgive these oddities.  After all, everyone had their quirks, and compared to his reckless and devil-may-care neighbor, Professor St. Normal seemed nearly like an ordinary, upstanding citizen.

At the moment, all of Frosthaven's most important men were gathered in the large round room that formed the base of St. Normal Tower.  Here was Mayor Paxton, and Chief of Police Roberts.  Here also were millionaire businessmen Mr. Solace Brown and Mr. Anthony Von Essen.  Everyone who was anyone was present.

On several low coffee tables were pots of coffee, tea, and several open boxes of cookies.

Professor St. Normal stood before them.  He wore a tweed suit with a white lab coat and had brass goggles shoved up on his forehead.  His black hair stuck out in all directions like an old and abused paint brush.  His dark-skinned, hump-backed servant waited nearby.  The center of the room was dominated by something quite large, which at the moment was hidden beneath white cloth.

"Gentlemen," the professor exclaimed, "I'm so very pleased that you could join me today!  I have been working many years towards this day and I didn't want anyone of any importance to miss out on my great revelation!  For you see, tonight I am prepared to reveal my life's work, the device which I have been crafting for the last fifteen years -- ever since I built this building in 1907!"

Mr. Brown looked quite bored.  "Yes, I'm sure it's a marvelous invention indeed," he said.  "Can we hurry this along?  I have very important business to attend to...."

"Of course," replied the professor.  "You are all very important and powerful people and I do not mean to impose on your time more than is necessary -- never mind that I have contributed to all of your campaigns or in other ways supported you all in your business."

The professor gestured.  "Igor, if you please."  Igor pulled on a long rope, and the cloth fell away, revealing a large and imposing device.  It was clearly a gun of some sort -- but what a weapon!  As large as a howitzer or a smaller battleship turret gun, the thing looked more like something out of Buck Rogers than a conventional rifled weapon.  Mounted on a rotating base, with a padded seat at one end where the operator was meant to sit, the device had a long barrel with concentric rings encircling it, which grew smaller as the neared the end of the nozzle.  There were copper tubes and coils and wires, and it was quite impossible to tell what exactly the weapon did.

"My God!" exclaimed the Chief of Police.

"What in the world is it?" asked the Mayor.

"I only have two questions," said Mr. Von Essen.  "Does it work, and how much do you think  the U.S. Military will pay for it?"

"Oh, Mr. Von Essen!" exclaimed the professor.  "I'm not planning to sell it!  I wish to make my money in a far more direct manner!"  He flipped a switch on the wall.  Steel bands sprang out of the chairs in which the gathered men sat, encircling their arms, wrists, ankles, and waists.  All of them were trapped.

"What is the meaning of this?" exclaimed Mr. Brown, struggling to free himself.  "I demand you set us free now!"

"No, I think not," the professor replied.  "But do not worry:  I do not intend any harm to any of you.  That is why you are here, within the safety of my tower.

"Gentlemen, I give you the St. Normal Motivational Raygun.  I call it a motivational raygun because it is my fondest and most sincere hope that it will motivate you gentlemen to reward me with one million dollars."  He flipped another switch on the wall, and a round window slid open, allowing the weapon to aim out at the evening sky.  "You see," Professor St. Normal said, "from my tower I am able to aim anywhere in the city.

"As I'm sure you are all aware, matter is made up of elementary molecules.  The beam from my raygun excites those molecules.  It drives them into a frenzy and causes them to explode."  The professor spread his hands out, simulating an explosion.  He smiled brightly.  "Oh, it's! quite an amazing sight, let me tell you!  I tested it last night.  But for the real demonstration I shall be targeting city hall."

"No!" exclaimed the mayor.  "You monster!  The people!"

Professor St. Normal smiled.  "Oh, I expect a few people will die -- but nobody important, eh?  You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, after all!  Shall we begin?"

Just then the doorbell rang.

Professor St. Normal frowned.  He glanced at his companion  "Igor, see who it is.  If it's those cursed Brownie Scouts, then tell them we've already purchased a dozen boxes and we really don't need any more."

"Yes, Master," Igor replied.  He shuffled towards the door.

"Igor, wait!" the professor called out.  "I changed my mind!  If it is the Brownie Scouts, then I want three more boxes of the chocolate chip, and two of the mint!"

Moments later a young man shoved his way past Igor and into the room.   He wore a white shirt with suspenders and gray pants.  he grinned at the professor and extended his hand.  "Hello, neighbor!  My name's Paul -- better known as Kid Anarchy!  I live in the mansion next door!"

Professor St. Normal shook hands.  "Yes, I remember," he said disdainfully.  "You were gifted that mansion when that annoying busybody the Gentleman Brawler met his doom.  Unfortunately you're quite a bit like him, aren't you?"

"Oh, I fight crime, that's true," Kid Anarchy replied.  "It's the only thing I know how to do...."

"Kid Anarchy!" exclaimed Mayor Paxton.

"Oh!  Hello, Mayor Paxton!" exclaimed the young man.  "And Chief Roberts too!"

"We're shackled to these chairs, you fool!" the Chief of Police exclaimed.

"I can see that!" Kid Anarchy replied cheerfully.  "You've got quite a party here, I see!  Just look at that weapon -- that's a Death Ray if ever I saw one!  Well I won't keep you.  You see, I just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar -- Miss Bloodraven and I -- that's my companion you know, she fights crime with me, she can turn into a raven or a crow -- we was making a banana creme pie, only wouldn't you know it, we're plum out of sugar!  Could we borrow a cup?  I'll pay you back, honest injun!"

The professor glared at the young crime fighter, then said, "Igor, would you get this creti... that is, this nice young man a cup of sugar?"

"Yes, Master," Igor replied.  "This way, Master Anarchy."

Igor led Kid Anarchy down the hall.  "My grandmother was Cherokee, you know," he said as they stepped into the kitchen.

"Pardon?" Kid Anarchy replied.  "Really?  I thought you were from Eastern Europe.  Some place like Transylvania."

"Igor is not my real name, you know," the servant said as he retrieved a measuring cup and a box of sugar.  "That's just what Master calls me -- it's a kind of professional sobriquet or nom de plume.   My actual name is Dave -- David Lightfeather.  But the job required someone under five feet tall with a hunched shoulder, and that's me.  You know how it is.

"I thought I'd mention it because you' might want to not use that phrase honest injun.  Some people might find it offensive."  He steered Kid Anarchy back to the front door, cup of sugar in hand.  "Have a good night, Master Anarchy."

"I'll... keep that in mind," Kid Anarchy replied.  "Scout's honor!"  Igor winced as the door closed.  He returned to the round tower room.

"Ah.  Very good," said Professor St. Normal.  "Now, where were we?  Oh yes -- I was about to fire my weapon on city hall...."

The doorbell rang again.  Igor went to open it.  Kid Anarchy stood on the porch.

"Eggs?" asked the servant.  "Flour, perhaps?"

Kid Anarchy scratched his head.  "No, nothing like that," he sadi.  "Look, I'm sorry to bother you again, but those giant raptors that you keep in your aerie tower, they're making an awful racket...."

"They are not raptors," Igor stated.  "Not in the way you understand the word, at least."

"Well," said Kid Anarchy, "I was wondering if you could feed them or do whatever it is you do to settle them down?  Only we picked up one of those newfangled radios last month -- isn't modern technology a marvel?  You can sit right in your own home and listen to world-class music and then the news is delivered straight to you, no need to even go to the porch to grab the newspaper!  And drama -- why, I was listening to a drama last night that about knocked my socks off.  See, there was this gal who was about to get married when her beau turned up dead.  Murdered!  And the police thought it was her, but...."

Kid Anarchy's voice drifted off.  He said, "Well, I won't bore you by retelling the whole story, but it was a firecracker of a tale, I'll say that.  But you see, the signal from New York is kinda weak in this part of town, and it's hard to listen to over all the bird noise -- whatever they are."

"Very well, I will see what I can do," Igor replied with a sigh.  "Now, my Master has a very important meeting as you may have noticed.  If there's nothing else you need from us?"

"No, that was it," Kid Anarchy replied.  "Have fun with your party!"

Back in the round room, the professor listened carefully for a full ten seconds before saying, "Now, if the interruptions have ceased, I will...."

The doorbell rang.  "Gods of Hades!" the professor swore as Igor limped for the door.  "If it's that imbecile again, then I'm going to...."

Igor reappeared with several boxes of cookies.  "It was just the Brownie Scouts, Master," he said.  "Three boxes of chocolate chip and two of mint, just as you asked."

"Ah," the professor said.  "Very good.  Set them down over there.  Now, if that...."

He got no further.  The doorbell rang again.

"Hello, Neighbor!" a familiar voice called out.  Kid Anarchy appeared.  "I almost forgot to ask, but would you consider donating to a fund for the Millard Fillmore Orphanage for Disadvantaged Youth?  Only I'm supposed to solicit for them and what with fighting crime all the time I usually forget.  But I know the little orphans would really appreciate it!"

  "Mister Anarchy," said Professor St. Normal, speaking very carefully, "I do not take you for a stupid man.  Could it be that you are not here to complain about my birds or solicit for an orphanage?  Could it possibly be that you have deduced that I am holding the most powerful men of the city hostage and about to use my new weapon against the city?  Are you, in reality, here to stop me?"

Kid Anarchy raised an eyebrow.  "Weeeell," he said, "I can't deny that I've been keeping tabs on you.  But you see, you're a citizen of Frosthaven just like me, and we can't have ordinary citizens attacking each other unprovoked.

"At least, that's what the Mayor and the Chief of Police tell me.  After that incident at the Waverly Mansion last month, they explained it to me in no uncertain terms:  I am not an officially sanctioned member of the police force, I'm just an ordinary citizen, and when I take the law into my own hands it's considered vigilantism.  I've caused the mayor's office far too many headaches and caused far too much damage, and the next time I rush into a private residence without authorization for any reason he's going to toss me in the hoosegow.

"So you see," Kid Anarchy added, "I couldn't possibly be here to fight you...."

"Oh for Heaven's Sake!" exclaimed Mayor Paxton.  "Fine!  Kid Anarchy, you have the authority!  As Mayor of Frosthaven, I swear it!"

"Why thank you, Mr. Mayor," said Kid Anarchy, and punched Professor St. Normal in the jaw.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Clown With the Golden Mask

The Clown With the Golden Mask
Mark A Davis

Grandpa Anarchy's 1964 Aston Martin DB5 sped down the streets of Frosthaven, NJ.  "What is it with clowns an villains?" Grandpa Anarchy demanded.  "Why does every villain in the world have to be a clown?  Why are clowns evil?"

The people of the city had gone mad.  White-faced men and women ran through the streets like scared rabbits in squeaky shoes.  They charged into the path of Grandpa's car with no regard for safety or crosswalks.  The car swerved to avoid them.  They attacked each other with pies, and hurled pies at the passing Aston Martin.

"Those are untrue statements," replied Professor Emily Wilfreda Wolcott.  "I can name any number of villains who are not clowns -- Doctor Zero Hour, for example, or the Malevolent Marketeer or Double Donkey Motel.  I can also name quite a few clowns who are in no way evil.  Surely you would not argue that Gene Kelley was a malicious man?"

"No, but the point remains," Grandpa replied.  "Carnival Act.  Double Jester.  John Wayne Gacy.  Hop-Frog.  Pennywise the Dancing Clown from It.  Chucky.  The Insane Clown Posse...."

"The Insane Clown Posse is a musical rap group, and Chucky was a doll -- not to mention a fictional character, as was Pennywise and Hop-Frog, who I believe comes from an Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name...."

Grandpa raised an eyebrow.  "You're good at this, Professor," he said.  "Still, why can't there be a clown hero...."

Grandpa cursed as he swerved again, narrowly missing another insane citizen in the middle of the street, wielding a creme-filled confection as a weapon.  Grandpa got a good look at the white face, the multi-colored hair, the round red nose, and the wild eyes as they flew past.  "It's those cursed pies," Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed.  "They're Insanity Pies.  There's some kind of virus hidden in the creme, I reckon.  It turns people into insane, pie-tossing clowns!  I've never seen anything like it!"

"Never?" asked the professor.  It was rare that Grandpa encountered anything truly new.

"Well, there was of course the Great Mime Outbreak of '31," Grandpa replied.  "But clowns are different.  There's rubber noses and sqeaky shoes, for starters!"

Grandpa slammed on the brakes.  "There he is!" he exclaimed.

Standing before city hall was a tall clown in a golden mask.  He sported oversized red sandals and a white robe trimmed with gold which had red puffballs lined up in a row down the front.  Silver lined the surface of the mask to suggest a whiteface look.  The nose was round and bright red.  He carried two pies.

Grandpa jumped out of the car.  "Bofforma!" he exclaimed.  "Drop the pies, or things are going to get ugly!"

The clown laughed, long and deep, his belly shaking with mirth.  "Foolish old man!" he called out.  "Are you truly the best champion of your people?  I am Bofforma the Third!  Bofforma the Great, Seventh Emperor of the Kalownian Dynasty!  I fear not one frail fool!"

"You're the fool!" Grandpa snarled, launching himself at the villain.  A creme pie caromed off his forehead, and his fist connected with the clown's gold-covered chin.

The professor had also stepped out of the car.  The second pie hit her square in the face.  She stumbled back, wiping away the gooey mess.  "Hmm.  Coconut Creme!" she exclaimed.

"Do you know who I am, old man?" Bofforma asked.  "While your Indo-European ancestors fought with stone weapons and lived in primitive huts, subsisting on what they could hunt or gather, I built a mighty empire between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  It was among the earliest empires on earth!  Naram-Sin of Akkad would not face me!  The worshipers of Lady Atana and Ariadne of the Labyrinths paid tribute to me!  Even Pharaoh Neferkare Pepi II of Egypt knew of my fame!"

"Nobody remembers who any of those people are!" Grandpa exclaimed.

"Actually, Grandpa," said the professor, "we know very well who Naram-Sin and Neferkare Pepi II were...."

Ignoring her, Grandpa shouted, "They've all been dead for more than four millennia, just like you!  You're nothing more than a ghost in a mask, borrowing the body of my sidekick to do your dirty work!  Soon as I  take off that mask...."

Once again Grandpa launched himself at the villain, but the oversized clown dodged him easily.  He produced another pie and hurled it, striking Grandpa in the side of the head.

By now people were gathering around them to watch the fight -- but these were those who had been driven mad by the villain's magic.  Their eyes were crazed, their faces white, and their noses red.  They all carried pies as weapons.  "Where in Hades are all these danged pies coming from?" Grandpa exclaimed in exasperation.

"Much as I'm loathe to admit it, they seem to appear as if by magic," said the professor.

Grandpa and the massive clown circled each other.  "Foolish old man!" the clown exclaimed, "I did not awaken from four thousand years of slumber only to one senile fool thwart me in my goals of conquest.  Soon the people of this town will form a new army under my command, and I will march across your country, making it my own!"

"If you think a few clowns can conquer America then you got a lot to learn about modern warfare," Grandpa snarled.  He swung again at the clown, who dodged.

"This world will be a much better place with me in control!" Bofforma exclaimed.

"Every dictator says that," Grandpa replied.  "Come to think of it, so does every presidential candidate, and we know how most of them turn out."

Another pie struck Grandpa in the face.  He clawed the creme and pastry away and lunged again.

"Why won't you submit?" the clown exclaimed, exasperated.  "Why are you immune to my powers?"

"That's obvious," Grandpa replied.  "We're the heroes!  It'd be a poor story if the heroes fell victim to the virus.  There'd be nobody left to save the day!"

"Rrrrrgh!" the clown screamed incoherently.  He produced a wooden chicken and swung it like a club.  Grandpa ducked beneath the fowl weapon and managed to lay a hand on the clown's face.  He ripped away the golden mask.

The clown stumbled back, a stunned look on his face.  His skin rippled like the surface of a pool once disturbed.  Like a slowly-deflating balloon, he began to morph and shrink.  In moments, he became a short, portly young boy in jean shorts, boots, and a white tee shirt with the phrase "I doubt skeptics exist" on the front.

The boy blinked.  "Grandpa?" he asked, then collapsed.

"We need to get him to the hospital...." Grandpa said, then paused.  He stared around them.  The people of the city had not changed with Bofforma.  They were still wild-eyed clowns wielding pies that were presumably still filled with the clown villain's virus.

"Check that," said Grandpa.  "Probably all the doctors and nurses are infected.  How do we cure the populace?"

"The question," said the professor, "is why are you and I immune?  I do not believe it is just because we are the heroes.  Grandpa, do you remember what we both ate for breakfast?"

"Same thing I always eat," Grandpa said.  "Strawberry pancakes."

"Right," said Professor Wolcott.  "And where did you get those pancakes?"

Grandpa stared down at a small silver lapel pin on his jacket, in the shape of a stack of pancakes.


"Order up, Grandpa!" exclaimed Professor Emily Wilfreda Wolcott.  "Four more plates of pancakes, pronto!"

The professor was dressed as a waitress.  The restaurant behind her was packed.  Grandpa Anarchy stood in the kitchen, wearing a chef's hat, and wielding a spatula -- but the stove was cold, and there were no strawberries present, no pancake mix, and no whipped creme.

He rubbed the silver lapel pin, and a plate of strawberry pancakes appeared.  They were hot and ready to eat.  He produced three more in the same manner.

"You know," Grandpa said, as the professor balanced two plates in each hand, "when that alien entity known as the Reality Bender gave me this magical lapel pin, I don't think it was so I could open up a Grandpa's Free Strawberry Pancakes restaurant.  In fact, I remember him saying that the pin would make me no more powerful than before...."

"But we know that the antidote properties of the pancakes were put there by the alien," said the professor.  "Of course he meant for us to use them, Grandpa!  The experts say most of the city has recovered thanks to us, and have you seen our Yelp reviews?  People love us!"


Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Mark A Davis

Beneath a mercilessly hot sun, Professor Emily Wilfreda Wolcott lead Grandpa Anarchy and his current sidekick Boy Skeptic through a dusty hillside dig.  The professor wore dune-colored shorts and a similar-colored work shirt, with sturdy hiking boots.  Her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail.  Grandpa Anarchy wore his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  His sidekick was a portly young boy who wore jean shorts, boots, and a white tee shirt with the phrase "I doubt skeptics exist" on the front.

"We discovered this site a year and a half ago," Professor Wolcott said.  "My great grandfather Professor Wilfred Eustace Wolcott searched many years for such a site.  He wanted to prove his theory that such a civilization existed in ancient times -- and to silence his critics, who ridiculed him for his beliefs.   His protégé Professor William Bradfort likewise invested many years searching for proof of a Kalownian civilization, but like my great grandfather he was mocked and could never find a thing.

"I'm just thrilled that, at last, I can provide proof that both of them were right!"

"I'm always willing to help out science," Grandpa Anarchy replied.  "You know me -- I've seen many things that your typical scientist would deny is true.  Keep an open mind, that's my motto."

"But demand hard facts and evidence-based research," added Boy Skeptic.

"Now, that's just crazy talk," said Grandpa Anarchy.  "Let me give you a piece of advice:  if an elder god tries to suck out your soul, what you don't do is demand proof of his existence before you react.  AmIright?"

"Luckily," said the professor, "all the proof I need lies within this very chamber."  She paused before a square opening into the side of a hill.   "I'm glad you agreed to join me, Grandpa Anarchy," she said.  "There are many legends about the ancient Kalownian kings and the magic they wielded.  While I do not believe these tales myself, one can never be too careful.  Also, having a hero as famous as Grandpa Anarchy present reassures the locals.  For that reason I have put off opening the sarcophagus within the chamber until you were present."

She ducked through the opening.  Grandpa and Boy Skeptic followed.

The air within was stifling, and smelled of the dust of years.  Illuminated by several high-powered electrical lamps, they saw a large, dusty stone chamber.  The walls were covered with a strange script, and there were faded paintings in the center of three walls depicting angular humans with large, round noses.  Broken clay pots littered the floor, and there were some unusual objects too -- strange stone carvings, objects of wood, and small statues of bronze and gold.  In one corner was an object that appeared to be a small three-wheeled horse, about the right size for a child.  The wood was cracked and split, as were the wheels.

Two things, however, drew the the attention.  against the far wall were two large, pear-shaped stone statues.  They had been painted at one time, and you could just barely see that the faces had been white, and the round noses had been red.  Between these two statues was the sarcophagus:  an oblong square of stone, with a lid into which had been carved the upper half of another rotund individual with a round nose, much like the two statues.

Above the sarcophagus, carved into the stone, was a familiar pair of faces -- the smiling and frowning masks meant to represent comedy and  tragedy.

Grandpa's sidekick stared at the two statues, and said, "What."

"As you can clearly see," said the professor, "this room is everything I could have ever hoped for:  proof that the Kalownian Empire was not just a figment of my great grandfather's imagination.  Here lies the tomb of one of the great kings of the Kalownian Dynasty!"

"Kalownian Dynasty?" the sidekick repeated.  "I've never heard of...."  He paused, then said, "Wait.  Kalownian -- Clownian?"  His eyes grew wide.  "Are you seriously trying to tell me that this is the tomb of an ancient Clown king from a Clown dynasty?"

"Indeed, that is exactly what I'm saying," replied the professor.  She picked up a strange wooden object.  It was about a foot and a half long, with a bird's head on one side and thin legs sticking out of the other.  "Do you recognize what this is?" she asked.  "It's a sacred object in their religion -- a rubber chicken!"

Boy Skeptic stared in disbelief.  "It's... wooden," he said.

"Well naturally they didn't have rubber in those days," the professor replied.  "They were forced to use what materials were available to them.  This rubber chicken is carved from cedar from the coast of Lebanon."

Kid Skeptic's eyes narrowed.  "Pull the other one -- it's got bells on it," he said.

"By Boffo!" exclaimed Professor Wolcott.  "I had no idea that you could read Kalownian A Script!"

"I... what now?" asked the sidekick.

"Kalownian A Script!" the professor repeated.  She gestured to the walls.  "Everything you see here!  It's an ancient Kalownian script based on syllabic glyphs, unrelated to Egyptian or Anatolian or even Cretan hieroglyphs."  She took two quick steps and ran her hands over one section of the wall.  "This part of the inscription," she said, "details the great Kalown King Bofforma III's interactions with king Murfa of Burumashav, a Hattian tribe that the Kalownians later conquered.  The king Murfa says that he will not submit to Kalownian rule, and here, see, the king replies:  How is it that you defy my will when it is clear that my armies are so vast and so mighty, and wait for me to give the order to smite your people?  It is foolishness!  I must beg of you to yank on my other leg, for that one is ringed with chiming bells."

Boy Skeptic spun about.  "Okay," he said.  "This has to be some elaborate joke at my expense.  Where's the candid cameras?"

"It's no joke," said the professor.  "Between 2300 BC and 2000 BC, at a time when the Minoan civilization was flourishing on Crete and the Akkadian Empire ruled the fertile crescent, the Kalownians carved out a small empire in the heart of Asia Minor.  Their mighty Kalownian warriors were a sight to behold!  With white faces, red noses, and squeaky shoes...."

"No," said the sidekick.  "No.  Don't.  I refuse to believe that an ancient Clown Empire ever existed.  What's next?  Are you going to tell me that giant 60-ton clowns ruled the Jurassic Period?"

"Of course not," said Professor Wolcott, frowning.  "But look around you.  Do you think all of this is a hoax?  On this site an entire city once stood -- we've barely excavated a fraction of it!  People think that coulrophobia -- the fear of clowns -- is a modern invention.  I'm here to say such fears may well date back thousands of years to a time when ruthless clown armies spread fear across the peninsula of Asia Minor.

"Experts will tell you that the idea of a clown developed out of the rustic fool characters of ancient Greek and Roman theater.  What they don't realize is that these buffoonish characters were themselves based on the ancient enemies that the Macedonians dimly recalled from their prehistory -- the clown warriors of the Kalownian Dynasty."

"No.  No.  No," said Boy Skeptic.  "I'm not buying it.  Look, stop trying to convince me.  Let's just do what we came here to do and get this over with, okay?"

"Of course," said the professor after a moment.  She called outside.  Several powerful men entered the chamber, which was suddenly crowded.

"I just want you two to stand to one side, while we lift the lid of the sarcophagus," she said.  "It will reassure the workers.  If anything does happen, then I guess you'll know what to do."

Grandpa Anarchy and Kid Skeptic did as instructed.  Four men lifted the heavy stone lid and carefully set it aside.  Within lay a partial skeleton.  It appeared to have once been dressed in what was probably fine clothing, but which had mostly rotted away with the passage of time.  Here also were other objects, including another of the wooden chickens.

Covering the face of the skeleton was a golden mask:  that of a jolly, fat-cheeked clown with a round, bulbous nose.

"The Mask of the Great King Bofforma III!" the professor exclaimed.

Boy Skeptic blinked in surprise.  "It looks... real," he said.  He reached in and picked it up.

"Don't touch it!" the professor exclaimed.  But it was too late.  Boy Skeptic had already placed the mask over his face.  In the next instant, air began to swirl about the room.  Shadows pooled in the corners.  Boy Skeptic began to shake as energy crackled about him.  One by one, the electric lamps exploded, leaving the room much darker, lit only by the light that filtered in from the entrance.

Suddenly the room was filled with the scent of coconut and banana creme.  Boy Skeptic was expanding, growing taller and wider.  His clothing was expanding too -- shoes growing into giant red sandals; hands sporting oversized gloves;  shirt becoming a long, flowing robe of white trimmed with gold and with red puffball buttons down the front.  Red light glowed from the mask's eye sockets.  He emitted a ho ho ho! in a voice that was deep and unearthly, and nothing like his own.

By now the air in the room was like a mini hurricane.  "Get out!" Grandpa Anarchy yelled.  He shoved one man towards the door, then grabbed the professor and pulled her outside into the bright sun.  Moments later, with all four men joining them, they watched the doorway into the hillside as lightning flashed within the chamber and thunder rolled.  Then all noise and flashing ceased.  For a moment there was silence, then a deep, booming laughter could be heard from within.

"At last!" the voice called out, sounding like a demonic muppet.  "I, Bofforma the Great, live again!"

"Well," said Grandpa Anarchy, "this was entirely predictable."

The professor's eyes widened.  "You knew this was going to happen?" she asked.  "Then why didn't you stop him?"

"Couldn't," Grandpa replied.  "Article 17  of the Standard Superhero Sidekick Contract, and I quote:  The right of any sidekick to be possessed or otherwise gain access to cosmic power, whether by possession of object or artifact of great power (viz:  crystal or gem of power; magical ring, earrings, pendants, bracelets, anklets, armbands, nose rings, belly chains, nipple rings, or other jewelry or adornments; statues or carven images; magical books or pages from magical books; bones; rune-covered swords, daggers, knives, bows, slings, and all manner of magical weaponry; scepters, wands, staves, walking sticks, sonic screwdrivers, hand-held phones, and all manner of other hand-held devices; or any other object or device or item of a magical, supernatural, or otherworldly nature), or by direct or indirect connection to mythical or otherworldly entities, including gods, demigods, demons, devils, fey and fairy folk, ghosts, ghasts, all manner of undead, alien entities, discorporal beings, immortals, or mortals with the ability to possess others, shall not be infringed."

He cracked his knuckles, grinned, and added, "Besides, it's only after they're possessed that the fun begins...."