The Monsters Within, Technical Notes

Evil Pumpkin (4)
We try to deny it, but we all have monsters within us. They seethe just below the surface, all fangs and teeth and incorporeal rage. We glimpse them when we turn away from mirrors, out of the corners of our eyes. We feel them when we look at a beloved friend lying asleep and some part of us, some dark, hungry part of us that cannot be tamed, feels the urge to do something terrible. It is not enough to acknowledge these monsters. We must understand them, lest they control us, urge us into actions as horrific as they are sublime.

This understanding is my great endeavor, and it is through this work that I have discovered these truths that I am about to unveil. These monsters are not nameless, nor or they formless. Once the light of rigorous scrutiny is shined upon them, they are all too familiar. We each are made up of not one monster, but three.

Specifically, we each have within us the following:

  1. A zombie
  2. A ghost
  3. A lycanthrope

Before I go into detail, a note on my qualifications. Firstly, I was born on October 27th, which was the date of the original Halloween (probably) back when it was a pre-Indoeuropean festival honoring Dark Cthonia, Lord of Horror Stories. It’s important to note that the reason their god of evil and fright was the god of stories, because unlike their descendants, these peoples weren’t dumb enough to think that shit was real. Also I made up the name Cthonia because records from that period are sketchy, but I think it sounds pretty call.

In addition to the birthday thing, I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy. Also my wife has read even more of it (all of it? nearly), and she’s told me about a lot of it in pretty good detail.

Okay, back to the theory. We are all made up of a zombie, a ghost, and a lycanthrope, and these three factors explain everything about us. Well, okay, they don’t explain everything about why we decide to become plumbers or why we like black olives. But they describe everything about how we manifest as monsters. Let us address each one briefly.

The Zombie: Our zombie is our corporeal body. That part of us that is nothing but empty, hungry flesh, seeking to sustain and duplicate our own existence mindless of the costs and the consequences. It also years to improve itself, to regain the intellect it lost when it was a complete entity, but its methods for doing so are as futile as they are useless. The zombie is even unable to recognize that the last sentence is redundant.

The Ghost: The ghost inside of us is our spirit, and our mind. The ghost allows us to think and function as intelligent beings, but it is shackled by its attachments. The emotional urges that make up so much of thought are present in the ghost, but it is lacking both the neurochemical factors that originally produced those urges and also the corporeality to act upon them.Thus, the ghost can think and feel but by itself it cannot change.

The Lycanthrope: The lycanthrope is the most rarefied of our monsters, but perhaps also the most important. The lycanthrope is the living principle. It is the spark of life that turns the lifeless zombie and the bodiless ghost into breathing, bleeding humans. It is also what lets us grow and change. But it also encompasses our rage, our passion, and the extremes of our emotions. NOTE: the lycanthrope was originally the werewolf, but the source material has taught me that maybe not everyone is a werewolf. Some people are turtles and probably also other things.

In a normal person, all three of these monsters are present and in balance. Strange things happen when you remove them.

If you rip the ghost out of a person, what remains is a ghost and a zombie. This is where ghosts and zombies come from. In this procedure, the lycanthrope is torn in half, and each of the remaining creatures has a fragment of it.

The zombie that remains is the hungry, mindless, brain-eating beast found in novels, movies, and parts of Detroit. It has no mind, because it has no ghost.

The ghost that remains has the personality of the original person, but obviously it also has no body of its own. It can interact with the physical world only weakly if at all. The personality that remains is only a shadow of its formal self, however, because it cannot change. Lacking the physical brain of the zombie and the full lycanthrope, it has only a limited set of emotions and thoughts, usually those it experienced at the moment of death. It is usually drawn to scenes of its life, people and places that remind it of what it was, in an attempt to regain what it cannot understand that it has lost. An isolated ghost is a slave to its own identity, as we all are, sometimes.

A full-blown lycanthrope manifests if this monster aspect gains dominance over the other two. The mechanisms for this are varied and outside of the reach of this endeavor.

If a lycanthrope is removed or destroyed from a person, what is left is a vampire. This conclusion is inevitable, both because of the logic I am about to present, and because of course there’s a vampire.

Once the life-force in the form of the were-creature is removed from a person, what is left is a body and a mind that are not alive, lacking in life’s vibrancy and dynamic nature, but still full cognizant and functional. It will not die naturally because it no longer has metabolic function. It can no longer change. It can still reproduce, but that reproduction is mechanical and infectious. It cannot create new life as that requires the lycanthrope. It can only transform others into those like itself, but since it has the mental awareness granted by its ghost, so do its “offspring.”

It requires very little additional speculation to see how this theory can be used to explain how people can be transformed into all variety of monsters. At least, all variety of the Urban Fantasy/World of Darkness/Halloween variety which are the purview of these notes. For example, it takes very little imagination to see how one would use these rules to explain the advent of mummies, or pumpkin kings, or teen wolves.

There is much left to be explored regarding the nuances of this theory, but its explanatory power is undeniable. As are its practical applications. By learning to comprehend our inner monsters, we can learn to resist them. More importantly, we can learn to harness and utilize them, for our own terrible, terrible ends.



Why Creativity Is Not Problem Solving


Me: I’m really disliking my job these days.

Brain: Trust me, I’ve noticed.

Me: I used to like it, but it’s turned into a serious slog.

Brain: Well, maybe you should look for another job.

Me: But I hate looking for other jobs!

Brain: Well, which do you dislike more?

Me: Both of them.

Brain: I’m not sure what to tell you here, dude.

Me: You’re not being very helpful!

Brain: What do you want out me?

Me: I don’t know! A solution! You’re my brain. You should be able to come with something here! Something that lets me do or not do both of these things at the same time. You’re very creative. Aren’t you always telling me that? That we’re creative.

Brain: I do tell us that. I believe it, too.

Me: Right. So…come up with something!

Brain: Okay, I’ve got it.

Me: That was fast.

Brain: I’m a massively parallel organic processing unit with more potential interconnections than grains of sand on the earth, if every grain of sand had a pair of twins with every other grain of sand. Give me some credit.

Me: Fair enough.

Brains: Besides, it’s not like I…you…we…haven’t been thinking about this a lot.

Me: If a chaotic maelstrom of unpleasant emotions and half-baked notions can be called “thinking.”

Brain: What can I say? I’m complicated.

Me: Okay. What’s this plan of yours.

Brain: Alright, so first you get on the running shoes that you bought just before you stopped running regularly.

Me: Okay.

Brain: Put them on, lace them up, and head out into the woods.

Me: The woods? What does that have to do with my job?

Brain: Are you going to let me finish? I am your brain, here.

Me: Fine, fine. Carry on.

Brain: Your British accent is terrible.

Me: I know.

Brain: But I don’t judge you.

Me: I appreciate that.

Brain: Okay, so you head out into the woods, and you look for some squirrels.

Me: Squirrels.

Brain: Squirrels. Gray or black, it doesn’t matter. You start tracking down squirrels, and incapacitating them in some way. So you can put them all in the same place where they can’t get away.

Me: How do I incapacitate them.

Brain: You don’t know how to do that?

Me: No.

Brain: Well then neither do I! I’m your bloody brain!

Me: Oh. Right.

Brain: It’s something you’re going to be able to figure out. But that should be kind of fun, right?

Me: Yeah. I guess it should. I mean, kind of wrong, but a good thing to know how to do.

Brain: Right. So, you gather up these incapacitated squirrels, at least 49, but 51 will do, and…

Me: And?

Brain: You swallow them!

Me: Swallow them?

Brain: Yep! Just gulp them up!

Me: And…that will solve my job problem?

Brain: No! Of course it won’t! But you never listen to anything I say anyway! Just start looking for a new goddamn job like I’ve been telling you to for the last two months! Dammit!

Me: Oh.

Brain: Sigh.

Me: Did you just say “sigh?”

Brain: I did. I did do that. You made me do that.

Me: Sorry.

Brain: It’s okay. And sorry for the bait and switch.

Me: It’s okay. You made your point.

Brain: I appreciate the understanding.

Me: So are we still friends.

Brain: Yes we are. I mean, assuming that term applies when I’m a physical organ and you are an abstract representation of an amalgamated and probably fictional concept that can’t realistically be separated from me other than for the purposes of thought experiments like this one. I don’t know if the world friend applies.

Me: It’s an interesting question.

Brain: Indeed. We should spend the next nine hours discussing it.

Me: You think so?

Brain: No! Get off your ass and start looking for a god damn job!

Me: Right. Of course. Sorry. Getting right on it.

Please, Stop Asking


A little story I wrote that has nothing to do with any pre-existing character. Any resemblance is distracting, and would require me to try to actually sound like that character and capture their essence which was not the point of this story. Anyway, I think it’s pretty fun.


Please, Stop Asking

Stop. Don’t even say anything. I know why you’re here. It’s obvious from the fluctuations in your galvanic skin response. From the anxious teeming of neural firing in your sympathetic nervous systems. From the way you’re sweating.

Besides, why else would you be here? You only come here for one reason. Every other week, it seems like, ever since you all found out where it is. This was supposed to be my special place. I brought a single person here, and this is what happened. It’s not that I don’t care about you. I think I’ve proven that more than enough times. It’s about trust. It’s about appreciation. And there’s only one reason you people come here.

It’s never to invite me to dinner at the White House. To offer me an award for my services. I’m not asking for a Liberty-sized statue or anything. Just a simple award, to show that you give a damn. Hell, I probably wouldn’t even accept the award. But you could offer. It’s not like you couldn’t offer.

No, don’t say anything. You’d say anything right now, the way you are. You’d promise me anything. You’re panicking, and what you say now doesn’t matter. You’ve had plenty of time to say all of those things, and mean them. I know what you are going to say, and I’m going to give you what I hope is the last response I’ll ever give to this question, even though I’m not naïve enough to think it actually will be.

It’s a request. A simple request, and it’s this. Please, stop asking. I’ll say it again. Please, for the love of whatever divine power or higher purpose each of you might hold to, stop asking me to save the world.

I’m not saying I won’t do it. I’m not saying that. I’m insulted that you would think that’s what I mean, after everything I’ve done. After all of the times I’ve done it without being asked or thanked. Oh, okay, fine, some of you have thanked me. But never once have I saved this planet, or any part of it, from destruction, mutilation, or enslavement without a wave of criticism so enormous that even I’d have trouble stopping it. You’ll accuse me of focus on the wrong incident. Or of not saving enough of you. Or of causing property damage.

Lately, there’s an entire set of memes with a zoomed in photo of my face during the Thief of Eternity incident–that stupid photo where my hair looks like two badgers trying to maim each other–accusing me of causing the ludicrous number of near-catastrophic events that have fallen on this clumsy rock these last few years. Me! It’s my fault that the radiation from a sentient pulsar almost boiled the planet into so much overcooked kale? Or that the thing that hatched from the Earth’s core after 4.5 billion years of gestation decided to wake up and drink the mantle? And what about that German fellow, the one you all thought was dead? He spent 60 years calibrating those clockwork mechanisms across the world to line up with that planetary conjunction. 60 years. If you’ll notice, that stretches back to before I was born.

Okay, I confess, I am responsible for part of how those events played out. Specifically, the part where you are not all dead, and your species and entire biosphere relegated to a badly translated footnote in the Encyclopedia Galactica’s Book of Useless Facts.

Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that there’ve been an awful lot of invasions by extra-temporal conquerors lately. And attempts to devour your souls. Or replace your DNA with fungus. The point is, it’s been a bad time. I know that. I know how difficult that is for you. But blaming me? The person who stops it all? You sound like the guy at the office Christmas party who gets rejected every one of his female coworkers and decides they must all be lesbians. Have you considered that maybe the problem is…you?

Again, I’m not saying I’m not going to save you. But you know what, I’m not saying I’ll do it, either. That’s what you want to hear, and you haven’t earned that. That’s just taking me for granted, and I’m not going to live like that. Not any more.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say. “But we’re going to die, we’re going to die!” Cry me a river. You think I haven’t heard that before? I mean, homeless people need to eat, but you probably step over them on the way to your cushy corner office. How is this any different? Do you think the universe at large would care that the planet that brought them Threes Company got wiped off the interstellar map? I assure you, they wouldn’t. They’ve got the DVDs.

It’s not like I don’t have other things to do with my life. Oh, you never even imagined that, did you? You don’t care about me except when I’m punching things into subatomic dust. But I have another life aside from saving your collective asses. I’m playing a lot of MOBAs these days. I have a Twitch channel, and no, I’m not going to tell you what my username is. And I have a boyfriend, now. Yes, a boyfriend. Why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I’m remotely the same species as you are. Why should I conform to your tired gender roles? Hell, you don’t even seem to be doing that anymore. Good riddance.

And another thing, you know that swarm of stellar piranhas that showed up around Thanksgiving? You know how I finally got rid of them? You never asked about that, did you?. Just happy they weren’t going to ruin your Macy’s Day Parade. I lured them to a distant star, one orbited by a now lifeless planet that used to be inhabited by a bunch up upright-walking hairless apes. Sound familiar? It was the only thing I knew would tempt them. By using a machine I built out of the remains of derelict precursor vessels I picked up and assembled while they gave chase, I tricked the piranhas into flying into the star. And then I devoured it. The entire star. I didn’t know if I could do that. I didn’t know if I could survive, but I did it anyway. For you. Because it was the only thing I knew could stop them.

And you know what? It was glorious. A moment of transcendent sublimity a million times greater than pleasure, a billion times more magnificent than love. And for one eternal, impossible instant of fractured time, I experienced the truth and beauty behind the everything. I saw the tiniest sliver of the meaning of it all. This messy, sharp, painful universe of children with bone cancer and premature ejaculation actually made sense. It mattered, despite the seeming futility of life, despite the agony we all suffer, I caught the tiniest glimmer or purpose, and I realized it isn’t all for nothing, after all.

Then it was done. It was gone, and it’s nothing but the memory. But I could get it back. I could complete the puzzle, and maybe fix this awful mess of a reality, if only I could taste it again. I think that maybe that’s what I’m for. That this might be my real purpose, what I could do to fix this broken universe, rather than just stitching up this tiny corner whenever it starts to bleed. Oh, don’t give me that look. I’m not going to eat your sun. I’m not a monster. But there are others like it out there. It’s a very large universe, even for me. I could look. I could find them.

But I won’t. Because of you. Because you are so helpless. I just know that twenty minutes after I left here your oceans would wake into sentience and decide to hug you all into a Kevin Costner movie. Or some idiot with an internet connection and no stable social relationships would build a bomb to turn your atmosphere into peanut butter. Or some gray squirrel in a park somewhere would transform into an omnipotent and angry god. Again.

So here I am. And you know that I’m going to do it again. And again. Because I am who I am. Power doesn’t give you any more choices in life. Not really. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell self-help seminars. So you’d better get out of my way and let me do my job. There’s a world to save, and no one else is going to do it. Just try to show a little appreciation next time. Bring a fellow a craft beer, or something. And for Pete’s sake please, please, please, just stop asking.

Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Interlude Part 3

Shattered Car Window

Interlude: The Brandywine Incident

Part 3

John smiled. He didn’t know whether or not the mechanic meant the statement as a joke, but a smile seemed safe.

“Keep me updated,” he said.

“Will do,” said Jaworski.

John turned towards Stantz and tapped the investigator, who was now leaning into the Dodge through its shattered window, on the shoulder. “What about you? Have you found anything?”

Stantz pulled himself out of the car and stood to face John. “There is no shortage of evidence, but this is a complex process with multiple stages that must be performed in order to obtain useful results.”

“Of course,” said John. “I’m not rushing you. I just wanted to know if the evidence suggested any preliminary conclusions.”

Stantz pursed his lips and gave John an appraising look. “You said your name is Mellanger?”

“John Mellanger, that’s right.”

“Are you of any relation to the local Mellangers? To Stacey Mellanger?”

“My family,” said John. “Stacey is my grandmother.”

“Oho!” Jaworski’s voice boomed from behind John. “We’ve got ourselves a member of local royalty, here.”

John tried not to grimace.

“Does that mean you are from Ducksburg?” John heard officer Handy call from the other side of the scene. Apparently he’d been listening.

“Oh yes,” said Chi loudly from her spot near Handy. Apparently none of these cops had anything better to do but listen in on his conversations. “He grew up here, didn’t you, detective?”

“That’s right,” John called back to Handy. “You and I went to highschool together. You were a sophomore when I graduated. I was the captain of the fencing team.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Handy. “I think I remember that. Lead us to state, didn’t you?”


“Right.” He turned to face Chi. “Did you follow the fencing back then? Hotter than the lacrosse team this last year, even. Never would have thought you’d be able to drag me to a match, but we all went.”

“Oh no,” said Chi. “I was a bit young for that. But I do remember…”

John stopped listening. He turned back to Stantz, who was staring at him, waiting for his attention.

“Are you close with your grandmother? Would you say you see the world in the same way?”

“I’m not quite sure what you mean,” said John, although he was fairly certain he did.

“Let me put it a different way. Do you consider yourself open minded, Detective Mellanger?”

“I try to be.”

“In my work, it is rarely possible to construct a narrative that explains one hundred percent of the findings. There is always something—an unidentified scuff mark, a drop of unknown liquid—that does not fit the ultimate explanation of the incident.”

“It’s the same with police work,” said John. He thought he knew where Stantz was going with this, but he decided to let him finish.

“This occurs,” Stantz continued, “because the world is complicated. Noisy. Not everyone who ever walked through a crime scene was involved in the crime, and no matter how careful the investigators, if they don’t contaminate the scene, the universe will. We just have to hope the noise is not so loud that it obscures the signal.”

“The truth is hard to find, even when no one is trying to hide it.”

“Indeed. All of this makes it tempting to dismiss any unusual or conflicting findings as outliers. Irrelevancies, particularly if doing so allows for a logical and coherent narrative. Most of the time, this is the correct approach.”

“But not this time?”

Stanz pursed his lips again, but didn’t say anything.

John could tell Stantz didn’t want to say what he was thinking. He was probably afraid of being labelled a crackpot. If John was any judge, he’d probably been labelled one before. It would explain why someone with his credentials was in Ducksburg. Or at least, it would half explain it.

“Listen,” he said, “I know that all of your findings will be in your reports. Right now, we’re just throwing out ideas. We’re just two investigators mixing the pot to see if we can stir up any leads. Nothing has to leave the scene of the accident.”

Stantz nodded. “Take a look.” He leaned towards the open window and gestured for John to do the same. He pulled a UV flashlight from out of his lab coat and flicked it on. She shone it inside the car.

“It looks clean,” asked John. “Did you spray for blood?”

“Yes,” said Stanz. “But I’ll do so again.” He bent down and picked a spray bottle up off of the ground and spritzed the inside of the car. There was no change.

“So the driver wasn’t injured,” said John.

“At the very least, they did not sustain any injury that resulted in lacerations,” said Stantz. “Unlikely in an accident of this magnitude.”

“Unlikely, but not impossible.”

“Indeed. Their clothing also did not leave any trace of damage on the inside of the cab. And look at this.” He pulled his arms out of the window and pointed to the door. “Do you see where the compression of the collision warped the frame?”

“Yeah,” said John. “This door isn’t opening any time soon.”

“It’s even worse on the other side. Now look at the window.”

John eye followed Stantz’s finger as he traced along the inside of the shattered window frame. It was safety glass, and so all that remained were some rectangular fragments jutted out from the edges.

“The hole is almost large enough for someone of small build to crawl through, although you expect more disturbance of the glass” said Stantz. “But there is no blood, no fibers, nothing to indicate that the window was traversed or broken subsequent to the collision.”

“So how did the driver get out?”

“That is the question.” He paused, and after a long moment John spoke.

“You think that, what, there was no one in the car when it crashed?”

“As for that,” said Stantz, “it’s too soon to say. But right here, at this point, that’s what the evidence is saying. Now look at this.” He marched towards the rear of the vehicle and pointed to the road. There was a thick layer of rubber skid marks leading back from the tires.

“Consistent with a car braking at 60 miles per hour,” said Stantz, “although I’ll need labwork to be sure.” He gave John a significant look.

John grimaced. He didn’t need Stanz to spell it out for him. It there was no one driving, who slammed on the breaks. He glanced over at Stantz, and saw the man’s intense gaze aimed right at him.

“This means something to you?” Stantz asked.

“Yeah,” said John, as much to himself as Stanz. “It means it was time to come back. It means my damn grandmother was right.”

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Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Interlude Part 2

LAFD Rushes to Save 6 After Severe Head-On Collision

Interlude: The Brandywine Incident

Part 2

“Boys!” Chi called out to the men surrounding the crash. All three of them turned their heads to look, but only one of them, a uniformed officer, stopped what he was doing. “This is Detective Inspector John Mellanger. Detective, these are the boys.”

The uniformed officer walked over to the two of them. He gave John a long look across the brim of his Stetson hat, then pulled his hand out of his pocket and extended it forward. They shook hands. The officer’s grip was aggressive, like his hand had something to prove.

“Nice to meet you, detective,” said the officer. “I’m Handy. Officer Handy.”

“Justin,” said Chi.

“Nice to meet you, officer,” said John. “Why don’t you take me over the scene.”

Handy nodded. Approvingly, John thought. This was a man who appreciated getting to the point.

“We’ve got a head on collision,” said Handy as John followed him over to the crash. “Two cars smacked right into each other. Like a couple of charging bulls.”

“Any casualties?”

“Driver of the Buick is busted up pretty bad,” said Handy, gesturing at one of the vehicles. “Daisy Menkins. Ambulance already came and got her. She’s real shook up. Said she barely saw the car that hit her, going the wrong damn way. I tell you, some sons of bitches, they…”

“What about the driver of the other vehicle?” John interrupted. “Any passengers?”

“No passengers, near as we can tell. As for the other driver, he’s nowhere to be seen. Must have up and skedaddled before we got here. Didn’t want to get caught, I reckon. Looks like the car was stolen. The Dodge, I mean.”

“From the plates?”

“Naw, not the plates. Ran em, didn’t come up as nothing.”

John narrowed his eyes. “What about the VIN? Was that clean, too?”

“Naw,” said Handy. “It weren’t clean. When I say nothing, I don’t mean clean. I mean nothing. The plates aren’t registered with the state. Same with the VIN. Some kind of fake, although I don’t know why somebody’d go to the trouble. Maybe they were trying to register the fake and hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Figured that means the car’s got to be stolen.”

John nodded. “What about the driver? You’ve got people looking for him.”

“Yep. Got an APB, and Sergeant Drake set our boys to canvas the area. He’s leading the search himself. Looking in the woods, mostly.” He pointed to the treeline that started just off the shoulder of the road. “Reckon he headed in that way. If he’d crossed the street someone would’ve seen him.”

“We don’t have any witnesses?”

“Oh, a couple of people saw the crash. We took preliminary statements, but it doesn’t sound like anyone saw the perp. Might be we find out more from their full statements down at the station.”

“Alright,” said John. “Keep me updated.”

“Will do,” said Handy. “Let me introduce you to the team. This is Artie Stantz. He’s the CST.” John didn’t need Handy’s gesture to tell which man he referred to. Even at the scene of an accident, Stantz was wearing a lab coat, with his name and the words Crime Scene Investigator stitched in bold letters. It had probably been pristine when he put it on this morning, but now it was scuffed up by dust and engine grease. If John had to guess, he would say the man probably had a closet full of the coats at home. Stantz had very dark skin, and thick fingers that made it look like he might tear the evidence bag in his hands in half if he sneezed.

“CSI,” he said without looking up. “Not CST. And it’s Arthur.”

Handy gave Stantz a hard look and then turned to the other man, who was round and wore a baseball cap sporting a stylized fruit bat.

“And this is Mel Jaworski,” said Handy. “Best damn mechanic in Ducksburg. Helps us out in cases like these.”

Jaworski chortled. “Well, if I’m the best in Ducksburg, you’ll have to sent in for someone from the city. Because this is the damndest thing I ever did see.”

“How So?” asked John.

“Well, what you got here is a 2005 Dodge Neon. Nothing strange about that, except for why anyone’d drive anything put out by Chrysler in the last few decades. But there’s some of what you might call anomalies.”

Shit, John though. Of course there were.

“Like what?”

“Well, this isn’t a Chrysler engine, for one,” said Jaworski. “Your ‘05 Neon’s got a 2 litre straight-four, like Detroit started to stick into everything once they decided to start trying to make everyone think they made Japanese cars.”

He paused, and John realized he was waiting for a response.

“And this?” John asked.

“This is a straight six. A little heftier, too. You can see where it’s exposed.” He pointed to where the remains of the mangled engine popped out from what was left of the crumpled hood.

“Couldn’t someone have swapped out the engine?”

“Could have,” said Jaworski, but he sounded doubtful. “But that’s not all. Looks like the transmission’s been modified, too. And the coolant system, I think, although I won’t know until I get this mess back to the shop.”

“Could they have been swapped out, too?” asked John.

“Not easily. This isn’t an Accord. Can’t just drop a TR6 engine into a Neon and then drive off into the sunset.” He chuckled. “You’d need a lot of custom pieces to pull this off. And some body work. You’d have to modify the engine compartment to fit the larger engine. Maybe the chassis, too.”

John nodded his appreciation to Jaworski, then face Handy. “We need to start tracking this down.” He turned back to the mechanic. “Can you get me a list of shops in the state that could do this kind of work.”

“No problem. Hell, I could do this kind of work if you cops would leave me alone for five minutes,” he chortled again. “But that’s not what bothers me.”


“Who on God Almighty’s lush and green Earth would put this much effort into modifying a goddamn Neon?”

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Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Interlude Part 1

Cigarette case

Interlude: The Brandywine Incident

Part 1

John Mellanger stepped out of the driver’s seat of the Crown Vic and onto the dusty street. He looked back at the vehicle so graciously granted him by the Municipality of Ducksburg. It was unmarked, but it wouldn’t have looked much more like a cop car if it had flashing lights and an angry man in a wife-beater screaming obscenities from the back seat. He wondered if he was just the same as the car. If, without a uniform, he managed to look like a cop. He wondered if this was the kind of town where that mattered, these days. It had been a while.

“Detective Inspector Mellanger?” said a voice from behind him. He turned around and saw a uniformed officer trotting towards him, a tablet computer in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other. “Detective Inspector? Is that you?”

“Detective Inspector?” he asked as the woman reached him. “You were expecting Scotland Yard?”

“Oh, sorry about that,” she said. “Force of habit, don’t you know. Your predecessor, DI Matthews, I mean detective Matthews, that’s what she liked to be called. Bit of an Anglophile, I suppose. Crazy for Sherlock Holmes. A bit strange, that, since the inspector wasn’t the smart one, was he? But to each their own. I’m Chi. Chi-wei Taan. We spoke on the phone?”

She transferred the bag in her left hand to her right and reached out to shake his hand.

“Officer Taan,” he said as he gripped her palm.

“Oh, you can call me Chi,” she said. “We don’t much stand on formality here. Not like the big city, I suppose, though you’d know that better than I would. You’ll be wanting to see the crime scene, then?”

“That’s right,” said John. The crime scene was clearly visible from where they were, and he’d driven through the police barricade to park, but he didn’t see much reason to point that out.

Chi nodded. “This way.” She turned around and walked briskly towards the mass of people and mangled machinery.

John took the only cigarette out of the case in his jacket pocket and put it in his mouth. He didn’t light it. Chi wasn’t what he expected from speaking to her on the phone. She looked like she was from Taiwan, but sounded like she was from Minnesota. Both of those could be true, but it was unusual. Minnesotans and Taiwanese didn’t move to Ducksburg. People in Ducksburg came from Ducksberg.

Chi turned around and looked at him with an expression like she’d just remembered she needed to water the cactus.

“Would you like a javanut?” she said.

“A what?”

“A javanut,” she said, as she tucked her tablet under her left armpit and reached into the paper bag. She pulled out an unusual looking donut. “Coffee and a donut all in one package. My husband bakes them. Bernard, that’s my husband. He owns the Pie Walk, that’s the bakery down on Locust Street. You should stop in some time. No charge for police officers. Except for functions, of course. Like the upcoming ball. Are you going to the ball? We have to charge for those, otherwise we’d be out of business.”

“The Pie Walk?” John asked as he took the donut. It was still warm. “Not the Cake Walk?”

“Oh no, he prefers pies to cakes. Of course he does bake cakes. You can’t run a bakery without baking cakes, for birthdays and weddings and such. Of course Bernard always recommends speciality pies for those occasions, but I tell him, ‘Bernard,’ I tell him, ‘people do like their traditions. Not much you can do about that.’ Go ahead and eat that while it’s warm, now.”

John wasn’t hungry, but if eating a donut would get this woman to stop filling the air with words, it was donut worth eating. He slipped the unlit cigarette back into the case and bit into the pastry. The texture was dry, but it was filled to the edges with a thick cream that tasted like warm espresso ice cream. John had never had a sweet tooth, but it tasted magnificent.

“Good, isn’t it? The boys go crazy for them. Bit of a cliche, I suppose, cops and donuts. But who doesn’t love donuts?”

He couldn’t answer without violating the air of badass stoicism necessary for a police detective, so he grunted in approval. Chi grinned in satisfaction, then turned and resumed her walk. John followed, finishing the javanut in a few more bites.

“And here we are,” said Chi a minute later. “Here is the accident, and these are the boys.”

Three men surrounded the remains of two cars that lay sprawled across the left lane of the road and into the shoulder. Chi had described the accident to him over the phone, but seeing it in person was dramatic. The two vehicles had slammed into each other head on, apparently at speed, and fused into a single monstrosity of automotive wreckage.

He remembered hearing an urban legend about two cars that collided like this and compressed a pedestrian into the world’s least appetizing pancake. No one noticed there was a body until a few days later, when it started to stink. He’d have to make sure the guys at the yard checked for signs of a victim. In any normal situation the odds against it would be staggering. As far as he knew it had never really happened; it was just a legend. But that kind of thing didn’t matter. Not here, not now. This was Ducksburg, and even though he didn’t know what it was, there was a reason John was here.

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Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Chapter 1 Part 6

Color Swirl Button #1

Chapter 1: The Phone Interview

Part 6

No one blinked. I don’t normally notice whether or not people blink, but it turns out when a room full of people sit there not blinking at you, it’s eerily obvious. At first I thought everyone was a statue. Frozen. But as I stared back I saw signs of life. Martin tapped his ear-pen against his desk. Sandra ground her over-large teeth. Andrew’s chest heaved like it always did when he breathed, but right here, right now, he sounded like a gasping beluga amidst the sea of silence.

“What’s going on?” I said loudly. I didn’t know if I was speaking to my coworkers or the woman on the phone. “Why is everyone staring at me?”

No one responded. They just breathed, and tapped, and stared. The longer I looked at them the less I could see them. No, that’s not quite it. I could see them just fine, but the image in front of me start to make less sense. It filled up with some kind of pixelated haze that I could only almost see. A photoshop filter effect over reality. When I tried to actually observe it, or when I shook my head to clear my vision, it vanished.

“You are operating outside of the convergence point,” said the voice in my ear, “and you don’t know how to operate subtly. They are attempting to extra-cognitively parse it, but they can’t. It’s a common reaction. It’s how you’ve reacted in the past, when you’ve observed the phenomenon.”

“When I’ve…”

“Yes. Do you see anything strange?”

“Do I see anything strange? Are you fucking kidding?”

“No. Please answer the question.”

“Do I see anything strange? Do I fucking see anything…” I was about to curse her out again. I was about to go off on a really fantastic rant about what an idiotic question that was and what a fool she was for asking it, complete with colorful language, literary references, and aspersions on her character that she’d be crying about to her grandchildren.

Then I saw it. Right in my field of vision, impossible to see, impossible to miss. A woman I knew I had never seen at Lucky Travel before, because up to this point I still had a thin grasp on reality. My mouth dropped open, but words refused to come out.

She stood behind Jeff, my boss, who was frozen in the act of tearing the wrapper off a snicker’s bar with his teeth. I call her a “her”, but she didn’t look like a person. More like a spiraling mass of colors that swirled around a single point in space like a hurricane made of paint samples. But there was no doubt it was a woman because–there’s no delicate way to put this–she had an absolutely fantastic pair of breasts. Impossibly fantastic, like the images in a swimsuit magazine that take a team of graphic designers and a few hours with editing software to perfect. I couldn’t tell where they was positioned on her form, or how I could even identify them among the chromatic cacophony, but there they were, in all of their splendor.

“What do you see?”

“A…woman. No, a whirlpool. Like…a tie-dyed whirlpool made of light.”

“What is she doing?”

“She’s looking at me.” I had no idea how I could tell that, either, because she didn’t have eyes. But she had a gaze, and it hooked into me like two fishing lines. All I could do was wriggle.

“Don’t respond,” said the woman on the phone.


“Don’t respond. Don’t give any indication that you can see her.”

“You tell me that now?”

“Don’t move, Dendrite. And stop talking. You are in a tremendous amount of danger. Do you see anything else? Like an Egyptian mummy, only wrapped in the US Constitution? Or a section of carpet ripped up from the floor and bolted to the ceiling? Don’t answer out loud.”

I had no idea how to even think about responding to that. But no sooner did she ask the question than I saw something else. Again it was right there, and I could barely believe I hadn’t seen it before. Another being, strange like the she-color but completely different. It was human-shaped, only carved out of darkness, like the darkness was a piece of stone. I could see the chisel marks.

It walked towards the colors with a slow, confident stride. In its left hand it held a cigarette, and it took a long drag. The insane thought flashed through my mind that it wasn’t supposed to smoke in the building and that someone was going to bitch it out. It walked up to the color. It was right behind her. It started to reach out.

Danger poured out from the statue-thing like sweat, and all of a sudden I wanted to shout. I wanted to scream to the color-woman and tell her that there was something behind her and she needed to run away as fast as she could. But my throat was full of cinnamon. The dark-stone thing’s hand stretched towards her. It’s obsidian face stretched into a grin. It uncurled a single finger, black as Turkish coffee spiked with coal dust. The finger hovered towards her. Seeking. Hungry. I tried to wave my hand. To scream. Anything to warn her.

“Don’t!” yelled the voice in my ear. The sound of 80 different Nickelback songs with the volume blasted to 11 exploded in my head, and I clasped my hands over my ears.

The black statue’s hand descended, and tapped the swirl of colors right where her shoulder should be.

“Alright, that should do it,” said a pleasant voice in my ear. “Thanks for all your help!”

“Zuh?” I stared at a customer’s info on my computer screen.

“I said thanks for your help,” said the customer. She sounded like she meant it.

“Oh,” I stammered. “Um…you’re welcome.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I think I might have just had a little stroke there, for a minute. I’ll be alright.”

She laughed. Apparently I had charmed this woman. Wait, no that didn’t sound right. I was standing up, starting at a swirl of colors that needed a bra and a stone statue with a nicotine addiction. Wasn’t I?

“You’re funny,” said the woman on the phone.

“Thanks,” I said.

I was sitting down at my desk. The babble of my coworkers doing anything but their jobs filled the air around me. I stood up and took a look. N one was staring at me, and there were absolutely no swirling masses of pureed Skittles. I had spent the last few minutes on the phone with a woman, helping her with a vacation package. I could even sort of remember doing it, now that I was here. It made so much more sense.

All of the other stuff felt so real. Embarrassingly real. But that was just some brain thing. Dreams feel that real sometimes, too. I’d go home and kill the part of the brain responsible with euphoria-inducing compounds and get on with my life. Confusion and relief mixed inside of me, like I was the Boston shaker for one of those weird cocktails that they serve at the after party of a science fiction convention.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” the woman asked again.

“Definitely. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No. I’m perfect.”

“Well then I’d like to thank you for choosing Lucky Travel, and I hope you have a fantastic trip. And sorry again for getting weird there for a second.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Have a good rest of your evening, Dendrite.”

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