NaNoWriMo: Pagan Blimp Detective (Part 2)

“It was pink.” The CEO’s face had turned its characteristic strawberry color. I held in a smirk, though it took all my willpower to do so. “My prime time blimp, soaring up above the city for all to see, my face, an icon of strength, masculinity, and industry, beaming down on the populace. And it was bright, screaming, sissy PINK.”

“I’m aware of that, sir,” I said in the most mournful tones I could muster. I’m a good actress, but it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. It had been a remarkable work of vandalism. Not only had the entire blimp been recolored in the CEO’s least favorite color, even his face had been completely repainted in gentle, friendly shades of pink. The detail had been truly impressive. The world’s most famous and powerful opponent to gay rights had been a laughing stock for several hours, until the pilot finally completed his route and brought it back down. He was still in custody, and had been questioned by half the police force and the CEO, Mr. Hanvil himself, but he appeared to genuinely not have noticed the paint job before boarding and starting his advertising flight. A drug test finally confirmed that he had marijuana in his system, so now he was being held for a different reason. But I was confident that he was telling the truth. The vandal was someone else.

“You told me you could find the lowlife who did it. It’s been three days and I haven’t seen a single arrest on the news. Where’s my vandal, detective?”

I forced myself to look intimidated despite my complete and utter lack of remorse. There was nothing to be gained by standing up to this man (or his army of lawyers) and a lot of money to be made in keeping him happy. “Yes, sir. It’s taking a bit longer than expected, but I’m sure I’m on the right trail. I won’t give up until I find the right culprit.”

“Damn right you won’t.” He seemed satisfied with my humility for the moment. “I expect results by the end of the week, Sharp, or I’m going to find myself another detective.”

Now that would be unacceptable. I couldn’t have another detective poking his (and it would certainly be a he) nose in on my case. “I won’t let you down, sir.”

“See that you don’t. I don’t want to have to regret hiring a woman to do what we all know is a man’s job. I hope you realize that if it hadn’t been for your little miracle last Thursday evening, I’d have never considered hiring you for a second.” It hadn’t been easy to persuade him to give me a chance. I’d had to fall back on sources of information I’d hoped to avoid, and nearly gotten myself into more trouble.

I repressed a grin of pride at having accomplished that without arousing the CEO’s suspicion. He was a miserable boss, but being in his employ gave me a lot of freedom, a lot of power, and, of course, a steady paycheck – so long as I gave him something he considered to be worth his money every now and then.

“Well I’d better get back to work straight away, then, hadn’t I?”

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NaNoWriMo: Pagan Blimp Detective

I flashed my badge as I entered the cockpit. “Agent Sharp,” I said, stepping through the doorway. The pilot had not yet looked up.

“Yeah, and I’m Special Officer Peter Carlin. Get out of my cockpit, lady.”

I had dealt with his type before. He demanded respect, regardless of whether he deserved it. I thought about putting him in his place, but I decided to go with finesse. It was less work, and you got into a lot fewer fights that way. I took a step back through the opening that served as an entrance to the tiny cockpit. “Sorry to interrupt,” I said in my most humble tones. “But if you’ll have a look at my badge, I think you’ll see that I am, in fact, a detective, and I’d just like to ask you a few questions.”

The pilot, Carlin, still didn’t look around. He was fumbling with some dials. Twenty years at this job and I still didn’t understand what any of those levers, dials, and digital displays were all about. They weren’t my problem. But this guy was starting to be.

“I’m busy flying the airship, in case you hadn’t noticed. Any questions you have, just go ahead and ask. I have work to do, and fifteen lives to protect. Sixteen, if I’m expected to include yours.”

“I’d appreciate it if you did. But I assure you, this won’t take long. I just need to know where you were the afternoon of March seventh.”

The pilot paused a moment before answering. “What day of the week was that?”

“Thursday. Last Thursday.”

I noticed his shoulders sag – a sign of either relief or despair, depending on what his face was doing. And I couldn’t see his face.

“I was home sick last Thursday. Why, who wants to know?”

Home sick. That was what the records said, too – but did he have any proof? “Is there anyone who can confirm that, Mr. Carlin?”

“Yeah, my wife and our three kids, two of whom caught it from me and are home throwing up right this moment. It was a relief to come into work today and get away from the smell.”

“What about the third one?”

“I caught it from her.”

Children. They really were little bags of disease, there was no doubt about that. I was glad to have stepped out of the cockpit and gotten a little distance from the pilot.

“And you think it was a responsible decision on your part to come into work today, to pilot a vehicle containing over a dozen innocent people who could contract your illness at any moment?”

He flipped another switch. “I wash my hands plenty and my clothes are clean. I’m not sick. The people are fine.”

He was calm, confident. Maybe he was telling the truth – or maybe it was just the easy manner of the compulsive liar, the one who knows he can get away with it. If only I could get a good look at his face.

“And you don’t think you pose any danger to the good people riding this zeppelin?”

That did it. He whipped around, a deep crease in his brow and a sour look on your face. “This is a blimp, lady. Get your facts straight before you go interrogating innocent people. Have a little respect.”

He swung back around and glared at one of the dials. He wouldn’t be cooperative anymore, but no matter. The information I needed was written in plain text right across his eyes: he didn’t know anything about the vandalism.

NaNoWriMo: Geriatric Wagon Siege

No one knew how long the war had been raging. Not because it had started so long ago, but because everyone was getting a little too senile to remember the details.

“You stay here,” muttered George in a low wheeze. “I’m going out on a supply run. We’re almost out of water. Just stay here and stand guard until I get back.”

“WHAT?” shouted Walter.

“STAY HERE,” shouted George. “STAND GUARD UNTIL I GET BACK.”

Walter’s eyes moved slowly back and forth for a moment, as though he were reading something from the inside of his own head. Finally, he nodded and gave George a big grin and a thumbs up.

“Damned idiot,” muttered George as he hobbled away from the wagon, leaning heavily on his walker. “Gonna get us all killed.”

It wasn’t really Walter’s fault, and George knew it. Poor fool’s hearing aid hadn’t had batteries in years. He did the best he could.

But these days, that might not be good enough anymore.


George’s walker glittered in the hot sun as he crept across the canyon floor. Beatrice tracked him easily from up on the plateau. She lay flat on her stomach, her blue perm wiggling gently in the wind.

“Today’s the day, girls,” she called over her shoulder. “He’s going out for more supplies. Walter’s in there alone. No way he’ll hear any of us coming.” She allowed herself the luxury of a wicked chuckle, which ended in a mild coughing fit. When she had finished, she reached out her arms behind her. “Help me up, Ethel.”

Together, they managed to get Beatrice up on her feet. Gloria stood by watching, her shotgun slung against her shoulder. She adjusted her hair net and glasses, impatient to get moving. “While we’re young, ladies,” she grumbled in a voice that had known countless packs of cigarettes.

“Oh, Gloria, you just be patient,” answered Ethel in a cheerful, teasing tone. “We’ve waited this long, we can wait a few minutes longer.”

“Maybe you can,” came the irritated reply.

“Both of you just stop it. The enemy is down there.”

“And their wagon is unguarded. George isn’t going to be gone for too long, and we need to get in there and end this miserable siege once and for all.” Gloria spit into the sand at her feet to emphasize her point.

Beatrice wrinkled her nose. “Now listen, Gloria, I know we’ve all been here for a long time and we’re all very tired and a little on the irritable side. Ethel, why don’t you fix us up some sandwiches while I get all our ammunition together.”

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NaNoWriMo: Spirit of the Burger Fortress (Part 3)

It was unusual for Lenka to sleep past eight a.m., but it was also unusual for her to lose count of how many beers she’d drunk. Still, it had been necessary to deal with the emotional overload of realizing she might actually believe in ghosts, especially in the ghosts of incinerated fast food workers. Or maybe the ghost was the spirit of the restaurant itself. Yes, the conversation had gone in that direction in the end. After all, once you allow yourself to believe in the possibility of undead burger flippers, you had to admit that pretty much anything might be possible, really.

She had trouble getting her eyes open. She couldn’t feel any moisture in them at all. She fumbled around for the glass of water she always kept by the bed. It wasn’t there.

This was going to be one of those days.

At last, she managed to sit up and focus her vision on her bedside table, where her phone was sitting. She had failed to plug it in, and of course, the battery was now dead.

She had to get down on all fours to retrieve the cable from under the bed and start charging the phone. In the meantime, she stumbled into the kitchen, yawning and wondering what that awful smell was. She poured herself a glass of water and drained it in three big gulps. Apparently she was thirsty. The water tasted sweet. Apparently the awful smell was coming from inside her mouth.

Ugh.

After tracking down a bottle of painkillers and swallowing two (something she very rarely did), and after making a very long visit to the toilet (during which she may have gotten a few more minutes of sleep – she wasn’t sure), Lenka returned to the bedroom and powered up the phone.

She downed another glass of water while she waited for her messages to come in.

It seemed like she was waiting an awfully long time. She checked the signal: it was fine. Full bars. She just didn’t have any messages.

Odd. Usually after a night out like that, Honza would bombard her with messages.

Honza. Honza…

Empty gaps in her memory slowly started to color themselves in. Something about a phone call, and a robot. No, Honza was the robot. A tiny robot. No, his voice. He had a tiny robot voice.

What was it he had wanted?

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NaNoWriMo: Spirit of the Burger Fortress (Part 2)

Dude, that’s not funny.

Honza made an expression of annoyance as he read Krystof’s message. What the hell was he talking about? He hadn’t even been home all day; he’d been busy discussing possible explanations for the Burger Fortress haunting with Lenka and Hana over a beer or two. Or three. He hadn’t really been counting. It had definitely been more than one.

He composed his reply on the metro and tried to send it twice before he realized he was deep underground with no signal. Finally, the train pulled into a station and he took the opportunity to send his message?

What are you talking about?

He had to wait for the next station to get Krystof’s answer.

I’m not buying it, asshole. Leaving hamburger wrappers all over the apartment isn’t going to make me believe your stupid hallucinations. Where did you even get them? I know there’s no way you ate them all.

Hamburger wrappers? Honza truly had no idea what Krystof was going on about. Sounded like the ghost (or ghosts) was (or were) up to something again. Before he could get his sluggish mind focused on composing an answer, Krystof sent another text.

And what the hell is Burger Fortress? I’ve never heard of it. What, did you make up a fictional fast food place and print the wrappers yourself? At least use real ones, you idiot. Who would buy this fake crap? And the ketchup all over the place? You’re really losing it, man. You’re going too far and it’s getting sad.

A terrible thought occurred to Honza. What if Krystof was in danger? One of the possibilities he and Lenka had mulled over over their fourth or fifth beers had been that the ghost, or ghosts, might be simply seeking validation, that they just wanted someone to recognize and admit that they existed and that what had happened to them was really messed up. Or maybe they needed help with something. And if Krystof was refusing to admit what he was seeing, what if they got upset and did something worse than making his apartment look and smell like a cheap fast food joint?

Okay, asshole, where the hell are you? I know you’re in here somewhere. You can pretend not to hear me all you want, but I can hear you whispering. If you think you can get to me by chanting weird fast food slogans at me endlessly from inside the walls or wherever the hell you’re hiding, you’re wrong. I’m not buying it, and you’re not going to trick me into spreading your ghost story crap.

He needed to talk to Krystof. His fingers weren’t doing well with the whole typing thing at the moment, for some reason, and it was taking too long. He finally reached his stop on the metro and got off the train. He still had a ten minute tram ride to get home, but at least he had a signal here. He tried to start a video call with his temporary roommate.

It rang for almost a full minute. Honza was ready to give up when at last Krystof’s large, bearded face appeared on the screen.

“Dude, this is bullshit. Where the hell are you? This isn’t funny anymore.”

“Krystof, I’m not home. Look at me. I’m at the metro station. You can see it with your own eyes.”

“Then where did you hide the recording? There’s a speaker somewhere or something. This isn’t funny, and I’m not buying it.” But his voice was quivering and his eyes were darting around nervously.

“Man, I’m telling you, I haven’t done anything. If you’re refusing to believe your own senses just because you’re afraid it’s all a prank and someone’s going to jump out and yell ‘gotcha’, then you seriously need to get your priorities in order. Now tell me what exactly is going on there. I’m on my way home but it’s going to be a bit longer.”

Krystof glared into his phone’s camera. “No way, dude. No way. You’re not getting me. I don’t buy it.” He fell silent, and Honza could hear a metallic sound in the background. “Okay, man, how are you doing that? That is some serious special effects, dude. Kudos for making this all happen and stuff, but—”

Another voice cut in, distant and hollow: If you’re not going to order anything, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.

Honza watched as the video image twisted and spun; Krystof’s phone had obviously fallen on the floor. He heard the metallic sound again, followed by some other sounds he couldn’t quite identify but which were entirely unpleasant to hear, and then the connection was broken.

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NaNoWriMo: Spirit of the Burger Fortress

It began with little things. The faint scent of pickles in the bathroom. The sound of patties sizzling just after he turned off the television. A voice, so soft he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t just part of a dream, whispering in his ear as he woke up: Would you like fries with that?

Honza had gotten a great deal on the apartment. It was in one of the nicest parts of the city, overlooking a small park, and well-connected by public transportation. It was all freshly renovated, too: new floors, windows, kitchen appliances… It was missing a few furnishings, but nothing he couldn’t get cheaply at IKEA. It was true, he would have preferred an older building, one with the classic brick-type architecture rather than the concrete panels which made up this newer building, but he couldn’t complain about much else.

When he’d moved out of his ex’s place, he hadn’t imagined he’d find such a deal.

In fact, he could hardly believe his luck. How was it that no one had snatched this place up? In fact, half the building was empty. At first, he’d assumed it was just very new and hadn’t had time to fill up, but when he mentioned the find to his friend Lenka, she’d given him a confused look.

“That place? That’s been there for ages. I used to pass by it on my bike on the way to work. There was always a sign advertising apartments for rent. I always figured it must be a dump inside or something.”

“No way. It’s gorgeous in there. Everything is brand new. When I went to check it out, I brought Mirek along to check the wiring, plumbing, all that stuff, and he said it all looked great. No problems.”

“Good thinking. Mirek really saved me from that shady place in the center last year. To think I might have actually moved in there and had to deal with all that mold…”

“Yeah, he really knows his stuff. I’m telling you, the place seems too good to be true, but I can’t figure out what could possibly be wrong with it.”

Lenka went quiet for a few minutes, ducking into her own personal world of overthinking and analysis like she always did. Honza could see her eyes get distant. “Well, if it is, I’m sure you’ll find out eventually.”

Her words repeated themselves in his head once more as he squatted naked in the tub, the hot water still running out of the shower head in his hand and splashing onto the wall behind him, staring at the young man in a yellow and purple fast food uniform who had mysteriously appeared in his bathroom. He was mouthing something over and over again, but Honza couldn’t hear a single word. In fact, the kid was completely silent – even his footsteps didn’t make a sound. Honza stared at him, completely unsure of how to handle a situation like this, and watched his mouth moving. Suddenly, he understood what he was saying, as though the words had been beamed directly into his head:

For here or to go?

For here or to go?

For here or to go…

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NaNoWriMo: Custom Cookie Ransom (Part 2)

The current Master Cookiesmith was not the only one with a talent for life-giving confectionery. Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons had a passion for the specialized, intricate works of culinary magic which had been consistently overlooked ever since he first joined the ranks of the Guild of Cookiesmiths. Like everyone else, he had been singled out as a young child and locked in the Tower of Baking to learn his craft. He had worked hard, done well, passed all his examinations, and surpassed all expectations right up until his qualification as official Cookiesmith in the service of the Emperor. He worked alongside the current Master Cookiesmith, back when she was known simply as Cookiesmith Sparklecreme, adding the final touches to weaponized cookies and checking them for any possible imperfections. He was proud of his work, but, like Cookiesmith Sparklecreme, he preferred to spend his spare time creating unique, customized cookies infused with powerful enchantments. He reveled in experimentation, ever searching for new possibilities. He alone had unlocked the secret of the luminous cookie, which caused its consumer, bound to it by blood, to glow like the moon for three full days. He had come up with several powerful innovations for the weaponized cookies, including a compound which kept the edges of the gingerbread throwing discs sharp and true even after several uses. And he had used his own blood to infuse several energizing treats that allowed him to work several shifts on end without any pause or rest.

In short, he was, in his own mind, a visionary, a genius, and the most qualified candidate for the great responsibilities of the Master Cookiesmith.

And when the Emperor’s inspectors had come through the Guild, he had been stuck in a storeroom, checking the stocks, as a responsible cookiesmith was bound to do.

Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons rightfully deserved the title of Master Cookiesmith, and it had been stolen from him by bad timing, poor luck, and that subpar Cookiesmith Sparklecreme. Well, Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons had had enough of waiting around for the recognition he deserved.

In the midst of the crowd at the Stone of Oaths, he discreetly positioned himself near the path to the Forest of Souls. He dutifully kept his eyes pointed down, but he had excellent peripheral vision. When he noticed one figure in a cookiesmith apron walking backwards, he knew his moment had come. As soon as the Master Cookiesmith had disappeared into the trees, he slowly made his way to the nearest of the Emperor’s soldiers. It was a tricky position he was in. He had to get the soldier to go after her without admitting he had been paying attention to anything but the ground in front of him and his all-consuming sense of loyalty to the Emperor. He would have to be subtle, clever. He had spent half the night mulling over exactly which words to use, and the tone in which to say them. At last, his moment had come. He kept his head bowed down, partly because it was required, and partly because he didn’t want the soldier to recognize his face.

“Psst. Soldier.” The soldier was so surprised that one of the Emperor’s subjects was speaking to him during this solemn occasion that he was ready to hear what the cookiesmith had to say.

“What?”

“How would you like to be known as the hero who saved the Emperor’s life from a traitor?”

The soldier liked that idea very much. “Go on.”

“I happen to know that there is such a traitor. And she is in the Forest of Souls right now. If you go quietly, you can capture her at the Fountain of Unending Prosperity.”

The soldier gave herself a moment to imagine his reward, should he save the Emperor’s life from a traitor. He reveled in the fantasy for a moment before moving briskly towards the forest, instantly forgetting about the anonymous cookiesmith.

As he neared the Fountain, a terrible thought occurred to him. What if this was a trap? If he had really left the Stone of Oaths on this solemn day and did not have proof that it was only to save the Emperor’s life, he would be punished beyond comprehension. What if that cookiesmith (suddenly remembered) had been trying to trick him? What if this was a trap?

He crept forward until he was within sight of the Fountain. There was no one there. He hid himself behind a tree and cursed under his breath. What was he going to do now? The Empire stretched across all the lands, and there was nowhere he could run where he would be safe from the punishment for abandoning his post on the Day of Cleansing. He had never known relief such as that which he felt when he saw the aproned cookiesmith step out from the trees.

“Stop right there!”


It was unfortunate, what had happened to the Master Cookiesmith. Or the former Master Cookiesmith, to be accurate. There was a new Master Cookiesmith now.

It wasn’t Cookiesmith Sugarbuttons, however, who had been answering the call of nature when the inspectors came to the guild looking for a replacement for the condemned.

He sat on his cot that night, taking a good long soak in a sea of self pity, and considered whether it had really been necessary to allow… that… to happen to his former colleague. But there was no changing that now. It was done with, and he didn’t have the stomach to depose yet another Master Cookiesmith. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps he should be content with his perfectly respectable duties in the weaponized cookie department.

At least he had his prize. Silently, he eased it out from its hiding place inside his mattress. The Emperor’s life-giving cookie shone with a gentle light from inside its case.