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Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

WMSP, Part II: a further entertainment

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized, Writing on April 24, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Act I, Sc. 2

(The Reader is alone in the forested darkness of the outdoors night time.
She is searching near an ancient monument. This monument looks at once familiar and out of place.
Nearby, a spot that looks as though it should be occupied. It remains, for the moment, empty.

A gentleman, the Interlocutor, enters. It is possible he wears a three-piece suit. You will not remember, therefore it is also possible he wears a four-piece suit.
The Interlocutor steps into the empty space. Theatre Majors, you’re welcome.)

INTERLOCUTOR
(Always speaking directly to the audience, unless otherwise noted.)
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am not here.
It is at this point in the narrative that I am obliged to offer the following warning: the events you purport to be witnessing are not, in fact, occurring. Further, should you endeavour to describe what you’re about to not see to anyone, anywhere, at any time or place, you are obliged to begin with the following caveat:
“The first thing you need to know is that nothing I’m about to say actually happened.”
Remember that phrase, please.
Now, to our heroine—not of the opioid variety, though potentially just as addictive. We’ll call her the Reader, or simply Reader, where appropriate. She is an attractive young woman of whatever ethnicity you please. As you can see, she is appropriately attired in outdoorsy khaki and a campaign hat, the sleeves of her button-down rolled up because she’s ready to get to work.
Her neckerchief is from Camp Clever Redwoods in Trevarno, California; the slide has an emblem that is hard to see in this darkness—in full light, it is clearly two crossed diagonal upward-pointing arrows with strange symbols in the resulting four quadrants.
Trevarno does not exist. Do not go looking for it.
This is a young woman of parts.
On her back is a bedroll pack; a sensible and possibly weaponized walking staff leans against a nearby tree.
On her belt are an assortment of pouches, each containing necessities of the life-and-death variety.
It is unfortunate that, despite her being so well-equipped, she will—eventually—be devoured.
A waning gibbous moon shines down from above, illuminating the monument as best it can in its lessened state.

READER
(Speaks directly to audience.)
The first thing you need to know is that nothing I’m about to say actually happened.

(Interlocutor turns to us; single external take recommended.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Oh my. It appears I may have tampered with the text.
You will perhaps later understand that I have done so with your best interests at heart, ladies and gentlemen.

READER
(To herself, as she examines the monument.)
Long have I searched in vain for that which is hidden. Dark and desolate, the reaches I’ve trekked. Uncertain the path and treacherous the pass, my journey has been fueled by rumor and whispers, stymied by obscurances and sudden lackings. It is now, under this waning gibbous Scorpio moon, that I have come to this place in the dark of night to delve secretly for the first part of a lost book, a hidden book, a book that does not exist—yet sits at the center of a web of shadow.

(In the darkness beyond the fitful moonlight, we hear a sound.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Pause for a moment, ladies and gentlemen, as you can see our Reader has done; for, indeed, there was a sound in the darkness beneath the surrounding trees. Was it a night bird?
Observe her poise, listening over one shoulder.
Do you suppose she will maintain that poise when her belly is ripped open by the splintry teeth of whatever waits for her in the darkness?
Watch now as she shakes off her dread and attempts to reassure herself and, by extension, all of you.

READER
(As she speaks, Reader draws on the monument with chalk: four symbols at upper left, lower right, upper right and lower left.)
It is the custom of whatever forces seek to prevent the book’s discovery to sound dark warnings and foreboding cries in the night. These grunting warblers and howls of rending occur all along my path, which tells me two things:
The first is that they do not want me on this path.
The second is that they know—of my deepest heart—that which fills me with terror. For each time I believe I am close to that which I seek, they step in to suggest the approach of some—puppy nestled in the comforting crook of my grandmother’s arms.

(Reader stops, shakes head, disorientated.)
I did not mean to say that. Something is amiss.

INTERLOCUTOR
Observe: even as she turns to look around, I step forward to down center stage, gesturing with my left hand to lower the light on Miss Reader, thus obscuring the full nature of the symbols and whatever else she does in the darkness. None of this matters because / it is not real—

(/A gigantic, tattered and shadowy horror—the Bat-winged Hog—erupts, screaming, from the trees beyond the monument.
Interlocutor disappears, quiet; we are distracted by the horror of the Bat-winged Hog, its leathery wings beating as it claws its way through the branches.
Reader steps forward, executing a graceful yet complex reverence (in the balletic sense) as she drops her pack and arms herself with her staff.)

READER
Bat-Winged Hog! Thine is not the head I wish to impale upon a pike this night! Long my path and dark my days, but never under the shadow of thy impressively foul leatherflaps!

(Bat-Winged Hog shits a wad of leech-tar at Reader.
She steps easily from harm; the tar splatters on a tree, burning and wriggling as the tree screams; all beetles and bugs on or around the tree flee the leeches. Fungi lean
in the direction of the tree and begin a visible mycelium migration toward the tree.
Reader sees this and begins, while speaking the following, a desperate search of the surrounding forest floor.)

READER
Dark this night and dim this moon—if we are to battle, let us battle under a full moon in a sign less toxic to thy most undead and yet porcine self! Terrestrial scorpion’s sting may hold no danger for your farmstead cousins, O Harbinger of the Rotting Trough, but Luna in Scorpio may prove fatal for one who lives only by night!

(Bat-Winged Hog shits another wad of leech-tar in the crook of a tree, then begins chewing one of its front feet off.)

READER
Bat-Winged Hog! I see thy plan: self-chewed foot planted in leech-tar shite grows Hogling Toothface! Even as you struggle with this foul endeavor, I scour the forest for your doom!

(True to her word, Reader drops to her knees and, lighting a small oil lantern from within her pack, begins searching at the bases of trees. She continues this throughout the following, until otherwise noted.

Meanwhile, Bat-Winged Hog nods, delighted and giddy at its clever plan; the foot is fully chewed; gouting poisoned blood, this creature of night plants its severed foot in the leech- tar.
Immediately the leech-tar quivers and spurts, like a lanced pilonidal cyst.
Hogling Toothface begins to emerge, face-first: its visage entirely of teeth, with one or two eyes misplaced and a rapacious digit, of profound interphalangeal artiuclarity, which protrudes from its forehead and spastically beckons: come-hither.

Interlocutor appears.

During the following, Hogling Toothface is thoroughly birthed with many splats and a final, massive plorp. He screams and bawls and makes his way down the tree toward Reader like a baby bird seeking its nest.)

INTERLOCUTOR
A word or two about Hogling Toothface.
As you can see, he is ugly and small.
His eyes, such as they are, do not easily stay within his skull. Ah, there we go: one of them has gotten snagged on a twig and—plorp—how unpleasant. Ah, but see? It does not merely dangle: it
watches.
The face which lost that eye, while made entirely of teeth, might be mistaken as merely horrific—but not necessarily dangerous.
This is incorrect. Should you encounter him on your night hikes at Audubon Canyon Ranch, my friends, be not mistaken: the bashing of his head against your hip or pelvis will not merely
break but will immediately pulverize bone. The teeth of his face churn against one another, turning in and biting, ripping from their sockets to pierce further with their twisted roots.
This causes him excruciating pain. Which can only be relieved by the use of that peculiar cranial protuberance you see jutting from his forehead. This is known as his Toothface Poker … his Naughty Dentist … or his Fingerling Potato.
All of which are comparatively innocuous euphemisms for what is, as clearly described in the stage directions of this text and reinforced by the words I speak, a rapacious digit. Meaning that is its sole purpose: the indiscriminate penetration of the penetrable.
This is a digit of profound interphalangeal artiuclarity. Meaning it has bones and it can move all sorts of ways.
As you can see, it spastically beckons: come-hither. Why? Because, seeing that gesture, you are more likely to run. And by all means, do. Run! Run away, fast as you can.
Yes, for you see: the fact is, no matter how fast you run, Hogling Toothface is faster. Because Hogling Toothface wants you more than you can possibly imagine. Male, female, gender neutral, gender switched, no matter!—whatever flavor you represent, you have holes. And running, you present
at least one of them.
So if you’re out and about on the trails of an evening and you feel eyes on you, or you hear the thumping patter of little cloven-hoofed babyfeet, know that you will soon be the very special friend of Hogling Toothface.
See now how close he is? See now how he reaches for her? Watch now and see her story end in screaming, in anguish, internal ripping audible in the cold forest of the night, her body discovered by park rangers in two weeks, assumed to have been fed upon by carrion eaters.

(Hogling Toothface is indeed just above Reader, reaching for her hair, his digit dripping leeches from the tip. He is grabbing her hair—

Reader leaps to her feet, her actions fitting her words as follows.

Bat-Winged Hog reacts, enraged, to all that follows; its wings get tangled and torn, stuck in the branches of the trees.)

READER
False Parasol! Thus do I raise this mushroom above me, its toxicity shading me from the dark sun of your evil origins, Bat-Winged Hog!
Only a fool runs from Hogling Toothface! See now how I grasp him by this foul protuberance! See how he is disabled by his pleasure at the contact, but, O! See now his doom!, for indeed this mushroom can be stuffed into the dribbling hole of his unnatural pene
traitor, spelled with an ‘I’ because I see that his very existence is a betrayal of all things good and right in this world!
With this broken twig I shove and stab the false parasol into his fallacy of a phallus!, tamping it deep past his un-mushroomed tip like the poisonous charge of a fiendish cannon, I seat the round in the breach and prepare to fire! Cannoneers to your posts!

(Reader wedges screaming, struggling, near-orgasmic Hogling Toothface in the crook of a tree, facing Bat-Winged Hog, readying a box of strike-anywhere matches.)

INTERLOCUTOR
She cannot possibly succeed.

READER
Friction-primer set! Sergeant, fire!

(Reader strikes the match, igniting Hogling Toothface’s anus.

Hogling Toothface screams in ecstasy and pain, his digit clogged with poisonous mushroom, the screech building until with a plorping FWOOM, the False Parasol and much of Hogling Toothface’s strange digit shoot like a cannonball at Bat-Winged Hog.)

READER
To Hell with you and your foul progeny, Infection of the Nightmare Barnyard!

(Reader’s aim is true: Bat-Winged Hog is blasted from its place in the trees, ripping from its wings and disintegrating into smoke and dust. In its place is a harmless, beautiful moth.
At the same time and in the same manner, Hogling Toothface disintegrates. In its place is nothing.
The leech-tar in the tree has been covered over by healing fungi; the trees will thrive.

Interlocutor is staring, incensed, at Reader, who crouches, wary, catching her breath. After a moment, Interlocutor remembers the audience. He turns to us and smiles.)

INTERLOCUTOR
It appears that our entertainment will last an entire evening, ladies and gentlemen. Allow me now to summon a truly diverting amusement—

(Music fills the glade.
Interlocutor is halted in his speech by its beauty.
The moth moves through the trees, appearing now i
n a shaft of oddly bright moonlight (considering that this is a gibbous moon).
If a moth can appear dazed, it does. [Note to directors: consider puppetry; training moths is perilous at the best of times.]
Reader executes a deeply graceful reverence in the moonlight.
The moth dances in the air to Reader’s speakings.)

READER
Hyalophora Euryalus, I salute you. In your eternal spiral quest to reach the moon, you have been waylaid this night by forces most unpleasant. It was never my intent that you would be used in such shadowy crabblings.
Go now and flutter thy glorious wings, for someday thy offspring shall feast upon Ceanothus! Pseudotsuga Menziesii! Ribes! Salix
!

(The moth bows and flutters up toward the Scorpio moon.
Its music continues through the rest of the scene.
Reader kneels to the moth and the moon, then moves her pack and staff to the base of the monument, making notes in a leatherbound journal during the following. It is clear she expected a different outcome.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Ladies and Gentlemen, thus do we conclude this portion of the evening’s entertainment. Little does our Reader know she has spoken the words which open a gateway to the moon. And, on levels yet to be discovered, her words may have echoed toward other gateways. Would that this were enough to save her. Alas. The next scene will, I suspect, prove most diverting—even to those among you whose tastes are more, shall we say, European? Splendid. Now / to change the scene—

(/One of the symbols on the monument glows blue, a deeper music thrumming from the monument itself, harmonizing with the music of the moon moth.
Reader is startled, stepping back, journal in hand, to observe.
Interlocutor stares in shock.)

READER
Cold my nights and shadowed my path, but now I know which new path to take! Thank you, little Moon Moth! I am inspired by your in-spiral-ation!

(Reader dons her pack and takes up her staff, heading off upstage left, exploring once again this dark forest.
Watching her go, the Interlocutor gestures. From under the ground comes a crooked figure in a tattered black hooded robe. It is under the thrall of the Interlocutor.)

INTERLOCUTOR
I bring you, now, from deepest dark
To run and fetch a prize;
You’ll scour and scathe this wooded park
Until you behold with your eyes
The slender girl with shapely thighs
Whose trek you’ll halt until she dies
And, left to rot in leaves and bark,
Her knowledge with her lies.

HOODED THING
I will halt her, choc’late malt her.

INTERLOCUTOR
Halt her first in little ways,
Frustrate every breath;
Then take her toes and split her nose,
Pull the petals from her rose,
Bite her ’til her mind quite goes
Then halt her quite to death.

HOODED THING
I’ll halt her in the darkest ways, I’ll pleasure me, she’ll scream for days.

INTERLOCUTOR
Go now!

(The Hooded Thing bounds off, grunting and growling, after Reader.
Interlocutor turns to us.)

INERLOCUTOR
(Continued.)
Let us change the scene.

(Interlocutor exits; as he does so, the scene changes to … )

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Woodminster: South Pacific

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on August 8, 2017 at 4:57 pm

Day One: Tuesday, 18 July 2017*

[*Note: This entry and the next few are a direct homage to James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, upon which the musical South Pacific is based. If you read that novel — and you should — you will see that I have based the first few entries of this series on his first few chapters.

This was originally something I had intended to continue throughout, but as certain other elements of the story took over, I elected to abandon Michener in favor of Hightower. I hope it brings an uptic in urgency, in spite of any detriment to quality.

With apologies to the ghost of James A. Michener,

— Edward Hightower]

I wish I could tell you about Woodminster Amphitheatre. The way it actually is. The sparkling bay. The infinite specks of light after sundown. Redwood and Eucalyptus swaying gracefully toward the east, as if gesturing actors to springboard to New York. The mountainside upon which clouds are torn apart each night by our sets and lights, whirling around actors to embrace us in surprise ambiance, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating tech rehearsals, the full moon shining over a full house, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.

But whenever I start to talk about Woodminster, people intervene. I try to tell somebody what the blistering afternoon heat is like, and the first thing I know I’m telling them about the first time I auditioned at Woodminster and Harriet Schlader took me back out onstage before I could leave, insisting that they sing me for a role that matched my type. “Would you sing him for the Pirate King, for the love of Pete?!”

Or somebody asks me, “What is playing a 2,000-seat amphitheatre really like?” And before I can describe the tidal wave of terror that fuels my every entrance, I’m rambling on about Rod Voltaire Edora, man of ten thousand talents, who willingly designs and sometimes – as in the case of Honey Bun in this production – applies specialized makeup for me. May his success ever increase.

I love working at Woodminster. It’s a temple to the arts in the middle of a redwood forest. It was built by the WPA. It has a bomb shelter underneath it that is sealed off because, I surmise, cleaning it out would be prohibitively expensive for the city of Oakland. All of these things conspire to make me love the place itself.

The people are generally splendid and specifically delightful; I believe this is because the powers that be recognize that hiring talented people who are also easy to work with leads to an overall positive experience for all involved. When the cast is having a good time together, the show works that much better.

We’re rehearsing South Pacific. I’m playing Luther Billis. My call today was 5:35, and the first order of business today was to learn my music with Daniel Thomas, who was also music director on my first two shows at Woodminster: The Producers (2015) and Shrek (2016). Daniel works fast, he’s efficient and succinct. I have a total of about ten sung lines in the show. And I’ve played this part before (The Willows Theatre, 2003). So it took all of five minutes to nail down and record my material. After that I was free to wander the theatre until rehearsal with the full cast.

I chatted for a while with Chris Vettel and Amanda Johnson (Emile De Becque and Nellie Forbush, respectively), until we were given an official hour’s break between 6:00 and 7:00. They headed off on individual errands, and I went up to the roof of the theatre.

There are picnic tables all over the top of Woodminster. You can reserve them for a picnic before the show. During rehearsal, they’re a great area to go run lines, work dance steps, or fart. There’s a whole unspoken theatrical etiquette around farting. As a gentleman, I prefer releasing flati away from the sensitive palates of my fellow thespians. Where better than a deserted theatrical rooftop?

Smuggling what felt like an angry octopus in my intestines, I made my way to the roof from the stage left stairs. An array of symmetrically-placed rat shit dotted a two-foot radius around trash cans near the top of the stairs (thanks so much for your attention, City of Oakland.) The rooftop picnic terrace above the men’s dressing room, being farthest from the stage door and any sparse chatter I could hear, became my immediate goal: a nice shady spot to study my lines. And fart.

From the distant corner of that terrace, you can lean over to look at the slope below: clad in dry, golden grass, it craves goats to crop it even as it tempts the gods of fire. Occasionally I see goats on these slopes, but not often enough, and never this far into the park. From this corner one could rappel the short distance to one of three or four exterior windows on the dressing room. Glancing around to make sure I wasn’t going to offend a napping soprano, I let fly the gaseous demon trapped in my bowels.

Oh, the glory! How she spread her wings and with what guttural joy she warbled! Like a wet latex umbrella being forced from the deepest recesses of a pipe organ. Hail Mary, full of Bass. Thus relieved, I turned to sit and study my lines.

As I did so, I caught a glimpse of something through the branches of a nearby pine. In a thicket about twenty-five yards away, a face: white, expressionless, with empty eyes. A mask? Leaning out over the edge, I pulled my glasses on. Whatever it was, if anything, had gone. The branches where it might have been were wiggling. Against the wind.

I wanted to go explore that spot, but was accosted upon my return to the stage by the charming Amanda Johnson, whose kindness and talent I hold in very high regard. I confess that, until documenting today, I was thereafter distracted by the necessities of staging.

We blocked Act One, until the middle of Scene 3, ending right after There Is Nothing Like A Dame. Men were released from rehearsal at 9:33, women were kept to work vocals.

I can’t stop thinking about that mask.

Fong’s XIV

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 24, 2015 at 11:45 am

“This one? What the hell is that thing, Fong?”

“Unless I am very much mistaken, we want to get to Knucklebrow before he finds out. Onward, my little bull elephant!” And he was off, in long, graceful running strides, appearing to float one or two inches off the muck of the city. Penny charged after him; in seconds they were turning left down the same alley.

Buildings were closer together here. The alleys were like a maze. Deathtrap in a fire, she thought. There was little or no light, save weak lamplight from an occasional window.

Fong reached into his left sleeve and scattered a handful of objects ahead of them as they ran. “Flower of Enlightenment!” he cried. The object closest to them ignited, blossoming like a flower – of course and throwing greenish golden sparks into the air as it lit.

The others were rolling down the sloping, twisting alley. Where they came to rest, they blossomed in a cascading eruption of sparks that lit not only the area around them, but in one or two cases ignited piles of refuse.

“Fong, isn’t that dangerous?” Penny said.

“True Enlightenment destroys only trash, never infrastructure,” he said, giggling.

“Do you ever just answer a question?”

“No.”

They were nearing Knucklebrow, who was lurching to his feet from a stumble about one hundred yards ahead. The furthest Flower of Enlightenment passed him and came to rest at the base of a wall where the alley forked. It ignited and Knucklebrow tried to stop, slipping and falling, his left foot dipping into the flames of the Flower.

“Knucklebrow, wait!” Penny cried.

From the rooftops above came a screeching call that sent chills up her spine.

Knucklebrow scrabbled to his feet, turning to look up behind him. Even at a distance, it was clear that he was both terrified and familiar with what he saw above. He bellowed, “No, not you! Not again!” and ran away down an alley to the right.

His left foot was on fire.

Fong’s XIII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 23, 2015 at 11:45 am

Running down slick cobbled streets in heels isn’t wise at the best of times, but at night in thick fog, in pursuit of a man who has lost all concern for his personal wellbeing?

Harrowing. Good word for what I’m doing right now. ‘The woman found that running in heels on cobblestones was … harrowing.’

Penny Onehole ran with her skirts bunched in both hands, her shoulders hunched, ready to plow aside any obstacles. Her heels had been designed by Fong for this purpose, being both lighter and sturdier than any shoes worn by other women in her profession.

Which is what, precisely?

Penny Onehole hadn’t yet found the word for it.

Each time her mind wandered in the direction of a definition, she checked it with a checklist. Her shoes, for example, also held a variety of useful items in one or two secret compartments. Of course, her footwear and their secrets weren’t the only items in her personal arsenal. She watched the man who had designed that arsenal and trained her in its uses: Fong ran just ahead of her, to her left, his blue silk robes tucked up into his left elbow. She never understood where he carried his weapons – or illusions of human frailty, as he called them – but she was armed to the teeth. As Fong had put it, “The most tortuous elements of feminine fashion are also those best suited to weaponization.”

Reviewing her checklist as she ran, Penny was distracted by movement above and stumbled, almost spilling ass over teakettle into a mire of filth near a clogged sewer grating. Catching herself and leaping across the shit swamp to launch off a brick wall, she saw Fong clocking her trajectory and noting the same movement above which had caught her attention to begin with.

“We are not alone in our pursuit, Penny Onehole!” he said. Fong was always delighted to be on the hunt, and added danger filled him with a ridiculous degree of cheer.

Two blocks ahead, Knucklebrow made a left down an alley. Fong stopped, his right arm out to halt Penny. She arrested her sprint with a slight sideways skid, resolving into a position Fong called, Floating Lotus (“The lotus that floats is both at peace and unattached, ready for anything.”) She felt his eyes on her heels, heard his satisfied hm at their flexibility and strength. He was very pleased with himself.

“Look up,” Fong said.

Penny Onehole looked up in time to see a gigantic bat-like creature leap from the rooftops, crossing the street above them. It disappeared into the darkness above the rooftops to the left, heading in the same direction as Knucklebrow. Its wings were at least eight feet across, and the smell that assaulted them was a combination of rotting flesh, shit and mammalian musk.

“Goat balls,” Penny said.

“Yes,” said Fong, “This one is male.”

Fong’s Part XII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 22, 2015 at 11:45 am

Sudden searing pain in her right cheek, and Penny fell to her knees, clutching her face.

“I’ve already made the pigfucker joke,” the boy said to his men. “Was bacon too much?”

Penny looked up to see the still-smoking Peacemaker in the boy’s hand. Rivard stood stock still, the mangled remnants of his blade and its mechanism dangling from his torn sleeve. His hand bled, the glove torn – but all of his fingers intact.

“That was unwise,” said Rivard.

“On the contrary, I prevented you from – wait, are you bleeding, Miss?” The young man kept his gun trained on Rivard, his eyes locked on Penny’s.

She took her hand away from her face. The blood that covered her fingers was beginning to clot.

“I am … bleeding,” Penny said. She felt distant from her voice, a numbness settling over her.

“This is unpardonable. Enough games,” the young man said.

He fired his gun five times. Even as his eyes flicked toward his targets, Penny felt as though they never left hers. And though she knew she flinched with each shot, she never allowed herself to blink or break from his gaze. Each bullet found its mark, and each of Rivard’s men fell dead or certain to die, their blood pooling on the fine polished wood of the yacht.

As he fired the last round in his gun, the young man pulled another from its holster and tossed the first behind him where it was caught by a figure still obscured in the fog. This fresh gun was again trained on Rivard. “Let her go,” the young man said, “And I’ll let you live.”

The figure behind the young man had emptied and reloaded the revolver, slipping it into the holster on the young man’s left hip.

“Who’s that behind you, then?” Rivard said. “You bring your mommy along to wipe your ass?”

The young man’s answer was cut off by the boom of a cannon and a great crash of water just beyond the yacht. A voice called out of the fog, “In the name of the Republic! Throw down your arms and surrender your vessels!”

The young man leapt aboard, drawing a sword and slashing it toward Rivard with unexpected skill. Rivard raised a walking stick, blocking the hit, then drew a sword from within. Shots were being fired and male voices were bellowing, but Penny felt like she was fading from the world. Her face was numb and she was having trouble breathing. Everything looked blurry.

“Jack!” a familiar voice called out, “She’s poisoned!”

Jack turned to look at her and was clubbed to his knees by Rivard.

The last thing Penny saw was Rivard’s blade pressing into Jack’s throat.

All went black.

Fong’s Part XI

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 20, 2015 at 11:45 am

The voice in the fog said, “Here we go again. Rivard feels threatened, boys. To what does Rivard retreat when he feels threatened?”

“Comparisons of manhood,” the men with the rifles said as one.

“Fuck yourselves with your rifles and fuck off – ” Rivard began.

The voice cut him off: “Too complex, Rivard. For now, we’re focusing on your obsession with manhood or, to put it more succinctly, boys?”

“Cock,” said the men with the rifles.

Penny laughed again and Rivard lunged in her direction. In slow motion she saw the blade in his right cuff sliding up into his gloved hand. Some kind of mechanism, she thought, even as she realized she was about to get sliced, possibly killed. A peculiar calm settled over her.

A Bowie knife thunked, quivering, into the gleaming deck of the yacht, right next to Rivard’s foot. He froze.

“What’s this, Rivard? Are you branching out? Is that an actual human girl you’ve got there?” The owner of the voice stepped forward, in the middle of and just behind the men with the rifles. He was sixteen, maybe seventeen, with a wild thatch of thick brown hair, and deep-set, intense eyes. “I’m shocked, Rivard. And proud of you. Having seen your whores offering their dubious wares by the docks, I never expected you to join the rest of us in our longing for clean, attractive, un-scarred human females.”

“Go fuck your mother’s ass,” Rivard said.

“I’m so glad you brought up mothers, Rivard. I didn’t want to be the first to mention it. I’ve actually met mine. She raised me. As did my father. They know one another’s names, and he’s never sliced her face. This is where we differ, isn’t it, Rivard? This and your penchant for the smell of fish and bacon clinging to your cock after a flea-infested rut – ”

Rivard snatched Penny by the hair, his knife whistling toward her throat.

A gun roared.

Fong’s Part X

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 19, 2015 at 11:45 am

They’d been about halfway across the bay when one of Rivard’s men had shouted a warning and – out of nowhere – a larger vessel had appeared in the fog, drawing alongside and grappling them. The hooks gouging into the fine wood paneling of the yacht had Rivard bellowing in incoherent rage.

“What’s this, then? Pigfucking son of a whore has a fancy tub now?” The voice came from the other vessel; it was young, its owner as yet unseen.

Penny peered across, but aside from the men pointing rifles at them from the port bow, the other figures were indistinct. The fog was, if anything, thicker in this part of the bay. A small, quiet, safe part of Penny wondered for a moment that a place so still and calm could hold such darkness. Had Fong known, when he sent Krauty to escort her to the docks that morning, that she would be assaulted by strange men not three hours later? She would have liked to return to this spot in the fog on a day when she wasn’t in danger. She couldn’t remember when that had been.

“Show yourself, boy! The only pig I’ll fuck is your face, with my handy blade!” Rivard said.

“Rivard, Rivard, Rivard … still confusing humans and barn animals? I think this tells us more about your upbringing than every gaudy waistcoat you’ve ever worn.” The brazen charm of that voice – this boy didn’t fear Rivard at all. Penny felt her heart relax the tiniest amount.

“You want a pissing contest, boy? Come out where I can see you. We’ll soon learn whose cock is biggest,” Rivard waggled his head as he said this, turning to smile at his men as though he was the wittiest man alive. It was ridiculous, and Penny laughed aloud, then clamped a hand over her mouth.

Rivard wheeled, glaring at Penny. She caught the gleam of steel in his sleeve.

Fong’s Part IX

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 18, 2015 at 11:45 am

“What’s your sister’s name,” someone said. Fong, Heifitz and Knucklebrow were all looking at her. Penny didn’t realize she had spoken. The steam of the coffee shifted to purple as Fong sprinkled a pinch of brown powder over it, and Knucklebrow Twosie gave a half-hiccup, involuntary gasp.

“Penelopye,” he said. It came out Peenellopyeh, but its similarity to Penny’s own name was enough to earn a rare lift of the eyebrow from Fong.

“That’s an uncommon pronunciation,” Fong said. “Where is your family from, Knucklebrow?”

“Ruritania,” Knucklebrow said, “Originally. Then Pennsylvania.”

“Penelopye and Peter of Pennsylvania …” Fong said. His voice was quiet, but each word caused a cascade of twitches across Knucklebrow’s face. It was like watching a mountainside rearrange itself.

From the steam of the coffee came a brief, faint trumpet fanfare, a snippet of a sturdy national anthem as a single word formed above the cup: Strelsau.

“He speaks the truth. Catch him!” Fong said, as Knucklebrow’s eyes rolled up into his head and he tipped backward. Penny reached for him as Heifitz sprang diagonally over the bar, landing to Knucklebrow’s left – but it was too late: Knucklebrow hit the floor with a crash that rattled the cups on every table, the other patrons knocking over chairs in their haste to avoid injury.

Fong scooped a tiny amount of the coffee from the still-steaming cup with a spoon smaller than his thumb, leaning down to pour it over Knucklebrow’s lips.

“That a good idea, boss?” Heifitz said.

“I have no way of knowing. But it seems as good as anything else at the moment,” Fong said.

The coffee cup began to bubble, rattling on the bar and sloshing. More coffee than could fill the cup was pouring out, a tiny splash landing on Penny’s hand, scalding hot. Penny, Fong and Heifitz all turned to stare at it.

The cup exploded.

Knucklebrow shot to his feet, dashing out the door, bellowing, “She’s near the docks!”

“Quickly, Penny – after him! In his state he’s uncontrollable. We’ve no time to lose – Heifitz! Call Jack!” Fong grabbed Penny’s hand and whisked her toward the entrance.

“Jack who?” Heifitz was reaching for the stereoptiphone.

“Who do you think?” Fong threw this last over his shoulder as he and Penny were out the door, the figure of Knucklebrow fading into the night ahead of them. Penny knew which Jack it was, and felt a thrill in her heart of hearts.

Her hero, her savior, her secret love: Pirate Jack, the terror of the Bay.

Fong’s Part VIII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 17, 2015 at 11:45 am

Vomit burning her throat, Penny watched as two underlings materialized – variations on the dirty brute who pinned her arms to her sides, grinding himself against her. She knew what he was doing but ignored him, remembering the words of her grandmother: wolves only chase the girl who runs. Penny wished she’d remembered that sooner, wondering if she could have used it to chart a safer course to Saint Raymond.

One of the brutes was removing the pimp’s jacket as the other one whisked the contents of Penny’s stomach out of Rivard’s hair; Rivard was watching Penny. He said, “You think this is bad? You’re wishing you were somewhere else? This is a Sunday picnic compared to what awaits you across the bay, my sweet. You’re going to meet the cream of society, and they’re going to do to you what they can’t get away with doing to their own daughters and neices.”

Vasquez was still alive, gasping, bleeding, begging. While Rivard was speaking, the brute holding his jacket had removed everything of value from its pockets. Now he tossed the jacket on Vasquez, doused him with kerosene and flicked a lit match at him with the bored nonchalance of long practice.

“Even that useless shit serves a purpose now, sweet little firecrotch,” Rivard said. “My reputation in Oak Landing is strengthened by the burning of a man who, ten years ago, was Mayor of this shitpile. His own son works these very docks, but hasn’t the balls to confront me. I owe you a good turn, firecrotch. So I won’t cut your face. Yet.”

Penny was dragged, stunned, to a small private yacht loaded with a variety of goods. She was certain of her impending death. She could still hear Vasquez screaming, she could smell his burning hair and shit. Over the next horrible weeks, she never slept more than a few minutes before those memories yanked her awake, trembling, too terrified to cry.

Fong’s Part VII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 16, 2015 at 11:45 am

A hunchbacked Mexican stood to Rivard’s left; he had one glaring, empty eye socket and a poorly healed broken jaw. He held the pimp’s spotless hat with the fixed obedience of a beaten dog. Penny nodded as best she could, struggling to breathe.

“Good. Let me explain something to you. I love my hats. I don’t like them to get dirty or messy. That’s Vasquez. He was supposed to be guarding the room where you woke up. That door was supposed to be locked.” So saying, Rivard stepped to Vasquez, dragging Penny, still choking her. Her field of vision was narrowing.

“Señor – ” Vasquez said, but was cut off by his intestines spilling to the dry dust at his feet, the speed of Rivard’s knife impossible to follow. Penny didn’t see where it came from or where it went, only Rivard’s arm in a gesture of curt censure. She would have vomited if her throat hadn’t been nearly crushed shut. Vasquez stumbled back, falling to his knees in his own entrails, dropping Rivard’s hat in that mess.

Rivard let her go and she was grabbed and held by the scraggly-bearded man, who reeked of sweat and shit and rotten teeth. His smell and Vasquez’s intestines brought up what Rivard had been preventing, and Penny disgorged an astounding jet of vomit.

Stooping to retrieve his hat, Rivard took the full brunt of Penny’s puke on the right side of his head and face, down his right arm. He stood. Calm. Where activity had bustled in studious ignorance of Rivard’s endeavors there in the dusty yard of the Oak Landing coach office, now all was silence. Penny heard distant sounds with complete clarity: ships’ bells. Gulls. Buoys. A child crying in the distance. A dog barking.

She knew that her life was over.