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Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Five

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm

(Spoiler alert! If you prefer a fresh approach, start here.)

Day Five: Saturday, 22 July 2017

I was late to rehearsal.

Which is rare. It has no bearing on what follows, but I feel I should touch upon it in the interest of forthright documentarian whatsiwhosies: fact is, I was a total fuck-up in my early theatre days, always late and unprepared. Then, in college, one of my professors said, “You will notice that actors who are consistently late have no grasp of reality.” (Those of you who attended The Boston Conservatory will recognize the words and tone of Steve McConnell, the man who deserves the most – and wants the least – credit for the actor I am today.) I looked around the room at the people who were always late, realizing that I did not want to be counted among that group. I began to change this habit, and have learned – owing to my tendency to procrastinate – that the only way to be certain I’m on time is to always be at least one hour early. (Ladies, for the record, I’m never early in … shall we say … intimate situations. If you take my meaning. Ahem. Le wink. Flip and flutter of the fan. Bat-bat-bat of my manly eyelashes. Also, sex.)

We staged Honey Bun. I fell off the platform and hurt my left hip/leg. This is what happens when Edward tries to learn a dance step that isn’t his. Foolish Edward, attempting the Sailor’s Hornpipe. Which sounds dirtier than it is. (Calm down, Perry.)

We finished blocking Act I, then ran it. I was off book here and there. By then end of rehearsal, my lower left back and entire left leg hurt. We were released at 5 pm.

It was nice to be off early, so I decided to scope out the Historical Society. Get the lay of the land in the light of day, before I go to the mysterious meeting dictated by the card I found in my pocket last night:

Montclair Historical Society.
Monday, 3 pm.
Come alone.

So I went out to my car – always parked in the same spot because of internet access; my phone gets no service in the theatre unless I’m on the roof or in the middle of the breezeway over the fountains. So I did a search for the location of the Montclair Historical Society. I sat there searching for maybe forty-five minutes, frustration increasing by the second. Because unless I want to drive to Montclair, New Jersey, I’m out of luck: there is no Montclair Historical Society in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA.

I headed down to Peet’s to ask an old, wealthy hippie. That is to say, a local.

I found a group of them sitting on the bench outside Peet’s: beards and long hair, four guys and a woman in their seventies looking like denim-clad variations on Obi-Wan Kenobi or Aughra.

“Excuse me, gentlemen and lady. I’m wondering if any of you know where I can find the Montclair Historical Society,” I said.

The one who looked more like Gandalf said, “Montclair, New Jersey.”

The rest of them chuckled. Aughra grunted.

Pulling the card from my wallet, I said, “This note was left for me. Any thoughts?”

The one who looked more like Obi-Wan said, “Good Lord – ”

“That’s probably a Parker 51 Special,” said the Gandalfy fellow, with a large silencing glance at Obi-Wan-point-five.

“I would have said Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938,” said the guy who looked like Treebeard’s more stoned brother. Weedbeard.

“You always think it’s a Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938, Bill,” said Dumbledore.

“You’re obsessed,” said Obi-Wan-point-five.

“So what if I am?” said Bill Weedbeard. “I’ve been searching for the Montblanc Meisterstück 136, 1938 for 40 years.”

“I think there’s one on E-Bay,” said Gandalf.

“It doesn’t have any value if I pay full price,” said Bill Weedbeard.

“I have to agree,” I said. “The delight of a find in a thrift store far outweighs anything I could purchase for full price.”

“Damn right!” said Bill Weedbeard. “I’m buying your coffee, young gallant. How do you take it?”

“Small, black, no room, thank you kindly,” I said.

To think I’ve walked by these guys for three summers and never stopped to talk before now.

Aughra had not yet spoken. She’d been sipping her coffee, frowning into the middle distance. Mayhaps brooding on revenges or ruminating on ingredients for potions. Vengeful potions. Vengeful, brooding potions.

“It’s an anagram,” she said, then heaved herself off the bench and stumped away down the street.

The old wizards stared after her.

“More words than she’s said in three weeks,” Obi-Wan-point-five said to the group.

Then, to me, Gandalf said, “I’d take it to heart if I were you.”

Bill Weedbeard returned with a large black coffee, no room, handing it to me with a crisp military salute, which I returned out of rehearsal habit.

Why is he saluting me? I’m not military, we’re not in uniform, does he know about the show? Social status alone would dictate that I salute him. Also, Billis is just a Seabee. So even if he does know, it doesn’t make sense.

All of the above went through my head in an instant. Obi-Wan-point-five was saying, “Well, it’s about that time.”

They all shook hands, then they shook my hand. Bill Weedbeard was the last.

“Enjoy that coffee,” he said, smiling. His eyes said, Enjoy it here, in Montclair.

They departed in separate directions. I went into Peet’s and sat with my notebook, making notes on what has happened so far, trying to pull anagrams out of Montclair Historical Society.

The first ones I did were just for Montclair; these were the most interesting:
Clam Nitro – interesting because of exploding clams.
Carol Mint – interesting because my Mom grew up very close to Montclair, and her name is Carol.
Talc Minor – interesting because Highway 13 is the Hayward Fault, and the fault is in Serpentine, a rock that when subjected to heat and friction becomes talc, which is also asbestos, which is why we don’t go into the basement at Woodminster. And when it finally moves, it will not be minor.
Actor Limn – that which highlights the actor.
Normal Tic – is there any such thing?
Cram In Lot – funny because after the 1991 fire, people who rebuilt tried to fit as much house as they could into the tiniest of lots.
Lam Tic Nor – just sounds fun to shout in a Scottish dialect. This applies to every anagram of Montclair, truth be told.
Ram Colt In – because it carries a sexual connotation I find inappropriately amusing.
Can It Lo Mr – because this seems like the best response to the last one.

Could any of these be the first part of a clue?

The anagrams for Historical Society are weirder; here are a few of the less nutty:
Chocolatey Iris Tis
Calico Shittier Soy
Socialistic Rye Tho
Achier Colitis Toys

I’m not sure I want to solve the mystery these might illuminate.

I started putting the weirdest ones together, they make for some disturbing images:
Talc Minor Theocratic Oily Sis – a polygamist initiation ritual?
Lam Tic Nor Ascetic History Oil – effete Scottish scholars avoiding Lyme Disease.
Can It Lo Mr Thoracic Yeti Soils – your Chiropractor doesn’t like Abominable Snowman poop.
Ram Colt In Achiest Clitoris Yo – seek medical attention immediately.
Normal Tic Socialise Itchy Rot – you should have sought medical attention when you had the achiest clitoris.
Cram In Lot Erotica Cosily Shit – there’s a hidden German porn enclave in Montclair.

I gave up on the anagrams and finished my coffee. Something tapped the inside of the lid of my disposable cup. I opened it. A tiny ziploc bag fell out. The kind one sees crack dealers offering on gritty crime dramas. Grimacing at the notion of icky, I picked it up.

There was a piece of paper inside. I unfolded it. Printed in neat, near-architectural letters was the following:

We do not seek the jaunting grouse
We do not taunt the dragon’s ire
Instead we joust the dragon’s heart
Before we light a jaunty fire
While there it roasts we raise a glass
Before the rains our flames can douse
If storms do blow we build a pyre
Inside our vintage

It ended there, nothing was written on the back. I looked in the cup again. Nothing beyond the final drips of Major Dickason. (You’re welcome.)

Inside their vintage … what? Wine barrels? Cars? Fountain pens?

I stared at it for a while, then headed for my car, and home. Food and comfort can unlock the brain.

In the middle of the night I sat bolt upright and wrote something on the notepad I keep on my bedside table, then fell back asleep. I completely forgot about it until I glanced at my notebook while making the bed Sunday morning. There, scrawled diagonally across the page was one word:

Firehouse.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Four — Part II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm

(If you don’t like spoilers, start here.)

Day Four: Friday, 21 July 2017 – Part II

“There you are!”

I jumped the jump of the guilty explorer. Judy was right outside the door to the basement stairs.

When the hell did she get there?

“What are you doing in here?” Judy stepped in and stood next to me, looking down at the basement door.

“Did you hear that?” I said.

“Hear what?” she said.

“That sound, like a broken baby doll crying,” I said.

“A broken babydoll? Reminiscing about our ex girlfriends, are we, Edward?”

“Ha! No, I mean a doll, like a doll that looks like a baby. The kind that go, ma-ma, and cry and stuff.”

Judy was silent a second. Then she said, “You heard that from down there?”

“Yep,” I said.

“That’s not good, Ed. I think you should stay away from this door. You might be tempted to go down there. That’s dangerous.”

“Why?”

“Asbestos. We never go down there anymore. That door down there’s supposed to be closed,” she said. Her voice echoed back from the darkness below. “Baby dolls in the dark. That’s creepy. Whew. Anyway Ed, Allison has something for you to try on. Let’s get away from painful death,” and she tugged at my right shoulder, pulling me out into the light.

The theatre was alive with sounds and conversation.

Where was everybody two minutes ago?

I followed Judy across the stage to the ladies’ dressing room / costume shop. Allison was there with pants, shirt and boots for me to try. “These need to be worn up at the level of the navel,” she said.

“The naval navel,” I said. “Zing!”

I glanced at my phone and all jokes left my mind.

It was 5:17.

When I arrived, it was 4:30 (4:32, to be precise). My explorations of the theatre and its environs didn’t take more that fifteen minutes, but let’s say sixteen minutes in case I’m wrong. So that means it was 4:48 when I found those stairs to the basement, when I heard the broken, mechanized cry of the baby doll.

I lost time.

As far as I know, Judy spoke to me a couple seconds after I found the stairs. There’s no way I was standing there for roughly half an hour. I felt a daze settle over me as I began to gauge inner processes.

I was in a bad car accident in 2015. Whiplash plus head bang = multiple concussion points. It affected some things in my brain. I’ll keep the details to myself for now, but I can assure you: loss of time is entirely new. If anything, I’ve been more vigilant about time since the accident: I want to make sure I’m spending it in every best way after coming so close to breaking my hourglass.

“Edward? You okay? You look like you just remembered your funeral,” Allison was saying.

I laughed. “My coffin has cleared up, now all I’ve got is a runny nose.”

With a wave and a smile, I headed off to try on the pieces. They fit. I kept the boots on for rehearsal. I studied my lines, I had conversations, but all of it from a place of detached analysis.

As the evening progressed, I began to feel more normal. It was very simple: I spent more time exploring than I’d thought. It’s easy to lose track of time when engaged in mysteriousness. Nothing more than that.

As for the sound from the basement and the various sightings of Dolly Lurker, I have a clear explanation now: because I am the only one who has seen these things, I think these are random hallucinations, phantoms conjured by my brain as it’s healing. Add to that a bout of ghostly childhood trauma, and it’s quite possible that this is nothing more than a subconscious gas bubble rumbling up from the bog of my past. It will burst, it will stink, it will make me gag, but the air will clear.

I felt so relieved; I kept thinking, It’s a good thing I haven’t mentioned this to anyone.

We ran what we’d staged in Act I, continuing up to just past Younger Than Springtime.

I was getting ready to leave at the end of the night, putting my phone in my back right pocket, when I found it.

A card, high quality stock, slightly larger than a business card. A Celtic pattern embossed around the edges. A message in exquisite penmanship, from a fountain pen, in deepest indigo:

Montclair Historical Society.
Monday, 3 pm.
Come alone.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Four — Part I

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 11, 2017 at 12:54 pm

(If you care about continuity, start here.)

Day Four: Friday, 21 July 2017 – Part I

Everything looks different in daylight.

A thought occurred to me today as I drove in to Woodminster: If Dolly Lurker could be all of those places outside the theatre, couldn’t Dolly Lurker also get inside the theatre? I decided I should check the perimeter for potential points of entry.

I arrived at 4:30, two and a half hours before rehearsal, and parked in the same spot, all bright hot sunshine burning away any lingering alarm. Looking at the slope in front of my car, I was surprised anyone could get up it easily, especially if they were waggling a baby doll as they walked. It’s near vertical in some spots.

I got down there and looked for footprints, signs that the earth had been disturbed as someone struggled up the slope. There was nothing I could see. Perhaps if I’d mastered the Tracking merit badge, but – alas – I chose Theatre over Scouting in 1989, and I’m pretty pleased with the results so far. (I had a choice at the time: spend my time in tents with boys my age, or spend my time in the dark with girls my age. Then get applause for what I was doing in the light. Cue dopamine flood, ignite validation and … commence addiction.)

I headed inside, enjoying the welcome buzz of varied activity that floats in the soundscape of any active theatre. I dropped my stuff in my dressing room and headed out to take pictures of anything of interest. The back gate – where I’d first seen Dolly lurk her doll at me – was fully locked, as secure as it was two days ago. The front gate, next to the box office, was open at that time, but staff and crew were in the area, and everyone is vigilant about intruders. I headed down the path through the redwoods to the lowest parking lot, then down the steps beyond.

Four terraced fountain pools grace the back of the theatre, with lovely stone steps leading up from a fountain plaza far below. Above the fountains is the back breezeway of the theatre, which is how most of us get from Stage Left to Stage Right, and vice-versa, unless we’ve got to get there quickly and the upstage crossover is our only option. Additional steps lead to the theatre itself, ending at solid steel double doors that look like they haven’t been opened in decades, one set on each side of the fountains.

Just for shits and giggles, I tried each set of doors. Locked, possibly rusted shut. So unless Dolly Lurker has magical door-opening abilities, Dolly Lurker isn’t getting in that way.

Another set of steps leads up away from the main steps, toward the left side of the theatre. I followed these and found myself outside the men’s dressing room, beneath the terrace from which I’d seen the mask among the branches on Day One. Another door in that wall – where does it go? The basement? I’m craving a look at the original blueprints. And behind me as I faced that door, about 25 feet away: the location of the first sighting.

I headed toward it, very aware of the shade of the trees around me: my first two (potential) sightings of Dolly Lurker were during daylight, in heavy shade. Within seconds I saw that I’d made an error: there was no thicket. There was a chain link fence blocking access to a small square patch of ground, and several tree branches and trunks right around and behind it. So what I’d taken for a thicket was an illusion created by the branches through which I’d made the sighting, the light at the time of day, and perhaps the chain link fence itself. Which now makes me doubt everything I’ve seen.

Along with that doubt, new questions are presented: 1) What is this chain link fence protecting? 2) Looking back at the building, how did Dolly Lurker get the baby doll to the window – a stick? A ladder? It’s too far for me, even on tip-toe, and I’m six feet tall.

I was pondering this when I heard voices nearby. I glanced around, but they were muffled. Following my ears, I came to that single steel door in that wall. The voices were coming from behind it. This is what I heard:

A) … it’s too risky. Why would you want him to know about that?

B) What it is, is too late. If you didn’t want anyone to know, you never should have left a trail of breadcrumbs.

A) You’re as much to blame as I am – it was your bread.

B) You never said what it was for –

“Edward!?”

I jumped, certain I’d been caught eavesdropping. But the call was echoing from the amphitheatre itself. Maybe someone was looking for me on the stage? The conversation behind the door had stopped, so before whoever was in there could open it and maybe look outside for me, I headed back down to the steps and around to the stage door on the other side of the building.

Something felt odd when I reached the stage door. The theatre felt deserted. There was no hammering, no music, no conversation. I paused in the doorway, saying, “Hello?”

No response came, and I stepped inside. I had the distinct feeling I was being watched. The office was empty. Knocking on the door to the ladies’ dressing room / costume shop, I peeked inside. Allison was not there. The clang of a dropped tool echoed from the region of the shop followed by what I could swear was Judy saying what sounded like, “It should never have happened in the first place!” I headed in that direction.

Distance and architecture can change things. Acoustics are mysterious. When I got to the shop, it, too, was empty. I walked onto the stage and looked out at the house. Empty. I headed back into the stage left loading bay between the shop and the stage, listening.

A groan. From the men’s dressing room. Low, but getting louder. Goosebumps flared up the back of my legs to my neck – until I recognized the sound. Old, groaning water pipes. The men’s restroom, in the men’s dressing room. I looked inside – I might have even used the facilities, briefly. By the time I was washing my hands, I’d accepted the notion that everyone was on break at once. I decided to head to Peet’s.

Grabbing my keys, I headed through the stage left loading bay. Before I could set foot on the stage, I heard it.

Echoing, distant, “Ma-MA … Ma-MA …”

She’s inside. She killed everyone.

Fight-or-flight. I couldn’t move.

Silence.

Where the hell did it come from?

Curiosity overcame fear.

I looked in the shop. Still empty. Standing outside it, I surveyed my surroundings. To my right, the door to the men’s dressing room, the door to the Production Office. Around a corner beyond that, technical and prop storage closets. The door to the breezeway over there, too. Ahead of me, the door of the stage left loading bay. To my left, a dark and cluttered storage closet, the door standing open. Behind me, the shop.

Of all of these, the only one I’ve never looked in is the storage closet to my left. It’s always been there, the door standing open, full of random, dusty stuff.

Turning on the flashlight on my phone, I headed in. A couple mannequins, a bunch of boxes with labels like, GARLANDS and BANNERS. I turned to my right.

A flight of dusty steps lead down to an open steel door, inky darkness beyond. And from that darkness, echoing,

“Ma-MA … Ma-MA …”

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.