Day Of the Dark Earth; Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker (February 21, 2020)

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The Day of the Dark Earth

By Jeff Baker

I had my first kiss when I was sixteen years old under the Greek columns in the middle of summer. I remember the place; there aren’t a lot of Greek columns on the Moon. I’m not a hundred percent sure of the year; we hadn’t started using the standard time yet.

It was the Day of the Dark Earth where you could make out the bulk of the Earth with its dark side facing us if you looked closely in the bluish sky past the limit of the atmosphere. I learned in school how the first travelers to the Moon, some eighty years earlier had found atmosphere stretching not as far off the ground as Earth’s, and that the atmosphere was not natural, but caused by the machines left by the builders of the ancient cities. The Greek columns were something the Earth people had put up not long after arriving in a flinging effort to imitate an ancient Earth civilization and make the Moon theirs.

I’d met him in that class, young, dark-haired, brown eyed. I’d known how I felt about both girls and guys for a while, and I definitely felt about him. We were all excused from classes for the celebrations on the Day of the Dark Earth, probably because it was summer and the previous Days in summer had been fogged-over. We were both standing by the columns trying to find where the Earth was, we hadn’t been paying that much attention in class, when he grabbed me and kissed me on the lips. Just for a second.

Then he walked away.

I’d had a girlfriend but had never kissed.

When they started dating back time to correspond with the Earth calendar and ignoring the Lunar standard it made me sixteen in 1845, but as far as I was concerned time started for me the moment we kissed.

 

–end–

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The Kid In Yellow; an Ancient Evil in Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker; February 14, 2020

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The Kid In Yellow

By Jeff Baker

 

I pulled my car next to Basil’s ancient roadster hoping he wasn’t dressed in his aviator’s goggles and one of those long dusters like in that Terry-Thomas movie.

“Sidney!” I heard the familiar voice and saw Basil waving at me from the doorway of the bank building. Yes, in a duster with the goggles on his head. “Over here, old chap!”

Basil wasn’t British, he was just affected. Since he was rich, people accepted him as a harmless eccentric. As long as he paid me to manage some of his business interests I went along with him. But I didn’t let him drive.

“I’m glad you got my message,” Basil said. “This is really astounding. Of course, nobody else can know about it!”

Except the tax people, I thought.

Basil and I walked up the stone stairs into the bank, under the carved words CITY LIBRARY still etched into the stone. Inside the high ceiling and the cathedral-like windows were reminders of the building’s origins as a 1915 library.

“Back here,” Basil said, almost bounding ahead. If he was trying to be nonchalant he was failing miserably. Still, I was interested. One of his previous finds had been the vintage roadster which had spent most of the previous years in a garage.

The roadster and the goggles had given Basil his nickname: Mr. Toad.

“This is pretty rare,” Basil said as we walked into a well-lit back room with a large, wooden table running the length of the room. On the table were two large folders, the kind that I’d seen art students carrying. At the far end of the table stood a grim-faced bank official eyeing the folders warily.

“Mr. Forman,” the official began. “I really must advise against any of this…” The Basil cut him off.

“Don’t be preposterous! I’m paying a good deal of money to keep this stuff secure here. Besides, it is all mine!” Basil rubbed his hands gleefully. “Here, Alec, put on these gloves.”

As Basil and I put on the clear plastic gloves (like you’d swear to make sandwiches at a mall food court, I thought) he kept on talking. Explaining, rather.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Richard F. Outcault, the popular American cartoonist of the late 19th Century. “

I hadn’t, but I didn’t say.

“He’s most famous for The Yellow Kid, a street urchin in a yellow nightshirt, at least in the color pages. Original artwork is deucedly hard to find, but I purchased these at an auction in Germany.” Basil opened the nearest of the folders, revealing two cartoon panels, side-by side. One showed a group of kids on a city street teasing a boy wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, a small dog running and barking with a happy look on its face. The other was a full-length drawing of one of the kids from the other cartoon; bald-headed and barefoot, waving at the viewer, grinning and wearing a yellow nightshirt.

“Look, that’s where the dialogue would be.”

Basil pointed to the nightshirt. There was scrawled Outcault’s signature along with the words “For Mr. Hearst, with greatest appreciation.”

“William Randolph Hearst?” I asked.

“Citizen Kane, himself,” Basil said. “I’m gathering the German estate did not realize what they had.” He closed the first folder. “The Yellow Kid is important in the history of copyright. There were numerous rip-offs of the feature, leading to the term ‘yellow journalism.’ Now this particular example appeared in a somewhat darker periodical aimed at a, uh, somewhat more select audience.”

The bank official shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

“’Das Unaussprechliche Kultur’ was circulated by a small religious sect that did not hold services on Sundays. Or even during daylight,” Basil said with a smile that I did not like. “I’m not sure of the artist, but I’m sure you will appreciate the sentiment.”

He carefully opened the second folder. What lay inside was a large, one panel cartoon; street scene, night. Similar urchins to those in the Outcault but with fixed ghastly grins. They had surrounded the Little Lord Fauntleroy kid, his own face a mask of terror. The little black dog was parading through the scene with something that had once been alive clutched in his jaws. Presiding over this abomination was a grotesque version of the Kid; the words on his nightshirt being in some alien tongue.

I quickly looked away.

“You have heard, of course, of Robert W. Chambers’ stories about ‘The King In Yellow,’ a dark play which drives its readers mad? This inspired Lovecraft and other imitators to create their own forbidden fictional literature and insert it in their stories, but this was the original inspiration and it is real!”

Basil grinned even broader. I noticed the bank official was averting his eyes.

“The cult that put out this copy in 1902 vanished around 1906,” Basil said. “The document I read said they had been on the verge of summoning something. Nonetheless, this is the only relic they left. The photocopies don’t seem to have the same, well, the same something.”

I glanced down at the paper. I thought the dog had somehow moved, that it had dropped its tasty morsel and was eyeing Little Lord Fauntleroy who had covered his face with his hands. At least, I thought so. I quickly glanced away.

Because I felt something in that momentary glance; something ancient that smelled of swamps and old crypts, something that made me feel like I had been staring at a spinning light until my eyes were blurry. I told myself that I didn’t believe any of that about a book driving people mad and that Basil Forman was just a harmless nut and that the cartoon panel hadn’t been moving, but I was telling myself these things as I mumbled my goodbyes and headed out the door.

I didn’t know about my job, I didn’t know if I heard Basil laughing maniacally and as I walked out to the parking lot I wasn’t sure if the headlights of Basil’s roadster were watching me somehow.

I drove away. And I did not look back.

 

—end—

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Something Gothic for the Monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge, by Jeff Baker. February 10, 2020.

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Winter Season at MacKaylor Castle

By Jeff Baker

 

NOTE: The genre, location and object for this month’s Flash Fiction Draw Challenge were a Gothic Romance set in a mausoleum with a pair of goggles. And I’d been watching too much of a certain old soap opera which had gothic trappings. Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Hey! This works great! I can see everything clear as…watch it! Don’t trip over the gravestone!”

“Thanks!” Peter said. “Hey, how far are we anyway?”

“Not too far,” I said. “Glad I got these Nite-Sight goggles. They were a little pricy.”

“All the better to see me with my dear,” Pete said. “No moon and this cemetery is away from the highway and…hey! I think that’s it! Over there!”

A dark bulk loomed against the dark, cloudy sky.

“The McKaylor Mausoleum,” I breathed. “That thing’s over 200 years old.”

“Yeah…” Pete said. “You’re sure it’s empty?”

“Uh huh,” I said. “I don’t believe a word of what happened in 1884 but the family emptied the mausoleum anyway. My Dad took me in it when I was a kid.”

“Speaking of your Dad, how would he feel about the heir to the estate making out with the groundskeepers son?” Pete asked.

“Since he and I both have degrees in botany, we both have gainful careers, so he wouldn’t worry about any class stuff.” I said. Pete laughed.

Pete had grown up in MacKaylor’s Bay but I’d grown up in Boston, despite the town being named after my family. When my great-uncle contacted me and said he was naming me his heir and that I would inherit the castle I’d jumped at the chance. But the castle was a run-down Gothic pile and the family business was on its last legs. The good news was I’d met Pete and we’d fallen head over heels for one another.

“You really want to make out in the mausoleum?” Pete said.

“Sure! It’ll keep us out of sight and it hasn’t been occupied in a century. We’re not going to wake up Barnabas Collins,” I said with a grin.

Pete gave me a blank look. “The guy who was in Genesis?”

I sighed and drew him in for a kiss. By this time we were on the steps of the mausoleum. I fished my key out of my pocket and led him into the dark room, still kissing. I turned on the flashlight app and shone it around the room. In one corner was a cot.

“You bring guys here all the time?” Pete asked.

“No, one of the guys used to sleep here. He was a little weird. He went to South America, he won’t bother us.”

We walked over to the cot, still kissing. That was when we heard the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, from under the stone floor.

 

—end—

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A Wanderer’s Tale for Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker, February 7, 2020

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The Monks of Irihd: Being an Excerpt From the Travel Diary of Abu Sin Byeed

By Jeff Baker

 

It was during the year following our ill-fated journey to Baghdad that our party, having found the remaining part of the Lebshanti Manuscript, did turn at the proscribed place (the rock formation) and headed across the Great Desert. We had stayed in Egypt and had an audience with the fabled Shajar ad-Durr (on her name be peace!) as she and I were both of the Bedouin tribe. Nonetheless, in spite of her entreaties we went along on our way.

It was upon the second day in the desert, having stopped at an oasis with a fig tree, that Malek the Younger (whom I felt the wisest among us, in spite of his youth) did point upward during the evening and say: “That star is not where it should be.”

I glanced up. The twilight was fading and the stars were emerging in their jeweled brilliance. To me, the stars were the stars.

“There,” he said, pointing to a bright blue point of light. “At this time of day and time of year, it should be setting, not high in the sky. And that pair; I have never seen before in the sky.”

“I agree,” said the young man we had bought as an addition to our carriers (for we were not foolish enough to carry more provisions than we needed, but every bit helps!) This young man (whose name I had not learned) was proving valuable in that he had a wealth of knowledge of all sorts, and could also read!

“Here, Master,” (he said) “behold the map. Here we are, and here is the oasis.”

I looked. In the flickering light of our campfire I did indeed see an indication of the small oasis, and also a thin line in a strange color of ink which crossed the path we had taken to get here. I did not remember the oasis or the line from when I had studied the map after purchasing it in Egypt and paid dearly for it to a tomb robber! Further north was an area marked with a strange symbol. We agreed that we would head there the next day.

After seemingly endless walking we saw before us in the desert a dome of the purest white. Upon coming closer, we found a structure some two stories tall and curved on the outside and inside like a sea-shell. We were met by a group of white-robed monks or mystics who explained that we could not stay but fed us and gave us water for our journey. I did not press them with questions, for I had read in the manuscript of this place and of the ancient wisdom that these monks jealously guarded. Our quest would take us elsewhere. But the domed building was one of the structures of the fabled City of Irihd whose name is spoken of in whispers.

It was within a day’s journey that we found ourselves on the outskirts of a city which I knew, but I also knew that it was south of the place where we had entered the desert, and we had been traveling by the stars so there was no doubt as to our northward progress. In fact, after replenishing our supplies we went briefly back along the route we had come and quickly realized that it was not the same as before.

So, we made peace with the wonders and spent the season in the city with its ordinary pleasures and knew not to speak of the domed building in the desert, for such things are beyond the pale of this world.

 

Note to the 1899 edition: Like the fabled Abu Sin Byeed, I was able to piece this manuscript together after arduous searching in out-of-the-way shops and bazaars (some of them truly bizarre!) and I believe I have found not only the lost fragment of the map, but have (on my last visit to the Middle East) uncovered the landmarks spoken of. I should return with the scholar’s greatest treasure: the knowledge the fabled monks sought to hide for centuries, knowledge I shall bring to a civilized world.

Note to the 1978 edition: The above note was found among the papers of Sir Ralph Kirkwood following his disappearance in 1897 and was published in the aforementioned edition. No sign of the map or the hidden monastery has ever been found.

 

—end—

 

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Good-Bye, Old Paint by Jeff Baker. Friday Flash Fics for January 31, 2020

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                                                     Good-Bye, Old Paint

By Jeff Baker

 

I’d bailed out of school my sophomore year and had driven up to Millington, Kansas. My buddy Bumper lived up there, in a trailer on some land at the edge of town his family owned. I know what that sounds like, but they kept a lot of their junk and papers in the trailer and having Bumper in there when he wasn’t working at the gas station kept people from breaking in and stealing their stuff. Or from stealing his weed. Anyway, Bumper let me bunk at the trailer and we spent our spare time smoking weed and drinking the beer he brought home with him.

It was a weekday afternoon and we were just a little buzzed. I was sitting on the old railroad tracks watching the breeze make the grass ripple when Bumper started talking about the Millington Crater.

“You mean that pothole over on Seventeenth Street?” I asked.

“Nah, man. The crater!” Bumper said. “It’s famous! There were scientists all over here in the old days. They were looking for chunks, you know. Those, whadyacallems…” He grabbed in the empty air with his fingers.

“Meteorites,” I said. “Hey, when were all these scientists here, anyway?”

“It was like, eighteen-ninety or sometime around then. I guess they never found anything. And anyway the crater is kind of; well, ‘unofficial’ is the word they use on the Wikipedia page. There’s a confirmed crater over in Haviland. My folks and sister and I drove over and saw it one time.”

I started laughing. Two in the afternoon after a joint and some beer and unofficial meteor crater sounded funny.

“Unconfirmed,” Bumper said. “That’s what they called it. He finished his beer and threw it in the direction of the trailer. “Wanna go see it?”

“Sure,” I said. I stood up and promptly tripped. Bumper laughed and helped me to my feet.

“This-a-way,” Bumper said. “Walk this way.” We both laughed again.

As we walked over the little rise going west Bumper started singing and pretty soon I joined in:

“Good-bye, Old Paint

I’m a-leavin’ Cheyanne

Good-bye, Old Paint

I’m a leavin’ Cheyanne.”

We couldn’t remember the rest of it, but considering our singing, that was just as well.

After about fifteen minutes walking we were standing in a grassy field. I looked around; couldn’t see any buildings or the town. I knew the highway from Millington to Pending was over there someplace, but I couldn’t hear any traffic.

“Over here,” Bumper said.”

I walked over. He was pointing to a small indentation which had grass growing around it; a bare patch about ten feet across.

“Millington’s not-so-famous meteor crater,” Bumper said. We stood and stared down at it. It was like a big pitcher’s mound turned upside-down. I walked across it, and then ran and jumped across it as far as I could, landing flat on the ground beside where Bumper was standing. We both started laughing again.

“Hey, you know what they used to call the high school baseball team here?” Bumper asked. “The Meteors.”

I crawled over and felt around with my hands, wondering what size of a meteor had hit so long ago. After a while we wandered back to the trailer.

I re-enrolled in school the next year. I even took a geology class. Didn’t become a geologist, but I didn’t spend my life smoking weed in a trailer, either.

 

—end—

 

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Called Out for Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker. January 24, 2020.

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Buddy Montcrief is Called Out

By Jeff Baker

 

Sure I remember the Wilkins League. Hell, I played in the damn thing from the time I was nineteen until I messed my leg up in ’28, just after I turned thirty. You have to remember, this was ten years after the last of the Great Oil Wars. We even had the ruins of an old refinery at the edge of town (and some smart-ham had painted the big tank to look like a beer can.)

Anyway, I saw Old Man Wilkins once; he came to town to look the young players (including me) over and said some nice things about “the youth of the Upper Fifty-Eight.” We all knew what he was talking about. We were the first generation to grow up in peacetime during the Great Economic Bust. Wilkins and some of his friends had hit on national baseball as a way to not only boost morale and help the economy but keep the kids out of trouble. I don’t know how true that last part was. It certainly wasn’t true of Buddy Montcrief.

Buddy Montcrief was (to hear him tell it) our star player. He was a darn good hitter and base runner. We all knew when we saw him rounding third base nobody had better get in his way when he slid into home. And he played dirty too; he put some of that banned gunk on his shoes to make it easier for him to round the bases, he pulled the old switch with the balls and got the ones that were juiced up. Everybody knew he was doing but none of us said anything, mainly because we’d all get fired and the other teams could never prove anything. We would have been just as happy if he’d hit home plate and had just kept running.

And that was how it went until the big Baseball Scandal of ’23 which was in Arizona but Old Man Wilkins decided to do something. You remember the Patrollers they had during the last of the Oil Wars? Incorruptible, efficient, ever-watchful (that’s how they billed them.) Yes, robots. Old Man Wilkins bought a bunch of the decommissioned Patrollers, had them reprogrammed and put one in every ball-field. Yes, he installed them as umpires. And their word was law. They saw through any bit of trickery and soon just about every player knew he had to be on the up-and-up. Except Buddy Montcrief, of course. Oh, he stopped juicing the balls all right, but he got an idea in his head that he could juice the new umpire. As he put it: “It’s just a big tin can with arms, eyes and a mouth. It doesn’t walk anywhere but it sees everything, but what if we tell it what to see?” Whatever it was, it was better than my idea to pour water on it. (Wouldn’t have worked.)

It didn’t take much for Montcrief to sneak in and tamper with the programming of our new umpire. I know because I was there watching in case anybody stumbled across two players where they didn’t belong in the sub-basement of the ball-field on an off-day. As Montcrief said “A little re-programming here, a little switching here and we’ll see who throws who out of the game.”

The games on Saturday afternoons in the summer were always our big sellers and attendance was usually high. There was a big crowd for the first game after Montcrief’s bit of re-programming, and we didn’t disappoint. After a slow start, we had the score tied and Montcrief was up to bat. He gave the crowd what they wanted; hit the ball way out to the back fence, rounded first base, shoved the second baseman out of the way as he was about to catch the ball and then barreled to third and then headed for home plate, half the crowd booing and the other half cheering his name. I’m sure he firmly expected the reprogrammed umpire not to call him out. That wasn’t quite what happened. He was a few feet away from home plate when the robot umpire swung to face him and a greenish beam of light from its chest struck Montcrief who promptly evaporated in a puff of dust.

The crowd went wild.

Buddy Montcrief had re-programmed the Patroller all right but in the process had re-activated some of its programming from the Wars and he had been atomized as a result.

And, the umpire called him out.

 

—end—

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The Fiery Eye by Jeff Baker for Friday Flash Fics, January 18, 2020.

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The Fiery Eye

By Jeff Baker

 

“All right, Arden said. “What do you see?”

“Uh, nothing,” I said. “I mean, you, holding a marble, and the dark room behind you, and…”

“What kind of marble? Describe it.”

“It’s…clear. About as big as the end of your thumb.” I said. “I can barely make it out in the light.”

“What light?” Arden asked.

“The light from…” I looked up.

“Keep staring at my hand,” Arden said.

“Right. I didn’t see any lightbulbs, or…hey, the light is coming from the marble.”

“Yeah,” Arden said. “Keep staring. Harder. Harder. Now what do you see?”

“Something white. Swirling. Like…clouds?” I stared harder. “There’s a light, it’s blue, white swirling around it. It’s…the Earth.”

“Keep staring,” Arden said. “Bring it closer.”

“How do I…”

“Concentrate. Like you’re going in for a close-up,” Arden said.

We’d agreed not to use any real-world visual references, just to let this play on its own. Still, I imagined my gaze zooming in. The planet filled my vision. I concentrated a little more and the clouds dissolved. I was looking at a curved, blue ocean with the edge of a continent as if I was hovering over an ocean.

“What do you see?” Arden asked.

“The ocean,” I said.

“Can you see my hand? The marble?”

“No,” I breathed. Just the ocean. I can see the curve of the Earth. And a land mass. Over to my left.”

“An island?”

“It’s big. Real big,” I said.

“Close in on it,” Arden said.

It took me no effort this time; it was just a matter of thinking. I could still feel the chair I was sitting in under me but at the same time I was flying toward the land mass, closing in on a continent, the golden ground the reddish-silver trees, the octagonal houses and the people…

I came to with a jolt. I was breathing hard. Arden turned on a small light on the desk next to him.

“Well?” he asked.

“It wasn’t Earth,” I said. “It looked like Earth, the sky and water were blue but everything else…it wasn’t Earth.”

“And you saw it,” Arden said. “Over untold light-years, you saw it. You can focus not only on things nearby, things in sealed rooms and vaults but on other worlds.” He paused for a minute. “How do you feel?”

“Winded,” I said. I’d been sweating. I shut my eyes for a moment, and then looked up at Arden. “You want me to try again?”

“If you feel up to it,” Arden said.

I grinned. “Let’s do this.”

 

—end—

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve been reading some of the Three Investigators books by Robert Arthur and later Willian Arden (Dennis Lynds) which gave me the name used here. The series also gave me the title; from “The Mystery of the Fiery Eye.” —–jsb

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