Not much progress, but more than I though I’d have: Wrote the Friday Flash Fics story for January 15th, probably going to be a serial novel. Not long enough to be a full-blown book, but I’m having a surprising amount of fun with it.
Author’s Note: Armed with an heirloom Star of David which protects him against vampires (blessed from a lost book of the Kabballah) vampire-hunter Sean Rodriguez and his partner Jessie Skedderis have accepted an invitation to the legendary Castle Dracula. Arriving during the day, the huge castle front door swings mysteriously open.
We stepped in cautiously. The only pistol I had was in my suitcase, so were the silver bullets I’d planned to load it with. Jessie had quickly pulled his baseball bat out of his big overnight bag; God, I loved him!
“Hi,” the voice said as a skinny young man in a sweater stepped from behind the door. “You are the Americans.” His voice was accented, more like the mechanic Andy Kauffman had played on the old sitcom than any German. But he looked at us the way a lot of Europeans looked at Americans; with some expectation and a little wonder. I guess we must have seemed like a curiosity.
“I’m Shawn Rodriguez, I said, extending my hand.
“I’m Jessie Skedderis,” Jessie said. The young man had already grabbed our bags and pushed the door shut with his foot.
“I am Wilhelm,” he said. “Follow me upstairs, your rooms are waiting.”
“Room,” Jessie corrected. I smiled.
I’d imagined a scene like in the old movie; a big cobweb-covered staircase, dark and creepy. There was a staircase, but everything was clean; statues, paintings, ancient furniture. But we were following the servant up the stairs. All that was missing was Boris Karloff’s voice and somebody carrying an old oil lamp.
“The Master of the Castle is not here at the moment,” Wilhelm said as he plodded up the stairs. “He expresses his regrets and says he will be back sometime…”
“After sundown,” Jessie said, from a few paces behind Wilhelm.
Wilhelm turned around and smiled. “No, sometime around ten tomorrow morning. He is away on business. For the record, the Master’s family line is cousins to the famous Rumanian Dracula family. But he has a keen interest in the un-dead.”
“Which is why he called us here, I guess,” I said from further down the stairs.
“You have gained some fame in some circles, and being who he is, the current Count Dracula of Castle Dracula felt he should meet you.” Wilhelm said.
We came upon the upper floor. I stopped and stared at one of the framed pictures. A familiar figure, slick black hair, deep-set eyes, garbed in black and holding a wolf’s-head cane.
“Reproduction,” Wilhelm said. “I told you the Master had an interest. Ah, here is your room.” He balanced Jessie’s overnight bag on his shoulder and opened the door. Of course, the door creaked.
I had expected a shabby room with bare wooden floors, a fireplace and a for poster bed with worn curtains. Instead, it looked like a modern hotel room.
“Bathroom is down the hall. Dinner is at six.” Wilhelm grinned and closed the door.
Jessie plopped down on the bed. It had been a long trip.
“Which one of us takes the first watch?” Jessie asked. I didn’t blame him; I was reluctant to close my eyes at night in Castle Dracula. I fingered the protective Star of David through my shirtfront.
“Probably me,” I said. “You are all but grafted to that bed.”
I looked out the window. We were up higher than I’d thought; the castle was on the edge of a cliff.
“Careful not to sleepwalk,” I said.
Dinner was surprisingly ordinary. In honor of the Americans, Wilhelm had arranged for the cook to prepare hamburgers, which were surprisingly good. We actually “retired to the drawing-room” after dinner for cigars and some brandy and Wilhelm peppered us with questions about America. Jessie and I went upstairs to our room after another hour. After the long day of traveling, we were ready for bed.
“I’ll wake you up in about four hours,” I said, staring out the closed window.
“Should be about Midnight,” Jessie said with a yawn. “Vampire time.” He locked the door.
I heard a noise and turned. The window was sliding open.
There was a sudden choking gurgle behind me. I wheeled around.
Jessie had boxed in College and he kept himself in good shape. He was about six-foot-one, two hundred twenty pounds. Wilhelm had him by the throat and had twisted Jessie’s arms behind him, holding him effortlessly off the ground.
“Please stay where you are, Mister Rodriguez, and do not move or I will rip your friend open from his throat to his crotch. I will be able to drain most of the tasty blood in a matter of instants. With one hand, remove the Blessed Star of the Kabballah from your neck and toss it out the open window. Now.”
I fished around under my shirt, pulled the chain off with a painful yank and tossed it out the window.
Author’s Note: The draws for the January 2021 Flash Fiction Draw Challenge (Drawn by this year’s moderator, Jeffrey Ricker—read his books!) were a Fairy Tale, set in a big-city studio apartment, including a potted plant. I had family near Des Moines growing up so I’ve been there. Oh, and the title was a song by Jerry Samuels. —–J.S.B.
I Owe a Lot to Iowa Pot
By Jeff Baker
There lived, in the City of Des Moines Iowa, in a crummy studio apartment, an unemployed college dropout named Jorge.
Jorge had few possessions, a bed, a radio, several books and a large rubber plant growing out of an old crock pot with the words “State Fair” painted on it in faded blue letters that had come with the apartment. He also had a stack of bills which he had no way of paying. (“Unemployed,” remember?) And so one rainy afternoon he was sitting on his bed, munching a candy bar and listening to Def Leopard when he blurted out the words “I wish…”
Suddenly, the old crock pot shuddered and a small lady in a blue gingham dress, carrying a silvery wand with a star on top flew out of the pot on glowing pink wings.
“Hellooooo, young man!” the small lady said. “I am the Fairy of the Fair. I have waited since 1894 for someone to make a wish, and you have!”
Jorge stared. The Fairy was glowing blue, and sounded just like Margaret Dumont. He had no idea who that was, but he noticed that the wings clashed with the gingham dress.
“What’s in this candy bar?” Jorge said.
“Sugar, spice, candy, chocolate, and maybe coco leaf,” the Fairy said. “At least, that was what was in them the last time I was in the mortal world. Do you want another?”
Jorge was starting to think that the Fairy might not be a hallucination, but as he’d gotten the candy bar from Scooter, the guy who lived downstairs, he thought he’d better check.
“’Scuse me a minute,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He rushed downstairs and found Scooter in front of the building, working on his motorcycle. In the rain.
“Hey, man,” Jorge said. “Where’d you get these candy bars?”
Scooter looked up. He was big and burly, in a leather jacket.
“Out of the machine at work, just before I quit,” Scooter said. “I’m blowing this town, gonna see what I could see.” Scooter looked up at him and smiled. “And I hoped you’d get the message, that I think you’re sweet.”
Jorge didn’t know what to say. He stood there in the rain and they began to talk. And laugh. And plan.
A couple of hours later, after showering in Scooter’s apartment, Jorge rushed back into his own apartment to grab his gym bag and some shirts and underwear. He barely noticed that the Fairy was gone. A few minutes later, he headed downstairs. The rain had stopped. Early the next morning the roar of a motorcycle could be heard, headed for parts unknown.
In the State Fair pot, the Fairy smiled. Some people don’t realize what they wanted to wish for. And sometimes, what you really wish for comes in cycles.
I was in my third year of service to the Sultan of Aldabad, and so my duties mainly involved tending to the grounds adjacent to the Royal Palace and making certain the local urchins did not use the pool which was mainly for decoration. The pool for the Sultan’s exclusive use was toward the back of the palace and heavily guarded.
The decorative pool was not very deep, and it’s most extraordinary feature was a hippopotamus, carved of stone and set in the center of the bottom of the pool. Children liked to get into the pool and “ride” the hippopotamus, thus I was assigned to watch the pool. Usually, I was bored.
That morning, I arrived at dawn. The lawn was a mix of deep orange and green and black. I saw a shadowy lump laying at the edge of the pool beside one of the many fruit trees the Sultan liked to snack from. As I approached cautiously, I glanced into the pool and saw that the stone hippopotamus was gone! That was when I recognized the shape next to the tree, now glinting orange in the light; the unmistakable white stone of the hippopotamus statue from the bottom of the pool. I wondered how anyone could have moved such a heavy object in the night, especially one I always assumed had been carved out of the stone of the pool floor.
In another moment, the stone hippopotamus moved!
I froze. I had never seen a real hippopotamus before but I knew they were dangerous. The hippopotamus stood up and shook itself and I realized, to my amazement, that it was made of carved white stone! I considered creeping over to touch the beast and at the same time I remembered a legend whispered about the palace that the Sultan’s great-Grandfather, the Old Sultan had the hippopotamus set down in the pool to guard the palace and it was supposed to be able to come to life. I had never believed any of that. I considered rushing into the palace to bring someone to witness this wonder, for surely nobody would believe me when the hippopotamus stood up and let out a huge yawn, cast a casual backward glance at me and trotted around to the other side of the pool. I suddenly realized there was nothing I could do, should the hippopotamus decide to leave and nobody would believe me if I told them it had run away. But the hippopotamus slid back into the water as graceful as a fish and resumed its position at the bottom of the pool.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I examined the ground; the deep tracks of the hippopotamus could be seen. I ran for the palace and in the inner hallway I passed a hanging tapestry I had barely glanced at before; it depicted the Old Sultan standing beside the pool, arms outstretched as a white hippopotamus rose out of the pool surrounded by a golden glow.
Author’s Note: Unintentionally borrowing some Kipling-esque settings and themes. Maybe Northern Africa instead of India. The first Friday Flash Fics story of 2021.
Haven’t been writing much lately; took a week or two off. Got lazy. But, I roused myself this week and finished the Queer Sci-Fi column for January, and wrote the week’s Friday Flash Fics story. Both while I was waiting on an oil change. And today (Tuesday Jan. 5th) I checked the video for the new Monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge prompts (I’d forgotten about that!) and wrote the new story in a few hours. Feels good to be back in harness. I have a longer story to revise and one to proofread again.
To end this hideous year we did a whole lot of nothing. Took a nap from about five P.M. to nine P.M. Fireworks had popped occasionally all day. Got up and watched “Quantum Leap” reruns ’till midnight. Fireworks really started up then, and went off for a while. Went outside but saw no fireworks. It’s 1:17 now and we still hear one occasionally. Snow is on the way.
One of the good things that happened in 2020 is I stumbled across the videos of artist Pete Beard. I’m gathering he’s British and an illustrator himself, and he posts videos about the history of such subjects as Windsor McCay and a history of French illustration. Maybe his grandest achievement is a series of biographical videos “Unsung Heroes of Illustration.” In these, he devotes each video to the histories of three sometimes more neglected of forgotten illustrators. Coupled with illustration and perfectly chosen background music, the videos are of PBS quality. I recommend them highly! There are fifty so far and more on the way! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKKWGERRrnE&t=629s
I wasn’t going home for Christmas that year, and I was working so I didn’t mind. I had decorated my room with a few Christmas cards and a cheap plastic Nutcracker ornament I’d bought at a convenience store. I also had a bathroom and a fridge and stove so I wasn’t complaining too loudly. I had two days off the 24th or 25th so I was stuck in the apartment with the radio and TV. Nothing but stale TV shows and so I kept the radio on low to the station that played Christmas music and heated a TV dinner Christmas Eve to go with the six-pack of beer I’d bought. I hit the sack early, for once not disturbed by the neighbors being loud. A lot of them had gone somewhere else.
I woke up after midnight. It was dark, but there was a glistening light coming through the window. I looked out, still pretty groggy, to find that it had snowed. Not a lot, just an inch of cover or so, and so I opened up the window and looked out. It was quiet. Totally still. Totally clear. I looked up at the stars. Some of them even seemed to twinkle and I could see their colors; some yellowish, some blue. When I was younger, I knew a lot about the constellations, so I tried to pick a few of them out. I could see the Great Square of Pegasus, but I stopped and blinked. Was I looking in the right direction? I remembered Pegasus being over there, not there.
As I listened, I heard a wind blowing but no trees were stirring, and I didn’t feel as much as hint of breeze.
Then I heard the distant clattering of hooves and faint voices.
“He’s ahead of us, Equuleus!” That was another voice.
“Of course he’s ahead, Monoceros; he’s Pegasus,” said the first voice.
“I’m not buying into all his talk!,” came the second voice. “He doesn’t really have wings! I’ll come in first this year!”
And then, from far off, came a third faint voice as I saw two smaller groupings of stars move in behind the great square.
“Noooooooot thiiiiiiiis yeeeeeeear!”
“So you won,” said the first voice. “Now, back into our places before somebody notices.”
I heard distant laughter and blinked again, and the constellations were back where they belonged. Either that or I had woken up. I shut the window and headed back to bed.
In my dreams, I saw glittering horses racing across a starry sky.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: A Christmas story for all the stargazers out there. And Happy Holidays to all my wonderful readers!
Not a lot of actual progress to report for the last week or so. I wrote down the opening to a story whose idea I dreamed up almost forty years ago when I got my first car (Has it been that long ago?) I could show you the parking lot where I was when the silly notion first hit me.
Friday Flash Fics is officially shut down for the year, but I wanted to do a Christmas story (I do one every year!) to post, even though the one posted last week (Dec. 18th) should have been enough. I wrote a Christmas story a month ago, but I’m going to revise that one and try to sell it! So, I’ll have the story I finished about twenty minutes ago up in a day or so!
Jupiter and Saturn will appear to make their closest pass in centuries today, even though they are about half a billion miles apart! Talk about social distancing!