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Fiction: A Change of Seasons

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

October 13, 2017

The old man leaned on the bridge’s railing, watching the end of September be the end of September – melancholy and wet and above all, indecisive.

“Neither one thing nor the other,” his sister Jan would say, “Too cold to swim and too hot to ski, no oomph to it!”

He had always considered this somewhat unfair. After all, September is an equinox month, and you can’t balance two opposite truths without something breaking. Or was that how balancing eggs on the equinox was an urban myth, that is, a lie? Something about truth and lies and breaking eggs anyway; it was getting harder to remember.

He turned away from watching the stream below and caught sight instead of a bus pulling away from a nearby stop. The back of it was taken up by a travel agency ad exhorting him to see the world. He was just reflecting how after thirty or forty times even that gets old when the running girl plowed into him and bounced off.

She fell backward, splayed out, onto the slushy sidewalk; all her things went straight up, and when it came back down – in the slow-motion way disasters pretend to have about them – her coffee splattered into a tragic puddle all around the old man’s feet. She stared up at him in shock; old he was, but not small, easily six foot four with shoulders like a sheltering oak tree and a huge white beard that would be the envy of any streetcorner Santa. He was dressed in a tweed suit and wool coat at the height of fashion for 150 years ago, and despite leaning on a cane had felt as solid as a wall.

“Oh dear me, I am so very sorry. Are you all right, my dear?” he said, reaching a huge hand to help her up.

“My bus!” she said, in tones of deep anguish, then took the hand and climbed to her feet. She stared after the retreating bus for a moment (“Key Largo? Montego? Isn’t it time you go?”) then sighed. “No… look, I’m sorry. I was trying to catch the bus, didn’t look where I was going – hey, are you okay?”

The old man grinned. “Yes, I am fine.” Then he sniffed the air. The spilled coffee was producing non-coffee-like smells he mostly associated with pie at the end of a holiday feast.

“Damn it anyway. Mud. October can’t get here fast enough.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Really?”

“Yeah. Of course. Real fall. Leaves and a chill of winter and Halloween, not just this… wet.”

He paused for a moment. “If you are not still in a hurry, I would very much like to buy you a coffee to replace the one that met its end because of my untimely presence.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t do that! It was my fault anyway!”

“Grant an old man a moment of generosity? At my age, there’s no knowing if it may be the last one.”

“If… if you’re really sure… and there won’t be another bus for almost an hour… well, all right then.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Sera, by the way.”

He clasped her hand gently in his. “I am pleased to know you, Sera.”

Soon they were seated together in a coffee shop not far from the site of their impactful first encounter, holding identical paper cups with identical beverages inside.

The old man sipped his with something of an air of fascination. “This is a ‘pumpkin spice latte’, you said? But it has no pumpkin…”

Sera smiled. “No, just the spices that get used on pumpkin. There’s a lot of stuff you can get like that now. It’s either a celebration of fall or a desperate fad for nutmeg and allspice, depending who you ask.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “And I’ll tell you a little secret: I love all of them. Even the dollar-store candles. My friends think I lose my mind every year, but… I can’t help it! October especially is my month. Fall just fills me with… with… I don’t know.”

The old man’s eyebrows rose. “Wonder, perhaps?”

“Yeah! Wonder. That’s it.”

He chuckled. “Wonderful! I was like that too, a long long time ago. I suppose my job just drains it out of one.”

“Oh yeah? What do you do?”

“I am… a public servant. Yes, that is the way to put it. I organize and arrange things. Very seasonal work.”

Sera took a sip. “Wow. I can see how that could get monotonous. Almost as bad as my job! Office assistant at a shipping accounting firm. Ugh.”

“Oh, things changed. Things changed a great deal, especially in the last few years.”

“Mm. The Internet can be hard to keep up with.”

“No, no. I have no dealings with that. I mean things like this.” He held up his latte as though it was, personally, the source of all his problems. “Modern things, strange things. I used to know my name meant something, and I suppose it must do still, but I don’t always know what.”

“Your name. I don’t think I caught it?”

He paused a moment, deciding how best to answer this, and went for the blunt truth.

“I am October,” said October.

“Oh, like how The Saint sometimes went by August? I didn’t even know that was ever a people name!”

“To my knowledge, it is not.”

Sera squinted at him, suddenly worried she’d gone to coffee with an escaped asylum inmate. October just regarded her mildly with his inscrutable storm-blue eyes and let her stare at him. A few hairs caught Sera’s eye, and she suddenly knew with certainty that the old man’s white hair and beard had once been the brilliant red-gold of sunlight shining through autumn leaves.

“My dear, It has been my job for two hundred years to make the proper arrangements for my time of the year, to arrange the ripening of the harvest and the first snowflakes of winter yet to come. September is my brother, prim and proper but desperately indecisive and mercurial.”

The girl slowly pushed her chair back. “Oooookay then, I’ve definitely got to get going, thanks for the coffee, see you later, and so on…”

October made no move to get up or bar her way. “Yes, it does sound rather crazy, does it not? I said much the same myself two hundred years ago.”

The sensible part of Sera’s mind, the part that had suggested that stopping for a latte on her way to catch an inconsistent bus might have been a bad idea, watched in horror as the rest of her pulled the chair back in. Something about this old man was tugging at the parts of her that were still six years old and jumping in leaf piles, the parts that still felt, deep down, that ‘magic’ wasn’t just a word for stage men with decks of cards and no fashion sense.

“Only two hundred years? What about before then? There had to have always been a… a tenth month, hadn’t there?” she said.

“The October before me had been a sailor and still looked it, with a great red brocade coat and a huge handlebar mustache you could hang a shovel from. Still red. He told me the one before him was a crusader, both harsh and just, but, of course, I did not meet him.” He chuckled. “There has always been an October, my dear, but surely you can see October of, say, 1965, would be very different from that of 1720, and neither of them at all like the one in 1012. Times change, and time changes with them. To my knowledge, there has been only one thing October has always been: a redhead.”

Sera unconsciously rubbed the back of her head. Her hair was a layering of dark blues and turquoises, but her natural color was indeed dark copper. “Why are you telling me this? You know this sounds ridiculous, right?”

October took a long sip of his coffee. When he met Sera’s gaze again, it was with an expression of deep sadness. “I know. Of course, once upon a time, the notion of the Earth orbiting the sun, or of maladies caused by minuscule creatures also sounded ridiculous. Yes, yes, I know, it is not the same thing. I have not spoken of the work to anyone but my brothers and sisters in ages; I do not care to be looked at like a madman.”

“Your brothers and sisters?” Sera broke in, “As in… May, August… months?”

“Indeed. It is a strange family that comes and goes. My sister May is a gentle soul, older again than me; August is new, and he is a dark, dour boy who I fear thinks too much of the power of the ever hotter sun. As for why I am telling you, surely you must have figured it out. We do not age like mortals, but we age when time begins to pass us by… and I fear I am very much at the end of my days. I used to preside over the great harvest and folk preparing for winter; now the harvests and the feasts are unconnected and the changing climate means I am not entirely certain what October will even be ten years hence. I simply do not understand, and I am too old and tired to learn this much-too-fast world. So I have been looking for a successor.”

“Me?”

He nodded.

“Were you waiting for me? Have you been watching me??”

“Not at all, not at all. I have known you no longer than you have known me, about forty-three minutes. But when we met, without knowing who or what I was, you told me of your love of fall.”

He grinned. “And you told me October was your month.”

Sera stared at him. This had gone well beyond ‘crazy’ and into ‘call the police’, but still she sat. “What… if I say no?”

“I bid you a good day, and continue my search with a heavier heart.”

“Will I remember any of this?”

“I presume so. Perhaps the tale of introducing a crazy old man who thinks he is a month to pumpkin spice lattes will serve to entertain your friends.”

“And what if…” Sera said, ignoring the screaming in the sensible part of her mind, “what if I say yes?”

October smiled and, just for a moment, laid one of his gnarled old hands on hers. “I believe you just did.”

The girl blinked and looked around. She was alone, with no sign that the old man had ever been there, not even his coffee cup. She rubbed her face. “Oookay, this is a thing that happened? Come on. Get it together. You don’t need to be hallucinating in public. And you do need to catch a bus.”

She grabbed her things and hurried out of the coffee shop. When she brushed against the coffee shop’s corporately-approved bushes, some of the leaves began to turn red, but in her hurry she did not notice this, nor the way a chill in the air began to follow her, nor even how her hair had somehow returned to its natural colors. There would be time enough to notice these things when it was her month.

After all, the one thing October always was, was a redhead.

 

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373

Fiction: Eyes of Green, Wings of Black

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 13, 2017

As the dusk slowly stole its way across the sky, the woman who called herself Nellie Vincent waved goodbye to the last of the schoolchildren and locked the door of her curio shop. For the ninth year running, she had made arrangements with the deli and bookstore on either side of her to sponsor a Lunch-and-Learn for the children from the horribly underfunded elementary school one district over.

Nellie dragged herself slowly upstairs to her apartment. She was tired, but a good tired. Tomorrow, she would be helping with the blood drive at St. Catharine’s Hospital, and then on Saturday her weekly visit to the children’s ICU with her storybooks –

“Envy,” said a man’s voice from the top of the dark stairs. She froze. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone else here. There certainly hadn’t been last night, and no men had come in today.

“What?” Nellie called, “Who’s there? What are you doing in my home?”

“I was Sent,” said the voice, and suddenly all the upstairs lights flared on at once.

The light, oddly tinged with sickly green instead of the usual cheery yellow, revealed a man. He had corpse-pale skin that hung loosely on his skinny frame, as though he had recently lost a lot of weight. He was mostly bald, though a few remaining tufts of hair were wiry black, and he was dressed in nothing but a pair of stained grey sweatpants.

Nellie was sure she had never seen him before. “Who are you? What do you want?”

The man had started coming downstairs, but at this his grim expression flickered into exasperation and he goggled at her. “This? This is what I’m talking about. You’ve been away so long, you’ve forgotten your brothers and sisters.”

She had reflexively backed down the stairs away from him, but by the time she reached the bottom, he drew level and glared at her. “I am Sloth!”

Nellie blinked in confusion. “That… that poor man from ‘The Goonies’?”

Sloth rolled his eyes and pushed past her, into the shop. “No! I’m not a movie character! I am Fourth of The Seven! Letalis Sopor!” He sat down at an ornate table clearly labelled “$1999” in Nellie’s careful handwriting. “I am the Sin of Sloth. I am one of Hell’s bishops. And so are you!”

“Sir, I do not know who you think you are–” Nellie began, but he cut her off.

“I just TOLD you! Oh, damnation, I’m tired of this. See for yourself.”

Sloth snapped his fingers. The click seemed to echo a long distance, as all the light in the shop flickered a deep, black-tinged red for a moment. When the light returned to normal, Sloth was carrying on his back a pair of huge feathery wings, as black as Sin – and so was Nellie.

“Now will you please, for the love of Beelzebub, sit down? I’ve been sent to give you a warning, and I’ve wasted too much time on it already.” He slouched in his chair and tried to look as unfairly put upon as a Sin could.

Nellie’s eyes, which had always been a striking rich green, flickered with verdant light and she frowned. “As if you would do anything other than waste time. You are the living embodiment of ‘wasting time’.”

He glared at her as she sat across from him. “You remember. That’s something, I suppose. You’re not the only one who thinks that; frankly, it’s why they sent me to talk to you. Pride couldn’t bear stooping to be a messenger; Greed and Gluttony kept demanding payment, and Wrath just yelled constantly at everyone to shut up. I agreed to come mostly because it was the easiest way to get away from them.”

“What precisely do you want?” Envy asked.

Sloth snorted a laugh. “It’s so weird to hear that from you. Wanting is your job.”

She glared and said nothing.

Sloth sighed. “Fine. Look, it’s like this. You’ve been away too long. We have a duty to perform, and a very irate Master to please. You have to come back Down with me, right away, or there will be terrible consequences. Which, I am pleased to say, I will not have to carry out. They sounded like a lot of work, all that drawing and quartering and so on.”

“Sounds rather serious.”

“It is.”

They stared at each other. Seconds passed by, marked by various timepieces on the shop walls that almost, but not quite, ticked in unison.

Finally, Envy broke the silence. “I’m not going.”

Sloth blinked and sat upright. “What? But… but you have to! This is an order straight from the Throne!”

“No. I am staying here.” With a rustle too quiet for human ears, a few black feathers dropped from Envy’s wings.

“You can’t! I’m not even certain you can escape punishment if you come back now! They know what you’ve been doing!”

She met his shocked gaze with stony resolve. “Oh, do they? What precisely do they think they know?”

“You’ve been –” Sloth stopped himself, then looked around furtively and lowered his voice. “You’ve been doing charity work! Helping people, smoothing out conflict, generally being an extremely good citizen. I hear you haven’t even unloaded a single cursed knick-knack on the locals in the last three towns – Lucifer’s toenails, what do you think they even gave you this shop for?”

“I don’t care. I’m done with all of that. You can have the shop back if you want it. I don’t find it very needful any more.” Feathers fell all around her, in a nearly-silent deluge.

“You… what? You can’t just quit! This isn’t some volunteer job at the soup kitchen – which I note you’ve been doing, too – this is forever! Sin is Forever!”

“I can, and I do. I’m done. You can tell them that for me – including the Throne.”

Sloth turned, somehow, even paler at the idea of carrying this news to the Prince of Lies. “I really don’t think I can. Damn everything! Who do you think you are!?”

“You tell me, my ‘brother’. Who am I?”

“Envy! Sixth of The Seven! Invidia Totalis!”

All the black feathers had fallen now. For the first time since her unwelcome visitor had arrived, Nellie Vincent – Envy – smiled at him, as behind her spread wings of purest white.

“Yes. I am Envy, who craves the joys others have.” Her smile widened and her eyes glistened, hinting at a kind of love never found in Hell. “Did you really think I would never meet an angel?”

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847

Fifty Shades Of Dave at The Vancouver Fringe Festival – Review and Interview

Books & Writing, Comedy, Culture, Events, FRINGE!!, Interviews, Performance, Performance, Reviews, Showcase

September 13, 2017

I am going to clue you into a loosely kept secret around here… I am an American. I was raised by NPR listening hippies. I watched Public Television a lot and I was brought up with the voice of Garrison Keillor lulling me into a peaceful amusement about the people and crazy antics of the fictional town of Lake Wobegon via the very popular radio show A Prairie Home Companion. There was even a movie about the radio show itself starring Keillor as the romantic interest of Meryl Streep, and Lindsay Lohan who was just starting to tip over the precipice of highly successful child star to a tragic train wreck of a young adult who used to be a child star.

Now, we had a family cherished Christmas album, even though we were Pagans who celebrated Yule, and on this CD was one story. This story was Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party and it was cooed to me annually by Stuart McLean and his beloved story telling experience The Vinyl Cafe.

So, now that there is context and nostalgia we shall begin to talk about Fifty Shades of Dave the delightful and sexy show written by Happysad Theatre‘s Nico Dicecco and Kyle Carpenter and performed by Nico Dicecco.

Dicecco, sounds so amazingly accurately like Stuart McLean that I would find myself closing my eyes and pretending that I was wrapped up in a blanket, sipping hot chocolate and smelling our Christmas Tree/Yule Bush… but then our host would say phrases like, “The ice cream is a metaphor FOR EATING PUSSY” or “Put your hands up and spread your legs… Officer Morley was naked” or “I came four times that night” and I was immediately snapped out of my warm, safe, innocent childhood to my lurid and sex positive adulthood and I sat at the edge of my seat falling in love with Dave and Morely’s very amazing and heartwarming adventure into spicing up their sex life.

I really could not love this show any more than I do and I really feel so much pleasant joy and amazing gratitude to have seen it.

Please go see it, you have two more chances Sat Sept 16 at 6:25pm and Sun Sept 17 at 3:00 pm. You can purchase tickets and your membership to the Fringe here.


We also got the chance to have a few words with Nico Dicecco who plays Stuart in the play and who is also a co-writer of this gem.

LM: Can you give us the history of the project?

ND: It started as a party trick that my co-writer Kyle Carpenter and I would do years and years ago to make friends laugh, just saying the dirtiest things we could think of in Stuart McLean’s voice. Eventually, we decided it would be funny to write a full story and record it as a podcast. As we were writing that, we discovered that the whole thing worked best if we pulled back on the really dirty humour and tried as hard as possible to capture what it would actually be like if Stuart McLean revealed the intricacies of Dave and Morley’s sex life. We managed to record one story, but then we decided that the project was strong enough to work as an hour long live theatre performance. We applied for a few fringes and got into Vancouver and started writing more stories to fill out our time. By January of this year, we had a full draft. Then, in February, Stuart McLean passed away. We were heartbroken. We took a bit of time to think about whether or not we still wanted to go ahead with the show. We reread the script, and it was chock full of love and admiration for The Vinyl Cafe, so we were confident that audiences would receive it as the tribute that it is.

LM: Can you tell us more about your love of either Vinyl Cafe or Fifty Shades of Grey or both?

ND: Hearing The Vinyl Cafe on the radio is the earliest memory I have of realizing how incredible storytelling can be. I was listening in the car and when we got home I refused to let my mom turn off the radio until the story finished. I was enraptured. Since then, I’ve been a fan of Stuart McLean, usually listening to his CDs on road trips. There’s a way that The Vinyl Cafe has of weaving itself into really great family memories.

As for Fifty Shades of Grey… I really don’t know much of anything about it. I read two pages once and didn’t care for the writing. We just liked the title.

LM: How long did it take you to get Stuart McLean’s voice down?

ND: I’ve been doing a Stuart McLean impression since at least 2008, but it kind of started out as more Jimmy Stewart than anything. We first started crafting material for this show in 2013, and that’s when I got more serious about perfecting the voice and the rhythm of his storytelling.

LM: What are your plans for the show in the future?

ND: We’re booked to take it to the Montreal Fringe in May, and I’ll be applying to a ton of other festivals for the 2018 season.

LM: Do you have other projects that are in the works?

ND: I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after shows and comment that I look a fair bit like Justin Trudeau, so I’m starting to work on my impression of him, and Kyle Carpenter and I are brainstorming ideas for what kind of Trudeau show we might want to do.

LM: Have you thought about touring this to sex positivity conferences?

ND: I haven’t, but that’s a great idea! Our top priority, next to honouring the spirit of The Vinyl Cafe, was to offer a sex-positive portrait of Dave and Morley. We worked really hard to shape the stories so that they are celebrations of sexuality and human connection, even when Dave is causing calamity in the bedroom.

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West Virginia style hot dog.

481

Fiction: Dogs Are A Clone’s Best Friend

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

August 31, 2017

“Syv, I’m bored.” Mech said.

Bullets ripped the trees in front of us in half with only a fraction of them actually hitting Mech’s shields below me. He was – or at least, had been – the Warhammer from the Glass Cannons and, despite the team name, he was far from glass.

“This Johnny was built wrong and his bullets aren’t doing anything.”

I chewed absently on a SlyEye chili dog while sitting cross legged on Mech’s flat head. I caressed the cold metal beneath me as I searched the dark ruins around us.

The hunting Johnny was camped out in the third floor of a crumbling apartment complex, the gold flashes I’d glimpsed through my scope marking him as the Big Johnny Four of the Sunbros. I hadn’t seen the Sylvia the Devs had sent after us yet though.

“Four’s gotten comfortable. He’s sitting on a chair. The other Deadringer is trying to flank us.” I said.

“We won’t win if we turtle Syv, all I know how to do is attack.”

I took another bite of the hotdog, peeling back the self heating wrapper and tossing it behind me. I chewed and took another look through my sniper scope. I sighed and slid the half eaten SlyEye into the bag on my hip.

“Go ahead Mech. Go get him,” I said and slid off of my boyfriend’s back.

“I’m gonna take you to pound town.” Warhammer yelled, his electronic voice cracking as he charged towards the bullet-spewing clone.

I stood and watched as the sunlight that filtered through the treetops sparkled against his smoky crystal armour. His hulking form smashed through both underbrush and rusted machinery as he pushed against the concrete building.

“It’s time for them Gripplegraps!”

I unwrapped the SlyEye to the sound of my Mech slamming the Sunbro noob into sludge. I smiled around the footlong and swept the area for more gold clad hunters.

We’d met during a match, my Greenskins vs. his Glass Cannons. I’d watched Mech from across the field, watched the way that he took down Crawler and Clone alike with a joy that was barely seen in those of us born for Superchamp. I’d dropped on him and left a note scribbled on a wrapper on his shield before he killed me.

We exchanged letters after that. Every time our teams fought, we’d pin them to the crawlers marching down each other’s lanes all game. Every night that one of us stayed in the other’s city’s away apartments, we’d flash lights at each other across the dark.

Then I was recalled for retirement and Warhammer said we should run.

“Woo! That attack sure fell flat.” Mech said.

He wiped the blood and dust off of his shields. Not far away from him was what was left of the Four. I trotted over to the gooey paste of clone and kicked the pieces around, looking for anything salvageable.

Hammer grabbed me from behind in a hug and I felt the heat from his exhaust fall over me. I leaned into him and kissed his hand.

“Good job, Mech. I’d kiss you if you still had a face.”

“Naw. You can still kiss me, and I’ll take you to pound town later.”

I turned and kissed between the camera’s that had become his eyes. He slid his colossal hands down my hips and rests them there. I giggled and leaned on his arm, letting him support me.

“We should move. The other one is still out there.” I said.

“I’ve got you Greeny, no one is hurting my girl.”

He cupped my crotch, lifting me up off the ground and pressing into the bulge hidden there. I moaned against him. And—

I was staring at the inside of a respawn vat. The green text in front of my eyes scrolled too fast for me to see. I punched the inside of the vat, frustration venting out my fist as pain. The front slid open and I tumbled out.

“Are you okay Sylvia?”

I scrambled to my feet, the feeling of newly cloned flesh making me shiver.

“What?” I said.

“I said, ‘are you okay?’ You usually don’t fall when they open that shit.”

A Four stood in front of me, his armour gold and black. He held out his hand, ready to grab me if I fell again. I shrank away from him back toward the open creche.

“What happened to Mech?”

“Who?”

I ran under his arm and away from the respawn vats. I heard him behind me, throwing the name Sylvia at me like grenades. I stepped down hard, my foot hit air, and I fell head first into a crafty table, food and drink flying everywhere.

I landed on the floor, my nose pressed against the toe of a leather cowboy boot.

“Yeehaw. That was a magnificent dodge by Deadringer Sylvia of the Sunbros. That landing gets a ten out of ten.” Jack Flack, the Superchamp announcer, said.

I picked myself off of Jack’s shoe and stood again. Jack stood in front of me, a coffee cup in one hand and a carafe of cream in the other. He stared at me as the remains of his coffee dripped down his vest.

“Sorry sir. I’m not feeling well.” I said to him and pushed past him.

“Don’t forget to buy a Battle Bright Taco™ and an 80 ounce Pistol Punch™ on your way out.” he yelled after me.

I ran through a hall made of curtains and searched the dark depths of swinging cloth as I passed, the sounds of footsteps behind me.

“Mech? Are you there?” I yelled.

Light fell ahead of me and I raced toward it.

“WELCOME BACK DEADRINGER SYLVIA!” The light said.

I shielded my face with my hand. Hundreds of seats hid behind the stage lights, each one filled with cardboard cutouts of the Superchamp clones clapping. Speakers filled the stage with the sounds of a crowd going bonkers, whistling and hooting.

“Y’all got dealt a bad hand in that round but don’t fret. The crowd’s with y’all still and the runners are still runnin’, so we’ll get’ch’all out there in a jiffy.” Flack’s voice boomed above the noise of the nonexistent crowd.

“WELCOME BACK BIG JOHNNY FOUR!”

I I looked back toward the curtain where Sunbro Four stood waving. He glanced at me through half closed eyes and raised his eyebrow. I flipped off the cardboard cut outs and stormed off the stage.

Two people in gray uniforms were picking up the spilled crafty. I kicked a stray Greenskin Gourmet Doughnut into the mess of curtains to my right. Fuck these people. They wouldn’t let me leave, so they can deal with smell of rotting anchovies and goat cheese.

“Sylvia. What in the hell is going on? Why didn’t you wait for me to get back?” The golden Four said from behind me.

“I don’t call myself that.” I said.

“What? Is this about D? I know you still miss her, I do too, but this shit isn’t going to help.”

“Fuck you.” I slammed my fist into the wall. I snatched a wrapped SlyEye out of the pile of spilled food and pulled the heating tab.

“You’re eating those now? Shit Sylvia, you have to stop this. You told me you got the SlyEye EyeBuy.”

The foil turned a bright blue and I tore the top off of the footlong chili dog. I bit the tip off and chewed it, my breath coming out of my nose in harsh bursts. I swallowed and went in for another bite when I noticed my gloves, the black, gold pattern on them.

“Fuck me. How do I get out of this nightmare.”

One of the attendants stopped picking up food to point toward a door marked ‘Exit’.

“Thanks.” I said through a mouth full of meat, beans, and cheese.

The ready room beyond the door was filled with guns, food, and anything you might need to hunt down someone dangerous. I grabbed a pack from the rack and started stuffing it with as much as I could.

“Are you going to talk to me? Or am I just going to have to keep following you around and shit?”

I looked at Four, pausing my packing for a moment to really look at him. His eyes were deep in his skull, the black rings around them made him look like a racoon. He swept his gloved hands through his grey hair, sticking it up with sweat as the ran through. I sighed and zipped up the bag.

“She’s gone. She’s not coming back. I have to find Mech.” I swung the pack onto my back and grabbed a sniper rifle with an Acog sight.

“Okay.” He said and got ready.


 

The ruins around Stygere were filled with the sounds of mutant animals going about their business. I ran ahead of the Sunbro Four towards the last place that I’d been with Mech. It wasn’t hard to find, the trail of ruined bushes and trampled rubble left by Mech’s huge feet kept me on track.

“Look, I know how you feel. I miss her too, Sylvia. I’ve been hinting that you can talk to me for over a year.”

I could hear the buzzing of the drone following us. They’d be watching our every move, the crowds paying by the minute for the privilege. The Four continued talking the entire trip, no matter how much I ignored him.

“I lay awake at night. Okay? I know you and D had a thing but you weren’t the only one with feelings for her.”

I slid into cover at the edge of the clearing where Mech had smashed Four’s previous body to paste. It was quiet, the animals in the area still shying away after all the action from earlier. One of the giant trees ringing the clearing had been felled since I’d been here, the trunk in splinters and another mangled body resting in the branches.

“Will you please talk to me? Please, Sylvia!” Four said, standing next to me.

“She’s dead, Four. Forget about her. Move on.” I said, the words erupting from my mouth before I knew what was going on.

He looked at me and his eyes darkened farther. He bared his teeth, about to say something but before he could the forest behind him blurred red, disgorging a figure in red cloak holding a double-bladed scythe in her left hand.

“Hey Big Guy.” She said.

“What?” Four turned, his eyes wide in their sunken sockets.

“Sorry.”

She cut him in half, the blood splattering across the ferns and trees around us. He held out his hand as both halves fell to the ground in a heap of gore and flesh.

“No.” He whispered and laid still.

The sound of the drone had gone, replaced by the sound of trees swaying in the wind. I dropped my gun and held my hands, palms up.

“Hold it. I’m not here to fight. I just want to get back to my Warhammer .”

With a swipe, she cleaned the blood off of her blades. She leaned against the trunk of a clean tree and popped the tab of a can slung on her belt. She took a deep swig, the carbonated, yellow drink flowing down her jaw to sink into the cloth of her cloak.

“Hey Sylvia. Long time no see.”

“Stop fucking calling me that.” I screamed, “My name is Syv. It’s Syv. Not Sylvia. Not Deadringer. Not even Sylv.”

I started ripping off the gold and black armour, throwing the pieces into the pile of dead clone in front of me. The woman in red took a step back, her hand going to the scythe again.

“I’m not this Sunbro slut. I’m a damn Greenskin. I hate the colour gold. I hate their snobby ass attitude. I hate the way that they make it to the Superchamp stadium every year. I just want to go meet my boyfriend and live in the woods.”

I slung the bag onto the ground next to me and ripped off my chest piece. I stood in front of her, naked and painting, my skin chilling in the shaded forest.

The forest shimmered beside the woman and revealed a Lady Death clone in a patchwork blue, black, and gold suit. The Lady Death’s visor was cracked and partially missing, the woman’s black-almond eye looking through the hole. She held a golf club in one hand and a grenade in the other.

“Is everything okay D?” The new woman asked.

“I have no fucking idea, Blue. You take care of the drone?”

“Yeah, they never saw me coming.” Blue grinned.

“This is a clusterfuck.” D handed her scythe to her partner and unbuttoned her cloak.” We’re going to have to deal with this one, and our other new friends, before we can even think about going back home.”

She let the cloth fall from her shoulders with a shrug and let it pool in the crook of her left arm. The skin of what used to be her right shoulder was red and mottled, a deep scar ran through where her arm used to be. She took the can from her belt and drank.

“Well, get what you’re bringing Not Sylvia. We’re going to go join the others.” She said, exasperated.

For a beat I continued standing there shivering and stared at D, then grabbed the bag off the ground. I slid the sniper into the holster on the pack and then slid it back on my back. I left the armour in the pit of dead Four.

I followed the two through the thick underbrush. They were walking hand in hand, silently looking at the forest around them as animal sounds started coming back. I pulled one of the many foil wrapped packages out of my bag as we walked.

Vines spread open around the entryway to a half collapsed building, trees crowding the door with plastic wrapped cartons sprouting from their trunks. I pulled the cooking tab on my lunch as the two women moved through the crowded doorway, the smell of chilly and melting cheese wafting from the package.

“We’re coming in.” D called to the abandoned factory.

“‘Bout time. Y’all are late and I’m gettin’ grouchy. Ain’t that right y’all, Mama Harry’s gettin’ right ornery.”

Across the floor of rotted machinery sat four people; a woman with steel gray eyes and a pistol the size of my arm in her hand, a haggard older man with a shaved head and an arm missing, and the hunched figure of Mech with me in his arms.

“Fuck.” I and … the other I… said in unison.

There was a bloodstained bandage covering the eye of the me in Mech’s arms. She was stripped of armour and was wrapped in a white sheet.

“I should have seen this coming. The moment I saw those two alive.” I said, motioning to the two Lady Death clones now joining the group sitting on the loading bay. “The Devs are bad at this.”

“What’s going on?” Mech asked.

“I’m Syv.”

I tossed the Slyeye at my counterpart. She caught it and ripped open the package.

“We found her with Johnny following her, though I had to take him out. I feel a bit bad about that, we might have been able to use him.”

I sat and put my hands in my head. This was either a nightmare or bullshit, and neither were what I wanted. I was in a body that wasn’t my own with augments I didn’t deserve and a ghost of myself in Mech’s arms.

“Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.” I whispered.

I felt a soft hand on my back and looked up to find my own face staring back at me. She put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Mech was behind her, supporting her with one hand.

“So?” I said.

“So.”

“Are you okay, at least?”

She tugged on Mech’s hand and looked at him. He lifted her onto the flat platform on his head and then slid his fingers around my waist to do the same. His cold touch made me shiver but the warmth of being back in my boyfriend’s arms kept the chill away.

“The Sunbro Sylvia shot me. I lost my eye but it went through. Four says I’m lucky.”

“Don’t tire her out, she’s got the last of our bingo in her.” The bald man said.

“Anyway. Mech killed her. D and Blue found us. We came here.”

Other-Syv held out half of her hotdog to me and smiled. I took it and chewed, the sour taste of my self pity replaced by meat and cheese.

“You should have seen me, Syv. My gripplegraps were so good.”

I stroked my boyfriend’s head and smiled with my other. We ate together and Mech held us.


 

“All runners, you have two minutes before I come in there and kill you all.”

The forest outside the factory was dark, the air thick with the chill of night. The group had gone to sleep not long before with D watching over us all.

“Just go away, Johnny. We don’t have to fight.” D yelled back.

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and stepped out from the shelter of Mech’s arms, where Syv and I were sleeping.

“She killed her, D, The Greenskin Lobi completely erased her.” Four’s voice sounded hoarse next to the sharp cold of the night.

Syv poked her head out of Mech’s embrace and the big cyborg’s eyes lit up. I put my finger to my lips and went to my pack. I checked my sniper’s breach and loaded it.

D was wired, I could hear the Energy Aid in the way her response wobbled from her mouth. “I know, Big Guy. I’m sorry, but we have wounded inside. Please.”

I hoisted myself onto the rusted catwalk that D sat on. She was looking out into the darkness outside, her scythe in her hand. I tapped the wall next to her to let her know I was there and then slid beside her.

“Can you see him?” I asked.

“No. It’s too dark and I don’t have a faceplate anymore.”

I flicked the Acog night vision on and steadied my rifle on the window ledge. I looked through the scope and gasped.

The forest was filled with crawlers. Hundreds of them stood, silent and waiting, just outside the carton trees. In front of them all, on top of the biggest crawler I’d ever seen, was Sunbro Four.

“We are fucked. Get everyone ready.”

“Thirty seconds and I’m coming in.”

Explosions ripped through the waiting crawlers and lit up The Taint. My night vision peaked and shut off before I was blinded. I blinked the tears out of my eye and switched my rifle to the other side.

D jumped from the window and out to the chaos below and then started chewing through bots with her scythe. Behind me I heard the stomping of Warhammer’s feet as he charged into the fray. I struggled to keep the fighting in focus as the fire burned and the bullets flew.

I began shooting. The bots were so close together, and so many, that each shot ripped through two or three. I saw the shimmer of Blue’s cloak float in front of me and then an explosion.

“I got a hunger and only mooks can suffice.” Mech warbled.

He charged through a group, bullets pouring into him from Four’s chaingun. This time his shield started buckling.

“Away. Hahaha.” he said and started running backward, shields up.

Syv crawled beside me, her own sniper in one hand and the pants from her armour in the other. She had wrapped the sheet around her waist, leaving her chest bare.

“I thought your dangly bits might be cold.”

She handed me the armour and I quickly slid it on.

“Thanks.”

Below us we could hear Mama Harry’s pistol booming, each shot shaking the catwalk. Syv and I smiled at each other as the sounds of the battle continued.

“Chili dogs?”

“Chili dogs.”

 


Holly Sophia McCrea is a poet, artist, and short fiction writer from Vancouver BC. She’s been published in The Drabblecast audio fiction magazine and currently has a chapbook available on amazon.

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1265

Bye, Marvel.

Books & Writing, Culture, Events, Fail, Opinion, Why Aren't You Watching This?

August 14, 2017

I have an awesome geeky friend who happens to be a girl (like about eighty-ninety percent of the writers on this site). She knows more about Star Wars and Star Trek and Doctor Who than I do and she’s flirting with comics. She liked Captain America as a kid and we keep getting DC Superhero Girls stuff for her niece (who loves Batgirl). She likes Spider-Gwen and Monstress, mostly, but she also really digs the movies that’ve come out, especially Captain America. She bought a Cap shirt and wore it a lot for years, but these days it’s gathering dust in a closet.

“Can’t wear it anymore,” says she, when asked. “Movie Cap is still cool and that’s the one I like, but comics Cap? I get weird looks from people when I walk into a comic shop with it. One time, a guy got really excited and started talking to me about racial purity and, well, yeah. Comic Cap is a Nazi now.”

Another guy I know was raised in a casually racist household. His parents and his family believed that anyone with a skin tone darker than theirs was genetically inferior. The thing that got him thinking and changed his mind? Marvel Comics. Specifically, Black Panther. Marvel Comics opened his mind, changed his world. He was digging the comics but hated when it crossed over with Secret Empire.

“Sure, the racists are the bad guys, but didn’t Sam Wilson apologize to a bunch of racists for being black?” says he. “Like, the good guys are telling racists it’s okay to be racists. Also, Captain America is a Nazi? Fuck you.”

I grew up Jewish. There’s a lot of fear that comes with being a Jew in any era. We get blamed for a lot of troubles that we have no power over and nothing to do with because it was politically expedient to do so and political and historical inertia is a thing.

“Jews control the banks and Hollywood!” racists like to say. A lot of us work in the financial sector and entertainment because those were the only two industries we were legally allowed to work in at the dawn of the twentieth century. We get blamed for playing by the rules that other people forced on us, but that ties into a popular Jewish saying: This, too, shall pass.

Still, it’s always inspiring to see the impact we’ve had on the cultural landscape. We invented and refined comic books. The characters in them? The heroes? We largely created them. Captain America and Superman were both Jewish inventions built around concepts of decency, of sticking up for the underdog. Both of them were politically motivated and both of them helped defeat racists in the real world: Captain America helped shame America into getting involved with World War II and Superman did a lot to take down the KKK.

DC Comics has had a lot of problems over the past decade, but they seem to be picking themselves up. Their comics are full of self-contained stories and they’ve seen a gradual increase in sales to go along with it as they expand and create minority and legacy heroes. Marvel, on the other hand, has been focusing on interconnected crossovers where you need to buy more than one title to figure out what’s going on and famously blamed diversity for their flagging sales.

Their latest big dumb crossover event infected more than a dozen of their titles and also turned Captain America into a Nazi – he sided with his enemies at Hydra, killed a bunch of people, turned fascist and tried to conquer the world and install genetic purity and all the other hallmarks of Nazi idiocy.

And now, it’s over.

Marvel’s latest big stupid event crossover thing where they want you to buy all their comics to have some inkling of understanding what’s going on? The idiot thing that interrupts the stories you actually care about and replaces it with one that marginalizes those stories and characters? The one that turned the conscience of Marvel Comics into a Nazi to hit a sales bump and saw ever-decreasing returns to all their titles? The one proposed by the Trump supporter in charge of Marvel, who had a failed Republican politician that thought the school-to-prison pipeline made good business sense turn the creation of two Jews into a Nazi? It just ended. They’re already planning to retcon it out of existence, but it ended.

It’s over.

And so is my time with Marvel Comics. It’s been a while since we touched anything Marvel related with the whole God of Comics; the last one hinted at this stance but I just want to be clear about where we stand as actual Nazis in real life hold rallies and start murdering people again – we will not review, promote, or have anything to do with Marvel until Nick Spencer and Ike Perlmutter no longer work at that company.

We’ll talk about the movies, the Netflix series, all the things that have nothing to do with either of those people – and we want to stress that we do believe that they are people because they are people, a simple observation that neither would give us given that pretty much everyone here is a minority of some type.

I’d like to say that it’s a loss. I’ll miss Spider-Gwen and Hawkeye and Black Panther. I’d say about a third of my collection is Marvel Comics and I’ll be holding onto them because I can happily remember what was. And I’m sure that we’ll get comics worth reading from Marvel again, because this, too, shall pass.

But I cannot, in good conscience, support a company that thinks turning their moral center into a Nazi is good business sense. And I cannot support a writer or an executive that do not see me as a person and would rather inspire those that would see me and my family and the people I care about dead.

Good-bye for now, Marvel. It’s been fun.

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393

Fiction: Wolf’s Weird

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

August 13, 2017

The Wolf dreamed, and in his dream he fell in love. The girl was young and wore a coat of rich red, and when he tasted her he knew he was hers forever.

When dawn broke, the Wolf left his den in the Dirkwood and loped across the plains to the city. That’s where the humans lived, among others, and the girl in the red coat was definitely a human. Wolves are practical, level-headed creatures, but every now and then one might come down with an awful obsession, and indeed this one had.

It was a long run, and the sun was drifting to bed in the West when the Wolf arrived at the city. The lights in the great Knight Market were twinkling alight, as the shops that did not sell their wares in daylight opened for business. The Wolf paused and stared at the signs; he was a smart Wolf, but had never been taught to read, and the signs were a mystery to him. Wolves do not give up easily, though, and he determined to go into every shop until he found someone who knew the girl in his dream, or had used them all up.

The first shop was an alchemist’s, its walls lined with shelves and the shelves lined with bottles in every color and smell of the rainbow. The alchemist was an old man, stooped, gnarled, and with a long white beard stained in many patches by his work.

“Good evening, Sir Wolf,” said the alchemist, whose customers were often not human.

“Good evening,” said the Wolf, “I must find a girl, can you help me?”

“You want a love potion, eh?” The old man stroked his stained beard thoughtfully. “Could do, could do. I don’t have one on hand for wolves, it’d be a special order.”

The Wolf shook his huge shaggy head. “Love I have, but the girl herself is missing. I dreamed a dream that must come true, of a young human girl with hair of midnight and a coat of scarlet. How can I find her?”

“A dream, eh?” The alchemist clicked his tongue in disapproval. “I’m afraid I don’t deal in dreams of sleep. I have not seen such a girl either. Perhaps you should see the fortune-teller at the end of the lane?”

The Wolf nodded his thanks and padded out. At the end of the lane was a small shop bedecked with curtains and lace, with tarocchi cards laid out in the window. Within, at the single small table, sat a robed woman with her eyes closed, swaying back and forth.

“Good evening,” said the Wolf, and he would have said more but was cut off.

“Hush! The Spirits speak. They speak of a new visitor, a handsome stranger looking for love. Is this true?”

The Wolf was forced to admit that it was. “I must find–”

Again she cut him off. “You seek a girl! Your lover-to-be! I see… hair like a raven’s wing… cloaked in the color of blood…”

“Yes! That is her, where may I find her?”

“First give me a piece of silv–” but the woman did not finish speaking; instead, she opened her eyes, saw for the first time that her client was not a handsome swain but a huge Wolf of the Dirkwood, and screamed and screamed!

“Please stop that! I mean you no harm.”

And still she screamed.

“Did the Spirits not tell you that you would meet a Wolf this night?”

And yet on she screamed.

“Very well. Good evening to you.”

The Wolf worked his way down the lane. Some received him courteously, some with great discourtesy indeed, but none could help. As the Eastward sky began to brighten, he arrived at the last shop, smaller than most, unlit, and set some ways away from the others. Inside was dim, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust.

The shop was strange; though its apparent wares of threads and bolts of fabric were present, they seemed ancient, and all was covered with cobwebs. Thinking the place abandoned, he was about to leave when a strange smell caught his nose and he realized he was not alone. Behind the counter, shrouded in a thick grey cloak, stood a figure. It seemed to be watching him, but he could not see its face in the shadows.

“Welcome,” the figure said, in a strange, fluting voice.

“Are these your wares?” asked the Wolf, his manners momentarily forgotten.

“They were once. They could be again, if need be. I am a Weaver. What do you seek?”

“I dreamed a dream that must come true, of a young human girl with hair of midnight and a coat of scarlet. Can you help me find her?”

“Ahh, dreams. Dreams can be woven, and unwoven. Let us see.”

The weaver laid out some threads, and with extraordinary speed and no other artifice wove them into a mandala, a square of many intertwined colors. When it was nearly done, the Weaver said, “I must have some of your hair: one from your head, one from your heart, and one from your tail. Only in this way can we know what must come next.”

The Wolf was surprised by this, but agreed. The Weaver approached him and with silent swiftness plucked the three hairs, seemingly all at once. Then it returned to the mandala, and wove the hairs within.

The Weaver stared at the finished mandala for a few moments, then showed it to the Wolf, to whom the patterns and swirls meant nothing.

“My dear Wolf, luck in love is not your lot. There is such a girl, but she is not to be found in the Lands Above.”

“But the Lands Above are all that is! If she exists, but she is nowhere in the world, where can she be?”

The Weaver chuckled, a very old sound. “No, Sir Wolf. The Lands Above are not all that is. There are Lands Below as well.”

“Can you get me there, to her?” He did not care what horrors this other Land may be beset with, as long as he could find his love.

“Space can be woven and unwoven. Time too, for those with the skill, and I am the last of the great Weavers. It can be done, but the price will be very high.”

“Hang the price! If you can do it, let it be done!”

“Terms first, Sir Wolf! I do not take payment in gold or goods, and this journey will take far far more from you than I would charge. You will lose your life.”

“What nonsense is this? You would see me dead?”

“Not dead, no. Not at all. But your life would not be your own.”

The Weaver lowered its hood, and the Wolf beheld an enormous slender spider, the last of the great Weavers.

“You would no longer be the Wolf of the Dirkwood. You would no longer remember that there had been such a place, or such a Wolf. Tell me, is your love worth the price?”

Every now and then a wolf might come down with an awful obsession. “Yes. For her… all that I am and more, which I would give her anyway.”

The Weaver flexed its fangs, the tips of which glittered wetly in the dawning light. “Very well, then. Farewell, Sir Wolf; may your choice prove wise.” It darted forward and bit the Wolf upon his great neck. The Wolf staggered, then fell forward into a darkness deeper than any he had ever known.

 


 

For Carmen’s 12th birthday, her parents had made a promise that they were already regretting as they stood in the doorway of the animal shelter. Carmen was beside herself with excitement, going from cage to cage, cat to dog to cat to dog to snake. Her parents were visibly relieved when she passed the snake by.

“Any of them? For me? Really?” Carmen said.

“Yes, as long as you promise to take good care of them. This will be your responsibility.” said her mother.

Carmen went back to the cages, asking the amused lady behind the counter all sorts of things about all the animals. Finally, she reached one big cage and stopped dead. “Where did he come from?”

The lady came over to look. Inside the cage was a tiny puppy with grey and brown fur, staring solemnly up at Carmen. The puppy trotted to the cage door and stood on his hind legs, reaching for Carmen with one paw.

“We’re not sure, to be honest. One of the vets found him in the snow a few days ago. He’s got no collar or chip, but he seems healthy.”

“What kind of dog is he?”

“Probably part German Shepherd. It’s hard to tell, especially with strays.”

The little dog opened its jaws and barked once, a tiny ‘yip’, and Carmen’s heart melted. “I want him!”

The lady smiled and opened the cage door. As soon as she did so, the puppy ran straight into Carmen’s arms, squirming happily as he was picked up.

“Mom! Dad! Look at my puppy!”

Carmen ran to her parents to show off the dog. They were bent over the front counter filling out adoption paperwork. The puppy didn’t care about them, and just went about his business of licking her face all over.

The girl was young and wore a coat of rich red, and when he tasted her he knew he was hers forever.

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1914

Review: Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret

Books & Writing, Burlesque, Comedy, Culture, Events, Music, Performance, Reviews, Showcase

July 20, 2017

Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret was the tonic the bi/pan/polysexual community of Vancouver needed. In a city where the LGBTQIA+ community is fractured and siloed this magical night showed us that there are in fact a lot of very artistic and interesting bi/pan/polysexual performers in the community.

I was there as a guest of Producer and Host Katie Sly, who was a gem. Such a funny, real, charming vision on stage. I went with a local bisexual burlesque performer and activist Miss Dee Twenty (full disclosure, she is one of my besties) and we spent most of the night in mouth open awe of what we were witnessing.

Joining us from LA, international multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and LGBT activist Honeybird gave the night such a wonderful call and response experience where the crowd was encouraged to be part of the music. Her songs are rhythmic and reminded me so much of being 13 and listening to Ani DiFranco that I had to look at my ID to remind myself that I can legally drink alcohol. It was bliss. Honeybird will be the featured musical guest for the August Living Myth Magazine Podcast.

Bad ass deaf Asian warrior Jessica Leung showed what it is like to be deaf with a cochlear implant.

Doctor Ray showing us his super brain swipe skills Photo Credit By Raven John

The incomparable poet whose work now looks at the intersection of art and technology, Doctor Ray gave us a look inside of his mind while he wore a brain wave reading machine as he swiped on Tindr.

Manda Stroyer of Virago Nation – a collective of burlesque performers on a mission to reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization. Photo Credit by Raven John

 

RainbowGlitz, Manda Stroyer, and Shane Sable of Virago Nation, a collective of burlesque performers on a mission to reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization gave us a series of burlesque performances that were out of this world! Each of them a raw and strong example of what it means to be empowered in a world that wants to disenfranchise.

Shane Sable of Virago Nation, a collective of burlesque performers on a mission to reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization Photo Credit By Raven John

Keyboard virtuoso and avant-garde muse, pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa played a series of etudes that were based on emotions.

Dominique Wakeland, Alexa Fraser, and Matt Winter of Devil’s Threesome, a devised theatre performance ensemble emerging out of Simon Fraser University gave us possibly the most strangely erotic and entertaining piece of the night in which they blew up inflatable pool toys/furniture and then undulated while they deflated them later on in the piece.

Alexa Fraser, Dominique Wakeland, and Matt Winter of Devil’s Threesome, a devised theatre performance ensemble emerging out of Simon Fraser University Photo Credit By Raven John

Queer and trans solo multi-instrumentalist Rory Jade Grey wowed us with beautifully powerful blues guitar and spoken word pieces about their life struggles and how society treats what they are scared of.

There was a beautiful art piece during intermission where mixed-media artist Caitlynn Fairbarns had taken bisexual characters from movies and television and removed the background to show just that character in a moment of themselves being them.

The night was magical. I bonded with one of my nearest and dearest over this moment of solidarity and being witnessed. I made great friends. I felt love.

If you want to read more about Too Queer: A Bi Visibility Cabaret you can click here for the interview we did with show creator Katie Sly. Katie will also be featured in the August episode of the Living Myth Magazine Podcast.

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467

Review: Content Warning: Erotic Fanfiction Deathmatch – Superheroes!

Books & Writing, Comedy, Culture, Events, Performance, Reviews, Short Fictions

July 19, 2017

Seven Dining Lounge is fast becoming a regular geek hangout with many recurring monthly shows known in the community. The night of Friday, July 7th was no exception with Content Warning: Erotic Fanfiction Deathmatch. For those not in the know, fanfiction is a written piece of fiction about a popular culture franchise usually by a fan of said franchise. A famous example of fanfic I’m sure many have heard of is Fifty Shades of Grey, originally based on the Twilight series. Content Warning is a lot like that, but without the Hollywood budget movies and with a bit more consent.

To start off the night’s festivities, host and co-producer Jesse Inocalla takes the stage to announce, well… content warning and general conduct. Each piece has a word count limit of 2,000 words and the content must be enthusiastically consensual. And to the audience, “Don’t be creeps.” A logical rule welcomed by all those attending. This is when the logic ends and wtf begins, as Jesse launches into the first 4 chapters of the ever infamous “My Immortal”. To get the full impact of My Immortal, Google is your friend. It was the only piece of the night not featuring a local writer and set the tone of painful hilarity for the rest of the evening.

The first actual feature story of the night was “Maximum Effort” by Lisa Simon as read by Seth Little’s soothing voice. It began with in-story Deadpool sitting by a fireplace, telling us a bedtime smutty tale about himself and Wolverine, and later joined by Lady Deadpool and Headpool. Also a B story of Dogpool and a white, squeaky unicorn plush somewhere in the background. The words “Snikt me!” and “frothy man syrup” happened. To say more would likely violate content rating rules.

Next up was Katie Kieran Browner’s “Batman v. Catwoman!” narrated by the lovely Minnie Perón. Set in Gotham City on July 4th of a nondescript year, Catwoman slinks around and encounters a stray Batman. A steamy encounter happens between the two and “I’m Batman” was uttered five times. And then – Plot Twist! – it was actually imposter Deadpool. But also it’s just a fantasy as imagined by Deadpool because Deadpool respects women and would never do such a thing.

The third story of the night had the ever talented Abbey St. Brendan reading Jenna Sokalski’s “One Pump Man”. This tale of Saitama (titular character of One Punch Man) has him in the loving embrace of Kal-El himself. It features active consent, as one would expect of classic Superman and was ground-shakingly funny. Abbey’s expressive voice lent well to Saitama’s baritone and 50s radio play style Superman, which adds another layer to the story telling and had the audience roaring with laughter.

Before intermission, we have “Batman vs. Superman” by Topher Andrew Graham, as delivered by the charming Nhi Do. A better version of Batman v Superman where Batman helps out a bro doused in Zod’s Kryptonian pheromones. There’s a Wonder Woman cameo which involved “mathematically impossible poses”. Also “giant dick shaped holes” in significant cultural monuments such as the Eiffel Tower. Kryptonite was used, candles were lit, baddies were ultimately defeated.

Right after the break, we have David Aboussafy’s “Birds of Prey”, once again read by Nhi Do. It features Harley Quinn domming Nightwing and lots of laughing, as one would expect with Harley. Also CBT (NOT cognitive behavioural therapy). As they say, “Once you had Dick…”

The outstanding story of the night is “Kibble War” by Zachary Taylor voiced by Abbey St. Brendan. It truly lived up to the shows name. It sees Garfield’s AU (alternate universe for those not well versed in fanfic lingo) superhero persona, Garzooka and the Pet Force, and the Super Buddies. One must be there to fully absorb the impact this story leaves, made all the more captivating by Abbey’s sound effects. To go into more details will surely violate content rating rules.

To recover from Kibble War, there is Minnie Perón reading Mikail Korst’s “INFINITY FIST”. Thanos lost his Infinity Gauntlet in Galactus’ anal cavity, granting the World Eater unlimited power. Dr. Manhattan arrives with a White Lantern ring where one does not usually find a Lantern ring and attempts to retrieve said gauntlet and to punish Galactus by unconventional means. The tale ends in them forever entwined in passion… or as the audience coined, a “f*ckpocalypse”.

Last but not least is “The Batgirl” by Lauren Wallace, narrated once again by Seth Little. The audience saw Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) giving Batgirls (Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain) a lesson in seduction. The story features Batgirls, many bat similes, more bat facts, and SO MANY bat sex facts. And at the end of it all, Batwoman.

At the end of the night, audience members were encouraged to vote on an online poll to choose the night’s, Smut Master. Lauren Wallace’s “The Batgirl” won fan favourite. Spanning 3 hours, 4 local performers, and 8 stories, Content Warning definitely gives the ticket price worth of entertainment and then some. If adult bedtime stories with a heavy dose of trashy smut and questionable logic sounds like a good time, absolutely do check out future shows. Next Content Warning is on August 11th and the theme is Fantasy.

 


Eva Mak is a local producer, artist and lady about town. You can tweet at her @originalevamak 

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518

Fiction: Take You Home

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

July 13, 2017

Beyond the end of the world, the end of all the worlds, is a place where they all meet. All manner of creatures and beings come here; it is a place of refuge, of shelter from the storm. And there is always a storm somewhere.

On the seaside Red Cliffs where the gryphons built their aerie, storms are all too common, from the light showers of summer to the harsh monsoons of wet winter. But the cliffs gave them shelter, and the ocean gave them food, and the proud gryphon folk desired little else.

One particularly dark and cold winter, soon after dawn on the shortest day, there blew up a storm more terrible than any in living memory. The sky blackened like midnight, the waves frothed and beat against the red granite, and the strongest and smartest of the gryphons’ warriors and hunters exhausted themselves keeping the aerie’s nests safe and secure. The storm lasted three days and three nights, the heavens themselves shattered by lightning and thunder, and when dawn the final day finally brought calm, the gryphons patrolled their beach to see what havoc the sea had wrought.

There were fish and creatures well known to them washed ashore, which they gathered to eat, and the remains of their beach shelters washed away. Corals and shells from the briny deep lay scattered about, as well as bits of wreckage and debris from constructions made by some unknown hands. And there was the girl.

The gryphons of the Red Cliffs had never seen such a creature. Nor indeed had they ever seen a human, or else they would have deemed her to be like them, slender and clad in a garment of shimmering sea green, but unlike humans her pale blue skin bore the outlines of soft scales, and webbing stretched between her digits as well as between the spines of the fins on the backs of her arms and legs. They gathered, concerned, and sought the elders’ advice on what to do about her.

“Cast it back to the waves. It is no problem of ours,” said one elder. “Put it with the bounty of the storm, we shall feast upon it,” said another. “Kill it and bury it with haste, lest it attract more of its kind,” said a third. They and the others argued about how best to dispose of the creature, when a voice boomed over all of them, “NO.”

They turned and there stood the one called Yalos, eldest son of the chief, and regarded in all things a wise elder of the clan despite his youth. “Have you not listened to the tales? This is not a fish, nor merely some deeper animal. We must show compassion, lest in our haste and greed we commit a grave sin.”

The gryphons scoffed. How could this be anything but an animal? Did it not lack feathers and beak as well as tail and hindclaws? Such a thing could be nothing better than the bounty of the sea, and nothing worse than a pest. But Yalos stood over the creature and drove the others back with wings, claws, and beak. They hissed at him. “You may be our Prince, but that does not give you leave to break our traditions!” spat an Elder, the one who had wished to eat her.

In ones and twos they left, voicing their disdain, and when Yalos was again alone on the beach a soft voice spoke from between his legs: “You have faced your own kind… for me? Why?”

The gryphon stepped aside and peered down into the now wide open pale blue eyes of the girl from the sea. That she spoke his language surprised him, but that she spoke at all did not, for he had listened to the tales. “The right thing to do is that no matter who it is for. I am called Yalos, Prince of the Red Cliffs. May I have your name?”

The girl hesitated, then sat up. “I am Nehelennia of the Waves. And I think… I am lost. Where are these cliffs?”

Yalos indicated the tall cliffs of granite and clay that ran along the beach, but he understood her deeper meaning. “The Mourning Mountains lie further north, the forest we have not named lies further inland to the west. All else is The Sea.”

“The stars, the stars. I must see the stars…” Nehelennia said, though it was not a reply. She pushed on the beach, trying to stand, but was unable.

“Hush,” said the gryphon, shaking his head. “You have been injured in the storm. Rest here; I will bring you food.”

Nehelennia began to protest, but Yalos had already flown off. The prince was as good as his word, and over the following days cared for the nereid, for that is what she was, as though she was his own chick. And each night, as the black velvet sky shone with stardust, she became sadder and sadder.

“Why do you cry when you see the stars?” Yalos asked one such night.

“I am lost,” she replied, “This is not the sky of my home.”

“It is the only sky,” said the gryphon with some confusion.

“No. It is but one of many. When the storms between the worlds blow, they cross from sky to sky, and the storms…. they took me, years ago. I have been alone ever since, and do not think I will again see the sky over the Brightwater.”

And with that, she placed her face in her hands and wept sea foam.

Yalos’ heart broke for her, though he did not understand this talk of other worlds. He wrapped a wing around her in comfort and said, “Then let your loneliness at least be eased. I will take you home.”

The nereid shook her head. “No, you cannot! Even I do not know the way.”

“We shall find it together,” said he. “By the Egg of the Sun, I will take you home.”

Nehelennia protested further, but it was to no avail. A gryphon’s promise is neither given nor broken lightly, and a prince’s even more so. A fortnight had not yet passed when she dove into the waves to once again seek her home, and when she did so Yalos took wing and followed overhead.

A gryphon is a strong creature, and Yalos was both strong and wise, but they are not normally users of magic. A nereid, contrariwise, is formed of the magic found in the hidden depths. Nearby, water and ice moved as she directed it, and each night of their journey as the sun sank and Yalos’ wings tired from flight, she would make a pan of ice and there they would both spend the night, he curled upon it and she bobbing upon the waves.

Days passed. Nehelennia seemed to know where she was going, but each night when Yalos asked if they were drawing nearer, she would simply reply, “This is still not my sky.” Just as the gryphon was beginning to wonder what they sought, the girl pointed excitedly at the horizon. There, a huge storm was gathering against the darkening sky.

“That is the storm between worlds! We must… I must go to it!” said she.

“What? Go into the storm? We will be killed!” Yalos squawked.

“I must!” Nehelennia insisted. “You do not have to. Return to your people.”

Yalos shook his head. “I cannot. We are too far – but that does not matter. I have not fulfilled my oath.”

The argument would no doubt have continued, but no storm moves as fast as the one between the worlds, and it struck them as they spoke! The gryphon struggled, beating his wings hard and dodging the flashes of lightning and the worst downdrafts, as did the nereid, fighting to maintain control as the waves began to rise and tower nearly the height of the Red Cliffs themselves!

Nehelennia was losing the battle for control. A creature of the sea, she could not drown, but neither could she control where she was thrown. The waves buffeted and threw her about until, with a sudden jerk, she was yanked upward into the storm instead. Yalos had scooped her from the foam.

Traveling upwards within the clouds, both beheld a sight they had never seen before: as the clouds roiled and broke, between them snatches of land and sea could be seen – but not the sea they left. Worlds mundane and exotic flashed past, until finally the nereid pointed and yelled “THERE!”

Yalos threw them both through the gap without thinking about what he was doing, and suddenly the storm was gone. Instead, they floated above a calm green sea, with islands on the horizon.

“What has happened?” the gryphon asked, amazed.

“The storm between worlds, dear Yalos. We have crossed,” the nereid replied.

She looked around, and a smile began to spread on her face.

Yalos looked at her. “Is… is this your sky?”

“It is not… but it is one I have seen before. Perhaps we can follow the trail backwards. Through the storms.”

Thus began the hardest time in the gryphon prince’s life. Through storms and strife, barren worlds and worlds rife with deadly creatures, the two of them traveled, always seeking out the Storm Between Worlds when it touched down. With Yalos’ wings, they were able to choose between the worlds they glimpsed among the stormclouds, rather than being at the mercy of the waves to toss them through as Nehelennia had once been. Still, it was nearly a year and a half by Yalos’ reckoning when finally their journey came to an end.

They passed through the storm to a foggy world with no clear horizon, and touched down gently upon the waves. The fog bank proved to be nothing more than mist and blew away, and when it did, Nehelennia looked up and shrieked with delight.

“Look! The Dancers! The Anglerfish! The Waterspout! See the stars, Yalos? We are finally here! This is my sky!”

The gryphon smiled and flew a grand loop in celebration. With the familiar stars overhead, it was only one more night before Nehelennia directed them both to a lagoon surrounded by a reef – a lagoon within the sea. “This is the Brightwater. This is the place where I was born, and where my family…” She trailed off and watched him land.

Yalos settled down on a reef to rest. “Good, good. If this is the place, then you are home. I am glad. Allow me to rest here a short time, and I will… be on my way.”

They looked at one another, and at the same time realized what Yalos had done. He had crossed the storms, driven to keep his oath, and come as far from his home across as many worlds as Nehelennia had been when they first met. Nehelennia, for her part, looked about the deserted Brightwater and realized that she had not been the only one swept up.

Yalos put his head down on his forelimbs. “I cannot deny it. I am lost. But you are home now, my oath is fulfilled, and with guidance of the Egg I may yet find my way home.” He closed his eyes and shuddered, thinking of the journey ahead.

Nehelennia hopped up and sat beside him upon the reef. “You have shown me a greater kindness than I ever imagined. You have taken me across the worlds, and kept me safe, and never once thought of your own journey home.”

She laid a hand on the feathers of his head and stroked gently. It was the first time they had touched for a reason other than the necessities of the journey. “Let your fear be eased. By the Dancers on the Deep… I will take you home.”

The gryphon began to protest, but it was as futile as her own had been before. When Yalos left the reef, Nehelennia came with him, and together they plunged once again into the storms.

That is them there, as you may have guessed. Even in a place such as this, a gryphon is a rare sight, and it is hard to miss the blue maiden of the sea. You may wonder how they came here; why, they came as most do, blown in from the storm. And they have stayed, for one very important reason.

They did not tell each other at first that they were alone. Yalos’ actions on Nehelennia’s behalf earned him, if not the status of an exile, at least the status of an insubordinate, and among the Gryphons of the Red Cliffs that is nearly the same thing. Nehelennia’s home had been devastated by the storm, much more than she had known before her return; all that she had known was gone, and the work to rebuild would be great indeed.

But the reason they stayed was to keep their promises. For neither had promised to bring the other to a place, but rather promised to bring them home – and after the trials they had faced together, for each of them, ‘home’ could be anywhere…

As long as that is where the other is.

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459

Fiction: Clone Me Baby, One More Time

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

June 30, 2017

The rocket hit me in the face dead on. My teeth shattered, pieces of bone shearing the soft tissues of my tongue and mouth. My nose hollowed out and everything from its bridge down became pulp. The faceplate I wore saved my eyes, though it cracked and the display disappeared in a flicker of red. I wavered between consciousness and darkness as blood loss took its toll.

I respawned back at home base, my new body buzzing with fresh energy. This was my third death this game; my K/D ratio was going to go to shit if I kept this up. I grabbed an Energy Aid Cola from the drink machine — the price automatically deducted from the game’s winnings — and downed the methamphetamine laced drink.

My name is Lady Death and this is the life I was cloned for.

We were down two lane lengths, the enemy team’s crawlers pounding at our door, and I was playing like a newbie-clone who still needed her training bot to function. If we didn’t get a grip on this game then the Sunbros could say goodbye to our place at Superchamp stadium, and we might as well stop playing if it came to that. I grabbed a Lady Death Soul Reaper Scythe™ from the rack and breached the base’s doors to once again join the fight.

Big Johnny Four was waiting at the entrance, his black and gold exosuit glinting in the noon sun.

“Saw the replay of that hit, you okay Lady D?”

His immense frame towered over me, his right arm encased in a massive gatling gun.

“I’m fine. It’s just the crowd today. They seem more hostile than normal,” I said.

I could see small wars breaking out where the Sunbro fans met the Battering Bruiser fans. There was more gunfire going on in the bleachers than on the actual field. The Game Devs would have to step in if it escalated any more.

“Don’t let it get to you. The Devs just decided to make today free Battle Bright Taco Tuesday. I think they spike that shit with speed.”

Johnny patted my shoulder with his huge hand, his touch soft through my skin-tight armour.

“Come on, we have the the left lane to cover. Silvia’s all by herself and they’re pushing hard.”

I nodded and engaged my cloak, leaving his hand sitting on my ghostly shoulder. He hefted his gun and trundled toward left lane as I took my own, faster route. I ran toward the nearest wall, took a step up it, and flipped on top of it.

The entire field spread out before me, maze like halls with open tops and two uncluttered lanes winding their way through them. Above all was the multifaced big-screens that currently showed Deadringer Silvia holding off two enemy champions. I couldn’t tell which, but I thought I could see the tell-tale shimmer of one of my clone sisters weaving between the crawlers.

I jumped from one wall to the next, making time faster than Johnny who had to traverse the maze on foot. I knew every inch of this course, had been running through it and four others since I was barely out of the clone tubes. I’d run through it blind more than once.

I made my way to Silvia’s perch and tapped on the back of her helmet.

“Dead.”

She nodded and continued firing at the enemy crawlers. Each one she hit exploded in blue flame before disappearing in a mess of metal.

“Big J is on his way, it’s gonna take him a minute or two. I’m going to hit the crawlers on the back line, just keep our own in good shape.”

She nodded again as I jumped down to the lane and headed behind the enemy champs.

I hit a wall and ran on it, the sound of my boosters matching the whine of the crowd. There was the opening: the enemy’s Dirty Harriet was reloading and the blue clad Big Johnny was focused on a crawler that had made it past their defensive line. I slipped between them and toward the stream of crawlers behind.

The edge of my scythe cut through the ribbed bots like they were melting snow. Each one seemed to look around for whatever had hit it before puffing into a fireball. I swept through the advancing crawlers, taking them out two at a time.

Then I heard it: the mechanical trill of my sister Lady Death coming to stop me. I turned toward the sound, trying to spot her before she could close in. She was in-lane, a shimmering blue ghost heading directly toward me. I opened my booster’s throttle to full and jumped over her, her scythe missing me by inches. I rapped her on the back of her helmet with the hilt of my scythe and dropped my cloak before leaping over the wall into the maze.

She followed, still cloaked and probably mad as hell. If she was following me it meant that she wasn’t bugging someone who could do some real damage. I was done sweeping the oncoming crawler wave anyway, enough that Johnny and Silvia could gain ground.

I ran on the maze’s walls and boosted around corners, my mobility easily keeping my doppelganger behind me. She was just boosting along the ground; that meant she was still wet behind the ears with amniotic gel. That meant I could have some fun.

I jumped vertically off the wall I was on, tucked in my legs cannonball style, and boosted high into the air. As the ground fell away behind me I switched on my cloak. Between my golden armour and my cloak, the sunny sky would make me completely invisible. I swung myself around till I pointed at the ground and revved my jets. I came down right on top of her, scythe ready to cut her head open like an avocado.

Then I saw her face. She’d noticed that I was coming down on her and that there was nothing she could do. Her faceplate was just clear enough that I could see her wide, terrified eyes and her mouth hung open, twitching at the corners.

I had a wave of utter horror come over me then, remembering my first few matches when I still felt scared to die. Her face was so much like my own, a few less scars but still as beautiful. I hesitated and she cut me in half.

We won, somehow. Silvia and Big Johnny managed to beat back their lane till it was at the Battering’s base, then Warhammer — a guy on our team with so much armour a tank shell could hit him and he would still be standing — walked our crawlers in. The base exploded, fans cheered, and my ranking dropped six places.

I was still in the top ten rankings for Lady Deaths but it hurt my sponsorships. I lost my contract with Burger Boys and Ooze Energy drinks which meant I would have to start downgrading my equipment. Goodbye steel bones, I knew the well.

Back at the Sunbros’ group home. I sat on the floor of my shower and bit my nails till they bled. I could hear the rest of my team talking about today’s game in the living room.

“What the fuck was up with Lady D today? She was playin’ like a kid in a barfight!” Harriet grumbled, her southern drawl stinging my ears with every twang.

“It was the crowd. The Devs are going crazy with the sponsors lately and it’s getting to her.” Johnny Four said, “They’re getting to me too. Some of our fans had a higher kill count than us today.”

“Bullshit,” Harriet slammed her fist on to the table, “That stuff ain’t more’n a little more noise than normal, it ain’t worth losin’ a lane over. She’s goin’ soft. I watched the replays of that fight with the Batterin’ bitch, I know she hesitated. She’s gonna run soon and you know it.”

Silence came from the other room and tears mingled with my shower water. She was right, maybe I was getting too old for this shit. Maybe I’d overdosed on Energy Aid one too many times and finally snapped, my brain rewiring itself into an emotional stupor. Maybe running was a good idea. At least I’d get to die on my feet.

Johnny caught me leaving that night, his muscled body blocking the doorway out of the apartment.

“You don’t have to do this.” His hands shook at his sides.

“I can’t stay here. Harriet’s right, I’ve gone soft.”

“What about Sylvia?”

Just minutes before, I’d snuck into her room, leaving a note saying “Goodbye, thanks for all the fun times. I’m sorry it had to end like this.” I should have written more but there wasn’t enough time. I looked at Johnny’s feet.

“What about me?” he said.

I hoisted my scythe to hide myself behind bravado. “It wouldn’t have worked out. I like the ladies too much.”

I pushed him aside with it so I could leave. He let me pass and closed the door behind me.

I switched on my visor and the night vision painted the rooftop in sharp green. The Sunbros’ headquarters were on the edge of the mega city Keres — the Devs wanted to keep us as separate from the general population as possible and not even the most avid fans want to risk getting caught in The Taint beyond.

I walked to the edge of the building and looped a rope. As I descended down the building, I began flipping through TV channels on my HUD. Jack Flack’s face filled my vision and the Superchamp theme music began to play.

“Welcome y’all to this special edition of Superchamp, the game that keeps y’all’s blood running hot. As you know, when a Champ gets all cowardly and such, they have a tendency to run like cattle from a bonfire. When that happens, we gotta hunt ’em down like the dogs they are.

“Tonight, we got a little clone who’s a running, the woman in the black and gold, LADY DEATH OF THE SUNBROS!”

The crowd in the background screamed, their voices too loud in my helmet earbuds.

“For those of you who may have forgotten since our last runner, we got a bit of a reminder. When a Champ is cloned in game, they keep the core memories of the previous version. That’s so we get all the different kinds a personalities that y’all enjoy in the games. So the Warhammer from the Glass Cannons won’t act like the Warhammer from the Silverados.”

“But, we don’t keep those memories around after the games: they go right back into a Champ clone for storage. If a champ gets killed outside of a game, they’re gone for good.

“This Lady D has decided to leave her coop and bring all those cowardly memories with her, which is good for us. We have to get rid of em but why leave out all you people from the fun of it.”

Jack turned to the camera and gave the audience a wink.

“We’ve set up another, randomly picked, champ with their own cameras and we’re sending them after her into the wastes. Tonight’s hunter will be…” He turned to a screen at the center of the stage and swept his hand toward the flickering name, “Lady Death from the Battering Bruisers!”

I shut the feed down. Of course they had to bring that Battering Bitch in. I rappelled down the side of the wall as fast as I could. If I was going to get through this, I would have to put some distance between us before they released the hunter. As soon as I hit the ground I ran off into The Taint.

Two hours later, I was running along the edge of a cliff face with the last dregs of a can of Energy Aid flowing through my system. There hadn’t been much excitement other than the occasional man-eating plant. Games never lasted this long, and without the soothing life of a new clone body, the new sensation of sore muscles was wearing me down.

I slid down the steep cliff face, vines making the boost-assisted climb a nightmare. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this up before I had to find somewhere to hide and let my poor muscles rest. My foot caught an outcropping of rock and I almost fell, just managing to hold on with my fingertips. Then an explosion thrummed through me.

To my right, a chunk of the wall fell to the ground seventy feet below. The explosion shook me off of the rock face and I plummeted along with the rubble. With help from my booster my fall slowed but I felt a deep crack as I threw my arm between my face and the ground.

Pain crested from my shoulder to my elbow. My ribs burned every time I took in a whistling breath. I reached into the pack I’d taken when I left and grabbed a Bingo Bandage (“With child friendly morphine!”) to slap on my neck. With the drug seething through my body, I grabbed my scythe from my back and stood to face whatever had knocked me from my perch.

“Whoa there D,” someone said from the edge of the rubble-filled clearing. “Don’t move or I’ll actually hit you this time.”

“Johnny?”

From the shadowed treeline stepped Big Johnny Four, his armour overgrown with moss but still showing the lime green underneath. He hoisted a golf club onto his left shoulder and smiled at me.

“You the runner or the hunter?” he asked.

I put my scythe away with my good arm and lifted my faceplate. “I’m running. They have Newbie after me though.”

“Good,” he said, shrugging his shoulder in a beckoning gesture, “We’ve got time to talk before she gets here.”

He walked into the forest and I followed after him.

“Greenskin Johnny, huh? You ran two years ago, right?”

“Yeah. I was slowing down too much in-game. They were about to retire me. So I ran.”

“I thought they’d killed you, though. Sylvia shot you in the heart. They got the vitals and everything.”

He raised his right arm as we walked. Where the chain gun should have been was a healed over stump poking out of the armour.

“She shot me all right. I lost the arm but she just missed my heart. It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you too.”

We walked and the silence between us filled with the sounds of The Taint. Birds chirped as the crunch of the leaves beneath our feet fell into a rhythm. I took a deep breath and felt the cool air soothe my broken body. The morphine was beginning to wear off, the silver chill of it dissipating.

Johnny stopped, looking back toward the way we’d come.

“She’s coming. The shit around us just got too quiet. There’s a clearing not too far from here and my house is just beyond that. We can make a stand there.”  

We ran together as I fumbled in my pack for another round of Bingo and Energy. We breached the clearing. Vine covered cliffs fed in and out between too tall trees. It was a fun place for a battle and I was pretty sure I could outmaneuver a Lady D who hadn’t figured out wall-crawling yet.

“I’ll go set up behind the bush over there,” Johnny said and pointed his club across the clearing. He ran toward his hiding spot, his breath coming out in jagged gasps, and leaned on his club.

A camera drone roared into the clearing and began circling around me, its engine spitting up dirt and leaves around the clearing. Then came the hum of my pursuer’s cloak, so familiar even through the buzzing of the camera drone.

She came and I ran. I activated my own cloak and burst away from her. We moved through the clearing together, dancing around each other in playful arcs. Even through the adrenalin and knowledge of perma-death, it was still nice to be back doing what I was made for.

She finally attacked me and her blade slid across mine as I blocked. I felt the sting of my injured arm worsen and heard another crack, the limb falling from my scythe to hang by my side. I boosted away from her and toward the wall. She followed behind, the shimmer of her cloak drawing lines of sunlight behind her.

Johnny started hitting grenades then and the forest floor was torn apart. His signature move and the reason for his nickname lit the clearing up, the whack of “golf balls” preceding it. The Blue Bitch sped up.

I hit the cliff face and stepped up it with ease. Behind me followed the newbie and explosions. She’d apparently practiced after the last match; her wall-crawl was sloppy but existent. Behind us the cliff shed rock as Johnny put the heat to her heels.

I twirled and shifted back toward her. The dust from the grenades had overwhelmed her cloak and I could see her face again, just as scared as before. I hung in the air for a moment as my momentum fought my boosters.

“Fuck it.” I said to myself and tackled her, carrying us both into a grenade blast.

The pain in my shoulder flared brighter than the sun as the concussion hit me. I lost my breath and what was left of the two of us fell. I looked down at the ground coming to meet me through a broken visor and closed my eyes.

Johnny rested on his golf club and stared down at me.

“That was stupid, D,” he said.

I tried to push myself up but my arms refused to move.

“Just stay there, If you wiggle it’ll make you bleed worse. I wrapped it up as best I could, but…”

“Where’s the other one?” I felt blood flow from the split in my lip.

“Still in the pile of rocks. The cam’s gone so she’s probably dead,” Johnny pointed his club in line with my legs.

I flexed my arms again and felt my palms clench. I took two deep breaths, put my arm out to catch myself, rolled onto my right side, and kept rolling as my elbow never met ground. Blood smeared across the grass and pain punched through my morphine haze as the thing that used to be my shoulder hit the ground.

“That’s what I was talking about, D. Stay down.”

“She’s just a kid.”

I lifted myself to my knees and static filled the edges of my vision.

“I’ll get her D. Just lay down,” Johnny said.

The dirt tasted just about as good as I imagined it would. As I heard Johnny stomp off to the pile of rubble under the cliff, I enjoyed the feeling of grass on my cheeks. I turned my head and looked at the clearing around me.

Without the visor the world was closer, the light more severe. Glowing flowers lit the clearing and through the break in the trees, I could see tiny lights dancing in the sky. Something big moved far into the foliage around me.

“She’s still breathing,” Johnny said, dragging my clone’s Blue clad body behind him.

Her faceplate was cracked, the flashing light from the broken screen inside illuminating her eyes. I reached over and slid the useless tech off her. Her face was unbroken, except for a small cut under her left eye. Something was wrong, so similar but dissonant to the face I saw in the mirror. I reached out and stroked her short, black hair.

“She’s got a few ribs broken at least and there’s a rock sticking out of her leg that’s like two feet long. I don’t want to take it out ’til I have a proper setup though. There’s no telling how much blood she’s lost.”

Johnny started tearing apart cloth from a bag on his hip and wrapping them around Battering’s chest. She coughed and her eyes fluttered.

“It’s okay. Shhh, just rest,” I said. I grabbed her hand with mine and squeezed it.

She squeezed back. “They’re going to send another one.”

The lights in the sky shrank away as the twilight of dawn rolled across them. I squeezed Big J’s knee as he worked and then slid my hand back to Lady D’s.

“We’ll be ready.”

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Holly Sophia McCrea is a poet, artist, and short fiction writer from Vancouver BC. She’s been published in The Drabblecast audio fiction magazine and currently has a chapbook available on Amazon.

If you liked this, then you can read more from Holly here.

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