A wiry man crossed the avenue and limped under City Park’s arched gate to admire fresh holly wreaths. Gravel crunched under his pointy black boots. “This could be fun.” He raked one hand through the platinum streak at his temple and plucked a glittery ornament from the winding path. “Hard to believe so many rotten children don’t believe I exist.” Behind him, impending sunset glowed through tangled boughs and draped Spanish moss. “In exactly one week, their nightmares will come true.” He crushed the cardboard Papa Noël in his fist. “Yessss…positively jolly fun.”
“Halt, beast!” Cloaked in a flowing sapphire habit, the figure emerged from an ancient grove. She strode through the cathedral of sweeping oaks and blocked his progress. “Not in my city, sir.”
“And who’s going to stop me? You?” The man snickered and offered his bony hand in friendship. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.”
“I’m Charmaine Roussel.” She flicked her gaze to his mock greeting and then locked her eyes with his. “I’m aware of what you are and you know bloody well I’m not alone.”
“Do I?” The man turned and doubled over with laughter. “So, your back-up appears to be a nurse who has clearly never held a pistol before and a crone waving her crooked stick. With all due respect, Mademoiselle Charmaine…” He struggled to compose himself. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“Shoot it.” Charmaine glanced at the trembling nurse. He might look like a normal man, but it’s a disguise. “Shoot now!”
The first bullet flew wide but the next two rounds blasted through the man’s ribs. He dropped to one knee as the swamp around them swallowed the sharp noise and spat back pulsating silence.
“Leave now and I’ll spare your life.” Charmaine gritted her teeth. “You’ve been banned from this city for a century.”
“Oh, the mighty New Orleans…how she has fallen.” The man shrugged a heavy cloak off his hunched shoulders. His fingers plunged into the wound, ripped out the bullet and tossed it into the underbrush. “Seven years of mourning and seven years of weakness after an incompetent fool killed your Duke. Once a coward, always a—”
The elderly woman wailed, stood straight and wielded her cane like a sword, blasting a ball of blue fire that ripped the man from the ground. He slammed back down in a smoldering fractured heap.
Charmaine crossed her arms with precision. “You were saying?”
The groan that escaped his twitching lips descended into a growl as black hair twisted into horns. For a few seconds, the misshapen head of an animal loomed in blue-grey smoke. “Savior of the soldiers, defender of the innocent, care-giver to the hopeless…” A human face fought back while the figure staggered. His eyes glowed a crimson hue only found in the deepest embers of the devil’s fireplace. “I think your Duke was a fraud.”
“Demon!” The nurse tossed her gun aside and grabbed the old woman’s cane, waving it at the beast’s face as if stoking the flames in his skull. “Show yourself!”
Invisible ripples of power exploded through the emerald canopy while the sky beyond plummeted into deep purple. At the moment of sunset, a vampire with tasseled gloves stepped from behind a massive tree trunk and fired her crossbow. A solid gold bolt lodged in the man’s neck. His body twisted and swelled until the fabric of his clothes ripped free revealing the coarse fur of a demented goat. He pawed one cloven hoof and bared warped fangs before lunging at his attackers.
Charmaine took two steps, reached under her habit and drove a swirled blade into the beast’s heart with her final stride. Time flickered and the ground thundered as the creature collapsed to the muddy pebbles, swirling his split viper’s tongue around her ankles.
Four women—a nun, a nurse, a witch and a vampire—stood over the writhing body. In unison, they grabbed the blade’s carved hilt and twisted until the demon disintegrated.
“I’ll take back the Duke’s knife.” Charmaine plucked her weapon from the ash. “Bonne nuit, Monsieur Krampus.”
If you enjoyed this Holiday Lagniappe from theMonsters & AngelsRealm, catch up on the saga...
A light tapping on the screen door awoke James. He had checked his alarm clock to confirm that it was way too early in the morning for any company to come over. Besides, he wasn’t expecting anyone in the first place. After a loud yawn and a bone cracking stretch, James shot out of his warm bed and immediately wrapped himself in his bright red house coat and made his way down the stairs to the screen door.
To his surprise there were eight neatly wrapped boxes with fancy bows on the tops of them. This puzzled him. Christmas was three months away and he had just moved into this home two weeks ago. This had to be a mistake. James decided he would investigate by inspecting the stickers on the boxes.
When he did, his name was written there in bold blue ink and no hint on who it was from. He tore into the box only to find small birch twigs bundled together by red wire. He opened another one and another to the same results: twigs. Angry, he dumped them all in his garbage to await pick-up on Friday. He closed the porch door and began to make his way up the stairs. Before he could make it midway up there, a sharp knocking made him stop. James made an about face and sped to his porch door.
Once he opened it, there were several more wrapped boxes in front of him. He tore through them only to find the same twigs in the same bundled pattern. This had to be the work of the teenagers who lived a couple of streets over. He couldn’t see them, maybe they were camouflaged in the bushes laughing at him.
“You’ve got the wrong one today. Do it again and you’ll be sorry!” James barked as he stormed in the house.
He made it to the top of the stairs when a knock at the door made him dive under his bed to grab his rifle. Once again he opened the porch door. This time a small man with pointy ears and a light green coned hat stood with his arms folded.
“Ummm…can I help you?” A confused James asked, scratching his head. The little man cleared his throat. “James, I’m Wrinkles, we have a mutual friend in the north pole. Those gifts were to send you a message that you’re on the naughty list. Do you understand?” The elf asked as James nodded with his mouth agape.
“Good, you need to get your act together or you’ll be using twigs to build yourself another house, ya hear me?”
“Loud and clear. “
“Good. ” The elf snapped his fingers then vanished into the morning air. James shook his head in disbelief. No one would ever believe that this had happened. He then used his phone to search for the nearest soup kitchen where he could volunteer.
Most writers choose the endings to their stories . . . most writers are not Weavers.
Laney Holden is a freshman at Madison College whose life goes from normal to paranormal in a matter of seconds. When the antagonist in the book she’s writing shoves her down the stairs at the subway station, she learns she is a Weaver. Weavers bridge the narrow gap between fantasy and reality, bringing their words to life.
Laney soon meets William whom she also suspects is a character from her book—one she’s had a mad crush on since her pen hit the paper. But he’s in danger as her antagonist reveals a whole different ending planned for Laney’s book that involves killing William. Laney must use her writing to save the people closest to her by weaving the most difficult words she will ever write.
THE WEAVER is the first installment of The Weaver trilogy. It is an NA paranormal romance set in a small town on the north shore of Boston. It will leave you wanting more…
~a silly story about a great kingdom and the power of love~ aka: another tale of Luke and Laura
by Elizabeth L. Lemons
WORDS TO USE: Avalon lake crossbow comrade corruption enfold disgraceful grass orphan list
Once upon a time, in a groovy era filled with free love and flower power, Woodstock and presidential corruption, there existed a tiny yet lovely island known as Avalon. Surrounded by shining blue lake waters, this petite fantasy island was known by most households during the 1970’s due to the quotable declarations of a small man on television as he exclaimed, “The plane, the plane!” Anyway, known in the royal history books as “the age of Court Charles”, here on this wee island great meetings were held in the Mouse Castle, where the King’s knights would sit around a custom-created round table made entirely of driftwood and beaver boards. This particular legendary table had been built by one of the local area river rats’ finest artisans whose name was Lucky Charles. To commemorate its creator’s name, the legendary Court Charles Round Table gatherings were born. This fine table was a representation of the King’s intent to bar corruption as had been witnessed in previous disgraceful reigns. The extraordinary table’s design allowed that no one sat at the head of the table, that no one creature was head over another, that each voice garnered equal merit, and even the King himself included his own decisions to be discussed and voted on by his respected rodent Knights that sat round in advisement. This new-fangled practice allowed justice and fair treatment to all the mice of the land. The desire for a better kind of kingdom where every teeny voice could be heard was the brainstorm of the goodly mouse-king known as King Robert Scorpio.
The king was a jolly good and just mouse and was, (as an older, ordinary looking mouse-man with both idealistic and romantic plans), still filled with unfulfilled personal longing. King Robert had his visionary crossbow hairs focused on wooing and marrying the fairest maiden mouse in all of Avalon. When he found her, she was both wise and beautiful, with the softest of grey fur and a comely tail. Her name was Laura Vere. Laura Vere’s tiny mousine countenance was like the golden sun, her smile filled all the good people of Avalon with hope and cheer in the days that were plagued by war, tie-dyed clothing, music by Jimi, Janice and Jim, and bra-burning. Still, Lady Mouse Laura Vere knew a good opportunity for stability and loads of mouse munchies when she saw them, and so, despite the difference in their ages, and lack of any physical attraction, she consented to marry good King Robert. She did truly admire him, and they enjoyed the dancing and the music of the castle, as well as squirrel-back riding on warm days. They had fun and laughter and often exchanged wit and private ponderances, but these alone moments were not the kind of romantic escapades that Laura Vere had dreamed of as a young mousey girl.
It didn’t take very long before the Queen’s days in Court began to grow long, they became a total bore, and without any challenge whatsoever. Being Queen allowed Laura Vere and her maidenly mice maidens lots of room to roam, to venture across the island with complete freedom. It was on one of these daytime excursions that Queen Laura Vere took notice of a very charming and handsome knight. Luckily, on that day, longing for some Queenly solitude, she had decided to leave the ladies behind ashore for a quick solitary row for a bit of quiet. The mouse maidens constantly chattered too much and would eat all the cheeses that Cook had provided in the basket way before lunchtime. Queen Laura Vere found their unladylike greediness to be quite appalling, so on this day, she set them and a few provisions on the bank and paddled away. Her solitary adventure began as a fine sunny afternoon, filled with hopes of tranquility, until a westerly wind picked up suddenly, as a summer storm blew in. Laura Vere became frightened as she had floated a bit too far away from dry land and her leaf was teetering in the wavy water. She panicked. Just when she thought she might burst into mousey tears, Sir Luke-alot paddled up gallantly beside her on a large piece of whitish driftwood. Wearing a long forest green morning coat, he reached for her teeny ivory lace-shrouded mouse paw and helped her board his vessel. Sir Luke-alot had saved Queen Laura Vere!
“Queeeeeeeee-nie!” He said, much too familiarly. He held her delicate paw, as he simultaneously and suggestively used his masculine body to closely enfold her as he pretended to steady her stepping aboard.
She trusted him implicitly, because Laura Vere had heard a great many complimentary words spoken by King Robert in regards to his own admiration of this Knight. She knew Sir Luke-alot was her husband’s closest comrade and confidante as he performed his honor-sworn duties. Still, Sir Luke-alot was also known by all the ladies of the kingdom to be a bit of a rogue with a sullied, “ladies-man “reputation. Laura Vere generously allowed a coy smile at him as she said a silent goodbye to her rocking leaf. She decided to be lenient with him, for surely, he couldn’t help his lack of proper manners as her husband had told her that he was an orphan, and could call no other place other than this kingdom his home. That didn’t mean he was not beguiling. He was and he knew it, scoundrel or not. Overly-confident, he certainly was, but Laura Vere fell for it all… the looks, the laughter, the twinkle in his itty bitty mousey black eyes. And he smelled so good!
As Queen Laura Vere made herself comfortable upon the curved inside of his driftwood boat, she laid back in an enticing fashion as she watched him first roll and then smoke some grass with his right paw while his left paw guided them along in the lake. Sir Luke-alot was famous, seriously, he was Mouseketeer famous. Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. He was smart, quick, knew countless ways to avoid traps, water poisons, cats, and he could wield a thorn sword better than any other mouse in the land. He feared nothing and no one. It was this complete confidence that was Lady Laura Vere’s undoing.
Nature, of course, followed its destined course (as you knew it would!), and soon, the unexpected afternoon outing became a looked-forward-to daily pleasure that Lady Laura Vere and Sir Luke-alot partook of in great secrecy and lustful happiness. They were made for each other and Luke-alot (sadly) was everything that poor old King Robert was not. And you also know as well, that, now, just as it was then, there were sneaky spy rats (who were, for some unknown reason, called “Cassadines”) hiding everywhere on the riverbanks and amongst the tall weeds just waiting to uncover a tainted tidbit to tarnish the good Queen’s image and her honored place next to the King. Whether the motivation was just plain devilment or jealousy, a sordid rodent or two always seemed covetous of what someone else had, and Queen Laura Vere was blessed with all the riches of the kingdom and now, love. Soon, she and her secret lover were revealed!
Without going into all the sordid details of this long-tale extramarital affair, it is needless to say that King Robert felt betrayed when he was given the shocking news. It was quite a harsh blow of deception that brought him to his trembling old mousine knees. Yet, he could find no real fault with his beloved and kind Laura Vere. Being a wise old King, he contrived in his mousy mind a list of all the good qualities and traits that he admired about his gentle Queen and he determined in his heart that she ably fulfilled all her wifely and courtly duties to him but one, and it saddened him greatly that he was not physically able to fulfill hers. He knew he was too old to maintain her physical happiness and so he forgave her and also Sir Luke-alot. In fact, he felt a great deal of relief after the initial embarrassment of it all. Sir Luke-alot had assumed the role of lover, thereby letting the King off the hook, so to speak. But forever and ever, the betrayal and story of Sir Luke-alot and Queen Laura Vere and their tumultuous tryst would be told throughout history. King Robert actually felt quite proud of himself for being so gracious and accommodating.
And so, on a morning soon after the revelation of the affair, when interviewed by the daily newspaper, aka The Gouda Gazette, the good King seemed comfortable in trying to put the sordid incident completely behind him as he commented, “What’s done is done. I really don’t want to talk about it, actually, I’m pretty tired. Disappointments happen from time to time, but the truth is, you know… the kingdom will persevere…I’ve simply just had a bad knight.”
“I’ll have you know I don’t normally show up to luncheons wearing designer sequins carrying a toolbox.” The woman wasn’t just wearing designer sequins and carrying a toolbox, her hair was frazzled and sticking about in all directions. There was definitely glitter in it too.
”Oh?” I asked, uncertain. I didn’t know who this woman was or what she had wanted but I had been sitting at the Sammy’s Sammiches minding my own business when this woman had plopped down across from me.
“May I?” The woman held the toolbox over the table where my notebook and cellphone were sitting.
I moved most of my stuff out of the way just in time for her to drop the toolbox loudly on the table top. The only casualty was my half-eaten sandwich. The other patrons of the sandwich shop looked over, some annoyed, some concerned. I tried to form some kind of verbal protest but the woman opened the toolbox and pulled out a stack of loose papers. Was she using a heavy tool box for a briefcase? All things considered I guess that wasn’t the strangest thing.
The woman eyed the papers like she couldn’t quite make out what they said and then leaned over the table at me conspiratorially. “How about forty acres?”
“Mars?” She said this as if it were obvious.
“What are you, fifty?”
I squinted at her, confused. “Twenty-three.”
“My apologies, it’s hard to tell these days. You’re a young lady, you are a lady right? Last time I assumed I misgendered someone and they were not happy. I felt terrible about it for days, I’m absolutely determined to never do it again.”
I just nodded. “You’re right… this time.” Was this woman for real?
“I know forty acres on that dustball of a planet doesn’t sound all that great, but listen, terraforming is only a decade away, what costs you pennies on the dollar today will get you a thousand times the investment.”
“Wait a second. Are you trying to sell me real estate on Mars?”
“It’s what we agreed to!”
“Uh, I didn’t agree to anything.”
“Look, I know you might be having second thoughts–”
“I’m not having second thoughts, I haven’t even had first thoughts. I’m just sitting here trying to enjoy a sandwich between my classes and you turned it into a pancake with your toolbox.” I pointed to the pitiful thing, half-eaten and half-squished.
The woman peered around the toolbox and frowned. “Why ever would you put your sandwich under a toolbox?”
“That’s…oh my god.” I ran my hand across my face and tried to find an escape route without being obvious about it.
“Listen here Miss Cargill–”
“Thomas,” I said absently and regretted it the second I did.
“My last name is not Cargill; it’s Thomas. Dany Thomas.” What was I doing?! Run away you fool! Abort! Abort!
“Are you sure?” She looked mildly alarmed.
I pointed to the student ID clipped to my collar.
“Oh my.” The woman leaned back and stared at me like she we seeing me for the first time. “You’re not the person I’m supposed to meet.”
“No…shit,” I said with heavy sarcasm. “You owe me a new sandwich.”
“How should I know?”
“I was supposed to meet them here.”
I lifted my hands in a shrug and then waved my open palms in a half-circle to indicate the rest of the sandwich shop.
“Oh, this is bad! I’ll lose my commission over this!”
“Listen, don’t worry about it. I won’t tell anyone.” Lies! I’m telling everyone this bonkers story!
“Oh no, you don’t understand. It was certain, for sure, the contract is right here! It’s supposed to be signed today! If I don’t have a signature and a buyer, I’m toast! I’ll be banished to live on Mercury! Oh, what a world! The worst. No margaritas anywhere!” She genuinely looked on the verge of tears.
“Are you okay? Humans have only been to the moon. No one is going to send you to Mars, much less Mercury.”
“Oh you poor human girl, you don’t get it do you?”
“I’m obviously not getting something, no, so please enlighten me.” Why? Why did I keep encouraging her?
The woman wiped at a nonexistent tear and seemed disappointed there was nothing there except specks of glitter. “I’m from a small backwater planet about fourteen light years from here. This was supposed to be my big break into interplanetary real estate. This pilot program was going to boost our economy and everyone in my family was going to be able to afford all the finest luxuries.”
I was nodding encouragingly until the entire thing percolated through my sleep deprived, over studied, hyper caffeinated brain. “What?” I said stupidly.
“You wouldn’t know it, I think it shows up as being about fourteen light years from here on your star maps.”
“You’re an alien?”
“For better or worse.”
This lady was either on the fast train to crazy town or already there. Or she was telling the truth. She seemed legitimately upset that I wasn’t the person she was supposed to meet. I honestly didn’t know which direction I wanted to believe.
“Alright,” I said and crossed my arms across my chest. “Assuming that you’re telling me the truth. How do I know that I’m actually going to get the forty acres after I pay?”
I think she got glitter in her eyes while wiping at invisible tears because suddenly they were sparkling. “You’re interested?”
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” The lady started frantically going through her toolbox. “I’ll have to amend the contract but that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“First, what’s your name?”
“Your name is Unpronounceable?”
“Oh! No! I mean, yes, but when I’m here I go by Chuck.”
“Chuck. Okay, Chuck, my last question…”
“How do you know you’ll get the forty acres?”
Chuck readjusted herself and a new demeanor took over her posture. She was cool, confident, and sparkly in her designer sequins.
“I am not of this world. However in two years’ time the Galactic First Contact Association will be contacting your world and providing technological advancements, assistance, and personnel. Your species has been selected for a pilot program to determine if near-space faring species can be contacted and enriched without destroying themselves.”
“It is isn’t it? I’ve seen the reports, even if you do destroy yourselves the chance that another sentient species will rise on your planet is at nearly 88%! Those are great odds.” Chuck didn’t seem to realize that wasn’t encouraging at all.
“So in two years we get contacted and then we get to go to Mars?”
“Yes! We give you the supplies and provide transport and a 25 hour help desk!”
“A Martian day is almost an hour longer!”
My phone beeped and I pressed my finger to the near-silent alarm. It was almost time to head back to class. I could miss one class of Special Topics in Anthropological Literature. I could probably write a whole essay about what I was experiencing right now. If it was real.
“Now, since you are being introduced to this fresh, I don’t want to force you into a contract you know nothing about. May I see your cellular device?”
I clutched my phone close to my chest and frowned at her. “Why?”
“I need to call in a transport.”
I reluctantly handed over my phone and she fussed with it for a moment before awkwardly holding it up to her ear.
“Karen! I need a transport from my location to the prospective acreage. Yes. Yes. That too. New inductee! Byeeee!” Chuck handed me the phone back and smiled happily.
“So…where are we going?”
I didn’t have a second to question that idea because the air around us started to glimmer and a feeling of warmth replaced the cool sandwich shop AC. The chair under me disappeared and I fell to the floor. But not the floor of the sandwich shop, the floor of a UFO.
Chuck appeared next to me and lifted me up onto my feet. “Apologies, our gravity is heavier than yours.” Once I got my feet under me and stable enough I got a good look at the rest of the room. A wide window looked out on Earth and in the distance I saw a sliver of the moon. Other than the window, the room didn’t have many other features. There was a wide doorway that led into a hallway and a single console in the middle of the room.
Chuck tapped the floor with her foot and the area opened up. A couch lifted up and Chuck pushed me to a seat.
Okay, up till now, I had just been playing along, looking for a good story, and not really taking Chuck’s antics seriously. But I was sitting on a purple couch IN A UFO! I was looking at the southern hemisphere of the Earth. Australia and New Zealand took up the length of the window.
“Ready to see your new plot of land on Mars?” Chuck asked.
I just nodded, at a loss for words.
Chuck took up a position in front of the window and tapped her foot on the floor again. A control panel lifted out of the floor and Chuck tapped happily on the buttons. “Here’s hoping I don’t bring this back to Karen dented!”
“Dented?” I asked. The view out the window shifted as the ship turned away from Earth. I felt no movement or momentum. The only indication that we were moving coming from the track of stars across the viewer as the ship turned. The view went white and colors streaked as the ship zoomed forwards. In seconds we were no longer in orbit around Earth. The rust red surface of Mars filled the window and I gasped again. The pictures I had seen of Earth and Mars from space did nothing to compare to seeing them with my own eyes. I gingerly got up off the couch and went to stand next to Chuck at the window.
“Amazing isn’t it?” Chuck asked.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Seeing is believing!”
Chuck tapped a sequence into the console in front of her and the ship began to descend. I watched with amazement as the Martian landscape filled the viewer and Chuck landed the ship on a flat, rocky bit of terrain. In the distance, huge mountains broke up the horizon line.
Chuck led me further into the ship and at an airlock had me pull on an overlarge EVA suit. I felt like I was wearing a tent. “Why is this so big?”
“This is the suit that was made for the previous contract signer. We had their measurements prior to this flight. After we visit your plot of land we’ll have to have to get your measurements.”
“My measurements? What for?”
We have to make sure we get the right habitat for you. We can’t be trying to put a human sized person into a cat sized habitat now can we?”
“Wait, are you selling Martian real estate to cats, too?”
“Well, of course! They have every right to be there just like you!”
The image of a cat habitat with cats in little cat jumpsuits was unavoidable. I snickered.
“Come along!” Chuck had her own suit on, and of course, it had sequins and glitter all over it. We walked out onto the Martian surface. Chuck used a little red laser pointer to show me the area of land I was being sold.
“How much?” I asked after a minute. It was too much to take in. As soon as I got back I was going to skip class and go home and sleep.
“One US dollar an acre.”
“A dollar…an acre? That’s really cheap.”
“Like I said, pennies on the dollar!” She clapped and then wiggled her fingers outwards like she’d just performed a magic trick.
Forty dollars wasn’t that much if this all turned out to be real, but forty dollars was a weeks’ worth of groceries for my poor college ass if it wasn’t.
“What’s the chance this all falls through and I don’t get to come to Mars?”
“Oh! The money is held in escrow until successful integration and introduction is complete.” Chuck seemed really proud of that.
“Wait, why do you even need money? Earth money isn’t going to be good on other planets.”
“On the contrary. The galactic economy is built on the economies of every species in it. If your planet successfully enters the galactic society your Earth money will be incorporated. One of the reasons my people are doing this is because the sooner you get a jump on and initial standard of another planet’s money the more profitable you’ll be.”
“Well that sounds really complicated.”
“It is.” Chuck nodded.
I looked out on the barren desert and tried to imagine it lush with gardens and greenery. “Two years?”
“Two years. I believe they will try to aim for a slow news day on Earth. They have some algorithm they follow but that is not my forte.” Chuck smiled at me through her helmet.
“Alright. Sure. Let’s do it. I can eat ramen for a week.”
“You can come by my apartment and have some if you want.”
“I would enjoy that. I’m very fond of the chicken flavor. It’s very ubiquitous.”
I laughed. “That’s one word for it.”
So I signed the contract and handed over forty dollars. Chuck joined me for a ramen lunch and two years passed with little trouble. There were only a couple times I regretted the purchase. But the ride to Mars alone was worth it. I graduated from university, got a job as a programmer, and found myself sitting in a cubicle typing code for hours on end. Above my monitor I had a postcard with a picture of Mars on it. Chuck had given it to me after I’d signed the contract. I had put a sticker of a cat in a spacesuit on it at some point.
Chuck had never given me an exact timeline of when Earth would be contacted by aliens but I really wanted it to be today. It was slow, the news was just stories about a goat rescue in China, reforestation in Chile after a forest fire, and every baking show was a rerun.
I guess whoever was in charge was listening, because every screen in the office flickered and a message appeared on the screen.
“Everyone in this trip been camping before,” Joe assured his girlfriend Renee. “There’s nothing to worry about, babe.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that I haven’t. And you haven’t, either, by the way,” she coolly reminded him. “Backyard camping doesn’t count.”
“Yes, it does. I know how to set up a tent. Well, my dad did it, technically, when we camped in our backyard. But I helped him with the pegs!”
Renee rolled her eyes and tucked a loose strand of her auburn hair behind her ear. “I’ll continue reading my book, thanks.” She had been reading The Outdoors Survival Handbook for two days now and hadn’t looked up from it.
Joe smiled at his girlfriend’s quirks and continued driving the Jeep through the narrow road that would take them to the clearing where his friends should be waiting already. The sun was about to set; they were running late, and it was Renee’s fault (she’d packed like a royal going to a month-long trip to the most remote location on Earth). But, she had agreed to come camping with him and she was freakin’ hot, so Joe wasn’t going to complain about it.
This was going to be the best trip ever.
The aliens stepped out of their small capsule and looked around as they took a deep breath.
“The readings are correct, husband.” Ha-Mas declared, glancing down at the screen of the portable computer in her hand. “This atmosphere is agreeable to us.”
“Indeed, my wife; a most satisfying fact,” Pa-Fin replied. He took another deep breath. “The air smells different than the air in our planet Aspia, but not as unpleasant as we were warned it would be.”
“Remember, husband, that the air quality reports we studied were based on our mission destination, which is a populous city full of humans and their primitive transportation and air filtering systems. Yet we have been forced to land our capsule in this wooded area to procure Fermium for our troubled ship.”
“Ah, you are correct, my wife. As ever.”
Ha-Mas acknowledged his compliment with an awkward smile and then said, with another glance at the object in her hand, “According to the meter, the Fermium is very close.”
“Let us begin our search, then, but it is imperative that we remain vigilant. We do not know what dangers lurk in these Earth woods.”
“Agreed, my husband. Let us camouflage the capsule” —with a touch to the screen and a soft bleep their transport seemed to vanish— “and turn on the camouflaging feature of our suits.” Another tandem set of bleeps and their space suits appeared to blend in with their surroundings.
“Onwards,” they declared in unison.
Staying close to each other, the aliens moved towards the marker pulsating softly on the map in their device.
“So, we gonna kill them or what?” Brandy asked Brian as the unsuspecting couple pulled up to the camping site and parked their Jeep next to Brian and Brandy’s stolen car.
“Probably. But only after they give us some useful information; maybe their PINs or something like that. Those last idiots were hardly worth a shit,” he added with a scowl at the cliff behind them where they had dumped their two latest victims.
“They told us about these rich shits,” Brandy reminded with a nod at the two who were now getting out of their car. “And their truck is pretty cool.”
“That’s true. Too bad we’re gonna have to ditch it soon. Once they’re suspected missing, after this weekend.”
Their last victims, a guy named Mark and a girl named Kelly, had supplied Brian and Brandy with a pickup truck full of all sorts of things, from small luxuries like ketchup and barbeque sauce to useful things like sleeping bags and tents. Sadly there had been hardly any money, but at least the couple had provided the criminals with valuable information about where they were going and who they were meeting up here. Brandy was the one who got all the information out of the overly chatty girlfriend after they were picked up pretending to be distressed hikers. As soon as the Mark guy parked the truck, Brian and Brandy got out of the backseat and opened the front doors, dragged out the gullible couple and slashed their throats. There was no time to properly dispose of them so they rolled the bodies off the cliff, then went around enjoying their newly acquired stash of beer and food. Neither of them had ever been camping before so they didn’t even bother pretending to set up the tent. Not even ten minutes later they heard the Jeep coming up the road.
Now they were eyeing the approaching couple with little dollar signs over their eyes. The recently-dead Kelly had gushed about how rich their friends were, and filled Brandy’s head with fantasies of loads of cash and expensive jewelry. Brandy hoped the girl had been right.
Time to find out.
A minute after stepping out of the Jeep, Joe felt his phone buzzing in his pocket several times in quick succession, alerting him of incoming texts and other notifications. He smiled as he reached for his phone.
“Check it out!” he said to Renee excitedly. “We have reception up here!”
But his smile immediately froze and very quickly degraded into a frown as he read the texts from his friend Mark. “What the hell?”
“What’s wrong?” a worried Renee asked next to him, searching his screen for clues.
“Mark’s not coming! Says he’s sick and had to go to the hospital!” He immediately called back Mark’s number, but received a busy signal.
“So whose car is this?” Renee asked.
Joe examined the silver truck they had parked next to. He thought Mark drove a similar model, but he’d never laid eyes on Mark’s car so he wasn’t sure. Mark and Joe had been best friends since forever, growing up in the same hometown; but despite keeping in touch quite frequently, they hadn’t really seen much of each other since they left for different colleges two years ago.
Just as he was about to call Mark again, a blond guy and a fake blond girl stepped out of the tree line and into the clearing.
“Hey, there,” the unknown guy called. “Are you guys Joe and Renee?”
Joe and Renee looked at each other briefly before Joe replied. “Yeah.”
“Cool. I’m Dave, Mark’s roommate, and this is …” he looked at the girl next to him as if forgetting what to call her. “Brandy,” he finally said.
“Oh, okay,” Joe said as they all shook hands. “Yeah, Mark’s told me about you, Dave.” He didn’t add that Mark had never mentioned a girlfriend because the girlfriend might take offense to it. “You’re the one who loves camping, right? Ever since you guys went camping in the summer he’s been asking me to do this trip. I didn’t realize you guys were coming too, though.”
“Oh well, it was a last-minute thing. We drove up here together but when we stopped for lunch, he got food poisoning. Real bad. So anyway he wants you guys to stay; he and his girlfriend Kelly are at the hospital in Morristown, it’s like only twenty minutes from here, and I might go pick them up later if he feels better.”
“Wow, that sucks,” Renee said, a hint of something like disbelief in her voice. “But no one else got sick?”
The other two exchanged a quick glance. Then the fake blonde, Brandy, replied, “Yeah, he had the Roman lettuce in his burger, that’s what it was. I told him to take it off, you know, but he didn’t; and bam, ten minutes later he was hurlin’. None of us got the lettuce, so it must’ve been that.”
The Roman lettuce? Joe wasn’t sure Brandy knew what she was talking about, and next to him he could see Renee eyeing up the girl. Joe could tell Renee was skeptic, but she didn’t question them any further. She only said, “Well, I hope he feels better soon and can come join us.”
“You’ll see them soon enough,” Dave promised with a big smile. “Let’s get this party started!”
The aliens approached the moonlit clearing quietly and crouched behind a large bush, examining the scene before them. Four humans were conversing while attempting to set up a fire directly over the spot where the small rock containing the Fermium should be, according to the aliens’ meter.
Pa-Fin gasped. “The tall dark-haired male just told the short yellow-haired male that they intend to stay two nights here, wife. We cannot wait for them to leave. We need the Fermium immediately to continue our mission.”
“I agree with you, husband,” Ha-Mas replied. “We will have to immobilize them and sedate them while we work to recover the Fermium with our suit tools.”
A small asteroid containing the precious metal had impacted Earth a century before and had created this luminous clearing. The aliens needed to unearth the rock now to transmute the Fermium into energy for their ship, whose battery cells had suffered some damage while entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
“I will immobilize the two on the left, and you take the two on the right,” Ha-Mas directed, aiming her wrist-weapon at the first of her chosen targets. “Is that acceptable?”
“Agreed. Then we can—warning, behind you!” Pa-Fin detected the slithering reptile behind Ha-Mas too late, as it lifted its head and attacked her exposed hand.
Ha-Mas cried in pain and stumbled back onto Pa-Fin, losing her stance for a second; but she expertly readjusted and fired her wrist-weapon at the creature, immobilizing it. “There is venom in this bite, husband. I need to neutralize it before we can proceed with our mission.”
“I will take care of it, my wife.” Pa-Fin reached up his arm and extracted the emergency healing salve from his suit sleeve. As he applied the cure-all ointment over the swelling punctures in Ha-Mas’ hand, he heard a voice.
“Who’s there? Are you okay?”
It was the auburn-haired female approaching their hiding spot, followed closely by the tall dark-haired male, who appeared to be her mate.
“Do not be alarmed,” Pa-Fin called out in response. “We are humans just like you, camping.”
The humans looked confused. They were close enough now that they could see Pa-Fin leaning over the injured Ha-Mas. The male human said, “Uh, we heard a scream. Was that you?”
“Yes, we apologize for having disturbed you. It was just a scare—”
But the female gasped as she noticed the immobilized creature at their feet. “That’s a pit viper snake! I read about them in my book! They’re super poisonous! Did it bite you?” Her eyes focused on Ha-Mas’ wound, which was healing from the inside out, unbeknownst to the humans, but still swelling noticeably on the outside. “Oh no! We need to help you. Come with us. I have a first aid kit. Where is your gear?”
“Can you walk?” asked the human male. “I can help.”
Ha-Mas and Pa-Fin were touched by the young Earthlings’ desire to help. Ha-Mas stood, hoping to convey that she didn’t need help anymore, and Pa-Fin followed suit.
“Thank you for your offer, young fellow campers, but I am well. The animal must not have delivered poison with the bite. I am not in danger of dying.”
The humans frowned in renewed confusion. Ha-Mas thought something must be wrong with her translator, and decided it would be better to accept the offered aid, to ease their suspicions.
“But I believe I will accept your offer to help.”
The female smiled. “Great. Please come with us. I’ll bandage your hand, at least.”
As they walked to the humans’ camp together the male noticed Ha-Mas’ portable computer, which Pa-Fin was carrying, and said, “Whoa, dude. What kind of phone is that? And where did you get those camo suits? They’re out of this world.”
The aliens looked at each other in alarm. They know?
But no one got a chance to reply, as the other two humans, the yellow-haired couple, rushed at the approaching group; each grabbed a human and pressed a knife at their throats.
The aliens stood there, exceedingly confused. Is this some sort of game that Earth friends play? What an odd example of entertainment.
“Whoa, whoa! What the hell, Dave?” the dark-haired male asked the male that held him while his auburn-haired companion whimpered in surprise and fear in the yellow-haired female’s grip.
“We weren’t going to do it this way, but now you’ve gone and done a stupid thing and got these weird fuckers involved,” the yellow-haired male said with a nod at the aliens.
Weird fuckers? Ha-Mas looked at Pa-Fin, puzzled.
“What’s going on?” the auburn-haired female cried.
“What do you think, princess?” asked the yellow-haired female restraining her. “This is a robbery.”
Despite the awkward situation, Ha-Mas was now deeply humbled that she had been offered help by an Earth princess.
“Oh … Joe,” the princess cried between labored breaths laden with panic. “These people aren’t Mark’s friends. They … they must have … Oh, God.”
“What did you do to Mark and Kelly?” asked the dark-haired male named Joe.
“None of your goddamn business,” the yellow-haired male replied, at the same time the yellow-haired female replied, “We rolled them off the cliff.”
“Don’t tell them that,” snapped the male.
“What does it matter?” the female replied.
“Alright. Whatever,” he said. “Yes, we robbed your friends and then slit their throats. You’ll join them soon enough if you don’t hand over all of your shit to us.” Then he nodded at the aliens standing awkwardly in front of the struggle. “And you two, hands in the air!”
“Please clarify,” Pa-Fin requested. “Our hands are already in the air.”
“Hands up, asshole!”
Again the aliens exchanged a confused look. Was the human asking them to lift their wrist-weapons?
“Alright,” agreed Ha-Mas, raising her hand and aiming her wrist-weapon at the female holding the princess, while Pa-Fin did the same to the yellow-haired male.
“What the fuck are you doing? We’re going to kill these two!” The yellow-haired male was livid, pressing the knife closer to his captive’s throat.
“But why? Aren’t you … friends?” Pa-Fin asked, confused. Earth friendship was not at all like Aspia friendship.
“No,” the dark-haired male, Joe, answered. “We don’t know these people at all. We were supposed to meet my friends here, and these two … criminals … murdered them!”
With that, Joe threw his elbow behind him and managed to hit his captor in the temple; the yellow-haired male yelled in surprise but tightened his grip on his target, and his knife cut into poor Joe’s flesh; Joe screamed, the princess screamed, and all four humans were screaming over each other.
“That’s right we did!” yelled the yellow-haired male above them all. “And now we’re going to kill you, too!”
The aliens exchanged a purposeful look and a quick, easy nod, and shot their wrist-weapons at the two not-friends restraining the nice humans. Red beams hit their chests in tandem, and the criminal couple froze for a second before collapsing at their own feet.
“What … what just happened?” cried the now-free princess. Then she looked at her bleeding mate. “Joe!”
“He … he got me, babe.” And the nice human, Joe, dropped to his knees holding his hands at his neck.
“No, Joe, don’t …” the princess Babe sobbed.
Pa-Fin knelt next to Joe and said, “You are a brave young human, one she calls Joe. Let us tend to your wound.”
“How?” asked the distraught princess. “You don’t even have a first ai—”
But Pa-Fin was already applying the healing salve over the wound, which would mend the damaged muscle and tissue; and Ha-Mas followed right behind, closing the wound proficiently using her micro surgery laser tool that they all carried in their mission suits.
“Ready,” Ha-Mas announced. “Your pain should be diminishing quickly.”
“Uh …” a bewildered Joe attempted to speak as he touched the minimal scratch that was all that was left of his wound. “It … feels … gone.”
“But how?” the equally mystified princess wanted to know.
“It’s basic healing in our planet Aspia,” Pa-Fin explained.
“Your p… planet Aspia,” repeated the princess.
“Aspia revolves around a star that humans have yet to detect in what you call the Orion constellation,” Ha-Mas said. “There is much to tell you; however, your real friends are in urgent need of healing. We must go tend to them.”
“But … you … they … are dead?” attempted Joe as he was forced to expand his views of the world.
“We can hear their labored breaths,” Ha-Mas explained. “They are heavily injured, and might have expired within the hour, had we not been alerted to their presence and condition by these two not-friends currently lying here stunned.”
The Aspians had already silently agreed that they would need to collaborate with the humans to procure the Fermium. So with a mutual nod, they went in search for the only humans that had actually ever been camping before.