Author Archive

EP549: The Battaile of the Mudde


The Battaile of the Mudde

by Anthony Tardiff

“Dude, can you come over?”

“I’ve got homework,” I said, staring at the mounds of it spread across my desk.

“It’s kind of urgent.”

I sighed and swapped my phone to my other ear. Vincent’s voice had that edge-of-panic quality I’d come to recognize. “Don’t tell me,” I said. “You melted your mom’s toilet again.”

“No.”

“You turned Mrs. Nedry’s gardenias fluorescent again and she called the UFO hotline.”

“No.”

I closed my eyes and groaned. “Your homework ate your dog again.”

“No. Worse.”

Worse? My eyes popped open. It had taken us three hours to hunt down and kill the homework. His mom had not been happy at what the chase had done to the house. She still wondered where Brandy had gone. What could be worse?

“It’s” — Vincent’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper — “a girl.” (Continue Reading…)

EP548: A Prayer at Noon


A Prayer at Noon

by John Shade

It was a day into the third sun when the patchwork man rode into town.

I remember the dust scrabbling at my eyes, and the folk that had gathered on the sidewalks to watch him plod past on a chugging, nearly-spent machine horse. As he came to me, the stitched segments of his face shifted into a new configuration, a hinted smile or frown, and his torso swung around, my breath seized. I’d been around men before, but he was something different. Something more. He was ugly, though, with a wiry frame and a large head set on top, wads of crusted hair sprouting between the seams across his skin. He rode toward us, confident as anything. I braced as he reached down, but he plucked my little sister, Ester, from the crowd instead. The town went silent but for the constant shuffle of wind-blown sand.

With his god-strength, the patchwork man tossed Ester into the air like an aerialist, and set her down to swelling applause. The dread was broken. Our prayers had been answered at last.

(Continue Reading…)

EP547: Ride the Dragon


Ride the Dragon

by Bojan Ratković

We were a band back then, in the bat-shit Wild West days of the game. We held our court at the Gentleman Boozer, the loudest pub on the big map. It was Haru, Flygirl, Black Boris, and me. And we had floaters, part-time comrades. Mostly kids who wanted to be like us, who did us favors. But Tony Rem was there too, the one that rode the dragon.

It’s hard to believe now just how big it was, when they launched True-Fantasy. It was the first MMORPG with MaTRiX immersion headgear―it jacked you in, made you really live it. Most of the players were funboys―kids who played for fun―and they paid the bills. But you could make RL coin if you were good enough―real life currency―and the rest of us wanted a cut.

Punchers punched the clock, putting in RL hours to work as barkeeps and innkeepers and helpdesk clerks. Gougers sold rare items for RL cash; there was a big black market and bigger gray area, and you could make a killing. We were glitchers―beta testers, top players. Exposing glitches in the game was our business, and admins paid top dollar to help them fix whatever bugs we could find. But it wasn’t about the money. All the top glitchers, the real cowboys, were after big scores. We proved ourselves by exposing the wildest glitches, the ones that got the map talking.

There was a group of mercenaries in the Boozer the day Tony came to us about the dragon. They sat across from us, up by the stain glass windows. They were the wrong kind of mercs, cutthroats. They helped the funboys on their quests, for a fee, but then they’d turn on them, cut their throats and take their items. And poof, back to beginner’s village. It wasn’t exactly legal, but they used proxies, rented avatars. Admins kicked them, they came back.

Tony strolled in like a breeze, letting the doors clap shut behind him. He walked over to the back and took the chair Haru wasn’t using, on account of his horse’s ass. Haru’s avatar was a centaur with a black leather jacket and shades, and his game was speed. He made his name by galloping vertically along the walls of the White Palace as the whole map watched. It took less than an hour for the admins to fix the glitch that allowed Haru to defy virtual gravity, but the stunt made him famous.

“I got the ticket, boys,” Tony spat out like he’d been holding it in for days. “The big one.” (Continue Reading…)

EP546: Recollection


Recollection

by Nancy Fulda

The dream is always the same. You are a tangled mass of neurons, tumbling through meteors. Flaming impacts pierce your fragile surface, leaving ragged gouges. You writhe, deforming under bombardment, until nothing is left except a translucent tatter, crumbling as it descends. Comets pelt the desiccated fibers. You fall, and keep falling, and cannot escape the feeling that, despite your lack of hands, you are scrabbling desperately at the rim of a shrouded tunnel, unable to halt your descent. Glimmers crawl along the faint remaining strands, blurring as you tumble…

You awaken to warmth and stillness. Gone are the soulless tiled floors of the seniors’ home. Sterile window drapes have been replaced by sandalwood blinds. Fresh air blows through the vents, overlaying faint sounds from the bathroom and from morning traffic on nearby canyon roads. You clutch the quilted blankets, stomach plummeting. This cozy bedroom, with its sturdy hardwood furnishings, should be familiar to you; but it isn’t. Two days, and still nothing makes sense. You feel as though you’re suffocating. Tumbling…

Your wife has heard you gasping for air. She comes running, nightgown flapping behind her. Her face is creased in overlapping furrows. Your mirror tells you that the two of you are a match: the same fading hair, the same shrunken hollows along the eyes. Laugh lines, she calls them, but you cannot manage to see them as anything except deformities, in your face and hers both.

“Elliott?” She grabs your hand and kneels at the bedside to look in your eyes. “It’s me, Elliott. Everything’s fine. Everything’s going to be ok.”

Her name, you recall, is Grace. She told it to you two days ago, and is irrationally elated that you are able to repeat it to her upon demand, any time she asks. You feel like a trained puppy, yapping for treats, except there aren’t any treats.

There’s just Grace, and this room. And before that, the seniors’ home. And before that…? You’re not sure. You flail at the bedside for your notebook, thinking it might offer continuity. But there are only a few shaky scribbles, beginning the day before yesterday.

Grace pulls you upright, propping pillows against your spine. She fusses over you, adjusting your hair, prattling off questions. She seems to think you’re in pain, but you’re not. Not any more than you’d expect of a man with joints and bones as old as yours. She tries to kiss your forehead, and you recoil.

It’s a cruel gesture, pulling away like that, but you can’t help it. She’s a stranger, and despite the anguish in her eyes, it feels wrong to pretend otherwise. You can’t feign love. You won’t. Not to please her, not to please anyone.

(Continue Reading…)

EP545: Murder or a Duck


Murder or a Duck

by Beth Goder

George called out, “Mrs. Whitman, you have a visitor.”

Mrs. Whitman strode from her workroom, her white hair skipping out of its hairpins. She straightened her work skirt, massaged her bad knee, then hurried down the hall.

“George, what’s happened to the lamp with the blue shade?”

“To which lamp are you referring?” George smoothed down a cravat embroidered with tiny trombones. Improper attire for a butler, but George had never been entirely proper.

Mrs. Whitman examined the sitting room in further depth. The blue lamp was gone, as were the doilies, thank goodness. An elegant table sat between the armchair and green sofa, which was infused with the stuffy smell of potpourri. Behind the sofa hung The Roses of Wiltshire, a painting that Mrs. Whitman had never cared for, despite its lush purples and pinks and reds. And the ficus was there, too, of course.

Mrs. Whitman pulled out a battered notebook. George’s trombone cravat indicated she was in a timeline where he was courting Sonia. A good sign, indeed. Perhaps, after six hundred and two tries, she’d finally landed in a timeline where Mr. Whitman would return home safely.

Consulting her charts, she circled some continuities and crossed out others, referring often to an appendix at the back. The notebook was worn, its blue cover faded. And it was the twelfth one she’d had since starting the project.

George cleared his throat. Mrs. Whitman didn’t even glance up. “You have a visitor,” he said.

“George, I need to ask you a few questions.”

George sighed, but made no comment.

“Has Mr. Whitman returned from his trip?” She always asked this question first, in the hope that George would direct her to the study, where she’d find Mr. Whitman reading a book or knitting socks.

“He’s due back sometime today.”

That was what George always said. Mrs. Whitman had been through it over and over again; she knew it was useless to organize a search until the evening, when everyone else would begin to worry.

Undeterred, Mrs. Whitman asked her control question. “Did you wear your navy suit anywhere this year?”

George raised an eyebrow, but said, “I wore my suit once to the Lacklustres’ evening ball, and again at the horse show for troubled teens.”

If the Lacklustres were holding a ball, then they hadn’t gone bankrupt yet, which meant she was in a timeline where Winston Tuppers hadn’t revealed Mr. Lacklustre’s banking fraud. And the horse show for troubled teens never appeared without a corresponding tea party later in June. Mrs. Whitman flipped busily through her charts.

“Which tea cakes are they selling at the market on Quill Lane? Chocolate? Lavender? Orange and cream?” she asked.

“There is no market on Quill Lane. It was torn down last year,” George said, a rare look of concern on his face. “Are you sure you’re feeling quite all right?”

“Just one more question,” said Mrs. Whitman, making a mark in her notebook. “Is it Sir Henry waiting in the foyer?”

“No,” he said. “Mrs. Lane requests your attention.”

Mrs. Whitman snapped the notebook closed. If Mrs. Lane was visiting, it could only mean one thing. She was either there to kill Mrs. Whitman or sell her a duck.

(Continue Reading…)