Bad Moon E-Zine
Edited by Tom Laimer-Read and published by Let’s Rock Publishing in 2016
Copyright 2016 Let’s Rock Publishing
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Welcome to the new fantasy, sci-fi and supernatural fiction E-Zine Bad Moon #1 – New Moon. We bring you fascinating tales to enthral and amuse you every full moon that rises, writing them in between the changing phases in a flash of inspiration or the attempt to raise mild amusement, at least.
We have stories of abstract futures and mysterious pasts, yet all pertinent to today. We will meet characters from future Tokyo, the recently-populated planet of Mars, some spectral apparitions who haunt unexpected places, reimagined Grimm Tales, amongst other mangled fairytales, myths, parables and legends.
Enjoy the rocking ride, and hold on tight!
The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be
by Tom Laimer-Read
The schematics of the Gloomsday Device lay on the metallic trestle table in front of Dr Gloom, who moodily perused the intricate designs and florid yet deadly embellishments on this seemingly innocuous contraption.
He sighed heavily.
He desperately wanted to get out of the super villain business. It just didn’t have the ‘zing!’ to it anymore that it had in the Good Old Bad Old Days. Back then, people respected the gravity and the ingenuity of your evil plans for world domination. Crowds shrieked in abject terror and world leaders quaked and quivered at your feet, pleading for mercy, forgiveness and a 10% cut of the profits.
Nowadays folk didn’t give so much as a shrug or a twitch of a whisker when you revealed your latest petrifying weapon or unveiled your newest hideous plan to hold a group of spoilt brat politicians and business leaders to ransom. The big corporations had come in and priced the original bad guys out of the market with their boring suits and ties, their mawkish marketing strategies and despicable Dress Down Fridays. If wearing weekend clothes at work was seen as something to aspire to now to make the rest of the dreadful, dreary business tolerable, Dr Gloom wanted no part of this insidious game. Where was the style? The panache? The tristesse de vivre? The super villain industry was all but over.
Dr Gloom, real name Norman Skillet, a retired dentist from Kiddiminster who had overdosed on laughing gas and could never laugh again, was thinking of jacking it all in for good and going back to the dental trade. It was a lot more stable and reliable work, without the stresses and pressures that came along with super villaining. There was just no money in being overtly evil anymore, and there were also no laughs, not that Dr Gloom could laugh, anyway. To be fair, he didn’t laugh that much before his unfortunate transformation, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch for him to assume his evil persona, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Now, now he was not so sure what route to take.
Flaubert, the disfigured, globular yet upbeat and infinitely loyal servant of Dr Gloom, sloped up to the brooding figure to inform him of the latest daily developments in his evil empire.
“So, good morning, Sir,” slurped Flaubert with froglike lips. “There’s been a general increase of evil in the market by around 3.7% this week. Muggings, hold ups, burglary and general street crime has risen by a moderate 4.4%, and people being nice to each other has dropped by a considerable 13.6% net.”
“Oh, how wonderful,” sighed Dr Gloom. “Flaubert?”
“Yes, master? What is it?”
“Do you think that there’s any point to all this… evil palaver?”
Flaubert looked shocked at the suggestion.
“Of course, Dr Gloom, Sir! It is imperative that we complete our work! But we must!”
“Why, Flaubert? Why bother? What does it all add up to, when all’s said and done?”
“We have to work, Master, otherwise, what’s the purpose of our endeavours?”
“That’s what I’m trying to establish, Flaubert.”
“But that IS our purpose… isn’t it?”
Flaubert looked sternly at Dr Gloom, quite shaken by his suggestion. It was Dr Gloom that gave him a reason to exist, had taken him in when no other employer would due to his hideous deformities. Without him, he would be very much alone in the wilderness.
“We must carry on, Master. We’re evil. It’s what evil super villains and their servants must do!”
Dr Gloom surveyed his works and private army milling about on the floor of his secret evil headquarters below him. He had built this empire up from nothing, but now it all seemed so dull and tiresome to him. Like all good super villains, Dr Gloom had loved and lost. She was called Shirley, and was his former dental nurse. He had had a crush on her like yesterday’s chop suey in the trash compactor, but it was never meant to be. He could never find the right words, and she was never available when it was convenient for him. She had found solace in the arms of a confectionary salesman from Chichester, which had caused Dr Gloom to fall into a deep depression and mistakenly attempt to overdose using the laughing gas that he used to anaesthetise his patients. This excessive intake of laughing gas had left his nerves frazzled and fused them into a permanent state of misery. He already had a lot to be miserable about, what with Shirley, the confectionary salesman, being named Norman Skillet and coming from Kiddiminster, as it was, but his disenfranchisement was pushed over the edge of destruction when he inhaled the gas, and he could never fully go back to his life before that, pursuing a life of heinous crime and mayhem in recompense. He still did a bit of private dentistry on the side, to keep his hand in so to speak, and assist his employees with their medical packages, but the super villain business took up most of his time after the incident occurred, so there was scant time for romance or any other untoward hobbies like that.
It had all been such a blast to begin with. In some cases, quite literally. It was a real wild ride. There was glamour, excitement, hostage situations, secret missions, jet planes, hovercrafts, crazed henchmen doing amazingly dangerous feats of terror… and then… somehow everything had lost its charm. It had slowly become a chore. Even evil super villains had to fill in invoices to their suppliers and keep up with their monthly accounts. The tedious trials of everyday life had taken over, and Dr Gloom was sick of them all.
“Master, shall we test the Gloomsday Device? It might help you feel better.”
“Hmm, I don’t know, Flaubert. Maybe.”
Dr Gloom observed the intricate gadget before him. He had designed it himself, but got Flaubert and his engineers to develop it, since they had the expert technical knowledge in that field. He wondered if it wouldn’t have been more practical to have invested in something that might have benefitted people slightly more usefully. He mused that he could even have gotten on one of those television programmes where business leaders invest their money in your project if they thought that it was good enough, or could have done some kind of crowd funding project over the internet. Still, things were the way that they were.
The Gloomsday Device sparkled in the morning sun. It looked as if this escapade could be his final fling, his Swan Song, his curtain call. He had better make it a very good, or indeeed very bad, one, and make certain that it was worthwhile, if not why do it at all? He expected some kind of feeble heroic response. Word always got out when a diabolical plan was underway. There must have been leaks and infiltrators within the organisation, no doubt, but even the rescue attempts undertaken by his opponents were sloppy and underwhelming these days. Who would they send this time? His arch nemesis, Captain Saccharine, or one of the lesser lackeys to complete the fixture? Captain Saccharine’s super power was to be excessively cheerful to the extent of breaking down his foe’s will to continue. It worked extremely well. Even Captain Saccharine was finding it difficult to scrape around for work these days. He was getting past it, with rheumatism and gout taking their toll. He was sure that he would see him again, in time. Perhaps this would be their final showdown? The thrill of a spectacular entrance had really worn off a long time ago, it was all too eminently predictable these days that to Dr Gloom, it was just going through the motions. These days the new batch of heroes and villains were all gloss and image, it was a culture of hype without substance. Dr Gloom had seen many come and go in their tight spandex and rubber outfits, each one swearing to put him away for good, and each failing miserably. But it was Dr Gloom himself who was always the most miserable at the end of it, whether he succeeded or not. He had spent some time in a correctional facility, where they had tried to cheer him up, which was more like torture than anything he could have imagined or embarked upon. It had broken him down even further. He didn’t see much hope left in the future of being a criminal mastermind, or anything apart from simple dentistry. You knew where you were with people’s teeth. Still, there was this, his new invention, perhaps it would help perk him up a bit?
The Gloomsday Device was an intriguing development. It had come to him whilst he was tinkering around in his workshop. He had inadvertently dropped a hammer on his foot, then bent over to pick it up and injured himself. This made him think that the universe was an inherently malicious place that was out to get him and everyone else within it. What Dr Gloom had considered was a way to magnify this into a wave beam that intensified the instances of calamities and cataclysms taking place, in a way that would hopefully destroy the entire world, and with any luck take Dr Gloom down with it.
“Shall we try it then?” asked Dr Gloom.
“Why not?” replied Flaubert. “It’s as good a time as any.”
“NOT SO FAST!” came a call from across the hanger hallway. It was Captain Saccharine himself, and he had his assistant Candy Rock with him.
“I wasn’t doing anything particularly fast,” replied Dr Gloom, bluntly and gloomily.
“I didn’t mean it like that!” exclaimed Captain Saccharine. “I just want you to stop and reconsider what you’re doing!”
Captain Saccharine’s attempts to reason calmly with the super villains was what drove many of them to insanity. His repeated attempts to ‘understand the other guy’ and ‘see it from their point of view’ were incredibly infuriating, and Dr Gloom was almost certain that he only did it to enrage his opponents. It was a highly successful technique, whatever the case.
“I have considered it and reconsidered it at length, Saccharine. It seems like the only sensible course of action to take. At least, the only course of action to help this horrific, insipid planet.”
“How can you say that, Gloom? You’re just down in the dumps and mopey! C’mon, cheer up mate! It might never happen!”
Gloom looked over at Saccharine and then at the Gloomsday Device. With enemies like that, who needed friends, or anyone for that matter? Time to end the whole sorry escapade. He reached forwards.
“Wait!” cried Saccharine’s assistant, Candy Rock. “I know why you’re doing this!”
“Why?” said Gloom. “Because I’m sick of it all, that’s why!”
“Yes, but why did this all start, hey? Because of your dental assistant leaving you, that’s why!”
“What? B-b-but… how did you know?!”
Candy Rock stepped forwards and unveiled herself.
“Because that dental nurse… WAS ME!”
“Shirley! It was you all this time!”
“Yes, Norman. I’m sorry. I should’ve said. I thought that you would’ve realised. I mean, it was fairly obvious, wasn’t it?”
“Now you come to mention it, it was something of an oversight.”
“Anyway, I’m sick of this droning goiter! He’s so optimistic all of the time, it’s really annoying. I’ve had enough of it all! I want to join you!”
Dr Gloom had not foreseen this turn of events. He had to be careful though. Perhaps it was a trap. After all, he’d been stung before, all those many years ago.
Captain Saccharine stepped forwards too, visibly hobbling and having trouble with his movements.
“I’m sorry, Norman. It was my fault, really. You just weren’t quick enough off the mark, as usual, so I had to step in and take a chance where and when I saw it.”
“What do you mean… oh, you’re the confectionary salesman from Chichester, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Shortly after Shirley and I eloped, I fell into a vat of hazardous confectionary products, and they changed me into Captain Saccharine, causing me to always utter syrupy, sugar sweet sentimental twaddle. It’s driven me to distraction, but super heroing is all I can really do under such conditions.”
“I’m tired of all this, aren’t you?”
“Do you want to test the Gloomsday Device then?”
“It could result in the end of humanity as we know it…”
“Hmm, sounds like a laugh…”
Dr Gloom looked again at the device on the tressle table in front of him. If you looked closely, you could almost see the ends of his mouth twitch and turn up slightly. Then he began to emit a low, croaking sound. It was a laugh. He began laughing steadily, then let it take over, his tone rising, his body convulsing. Then he abruptly stopped, reached forwards and pressed the button. Nothing changed.
- – -
At quarter past eight, the man gets up from the bench where he has slept. A train has just arrived, and people are coming up the stairs from the platforms. They walk past him, some giving him quick looks, some not noticing him at all.
He shakes his head and rubs his eyes. He picks up the plastic bag with his belongings. He goes and washes his face; then he starts doing what he does every day.
‘Have you got some spare change please?’ he asks people. Most of them just don’t react. Some shake their heads or say no. A few hand him pennies. Whatever they do, he says thank you each time.
‘Have you got some spare change please?’
Those who look rich rarely give anything, and those who are in a hurry don’t stop for the likes of him. He asks people who walk about slowly, people who are ambling around waiting for a train to arrive.
The man from the hot drinks stand comes over and gives him a free cup of tea, as he often does. It is sweet and strong, scalds the man’s tongue and wakes him up. Today the hot drinks man brings a cheese roll as well. It might be a good day.
Chewing, the man walks along the track and stops to check the timetables, as he does every day. There is no point because his train (no, not his train, the train that he wanted to catch all those years ago…) is not on there anymore and even if it was, he wouldn’t be able to afford the ticket. The money he makes is never enough.
‘Have you got some spare change please?’
‘Hang on… yeah, there you go.’
Many years ago, he meant to take the 22.14 train. He was on his way to a new city; he was about to start a new job and live a different life, but he lost the bag with his ticket and money. He was stranded here. Without the ticket, he couldn’t get out through the turnstile. He couldn’t afford a new ticket, and he couldn’t make the officials listen to him. He didn’t know anyone to turn to, and in the end he gave up and stayed here.
Now he just tries to get by. The days are blurry and uncertain. He still dreams of buying a new ticket, catching that train, that train he was destined for, but he can’t afford it and doesn’t have the energy to do much. He goes around asking people for money every day, but it never seems to be enough. He loses it, or it is stolen, or he has to buy food and drink. It is never enough.
Most people don’t notice him, and he suspects that sometimes he is invisible. Yes, there are also those who give him tea, buy him meals or say they might be able to help him, but he is too tired to talk or to do anything other than what he has become used to. He stays out of people’s way, doesn’t complain, avoids the cold and tries not to get shouted at. At night he fades into the background and sleeps wherever there are no officials driving him away.
‘Have you got some spare change please?’
‘Sorry, mate. Can’t help you there.’
By lunchtime he has made £4.25. He drinks a cup of coffee that someone has abandoned on the bench next to the supermarket.
A young woman has begun to ask passers-by for money as well. She can’t have been here for long, as she still looks quite real and normal. She wears jeans and a huge jumper.
‘Have you got any money please?’ she asks, and some of them hand her a few coins.
He has seen a few of them: people who are like him, people who are lost. Some get away somehow, but most just disappear. He is the only one who has stayed here for so long.
He watches the woman. She is pretty, and he wonders if he might be with a pretty young woman if he was outside.
In the afternoon he makes another £6 and a bit. Trains arrive and leave; announcements boom from the PA; the displays flash; people travel from cities that he has never seen to others that he will never see either. He is so tired.
Every now and again he thinks about going to the city centre to try to find help, to get out of here. He thinks about it today. After seven people in a row have blanked him completely, he walks to the turnstile and looks out towards the station entrance (or exit). The machine won’t let him out without a ticket. He thinks of jumping the turnstile or slipping through, but he doesn’t dare because a train official is close by. He swears, and the official says something reproachful. The man doesn’t understand it, but he nods and says sorry all the same.
He walks away from the noise and anger.
Anyway, he thinks, what use would it be if he got out? This station is where he was supposed to change trains, nothing more than that. He has no connection to it. No-one in this city knows him, and those he knew before he came here won’t remember him now. He could have crept through the turnstile at night. He could have taken another train. He could have, but he can’t bring himself to leave.
Train. His train. It has to be his train, the one he had to catch, the new life train. For him, there is no way out of this station other than taking the right train.
‘Have you got some spare change please?’
It gets dark, and it gets late. There are fewer trains now. He watches travellers as they buy baguettes, drink Coke or beer, hurry to the next platform, stride outside with their cigarettes and lighters already in hand.
The man feels tired and shaky. He pays £1.10 for a chocolate bar and a bottle of water from the vending machine and eats hastily, crumbs landing on his clothes and in his beard. It doesn’t really matter anymore, though. Somewhere along the way, his clothes seem to have stopped becoming dirtier, and he doesn’t have to shave anymore. Invisible. Unreal. He wonders whether he has died and not noticed it.
He goes to the toilet. They have UV lights in there to stop people from shooting up drugs. His skin looks strangely blue in the light, and he feels dizzy. He shakes his head, splashes water onto his face, then walks back out and sits on the bench.
The young woman he saw earlier stops next to him. He thinks that she has been crying.
‘You OK?’ he asks. She winces, nods and looks away.
She starts crying again, tells him something. She speaks a language he can’t understand, only occasionally using a few English words. She sits down next to him. The man mumbles something soothing and pats her hand very carefully. He holds out some coins to her, but she shakes her head. Then she suddenly says ‘goodbye’ and gets up. As she makes to walk away, she looks confused. She frowns as though wondering who he is and whether he is there at all. He isn’t, he thinks, he is not real. Then the young woman leaves.
He looks at the clock over the flower stand. It is 22.10. The train, the one he was supposed to catch, would arrive at platform 11 now if it still ran. It doesn’t, of course it doesn’t, it’s over, and there’s no point in brooding about it…
Then, without warning, he understands.
That train is there. It exists for him, but is invisible to everybody else, just like he is invisible to the other people in the station. The travellers can’t see or hear the train, but he can. Now that he understands, he can. Perhaps other people like him can, too.
The train is arriving, and he can take it. He starts running towards the platform, suddenly terrified that he might miss it and there will never be another one. He drops his bag. Someone shouts at him, but he doesn’t turn his head. The money jangles in his trouser pocket. It won’t be enough for the ticket, but it could never have been enough anyway, and now it doesn’t matter anymore. This is the train. Once he is on the train, it will be alright.
He runs down the stairs, tripping, grazing his hand as he stops his fall. Never mind.
The train, now clearly visible to him and him only, is still waiting, but through his rasping breath and people’s shouts he can just make out the announcement that it is about to leave. There is one door that is still open.
He races along the platform, bumping into people, panting apologies.
His heart hammers. The train. Might be the only chance. I understand now – perhaps I’ll have forgotten by tomorrow? Got to catch it now. Get ready for departure. Open door. Be quick. There. I could always have gone, it’s ridiculous. Door’s still open.
Then he is there and throws himself on to the invisible train.
- – -
The Grimm Truth – The Bear Facts
(as told by Daddy Bear)
So anyway, right, we come back from our little picnic in the woods, me, the missis, and the little ‘un, or as we’ve come to be known in some popular publications of more than dubious content, Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear, anyway, right, the missis, she goes, “Allo! There’s summink not quite cushdy ‘ere! Some nana’s snuffled up me porridge, made a right old mess of our gaff, and I’m none too ‘appy about it! The bed’s all over the place, it’s a right state, and no mistake!” Then I says, “You’re right, babes, some berk’s half-inched some of my porridge and all, ain’t they, an’ made a right dog’s dinner of me bed too! I’m not sure ‘ow I’ll be able to sleep sound in me bed tonight knowin’ some twonk or anovver’s broke in and gone through our particulars and that!” An’ then the little ‘un, he’s very astute, very observant, like ‘is dad, he pipes up, “Oi, Old Man, Mum, look over ‘ere! Some prannet’s gone and lifted all me porridge and only gone and fell asleep in me four-poster, the daft kipper!” An’ he was right! There she was, bold as day, this blonde piece, ‘avin a kip in our nipper’s divan! I mean, the cheek of it! I thought to meself, “Right! I ain’t ‘avin this! Some young porridge-nobblin’ house-breakin’ whippersnapper dollybird with the abject audacity to fall asleep in the gaff they just robbed!” I mean, what sort of a sicko does that? She must’ve been a right dumb bimbo of a piece to fink she’d get away with it, and no mistake! What a nana! So I goes, “Oi, you! Yeah, you, Goldilocks!” that’s what I called ‘er, coz she ‘ad this blonde ‘air, see, I’m observant like that, I said, “Oi! Goldilocks, you porridge-thievin’ trollop! Get your golden behind out of me ‘ouse this instant, or I’ll call the forest ranger on ya! Go on, ‘op it pronto!” Well, I must’ve frightened the life out of ‘er, coz she jumps up and legs it out of the winda! Then she ‘as the temerity to make out as if she’s the victim in this sorry tale! Oh yeah, right! Just coz she’s blonde and young and pretty, right? Y’know, she must be perfect, despite the fact that she goes round pinchin’ people’s porridge and all! I mean, who’s gonna replace the losses, and tidy up the bedsheets? That’s what I wanna know! Muggins ‘ere, that’s who! This neighbourhood’s gone right down the drain. She ought to be doin’ porridge, no scoffin’ it! I ask ya. Goldilock her up an’ throw away the key, I say. Raaar!
- – -
The pond was not in a good state. It contained a broken bicycle, a rusting bedstead, and one bedraggled mutant duck, poisoned by sporadic periods of acid rain, pollution and a particularly bad diet of sludgeworms. Nermal sat on a dilapidated bench looking wearily into the rainbow oil spill pools, tracing the edges of the ripples.
“That’s a rare Norwegian Wigeon,” thought Nermal, a student of ornithology.
A raincoat-clad figure came and sat uncomfortably closely beside him.
“The swallow flies south for winter,” it mumbled.
Nermal was familiar with this migratory route, and returned the rejoinder, “Straight as the crow flies.”
“Ah, good. Here is the package, now go to the pick up in Brussels. The details are in this envelope!” hissed the figure, placing a parcel and envelope next to Nermal, then scurrying off into the mist. In the direction that the figure had gone, there were gun shots. Nermal ducked behind the bench, as did the mutant duck. As they sat there, somebody else approached, looking shifty, and sat down, not noticing Nermal in his hidden position.
Yet another figure slid up to the one on the bench, and said in hushed tones, “Which way does the swallow fly?”
He revealed a silencer pistol and fired.
“This bird has flown!” he cawed, and fled into the night. The other seated fellow flopped forwards.
“Er, are you alright?” enquired Nermal. The body clearly wasn’t. It slowly rolled forwards, and the plopped into the pond, which fizzed slightly. The body floated on the surface, the duck eyed it, surreptitiously, then sunk without trace. It had left a briefcase next to the bench, which was still there.
Nermal was stunned.
He wasn’t sure what to do, but decided to get away from this spot quickly. He grabbed the briefcase and flew, not knowing of any other course of action.
- – -
Nermal entered his ziggurat-like apartment block, swiping his personalised keycard on the door. It didn’t work first time, so he had to give it a couple more goes at a variety of angles, then rubbed it on his trousers and tried again, until eventually the door clunked open.
As he slipped inside he regained his breath.
“That was unusual,” he muttered to himself. “Now what’s this?”
Nermal unravelled the package that he had been given by the peculiar stranger. It contained a key-drive for a computer. Curious as to what it was, Nermal had tried to read it, but the files required a password. Nermal then opened the envelope that he had also been given. The memo inside read:
You are in the utmost danger. You must escape from England to Belgium where you must make contact with Agent Oriole/Crane. The fate of Europe depends upon you, you must not fail. Call on the enclosed duck caller if you require emergency back up.
The Twitcher Squad”
Nermal perused the note a couple of times. It seemed perplexing to him, a humble ornithology student, that such a task had landed in his lap. It was nearly half term break, so he had a week or so to venture elsewhere, and didn’t have any other plans, apart from a case study module, but some time away from his studies would do him good. The bit about being in the utmost danger didn’t entice him greatly. He decided to go anyway. The area he had been was not a No Go Zone with a controlling order on it, and he wasn’t sure if the CCTV was operational, probably gone to pot like the rest of the country. Still, it was possible that he was being tracked on his obligatory student tag and keycard, so he thought he had better scarper as soon as he could. He packed a small rucksack and was about to leave for the magnorail station when there was a buzz on his intercom. He spoke through it.
“Hey, it’s security, open up! We wanna word with you!” said the gruff voice at the other end.
“Umm, I’m not in, this is a recorded message,” said Nermal, thinking relatively slowly.
“Our scanners indicate that there is one Nermal Buxton living at this residence and he is here now.”
Nermal hammered the button a few times.
“Sorry about that,” he cried, “Left the ansafone on! Whoopsadaisy. Well, how can I help you?”
“We want to speak to you about a parcel,” spat the security officer.
“Oh, have you brought me a present?” chanted Nermal.
“No, apart from a slap round the chops if you don’t open up presently!” came the rasping voice.
Nermal was in a tight spot. He wasn’t used to being at the wrong end of authority. He was hassled on the streets and at checkpoints like everybody else, but no more than the usual shakedown. Now he was in trouble, and he didn’t like it, especially as it was for something he didn’t do. He felt the duck call in the envelope, but felt the situation didn’t require it, just yet.
“If you don’t open up,” warned the voice, “We’re coming in anyway!”
It began swiping the entrance swiper with an override device, but the faulty reader wasn’t having any of it.
“Come on you blurping thing!”
Nermal remembered something useful, the recorded message that he used to deter his roboprofessors when they came knocking, asking for his essays.
“Sorry, Sir, I’m notable to help you now…” it went into a long spiel. During this, Nermal hastily exited out of the window and scurried down the alleyway.
- – -
Jaxxon De-flux 02189 lived on the 2672nd floor of his mega tower block complex in Tokyo 6. From where he lived, he had a pretty good view of the entire city, at least the part that his window looked out onto. Tokyo 6 was called Tokyo 6 as it was the sixth incarnation of the Japanese city of Tokyo after it had subsequently been destroyed five times before. The first time was by nuclear holocaust, the second by mutant zombie invasion, third by some kind of alien squid type pufferfish type creature type thing, fourth by another nuclear holocaust because if there’s one thing that humans do well it’s not learning from their past and repeating the same mistakes, and the fifth from a tragic photon energy generator incident that inadvertently imploded, taking most of the city with it, after the city elders deemed it sufficiently safe to operate, even though there was the small matter of mass incineration in case anything went wrong, such as somebody dropping some prawn toast down the back on one of the machines, which is inevitably what happened. Now in its sixth iteration, this huge metropolis was one of the global innovators and developers of modern technology, at the forefront of the technological revolution that was taking place in the 26th century. Huge, vaulting mega tower blocks joined with commercial fortresses and industrial palaces. Traffic swirled around the city in spiralling light tubes, each speck within the tubes an unusual passenger on their way to some salacious social event or devious destination. It wasn’t possible to go out into the open air due to its highly toxic content, so instead the place was joined together by these interconnecting light tubes, which make it appear like some kind of giant ant colony from afar, such as was the view that Jaxxon had from his window.
Watching the neon colours flashing by was strangely hypnotic. Jaxxon couldn’t afford a telebox, his assigned wage credit payment structure didn’t allow for it, but he managed to get by and scraped a meagre living as a button operator, which meant that he manufactured buttons for machines, his designated role as denoted by the city elders at birth.
High up in the Rook Zone, the area right at the top of the tower where the ordinary people met, so-called because of the infestation of those famous black birds that roosted there, Jaxxon met his friend Bobo and had a jelly drink with him.
“So, Jaxx, have you heard about that crazy new sushi that’s doing the rounds?”
“No, fellow, what’s that? I never get to hear any news. I’m not plugged in at all, you know?”
“Yeah, too true. Look out, here come the rooks!”
The pair had to take cover as an automated laser turret battle took place between the rooftop cannons and the rooks, which were not exactly the smallish black birds that we know in our present time, but huge eight foot monsters with burning eyes and a lustful craving for human flesh.
Inside, in relative safety, Jaxxon and Bobo continued their conversation.
“Yeah, it’s mad, fellow! There’s this new kind of sushi that you can get from some kind of ‘special’ sources, I don’t know where exactly, but I’ve heard about it. They say it gives you a feeling so intense it’s like the light of a thousand suns is burning your eyeballs and your body feels as if it’s being stretched through hyperspace, then you witness the beginning of the universe, just before you die!”
“That sounds über cool and chonky impressive, my fellow, but how could anyone know what happens, when the end result is that you die after you experience it?”
“Ah, well, I heard that one guy had a weaker batch and came back from near death to report it. After that the whole place has been going wild for the stuff. I mean, what have we got to live for, when it all comes down to it? You might as well experience the hit of your life, right?”
“Or death,” added Jaxxon to himself, uncertainly. He was unconvinced about the properties that Bobo had described, yet curiously intrigued.
If there was one thing that Jaxxon had learned from life, it was to expect something bad to happen when things looked as if they were going well. There was always a metaphorical dog turd to step in just around the corner, especially just after you’d bought a shiny new pair of shoes. This, for him and his kind at least, seemed like a universal constant, the ultimate truth, a fixed infinity, the great cosmic joke – or one of them, anyway. He was always the punchline, and in some cases, punchbag. The algorhythm of Fate had already been decided for Jaxxon, worked out by computers a long while ago, which was why Jaxxon had been assigned the job and wage credit structure that he had been. However, he always had a sneaking feeling that there had been an error somewhere, that some galactic glitch had cropped up meaning that bad luck constantly dogged him. He was born under an unlucky star, a dark sign, or in the shadow of some bad moon.
Still, it didn’t prevent him from attempting to embark upon new ventures, even if he was ever wary of the inevitably bad outcome. You have to try, right? He resolved to do just that, and began investigating
His first port of destination was the seedy marketplace by the commercial district where rowdy crowds gathered and yelled things at each other hoping to get better deals, but very rarely did. He meandered around the shacks and derelict stalls, probing for information in the desolate surroundings. Nobody seemed to know what he was asking about, or if they did know, they were keeping it very quiet.
After hours of traipsing around the area, he decided to give up and go home. It was at this point that a voice called out to him in a hushed rasp.
“Hey, kid. I got what you’re asking for.”
Jaxxon looked about, but couldn’t see the origin of the voice, to begin with. His eyes slowly focused on a small gentleman standing in a hidden doorway. The gentleman was so small he could almost have been classed as a midget, and perhaps he was one. Still, he had what Jaxxon was looking for, so his inquiries had not been in vain.
“Ok, fellow,” spoke Jaxxon, slowly. “Show me what you got.”
“Not here, that would be incredibly foolish. Follow me, young man, and make sure that we are not being followed. You’ve already raised enough suspicions with your investigations as it is!”
Jaxxon felt a pang of uncertainty in his gut. Was this really what he wanted? He was curious, sure, but this? He had to consider his options for a moment.
“Wait, where are you taking me?” he asked.
“Don’t be an idiot. I can’t tell you that! I will take you somewhere safe. At least I know for certain that you’re not an undercover officer, they would never ask such dumb questions at all!”
Jaxxon took this as an inverted, back-handed compliment and pursued the small man as he walked away.
“What exactly is this stuff?” he whispered.
“It is the finest delicacy known to man. The ingredients are incredibly rare, and you will only get to try them once in a lifetime – haha. Just my little joke there.”
For a small guy, the man was very fast. Jaxxon looked confused, but pursued the gentleman through the back alleys and side streets of Tokyo 6, along the transportation tubes and through the commercial district, out onto a wasteground hub beside an industrial section.
“Where are we?” asked Jaxxon.
“I know that, but where’s here?”
“I can’t tell you. If I did, I’d have to kill you. Soon, that won’t matter anymore. So, do you want to try it?”
“Well… maybe…” spluttered Jaxxon.
“What?! You take such a vastly massively important decision so lightly?! What are you, some kind of animal?!”
“No. I’m just an average person, down on their luck. I want some excitement, that’s all.”
“Ohhhhh, I see. One of those. Well, how much have you got?”
Jaxxon reached deep into his pocket and produced a handful of yen-creds.
“Will this do?”
The small man looked down at what was in Jaxxon’s hands and rifled through the credits suspiciously.
“Hmm, yes. Just enough. Give those here.”
The small man snatched up the notes aggressively, then looked up at Jaxxon’s curious face.
“Now, you want to find out what I have to offer?”
Jaxxon considered his position. He’d already lost his money, so there was nothing else left to lose. He may as well take the sushi, even if he didn’t actually eat it himself.
“Yeah, why not?”
“Why not? There are numerous reasons why not, but I expect that you already know them. You do, don’t you?”
“Erm, yeah, I suppose so.”
“So are you ready?”
The small man reached into his pocket and produced a small case, sealed with some kind of cooling system. He typed some numbers into the keypad to unlock it and it hissed open, bathing his face in a cold, turquoise glow.
“Here,” said the man, reaching in and picking up the sushi with a small pair of what could have been metallic chopsticks or tweezers.
“With this, you will reach your own personal Nirvana.”
“Really? How is that possible?”
“Like I said, the ingredients are extremely rare, and prepared by a master.”
“A master? Who is that?”
“Why, me, of course.”
“But haven’t you ever tasted it yourself?”
“Oh, oh yes. I’m the one that came back.”
“Really?! That was you?!”
“Why would I lie?”
“What was it like?”
“Magnificent. Now, do you want to try it?”
Jaxxon looked down at the death sushi before him. He assumed that he was never going to get another chance at this, so reached forwards, took it up, then slowly brought the food towards his mouth.
He bit down.
In front of his eyes, brilliant lights danced. The small man blurred into nothing as a dizzying display of sparkles took over. It was light fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but hundreds of times stronger, the dazzling colours bursting in front of him. He felt pulses beginning deep within his body. This was strange, and not entirely comfortable. This was it then, what he had always been waiting for. The ultimate truth. The lights continued their elaborate neon ballet, symphonic explosions taking place before him as his body began to convulse.
As soon as the lights had started, they blinked out to darkness.
Jaxxon stood in a cold, dark room. He could hear drips of disconnected plumbing coming from somewhere nearby. He looked about himself, but could see very little in the semi-darkness.
“Hello? Is anyone there.”
The silhouette of the small man appeared before him.
“So, you’re awake.”
“Yes. I am. Where am I?”
“But where’s here?”
“Your own personal Nirvana. Dark, isn’t it?”
“Yes. What happens now?”
“Nothing. That’s it. You ate the death sushi, that’s the end.”
“Yes. How do you feel?”
“Kind of short changed, really.”
“Yes, I bet you do. If you really thought you could reach Nirvana for just two months’ wages, you must live in an alternate reality to everybody else.”
Somewhere at the side of the enclosed room, a door opened. Jaxxon could hear the sound of the market outside. His eyes began to slowly become clear and make out that he was in a storage room near to where the man had called upon him originally.
“Go on, get out of here, fool!” yelled the small man. Jaxxon scarpered. The small man chuckled to himself.
“Hehehe. There’s one born every minute. Hehehehe!”
- – -
Steaming Pistons –
The Chamberpot Crisis
Princess Vitriolica was a prim and proper young popinjay just coming of age, primed for the throne of Great Tribian, which she would attain when her father, King Milliaw IV, promptly passed away. This she was looking forward to a tad too keenly, prepared, as she was, well ahead of her time. She had done plenty of throne-sitting practice and believed that she was more than ready for the job.
“Oh, I wish he’d just cark it so that I can rule the gaff!” she whinged bitterly to her maids.
Her mother, Princess Amy Elouise Vitriolica The Duchess of Tenk, along with her close companion and aide Lord Saveloy, had kept the young princess relatively well entertained for the best part of her childhood. They had ensured that she was continually amused and invigorated, and for this, Vitriolica hated them vehemently. Vitriolica had personally appointed a new maid in waiting, Orla Wanshaf, to attend to her as she wished. Orla was a spiteful, critical person, just the sort of cruel bully that Vitriolica would get on with swimmingly (especially when they went swimming, which they did rather often).
“Come now, Vitriolica dearest! You mustn’t be so scornful towards your dear old papa! After all, he has provided you with everything that you’ve ever asked for, and more besides,” advised her mother, considerately.
“Pah!” spat Vitriolica with venom. “He’s a dried up old prune! The sooner he keels over and croaks to let a real leader like me take charge, the better!”
Rumour had it that Vitriolica had already killed her father’s brother Egerog IV so that her father would become the king and then later on she would be the ‘legitimate’ heir to the throne, but talk of such matters was not the done thing about court. If you were heard suggesting such an eventuality, you’d have your tongue cut out – or worse. Egerog had been loved by the people, rich and poor alike, and his passing had been mourned by many. He had lived a healthy, chivalrous life, improving the conditions of the less well-off, and instigating a set of social justice schemes to society’s general betterment. Vitriolica would have none of this, and swore to replace his hideous system of self-improvement with something far more repressive and insidious.
The only thing that interested and amused Vitriolica were her clockwork china dolls that she spent hours poring over, building, tweaking and perfecting, and a small pug dog that she kept, named Mopsy. This was one of a long lineage of Mopsies brought over from Yamnerg, who would become well known amongst the citizens of Odnnol in their time, and well after. The dolls themselves were unusual in that they had small, inner workings of cogs and spindles that Vitriolica manipulated to make them perform complicated actions at her bidding. She was adept at getting them to perform intricate dances and harlequinades for her own prurient entertainment, spinning in arabesque whorls and delicate, graceful sweeping movements. It was a splendid sight to behold, but there was still something eerie about them that left one with a chill running through one’s bones after witnessing them in operation.
As the days paraded by like so many changings of the guards, themselves now partly mechanised through the processes of modern technology, the young princess plotted her route to the very top. She conspired with her lady in waiting, Orla, to do the king in with a particularly elaborate new automated doll that she had created. This doll could walk by itself and operate independently of any form of human control over a great distance, as well as containing a nasty surprise inside. Its internal whirring spools concealed a sharp retractable blade that once revealed spun at a hectic, hazardous rate, slicing and dicing anything that stood in its way, reducing it to mushy smithereens.
The damnable day to do the dirty deed arrived. Vitriolica wound up the curious killer clockwork doll with her special ornate key and released it down the nearest hall of the palace, off to meet the king, and in turn for him to meet his doom.
Shortly afterwards, a royal butler stormed into Vitriolica’s room with the bleak news.
“It’s the king, my lady! He’s… gone!”
“Gone where? For a stroll around the gardens?” replied Vitriolica cynically.
“No, my lady. I mean to say… he’s dead!”
“Oh dear, what a shame,” she casually replied. “It must’ve been a freak shaving accident. What will the papers say?”
“I’m sure that they will say anything that you want them to now, ma’am.”
“Quite right. Probably, “A Close Shave!” Ahahahaha! And a good thing too! Well, there’s no reason to be so cut up about it. Ha! Step aside, striplings – Vitriolica’s in charge now!”
- § – § – § – § – § -
On June 20th 1837 the 18-year-old Vitriolica came to power as the Queen of Great Tribian. She had succeeded her father, and also sinisterly succeeded in getting rid of him.
The coronation was a magnificent event in every way. Nobody smiled, or smirked, or even cracked a grin. It was deadly serious, as it should be, and those spotted even looking as if they had a cheery disposition were executed forthwith at The Tower.
Once the queen was installed in her vantage point, it was noted that she must find herself a fitting husband to further her lineage. It emerged that Vitriolica was personally interested in a young man named Trebla, who happened to be her cousin from Yamnerg. The royals liked to keep it in the family, so it appeared. Trebla was known for his cunning, avarice and extreme lust for power; therefore the two would make a rather terrifyingly imperious team. And so it transpired that they arranged a meeting, after which he mentioned that he wanted to take her to the opera, as he put it.
“Oh, I do detest such things! So many notes!” she exclaimed. Still, they attended the event, to much speculative whispering from the general populace.
The opera itself was a tawdry affair, much like the tawdry affairs that many of her relatives and courtly colleagues had with coquettish courtesans and scullery servants of the day. It concerned a lot of squawking and squealing about not letting passions get the better of your faculties of reason, which Vitriolica found laughable, and stated as much to all those within earshot.
“What lamentable dimwits these opera sorts are, Trebla! Take me away from this place to somewhere more solemn and soundproof!”
The Royal Box was evacuated to much bluster and kerfuffle, and the Queen’s party retired to a dining chamber at one of her expensive palaces to chortle about the sorry spectacle that they had just witnessed.
- § – § – § – § – § -
Sir Trebor Leep was the favoured candidate for the next Prime Minister of the time. His famous Leepers were automated law enforcement officers who mechanically leapt on people and incarcerated them if they committed a crime, misbehaved in any way, or so much as looked as though they were a teensy bit shifty. The incumbent Prime Minister was Lord Snydey, 2nd Viscount Milliaw Balm Snydey to use his full title, of the Ghiw Party, who allowed for a fairly liberal, lenient society to exist under his influence. For Vitriolica, this simply would not do. There had been the recent scandal concerning Snydey’s wife being found having intimations with the outrageous, outré poet Lord Byrite. This greatly disheartened Lord Snydey, but he persevered with his career in public office, ignoring the sniggers and sniping comments of his more importunate colleagues. He had also overseen the instigation of the trial of the Tadpole Martyrs, a rowdy band of rabble-rousers who had taken to swearing at everyone who came within earshot, which was nothing but sheer depraved vulgarity if you ak me. Some saw the trial as a grievous imposition on public life, while others applauded the moral standpoint that Snydey had taken. People could be quite picky and pernickety like that.
Eventually Snydey was defeated by a vote of no confidence in parliament, and a new political force came forwards to take his place in the form of Trebor Leep.
Leep was a very serious man, almost entirely without emotion. He had a stern demeanour, and liked to be in control of any given situation. Leep asked his political colleague the Duke of Notellingew, a powerful figure in Great Tribian, a former war hero and inventor of steam-based self-propelling boots that did all of the walking for you, as well as a previous prime minister himself, if he would put in a good word for him with the queen. Notellingew was known by the nickname ‘The Iron Duke’, as he enjoyed ironing so much, and loved nothing more nor less than a neat, crisp crease in his trousers. Steam-powered trouser presses were not for him.
“Notellingew old bean, would you mind awfully asking the dear queenie if she wouldn’t mind installing some of my swanky new automated chamberpots in her vestibule, instead of the dull devices that she has there at present?”
“Well, old chum, I’ll see if I can’t put in an advantageous word, what?!”
Leep was despondent that his party, the Storie Party, who were fond of tall tales, were not in favour at the palace, where instead the Ghiws held sway. This was partly due to the chamberpot situation, as whoever held control over the monarch’s chamberpots had the key to the nation’s business, so to speak. Women, who were not allowed to vote, since how could you expect them to concentrate on such important and weighty undertakings, were hereby allowed to exert some small amount of power and influence by operating the bedpans and chamberpots of the country, and influencing the monarch’s decisions as they waited for the famous Royal Wee. Of course, these women were of high class, and mostly advised by their fathers or husbands, who were honourable men, on what matters to suggest to Her Majesty during ablutions. Nonetheless, they did occasionally offer their own suggestions too, and it turns out were rather insightful.
The Duke of Notellingew knocked at the door of the queen’s bedchamber and waited patiently. Orla answered with caution.
“What is it now? What do you want?” she snapped.
“I was told that I was to be allowed an audience with the queen!” boomed Notellingew.
“What does she need an entire audience for?! She only wants to speak with you on your own!”
“Well, yes, that will do, woman. It’s merely a figure of speech, in any case.”
“I don’t give two hoots what sort of cases you’ve been poking about in, just come through quickly, have your say and be swift about it!”
The disgruntled duke bent forwards and entered the inner chamber.
“Your majesty! It is such a delight to see you, and I must say how regal you are looking today. Madam, please hear me out, for I must press you for a personal favour.”
“Don’t you dare go laying your hands anywhere near me or I’ll scream! I’ve heard all about your fixations with irons and trousers, and I don’t mind telling you I don’t like the sound of it one bit!”
“It was merely a figure of speech, Your Highness.”
“Well, don’t you try anything, right? Or I’ll have my Trebla on you! What is it, anyway?”
“I must humbly enquire whether you could see fit to replace some of your current chamberpots with a number of new, ahem, implements that would be seen as a more balanced approach to your ablutionary activities in the political, and indeed potty-based, sphere.”
“Well I never! The very cheek of it!”
“Both cheeks, invariably, Your Imperious Majestical One.”
“Don’t go giving me orders about where I should park my regal posterior! I’m the one who gives the go ahead for what constitutes the royal flush round here, and nobody else!”
“It would be seen by the general populace as a sign of goodwill to them and the government that stands in their name.”
“Oh, pooh to the people! They can go wash themselves down the drain for all I care!”
“I’ll take that as a no then. Mr Leep will be rather displeased, but be that as it may, you are the regent, whatever you say must stand, or sit, depending on what you’re up to, or down to.”
- § – § – § – § – § -
Trebor Leep was infuriated by the Queen’s snooty response, but not entirely surprised.
“Well, Notellingew, I could well foresee this eventuality, which is why I had another little scheme tucked neatly up my sleeve.”
“A dirty handkerchief? Do you want to stifle her with it?”
“No, you imbecilic buffoon and dunderhead! I mean I have an idea! A crafty scheme! These new chamberpots that I have had my men design are no ordinary chamberpots. Oh no, indeed! They’re a great deal more complicated. They perform all the necessary requirements for you, including the wiping and the finishing off, and can be programmed to administer all manner of other functions, one of which is to install themselves in a household and cleanse the entire surroundings of ‘unwanted’ materials, which we can of course select as being the opposing chamberpots, or other unwanted items!”
“Ah ha! You shuddering old renegade, you! This way you can slyly infiltrate the royal influence without anybody ever finding out!”
“Exactly! Cheers, old bean!”
“Odg save the queen – because we certainly won’t!”
- § – § – § – § – § -
At the allotted hour, on the allotted day, in the allotted place, a lot was about to happen. Leep had prepared his self-propelling chamberpots to rise up and overthrow the existing bedpans that were in place in the palace, thereby controlling the seat of power. His compatriot Notellingew had issued him with instructions on how to reach the queen’s central chamber, and given him some brief military advice should a standing, or indeed sitting, battle ensue.
“We’ll wipe the floor with these wet water closets!” jeered Leep, readying his robotic army for release. “On my command, approach! Get ready… commence!”
The set of metallic steam-powered machines moved steadily along, rolling and sliding up the path towards the palace and onwards to the queen’s chamber. At the entrance to the palace they slipped past the Gooseeater Guards, who were too busy concentrating on marching to notice the quietly rolling devices slip by.
The chamberpots wove around the palace corridors, navigating them according to the plans and dimensions laid down by Lord Notellingew. As they passed one area, a small, china female figurine twitched and came to life, following the passing devices with her swivelling eyes. When they had disappeared from sight, she rose to her feet mechanically and stomped down the hallway after them, summoning her companions as she went.
At the entrance to the queen’s bedchamber, a mechanical marionette standoff took place.
A set of automated dolls that looked like many previous princesses of the realm lined the doorway. These mechanised machines marauded through the royal halls, smashing into one another, pieces and parts spilling and splintering everywhere. It was complete and utter carnage, with crankshafts and cogwheels flying in every direction; some dolls were walking around with no heads and springs popping out, while the mechanised bedpans got dented and destroyed. Hearing the appalling noise, the Gooseeater guards had finally been roused to action. They stormed the passageway, using their large, spiky pikes to stab at the encroaching devices. Leep’s bedpan battlers advanced, clashing with the throng of china sentinels and guards.
In the fracas a few of the dolls chased Vitriolica’s mother and hapless assistant Lord Saveloy to a high turret, where they were locked away, never to be seen again.
The battle became even fiercer, the savage dolls destroying bedpan after bedpan, while the chomping mechanical pans wrenched off arms, legs and heads from the wretched attackers, causing widespread destruction. Orla, the queen’s maid in waiting, stuck her head out of the door to see how things were going. In the heat of the action, it looked as if things were fairly evenly balanced.
“My lady! I fear that we require some back up, quickly!”
The queen looked around, and remembered her prized possession, the sinister clockwork robot that she had created to destroy her father. She found the ornate key that powered it, wound it up as far as it would go, and then released it into the pandemonium.
“Make them pay, my beauty! Make them pay!” she roared at the top of her voice.
The large automaton spun and whirred into the thick of the battle, sending springs and sections of bedpans twirling apart every which way. The grinding crunch of the spinning saw gouged into the copper chamberpots, repelling the oncoming troops and staving off the attack. Finally, the last of Leep’s pre-programmed malignant bedpans lay motionless, one solitary wheel spinning out of control.
The attackers were defeated and the rebellion had been quelled. Lord Snydey of the Ghiws was restored as prime minister, for the time being, at least and Leep withdrew to the shadows to make further plans. He took out his aggression on the many servants that he maintained, orphans taken in from the street to serve him and do his bidding, which he claimed was an act of charity. What a nice man, when all’s said and done. The queen maintained her position too, quite rightly, and became even more unbending in her iron will.
- § – § – § – § – § -
In 1840 there was a royal wedding, and everybody across the country cheered, as well as a few impertinent folk who also leered, but you always get that at those sort of occasions. It was an eminently enjoyable event for most; the Leepers made certain of that. If you weren’t cheering, you’d be beaten with one of their retractable truncheonsticks.
The archbishop of the time, Milliaw Yowley, had written many treatises on etiquette and manners, which he imbued on Queen Vitriolica, and she herself enforced them on her people, with a little help from her new husband, Prince Trebla. It was slightly strange, as if you looked closely, some might say that Trebla’s eyes were made of nothing but cold glass, and his skin had a soft, metallic sheen to it, but it was probably nothing.
Everyone had gone chamber potty, and there was more mechanical madness yet to come…
~ ~ ~
Find out more about Steaming Pistons here:
Let’s Rock Publishing
d9 lived on the 2672nd floor of his mega towerblock complex in Tokyo 6. ______________________________________
Welcome to the new fantasy, sci-fi and supernatural fiction E-Zine Bad Moon #1 - New Moon. We bring you fascinating tales to enthral and amuse you every full moon that rises, writing them in between the changing phases in a flash of inspiration or the attempt to raise mild amusement, at least. We have stories of abstract futures and mysterious pasts, yet all pertinent to today. We will meet characters from future Tokyo, the recently-populated planet of Mars, some spectral apparitions who haunt unexpected places, reimagined Grimm Tales, amongst other mangled fairytales, myths, parables and legends. Enjoy the rocking ride, and hold on tight!