by Stephen van Ham
Somewhere in a park, a trio sat down amidst the chitter of birds and the quaint babble of a stream.
"We're early," Steve observed as he sat down on the grass. His two collaborative colleagues, Stephen and Rob, perched themselves down on the park bench. Turning their faces upward, they savoured the feeling on the sun on their faces, the breeze on their backs and the sound of mating sparrows in the air.
As his two companions enjoyed the sun, Rob pulled out his pack and removed a small package and opaque bottle, identified as a low calorie star melon squash by the label. With a long hiss the bottle was opened, and Rob took a long swig, enjoying the feel of the tangy syrup ticking his throat. Settling back he opened the small plastic sandwich package, and then the famed fanfic author started to munch happily on a tuna on rye.
The three writers were silent for long moments, treasuring these few rare moments of peace and closeness to nature. Nearby a stream was babbling, and, further off, the trio could hear the voices of a man and woman in conversation. The forest was alive with vibrant greens, and the sun was shining like a golden goddess. All was right with the world.
Opening his eyes, Steve watched Stephen for a moment before turning to Rob to answer his question. "Last time we got here at nine seventeen, this time nine fifteen... two minutes early."
Rob stopped munching. "What are you babbling about? Early for what?"
Steve shrugged. "Early for whatever happens next."
"What are you saying?" Stephen asked. "We've never been here before."
Steve sighed. Head trauma was known to cause entire weeks to be lost from a victims memory. "Yes we have."
Rob took another swig of squash. "I agree with Stephen. We haven't been here before."
Steve sighed again. It was known that whole weeks had been lost from Rob's memory, trauma or not. Sitting on top of a mountain writing for days without food or sleep would do that to a human being. Sometimes when Rob wandered down from between the clouds, his hair and beard as mangled as the thread bare cloths hanging from his hunger ravaged shoulders, he barely resembled a human being at all.
"Listen guys," Steve started to explain patiently, "there's some sort of enchantment going on here, and it's trying to warp our minds into forgetting, but we've definitely been here before. And something happened to Stephen."
"Really? What happened to me?"
"A monster bit your head off."
Stephen looked humbled. "Dang, I'd hoped for better. I'll have to talk to my publisher about that." He wiped a tear from his eye and changed the subject. "So, did you guys get away?"
"That's the bit I can't remember..." Steve said.
Rob finished his sandwich and started on another. As he threw the scrunched up wrapper on the grass at Steve's elbow, he started to rummage around in his pack. "Stephen's going to lose his head?" he murmured as he continued to rummage. "That's a shame. You know what they say, Stephen, some people have all the luck. Others just get dead. But somehow we must be able to stop it. Let me pen a tale or two to collect my thoughts and then we'll nut out a solution." He fished a pencil and tattered yellow notepad from the burlap bag and flicked through it, past dozens upon dozens of pages packed with scrawling prose, to the first blank page. Leaning back in his seat, he looked up with pencil poised. "Let me sketch out a few ideas." Secretly he started a game of three-dimensional noughts and crosses in the margin. "So, did you take precautions?"
Steve laughed. "Precautions? What for? I didn't think I was going to get lucky today of all days."
Stephen aimed a kick at Steve's shoulder as Rob replied, "No, I mean precautions to save Stephen from a quick and agonising death."
It was then that Steve proved that the practical gene hadn't entirely skipped a generation. "Well," he began, "when I first had that feeling of déjà vue I did consult the Oracle, the Dalai Laamess. Do you realise she hasn't bathed since back before they invented fire? And by the smell of her breath, she has a village of goblins living in her gullet. But anyway, when I went to see her, she leaped out at me from beneath a mound of pelts and said, 'pocketsses me precious, look what I have in my pocketsses' or words to that effect." He shrugged apologetically. "Although she communicates entirely in broken sentences and assorted farm animal noises, between the bleats, honks and whinnies, I think that's what she said."
"That's all she she said?"
"Indeed. I didn't stay around for long to ask any more." Steve wiped his hands nervously on his jeans. "She started giving me odd looks and playing with her lucky charms. I totally freaked out and split before she tried to bust a move."
"Swell." Rob's pencil paused in its feverish wandering across the page. He turned the pencil over in his hand and reached for his sharpener. "Hmmm, I need something that rhymes with 'flying pig'..."
"Drying fig?" Steve suggested.
Rob sucked on his eraser and then put pencil to paper. His hand moved back and forth like a little fleshly whirlwind as line after line of scrawl filled the page. "Okay, 'The Lord of Light soared astride his flying pig, wind whipping through his halo of silver hair, as above him, high high above in the boiling clouds, the Lord of Darkness swooped down like vengeful death, dressed in nothing but a drying fig.' Perfect."
Steve picked a clover from the lawn and discovered with a sinking feeling that it was only three leafed. He looked up. "Well, now that I've given the great Rob some inspiration, I'll be expecting a mention in the credits section of your future bestseller."
Rob's pencil stopped. "Who says I'm going to have a credits section?"
"Don't you have people that you'd like thank for helping you become a success?"
The pencil was on the move again. "Nope. I stand or fall entirely on my own merits, and if you're going to insist on a credits section then I'm going to have to take out this drying fig reference."
"You'd cut off your nose to spite your face, wouldn't you Rob?"
"Screw you, Steve."
The birdlife suddenly went quiet as a booming voice, which sounded a lot like wet noodles scrapping across gravel, echoed across the picnic area. "Hey, I'm Spite!" As the sparrows fled, a twelve hundred pound warty monster erupted from trees in a blur of folliage, blood and rotting flesh. The creature's huge shadow fell across the surprised trio, making their argument look as trivial as a barnacle on the underside of a barrel. The creature was part toad and part warthog, and completely hideous. Huge chucks of its warty skin had been ripped free, apparently by razor-sharp teeth, and orange ichor oozed from the many wounds, including a vicious back wound, runnels of caustic blood dripping to the grass where it absorbed everything in its path with a determined hiss.
"Stephen! Duck!" Rob yelled, and Stephen did, the snapping jaws that would have seperated head from body missing by mere inches. Spite's closing maw sprayed rank slime across Stephen's face and he staggered back. "Ewwww! Gross!" he choked, turning in time to see Steve and Rob retreat behind the bench.
As the pair of writers crouched down behind the stone, Steve pulled a small voodoo doll from his pocket and glanced at it. You just never knew when a bit of black magic would come in handy. "Pockets huh? I guess this is what the Oracle meant," he shrilled. Taking a deep breath, he twisted one of the dolls arms around, tying the extended limb around its small pudgy waist. Raising his fearful eyes to the monster above, he waited hopefully, expecting the movement to be mimicked on the attacking fiends body, appendages snapping and muscles popping as the terrifying monster crashed to the ground, never to rise again.
"Arrggghhh! Sweet mother of mercy!" Rob yelled as his back arched painfully and his right arm twisted around, his elbow almost bending back over his wrist as it wrapped around his back. He fell over to one side and flopped on the grass in agony. "Wrong doll, Einstein!" he hissed at Steve in a broken but furious voice.
Steve's eyes widened at the sight of Rob in knots. "Oops, sorry. If we get out of this alive I'll buy you a box of cigars to make up for it. If not, I'll go halves with you on a tombstone."
With a clash of fangs and a victorious slurp, Spite ripped Stephen open from nose to navel, spilling bloody fluids everywhere. As Stephen thrashed about in agony, Rob managed to uncontort himself. He slapped Steve hard on the side of the head with his pencil, spraying lead fragments through the writer's dark hair. He rummaged around in his own pockets, looking for his lighter. A few long seconds passed as Steve fixed his do and Stephen was shredded like a pumpkin in a blender. He was still yelling as the hideous monster started to suck out his organs. Moments later a main artery was severed, sending a huge spurt of blood coursing through the air, drenching Steve in a shower of red fluid.
Rob blocked out Steve's complaints about the cost of laundering as he continued the quest for his lighter. Then he found it. He pulled it out. He flicked it. Just sparks. And again. Just sparks. Flick. More sparks. No fluid. He looked up at the feeding monster and yelled, "Back off seaweed eater or I'll spark your tail slime!"
Spite whipped her head around and glared down balefully at the brave little fiction writer. With a roar the massive were-hog whisked her tail around in a lightning quick arc, a flat paddle of gangrenous, rotting flesh that missed Rob but sent Steve cartwheeling backwards. With a bone rattling thud he crashed into a nearby oak tree.
Rob looked from Steve (who was lying on the ground spitting out teeth) to the monster and clenched his fist, snapping his pencil. "Awww damn, that's my last one" he sighed sadly. "Right! You've asked for it now, barnacle breath! Prepare to get your great big scaley butt kicked all the way back to Seaworld!" He patted his other pockets, pulling out the contents and scattering them all over their picnic spot.
Mind a whir, Rob's eye caught one item of note amongst the clutter, a strange artifact which he did not recognise. He picked it up and turned it over in his trembling hands. It was a small pink canister with the words "WHOOP @$$" stenciled on it in black lettering. His face paled in awe. He licked his lips nervously and cleared his throat. "Guys, this is it. The legendary can of Whoop @$$!" Neither of his companions replied, as Stephen was too busy pushing his entrails back in with his shaking fingers, and Steve was picking up and catagorising his teeth.
(Insert dramatic pause here)
Stephen was down to one lung and a kidney, Steve was down to his wisdom teeth and a couple of molars, Rob was down to waving a spray can around and hoping for the best. He flipped the top and pressed the top of the aerosol. There was a loud pop! and then a tiny pink flag sprang out, one word stenciled across it in bright gold lettering: "BANG".
Spite howled in triumph and then turned her attentions to her next meal.
Rob sighed from the bottom of his shoes and waited for the end...
The Boojum rumbled contentedly. "Such simple pleasures these mortals give me," it crooned, watching as Stephen's final organ was devoured and Rob's shadow was eclipsed by one very large and hungry shadow.
Intent upon the gratuitous gore, The Boojum didn't notice the graceful presence that appeared from out of nowhere and tapped him on the shoulder. As he pondering this interesting occurance (The Boojum usually didn't usually bother with frivolous items such as shoulders) he/she/they turned around and eyed the visitor suspiciously. It was woman, or nearabouts, with a face as pale as death and features that were pared down to fine bones and the merest hint of flesh. She looked ageless.
The Boojum laughed. "Oh, so this is the form you choose today, little sister. How... intriguing."
The Adversary blinked her red eyes and sat down upon a swirling universe. Inside, five billion suns collapsed upon themseves and countless trillions died in agony. The Adversary ignored their faint cries as she regarded her brother. It was an unusual relationship that these two had. The Boojum was in reality her brother and her sister and her father as well, but their relationship had always resembled that of brother and sister, so that was how they choose to play their little game.
"You're interferring again," The Adversary said. "This is my play thing. You had your fun turning Tristram upside down with those puppets of yours last year. Now let it be. Mine, mine, mine!"
The Boojum reached out with a finger and crushed a passing solar system like it was a mosquito. "Puppets? Yes, Diablo and the Zerg were nice puppets. But now there are many new little puppets to play with. Plenty for both you and me, little sister. Please, don't cry," he said mockingly. "We don't need any more rain storms this season."
The Adversary ignored the insult. "Agreed. Just a lot of dry heat, pestillence and disease that will make those little mortals cower in their homes and pray for some nice hero to save them." She laughed, a sound completely devoid of any compassion. "Well, let them pray. Let them pray for salvation and they'll get me instead."
The Boojum looked thoughtful. "Very well, sister. You can have your turn, but make no mistake. I need MY playthings as well. You can have the wizard, the bovine and the bard. I'll take the writers. Anyone else goes to whoever claims them first. Deal?"
The Adversary crossed her arms across her thin breast. "It's a deal," was all she said before she melted away.
The Boojum turned back to watch the show. "Come my puppets, let the sport begin again." Pulling two tendrils of the Battle Net together, the Boojum wove them about in each other into a braid, causing a rift in space and time through which an alternative reality could be relayed. As the two cords of possibility fused together in a sheen of blue, the Boojum sat back to watch again...
Aboard the Starship Azure Drake, a party of two very interested men watched the action unravel before them. "There thee arrr again, me capin." Engineer Griswold peered at the small green blips on the computer display. Two of the small blips were stationary, while the third one was bouncing back and forth erratically, apparently in the jaws of a much larger blip (this one bright red). Griswold tapped the larger blip with this finger and CAIN reported back the blips physical dimensions - it was as bulky as an evacuation pod. Further details were helpfully supplied. "Small heat sources are lightly armoured with no apparent combat readiness. Large heat source is moderately armoured with high combat readiness. Probability of large heat source devouring small heat sources: 99.98%"
Captain Farnham studied the blips bleerily and watched for a moment as one of the blips started shooting smaller blips out around it (unbeknown to the crew aboard the Drake, Rob was madly jetisoning items from his pockets in an effort of find something, anything, to battle the huge demon)
"Captain, this would be an ideal opportunity to give the new Temporal Replicator Over Longtitude and Latitude (TROLL) a second test. Although arguably not as effective as a laboratory controlled field test, this would certainly trim another percentage point from the budget overrun. I'm sure President Leoric would approve..."
"That's a good point, number two." Farnham rubbed musingly at his three day growth of stubble. "I concur with your expert analysis. Execute the TROLL and bring those three idiots in for questioning."
With polished military precision, Engineer Griswold quickly punched in the access code for the TROLL - in triplicate - and suddenly the world went blue.
"We're early" Steve observed as he sat down on the grass. His soul uplifted by the scent of nature and rapturous birdsong, he glanced around, and, much to his dismay, found Rob and Stephen to be missing. Then, without warning, his feet disappeared inside a wavering vortex of light. Before he could even cry out in anger at this disruption to his schedule, the vortex rose, swallowing his legs, crotch, chest and arms. His eyes wide in startled resignation, Steve had a moment to curse the fates before the light rose again, this time rising up past his chin, his mouth, his eyes and finally over up the crown of his dark hair. And then he was gone.
Rob stared around at his surroundings and blinked. Although he'd had a wee bit to drinking session last night, he sure as hell thought he would have remembered ending up in a place like this. But the white paneled walls and floor were a lot cleaner than the usual dives he found himself in, and there was a computer console to play around with, so he wasn't entirely unhappy.
There was an audible bloip and then the door at the end of room slide back into the wall with a whoosh. Two men in space suits entered, one with a phaser in his hand (set to "make them quiver and dance a bit, but don't hurt them too much").
Rob looked up from the computer console. "Hi, I'm Rob," he greeted them. "Now then, where am I and what do you want with me? Do you want to sell me something? Real estate? Shares in a race horse? A revolutionary new exercise machine that will shape my abs, buns and thighs in just five minutes a day? Am I hostage of some sick porngraphy ring, held against my will and forced to partake in unnatural acts? Come on, fess up." He pushed another button and started to adjust the computer display. "Say, does this computer take Playstation CD's?"
Captain Farnham and Doctor Pepin were staring at their unwilling guest, their eyes wide in recognition. "YOU!" they yelled in unison. "We thought we'd lost you!"
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