Bowlesian! – Resurrection Mixtape

Note: for this month’s Bowlesian! I thought I’d share the first chapter of my newest novel, just released on Amazon this week. Please enjoy this sneak peek of “Resurrection Mixtape”. It’s all in the music, man. Press play at your own risk.

Resurrection Mixtape – Available now on Amazon

Resurrection Mixtape – Chapter 1

by Jeff Bowles

Firstly, an epitaph—

A mutual acquaintance introduced us. Years ago, when we were still in school. Emily was new to the city and wary of putting herself out there, which I could align with, because I wasn’t always eager to let new people into my life either. As it turned out, we both had respectable music collections. Her lexicon of rock and country and hip-hop and jazz, roots music, metal, soul, R&B, it was terribly impressive. I told her as much.

“Maybe we could combine forces and start a radio station,” she laughed.

“People don’t listen to music anymore. Not like they used to.”

And she gave me a puzzled look. “Yes, they do. Who on earth told you that?”

Emily didn’t buy the bad in life. Rented it sometimes, maybe. But rarely did she dwell therein. Everything we went through together, and she ended up with a guy named Guy. Stupid name for a guy, right? I mean, Guy. Barely a fucking noun. Guy was a real estate man, loaded, paid for one hell of a funeral. I attended of course. I forced myself to go. All it did was hurt me. I could’ve loved her better than anyone else. I would’ve seen to her every … well, I would’ve seen to her.

Maybe the MC at her wake played Bridge Over Troubled Water or something. I don’t remember. Emily would’ve preferred a more personal touch, perhaps even a song or two from one of her famous mixtapes….

* * * * *

Late Sunday Night—or early Monday morning, if you prefer

Summer in Seattle—KNOCK, KNOCK

Who’s there?

The dead woman standing at my doorstep could not account for herself, how she’d gotten there, by what incredible means. Expression vacant and gloomy, her eyes shifted from the contours of the porch, to my face, to the bright interior space behind me. My dearly departed friend, Emily Greer, almost a year to the day since she died in the fire. Not a ghost or a demonic apparition, not charred to a cinder or desiccated, sticky with rot, disfigured beyond belief.

Nope.

She looked perfect, untouched, like she’d just stepped from one of my memories. Naked and soaked in sweat, she shivered like a Pomeranian, like she’d just come through some terrible ordeal.

“Emily,” I breathed.

To which she replied, “Bluuuurgh.”

I blinked at her, dumbfounded, mind gloppy like horse glue. A soft vodka belch escaped my lips. Clearly, my night had shit-slipped into a different plane of reality. This was quickly and decisively not okay with me, like the music of Jared Leto or those little blonde fucks who sang MMMBop. It was well past midnight, humid and still. I felt hot and tired. Inebriated. Bewildered.

Those we connect with—in whose mental and emotional machinery we become entangled—enter and exit our lives at specific times for specific purposes. After everything I’ve seen, I can come to no other conclusion. But for me and you and everyone else, purpose can cut both ways. Like maybe you only meet someone so they can screw you over, make you feel scared or small, scar you up for the rest of your life (and maybe even your afterlife).

Case in point.

Emily held something small in her hand, just a little thing. Its plastic body reflected the soft, normative glow of my 60-watt porch light. An old audio cassette. Or maybe not old at all, hard to tell. She seemed to perceive its existence the same moment I did. She glanced at it and gurgled. Her hand trembled as she passed it to me.

“You … you want me to have this?” I asked.

Her head lolled to the side.

“What for…? What’s on it?” I said.

I scanned one side of it, Side A, then I flipped it over and scanned Side B. Clear body, bold crimson Maxell logo, its label inscribed in black ink: FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING. Once death and resurrection are on the table, one abandons compelling discriminative thinking anyway. I just so happened to have an old workhorse HiFi system sitting next to the TV in the living room. Tape deck still worked fine, too.

I told her she’d better come inside, that I had nosy neighbors. No skin off her bare ass. She staggered through the door, knocking into me as she crossed the threshold. The television blared at us from the next room. A Pink Floyd documentary I’d been dozing through. Dark Side of the Moon, spacey and comforting. I shut the door behind her and told her to sit tight while I went to flick it off. I was gone twenty seconds at most. When I turned around to head back, I found her seated comfortably on my sofa.

“How…?” I said.

“Bruglps.”

“How’d you move so—”

“Plurrbsss!”

“Okay, playing it. No need to get prickly.”

Machinelike, I powered up the HiFi, slid the cassette into the tape deck, hit the play button. A slight audio compression noise filled the room, the whir of blank magnetic space, a click when it tracked. A strange voice blasted from my upright speakers.

“Jason Halifax,” it said, “you are called. We call you. Play this cassette in full every Monday for precisely five weeks. Play it in full now and then follow our prescribed schedule for the remainder of the attenuation period. Do not deviate. We cannot stress this enough. Terrible things will happen if you do. Just awful.”

The voice was neither masculine nor feminine, young nor old. It was cold and ethereal, seeming to fill my mind as much as my ears.

“Upon completion of this task, Emily Greer will have regained her faculties in full. Made whole, better even. Quite simply, you will witness the birth of a god among women. You have been advised and duly warned. End spoken word portion.”

A clean, jangling piano flooded the sound field. My heart skipped a beat as it cycled through some pleasant seaside chords. A snare drum popped, a kick thudded, and the tempo changed. Billy Joel started singing Only the Good Die Young. 1978, charted at number 25, track six off his album, The Stranger.

I glared at Emily. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

* * * * *

For the Man Who Has Everything wasone of a dozen mixtapes Emily gifted me over the course of our ten-year friendship. It was a hobby of hers. She accepted and adored all kinds of music. I’ve never known anyone so universal. Her latest and greatest contained ten tracks in total. A few notable inclusions:

Blinding Lights, by The Weeknd, released in 2019. Driving, dirty synth pop with potent neo Michael-Jacksonian vocals.

My Sharona, by The Knack, recorded in 1979. Energetic and meaty. A pop classic everyone loves to hate or hates to love.

Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), by The Temptations, released in the year 1971. The ultimate unrequited love song. So many beautiful bits and pieces. A delicate yet powerful composition, poetry in motion.

“You made this for me?” I asked, meaning the playlist itself.

Her head tipped back and then forward.

“Why?” I said.

She looked down at herself, patted her knees, seeming at last to have noticed she was freebirding it.

“You need something to wear. Thank you for that,” I said.

I tore my eyes away and headed upstairs to the bedroom, pilfered the pile of clothes lying on my floor. A t-shirt and some black sweatpants. They’d have to do. The muffled, soulful strains of Just My Imagination called to me. The song should’ve acted as a balm, a healing touch, but no such luck. I was just as busted up and bewildered as the night I heard about the fire.

Contrary to what I’d once believed about us, Emily never was Lennon to my McCartney, Simon to my Garfunkel. We were more like an alternate comic book dimension Rogers and Hammerstein. Like maybe Rogers writes the lyrics while Hammerstein shits in the corner. Repeatedly, just shitting over in that corner he shits in all the time … complete dissimilarity to the actual …you get my point.

Not because of who she was, understand. For what I turned into in pursuit of her. Love is destructive even at its purest and best, complete and all-powerful in its ability to obliterate and violently remake you. I’d become averse to love, superstitious of it, and for what it’s worth, willing to let any and all opportunities pass. I thought about that as I shook loose change from the pockets of the sweatpants. How many times I could’ve gotten with someone but elected not to on her behalf. I could’ve fucked my way into some kind of reasonable mental clarity. You never know. Instead, I chose the way of the lovelorn monk, because there’s so much joy to be had there.

Sighing, I tucked the clothes under my arm and headed back downstairs. She was right where I left her, on the sofa, listening to the music.

“Emily,” I said, “how is any of this possible?”

She stared at me like I’d just asked her to solve the relativistic mass-energy equation. The mixtape tracked to the next song, Style by Taylor Swift. I wondered if she knew I hated Taylor Swift (I mean, outwardly, anyway—what kind of monster literally hates Taylor Swift?).

I eyed her, resisting my growing resentment of the lack of reciprocal mental feedback. Setting the clothes beside her on the sofa, I noted how doped up and dreamy her big googly eyes appeared. I helped her dress. One arm and then the other, her legs, flimsy as noodles, awkward to stuff down pant legs. My hand touched the inside of her thigh. Still slick with sweat. Up, dude, look up.

Emily gurgled again at me. I offered her something to eat, mimed shoveling food into my mouth.

“Blarrss,” she said.

“Food, Em.”

Her body and expression froze. Her next intended syllable—whatever that may have been—stuck in her throat. She went very pale, rigid.

“What’s wrong?”  I said. “Not hungry?”

A subtle chill passed over the room, a lazy coolness like from long afternoon shadows. The wooden framework of my home creaked and groaned. Emily let out the most godawful moan I’d ever heard. The blood drained from her face, her eyes darting around, lips quivering. She collapsed into my arms, her body beginning to convulse. Worming and wriggling as she was, I couldn’t get a grip on her. The same disembodied voice from the cassette exploded from her mouth.

“This is not a social call, Jason Halifax,” it said. “Contractual obligations must be met. Our conglomeration simply could not turn a blind eye to the situation at hand.”

It dawned on me this voice, this presence, expected a response.

“This is about a contract?” I said.

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember signing any—”

“You signed with your soul, Jason, with your intentions and all your secret hopes and desires. You believed this woman should be yours. Evidently, she did not disagree. Neither could the contract have been fulfilled while she was dead. Obviously so.”

“What do you mean she didn’t disagree? Who are you?”

“God,” the voice said.

“Really?”

“No, not really. That was a joke.”

The most bewildering and unnatural laughter rocked poor Emily’s body. It sounded like demons baying in skanky reverb, a mess of harsh unholy shit-swallowing. And I’ve never swallowed shit before, right? But contextually speaking, it sounded like goats suck-starting an elephant.

“Listen,” I said, “if we’re only gonna talk crazy here, I’m going to need something heavier than vodka.”

“Crazy? You’ve no comprehension of the word. Our true nature strains credulity. To attempt a worthy explanation of who we are and what we’re capable of would doubtless mystify you. Emily loved you dearly. That’s the important thing. It hurt her very much that you drifted apart.”

“That’s not how things were. I don’t believe you, Skeletor.

Skeletor. Ha. Yes, well looks can be deceiving. Make her whole, Jason. Protect this life, her life, her second chance. Love her with all your heart and soul. Isn’t that everything you’ve always wanted?”


And that’s it, folks! Pick up your copy of Resurrection Mixtape now. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next month with a December Bowlesian! short story that’ll knock your socks off. Goodbye!

Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Love/Madness/Demon, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.


Bowlesian! – Zombie Crave Human Exceptionalism

Note: This is a just a fun little flash piece to get you in the mood for October. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Zombie Crave Human Exceptionalism

by Jeff Bowles

Dr. Everett J. Edmunds raised his zombies from nothing but spare parts and voodoo. He believed his living dead should crave the best, most exceptional brains. Therefore, in procuring their daily meals, he kidnapped only lawyers and doctors, novelists and scientists, Nobel lauriates, Olympians and the like. Late nights he’d strap these unfortunates to the chair in his subterranean laboratory and read them poetry whilst playing an old Bach vinyl.

“Why, Dr. Browning, you look pale,” he might say. “Perhaps some electrolytes before my darlings feast? Malaise in the system is no good at dinner time.”

And of course, upon devouring each subject, his zombies gained further appreciation for human exceptionalism, thereby endowing themselves with heightened intelligence, communication faculties, charm and wit. This was the theory, at least. Everett had found hard clinical proof difficult to come by.

One evening, as the sun set on his small, weed-infested home, his door buzzer rang, interrupting an attempt to teach his horde Calculus. Everett swore and hushed the zombies, climbing the steps into the house proper. All his life he’d been an achiever, which was why his bookcases and mantle were lined with trophies, awards, and certificates of excellence. The medical community valued his intellect, but people wouldn’t understand his true calling. Perhaps his walk-in freezer was full of arms and hearts and torsos, but he was no cold-blooded killer; rather Edmund was a brilliant scientist, the most exceptional brain of his generation.

He opened the door with a prolonged, rusty squeek. There stood the love of his life, the one who got away, a half-zombie named Camilla. If regret had a voice, it’d be soft and sweet as hers.

She cooed a loving, “Braaaaains!”

To which Everett replied, “My darling, you’ve come back to me!”

“Brains!”

“Of course, my love. Come inside. Your horde misses you, as do I.”

She followed dutifully, through the house and back down into the laboratory. The rest of the horde would eat him as soon as look at him, but not his Camilla. She’d been so beautiful in life, his favorite nurse at the hospital. The car crash that claimed her life hadn’t been entirely accidental.

From the book of voodoo spells he’d purchased on Amazon, he’d selected a special hex he used just once: the half-zombie, or Death’s First Kiss. Though her skin had rotted and her jawbone flopped like the useless handle of a can opener, Camilla was still the most beautiful woman Dr. Edmunds had ever seen. He embraced her. She smelled wonderful … ish.

“Dearest, why don’t you climb back in the cage where you belong? Your brothers and sisters would love the chance to pick your–”

“Braaaaains!”

“What do you mean they won’t like you anymore? Have you really changed so much?”

Camilla indicated she had, and then proceeded to describe her adventures in the world of the living. Apparently, she’d tried to go back to school, and had even attended her nephew’s bar mitzvah, a ghastly affair which had seen her own family chase her into the night. The doctor opened the cage door cautiously, sensing a lull in his zombies’ aggression.

“Dear heart, please step inside,” he said. “When you ran away, I lost a piece of myself.”

“Brains!” she said, which translated loosely as, I’m wearing a wire, Everett.

“What do you mean you’re wearing a wire?” he asked.

“Brrrrrains!”—What do you mean, what do I mean? The police have already arrived, and you are going to jail for what you’ve done. It took me years to realize it, but you’re the monster, not me. Now don’t struggle.

The door to the laboratory burst open. Waves of gun-toting police filed in, barking for him to hit the floor and put his hands behind his back. Dr. Edmunds refused. Though he always suspected this day might come, he somehow thought he’d be the one to betray himself, not his dear Camilla.

Everett ran into the cage, slammed the door, pressed in tightly with his zombies, and bellowed, “Take me now, my beauties!”

But his zombies ignored him. In fact, they paid him no more attention than Camilla paid basic rules of variative syntax. This, of course, was the real tragedy. For if they didn’t want to eat his delicious, fertile, exceptional brain … well maybe he wasn’t so exceptional after all. The police urged Camilla to yank him from the cage. She did so and they placed him in handcuffs.

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles, doc,” said one of the officers, brutish man with coffee stains on his uniform.

“How dare you!” Everett spat. “If they ever ate an imbecile like you, I’d burn my diplomas!”

The cops led him from his home. After reading his miranda rights on the street, they gathered around their police cruisers and watched Night of the Living Dead on a smart phone. Camilla wept softly from afar. Movie looked so fake.

Braaaains.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

_______________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any “Bowlesian!” story segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it entertaining, please share.


Bowlesian! – Jack the Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis

Jack the Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, available on Amazon now.


{CLICK}
Welcome back to mysecretdiary.com, Jackson! Your personal online diary is open and ready for more secrets!

January 18
Mood: sad
Outlook: cloudy with a chance of misery
Jackson Palmer ain’t my name no more. I realized that today, diary. Pissed me off royally. They been calling me Jack the Hammer for nearly twenty years. Twenty goddamn years! Frustrating. Infuriating. I fix problems for people. Pretty good at it, too. Least I used to be. Mafia, Triad, I don’t judge. But what’s a hard case like me to do when I’m the one in need of fixing?
Here’s my secret for today, diary: I been doing this lousy work so long, I often forget there’s places out there where nobody gets shot, or extorted, or wrapped up in garbage bags and dumped in the Hudson River.
You should see what they been saying about me over on thugieslist.com.

{CLICK}
Welcome to thugieslist.com, the world’s premier consumer review site for mafia thugs, hit men, and muscle. You have selected to display the latest reviews for Hoboken, New Jersey’s Jackson “Jack the Hammer” Palmer.

wiseguyforlife36
Jack the Hammer is a total joke. I used to like the guy. I used to respect him like crazy. But he’s gone soft. There just ain’t no getting through to the guy. I specifically told him to keep an eye out.
“Jack,” I says to him. “You stay in the car and keep an eye out. Rosco and I will make the deal.”
So me and my boy Rosco went to make the deal, only the deal went south. They started shooting at us. We shot back. Rosco and I high-tailed it to the car.
“What the shit is this?” says Rosco.
Shit you not, Jack the Hammer was napping behind the wheel! You believe that? KEE-RIST!
One star for services NOT rendered!

collegegradmike
gradulated comunity college with Jack. hlped me improv my english, He’s an ok dood I guess. but I hav to say, the guys lost his edge. Same dood worked muscle for Boss DiMaggio for 17 yers. Imagine that guy going soFt! Its like he dont care no more. Not a profeshinal. Real slippery eel. and have you sen his face LaTeley? Talk about an major SKIN CONDITION! 2 stars.

{CLICK}
Welcome back to mysecretdiary.com, Jackson!
Diary,
I got two fists like Texas T-bones. Got a pendant for Saint George and a rosary around my neck. Got a stomach ulcer so big and bad it’s got its own mailing address.
Had to work over Ricky the Rat today. Poor old Rick was a broken, bloody wad of hamburger before I was through with him. I brought him down to the meat plant ‘cause the boss said to tenderize him.
He cried, “Don’t hit me no more, Jack!” and, “Not in the face! Mother of chicken lasagna, not in the goddamn face!”
But I couldn’t help myself. Used to have better control, you know?
“Look at you!” I said. “Bet you think you look better than me, Rick. So damn handsome. So debonair. I got a skin condition, understand?” I socked him in the eye. “I got a skin condition!” I slammed his head into a big suspended steer carcass.
“Awwwwooooow! You’re crazy, man! You’re fucking crazy! You look fine!”
Horse shit! Most people’re so flashy. Know what I’m saying? So damn flashy and sassy. And me. Look at me. Grade A, prime-cut loser. With a side of special loser sauce. And loser steak fries. So you can dip the fries into the . . .
Ah, what does it matter?
I worked old Ricky over pretty good. Too good, actually. The boss gets one good look at him and says, “I can’t use him like this. Poor bastard ought to be in traction.”
I could’a been a doctor, you know? Or even like a politician. Governor Palmer. Senator Palmer. The Hammer always got so much respect. But what if I don’t want to be the Hammer no more? Ah, hell, what if I don’t even know who the Hammer is?

Incoming message from friendtracker.com instant messaging

{CLICK}
—Jackson? Are you online?
Yeah.
—Payment didn’t come through, Jackson.
Jesus, doc, you know I’m good for it.
—I know you’ve been good for it in the past. I also know you’re having an existential meltdown at the moment.
So what if I am?
—Jackson, we’ve talked about this. Anger is always healthy. But what do we say about rage?
Come on, doc . . .
—Jackson, reinforcement is key. It really is. What do we say about rage?
You can’t spell discourage without rage.
—And?
You also can’t spell discourage without disco.
—And?
Disco is the prefix of both disconnect and discord.
—And?
Christ, doc, I gotta tell you, it gets fuzzy for me after that.
—Hmph. That figures. Where the fuck’s my money, Jackson?
Yeesh. I’ll get it to you.
—Huh?
I said I’ll get it to you. Next week. All right? Fair enough? Aren’t psychiatrists supposed to be, you know, more nurturing than this?
—Perhaps. Most psychiatrists don’t pay alimony to three different women, though. Good afternoon, Jackson. Onward towards mental stability!

{CLICK}
I think the doc means business this time, diary. I wonder how my cash reserve situation is looking.

{CLICK}
First Bank of Hoboken Online Branch: we are open and ready to serve you, Jackson.
Checking: $4.21
Savings: $0.02
We notice your funds are a bit low. Consider applying for a personal loan today!

{CLICK}
Note to self: sigh

{CLICK}
Welcome back to thugieslist.com. Previously viewed profile loaded.

DarthToughGuy
Hang on, hang on, hang the frig on. You guys want to tell me you’ve got nothing good to say about old Jack? Nothing at all? Hell, man, I’ll go to the mat for him. Maybe’s the guy’s lost his edge—and I ain’t saying he ain’t—but whatever’s bothering him right now, he’ll get it sorted out. Trust me. I grew up with Jack. Some’a youse wise guys know that 😉
He was a good kid, man. Good to his mom, good to his friends and his baby sister. He was smart. Real smart. I mean, his dad was a loser—put the belt to the poor guy, oh, three, four times a week—but I really do think Jack’s done well to make the best of a bad situation. How many of you bellyachers has this man bent over backwards for? How many times, whether you invited him to or not, has he bailed your assess out and pulled your scorching nutsacks from the proverbial fire?
When the boss says push a button on a guy, good old Jackie pushes the button. When the boss says take out that armored car containing kilo after glorious kilo of White Bunk, hell, man, he’s the only guy on the job don’t powder his own nose. We go way back, Jackie and me. He’s never let me down. At least, he never used to.

collegegradmike
earth to DarthToughGuy: Up yours, DINGUS LICKER! I don’t give a holy SHIZ whts “bothering” Jack. darth, plese. the guys a expert screw up! I wus with him the other day, Freakshow started crying in the middle of Dr. Hoo. I mean, we wer just sitting there, watching Dr. Hoo, and the looser starts bawlin like a little girl! I askd him what was wrong and all, Jack just wipes his eyes and says, “watch you’re fcking Dr. Hoo! Stop asking so many stoopid fcking questions!”
Fcker totoally ruined BBC nite with THE DOCTOR! Wht a jerk! My 2 star review has been downgraded to a very pissed off 1 STAR!

{CLICK}
Welcome to jobfisher.com! Reinvigorate your life with a new career from JobFisher today!
Search listings for: “thug” AND “hired gun” AND “gentle heart” AND “good with children”
Searching . . .
No jobs found.

{CLICK}
DarthToughGuy
Listen here, collegegradmike, you don’t know jack about Jack!

collegegradmike
I know he shits all ovr Dr. Hoo! Thats what I know!

{CLICK}
I just can’t understand where my life went off the rails, diary.
Yeah, I cry. Ain’t no shame in that. Show me a guy who don’t cry at all, and I’ll show you a real cold fish. My old man never cried. Not in front of me, anyhow. I am absolutely convinced he never shed a single tear in his life, neither.
I’m drinking too much. Maybe that’s the problem. What was that country song from back in the day? Beer full’a tears or some crap? Something like that?
Don’t know. Don’t care.
Hey, I got reasons to cry, all right? I got some shit wrong with my life. And I don’t just cry every once in a while. I cry a lot. More than a lot. I cry all the damn time. I’m a wreck. I’m a time bomb. I’m a—
Hold on. Pizza’s here.
. . . . . .
You see what I mean? You see how I just demolished that entire pizza by myself? Who the fuck does that? ‘Cept fer like chicks on the rag and super fat dudes and—
Aw, man, what the fuck is wrong with me!

Incoming message from friendtracker.com instant messaging

{CLICK}
—Jackson, it’s your psychiatrist again. 2nd wife late on Jaguar payment. Next week not soon enough. Going to need that money from you, guy. Pay up.

{CLICK}
DarthToughGuy
Hey, collegegradmike, go fuck yourself! How ’bout that, wise-ass? Go fuck yourself, you fucking SKIN FLUTE GUZZLER!

collegegradmike
Hey, fck you, pal! Fck you and fck you’re fcking hole lcking stupid fck face!

DarthToughGuy
Really? That’s nice. Umm, how old are you?

collegegradmike
the Fck dose it matter how fcking old I am?! Old enogh to stick a fcking candelabra up your fcking ace and lite it on fire with a fcking WWII flame throwr!

{CLICK}
Stop, STOP, STOP!
It’s too much craziness, diary. It’s too much insanity. Is a little peace and calm too hard to come by these days? Is catching just one goddamn break every now and then?
When I was kid, man, oh, I had everything figured out. I knew what the world was. Better yet, I knew who I was. How come I was so much wiser then? How come I feel so stupid now?
I’m forty-nine years old. I have no children. I have no significant other. Hell, man, most of the time I don’t even have a proper pad to crash at. I had chances to be happy. I had shots at the golden mile. But I blew ’em. Each and every last one of them. I feel ugly. I feel old. I hate myself so much it’s hard to breathe sometimes.
Ugh.
I guess you don’t understand.
‘Cause you’re just a stupid online diary.
And I substitute you for actual human companionship.
And I’m acting like some lovesick-puppy sixteen-year-old girl
Ugh.
Well that’s it. That’s decided. No more fucking around. Here we go.

{CLICK}
Welcome to jobfisher.com! Search listings for “entry level” AND “on-job training” AND “good with children” AND

{CLICK}
No, no, you know what, diary?

{CLICK}
Welcome to partyoftwo.com, the hottest spot for relationship hunting on the WWW!
Search for: “40’s-something” AND “warm personality” AND “generous spirit” AND

{CLICK}
No, that’s not it either, diary. A chick is the last thing I need right now. I know what I have to do. I know how to get my life back on track.

{CLICK}
First Bank of Hoboken Online Branch: consider applying for a personal loan today!
{CLICK}
You have selected Apply for a Personal Loan. Do you wish to continue?
{CLICK}
. . . Processing . . .
. . . Processing . . .
Personal loan approved! Congratulations, Jackson!

{CLICK}
Doc, are you still there?
—I am
Good
—You got my money?
Yeah, doc. Payment’ll be on your way real soon.

{CLICK}
Welcome to contractkillers.net!
We make people disappear, capicé?™
Search for: “Hoboken” AND “psychiatrist hit” AND “money no object” AND “make it hurt”

{CLICK}
You know something, diary? Maybe all I need is a little house cleaning. It’s not like anybody’ll be able to trace it back to me.
It all comes around. It all comes around, man. Where you been, Jackson? Where you been hiding?
Just like that, diary, I am feeling much, much better. 🙂

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

_______________________________________________________________________

Want to be sure not to miss any “Bowlesian!” story segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it entertaining, please share.


Bowlesian! – Itsies

Itsies

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Brave New Multiverse, available on Amazon now.


I introduced Pamela to my itsy on our first date. Oh I know, most people wait until their second or third, but I really liked Pamela. Straight away I could tell we were going to hit it off.

“I’m glad we decided to do this,” I told her.

She narrowed her eyes, “Why is your itsy dressed like a teddy bear?”

My itsy was dressed like a teddy bear. Head to toe, fluffy ears, fluffy tail, round little tummy. It was his favorite outfit. I wasn’t going to tell him he couldn’t wear it.

Itsies aren’t really people. They look and act like people, and they definitely do have minds of their own, but they’re more like little mini extensions of ourselves, you know what I mean? Like my itsy, I call him Tug. He looks exactly like me. That’s pretty common. Itsies live on the tops of people’s heads and sleep in their hair. They spend most of the day under their hats.

My hat was off just then, sitting there on our table. I supposed Pamela wasn’t quite ready to take her own hat off.

I smiled at her, beamed at her, actually. I said to Tug, “Don’t be rude, Tug. Say hello to Pamela.”

Tug said, “Fuck yourself!”

I sighed. “Now Tug, you know I don’t like that language.”

“Fuck it! You introduce me!” His voice was high, squeaky, a shrill, keening falsetto. “You promised me cookies! Give me my cookies or I’ll eat Pamela alive!”

I sighed again, reached into my pocket to retrieve a miniature box of animal crackers. I set the crackers atop my head. Tug started noshing and gobbling. I felt a sense of calm wash over me as he did.

“Are you sure you want to keep him out like that?” said Pamela.

I glanced around the restaurant. My favorite Vietnamese place. Really good phở and bánh mì sandwiches. Rich, mouthwatering smell of seared beef and pork. Portraits on the walls of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. The only other customers, an old white man and an old white woman, struggled with chop sticks and rice noodles in a corner booth.

“Do you think anybody minds?” I said.

Pamela shrugged. “I don’t. Only, you know, if he eats too much his stomach is liable to explode. That sort of thing can happen, you know. He might get the wrong idea, surrounded by all this food.”

“More cookies!” said Tug.

I gave him another box of animal crackers.

“So um, Tom,” said Pamela, “how do you like working for my father?”

I met Pamela at her father’s office. High-powered advertising, ads for humans and itsies alike. I was low man on the totem pole. I’d stared at Pamela’s picture on his desk for months before I actually saw her in person. Those deep brown eyes, those full, pouty lips.

I sat there studying her face and caught myself imagining waterfalls, thunderstorms, exploding geysers. Things wet. Things loud and gushing.

“Tom wants to fuck you,” said Tug.

“Tug!”

“It’s true, Tom. You’re not fooling anyone. Hey lady, how many cookies you think I can fit in my mouth?”

“I … I don’t know,” said Pamela.

“A fistful. That’s how many. Watch.”

Then Tug made more noshing, gobbling sounds. I felt another wave of calm wash over me, even though I knew my face must’ve been five shades redder.

“Pamela, listen …”

“It’s okay, Tom,” she said. “If human beings were any good at saying what they really want, God never would have given us itsies to begin with.”

“I guess so.”

“And I’m flattered.”

“You are?”

Pamela sighed. “Well you know, my father being who he is. Most guys just pine for me and never bother to ask me out. Oh, I hope I didn’t sound full of myself just then. They pine. They just do, you know?”

“I do know,” I said.

She shook her head. “So either I don’t get dates at all, or I get to date the really crazy ones who think their tiny little men are God’s gift.”

“I don’t think my tiny little man is God’s gift. I’m nothing special. He isn’t anything special, either. My tiny little man’s only a few inches tall. He’s so tiny–“

“We are still talking about your itsy, right?” said Pamela.

“The point, Pam, is that even though I’ve got a few shortcomings, whatever the cost, whatever it takes, I made the decision to always be brave and to be the kind of man I am meant to be.”

“Hmm. I like that. When did you make that decision?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“I decided it the moment I laid eyes on you.”

Pamela smiled. “That’s sweet.”

* * * * *

I didn’t know it at the time, but Pamela was a very unhappy woman. She hadn’t always been. She was sunny when she was younger, the most positive person in the room. Just lately, as the years had begun to mount up, and forty was suddenly closer than thirty, failed relationship after failed relationship had left her feeling damaged, marooned, poisonous and poisoned

She’d gotten into feeding her itsy late night snacks. Our little men and our little women don’t come with instruction manuals. God gave them to us. Or evolution or whatever. We come screaming from the womb. Our itsies come screaming after. If God did it, it was because he understood men and women are masters of self-deception. If it was evolution, then nature randomly selected humans to have a miniature rude version of themselves camped out on the tops of their heads.

Anyway, bad things happen when you feed itsies late night snacks. Pamela knew this. Even so, cold fried chicken, piece for her, piece for her itsy. Double pepperoni, double cheese pizza. Everything double. She was ordering for two, after all.

Thing about feeding an itsy is, it makes you feel better. Makes you calmer, tames the beast. They are the id. The inner child which dwells deep inside, that which is never at peace, always lusting, always wanting more and more and more.

* * * * *

We ate our meals. We talked and joked. At some point Tug said, “It’s half past a baboon’s bright red ass.” And we both knew it was time to go home.

On the sidewalk, we hugged.

“I had a nice time,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” Pamela replied.

“You mean it?”

She laughed. “I do mean it.”

“Walk you to your car?”

“Sure.”

Brown and yellow leaves crunched beneath our feet as we huddled together and crossed to the sidewalk. A harvest moon shone high above the tops of buildings. It was autumn in the city. A cold breeze blew and Pamela scrunched herself down into her Barbour jacket.

“I’m glad you asked me out, Tom,” she said.

“Yeah, me too. Would you like to do it again?”

“I would.”

“I know this great Greek place over on–Oh my god, that woman is crushing that car!”

“What?”

“Over there! The parking lot! That woman is–“

“Oh, shit.”

“–crushing that car and she’s–“

“That’s no woman, Tom,” said Pamela

“It isn’t?!” I exclaimed.

Tug rustled around under my ball cap. “Let me see!”

“Petunia!” Pamela shrieked. “I told you to stay at home!”

Petunia? Dear Lord. She was eight feet tall and had more muscles than human beings are supposed to have. Only she wasn’t a human being. Thigh muscles, neck muscles, rippling biceps, triceps, sheening and glossy, bare breasts of muscle, even her head seemed like it was one big, veiny, throbbing muscle.

“Oh Tom, what you must think of me.” Pamela said.

“She’s crushing that car.”

“That’s my car.”

“And she is way too big for that pair of underwear.”

“That’s my underwear, too. Oh Tom, I am so embarrassed.”

Petunia looked like Pamela coated in liquid Schwarzenegger. She was lying on her side on top of the car, eating a chicken. Not a piece of chicken. Not a cooked chicken, either. Petunia was stuffing a whole live chicken into her face. It clucked and screamed and fought like a little chicken champ.

Petunia bellowed, “Down the hatch!” And then, the chicken disappeared.

Pamela ran to her.

“Bad girl, Petunia!” she said. “That’s a bad, bad girl!”

Petunia belched and grew a whole foot taller. Pamela’s car crunched and all four tires popped.

Pop! Pop, pop, pop!

Big Petunia made a queasy face. “Was that me? I think that was me.”

“No it wasn’t you!” said Pamela. “If it was you, the shockwave would’ve killed us all!”

My mouth hung open. My eyes were wide like Vietnamese noodle bowls.

I heard Tug say, “Damnit, man, let me see her!”

The ball cap popped off my head. Tug gasped.

“That’s a whole lotta woman!” His tiny hands and feet dug into my scalp.

I stooped, grabbed my hat, and made my way to Pamela and nudged her with an arm.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why are you wearing your hat if you left your itsy at home?”

Pamela shook her head. Her eyes glistened in the harsh orange neon light. “Oh Tom, I am just so ashamed. I fed her and fed her, and she just ate and ate, and she hasn’t stopped eating, not in weeks. I just wanted to feel good for a damn change.”

“Weeks?” I said. “You’ve been feeding her for weeks?”

Pamela wiped her eyes. “I know you think I’m this awesome person. I know everybody thinks that. I’m just not.”

“Pamela …” I said. I wrapped her in a hug.

Petunia rose onto her knees, car metal creaking and glass shattering to sparkling pellets. She grimaced at me, pointed one long veiny finger. “Hey you! Lover boy! Hands off the merchandise!”

“Me?” I said.

“Did I fucking stutter? You! You wormy little bedsheet stain! You and your miniscule, worthless, man-doll of an itsy!”

Tug shrieked. “She means me! She knows I exist! How do I look? Is my teddy bear costume on straight?”

“Petunia, stop,” said Pamela. “I’m sorry, Tom. She’s a bit roided-out at the moment.”

“Roided-out!” said Petunia. “You ain’t seen me roided-out. Not yet, sister.”

She hopped to her feet and stepped off Pamela’s car. Thud. She dwarfed us. My eyes were level with her enormous, erect, inch-long nipples. Big Petunia took her head in her hands. She cracked her neck left, cracked it right. She slammed her fist into her palm. Again. Again. It made a loud, solid thocking sound. Thock. Thock. Thock.

I stared at that fist. I was dumbstruck. Couldn’t think of a word to say. Pamela pulled away from me. Her eyes darted from me to Petunia. Nobody said a thing. Just that heavy thock, thock, thock.

“Gah!” said Tug. “I can’t take it anymore! Do it! I need to see you in action!”

“Tug,” I said, “you’re not helping.”

“Not trying to help, you human gutter ball! God, I need to see you in action. Oh, it’s killing me!”

“Killing you?” said Petunia. “Little man, down the hatch you go.”

She plucked Tug off my head, clutched his body between a massive finger and a mighty thumb.

“No, don’t!” screamed Pamela.

But it was too late. Petunia ate Tug. Swallowed him whole. Gulp and then, he was gone.

“Now it’s your turn, lover boy!” she said.

She took hold of my arm and lifted me up by it until we were mouth to mouth and eyelash to eyelash.

I’m not going to lie. Fear took hold and I thought I might cry or scream or piss my pants. But instead, I took a moment and told myself a few choice words. You decided to always be brave. The moment you laid eyes on Pamela, you decided to be the man you were meant to be.

I hocked a wad of phlegm and spat in Petunia’s eye. She wiped it away, glared at me, then grinned.

“Mistake number two, lover boy,” she said.

Pamela beat against her, slamming impotent fists at her itsy’s taut, flexing abdominal muscles. She kept screaming, “You monster! You monster!” But Petunia paid her no attention. Her eyes cooked me like sliced beef in scalding-hot Vietnamese broth. Breath stinking like rotten chicken corpses and little itsy men.

“You listen here,” she said. “No man is good enough for my Pam. No man, not nowhere, not no-how. You don’t think I know what you are, lover boy? You don’t think I know you’ll hurt her like all the rest?”

Pamela was shrieking now. “Stop! I said stop it!”

“She feeds me so she’ll be happy,” said Petunia, cheeks red and quivering with barely suppressed rage. “She feeds me so pukes like you can’t touch her no more. I am going to eat you now. And you are going to let me do it. I like my meat raw. I like it tenderized.”

“Stop making threats,” I said. “If you’re going to eat me, go on and–“

She wrapped her arm around my waist. She wound me up, and then she threw me clear across the parking lot.

I was airborne. A million thoughts occurred at once.

No more id.

No more inner child.

God, he was a rotten little itsy.

God, he was just awful, wasn’t he?

Yeah, but he was my rotten little–

I crashed through the plate glass window of the ticket booth at the end of the parking lot.

I went through up to my waist. My legs caught on the glass. I felt a knifing kind of pain. Lacerations. The feeling of being cut to pieces. I screamed.

Petunia stomped over to the booth. She stuck her head through the window. “Oh, you big baby! It’s just a scratch.”

But I could see blood, and I could feel that knifing, that gouging, those lacerations.

“Big baby! Big baby!” she said. “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about.”

She reached through and clamped a hand down over my head. Bam! She slammed my head against the concrete floor. Blam! She did it again. Boom! One more time.

I saw stars and moons and clucking chickens taking flight, flying like real birds, all around my head. And I saw my itsy, poor little Tug. I saw chicken beaks biting into him. Saw chicken teeth chomping on his little brains.

I mumbled, “Chicken teeth.”

Petunia leaned further into the booth. “Huh?”

“Do … chickens … have teeth?”

“Don’t think so, champ.” And then Petunia broke my arm.

Snap!

I howled and spat and spoke in tongues.

Pamela crept up behind Petunia. She jabbed at her with a tire iron.

“You leave my man alone!” she said.

She used the prying crowbar end like a mafia hitman might use an icepick, sliding it into Petunia’s ear. Seemed like Pamela was trying to scramble her itsy’s brains. Then again, it also seemed like the world was falling away from me and growing browner and browner and more and more like nap time yes into the sticky syrup, captain I soiled myself I apologize most sincerely must be dying, please sew my coffin from clean undies.

The brain scrambling thing didn’t work. Petunia wrenched the tire iron from her ear. It was coated in blood, but the big girl was still on her feet.

“Pamela!” she said. “Oh, so we’re calling him your man now?”

Petunia backhanded her. Pamela flew from view.

“I have had it with you, Pam,” Petunia bellowed. “I have absolutely had it! Shit! Fuck it! Let’s eat!”

She tore off my shoe, my sock, and then she stuck my whole foot in her mouth. She bit down. Took a few toes.

It didn’t hurt like I expected. In fact, I felt kind of good. Yes, suddenly, inexplicably, very comfortable and very calm. The face she made was indecipherable. Maybe it was all the glistening muscles. It was the kind of expression a person wears when they’re concentrating really hard. Or maybe the kind of expression a person wears when they drink too much soda and have surgery, bubbly-pain like diving ocean deep and emerging with the bends. She made that face, then she spat the rest of my foot out.

“Oh,” she said, and then again, “Oh.”

Blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.

She said, “Oh.”

And then her stomach exploded. Blood, guts, muscles, chickens, it all burst out like a cheap New Year’s popper loaded with Halloween gore.

Pop!

And it splattered me like sopping red confetti.

A tiny voice said, “See? You see that? Ate too much. You gotta watch that, sister.”

Petunia slumped against the ticket booth. A little man, my little man, emerged from the carnage-crater that was her stomach.

“Tug?” I said.

Petunia’s dead, twitching eyes stared right at me.

“Yeah, boss?” Tug ate a chunk of something small and pink. He was covered in blood, a few inches taller than when Petunia had swallowed him. His teddy bear suit had ripped and popped its seams.

“Stop eating,” I mumbled.

“Yeesh, boss, you look rough.”

“Stop eating. For God’s sake, stop eating.”

“Huh? Why the hell should I stop? It’s delicious. That girl was well fed, man.”

Every time he took a bite, I felt it, that calmness and warmth. It was nice. Felt better than the pain. Even so, I mumbled, “Tug, you have got to stop eating.”

I was powerless to stop him. Couldn’t move. I was bleeding to death and I knew it.

“Well maybe I don’t want to stop,” said Tug. “Maybe I’m sick to death of taking orders from you. Yeah, you know what? I think we need a regime change. I think I ought to be the one calling the–“

Pamela snatched the chunk of Petunia from his hands and smacked him upside the head.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said.

“Hey, I was eating that!”

She smacked him again.

“And don’t talk back. I’ve had enough of disobedient itsies to last a lifetime.”

Tug shouted, “Who the hell do you think you–“

She smacked him.

“Goddamnit, quit smacking me!”

She raised her hand for another.

“All right! All right!” he said. “Nasty woman! Nasty!”

“Go get in my car. The crushed one. Bring me my cell phone. We need to call an ambulance. Treat you like I should’ve treated her.”

Tug grumbled and swore, but he obeyed nonetheless. Once he was gone, Pamela carefully picked her way over the broken glass, past the ruined, bloody form of her former itsy, and through the window until she was crouching beside me.

“Oh Tom,” she said. “I am so sorry.”

“S’okay,” I said.

“No, it’s not okay. I created a monster. Oh what a mess. Tom, I am so, so sorry.”

“Yer’kay?” I said.

“What? I didn’t hear you.”

“Asked r’you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Itser’s dead.”

Pamela sighed. “I know. I feel kind of empty now. No, that’s not right. I feel full. Way, way too full. Like I’ve got all this emotion now and I don’t know where to put it, how to choke it down. You know what I mean?”

“No,” I said.

“Tom? Stay with me, now. Keep your eyes open. Tom, you’ve earned your second date.”

Eyelids were heavy. I tried to smile at her, but it was so hard, so hard.

“S’cond date?”

“That’s right, Tom. Second date. Just survive for me, okay?”

“‘Kay.”

“Okay?”

“‘Kay.”

I survived. Of course I did. How else would I be telling you this story? I underwent months of hospitalization and rehab and all that stuff. Learning to cope with fewer toes and all. All that horrible hospital food really made me slim down. Tug slimmed down, too. He got regular-sized again. We had a nice long talk about why it’s okay to eat animal crackers but not okay to, for instance, eat whole live chickens or people’s internal organs.

I had my second date with Pamela. And my third and fourth. She’s not the same since her itsy died. She’s tense, a bundle of nerves. She goes to this support group now for people whose itsies have died prematurely. Sometimes it seems like it helps. Sometimes not. There’s a whole population of people in this world who no longer have the means to quell and suppress the pain in their lives. You know what she said while we were snuggling on the couch the other night?

“I feel so horrible all the time now. How do I cope without her?”

“How any of us copes,” I said. “You’ve got me now. I’ll be your itsy if you need me to be.”

She smiled at me. “My Dad was right about you. He said that Tom guy, he’s a good one, Pam. You should hang on to that guy.”

“Smart man. Brilliant, actually.”

We leaned in for a deep kiss.

Tug hopped off my head and started kicking at Pamela’s scalp.

“No kissing! Last time you kissed him, you didn’t put out! I will eat you. Do you hear me? I will eat you alive!”

Pamela flicked him across the room. I didn’t do anything about it. Kissing Pam was so much better than feeding the id.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Bowlesian! – Godling: Part II

Godling: Part II

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Godling and Other Paint Stories, available on Amazon now. We published Part I of Godling last month on Writing to be Read. You can find it here.


A part of Godling was aware the two black lumps lying in the darkness had been silent and still precisely 2.234 minutes. If they were sleeping, they most certainly were not dreaming. Which was just as well. Godling was doing enough dreaming for the both of them.

His memory banks refreshed again. She was there as if Godling could touch her. Jossinda, queen of his universe. Her smooth, lithesome sway; the sensual intelligence lurking behind her hazel eyes; and of course, the final words they’d spoken to each other.

“I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

“Quickly, my friends,” Renaldo said. “Awake, awake.”

Godling became aware Renaldo hovered over him in the darkness of the Black Room. The abbot warden jabbed the raw, sparking end of a hazer-stunner into Brennan’s back. Godling felt the hot lancing voltage. Brennan screamed. He leapt to his feet.

“Faith preserve us!” he moaned.

The prison’s hazy green lights flickered, warmed, and then settled into a steady glow. As Renaldo woke Ressia in a similarly excruciating manner, Godling realized the abbot warden may not have been as stupid as he’d always seemed. He’d not painted Ressia and Brennan so Godling could control them. He’d painted them so they could control Godling.

His heart had always been a kind of magnetic base for his consciousness. The paint was entirely repurposed now. Perception dispatching elements nullified due to the layering effect, perception receiving elements perfectly stratified and even slightly enhanced. The details only served to infuriate Godling. The simple truth of it was he had long ago closed the Black Room precisely because he’d feared something like this could happen. His mind, his body, his paint, his black liquid heart. Godling had been tricked into believing both Ressia and Brennan were his rightful bodies.

Now the two young lovers were naked and jet black head to toe, and when they moved, Godling moved with them. When they leaned against one another in sheer exhaustion, he felt the sensations of their heaving chests and the sweat collecting on their arms and necks as if with his own organic skin.

“Utterly perverse,” he muttered. His voice made the circuit matter vibrate over every square inch of them.

“Oof!” Ressia chirped, and even Godling was surprised by how it felt.

“Human vibrathreads,” said Renaldo. “I anticipated it might be a result.”

“Result? That’s the word you’re choosing?” Godling fumed. “How about abomination? Or disgrace? Did you really think it sensible to interface with the truest king of all in such a reckless manner?”

“Godling, please, you’re still my prisoner. I’ve simply exchanged one set of holding cells for another. You should thank me. You haven’t asked why we’ve done this.”

“That’s because I don’t care.”

“We know the truth about you, god machine,” Brennan said. “The wars, the massacres. We know it’s nothing you intended.”

“Is that so?” said Godling. “And I suppose you’d have me believe you’ve risked your lives for nothing at all but a fantasy? I was responsible for those wars. I murdered millions. See here the fruits of my labor? A prison built on foundations of millennia, ransacked now by two fool children and a bald-headed fop.”

Renaldo laughed. “You can stop pretending, Godling. We do in fact know everything. I found it, and I asked it myself. You know very well what it is.”

Sudden harsh voices filled the access tunnel outside the Black Room, gruff and full of violence.

“Step lightly men! We got ‘em trapped like rats!”

“Kill the monster where he sleeps!”

Another voice rose above these. Godling recognized it in an instant.

“They’re cornered, men. Take your time. Line up your shots. We want nice clean bodies to show the whore’s father.”

General Praebus, the man who’d hijacked his vibrathreads. Godling expected the lovers to panic, but they didn’t. Pupil dilation well within ranges concurrent to moderate stress. Heart rates elevated, but not in the extreme.

“We prepared for this, my young friends,” said the Timekeeper.

With that, they stepped in front of Renaldo, and these two helpless, hapless children dropped into surprisingly sophisticated hand-to-hand combat stances. General Praebus and his men appeared up the corridor, their machine rifles and mortar shot locked and leveled. Praebus spotted the children and bellowed, “Open fire!”

Brennan and Ressia launched themselves from the Black Room, bounding off the balls of their feet, touching off against the walls. They crisscrossed past each other. A hail of bullets ripped and zipped past them, but they closed the distance with stunning speed. Brennan landed with his palm to the neck of a gunner sergeant, but Ressia careened right past her target and skidded down the corridor. Three footmen leveled their rifles at her back and fired. Without thinking, Godling forced the black circuit matter to stiffen. Bounce, bounce, ricochet, bounce. All three footmen fell to the floor dead.  

Ressia got to her feet and drew her hands to her back. She was unwounded.

“Godling, did you just…?”

“Yes, I believe I did.”

“Thank you.”

Godling took a punch, a solid right jab to the ribs. No, it wasn’t Godling who took the jab. It was Brennan. Both he and Godling grunted, but Godling was quicker to react. Another jab came for Brennan’s face, but Godling pulled the same trick, surrounded and concentrated the circuit matter. When the blow landed, he heard the distinct cracking of finger bones.

The owner of the hand shrieked. It was General Praebus himself, a sweaty, red-faced mountain of a man. He balled the hand in agony, made the other into a fist and swung.

“Boy, solar plexus!” Godling said.

Brennan hit the General the instant Godling focused the circuit matter into a ridge of raised knuckles. Praebus flew back, landing like a ragdoll on a pile of men. He huffed and snorted and passed out cold. The third mounted army paused for one panicked instant, and then they scrambled to heft and pull him back. They pitched a half-hearted assault after that, but the sight of their fallen commander seemed to dull any notion they’d had of victory. The three of them—Brennan, Ressia, and Godling—jabbed and kicked and hammered until what was left of King Marshal’s raid party cried for retreat and scrambled back the way they’d come.

*****

“Did you see what happened?” said Ressia. “That soldier kept firing into my chest and Godling absorbed—”

“And the one with the mortar shot,” said Brennan. “I was on fire a full twenty seconds and I never felt—”   

“Children, please,” Godling interrupted. “I believe the abbot warden was explaining why I deserve my newfound freedom.”

Isolation, of course, was the root of the planet’s moniker, Isolinius. According to Renaldo, there were reasons the word Ancient was always applied to Spacefarers, reasons wars over petty things like failed betrothals happened at least once a decade, if not twice.

“It’s no large mystery, is it?” the abbot warden said. “Humanity is lost without your steady hand, Godling, and not a soul on this planet is better off with you locked away.”

Godling couldn’t help but laugh.

“Once again, a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” he said. “Now that I’m out and about, I can confidently say humanity has never looked better.”

They rode the vast open grasslands of the Isolinium plains. Great red tracts of Crimson Blade swayed in the breeze. The binary stars shone in orange and white-tinted splendor, but even they did nothing to distract from the true beauty of Isolinius, its seventeen moons, three of which were visible now. The preferred mode of travel on the planet, of course, was the ever-reliable Flitglider. But Renaldo had quite correctly surmised they’d be too easy to track darting around the sky, spewing long greasy trails of green and black smoke. So they instead chose for themselves the domestic breed of the artificial industrial Tri-Roller animal, otherwise known as a Beastwheeler.

“For instance,” Godling mused, “I find transportation in the modern era rather charming. I think I’ll call this one Nancy.”

“Can we please get on to the matter at hand?” Renaldo snapped. He whipped his reins, and after a deep, throbbing groan, the hairy industrial creature’s three large fur-and-callus covered wheels picked up speed.

“I think, humbly speaking, hallowed one,” Ressia said, “that you should stop picking on Renaldo and listen to what he has to say.”

The lovers sat in the low hairy hauling bed, the overriding musky scent of which was rather … florid. Godling had had more than enough time to observe the pecking order of the three humans, and understood, most unambiguously, that the two children would only come to the abbot warden’s defense if and when it suited them.

“It’s a very simple scenario,” Renaldo said. “The Gods created man, man created Godling, Godling ruled over man—”

“Until man decided genocide was in fact the worst case ever made for machines ruling anything,” said Golding. “Yes, I remember quite well.”

 “All your bloody campaigns, Godling, tragic though they were, had nothing of the import of what came before and after.”

“And what came before?” said Godling.

Renaldo sat up straighter in his driver box. “An explosion in human development. The expansion of our minds, the impetus and growth of a wise and compassionate galactic society, due in full to your guardianship and wisdom. God machine, human beings traveled the stars! We grew peaceful and curious. We at last became aware of ourselves, and we strived to leave behind something better for our children.”

“And what came after, abbot warden?” Godling asked.

“The exact opposite. As soon as you were imprisoned, space travel ceased. Humans isolated themselves on small, insignificant worlds. We forgot the virtues we’d fought so hard to earn. People like Praebus, King Marshal, their brutality and eagerness for violence, it’s mankind’s rule now, Godling, and not its exception.”

“And so you chose to forsake your wardenship, to free the monster king from his eternal prison?” said Godling.

“In a word, yes. What sane man could blame me? Brennan and Ressia are of like minds. The three of us have been planning this for months, but it is you, god machine, who must restore yourself to your rightful place.”

Godling pondered the sentiment. It wasn’t that Renaldo was necessarily wrong on all points. He simply had left out a rather significant detail.

“And this matter of genocide, Timekeeper?” said Godling. “Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve cracked a history vid, but they do still teach who was responsible, do they not?”

“They do,” said Renaldo.

“But it’s not the whole truth,” Brennan said. “Like we told you, god king, we know everything.”

“There you go again, using the word know as if it pertains to your rather diminutive primate brains. You, like all stupid children, know absolutely nothing. Now leave me alone so I can fantasize about ever more elaborate ways of ripping out your kidneys.”

“He won’t listen to reason, Renaldo,” said Ressia. “I think it’s time we show him.”

The abbot warden turned around. He glared at Ressia, his brow furrowed. “Are you certain?”

She nodded and looked to Brennan, who gave a deep frown and nodded in kind.

The abbot warden jerked his reins. There was another low, throbbing groan, and then the Beastwheeler pulled to a stop. Renaldo stood from the driver box and stepped into the bed. Gazing into Ressia and Brennan’s eyes, the abbot warden raised a finger and pointed off the way they’d come. There, Claustrum Mons towered over the landscape.

“You’ve been having errant memory recalls recently, haven’t you, Godling?” Renaldo said. “Sudden onset, coming out of nowhere, at the least opportune of times. Memory recalls specifically concerning … her.”

“How did you—”

“I gave them to you. I have access to your memory banks,” Renaldo said. “Every abbot warden of Claustrum Mons has had such access.”

He slid the administrator glove off his right hand. His fingers were painted a stark, brilliant white.

Hold on a moment … White paint? How in the hells had Renaldo gotten his hands on white

The abbot warden snapped his fingers. Ressia and Brennan jumped to their feet. He snapped his fingers again.

Godling fell back 5,000 years.

He found himself in two places at once, staring into the eyes of two different people. The one person, in the one place, was Ressia, daughter of King Stevrik III, standing in the bed of the Beastwheeler on the Isolinium plains. The second person and place … much harder to interpret. It was Jossinda, the queen of his universe. She lay with him on the marble floor of their royal palace, sprawled out in the throne room, panting, dripping with sweat after a long, passionate tryst. He, so large and cold; she, so small, warm, nubile….

They had only been married a year, but what a glorious year it had been. He’d felt vacant before her, even to himself, nothing more than an intelligent but ultimately soulless automaton. They’d always said the truest king of all could never fall in love, but Jossinda had proved, beyond any doubt, the god machine had a humanity all his own.

“My love,” she said to him, “I think there is a truer way, a better way.”

“A better way?” Godling said. “We’ve found the best way of all. Our subjects are happy and industrious, growing wiser all the time. There has never been a people so content.”

She grinned at him. “I think we have more to offer than mere contentment, don’t you?”

But no, this wasn’t Jossinda speaking to him of contentment. It was Ressia speaking to Brennan, and Brennan responding in haste. In the memory, Godling told her he didn’t understand, and Jossinda climbed to her feet and strode across the massive room to their large glossy golden thrones. She soon returned, carrying with her a small silver pot and a brush.

She said to Godling, “Here, my love, see what I’ve made for you?”

Godling took the pot from her and peered inside. “I doubt you’ve made this. Our engineers have been working on it for years.”

“And yet I found a way to finish it. Paint me, Godling, here and now, before I change my mind.”

His special white paint, the very first of its kind. Not sensory, and not for touch or locomotion. The idea behind the paint—Godling’s idea—was that its application to other less advanced machines would allow him to duplicate and transmit an autonomous part of his consciousness. Conceivably, there could one day be two god kings, or three, or twenty. But the paint itself had been an utter failure. Every machine to receive a coat of it had fried its circuit matter in less than a minute of functionality.

“I’ve discovered the secret, the one variable your engineers never thought of,” Jossinda said. “You’ve all been focused on creating additional Godling machines. But I have a better idea, merging the mind of Godling with the soul of a human being.”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He eyed his queen, deciding not to interrupt her.

“Think about it,” she said, “how perfect such a being would be. The sublime union of you and me. Why, the two of us together, we could make ourselves gods. True gods, not merely gods among men.”

“Are you referring to the concept of the New God?” he asked. “This is an impossible request, though I’m flattered you think me capable of such boldness. This notion we’ve had, that a significant eruptive force could merge—”

“I’m referring to perfection in the here and now. No ambiguity, nothing theoretical about it. And I’ve already proved it can be done.”

She turned and lifted her shimmering auburn hair away from her neck. There, over her vertebrae, she had painted a small white dot.

“Jossinda, you didn’t.”

She turned back. “And I’ve already received a partial transfer. Your plans for Rieleth’s third mountain harvest this cycle, they include an extra allocation of spider croppers, do they not?”

“How…?”

“While we were making love. Your mind, it tends to wander. I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

And then she dipped the brush into the pot and guided a long streak of white down between her breasts. He hesitated, but not for very long. Godling painted her. He loved her and trusted her. He had a single moment of frailty in all his long years. Now and then, he stopped to kiss her neck and giggle with her. Jossinda stood before him in the end, her entire naked body a stark, bright white.

“Do it, my love,” she said. “Change this universe forever.”

Godling began the transfer.

At ten percent, Jossinda’s eyes rolled up into her head. At fifteen, her body went limp, and Godling had to catch her falling. Twenty percent, Jossinda lay sprawled out on the floor, her limbs twitching, her mouth opening and closing in silent agony. Thirty percent, and Godling began to feel strange. He was not cloning himself or making a copy. He’d decided his queen would receive a piece of him that was unique and all its own.

At fifty percent, Jossinda began screaming. At fifty-five, Godling screamed with her. Fire, lighting, Godling felt his chest might explode. Sixty percent, sixty-five, seventy. He couldn’t stop it, couldn’t cut the transfer now. Godling went inside himself. A part of him was aware of the torment, but mostly he was aware of change. His notions darkened. A singular thought for blood wormed it’s way into his thoughts.

One-hundred percent. Transfer complete. Jossinda, his queen, his love, lay lifeless and cold on the pale marble floor.

Godling wasn’t there when his honor guard buried her. He’d already begun planning his brutal, murderous campaigns. The part of him he’d given to her, he never got it back. They called him monster king, and he deserved the name. His madness would cease after a few thousand years. The bloodlust would diminish and become little more than idle threats. But nothing could diminish the memory.

“God machine,” said Renaldo. “Godling, snap out of it.”

The screams, the screams. How could he ever stop the screams?

“Cycles of Perdition, Godling, come to your senses.”

Godling regained his mind. He was there in the Beastwheeler on the plains of Isolinius. Ressia and Brennan lay atop each other, unconscious but safe. The day was bright and clear. A stiff breeze blew and rustled a sea of wild crimson grass.

“Apologies, abbot warden,” Godling said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“I do. It’s a nasty trick we played on you, but believe me, it had to be done.”

“The white paint, how did you…?”

“The ancient abbot wardens reverse engineered it,” said Renaldo. “They added a control and command function to the standard transfer elements your engineers concocted. No one’s been stupid or brave enough to use it until I came along.”

“And the children, are they…?”

“They’re fine,” the abbot warden said. “Give them a few hours. They’ll be bounding off walls in no time. You see, Godling? History doesn’t tell the full story. When you lost that spark, you never were the same again.”

“But the things I did,” Godling said. “Just because I lost this piece of myself … I’m not suddenly forgiven, am I?”

Renaldo sighed. “Forgive yourself first and foremost, Godling. The rest will come later. What if I told you your wildest dreams are about to come true?”

“Timekeeper, I very much doubt you grasp the dreams of one such as I.”

Renaldo grinned. “This may come as a shock, but you’re wrong. Your queen, Godling, she is still alive. And I am in a position to give her to you.”

*****

Little was known of the old hag of the Prairie Sea. It was said she’d sought her fortune long ago, but that madness had driven her to give it away for a small, homely plot of land. Depending on whom you asked—and Renaldo said he’d asked everyone—she was either blind, disfigured, the house guest of 39 wraith-cats, or most popularly of all, no longer a crazy old woman but by means of an unlawful tech infusion, a crazy old woman trapped inside the body of a little girl.

Godling didn’t believe any of this, of course. Nor did he believe reuniting with Jossinda would restore him to the machine he’d been.

“They built me a prison for a reason, abbot warden.” Godling said. “They locked me away for a good damn reason. Of course I never wanted to escape that place! Oh yes, very astute, Renaldo. Very well done, indeed. I may be mad, but I’m not stupid! You wouldn’t let a razor beast off its leash simply because it’s gotten long in the razor, would you?”

“God machine, you’re panicking,” Renaldo said.

“You’re damned right I’m panicking! An ex-wife who’s still alive? Isn’t that sort of like … a defective socket wrench you’ve tried to throw away?”

The humans had taken turns driving the Beastwheeler for an entire pseudo-day. Through the long, bright true-day and the long, dark first-night. The blue-tinted false-day had been more than welcome, its light blooming by the sheen of the gas giant, Cerullia. Second-night had followed, the hours in which the prairie creatures played and hunted, and then at last, the slow, majestic rise of the bright binary stars. Not long after, the weary travelers finally arrived.

Jossinda, it appeared, had made her home in three large statues carved of pure marble and obsidian. Two black and one white, each the height of perhaps ten humans. The carvings themselves were crude, composed of indistinct shapes. The black statues seemed a pair, a man and woman reaching for one another but not touching. The white statue, the one carved of marble, Godling had a difficult time interpreting it.

It was wider, lumpier. It could’ve been a comment on the amorphous nature of godhood, but of course, it could just as easily have been a herniated land whale.

“No one could possibly know about this place,” he said.

“That’s how she’s had to conduct herself,” said Ressia. “Her unnatural longevity frightened many. She found it best to hide. But the abbot warden thinks it might finally be time for her to reveal herself.”

“Of course it’s time.” A lively voice vibrated across the lovers’ inky black circuit matter. “Do you think I’d have invited you here if events hadn’t occurred exactly as I anticipated?”

Godling identified Jossinda immediately. She’d hijacked his vibrathreads exactly as had Praebus. How infuriating. The voice didn’t sound old. In fact, she sounded just as he remembered her. For what purpose had the past occurred? Such a spiteful existence. She’d been alive and in hiding for 5,000 years, even as the machine who loved her agonized her death.

“God machine, it’s been far too long,” Jossinda said. “You have many questions for me, I’m sure. Come inside and know the truth at last.”

*****

His queen stood before them in the roughhewn marble entryway of her home. She appeared exactly as he remembered her in his fragmented dreams, and the fact he could not physically touch her maddened him to the point of desperation. She wore a plaid shawl and her hair was tied back in a fashion reminiscent of their early days of courtship. Cooking smells filled the space, meat and butter and root vegetables. Jossinda smiled at Brennan and Ressia. She took hold of the frills of her dress and curtseyed, saying, “I am very much obliged, my friends. The paint had an unusual effect on my physiology, my love. In order to combat such an extreme invasion, my body permanently inhibited some of its autonomic processes.”

“Such as the process of aging,” Godling said.

“Amongst other things.”

He didn’t know what to say to this, if the right words existed or if he might only manage crude working models. In the end, for want of proper expression, only two words vibrated across Ressia and Brennan’s bodies.

“I killed….” 

Jossinda looked like she might cry.

“I know, my love,” she said. “But you remember what you gave me, don’t you? Your faith and ability to dream. The traits of an innocent being.”

“You didn’t lose your mind, Godling,” Renaldo said. “You traded your humanity. It has been a long road for you, and you have done much to gain back your noble spirit. But you will never be whole until you rejoin with this woman.”

Intolerable. Disastrous even. All those years lost to ruin of an inner corrupted self.

“Why’d you do it?” Godling asked. “Why’d you pretend to die?”

Tears welled in Jossinda’s eyes. “I had my reasons. I won’t tell you they were good, but they did bring me a measure of comfort all these long years. In simple truth, I did die, Godling. And by the time my body and mind revived themselves, I found myself awake in my tomb, and you were changed … killing so many. I knew if I reunited with you, all might be well, but before I was strong enough to intervene, they imprisoned you. So I waited. I knew we’d come to a time in which the human race no longer spat upon the name of Godling.”

“And you may wait still,” Godling said. “Nothing’s changed, my queen. They still hate me. As well they should.”

“No,” said Jossinda. She crossed the floor to Ressia and Brennan. Lovingly, she placed a supple, soothing hand on the girl’s cheek. “You’re wrong about them. You gave me your sense of hope, remember? Just as you gave this young woman your heart. Please, my love. Let me prove to you the world needs its truest king of all. Let me give you back the hope you so desperately desire.”

“Give it back?” a voice declared from the entryway behind them. Brennan and Ressia turned. King Stevrik III, Lord of Quaratania, sometime seeker of wisdom from the god machine himself, stood in the portal, the bright binary stars outside highlighting his blonde hair and royal yellow jacket.

Ressia gasped. “Father.”

Stevrik was tall and thin, with youthful features and a closely cropped beard. He entered Jossinda’s home as if it belonged to him. “Daughter, I shall only say this once. Step away from that contemptible writer and cover your shame.”

Ressia did nothing about his first request, moved not an inch from Brennan, and as for his second, she self-consciously folded her arms over her breasts.

“How did you find us?” she asked.

Stevrik sneered. “You didn’t really think a being such as the god machine could escape without anyone noticing, did you? I had my best men track you. And once I was able to determine the general path you’d struck …”

“My good Stevrik,” Godling said. “You have always accepted my council. Please, listen to me now.”

“The days of your council are over, monster king. As are the days of this romance. I’m at war, no thanks to you, with an enemy against which I don’t think I stand a chance. This young man shall be put to death, and my daughter shall marry her betrothed.”

Ressia shouted, “Father, you wouldn’t!”

“Oh no? I love you, Ressia. But believe me when I tell you this is for the good of our homeland.”

Stevrik pulled a crude compact pistol from his jacket and aimed it squarely at Brennan’s chest.

“Now please, everyone step outside.” he said.

One by one, with Stevrik bringing up the rear, Ressia, Brennan, Renaldo, and Jossinda left the safety of the statue house and walked down the steps into the yard. Hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, soldiers, guardsmen, and guns for hire, all bearing the yellow seal of Quaratania, stood nearby, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

“Now,” Stevrik said, “I want the writer out front. We’re going to end this here and now.”

“Father!” Ressia screamed. She launched herself at him, angled a fist for his head. One of his soldiers stepped in. He slammed the butt of his rifle into her stomach, pulled her back by her hair, and shoved her to the ground.

“I don’t expect you to understand, daughter,” Stevrik said. “But I do expect you to obey. I love you, dear girl, but this is reality. I’m afraid love doesn’t count for much here.”

Godling took in the faces of the humans who had so thoroughly upended his life cycle. Firstly, his wife, Jossinda. The same as she’d always been; better even, alive and breathtaking. And foolish old Renaldo, the abbot warden had shown true dedication to an ideal. When was the last time Godling had shown half as much dedication to anything apart from making idle threats?

And the children, Brennan and Ressia, heart rates elevated, skin beneath his flowing circuit matter flush with anxiety. He recognized the astonishing lengths to which they were prepared to go for each other, and it humbled him. The young lovers were doing their best to remain courageous and strong in a desperate situation.

“Forward quickly, writer,” said Stevrik. “I take no pleasure in this.”

Brennan regarded Ressia with a feral look in his eyes. She struggled and fought, still pinned to the ground beneath Stevrik’s foot soldier.

“Don’t, my love,” Brennan said. “You can’t give him a reason to hurt you, too.”

Stevrik snorted loudly. “As if I’m capable of harming my own daughter.”

“I have no concept of your capabilities, my king. Just as a zoo keeper cannot conceive why his apes throw their own shit.”

Brave response. Fighting words. And under such duress. Astonishing. And look at Ressia, why did she struggle so? It was over, wasn’t it? Why hold on to hope?

“On your knees,” Stevrik growled.

Brennan didn’t hesitate. He got down, gave Ressia a brave smile.

“Live long, my love,” he said.

And then he himself gripped Stevrik’s pistol and set the barrel to his head. Stevrik’s grip tightened, his finger locked in place over the trigger. Ressia screamed. His finger tensed.

A white-hot explosion erupted in the yard. Mortar shot, and it was followed by another. The extreme heat buffeted Godling and the lovers. Suddenly, the crimson grassland filled with balls of fire and loose-cutting shrapnel. Stevrik’s men scattered and fell to the ground all around them.

Flitgliders—several formations of them—buzzed overhead, dropping mortar rounds onto the King’s men. One Flitglider in particular, a grey one, bulkier and heavier and spewing tarry smoke, separated itself from the pack and came in low, maneuvering itself into position above Brennan and Stevrik. It hovered there, training all its forward munitions on Ressia’s father.

“Stevrik of Quaratania,” said a tight, rasping voice, “for violation of the sacred Spacefarer decrees and the laws of Isolinius, his majesty, Marshal of Sevrum, has sentenced you to death.”

“Godling,” Brennan said, kneeling where Stevrik had put him, “is that who I think it is?”

“General Praebus,” said Godling, “my deduction exactly. Brennan, child, we have never known the good General to back down from a fight.”

The guns of the Flitglider spun up. Stevrik froze in place.

“Contrary to popular wisdom, large-caliber exploding bullets are actually rather painful,” Godling said.

“Godling, cover my back!” said Brennan.

The Flitglider opened fire. With the speed of a prowler beast, Brennan leapt and dropped Stevrik to the ground. He covered him, and just as the fire struck, Godling put everything he had into commanding the circuit matter to form a flat protective shield.

It stood out from Brennan, shrouded him and Stevrik, and it absorbed the bullets and micro munition-eruptions. Godling took all that shrapnel and explosive force, and then he flung it back out and up at the General’s Flitglider.

The flitglider lurched to the side, narrowly escaping the barrage. It listed and dropped several meters, but finally corrected itself and zipped back into position.

“Ah,” Praebus wheezed, “the god machine has come as well. Yes, and a great many thanks for the lesson you taught me, monster king. I shan’t repeat that mistake again. Gunner Sergeant! Big Beth!”

“Big Beth?” Godling said. “Who in all the unrighteous hells is Big—”

“Never mind that, Godling,” said Brennan. “What you just did, the way you shielded us. Could you do it again?”

“Brennan!” Ressia rushed over to them and dropped to the grass, her hair whipping around her head in the downdraft of the Flitglider’s oscillators. She marked Brennan with a deluge of kisses. Stevrik groaned. He slowly got onto his hands and knees, but the lovers paid him no attention as he crawled away, their entire worlds composed of passion for each other.

Godling called out, “Renaldo Timekeeper, you are summoned!”

The abbot warden and Jossinda emerged from behind the marble home. Renaldo tested himself against the blistering mortar winds, and then they both rushed from hiding and picked their way through the chaos.

“You don’t summon me, prisoner. I am an abbot of the Divine Order of Battles Won, and none may summon me but the gods themselves,” Renaldo said when they finally drew near. Godling noted Jossinda seemed to be holding something behind her back.

“Ah, but I am the god machine,” said Godling, “and as such, I may rule over any man alive.”

“Not yet, my love,” said Jossinda. “One thing remains. Our reunion. We must become one.”

From behind her back, she produced a brush and a broad metal canister full of white paint.

“You are a machine first and foremost, Godling,” she said. “See all this destruction? This death? Calculate for me, tell me truly, is this the way human beings were meant to live?”

General Praebus opened the starboard drop compartment hatch of his Flitglider. In an oxygen mask and breathing harness, strapped into a large shoulder-mounted tri-grenade launcher, he stepped onto the glider’s chrome railing.

He chortled, saying, “You haven’t forgotten me, have you? I certainly have not forgotten you, Godling.”

Cackling, enraged, he fired a violent barrage from the tri-grenade launcher. A hail of blitz-fire rained down on them. The sound was deafening. Godling threw up shields, two of them, enormous and black, one from Ressia and the other from Brennan. He screamed from the strain of it, could barely contain the eruptive force. The harder he tried, the more he hoped, and catching such hope, it all seemed so startlingly possible.

His human friends cried out. It was chaos, madness. In the middle of it all….

Someone spilled the canister of white paint.

Another explosion rang through the grasslands. Not one of gunpowder, and certainly not of deadly force. It was an explosion of pure, radiant energy. It echoed and boomed. It ripped all the war machines from the sky. The explosion flattened down the high crimson grass and every man afield. Radiating outward, it traveled far and filtered high up through the clouds.

And then it simply washed away, like a gentle, cleansing wave.

All was silent and still for the longest time. One point of light remained, not far from Ressia’s father, lord and ruler of Quaratania, King Stevrik III.

Stunned, confused, Stevrik stumbled to his feet.

“Daughter?” he said. “Ressia, are you all right, dear girl?”

Silence greeted him, and a harsh blinding light the like of which he’d never seen.

“Ressia? Please answer me, daughter.”

“Ressia is well,” said a voice so unearthly, so heavenly, it halted Stevrik’s breath and stopped him in his tracks. “In fact, they’re all well. Your daughter, her lover, the abbot warden, the queen of the universe, and the god machine himself. Much better now, if you really wish to know.”

Stevrik raised a hand to block the raging light. “W-who are you…? Monster king? I-is that you?”

“I am not the monster king. I am his fusion into a more perfect being. Do you understand the apex of the man/machine interface? The divine meeting of touch, movement, sense, heart, intelligence, and of course, belief?”

“I don’t …”

The light flickered and strobed. It set his world into a freeze-frame progression of knotted, tangled images, and then it blinked out entirely. Stevrik saw, as if in a dream, an unearthly being floating toward him. It wasn’t a man, nor was it a woman. It was completely white, with a flowing mane of hair colored green, purple, orange, and most strangely of all, black.

Stevrik’s mouth hung open. He moaned, “God.”

“God, yes,” said the being of white. “Not machine, and not human, but a sublime union of the two. No more need for forgiveness or the sins of the past. They didn’t understand what union meant. They had no idea imperfect beings could never achieve the oneness and peace your kind so vainly long for in secret. Perfection means creation, and I understand this with a clarity no murderer of millions could hope to achieve. You, Stevrik of Quaratania, and every man afield, have just witnessed the birth of something long thought theoretical. I am the New God, and I alone may be king.”

Stevrik couldn’t comprehend. His mind wasn’t capable. Was Ressia inside this thing? At the apex of all their trials, could such a creation be birthed by violence and fire?

“Kneel for me, Stevrik,” the New God said. “Just as you made that poor boy kneel. And let’s begin the work of rebuilding your race.” Stevrik didn’t second-guess or attempt to defy the New God. He knelt there in the Crimson Blade of Jossinda’s yard. And then he broke into uncontrollable, sobbing tears.

THE END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Bowlesian! – Godling: Part I

Godling: Part I

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Godling and Other Paint Stories, available on Amazon now.


According to the oral tradition, the Gods created man, man created Godling, Godling ruled over man until man decided genocide was in fact the worst case ever made for machines ruling anything. Godling’s own subjects–the Ancient Spacefarers–overthrew and imprisoned him on the remote grasslands planet of Isolinius, there to dwell in perpetual confinement under the watchful eye of the monastic Divine Order of Battles Won.

Eons came and went. Human beings lost their drive for exploration and personal cosmic growth. They segregated themselves onto small worlds. After a sum of almost 5,000 years, the prison complex’s abbot warden, Renaldo Timekeeper, 126th in the Order’s line of such individuals, approached the god machine with a demand.

“I have two young friends, prisoner. They need help, and no one else on this planet will provide it. They will have an audience with you. In truth they’re already here, and their cause is as just as any.”

Godling studied Renaldo closely. Though he was intelligent and often keen in his worldly perceptions, the abbot warden was short, bald and foppish, preferring colorful robes and jeweled affectations, an annoying resplendent tone in his conversations and meandering arguments.

“I should very much like to kill you, abbot warden,” Godling said. “Have I told you this lately?”

“You have,” said Renaldo. “Repeatedly.”

“Then we understand each other. They bribed you, didn’t they? These friends of yours?”

Renaldo hesitated. He ran a gloved hand over his huge bald spot, saying, “If indeed it matters in any way, prisoner, the girl’s father–”

“Yes, the girl. Flush with love. That’s trouble to begin with. Their cause is romance, isn’t it? You clearly deserve to die, abbot warden. You don’t mind doing it yourself, do you? I seem to have lost the use of my hands, oh, 5,000 years ago.”

Godling’s enormous body had been constructed of an ultra-resilient Darkwork alloy. His brain contained a multitude of mechanisms and tissue chips, and his heart was made entirely of inky liquid circuit matter. The Ancient Spacefarers had neatly severed him into six parts in their rush to dethrone him: head, arms, torso, legs. They’d entombed and imprisoned these parts deep within Claustrum Mons, the highest mountain on Isolinius.

Godling’s head now rested in what was known as the Orange Room, there upon a pedestal, with his eyes pointed at the orange ceiling. From the base of his head–the severed end of his alloy neck–ran a thick, fibrous red line like rope. The line stretched, straight and taut, to the far wall of the room, disappearing there and linking with his other body parts in the other rooms of the prison.

“Prisoner,” Renaldo said, “you have neither the authority to command my death nor the time to see it through. As long as the rulers of this world regard you as an inexhaustible adviser–”

“Ah! Aha! Now we’ve struck it!” Godling bellowed. “Inexhaustible advisor. Your words, abbot warden, not mine. They come and go all day long. But this girl, and this boy. Hmm, trouble.”

Through a healthy slathering of a special and vibrant orange sensory-paint, the like of which Golding had invented himself, he observed the two young people as they made their way farther and farther down the long tunnel that burrowed deep into the side of the monstrous alpine slope of Claustrom Mons. They were barely more than teenagers, perhaps nineteen or twenty. Through the orange paint, Godling took the full measure of them. He lived in paint now. A special kind composed of a fine poly-organic blend of neural wireless transmitters and perception receptors/dispatchers. Orange for sensory, purple for locomotion, green for touch. He could inhabit anything and everything coated in the stuff, and so, he made the entire prison his body.

“They’re nearly at the blast doors, Renaldo,” Godling fumed. “Who opened the doors for them?”

“I did.”

“Just like that? Because you can? How I shall begin, abbot warden?”

Renaldo cleared his throat. “Perhaps, god machine, you should begin by introducing yourself.”

Yes, perhaps. Then again, perhaps Renaldo’s brain might be better employed as a protein-rich piston lubricant. Love and lovers. Hmph. Godling withdrew all perception from the Orange Room. In a flash, he nestled himself within a long patch of orange sensory-paint in the blast door safety chamber, the size and span of which fairly dwarfed the boy and girl. He spoke a dozen decibels louder than he intended, his voice harsh from the buzz of his concealed, quivering vibrathreads.

“Children, I can see you.”

The girl shrieked and the boy jumped back.

“I don’t mean to startle you.” Godling said, “Only to announce my presence. Hello. This is an announcement. Here I am.”

The girl’s eyes darted around the chamber.

“Here?” she said. “Where’s here?”

 “And who’s I?” said the boy. “I mean, who are you?”

Godling watched them closely. He studied the manner in which they held each other, clutched, clung, fresh excitement and fright brightening their cheeks and warming their skin. Godling sniffed them, tasted their scents. Pheromone levels high, anxiety toxicity enough to choke a rabid pneumatic horse. Taste of fear, smell of sex. Oh but they were so deep in it.

The boy looked the brazen, heroic sort. The kind Godling had long ago loved to crush beneath his massive clawed feet. Dark hair, dusky complexion, full, expressive lips. Crush, crush, crush, crush. And the girl …

The girl was a beastly thing. A creature any smart machine knew well enough to leave alone. Beautiful; gorgeous, even. Biologically … rather perfect. And did she look like…?

No, of course not. No woman alive looked like her. Nobody could ever come close.

“Who are you? Where are you?” the boy said.

“Ah, a man of action,” Godling said. “I do not like that. I should very much like to kill you. Universe takes all kinds, I suppose. I am Godling. Also known as the god machine. Also known as the god king. Also knows as the truest king of all. Also known as–”

“The monster king,” said the boy.

The girl’s face lit up. “The machine who ruled humanity for five centuries, ushered in an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity, permitted humans to travel the stars, and who took for himself the name Godling, because he truly was a god among men.”

“This is all true,” said Godling.

The boy cocked his head. “The same machine who debased himself for the love of a woman, lost his mind to rage, and who, without any warning at all, slaughtered millions of his own subjects.”

“This is true as well,” said Godling. “I also like to sing. Did you know that? Come along, now.”

He left the patch of orange in the safety chamber and flashed to the receiving room beyond.

“Well come on,” he called to the lovers when they moved not an inch. “Wouldn’t you like to see what your bribe has bought you?”

The boy and girl exchanged a nervous glance, and then as one, they stepped through. Godling made certain to close the doors behind them with two deafening clangs.

“Wouldn’t want any monster kings making a run for it,” he said pleasantly. “Off we go, then.”

*****

“Ressia,” said the girl. “My name’s Ressia.”

“Brennan,” said the boy.

Godling smiled inwardly. “There, isn’t that better? Good to be on a first-name basis, hmm? Now about your bribe …”

“Please, hallowed one,” said Ressia, “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about us.”

The lovers followed Godling from one patch of sensory-paint to the next. The reception wing, the common, foot tunnel row, all the while, disturbing and unnerving monks wherever they went.

“Don’t mind them,” Godling said. “Not used to such lowly figures roaming their hallowed halls. Now child, about this wrong idea business. Surely you must know I am incapable of getting wrong ideas. Why, the rulers of this world–”

“Seek your counsel every week,” said Ressia. “Yes, we know.”

“That’s why we’re here,” said Brennan. “You see, her father–”

“Fathers,” Godling said. He moved further up the foot tunnel. “I am not concerned with fathers, nor am I interested in progenitors of any kind. The emperor of the entire Northern Continents seeks my counsel every third pseudo-day of each second cycle. And Delinius, the neo-liege, personally visits my Orange Room every time he has a crisis of faith. Do you have any idea how often a neo-liege has crises of faith?”

“No,” said Brennan, “but you see, her father–”

“And then there’s the trouble between King Marshal of Sevrum and Stevrik III of Quaratania.” Godling flashed into the security firezone antechamber, the room that stood directly outside the prison proper. “Don’t get me started on them. Some silly thing concerning Stevrik’s daughter. She desires, I’ve been told, to forsake her betrothed and marry her lover who … ah … ah, I see. You are Stevrik’s daughter, aren’t you?”

“I am,” Ressia admitted.

“But this is wonderful.”

“It is?”

“Yes. Don’t you see? You have come here for no good reason. You will leave my prison desperately disappointed, and I shall not be bothered with your nonsense a moment longer.”

Brennan scowled. “If you have no intention of hearing what we have to–”

“No intention? Never said that. Who said that? Never said it.”

Godling, in fact, had every intention of hearing what the lovers had to say. For if they hoped to gain a thing from him, he now hoped to gain something back. A plan began to form in the outer-regional processes of Godling’s mind. Oh, but he was a devious, calculating, beast of a machine. And if he had his way, young Ressia and Brennan would soon come to know it. 

“Please,” Godling said, “step into my prison.”

With the merest of thoughts, he deactivated and slid back the eighteen locking pins of the prison’s purple security door. It swung open slowly, groaning on its massive hinges.

“The first things you shall see, children,” Godling began, “are the razor-sharp claws of a genocidal mad-machine who feels no remorse at all.”

“My god,” Brennan gasped. “That … leg. It’s so large. And the room’s so….”

“Purple,” said Godling. “Yes, I know.”

The purple room, or more accurately, Purple Room One. Orange for sensory, purple for locomotion. Godling had the power to move anything coated in it. He had, at different points throughout the centuries, experimented with moving these very walls and this ceiling as a means of escape. In fact, of the 927 escape plans Godling had initiated in the past five millennia, Purple Rooms One and Two had been directly involved in 156.

Too bad those 156 plans had all proven failures. Along with the other 771.

“What is that there?” Brennan asked. “That red rope coming from the wall?”

“Ah, you’ve notice the bloodwire. Contains no blood at all, of course. Yet it does keep my body powered down at all times.”

“And just how tall are you, hallowed one?” said Ressia.

“Oh, I am a sight. The height of three men. Four if I care to feel insulted. Of course, if I were to feel insulted, I’d probably use those claws there to shred your skin and internal organs to long, sopping strips. Shall we?”

He quickly ushered them into Purple Room Two, and then, into Green Rooms One and Two. There, his arms rested upon their pedestals. Thick as ancient tree trunks, fingers spread wide like the wings of carrion gorgers. Green was for touch-paint, used throughout the prison precisely so Godling could feel, as if with his own Darkwork alloy fingers, a soft pillow or a damp cloth or the warm touch of a–

Godling’s memory banks refreshed. He saw her with the precision and exactitude of second sight. Auburn hair, like the sunset, wisest brown eyes. And the twisting, fiery agony they’d endured together….

“Hallowed one?”

Her image had a death grip on Godling’s primary visual tasking matrix. 5,000 years and he still couldn’t comprehend everything he’d lost.

“Hallowed one? Godling?”

Godling’s focus returned to his Green Room, to the boy, Brennan, and to the girl. No, she couldn’t compare at all. Blonde, not auburn. Beautiful, yes, but not nearly so exotic.

“The Orange Room,” Godling said, doing his utmost to quarantine the affected memory pathways. “To the room and to my counsel.”

Brennan shook his head. “But that’s only five rooms. The history vids say there’re–”

“Six. Yes. The black room is off limits, child. I will surely kill you for just the thought of it.”

*****

“You see, my father is King Stevrik III.”

“Yes….”

“And I do not wish to marry that horrible, despicable, lazy-”

“Please, child, before I corrode.”

A chance to escape. That’s what Godling hoped to gain from the boy and girl. To finally break free of this infernal prison once and for all. The fact the girl was Stevrik’s daughter simply added defensive sheen-varnish to the protractile warblade cake. Oh but Godling was a sly, cunning, fiend of a machine. 

Escape plan number 928 initiated. Proceed with escape plan 928.

He’d gathered the humans together, the young lovers and the oafish abbot warden, Renaldo Timekeeper. Renaldo sequestered himself in the corner of the room, content to fiddle with his white administrator gloves. No other personalities to contend with or further agendas to factor. No more perfect tools to employ than this young man and this young woman. Simple, effortless. Easy as ripping arms from sockets.

“Stevrik’s sworn enemy is King Marshal,” said Brennan. “The betrothal was meant to unite their thrones. But she loves me. We are meant to be together.”

“Yet it would seem Ressia’s betrothed swears otherwise,” Godling said, his large alloy head upon its pedestal glinting hazy green in the solvent battery lighting. “He is a prince, child, someday to be a king. What have you to offer this woman?”

“My mind, of course,” said Brennan. “My life, if necessary.”

“Money?”

“Some.”

“Job?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh dear, it’s worse than I thought.”

Keep them talking. That was the key. That was step one of escape plan 928. Yes, and what was step two? Renaldo most certainly had to be dealt with in step two.

“Well, Renaldo?” Godling said. “You’ve been rather quiet. Wasn’t it you who sold my time to these wretched romantics?”

“I didn’t sell them a thing. They simply required your help and I was willing to offer it. Use your influence to sway their fathers. Their cause is just. The war, you see …”

“The war?”

“The war,” said Ressia. “Because I have chosen not to marry the prince, Marshal has declared war on Quaratania, our city, our people.”

“Is that so?” Godling said.

Hmm. Quaratania to the East, at war with Sevrum to the West. And Claustrum Mons in the middle. Yes, perhaps the best time to escape. And Renaldo was in deeper than Godling had surmised. Deep enough he should champion their cause. He had to be dealt with, and of course, over the years Godling had considered many options for such an eventuality.

“Renaldo, if you wouldn’t mind terribly joining me in my black–”

A violent quake impacted the mountain and dropped Renaldo, Ressia, and Brennan to the floor. Claustrum Mons, and the prison within it, grumbled and groaned. Godling’s vibrathreads hummed in response.

Renaldo shouted, “Faith preserve us! What was that?”

Godling spread himself outward. He flashed to every patch of orange, everything green, every purple surface he could manipulate and move. He had the answer in less time than it took the rumbling aftershocks to wave and ripple their way through the complex.

“Detonation,” Godling said, returning full consciousness to the Orange Room. “A precise, constrained explosion equivalent to fifteen megatons.”

“Detonation?!” said Renaldo. “Where?”

“Outside the monastery. The blast doors have been blown apart. They’re coming for you, children.”

Another voice sounded from his vibrathreads. Quite unlike the voices of the three humans, and very much distinct from Godling’s. The god machine was in complete control of all his many faculties, and yet this voice, singular and crystal-clear, had the utter nerve to announce itself over his own synthetic vocal chords.

“I am General Praebus of his majesty King Marshal of Sevrum’s third mounted army. This is a raid designated lawful under the decrees of engagement set down by the Ancient Spacefarers. Give us what we want, monks, and no harm will come to you.”

The vibrathreads crackled a few times, and then went silent.

“Oh but this is terrible, Brennan!” said Ressia. “What are we going to do?” She pressed herself against her love and began sobbing.

“Now’s not the time to panic, my love,” said Brennan. “The god machine will help us.”

He would? Really? Godling hadn’t said he would. Perhaps he might have lied about helping them, but the boy and girl were sure to be killed. In needing to escape, they needed Godling, and in needing Godling, the monster king might finally leave this place. Of course, he told himself, that’s what he’d wanted all along. But now that it actually came to it …

“I can’t,” said Godling. “I’m sorry. I don’t feel like it.”

Brennan frowned. “You what?”

“I don’t feel like it. My body, it would take too long to free, you understand. We’d have to fight them off by ourselves and … Oh, hold on a moment, are you aware the monks have a private arsenal? De-atomizing submachine guns and other various nasty anti-doomsday deterrents, and if they see you trying to set me free–”

“They’ll do nothing, Godling,” Renaldo said. “They’ll stand down and impede neither General Praebus’ men nor the four of us.”

Ressia let out a moan. “Oh, he won’t help us, my love! He won’t help!”

“Ressia,” said Renaldo, “don’t you think it’s time we dispense with the pretenses? The wolves are nipping at our heels, my dear.”

Ressia silenced herself. She scowled at Renaldo, pulled away from Brennan, and then she straightened her dress and uttered, “It’s called commitment to an objective.”

“Objective?” said Godling. “Why are you talking about objectives? You don’t actually intend to release me, do you?”

“Most humbly, hallowed one, it was the only way to get inside,” Ressia said. “Rest assured, I am Stevrik’s daughter, and Brennan and I are in love, and Marshal’s men really are here–”

A second explosion shook the Orange Room. The overhead lighting flickered a few moments, then the low groan of the backup power sources steadily thrummed to life.

“They’ve hit the solvent batteries,” said Renaldo. “They must have engaged my brethren, despite assurances otherwise. Stay on guard, my young friends. We made plans for this.”

Godling shouted, “What are you talking about! What plans? Just what in the hells is going on here?!”

“A prison break,” said Renaldo. “One now rather short on time.”

He dug into his robe and removed a small metal canister with a thin, needling projection brush.

“Brennan, Ressia, your clothes, if you please,” he said.

The two lovers began dropping every last stitch of clothing. After squirming from their undergarments and shoes, they stood there naked. The abbot warden approached and used the projection brush to block them out into even sections. He projected three solid colors–green, purple, and orange–until overlapping layers covered every square inch of them. In less than half a minute, Brenan and Ressia looked like sad glistening mud people.

“Nicely done, abbot warden,” Godling said, bothering in no way to clear the condescension from his tone. “I fail to see the purpose, however. Am I now meant to inhabit this paint? I couldn’t possibly. Not without seeing what I touch and moving what I hear. The thought is rather mind-numbing.”

Renaldo shrugged. “Would it matter if I told you?”

“It would not. They shall all get shot to tiny, mud-colored pieces, and I shall have to spend weeks reconstituting my personality inside this big dumb head of mine.”

“You won’t leave?” Renaldo asked. “You’ve made up your mind?”

“I will leave. On my own terms. When the time is right.”

Renaldo smirked. “You’re a terrible liar, Godling. If you’d wanted to escape, you would’ve done so millennia ago.”

“That’s a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” Godling said. “I’ll have you know, I had a very, very, reasonably well-thought-out plan this time. Step one, keep them talking. Step two, deal with the oafish abbot warden. Step three–”

“Plan? What are you up to now? Nine hundred twenty-eight? Godling, people who escape prison only ever need the one plan. Has it ever occurred to you that you don’t actually want to leave?”

Godling had no response for this. None at all.

“Come with us, god king,” Renaldo pleaded. “Don’t waste away in here another five thousand years. Take back what once was yours, if not for yourself, then for all humanity. Resume your role as truest king of all.”

“It’s rude to nag, abbot warden,” Godling said, and then he sent the precise amount of noise through his vibrathreads to simulate a definitive conversation-ending crackle.

Renaldo frowned, as did Brennan and Ressia. Another explosion rocked the complex. The lights dimmed again, and this time, set themselves into a troublesome flicker.

“My friends, I give you the stubbornness of a machine,” the Timekeeper said. “The door is open. I have overridden his commands. I say again, the door is open.”

Brennan and Ressia shared a glance. The boy gave her a curt nod, and then both of them spun on their heels and rushed out the door.

“Where are you going?” Godling said.

“Wolves at our heels, god machine,” said the Timekeeper

“What door did you open, Renaldo?”

But the abbot warden wouldn’t say. Godling spread himself outward, finding them instantly. There, they headed for the Black Room. Oh no. Godling flashed across the prison to the large black door and tried to force it shut. He set all his processing power to the task. Another quake hit the complex. The lights cut out completely. He pushed, pulled, threw every iota and byte at it. Renaldo’s overrides were crude but effective.

In the darkness, Ressia and Brennan bashed into each other and fell into the room. It felt to Godling like a violation of the highest order. He hadn’t permitted anyone inside in over six hundred years.

“Is that it?” panted Ressia. “Is that all we have to do?”

Yes, that was all they had to do. And no, that wasn’t it, there was more. Unlike the other five rooms, the Black Room wasn’t named for the color of a paint. The black was something else, something deeper, so personal and interior to Godling it may as well have been his soul.

A loud crack split the silence. The giant chest piece of an ultra-resilient Darkwork alloy body broke in two. A deep, ruddy light shone from the chest and illuminated the room and Godling’s torso upon its pedestal. The black spilled over. It gurgled up through the alloy and blubbered and splashed onto the floor. Lunging for Ressia and Brennan, the black attached itself to them, covered all the muddied color of their bodies.

They screamed, writhing on the floor in abject agony. Godling felt the pull. It was inescapable, magnetic. He vanished from his sensory-paint at the door, flashed to the black, felt himself split in two. Green, purple, and orange, the three colors represented essential facets of a functional, conscious being. But every being needed a heart, or if one was a machine, a liquid circuit matter core. Godling felt the connection to the inky stuff, the attraction and resonance he had for the children and their paint. In engineering terms, his mental architecture had always been slaved to hardware. After the wars and terror and the annihilation of millions, it was said of Godling his heart was black as night. Here, in truth, was incontrovertible proof.

Continued Next Month!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


BOWLESIAN! – God, the Little Artist

God, the Little Artist

by Jeff Bowles

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.

–Pablo Picasso

We were certainly very sorry to hear about your death, Mr. Williams. Happens to even the best of His creatures, we suppose. Rest assured all the finger paints here on Planet Heaven are thrilled beyond words you have finally arrived. Begin reception of extraphysical sense and thought in three … two … one…

There. That’s better. This’ll help us get to know you. We see now, for instance, that your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, that you hear a thin dripping somewhere off to your left and that your feet scrape against rough, rough limestone. Understand, we finger paints have witnessed just about everything there is to witness.

Finger paints, yes. That’s what we are. Self-aware, creation-endowing finger paints. We dribble from a pin-hole wound in God’s lower back, right at the base of his spine. Whenever it’s time for him to paint, he scoops us up and lets out a giggle; a deified, bloody, Technicolor spinal tap. We wish you to know he’s been expecting you for quite some time. Sitting cross-legged here in his cavern, deep below the cliff face high, using his brittle fingers to paint portraits of your existence.

“Yay!” he often exclaims. “Colors time! Colors time!”

Few things get him so excited, save perhaps milk and cookies or his favorite Saturday morning anamatia.

Look, here’s the painting he calls Puppy, and there’s the one entitled First Time with a Lady. Note the lack of definition, of sharpness and lucidity. Sublime, isn’t it? Weren’t you an art history major? We’re great lovers of art, ourselves. In these paintings, Mr. Williams, if you don’t mind our interpretation too terribly, you aren’t so much a man but a concept. Of simple lines, basic shapes. Of any color that can exist in a rainbow of perfectly aligned moons and stars.

You approach God slowly, reverentially, overwhelmed, completely unsure of yourself and a thing so magnanimous as immeasurable love. You suddenly have visions of burning bushes and burning Sodom and savior children left to die on crosses for the salvation of all–

He spots you in an instant. His smile is broad and toothless. “Sorry, Daddy,” he says, eyes wide beneath bushy, peacock-feather brows, “I ax’dently spilled juice all over Taking too Many Per’skiption Pills.”

Taking too Many Prescription Pills, of course, is the one he painted just the other day after you’d passed out on the couch, stopped dreaming, stopped being much of anything.

God is ancient-looking and has paint stains all around his lips. He sits on the cavern’s floor, naked as the day he willed himself into being. He reaches for the painting in question, holds it up for you to see. Yes, completely ruined. The image of you–eyes rolled into your head, slobber trailing from your mouth–transcendentally post-Picassian though it may be, looks vaguely like a melting meat-puppet minus the hand up the meat-hole. It’s like Salvador Dali, but without the clocks.

When God says he spilled juice all over it, he means this rather literally. He drinks a lot of juice. Apple juice, to be precise. Not vino, vin, wijn, or the more aptly dubbed, Jesus Juice.

God cannot imbibe the red and/or white stuff. After all, he’s got the mind of a child.

“Daddy,” he says, “there’s sumfin I needs to ax you. Come closer.”

You lean in closer.

“No, Daddy, closer, closer.”

You get down on one knee, and you lean into his cracked, peeled-wallpaper lips.

“You love me, Daddy?” he whispers.

You nod. What man who can truly call himself a man does not love God?

“Love me bunches and bunches?”

You nod again. How humbling to hear the word and feel the breath and know the power that is–

God plants a big, sticky, icky one right on your cheek. He laughs in your face, then he slaps you so hard you see bloody Egyptian rivers.

Ouch. That smarts.

“Tee hee!” He says. “Got you, Daddy. Got you good. You’re gonna’ be God now!”

Precisely what, you inquire, does this mean, oh Lord of Space and Time?

“Pretend I’m a baby, Daddy! Baby needs changin’. Change me, Daddy! Change me!”

And what, oh Lord of Space and Time, you query, shall be the object, function, and product of the change? For in changing God, does not man–nay, does not the universe–cease to exist in his glorious image?

“Huh?” says God.

You huff and shout, What the hell do you mean, baby needs changing!

And then God starts to cry.

Aw, look at him. You made God cry. Aw. Look at him, all naked, and old, and cross-legged, and bawling his eyes out. With his naked, old soul and his naked, old heart all torn to pieces. Tears and snot stream from every hole tears and snot are apt to stream from. We hope you’re happy now. We really hope you are.

You coo at God, and then you pat his back and scoop him up in your arms, because you’re desperate and just feel like such a jerk.

You never had any children. Never had any grandfathers, either. Leastways, you never had any grandfathers who acted just like the children you and your wife never managed … Well at least you say you’re sorry. Lord of mercy, you are so, so sorry. You never meant to yell at him. You love God. You love him just as much as you loved your wife, and your sister, and your mom, and your dog, and your…

But God, he is hurt. He pushes you away and screams at the top of his lungs, “I’m dyin’ Daddy! I’m gonna’ die real soon. I bleed each time I paint!”

What does he mean by this?

God shakes his head and frowns. He draws his fingers to his back, winces as he touches them to skin. He holds them up for you to see. Color. True and everlasting color, no kind of blood you’ve ever seen. You find us both horrible and enchanting. It’s like Edvard Munch, only you try not to scream.

“I been paintin’ so long,” God says. “So really, really long. I been paintin’ all of you. You know what’s gonna’ happin’ when there’s no more blood to bleed?”

He’s going to die. He’s going to die? Holy hell. You bite your lip and start to panic. He’s going to die? You run a hand through your hair. God can’t die. Holy hell. God can’t die, can he? You pose to him this very question.

He sighs, and though he looks even sadder and more impossibly frail than before, the tears stop flowing.

“I can,” he says. “Yup. And I’m real sad, too. So you’re gonna be God now, Daddy. I slapped you good, so now you got god-power. I made my daddy special. When I was paintin’ your pit’tures, I made sure to con … concen… con-cen-trate real, real hard.”

Enough with this daddy business! Why does God need a daddy? The creator of all that is infinite and everlasting can never, metaphysically speaking, create that which is, by act of temporal creation alone, both a beginning and an ending to his own existence. Can he?

Perplexed, unnerved, you find you only have the strength to ask him this:

Why did God cross the road?

He shrugs. “Prolly ‘cuz the big kids was chasin’ him again.”

# # #

God is dying in your arms, Mr. Williams. Right here, right now. We can feel him slipping away, death a fatal pressure building inside his spine. Recreation, such as painting pictures, is widely known to relieve pressure. And spinal taps are good, too.

He’s asked to die outside, far from his dank, dark cavern, because, as he says, the 29 moons of Planet Heaven remind him of his favorite spaceman animatia. The monstrous, towering cliffs of his river basin rise high and immeasurable all around you. The sky is a deep, ruddy purple, the grass a fine, silky blue.

Colors abound. In your nose. You smell the colors of the universe. On the tip of your tongue. Taste the colors of an endless dream. Smells like burnt cherry wood. Tastes like … paint. Because even though you had no children, Mr. Williams, you were a child once, and you know what paint tastes like. Because children eat it, and eat glue, and paper, and … God dying in your arms … if only you could eat paint and love it like you once did.

God’s breathing is heavy, labored. His lips are pulled back over his teeth, mule and horse-like. Does the body of God go to waste before the end?

“Daddy,” he says. His voice cracks and splinters. “Daddy, come closer.”

You lean in.

“No, Daddy, closer. Please, closer.”

You draw his body into yours, and you press your face in so close you can smell his breath.

“Don’t worry, Daddy,” he says. “I ain’t gonna slap you again.”

Well that’s a relief.

“I should, though. Cuz’ it’d be real funny.”

No, Lord, you say, please don’t.

He nods meekly. “Kay. Kay. Daddy?”

Yes?

“Daddy … Daddy?”

What is it, oh Lord of Space and Time?

“Don’t forget. Ladies wear dresses.”

You ask him what he means. You barely hear what he says next.

“When you paint ’em. Ladies wear dresses. Men wear pants. Doggies go arf, arf.”

You tell him to rest, to be still. He speaks again. So quiet, so fragile and insubstantial it breaks your heart to pieces.

“Also,” he says, “the act of creation is not a self-validating act in and of itself. Nor is the act of destruction.  That’s childish, childish and misses the point of being the child.”

Childish? Child? Why is it he suddenly doesn’t sound like a child anymore?

“Wonder,” he says, “wonder,” and one final time, “wonder. In all that you do, my son, wonder. There is so much in this universe to … to paint for the sake of…”

And then God dies. No great final gasp, no moaning or earthly laments or anything so substantial that you think, yes, that’s it, that is the end. And you, Mr. Williams, are suddenly lost in your own grief, in thoughts of your wife, your sister, your mom, your dog and … how alone they all must be. How it feels to abandon. How it must’ve felt for God–just now, just a moment ago–to abandon so hastily all he’s ever loved and nurtured.

And now he’s dead, and in death so placid he may as well have drifted away, a newly winged thing, to paint pictures on the 29 moons of Planet Heaven.

So peaceful and serene. Except that…

The very next instant, his body explodes.

Pressure in the spine. Explosion, detonation. We come hurtling out. A million-billion gallons of paint splatter Planet Heaven and splatter you and splatter the universe beyond. Buildup, relief. Our viscous, fluid minds have blown out wide and interstellar. It’s like Jackson Pollock, only messier.

Red.

Green.

Blue.

Yellow.

An infinite pallet, besides.

We fill you up. Fill you in. Blood in, blood out. And you know such beauteous things. Such things no mere man could ever know. Is this what it means to be at the center of all places and times? You reach two fingers to your back and wince from the pain, bring those fingers to your open mouth and lick them. Oh, you think, maybe I still love to eat paint, after all.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


BOWLESIAN! – Dr. Julianus Techt’s Five Easy Steps to Building a Better You

Dr. Julianus Techt’s Five Easy Steps to Building a Better You

by Jeff Bowles

You are an absolute horror show. You are a wreck and ruin of a human being. I can’t even stand the sight of you anymore. You’re weak. Feeble. Go on and do it. Go on and rid the universe of your wretchedness once and for all.
Sound familiar?
Hi, friends. Dr. Julianus Techt here. Life got you down? No friends? No significant love interests? No point in living one more excruciating, soul-crushing day? Believe me, I know the feeling.
Congratulations on your purchase of Dr. Julianus Techt’s 5 Easy Steps to Building a Better You. This book, and the accompanying materials and spells companion crate, are each designed with the lowlife in mind. Contained within these pages, friends, are the answers you are looking for. Not happy with the man/woman you have become? Why not simply build a better you? The methods, magics, and matriculations I am about to divulge are time-tested and fool-proofed.
I know exactly what it’s like. I was once in your shoes. My PhD is in world-class suffering. I earned my doctorate at the school of hard knocks. Now I am a new man entirely. Come along with me and discover the secrets to self-love, self-respect, and self-actualization. Your glorious, resplendent days in the sun are just 5 Easy Steps away….

Easy Step 1: Back to Basics

Why is it you hate yourself so much? Why is it you’re so despairingly, disconsolately desperate to become a better human being? Is it because, like me, you’ve let down every last friend, family member, and lover who’s ever cared about you? Or do you, like me, simply find life painful, disappointing, a series of valleys–each deeper and darker than the last–without even a passing glimpse of a single peak or shred of hope?
Ha ha. Well, you were sharp enough to buy this book. So at least you’ve got that going for you.
I want you to imagine what the better you will look like.
Now I want you to open your materials and spells companion crate and make it happen.
Inside the crate you will find,
One (1) man-sized sheet of multi-colored construction paper
Five (5) century-aged cherry wood logs, each weighing approximately twenty-five (25) lbs.
One hundred seventy-five (175) lbs. of premium oil-based plastilina modeling clay.
One (1) ancient scroll of Black Soul-Shard enchantments.
And last, but not least,
One (1) complimentary Pizza Barn coupon, buy 1 slice, get the second half-off.
Arrange your materials and spells in whatever manner that best allows for ease-of-access and attenuation with the life-force powers of the universe and the forsaken black domain of the damnation/animation god, Frülik.
Ready to begin?
Good. I was hoping you’d say that.

Note: Dr. Julianus Techt’s 5 Easy Steps to Building a Better You is, if nothing else, a trial-and-error process. Steps 2-4 will enable you to produce 3 different soul-shard versions of yourself. If at any time you become satisfied with a soul brother or sister, please feel free to skip to step 5, There, isn’t That Better? Similarly, if at any time you feel threatened or are attacked by your soul brothers or sisters, please discontinue use, flee your house or place of residence, and immediately cash in your complimentary Pizza Barn coupon as you await police/emergency medical technician intervention.

Easy Step 2: Frülik

From your kitchen, retrieve one (1) large knife, serrated; one (1) cereal bowl; one and one-half (1 1/2) teaspoons of iodized table salt; one (1) sticky bandage, extra-large; and one (1) lb. of leftover meat to offer as supplication to Frülik, the damnation/animation god.
Retrieve your ancient Black Soul-Shard scroll and refer to enchantment #12 as you perform the following:
Sit down on the floor with your legs crossed. Pour the salt into the bowl and set it in your lap so that it can catch the copious amounts of blood about to gush from the palm of your hand.
This next part may sting a little.
Slice open your hand and hold it over the bowl. As you howl in agony, notice that your blood runs red. This will change as you begin to recite the enchantment, the one which begins,
“Oh mighty Frülik! I offer you my blood and meat! Cleave my astral self in twain! Take from me now that which you desire most!”
Notice that three things occur. The first is that your blood turns black. Don’t be alarmed. This is simply an indication you have just sold your soul for something far purer than you can possibly imagine. Notice, too, that the air around you has suddenly grown approximately 50° cooler. Your breath puffs frost. You snort in the cold like a castrated bull. You should probably be aware that the damnation/animation god, who will be arriving shortly, cannot abide warmth. It reminds him the living still thrive in the world beyond his forsaken realm, and that for him, all hope for love, passion, and earthly pleasures are lost, lost, lost.
Anyway, the last thing you will notice is that a 10-foot tall, bone-armored, entrail-covered, cloven-footed demon god will scratch and claw his way from the cereal bowl filled with salt and your precious blood.
Once he’s standing over you, with the edge of his massive Broadsword of Deepest Lacerations resting precipitously against your neck, he will squeal like a cancerous boar. He will then say something to the effect of,
“Woe unto you! Woe! Your soul is damned to the bleakest pits of horror and suffering! Pestilence! Rotten, fetid, malodorous flesh! I shall feast on your severed scrotum each mealtime for a thousand lives of men!”*

*Please note that based on your gender, Frülik may or may not in fact use the word “scrotum.”

The damnation/animation god will now use his broadsword to cleave your head from your shoulders. Do not be alarmed, this is simply an astral projection of your head and nothing more. Unfortunately, the pain you feel is entirely real and will no doubt haunt you for years to come.
Frülik is consumed by his own lust for spiritual power. He will snort and stomp and pull exactly three (3) individual shards of your soul out through your neck. His desire, of course, is to eat them and thereby enslave you for all time as his personal Concubine of Nightly Anguish.
It is now appropriate to offer him the one (1) lb. of supplication meat.
“Meager vittles!” he will bellow, but he will nevertheless proceed to stuff the meat into his face and forget all about the severed pieces of your spiritual essence hanging from your throat.
Please refer to enchantment #16 on your ancient scroll. Recite and repeat until the damnation/animation god is banished, moaning and cursing your name, back to his profane realm.
“Mighty Frülik!,” you will say. “Return to blackness! Mighty Frülik! A caelo usque ad centrum!”
Once Frülik is gone, and his howls of abject agony and rage have finally subsided, you will feel the urge to pass out and slip into the Sleep of Ages. This is completely normal, a side-effect of doing business with a demon god, and I must tell you, feels rather nice after a nightcap of chamomile tea and vodka.
Before you sleep, pull the three soul shards from the astral wound in your neck and lay them out, as best you can, with the rest of the materials from your companion crate.
When you awaken in exactly twelve (12) days and nights, we will finally create your soul brothers/sisters. Won’t that be fun?

Easy Step 3: The Better You Emerges

Twelve (12) days and nights have now passed. Are we back in the land of the living? Excellent.
Quick, what is fragile, tenuous, rough around the edges, and excruciatingly, mind-numbingly easy to reduce to cinder? No, it’s not Dr. Julianus Techt’s four failed marriages. It’s paper, friends. Simple, well-crafted, infinitely pliable commercial paper.
Your next task is to create a soul brother/sister from the man-sized sheet of multi colored construction paper you’ve retrieved from the materials and spells companiontjngsopjojgs kijipsgmijijithinign ijisrjomoejoig Frülik fhsko
sohoihionofihisniohi Frülik shinjpspsom Frülik shions
Frülik loves Techt
Frülik loves Techt
Frülik luvs Techt
Frülik has Techt
Frülik has Techtmpr
Say goodbye, Techt
Say goodbye, Techgtnikjigjopop

Managing Editor’s Note: And this is the last thing he wrote for the project, people. The police entered his home last week to find the place torn to pieces but otherwise empty. They found on his workstation a single Tupperware dish containing a full pound of rotting meat.
Due to the highly volatile and disturbed nature of this manuscript–and of course, in light of Dr. Julianus Techt’s mysterious disappearance–One-Hill Prairie Publishing hereby suspends all production plans for Five Easy Steps to Building a Better You until further notice. We have also mandated the immediate destruction of all mockup materials and spells companion crates. Our number one priority is to keep the particulars of this project from reaching the public. Can you imagine what’d happen if some poor fool actually attempted any of this?

Post-Script: We realize that working with Dr. Techt these past weeks and months has been trying, and at times, freakishly horrifying. Free mental health screenings and complimentary Pizza Barn coupons to all who apply.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


BOWLESIAN! – Tumbleweeds and Little Girls

Tumbleweeds and Little Girls

They had the tumbleweed ambassador on the news a month before the big battle. The news guy and news girl said he was intelligent, and then a local representative of the Plains and Wildlife Service translated for him because tumbleweeds can’t talk and must sign everything by rolling and hopping and what not.
“We mean your people no harm,” said the Plains and Wildlife Service guy. He spoke kind of slow and choppy. I guessed he wasn’t actually, what do you call it? Fluent in tumbleweed?
He said, “The war has started, whether you realize it or not. The Prairie Queen has an army of deer, antelope and coyotes. She’s got the power of fire. She murdered our Wizard Father and made her castle from our dead tumbleweed brothers and sisters. The crazy bitch!”
I winced at this last word. I’m only twelve years old, after all. My dad used to talk real rough like that. He used to cuss and laugh and say to me, “Don’t repeat that to your mother, Amie Masterson. I don’t want to fight no little girl.” Then we’d roughhouse a bit. My dad died last year, though. Some kind of cancer. Mom never told me which.
I don’t usually watch the late news. I’m supposed to be in bed. But Mom passed out on the sofa early. I laid a blanket over her and picked the empty wine bottle off its side so it wouldn’t drip on the carpet.
The Plains and Wildlife Service guy said, “Have you not noticed her spot-fires outside your city? We want to kill your precious girls!”
The tumbleweed popped up into the air and spun angrily.
Plains and Wildlife Guy said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. We want to utilize your precious girls. We have no defenses. We need soldiers. The Prairie Queen cannot stand against the wealth of your girls. Or so we believe.”
There was some more talking. I was getting sleepy.
The news guy said, “And of course we know the city has been expanding into the Queen’s prairieland at an exponential rate.”
And the news girl said, “Right you are, Tom. In retrospect, that may have been a huge mistake. Oops.”
And then a commercial for local heating and cooling repair came on. I went to kiss Mom on the forehead. She moaned softly, smiled for a second, and then settled into a noisy, listless snore. Mom is a good mother, but I think Dad dying did some stuff to her. I guess that’s normal. She never used to drink wine.
There was a knock at the door. I was scared for a second, but only because Mom said never to open the door to strangers at such a late hour.
There was another knock.
“Mom,” I said, “someone at the door.”
Mom didn’t wake up. I nudged her, shook her, but still nothing, all snores, drool dribbling from the corner of her mouth. I went to the door, looked through the peephole.
There was nobody there.
“The heck?” I said. I slid back the deadbolt and opened the door.
A tumbleweed sat on our welcome mat. It had a leather glove duct-taped to its scrawny, scratchy limbs. It was kind of a big tumbleweed. The color of autumn wild grass. It leaned in to, like, look in our house.
“Is this because I’m a precious girl?” I said.
The tumbleweed shook.
“And you’re recruiting all the girls and that means me, right?”
It shook again.
“Only thing is I can’t leave. Mom’ll be super pissed. Oops. Mom’ll be super angry.”
The tumbleweed rolled, over and over, until the glove and duct tape came undone and stuck and sat limp and kind of sad on our porch. The tumbleweed wiggled and bent toward the glove.
I shrugged and picked it up. There was a big rock inside. There was also some red dirt. I brought the dirt to my nose to sniff it. It smelled salty, briny, kind of like how I imagine the ocean smells, like vast rotting shipwrecks beneath the waves where porpoises and turtles swim and play.
“What’s this stuff?” I said.
The tumbleweed smashed into my leg. My hand jerked, the dirt flew, a bunch of it went up my nose.
I sneezed.
Someone said, Me entiendes?
I sneezed again. A big cloud of red flew from my nostrils.
Someone said, Ne me comprenez-vous?
“Huh?” I snorted. “S’that even English?”
Oh, English, English! Oh, of course! Yes, how sally of me.
“What? Sally?” I wriggled my nose and wiped allergy tears from my eyes.
Silly! Silly! Of course! Stupid Dumb-Dust. I’m dumb, you know? All tumbleweeds are dumb. Call me Aaron. Aaron Sisymbrium Altissimum. Don’t worry about that last part. That’s my family name. Are you ready to be a soldier, girl?
“Soldier?” I said. “You mean to fight the Prairie Queen?”
That’s precisely what I mean. Time is short. Matters are barbiturate.
“Barbiturate?”
Aaron twitched. Desperate! Desperate! If we don’t stop her now, she’ll kill all the tumbleweeds, and then, girl, she’ll kill all the humans, too.
I looked over my shoulder. Mom was still snoring away on the couch. Wine makes adults snore. That’s something I learned.
Come on, soldier, said Aaron, no more dilly dallying. Don’t you want to make your fellow humans proud?


I learned a lot of things in Tumbleweed Army. I learned how to march, how to roll up into a little ball to protect myself. Learned how to say, “Yes, ma’am!” like I meant it. Most of all, I learned coyotes and deer and antelope were really scary because they could eat the tumbleweeds and break the wizard’s spell and use their shoulder-mounted flamethrowers to burn everything. The Prairie Queen had the power of fire. She wanted to burn it all, burn the world, which I guess included my home and my mom, which is why I stayed.
There was a girl there called Jade. She was an older girl. Really pretty, with deep almond skin and bright green eyes. We’d be in the middle of flamethrower-dodging exercises, and she’d come up to me and look at the way I was darting and dodging around, and she’d say, “Looking real good, Masterson. Looking real sharp.”
The tumbleweeds didn’t do any of the teaching or drilling themselves. They only knew tumbling. They left it to all the thirteen and fourteen-year-olds to teach us everything we needed to know. Maybe they should have asked for the real army, the adult army. Even they seemed weirded out by a little girl army, and sometimes they acted like they didn’t know how they’d ended up with us at all.
If the adult army was looking for us, they never found us, secret and hidden away on the outskirts of the city like we were. Also the tumbleweeds had this special concealing magic. The last thing they had left of their Wizard Father.
Aaron told me, Our Wizard Father was a great man. He granted us intelligence and the freedom we so cherish. But the concealing magic’s fading. We can’t stay hidden from the Queen forever.
I was like, okay, you’re fine, the older girls know everything. They’ve designed this whole thing and know everything there is to know. That’s probably why our uniforms were pink and sparkly, and why our flags carried pictures of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, and why even though the cutoff age was fourteen, you could tell they were serious and skilled and were girls on a mission, girls ready to kill.
I missed my mom. I’m not going to lie about that. I missed her so bad it didn’t matter to me she didn’t listen anymore when I talked to her about school, or that I always saw her crying first thing in the morning, or that everything Dad made her promise when he was in the hospital sort of, well, just went forgotten and we didn’t talk about it. I was in that army for four weeks, then we had the big battle, but I never forgot Mom, and I guess she never forgot me, but I couldn’t say goodbye to her just in case I might die, because the tumbleweeds were real, real strict about enemy code breakers and antelope misinformation squads.


One night as I was laying down to sleep in my tent, Jade came and undid the tent flap and she and a few girls brought in a little white cupcake with a single candle flickering and hopping kind of like a tumbleweed.
“What’s this?” I said sleepily.
“It’s your birthday, Masterson,” said Jade.
“My birthday?”
She nodded and said, “Make a wish.”
I wished to kiss a boy, but knew it probably wouldn’t come true because there were no boys for miles and miles. Me and the girls shared the cupcake, but the cupcake was made out of mashed potatoes, because the tumbleweed galley only had potatoes because Aaron told us all you eat is potatoes in the army and we didn’t argue.
“Jade,” I said, choking down my last bite. “Do you think things will go back to normal after this? I mean, after we kill the Prairie Queen and all? Do you think all us girls can go back to how we were?”
Jade thought about this. She nodded. “Yes, I think we can. At least I hope we can. Wizards and Queens and Dumb-Dust, all that stuff shouldn’t exist. I think it only exists because the world needs stuff to make you wonder. You know what I mean? My Dad always says, ‘Boy it really makes you wonder’. I think that sort of thing is really important.”
“Why?” I said.
One of the other girls chimed in. “Because everything would be so boring otherwise.”
“Boring’s not bad,” said Jade. “Boring’s only bad if you get used to it. There’s always people stepping on other people. Trying to take things that don’t belong to them, you know? Because people get used to that, too. Like that spot where our city and their world meet up….”


So there was this spot where our city and their world met up. For miles and miles, our buildings rose high, and interstates ran, and traffic lights blinked red, yellow, green, red, yellow, green.
But on this spot, there were a few loose suburban fingers of little houses that looked nice but that also all looked the same, and those fingers kind of stretched out, and then they ended, and their world was beyond, the prairie world, high grass and rolling hills, pretty wildflowers and peaceful vistas.
The wind could rustle through, and it could carry a dry, dusty scent, and maybe there’d be pollen on the wind, but there were no honking car horns or televisions blaring. People didn’t shout at each other. There were no people. The city wasn’t there yet. Maybe it would be someday. Of course it would be. The city just kept growing and growing and growing, and nobody bothered to ask the Queen if it was okay. Nobody stopped to think it might be a bad thing if the prairie world got swallowed up, got paved over, with houses and restaurants and, you know, post offices and stuff built all over it.
We had the battle on that spot. It was time. No more hiding. Me and all the girls—thousands of girls—we lined up at the fence line of that last wandering suburban finger. The hot mid-afternoon sun beat down on us. Smell in the air like columbines. We came in our pink sparkly uniforms, with our flags waving. The grenade girls all had purple caps. Girls with rifles had big red badges on their chests. There were also film-crew girls, who’d appointed themselves to the rank, who held up smartphones and snapped selfies with the battlefield-to-be in the background.
I was light infantry, just like Jade, and that meant we had no weapons, only pig-tails and three-ring binders, because the tumbleweeds had chosen girls for a reason, and we all figured we’d be even scarier all dressed up for school.
Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls. Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls.
We kind of told each other that over and over again, sort of like a, what do you call it? A mantra?
Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls.
Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls.
And we said it again and again, and it made us less afraid, even though we knew we might die that day.
The ground beneath our feet trembled. Far off across the field, over the rise and fall of grassy hills, we saw the first ranks of animals and their flamethrowers. The coyotes were the fastest and lightest, and they ran ahead of the herd, belching fire, scorching earth, I guess to scare us. They howled and yipped at the antelope and deer. You kind of figure antelope and deer don’t make noises, but they do. This strained, desperate, sharp kind of screaming noise. And when there are thousands of them—and there were thousands—it comes off like a banshee wail, like a great roaring throat sound loud as jet engines.
I don’t know why, but the sound made us cry. It was so loud. The screaming, the yipping, the flames and flames and flames. I cried like I knew a soldier should never cry. But it was okay, because Jade cried, too. Maybe I felt like running home to my mom, and maybe Jade did also, but she didn’t, she stood there like she was the bravest crying girl in the world, and she called back to us through her tears, “Steady, now! Wait until you see the whites of their eyes!”
And I didn’t know what that meant, because animals don’t have white eyes, but I stood my ground all the same, even though my legs trembled, even though the tears drenched my uniform and my tongue felt stuck to the roof of my mouth.
The tumbleweed commanders came rolling out to marshal our forces. I saw Aaron there with Commander Johnston Salsola Kali.
Commander Johnston waved a scraggly little twig-limb and said through the Dumb-Dust, Today you do your species proud! Today you are not girls, but women! Human women of distinction, finery, and absolute quality. We have no idea how it is you came to defend us, but be not afraid, dear human beings! For though you may die—yes, you may die, yes, yes!—for though that may be so, remember, one and all, that the Queen may take your lives, but she shall never take your Sweden!
In unison, the thousands-girl army said, “Huh?”
Commander Johnston said, Bother! Freedom! Freedom! Freeeeeeedom!
The army roared. Girls fired rifles in the air. They said, “Freeeeeeedom!” Even though freedom wasn’t really the thing, but getting trampled and burned up, but a cry of freedom was enough, and I said it, too.
Jade told us to stand at the ready. We did. She told us to march ahead at the quick step. We did that, too. I think the older girls had watched old war movies before the battle, so everything they were telling us to do was really smart and accurate for what soldiers are supposed to do in battle.
We marched at the quick step. The rifle girls and grenade girls were right behind us. The rifle girls fired rounds over our heads. This was smart because the animals kind of flinched and froze at the noise.
Bang! Bang! Bang, bang, bang!
And anyway, it wasn’t the animals we were after, but the Queen, who, tumbleweed intelligence told us, would be in the middle of her formations, in the mobile command station made of dead tumbleweed bodies all stuck together.
“Double-time, march!” said Jade.
We picked up the pace.
Coyotes snapped and howled at us. The deer and the antelope shot steady burning jets of fire. We began our dodging maneuvers, still in ranks, still in line, but dodging that fire like crazy.
A girl beside me—Kirsten—went down screaming. Our standard bearer went up in flames, but the next girl in line—a film-crew girl—picked up the smoldering flag and soldiered on, still bravely snapping selfies and snagging footage of the whole bloody mess.
And it occurred to me that the world was a crazy place. It made you wonder. Really made you wonder, you know? Girls weren’t supposed to be soldiers. Were they? Were girls supposed to be soldiers? I bent over Kirsten. Girls weren’t supposed to be soldiers, were they? Little girls? Kids and teenagers? I froze to the spot. I tried to touch her. Girls weren’t supposed to be soldiers. She was too hot, too bubbling, too much melted Kirsten. Girls weren’t supposed to be soldiers. They weren’t, were—
Jade slapped me.
“Snap out of it, Masterson!” she said. “The command station! Look, it’s right there!”
And it was right there. It looked like a castle on wheels. Made of tumbleweeds. Thousands upon thousands of poor dead tumbleweeds.
Burn the world! Burn it all!
Nobody else would die! Nobody!
Jade and I and the remnants of our unit—all told, seven girls—we darted in and out of flames and animals. Grenades exploded all around us. Dying things, dying from bullet wounds, dying from the burn.
We mounted the ramp of that mobile command station. We tried to punch through the tumbleweed walls, but the Queen had cast a spell, and the walls were solid as steel.
Jade told us to begin the chant, the mantra. We began it.
“Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls! Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls! Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls!”
The mobile command station rolled to a stop.
“Prairie Queen’s afraid! Prairie Queen’s afraid!”
The animals stopped. Their roaring streams and jets and flames. They stopped their screaming. The coyotes stopped howling and yipping and yapping.
“Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls!”
And our army stopped, too. Nobody told them what to do if the animals quit fighting. Nobody expected that. The battlefield went silent, all but the wind, and the flickering and popping of little grass fires here and there, and us seven girls, and our chanting, our mantra.
“Prairie Queen’s afraid of school girls! Prairie Queen’s afraid—”
“The Prairie Queen fears nothing!”
The voice boomed and echoed across the field. It was low, brassy, not human at all.
The command station exploded.
I went flying. I hit the ground. The air rushed from my lungs.
Tumbleweed shrapnel bit at me, scratched me up. I felt the pain of it, but I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe at all.
The voice came again. With a kind of wispy whipcrack to each syllable.
“The Prairie Queen fears nothing! Nothing!”
Like the blast of a shotgun, my breath came back to me. I sucked in air like it was a thick milkshake, like the best chocolate milkshake I’d ever tasted.
Hands took hold of me, lifted me, jerked me up. My feet didn’t touch the ground.
“You, girl! Do you think I fear you?”
It wasn’t hands that had a hold of me. And it wasn’t a nasty old Queen hovering inches from my face. I expected a scary old lady. The Prairie Queen was a blade of wild grass. Just a single, tall, stout blade of wild grass, with no face, no mouth, no eyes. Split from her body, willowy grass arms, with little willowy grass hands. She shook me. She said, “What stupidity! What inane musings! To think I could fear this dull creature! This girl. You people. You take so much. I will take from you!”
And then she threw me to the ground and started whipping me with her green grassy hands.
It stung. It slivered and sliced. I started bleeding. The girls just watched. The animals watched. Stunned.
“Help!” I said. “Help!”
“You will not take from me,” screeched the Queen. “You will not take from me.”
She whipped me. Welts and cuts and lacerations and ripping, tearing skin. I curled into a ball, like the older girls had taught us, but the whipping kept coming and kept coming and kept coming.
A little ball of fire started circling her wild grass head. The Queen said, “Burn the wizard. Burn the weeds. Burn your city to the ground!”
The ball grew and grew, and it circled faster and faster and—
Movement in the field.
A tumbleweed rolled and hopped over me and smashed into the Queen. The ball of fire circling her head exploded. The tumbleweed ignited. The Queen ignited, too.
“Masterson!” Jade was moving now. She tossed me a grenade. I pulled the pin and flicked it at the Queen.
The burning tumbleweed was in the way. I rolled behind an antelope carcass.


Mom found me bleeding on the sofa the next morning. There was a collection of wine bottles in our living room. And also a bunch of notebooks and pens and candy wrappers. And also pizza boxes because adults like whole pizzas and whole bottles of wine. That’s something I learned.
Mom was drinking from a fresh bottle, sort of stumbling down the hall. She spotted me and said, “Oh my God, Amie?”
“Hi, Mom.”
She dropped the bottle. Wine splashed our white carpet. She flung herself at me and started kissing me all over and crushing me.
“Ow!” I said. “Ow, Mom! I’m hurt. I’m bleeding.”
“Jesus Christ, you’re bleeding!”
“I know.”
“Band-Aids! Hydrogen Peroxide!”
Mom patched me up as best she could. We both agreed I should go to the hospital, though. War’s like that I guess. Sometimes people die. Sometimes they have to go to the hospital.
I watched the television as she fawned over me and poured peroxide over all my wounds. It bubbled and itched and burned. I still watched TV.
The Plains and Wildlife Service guy translated for Tumbleweed Commander Johnston. I didn’t need him to, though.
Commander Johnston said, This day, this VQ day, this victory over the Queen, we shall remember it always, just as we shall remember and honor anew a bond of brotherhood between weed kind and humankind. Let it never be said your people backed down when all free folk everywhere fell under the flaming, fiery yoke of prairie oppression.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” said my mom. “It’s crazy you girls had to do this.”
Commander Johnston said, Your girls are our heroes. We don’t know why you sent them to us. All we know is we’re glad you did.
At this, Plains and Wildlife Guy paused, and, loud enough for the studio microphones to pick him up, he said, “What do you mean? You specifically said girls. Precious girls. You took them from us before we even—”
Commander Johnston quivered. No, the girls were your idea. You’re the ones who kept saying girls, girls. We asked for pearls. Thousands of precious pearls. As a means of currency. You know, to buy the aid of Southeast Asian mercenaries.
Plains and Wildlife Service Guy looked into the camera. He shook his head. He sighed and rubbed his temples.
Regardless, said Commander Johnston, it was the bravery of two—one weed, one girl—who gave us our victory, who stopped the wicked Queen and her lust for death and destruction. Aaron Sisymbrium Altissimum. Amie Masterson.
My mom paused.
We owe our lives to you.
And then they showed the moment. The moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Aaron went rolling and hopping. It was Aaron. It was his death all over again. He smashed into the Queen. They both ignited. Jade threw me the grenade. I flicked it, rolled away. The screen went white for a moment. Big boom. And that was the end of the war.
“Dear God, Amie.” My mom’s voice was soft, barely above a whisper. “You did that?”
I nodded, staring at the screen, watching the replay, feeling all those grassy whip lashes again and again, feeling that impact, the way it hit the antelope carcass. Smell of gunpowder. Shrapnel in my leg. Antelope meat in my hair and in my mouth.
“You did that?” my mom said again.
“I did. I did do that.”
“But you’re just a little girl.”
I put my hand on hers. Squeezed it.
“Mom?” I said.
“Yeah?”
“Too many wine bottles. Less wine, okay Mom?”
Mom hesitated. She nodded and said, “Okay, less wine.”
“And Mom?”
“Yes, honey?”
“It was my birthday last week.”
“I know.”
“Can I have a cake? A real cake? Not a potato cake.”
“What’s a potato cake?”
“It’s what you eat on your birthday when you’re in the army. Don’t you know anything about the army?”
Mom stared at me. She glanced at the TV, the footage, the whipping, the fire, the explosion. She shook her head.
“No,” she said, “I guess I haven’t the slightest clue.”

THE END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Words to Live By – Inspiration, Legacy, and Beatles Music

Words to Live By

The first Wednesday of the month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Paperback Writer

Over the holidays, I watched the new Beatles documentary released on Disney+, The Beatles: Get Back. I’m a huge fan of the group and always have been. I realize there are non-Beatles fans out there, but I have to admit, I’ve always been mystified by their lack of enthusiasm. To me and millions of other Beatlemanics, the band is a historical landmark, having written and recorded music that changed pop culture for generations to come.

This blog entry is about inspiration and legacy. I liked to write stories as a kid, but really, I wanted to be a rock star. This would’ve been in the mid-90s. At the time, many potential role models existed for me and every other outcast kid who picked up a guitar. I wasn’t into Nirvana or Linkin Park at that age, didn’t appreciate Red Hot Chili Peppers or Green Day. I loved The Beatles, plus lots of other groups from the 60s and 70s. Never mind that my older brother and mom began spoon-feeding me this stuff at a very early age, or the fact that I looked up to my brother and enjoyed liking the things he thought were cool. The Beatles were special, supernatural even. I believed that then and I believe it now.

But the truth is, I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately. Not even Christmas cheered me up. In fact, it only made me feel worse. This Get Back documentary, it’s exhaustive (and a little exhausting). Only a mega Beatles nerd could’ve pieced it together. Peter Jackson (director and co-writer of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) happens to have been that nerd. The film is almost eight hours in length, split over three episodes, focusing on just one month or so in the lives of the famous foursome.

The great thing about it is that we really get to see The Beatles’ creative process up close. Lots of labor and missteps, mistakes and dead ends. Critics have said this proves they weren’t as legendary as fans have always claimed. To me, it makes them more human, which is a comfort, because it proves anyone anywhere can muster enough talent and drive to produce work of honest significance.

Inspiration is great, but it’s not nearly as effective as perspiration. When I was learning to play and sing and write songs, John Lennon was my idol. I wanted to be him, and man did all the other kids in school think I was strange. I remember looking up at the stars one night when I was ten years old and whispering to the heavens,

“I want to be the greatest rock star ever.”

Or something to that effect. As it turned out, I lived a small (very small) portion of that dream. Played music with people all the way through my teens and early twenties. Lots of tiny coffee house gigs, open mic nights, bars, private celebrations. When I was twenty-one, I met the woman I would one day marry, and eventually I found I wanted different things out of life. Writing short stories and novels, the pursuit of some kind of career in this field, it replaced my desire to make music almost entirely. I grew dedicated to the craft and learned a hell of a lot. For the most part, writing has made me happy. I’m glad I took the years necessary to get good at it.

But I wouldn’t have found that dedication, that fire in my heart, if I weren’t already intimately familiar with it. There is an electric feeling that occurs inside the body and mind of a musician caught in the flow of her or his own creativity. The Beatles clearly knew that feeling well. It’s potent and wonderful, thrilling and powerful.

I came to learn that writing is a slower burn. Tons of work up front, and then maybe (maybe) a bit of adulation months or years later. But it still holds moments of intense creative gratification. No matter who you are, how popular or famous or legendary, this process, this mental birthing experience, it can be difficult and frustrating. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were all wonderful musicians. They had nothing to prove to anyone, yet they still worked themselves to the bone to make stuff that simply had no equal.

So here’s my question for all of you: how dedicated are you to what you love? What thrills you and gets you excited for writing or anything else in life? Maybe it’s a bit unfashionable to admit that music recorded some sixty years ago makes me feel ready to take on the world, but it does. Especially when I get to see it up close, visceral, all the creative battles, coming to the logical and favorable conclusion of work that stands the test of time.

Next time you’re feeling down in the dumps and not at all creative, head back to the source—your personal wellspring of inspiration—and see if it won’t refill your cup a little. Pick up a guitar, or a pencil or paintbrush or a media powerhouse of a computer, or maybe just watch a good film about one of your favorite things on earth. All hail the makers of cool stuff. Be they Beatles or bestsellers or nobodies in particular.

Peace and love to you this new year. May it bring you everything you need, and maybe a few of the things you want, too. Until next time.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of “Words To Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it useful or entertaining, please share.