The Short Stories
The short stories of Judah Lamey,
as well as the Stories of Quillville.
as well as the Stories of Quillville.
Glint: Private Eye
Odds are, if you have found your way here into this rambling narrative of a story, that you have heard of me. For the few of you who may be new around here, the name is Glint and as the peeling paint on the frosted glass of my office door behind you so boldly announces, I am a private eye. Somehow, through means that I am still not entirely sure of, I wound up the assistant mayor of our fine city here. If we are being entirely honest, I am not sure it wasn’t a plot of Mayor Lombard to keep a closer eye on me.
How about I stop breaking the fourth wall here, and you can have a seat and watch my story unfold, besides I need to moodily stare into the curling smoke of my pipe while appearing deep in thought. Most of the time, this is just to give a good impression to potential clients, but today I actually have a good amount of deep thoughts to be mulled over.
There is that old adage, or perhaps it is an axiom I never knew the difference, that it never rains but it pours. It is patently untrue, but somehow it survives the turning of the calendar pages year after year, and is muttered with a shake of the head like a useless emotional bandaid. My particular reason for reviving the age thin adage would be that last month I didn’t have as much as a missing cat case, but at the moment I was wearing holes in my shoes working on two rather large cases.
The first one, and perhaps the most nefarious would be the sabotage of the Science Center. The owner Blue had nothing to gain from the sabotage, and everything to lose so more often than not this would exempt her from the suspect list. Now I say more often than not, because there is more going on at that Science Center than meets they eye, and Blue is hiding something. My initial interview with her was less than enlightening, it was unusually formal, and more than a little awkward. At first I took her poor eye contact as evasion, but came to the conclusion it was just a conversational style, at least when she was dealing with private eyes. It was when I was strategically steered away from the idea of exploring the Museum for clues, and then also casually dissuaded from getting my hands on the security camera footage that I started to be more than a little suspicious of Blue.
Which leads us to my second case, perhaps not very nefarious, but still more than a little disconcerting. Someone broke into Struve’s Hobby Farm and released a virus that infected the animals, temporarily giving them surprisingly accurate faces of Quillville citizens. Personally I found myself staring back from a goat, which surprised me more because it wasn’t a donkey. I thought for sure I would have been a jack ass, but maybe I am not so bad as I think, that or I shouldn’t take life affirmations from virus infected animals.
My pipe smoke swirled rhythmically as my thoughts traced the outline of my two mysteries. Until, with a bang, the door to my office slammed open, and an overly large man forced his way inside, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of one hand.
“My name is Lockjaw, and I’m here to hire you.”
Looking over the intruder of my thoughts with a practiced eye I made more than a few deductions, and I disliked him immediately, and not just because he sounded like a B list villain from a Disney movie. Though the necessity of keeping the coffee bean jar full meant I needed to take cases from people I didn’t like every now and then. Though if he wanted me to find puppies for a coat I was out.
“What can I do for you Lockjaw.” I said, setting down my pipe.
In what I guessed was an attempt at a power play to keep me off balance, he picked my styrofoam coffee cup off the desk and smirked at me, as if daring me to say something about it.
“First, that’s rude, second that’s not coffee.”
He looked at the cup with confusion, in time for an iridescent red Mantis Shrimp claw to burst through the side of the mug. Lockjaw gingerly set the cup back on the desk, and as the arm retracted a small eye filled the hole, looking over the sweaty man with distain.
With a smile I gesture to the cup, “That is a witness for one of my cases, they are helping me out a bit. But you didn’t come here to get assaulted by crustaceans.”
To his credit Lockjaw gathered himself and clearing his throat, he pulled a folded sheaf of papers from his back pocket and handed them across to me. “This is my book, I just finished it last month, and already their is someone out there trying to claim it is their own.”
Flipping through the pages, I read excerpts at random getting a feel for the book.
“And you want me to figure out who they are?”
“I know who it is.” Lockjaw handed me another piece of paper, this one with a photo and a name. As Assistant Mayor I find myself out walking the streets of Quillville quite often, and as odds would have it the smile in the picture was not unknown to me.
“So, what exactly do you need me for then?” I flipped through the pages with a bit more determination.
Lockjaw gave a small cough and then slid a manila envelope with a suspiciously cash like bulge in it, “You are going to persuade them to stop making a fuss about this book, drop their claims and walk away.”
Nodding toward the envelope I ask, “And that is for?”
The grin he gives me is lop sided and more a smirk than a smile. “Consider that a bonus just for hearing me out.”
His grin falters a little as I pick the envelope up, open it and pull out the money. Apparently he was hoping for a little more cloak and dagger, or perhaps a little more appreciation from me.
While I thumb through the stack of bills I turn partially toward my open office window and give a loud, shrill whistle. Lockjaw balks at the noise and I can see him beginning to frown at my lack of respect for him and his sweaty money. I smile up at him and this apparently was not what he was hoping for.
His grin vanishes as he attempts to lean ominously over my desk. “You listen here you…”
Whatever insult he was about to try out is abruptly silenced by the arrival of a raven landing on the window sill with a less than delicate crunch of wood.
I quickly jot down two very similar notes on ripped off pieces of paper while Lockjaw is attempting to regain his mental balance and process the arrival of a raven, who at the moment appears to be studying him quite intently. Another short whistle gets the raven’s attention and with a hop it is on the edge of my desk, begrudgingly letting me tie the notes onto its legs. Scratching the bird behind its head I whisper a few words to it before letting it go.
“Lockjaw, you have made a few mistakes here today, and I’m not going to lie, they are going to have unpleasant ramifications. See first off, you didn’t do nearly enough homework on me, second you brought a copy of this book here.” Standing up I look him square in the eye as I hold out my arm and let fly my raven. With a practiced motion the raven flaps once into air, and then folds its wings diving out the window. With my other hand I held the picture he had brought in.
“See, I know this person, I have talked to them before, and oddly enough I have talked to them about the book they were writing. The book they took years of their life writing.”
Lockjaw tried to stammer out something indignant but I didn’t give him the chance.
“Okay fair is fair, in skimming the book here I saw a particularly noticeable cliffhanger. No author would forget one of their own cleverly constructed cliffhangers, so finish the sentence for me. Tiffany stood looking down at the smoldering wreckage of the car and knew…”
His mouth opened and closed a few times, not too dissimilar to a fish caught out of water. No doubt his thoughts were also quite similar to aforementioned doomed fish.
I continued. “Being assistant mayor has taught me a thing or two, and one of those things is delegation. Even the occasional necessity of delegating things you yourself want to do. See my raven there just left on a mission to find two individuals. One is a rather shady peace keeper by the name of M. Damon Baker, who upon hearing your crime, may leave their badge in the car in exchange for a sock full of nickels when they catch up to you. Second is Quillville’s very own Red Quill, who’s punishment style is a little more…” I paused as if searching for the perfect word. “creative. Now nothing would give me more pleasure than to take you outside and demonstrate for you the nuances of a proper curb stomp, however I do have quite a lot to do, and not a lot of time, so if I were you…”
Reaching a hand out, Lockjaw attempted to grab back the money. With a smile I pulled it out of his range, “You clearly said this was bonus for hearing you out, which I did. Payment for services rendered and all that.”
Bravery and cowardice warred inside him, but not for as long as one might think, apparently the troops on the bravery side of that fight were few and far between. Turning he bolted for the door, leaving me with my quiet contemplations once again.
Settling back into my chair I relit my pipe and after a few puffs had a suitable cloud for staring into. While Blue was in the overall scheme of things proving more suspicious than helpful, there was one lead that she had let slip. The virus would take a week to show its effects, and would have had to be passed on from other animals. Counting back the days gave me a rough idea of when it would have had to be administered. To get away with such a villainous act, would require a substantial distraction. I made a few phone calls, and ran into some dead ends before a thought struck me, what about the shindig at Helmkamp’s? There was a huge turn out, and it would have been later at night, so if I were going to choose a time to sneak through town, that would have been it.
Rummaging through my desk I produced a map of Quillville and spread it out on my desk. Grabbing a pencil I marked Helmkamp’s Whiskey Bar on the map, and then also the Hobby Farm. The shindig at the Whiskey Bar had been a wonderful chaos, turning into a bit of a spontaneous follow train sort of party. Anyone seen on the street, was pulled into the festivities. So our culprit would have wanted to stay out of sight, that meant ether the subterranean tunnels, or the rooftops. The tunnels were, in my opinion cooler, but far harder to hide in, which really only left the rooftops.
There were two possibilities for witnesses if this were the case, one of them was The Red Quill, who at the moment was probably chasing down a particularly sweaty quarry. Closing my eyes I did my best to piece together the sounds and smells of Helmkamp’s, skimming through my memories for who I had seen. Red Quill had indeed been there, in her civilian identity. So that really only left me one option for who to check with. After donning my hat and coat, I pull a book from my shelf revealing a pair of gleaming brass knuckles that had been hidden behind it. Pocketing them the thought crossed my mind, would they still be considered brass knuckles if they were made out of pure silver?
“Come on Monty, we are going to see a person about a dog. Or in this case, perhaps it would be more accurate to say we are going to see a dog about a person.”
The Lycanthropes of Quillville spend the daylight hours in a seedy underground bar waiting for night to descend before heading out to roam the rooftops. They are mostly a good sort if a little on the rough and tumble side. As I walk into the bar with the less than subtle handle of “The Lair” every head turns, and every conversation stops. It is impossible to tell who is a werewolf while in human form but it is a pretty good bet that most or all of them are.
“Good afternoon, I’m here to ask you all a few questions.”
One particularly large individual snorts at this, and another gives a low chuckle.
It starts almost as a ripple, a shiver rolling through the dozen or so individuals gathered in the bar. Most all of them start to roll their necks or shoulders, as the transformation takes them. The one who had snorted at me holds my eyes, as he sits stock still, unmoving. One hand over the back of their chair, the other holding a sweating bottle of beer on the table. Hair slithers out of his skin, as their mouth and nose elongate into a vicious looking muzzle, teeth pulling at their lips. Without so much as a twitch his transformation takes completely, and only then does he raise the bottle to his now wolfish face and take another drink. Licking his lips the werewolf sets their beer down and smiles at me.
“I am not going to lie, that is quite impressive, and not a little intimidating. But I wouldn’t have come down here if I didn’t have an offer.”
Gesturing with their bottle the apparent leader of the wolves allows me to continue.
“How about this, If I can knock one of you out with one hit then you tell me what I want to know. If I can’t you all get one free hit on me.”
There was a collective rasping laugh that rolled through the dim bar, and for the first time the leader spoke, “One hit each?”
“That is the deal, not in the face, and you have to leave me living at the end, but it won’t come to that anyway.”
“Deal.” The leader then barked a few words and another werewolf rose from a table to the side. I looked over, and blinked, it was apparent that the leader may not have been the largest of the wolves after all. The beast who approached me, was immense. Coarse hair coated a chest and arms thick with rippling muscle. Even the wooden floor groaned at the presence of this nightmare made flesh. With a grin across it’s scarred muzzle the beast reached out to flex and curl their elongated and claw tipped fingers. Mocking me, the creature even leaned down a bit, turning its head to present me with the side of its massive jaw. This elicited another round of chuckles from the pack.
Cracking my neck, I shook out my shoulders and brought my firsts up in front of my face. Without preamble I snapped a right jab out to the side of the wolfs face, but instead of connecting, I simply turned my fist over and opened my hand. Shimmering in all of its iridescent beauty was my temporary companion Monty. In that flash of a moment I could have swore I saw it smile. There was a sound not dissimilar to breaking a handful of sticks over ones knee, followed by a rather large thud, and then an all consuming silence
“Now, before you gather up your friends teeth and try to bring them around back into the land of the conscious. I have a few questions.”
The leader gave another booming laugh, and with a shake of their head their wolf form melted away. Monty was an instant celebrity, and the leader gladly answered my questions. It turns out that they were indeed out wandering the rooftops on the night in question, but none of them had seen anything out of the ordinary, they hadn’t even smelled anyone, or even the trail of anyone.
At first I thought I was on the wrong lead entirely, until one of the younger lycanthropes piped up. “It could have been that Bines fellow.”
The other wolves growled slightly at this, then went on to explain to me that one of the teachers at the Quillville high school, a one Marcus Bines, had suddenly stopped having a scent altogether. They had noticed this because their sense of smell was as sharp or sharper than their eyesight, meaning any discrepancy between the two stood out like flair on a moonless night.
The unconscious and largely forgotten body on the floor gave a groan, and I decided that it might be best if Monty and I were gone by the time they came fully around. As I walked the gas lit streets of Quillville I mulled over this potential new lead. Marcus Bines was not an unfamiliar name to me, as he was currently being considered for Education Minister. He was a good sort, and I would have never pegged him for the type to cause such trouble, but this was a city of writers, and well, we are far from an easy crew to draw a bead on. Laughter and music drifted out of the The Good Ideas Bookstore & Bad Decisions Coffee Bar as I walked by, and for a moment I was tempted to stop in, but I really did need to get on with my task. Then the cup in my hand gave a shudder. Reaching down I popped off the lid and looked in on Monty. The mantis shrimp had one of its eyes to the hole it had made and was tapping the side of the cup with one of its claws. Knowing I must look like a mad man I seemingly consulted my coffee and then slowly took a step closer to the open coffee shop.
Inside one of the laughing patrons turned in their seat and Monty went ridged, their claw starting to drag down the inside of the cup, grooving the styrofoam. Making a mental note, I slipped the lid back on the cup and continued on my way. Very interesting, it seemed that bringing Monty along had turned out to be a good idea for more than one reason now. Looks like I have a lead on Blue’s case as well, but first things first.
On the horizon the sun was just beginning to flirt with the landscape when I made it to outside Bines office, it was on the ground floor and had a beautiful view of a small park. I watched for a moment until he stepped out, before hurrying through the park and to his window. Monty twitched excitedly in the cup, the little guy had gotten the taste for destruction fast.
“Subtle has its place to Monty.” I muttered to the cup as I slid a small shim from within my jacket and proceeded to jimmy the window lock with a practiced motion. I wasn’t always a mayor after all.
When Bines returned with a steaming mug in his hand, he gave a small start at seeing me sitting at his desk, smiling. To his credit, he recovered quickly and merely reached up to adjust his glasses before speaking.
“Mayor Glint! What a surprise to see you in my office, at my chair. I just stepped out for something to drink, would you like some?”
“Assistant Mayor, and that’s not the reason I am here today, have a seat.” I gesture to one of the chairs across from Bines’s desk.
He gave a snort of amusement, before playing along with a shrug. There was something in his slight smirk that made me like the fellow even more. I enjoyed pulling this stunt on suspects, it usually threw them off kilter. They would get angry or scared, but they would let something slip. Bines just seemed amused. Odds are you didn’t get to be in line for the job of Education Minister without having a high tolerance for putting up with shenanigans.
“I am here to ask you some questions about the events surrounding Struve’s Hobby Farm and the virus outbreak. Whoever pulled that caper was very clever and very careful. However, I am kind of good at what I do, and the trail led me here to your door.”
I gave a small shrug and a smile but left the conversational ball in his court.
Adjusting his glasses again he smiled, “To be honest, I have heard a little talk around town that you were behind that, I mean Glint may be your first name, but we all know your last name. Though if you are here, it is unlikely that rumor is true. So what exactly led you here?”
“It seems there was a good chance that the perpetrator used the rooftops to get across town on the night in question, and while the lycanthropes were out in force howling at the moon as they do, they didn’t smell anything, oddly enough there was almost a suspicious lack of scents. Something that reminded them of you.
Bines shook his head and laughed. “I said there was talk around the town that suspected you, but personally I had my own suspicions. There is a student of mine that I used to teach back in my Quillville High days, and they were a well known prankster then. Used to let down the air in the principal’s tires, that sort of thing. Also, they did seem more than a little keen in my scent masking formula a couple weeks ago.”
Standing from behind his desk I tipped my hat to Bines, “Well then, have a great evening, I am off to…” I left the sentence hang, an unasked question. Bines smiled and gave me a name, one that I was quite familiar with, and perhaps one that should have been higher on my suspect list. I bid him farewell and assured him, that even with all this, he had my vote for Education Minister.
I had to hurry across town to catch up to my prey, unfortunately this meant borrowing a penny farthing from my friend Susan Waters, why on earth she had a soft spot for these deathtraps was beyond me, they didn’t even have cupholders. Balancing precariously on a very small seat atop a very large wheel with Monty’s cup clenched in my teeth I rattled my way as quickly as I could across town, cursing Susan’s taste with every one of the, what had to be millions, of bumps along the way. I nearly crashed the thing out of spite when I finally pulled up to the end of my journey. It took my a solid minute to calm Monty down, and sort my hat and coat back into place. Hard to look like a hardboiled detective while riding one of those things.
Walking down the street through the gas lit fog brought a smile to my face, this was my favorite time of day, and it couldn’t be beat for theatrics. A figure resolved itself through the fog, their back to me as they locked a pair of large double doors. When they turned and made eye contact with me, be it my smile, or my very presence here, I could see them put the pieces together. I knew I had the right person.
“Good Evening Alexandra Peel, we need to have a talk.”
Welcome to Quillville, an entire city created by writers, for writers.
If you are new to the City of Quillville, you can swing over and check out the introductory post HERE
If you want more stories, you can check out the Opening Day of the Science Museum by @AspienBlue
Our amazing cover art is by @Bernade99148377
Author Anonymous (For Now)
From up here, the City of Quillville looked like any other. I wouldn't say the streets were mean, just a little shabby round the edges. The City Planner; some dame called Carlson, had strange ideas about road layout – she wasn't from around here originally – but there again who was?
Music drifted up from Helmkamp's Whiskey Bar. It was a pleasant evening and many of the clientèle had drifted onto the street to mingle. I spotted two figures seemingly in close conversation. Looks like Valencia Stokes; judging by the fedora, and who's she with? Ah yes, our Deputy Mayor. The fine, upstanding Mister Glint. I'll give him and Mayor Lombard one thing, they run a tight ship. But there's something amiss in our bright, shiny town. A little secret they're trying to hush up and Stokes, I think, is onto it. Well after tonight, everybody will know.
A scrape on the slates behind me. I can smell rankness, wet fur. Hear the click of nails tap-tapping along. The lycanthropes are out tonight; I assume the others will be on the move too; some weird Goth kids. Earlier today there was a fire in the north end of town. Lombard believes they did it - has her eye on the gangs, got them doing community service, if you can believe that! I keep low and still. One of the teachers at the local high school, Bines, made me up this scent camouflage – if Lombard or Glint find out the guy could lose his job – Marcus Bines is up for Education Minister. The werewolf passes, doesn't
smell me, thanks teach!
An engine roar getting louder draws my eyes. A little red corvette squeals up to the bar; wheels spinning, dust flying, people coughing. I see a petite brunette step out. Despite the lack of sun, she's wearing huge sunglasses. Little Lacie Waldon, Quillville's Head of Light Entertainment, or something, saunters across the pavement, greeted by handshakes, kisses and hugs – oh they love their hugs in Quillville! The BBQ Whiskey Bar is throwing some kind of celebration, because the town's Hostess du supreme organized a charabanc for the whole place. Had to get the mad scientists involved to enable us all to fit into a handful of cars – at least I got to drive. Just along the way, Daniels and Zaychta of the Bad Decision Coffee Bar
and Tempest Tea Rooms, respectively, are closing up, coming to join the celebrations. Fire Chief Hawke has allowed for a firework display later on – lots of noise, lots of distraction!
So while they're all busy at Helmkamp's, I can get on with my business. I run lightly (for my age) across the roof of the Quillville National Enquirer. Maggie Cannon's probably working late, so I've got my soft soles on. Someone has placed a ladder across the alley gap. I pull up short. Hunker beside the advertising board and check around. There's been a red-clad figure about town recently, Red Quill or Red Claw she calls herself – Bowman is an authorised vigilante. Can you believe that shit?
There's no-one around, that I can see. But Bowman's smart. Small, light-footed and quick. I'll bet she put this ladder here for her own use – or as a trap! I decide to skirt around the obvious route, clamber down the drainpipe and dash across to the Post Office building. All locked up for the day, Amara Coulson; Post Mistress, will be at the celebrations too, I assume. The bag on my back seems to be getting heavier, but I'll make my destination before the wriggling gets too awkward.
Half an hour later, and I stand before a large pair of gates. Across the top are the words, City of Quillville Hobby Farm. The wall is easy to climb, Struve, the founder-owner, created it to keep her oddities in, not people out. In the shadow of a tree, I unfasten my bag and set the cargo free. Aspien Blue is going to be famous – possibly, maybe. Blue, the Director of Quillville Science Centre conducted a genome splicing experiment, went all Frankenstein and had an accident with electrostatic energy discharge; lucky to be alive, silly sod. But the knock-on effect was interesting! The lab mice, rats and mosquitoes were all affected, couldn't do anything with them, but they seemed to have, unbelievably, absorbed the essence of
the writing community. They went through physical changes that no-one could have predicted. On my tour at the grand opening, I had snuck in to the 'staff only' area and discovered their little secret. Transient Metamorphic Cranium Shifting – at least that's what I call it. Ever seen a mouse or a fly with another's face'? Here we go then. Most of the accidents were terminated, but enough were left to have some fun with. My Metamorphic critters ran amok amongst the animals – taking a nip here, or being consumed, either way, the TMCS virus was transmitted.
A week later, and the effects became apparent. A group of visitors were touring our fine city; prospective business folks and writers. A posse of school kids on a day trip wandered around the Hobby Farm, and writers who should have been hard at work on their manuscripts sat around on the grass sipping lattes and some god-awful green tea from see-through cups – jeez, don't these people know it's a trendy marketing hype to squeeze dosh from their, already, threadbare pockets?! And then it happened,
"Ew!" One child pointed at the two-headed goat. "Miss, miss! It's got a face!"
Others started to laugh, a couple screamed as the giant tortoise raised it's head. Showing it's new 'face'.
"Miss! This one looks like Brian!"
...You get the picture. I watched from atop the library as, first the Fire Department, then the Head of PTA, security and finally the Mayor and her Deputy arrived. It was all I could do to hang onto my perch as I chuckled away at the mayhem.
"Who has done this?" Lombard demanded.
The Director of the Science Centre was called.
"Explain this." Glint said.
But of course, Blue couldn't.
Visitors, staff and authorities stood around admiring my handiwork. And my handiwork looked back. All the animals now sported faces of members of the community. Of course mine was in there too. I thought I looked good as a zebra!
The effects will wear off, eventually. The best bit about the Transient Metamorphosis, is the way the faces shift. So the tortoise might look like Maggie Cannon, the Editor of the National Enquirer one moment, and her rival journalist, Valencia Stokes the next! The two-headed goat was best though. It wore the faces of our Mayor and deputy, each shifting and alternating between one and the other. Now, I need to go and move books from the Self Help section to Fantasy. Till next time, be seeing you.
What is going on in the City of Quillville this week? Well it looks like something is afoot over at the Science Museum. Let's all look in on what a day in the life looks like for Blue.
If you are new to the City of Quillville, you can swing over and check out the introductory post HERE
Science Museum Opening Day
Becca was hardly surprised by the boys’ enthusiastic response when she asked if they wanted to go to the science museum’s grand opening in the morning. She smiled to herself as they raced wildly around the house, screeching with excitement about dinosaurs, volcanoes, meteorites, and the virtual rainforest they couldn’t wait to see. Perhaps, she thought, I should have told them tomorrow. I don’t think anyone’s going to sleep tonight…
The bustling City of Quillville was abuzz on the eve of the long-awaited unveiling of its crowning jewel. Several exciting years of planning, design, public comment, groundbreaking, and construction were followed by an invisible scuffle within for nearly 18 months. The inner workings of the museum were little more than speculative snippets fired off by the local rags. Rumours rippled through the cafes, ranging from the fantastical to downright disparaging, leaving the townsfolk salivating to see the truth themselves.
Becca and the boys were among the very few residents of Quillville with any insight into the wonders waiting behind the astonishing twisting glass façade. The museum’s director, Blue, was their reclusive neighbor and one of Becca’s cherished friends. While most of the town grew ever more suspicious and damning of how Blue was purportedly spending their tax dollars, Becca knew her friend was both prudent and pragmatic, perhaps a little eccentric and certainly socially awkward, but driven by an altruistic desire to create a monument to learning, exploration, discovery, and experience.
Saturday morning dawned bright and crisp, a few leaves along Main Street starting to turn and a hint of fall in the air. A long line was coalescing at the museum’s front entry and beginning to snake around the corner. Becca and the boys stepped off the Number 42 bus with a crush of other young families twittering excitedly about the spectacles they hoped awaited inside. She firmly held their tiny hands and walked to the end of the line against their protests that Blue would surely let them enter first.
“We can’t take advantage of our friendship with Blue, sweethearts, she’s going to have her hands full enough as it is today without generating any bad press by playing favorites,” she admonished her boys gently.
At the stroke of 9 o’clock, the giant gears looming above the entrance groaned into animation, pulling cables, swinging the front doors wide, and pumping life into the magical array of fountains hemming the museum. A cheer went up from the surging throng, accompanied by unusual but beautiful music that seemed to emanate from the building itself. Becca scanned the signage along the path as they moved slowly forward, reading that the gears, fountains, and music were integral parts of the infrastructure, powered by the sun and gravity. Impressive start…
Excitement crescendoed as they crept to the front of the line, where Becca saw her exhausted friend personally welcoming each visitor into the museum. She gave Blue a little hug and asked softly if she could grab a coffee for her, “looks like you could really use one.” Blue gratefully rattled her stainless steel mug, “yeah, I think I’m going to need a few more today. Just tell Chris it’s for me, he’ll put it on my tab. Knows my order too, no worries…” Blue turned to the next folks in line and continued with her warm greetings, but Becca spied something in her friend’s eyes that belied the strain she was feeling.
Becca’s concern for her friend blinded her momentarily to the extraordinary space she was stepping into, but with Blue’s mug in hand, she looked around and marveled at the wonder of it. Two grand open staircases spiralled around each other, a five-storey double-helix stretching away above them, each step painted and labelled in sequences of ATCG, the code of life. The boys’ squeals of delight and excitement joined the chorus of astonished children and their slightly more restrained carers as they darted about like excited gas molecules in a heated container. Where should they start first? Dinosaurs! No, from the bottom to the top! No, race you to the top and wind our way down!!
Eager to help her friend and placate her boys, Becca spied the virtual rainforest next to the cafe and reminded them how excited they were for this experience. “Nothing like it on Earth, well except for the actual rainforest…” Blue explained to them months ago. But this was even more thrilling, and perhaps more chilling, than delving into the Amazon because visitors control the fate of species and the entire ecosystem by feeding decisions into accelerated feedback systems. “You’ll see just how devastating the loss of a single organism is…” Blue warned them ominously. After helping Max and Leo don their VR gear and understand the rules of the game, Becca slipped out to take her place in yet another lengthy line.
She sighed and resigned herself to scrolling through her news feeds to assess the initial public reactions. Her friends were posting selfies and checking in to the museum across all social media platforms. The check-in numbers for the museum were already in the hundreds within the first hour. As she was about to check herself in to join the fun, a vicious headline popped up in her news alerts: Science Museum Scandal! Taxpayers Hard Earned Dollars Squandered on Frivolous Amusement Park Oh no, this is exactly what Blue was afraid of. Bad press before anyone’s even made it through a single exhibit. She nibbled her nail pensively wondering whether to read the libelous statements within or just avoid the click-bait altogether. The National Enquirer was notorious for these games, in spite of their insistence that they only report “the cold hard truth”, and she usually just ignored it, but this felt personal.
Thankfully her turn to place an order was up before she had a chance to give into the temptation. “Good morning! What can I get’cha?” the tall, svelte barista, with neatly trimmed facial hair and bright blue eyes rimmed by dark frames, beamed at her. A quick glance at his name tag confirmed this handsome man was indeed Chris. “Hi Chris, Blue’s in desperate need of refueling…” “No problemo!” he winked grabbing the mug from her hand, the accidental brush of his long beautiful fingers sending a jolt of electricity up her spine, “one triple shot almond cappuccino coming right up for our heroic boss!”
Feeling slightly dazed by her visceral reaction to a perfect stranger, Becca moved cautiously to the pick-up counter and smirked to herself about the notion of picking up something other than a coffee here.
“You’re friends with Blue?” a bubbly Midwestern voice behind her inquired. Becca turned to the friendly woman and tried to recall where she’d seen her before.
“Yes, quite good friends. You know her too?” Becca’s legal acumen snapped to the fore, cautioning her against revealing too much in case the mousy blond was a blood-sucking reporter.
“Oh, you must be Rebecca! She always talks about you and your boys…” her wide sparkling eyes scanned the room around them, “are they here too?”
“Yes…” Becca responded cautiously, increasingly uneasy about this exuberant woman who knew far too much about her, “what did you say your name was?”
“Oh, gosh! Sorry ‘bout that! I always assume anyone with kids and half a brain in their head knows me! I’m S.J.,” she stuck out her hand to shake Becca’s, “librarian extraordinaire, at your service!”
“Of course,” now beaming back, Becca shook S.J.’s hand enthusiastically, “I knew you looked familiar, but I just couldn’t place you! Yes, right, Blue talks about you too. Always mumbling something about how she’d love to have us both over for dinner if she could just find the time. That woman is the biggest work-a-holic I’ve ever met, but my goodness, isn’t this magnificent place a testament to that!”
“Oh, I know, it’s just incredible! She convinced me to promote Science Week at the library as a big lead up for the school kids and donated dozens of fantastic books to support the cause. Asked me to recommend all the titles they’re carrying in the gift shop too.”
“Your drinks ladies,” Chris’s mellow tenor brought them back to the reason they were here. “Enjoy your day and don’t be strangers!” he said with a wink that sent a collective shudder through Blue’s friends.
“Oh, my, gawd,” panted S.J, once they were out of the cafe. “It’s he simply divine? I know he’s a bit young, but I think our Blue deserves a bit of that, at least so we can live vicariously through her! Ha-ha!”
Becca could only laugh and nod in agreement as they moved through the foyer swarming with bodies. Her knee-jerk reaction was that Chris was exactly the shot in the arm Blue needed to help her relax a little after being wound so tightly the past few years and that she would personally enjoy hearing tales of their escapades. On deeper reflection, as they passed by a display case holding a replica of the world’s largest Beryl crystal and a tribute to the space program its Beryllium facilitated, she reasoned that wasn’t what Blue would want at all. Her friend was nothing if not cautious and guarded about intimacy. It had taken Becca ages to simply give her a hug without eliciting a sharp stiffening. No, she and S.J. would just have to keep their little fantasy world to themselves.
“Here you are, my dear,” Becca slipped quietly next to Blue, who was looking even more haggard than before. “Don’t drink that rocket fuel all at once.” Blue blanched at her and Becca quickly corrected her mistake explaining it was just a figure of speech. While Blue took a few desperate sips, Becca and S.J. filled in as unofficial greeters to let their friend catch her breath. “Why don’t you go take a breather for a minute, it looks like you really need it. S.J. and I are more than capable of welcoming people to your temple of science.”
Blue took another deep swig and shook her head frantically, “no, it’s OK. You guys are amazing, but it’s not right, you don’t work here. I don’t need anything else generating bad press. Sorry, not you, I know you’d be great, better than me, but I’m already catching flack and don’t want to break under fire.”
“OK, if you insist. But we’re here for you, alright? It looks like the line’s starting to thin a bit at the back, so maybe you’ll catch a break in a few. We’ll circle back after I go check on the boys. You’re a superstar, you know that?” She wanted to give Blue a big supportive hug, but could tell by the way she shrunk away from the compliment that now was not the time. Even though they were nearly the same age, something about Blue always brought out her fiercest mothering instincts.
“So…” S.J. began with uncharacteristic, from what Becca had recently gleaned, caution, “do you mind if I tag along with you today? My kids are too old to want to be seen within 50 yards of me, thank goodness this place is big enough for the three of us! But it would be nice to enjoy it with someone…”
Becca concurred and they made their way back towards the virtual rainforest, stopping to marvel at the robots greeting visitors and giving detailed and interactive orations about the Tarbosaurus skeleton beneath which they were stationed. The juxtaposition of a 70 million year old apex predator with the engaging futuristic docents was highly effective, and just so Blue. “Look at those kids,” S.J. nudged her, “could they be any more rapt? They’re hanging on every word. Usually kids come to these places and just run around crazily because it’s all so exciting, but she’s found a way to really make them stop and learn. She’s an absolute genius, I tell you.”
The boys were ready to move on shortly after the mothers arrived, looking downcast and uncomfortable. “What’s the matter darlings?” Becca asked as she encircled her sons in a warm embrace, “wasn’t that fun?” They nodded then dithered, explaining as best they could the things they were struggling to understand, their little hearts clearly very heavy.
“Leo stepped on some bugs and I caught a bird,” Max started. “It was really fun, but then the forest started changing. It got quieter because there weren’t as many birds around, and then some of the trees started dying and other things too. It was really sad.”
Becca tried to comfort the boys, but she knew that was the point of the exhibit. Blue wanted people to have a deep emotional reaction to seemingly innocuous actions. She wanted to show that the innocent things they did to their environment had insidious and sometimes catastrophic effects. It was, like the robot docents, highly effective, but Becca couldn’t help wondering if maybe it needed to be tempered for younger audiences. She could hear her friend’s inevitably logical and emotionally detached counter arguments already echoing through her mind and decided to let it rest before the discussion even started.
The foursome was so deeply engaged exploring the water world leading down into the basement filled with weird and wonderful marine creatures before taking the “Rocket”, as Leo described it, up to the top floor space exhibit, that they completely lost track of time. Only their rumbling stomachs notified them to stop for lunch. S.J. checked in with her kids over the phone and was assured they were, “just fine without you, mom!” She looked down at Becca’s boys and couldn’t help but sigh wistfully. She caught her new friend’s eye and said, “enjoy it while it lasts…” Becca squeezed her hand and gave her a gracious smile.
Unsurprisingly, the museum cafe was absolutely packed. The day had turned blessedly warm and the outdoor area boasted ample picnic benches and a delightful children’s playground. As they waited in line to collect their veggie wraps and fried tempeh sticks, Becca noticed a separate section of the cafe under a sign proclaiming: Experts’ Lounge. “Wha’dya think that’s about?” she asked, nudging S.J. and indicating with her head.
“Oh, I think that’s Blue’s response to all the ‘obscenely incorrect scientific information circulating through popular media’”, S.J. giggled at her dead-pan impression of their friend’s professorial manner of speech. “It’s a place for writers and other creative types to meet casually with scientists and engineers to flesh out details in their work. Journalists can also pop in to get the scoop on the latest discoveries and break-throughs.”
Just like Blue, Becca mused to herself as they searched for a place they could bask in the autumnal sun whilst keeping an eye on the kids, always looking for the intersections of the minds and every possible opportunity to educate the masses.
Inside, Science World was packed to the gills. At 10:47, they’d started turning away patrons with the consolation of free tickets for the following day as the building was at capacity. Blue knew the Fire Chief, DB, would have no qualms with crushing her dreams if they were so much as one body beyond the limit. It was agonizing to watch parents trying to soothe their disappointed children as they walked back down the pathway, shooting withering looks at her over their shoulders. She knew they read her face as impassive and unfeeling, but her heart was breaking.
She looked down and noticed her hands were shaking. Her watch showed it was 11:36. How did two and a half hours go by so quickly? Further analysis of her internal state registered the following: low blood sugar (4.38 hours since last meal), excessive caffeine intake (twice normal), coupled with sleep deprivation (≤4.5 hours per night for the past six nights, and only a few fitful hours last night), and general anxiety (so much riding on today…) resulting in sub-optimal mental and physical performance. I should eat something. Blue radioed to the volunteer channel requesting someone relieve her for lunch.
“Wow!” Carly exclaimed breathlessly as she rushed up to Blue’s post. “Have you really been here since 9? I mean, no bathroom breaks or anything?! You’re a machine!”
Blue held up her coffee mug, “my friends brought me rocket fuel, so I was able to maintain my post. I felt it my duty as director to personally welcome all patrons to our grand opening. As we are currently at capacity, you will have to continue with the unfortunate task of turning away any new visitors until someone leaves. Please provide complimentary tickets for tomorrow as a sign of our sincere regret for their inconvenience.”
Carly watched Blue with a mix of astonishment and tempered admiration as she walked away. She really is as dedicated and weird as everyone says. I wonder who those “friends” of hers are…
Blue could scarcely register the delighted faces and excited conversations swirling around her as she moved determinedly through the ground floor exhibition spaces, down the water way to the calming undersea environment. I’ll just watch the jellyfish for a few minutes to ground myself. She was walking past the Mantis Shrimp enclosure when a loud crack snapped her focus back to the present. At first, she reasoned that the sound was just the punch of her little friend saying hello in his aggressive manner, but the sound was wrong. That sound shouldn’t carry like that… she whirled around anxiously to see the long slender finger of a crack shooting across the inner glass wall of Monty’s aquarium. Oh shit. That’s going to fail… Blue reached for her radio as everything faded to black.
“IF THERE IS A MEDICAL DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, PLEASE REPORT TO THE INFORMATION DESK.”
The call over the intercom was loud enough to catch the attention of everyone enjoying their lunch in the sunshine. Becca and S.J. looked at each other and immediately shared a very bad feeling. S.J. dialed her kids who launched into frantic descriptions of a fainting woman and “imploding” water tank. It was difficult to calm them enough to elicit a coherent description of where, exactly, they were and the status of the unfortunate woman. Pulling together the fragments of excited ramblings, they were able to deduce the incident occurred in the basement and that the “victim” was a museum employee. Becca’s heart lurched. Blue wasn’t looking good when they’d left her hours ago. They forgot to check back in before lunch. What were the chances she hadn’t eaten anything and was running on caffeine, stress, and vapours? Very, very high.
“We need to check on Blue, I’ll get the boys,” Becca said as she swept their things into her bag and rushed towards the playground.
S.J. was up in an instant, “my thoughts exactly, I’m going straight down. I’ll catch you down there.”
“Sorry ma’am, but we’ve had to secure this area and I’m afraid I can’t let anyone access this exhibit at this time.” S.J. was trying fruitlessly to convince the frazzled looking security guard that she really needed to go downstairs when Becca arrived with the boys.
“Is it Blue needing medical treatment?” Becca asked, wasting no time mincing words.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” the security officer rubbed the back of his neck and looked away sheepishly, “but I’m not at liberty to share any information about the situation with the public.”
“That’s OK,” she offered reassuringly, your body language told me everything I need to know. “I’m Blue’s lawyer and her ‘in case of emergency’ person, you’ll need to let me through.”
The officer looked startled, then shook his head. “Well, um… OK, you can go, but not the other three, we can’t have all these extra people down there.”
Becca turned frantically to S.J. who waved her on and said she’d watch after the boys just as her own kids rushed up to hug her. “We’ll be fine, you just go take care of Blue!”
Rushing down the water way, Becca was torn between the wail of Max behind her pleading for Blue to be OK, and the near hysterical cry of Blue from below yelling, “I’m fine, don’t touch me!” She pushed through the cluster of staff, security, and the doctor who responded to the call to get to her friend’s side.
“Everyone take a step back, now,” she ordered in her most intimidating don’t-mess-with-mama-bear voice. “Anyone who doesn’t absolutely have to be here, leave. Which means most of you.” The huddle quickly moved away and then dwindled to the deputy director, a different security guard, and the doctor. “It’s OK, Blue,” Becca cooed softly, “almost everyone is gone now. You’re safe…”
“No. I mean, thank you, but we’re not. The tank, ohmygod the tank, we have to get Manty out of there before the second wall goes…” Blue was rocking back and forth violently, grabbing her hair and muttering nonsense. Becca had seen Blue in some dark moods before, but nothing like this. It’s was, honestly, rather frightening and she could tell by the looks on the other faces she wasn’t alone in her fear.
She reached into her bag and pulled out an oatmeal raisin cookie, “here, I’m guessing you haven’t eaten. I’m sorry I didn’t bring you something before we had lunch, I guess we got so caught up in this amazing place you’ve created we clean forgot. I’m really sorry.”
Blue took the offering gingerly, shaking her head and whimpering about the tank as she took a few nibbles. “Water,” she rasped hoarsely. The message was interpreted as a request for a drink and relayed up the ramp before someone came running with a cup of water. Blue stared at it blankly for a few moments before taking a sip and another bite of food. “The Mantis Shrimp’s inner tank is gone. If he punches the second glass, it’s over.”
Everyone finally understood what she was ranting about that whole time. They looked in horror at the massive tank next to them, filled with 2,000 gallons of water, an arsenal of shattered glass, and one mean looking, beady-eyed shrimp. “That was bulletproof glass!” Darren, the deputy director, exclaimed. “How the hell did he break that?!”
“He couldn’t have. It’s a physical impossibility. It had to be sabotage,” Blue intoned in a shaky monotone.
“What do we do now?!” Darren wailed, making clear to everyone present why he was deputy director.
“Get him the hell out of there. Drain the tank. And call the police.” With that final command, Blue curled up in the fetal position and was out again.
About the Author:
Blue is a thinker of too many thoughts and a doer of too many things. She is a scientist by training, a science educator by vocation, and a writer quite by accident after stumbling into her autism diagnosis on the brink of 40. She is a mother of two vivacious girls, a grumpy cat, and a backyard full of chickens, bees, echidnas, and the occasional kangaroo. She sometimes forgets whether she’s supposed to be writing in American or Australian English, but she’s almost always writing about mental health, autism, or creating the books she wishes she had when she was younger.
Her stories of trauma, healing, and recentering are on her blog: HERE
Connect on Twitter: @AspienBlue
Or find her articles on The Aspergian
Here you will find a growing collection of my Short Stories. From pieces I wrote for competitions, to some of my world building stories. Some of the longer ones, will be broken down and released as Chapters.