Sunday, May 3, 2009

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chapter 21: Strip Poker Anyone?

“Ace of spades,” Roman Michaels says.

Across the green-felt-covered table with its green-felt panel divider, Jordan Tolms lifts the leading edge of the face-down playing card and takes a look.

“Damn!” he says. “Do you know that this go-round you only missed two out of the whole deck?”

“You’re kidding!” Roman combs a hand through his silky hair. Disturbed strands catch the light and provide a momentary halo.

“Come on, now, Roman, fess up! You must have felt it the moment your hyper-perception kicked in. You’ve never had a success rate like this one.”

“Something about the air?” Roman hasn’t made a statement. He’s not sure he’s experienced anything differently. “There’s just, maybe, something different about it?”

“Like what?”

“Like … well, you know how it sometimes feels differently before an electrical storm? Like that.”

“Why don’t I feel it?” Jordan wonders aloud.

“Maybe I’m just imagining it.” As if Roman might actually have an answer.

Silently, this time, Jordan now wonders how Roman’s perception seems on the sudden increase. Jordan’s seem to be failing, more and more lately. The last time Jordan read a deck of playing cards, he only got twelve right. At one time, he consistently got thirty out of fifty-two.

“Let’s try it one more time,” Jordan suggests.

“Sure,” Roman agrees after checking the time. His wristwatch is a very expensive, but unassuming, Piaget that Gregory bought him when Roman read half the playing deck correctly. Gregory will be genuinely pleased by Roman’s latest progress, especially if Roman can provide an equally impressive encore.

“Okay, then. Let’s make it more interesting, shall we, by shuffling two decks?” Jordan says.

Roman frowns. As when his brother, Sydney, smiles, his dimples deepen; the corners of his eyes attractively crinkle. There’s less likely to be another expensive gift from Gregory if Roman’s skills, in reading two decks, don’t match the one-deck read lead-in.

“First, shouldn’t we verify my one-deck success story isn’t just a fluke before we move on to more complex testing?”

“A reading of all the cards but two in a regular deck is spectacular success, Roman,” Jordan says. “I mean, genuinely spectacular.” He should know. He had doubters gawking in disbelief when he was able, in his prime, obviously now passed, to get a correct reading of just thirty.

He doesn’t wait for Roman’s approval but reaches for a new deck. He breaks the seal. He peels off the cellophane. He opens the carton. He spills the cards into his hand.

He reaches for the deck already in use but changes his mind, sliding it to one side. He unwraps a second new deck and adds its cards to the ones already in his hand.

He shuffles. He shuffles again. He shuffles a total of ten times.

He deals the top card, face down onto the green felt on his side of the panel-divided table.

He nods for Roman to begin.

“Ten of diamonds,” Roman says, without hesitation.

Jordan thinks, “Four of spades.”

He upturns the card.

Ten of diamonds.

He deals a second card, face down.

He nods for Roman to continue.

“King of Clubs,” Roman says, without hesitation.

Jordan thinks, “Queen of Hearts.”

He upturns the card.

King of Clubs.

So it goes, until fifty-two of the hundred-and-four cards have been placed, face down, one by one, on the table top.

Score: Roman, fifty-two. Jordan, zero.

“He’s hot,” Roman says and wipes his forehead which is slightly sweaty.

“Who’s hot?” Jordan reflexively asks. Unless Roman refers to the Jack of Diamonds, the last card upturned, his comment is entirely out of context. Jordan pauses and doesn’t continue the deal.

“Timothy Gril’s father,” Roman says. There’s a slight glassiness to his eyes.

“I thought it was your brother who was gay.”

“I don’t mean hot that way,” Roman says. “I mean too-close-to-the-witch-burning hot.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Jordan asks. He deals another card.

Without waiting for Jordan’s nod to continue, Roman says, “Six of clubs.”

Jordan thinks, “Four of diamonds.”

He upturns the card.

Six of clubs.

“Burn, heathen, burn!” Roman says and does so rather loudly.

“Roman?” Jordan is suddenly concerned. “Are you all right?”

“Sure.” Roman runs his hand through his hair. He smiles. His dimples deepen. The corners of his eyes attractively crease. “Why do you ask?”

“You just said the most extraordinary thing about the father of someone called Timothy Gril.”

“Did I?” Roman looks confused. “Don’t really even know Timothy all that well. He doesn’t really run with my crowd, if you know what I mean. As for his father, I’ve never met the man, although I think Gregory knows him quite well. How am I doing with the cards, this time around, by the way?”

Jordan decides not to pursue the Gril line of inquiry. Stranger things happen during card-readings by genuine adepts. Their minds work in entirely different ways from normal folk. Jordan can attest to that from personal experience.

He deals another card.

Again, without waiting for Jordan’s nod, Roman this time says, “Two of clubs.”

Jordan thinks, “Two of diamonds.”

He upturns the card.

Two of clubs.

Once again, out of sight and out of mind, Gyle Gril’s flesh crisps, and he screams for rescue from frustrated fireman who simply can’t manage the intensity of the flames to get to him.

Copyright 2009 W. MALTESE

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Uxana is brought back to consciousness with a physically violent jolt. Immediately, she suspects Zila, or what’s left of her, has somehow managed to harness the constant ongoing barrage of emanating power waves electric in the air around them.

However, finding Zila possibly even more languid than when Uxana momentarily left her, it’s suddenly more likely that it’s Uxana’s younger and more receptive mentat to the rescue.

The girl is determined to make the best of a window of opportunity she doesn’t even know for how long will exist.

“I need answers, Zila!” Uxana insists. “Focus! Focus!”

Even assuming Zila’s eyes are somewhere near her mouth, it’s impossible to determine the where of them.

“I haven’t a clue how to handle this, Zila,” Uxana continues by stating what has to be the obvious. “You have to help me. You must know something.”

“For answers, you need the Book of Answers,” Zila says.

Uxana wonders if her wax-and-flesh mentor is being sarcastic.

“Yes, certainly the Book of Answers is one answer,” Uxana agrees. “Not having it, though, you’re going to have to do.”

“I’m beyond doing,” says the blue-wax maw that moves. “In fact, I’m nearly done.”

“No!” Uxana insists.

The combination of flesh and wax flickers as if a magnified version of the flame wavering atop the lop-sided candle beside it. Upon the resulting wavy mirage-like surface, an image of the once whole Zila appears, like a previously snapped photograph projected upon a rolling wave.

“You must be the one to focus, Uxana!” the visage insists, fades, then solidifies into its previously monstrous form.

“Focus on what?”

“On what I need mentat-tell you, now,” the waxy blue hole says.

When finished with its ensuing telepathic telling, it punctuates with, “Now haul me to the lip of this cave.”


“With what little sense I have left, I sense something there that you need see.”

“Shouldn’t I monitor the candle I’ve lit?”

“This candle you have lit is nothing but another pool of dead wax, my dear. You know that. I know that.”

Uxana is reluctant to touch the mass of flesh and wax that Zila has become. When she does, she’s disturbed by the heat and cold, the soft and hard, of the contrasting surfaces.

Somehow, though, she lugs her one-time mentor to the vertical gap that opens this hole in the earth onto the world outside; the once Primary Blue Candle of the Sisterhood has become no more than a seeming sack of speaking potatoes.

“You’ve brought us here to see the dawn?” Uxana wonders aloud.

“What dawn rises in the west?

”Uxana senses distraught and frantic human beings just beneath the pretty pink that tinges the skyline of the horizon.

“One of but many monsters serves up a human barbecue,” Zila says. “More and worse will occur if you don’t find a way to intervene.”

Without forewarning, the flesh and wax monstrosity tips over the edge of the precipice.

Uxana makes a grab, momentarily has hold of it.

“Don’t be a fool child,” Zila pleads. “Not fallen, I’m only a hindrance.”

Still, Uxana is determined not to let go. By way of proof that she doesn’t, are the powdery bits of candle wax that are all-too-soon all that remain in her clutching fingers.

Uxana reflexively, frantically, washes her hands in midair and releases candle dust that begins its slow float to rejoin the majority of Zila, late great Primary Blue Candle of the Sisterhood, that makes a sickeningly loud resounding thud on the dry-as-bone canyon floor.

Copyright 2009 W. MALTESE

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chapter 19: DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?

“Zila? Is that you?” Uxana asks the darkness.

“I’m weak,” comes the reply. “I can’t see? What is this?”

“There have been rejuvenation malfunctions,” Uxana says. She hopes against hope that her mentor, once fully revived, will have answers. She’s not encouraged by the fade-in, fade-out, quality of her Big Sister in The Sisterhood’s voice.

“Who are you?” Zila asks.


“Uxana Uxl? And the others rejuvenated before us?”

“So far, we’re the only two.”“Only two.

And am I suddenly blind in this rejuvenation?”

“Mine is the only wick to have spontaneously combusted. I’ve had to mentat-light all of the others, including yours which is now out. All but you and I have gone to pooled wax. Shall I mentat-light another candle-in-the-line?”

“Why not just mentat an artificial flicker, for the moment, dear? At least until I can get my bearings. I seem strangely lethargic.”

“Mentating artificial flicker isn’t in my repertoire,” Uxana reminds. “I’m newly promoted, remember? There was no time to bring me up to full speed before we waxed for the last flood.”

“Then, let me try,” Zila says.

Moments pass. The darkness stays dark.

“Zila?” Uxana asks finally.

“I’m weak,” comes the reply. “I can’t see? What is this place? What is this happening?”

Uxana shivers and not just because she’s cold.

“A rejuvenation malfunction,” Uxana reminds. “You were about to initiate an artificial flicker?”

“Is that in my repertoire?” Zila asks.

“Most things are in your repertoire,” Uxana reminds. “You’re a Sister of Primary Color — Blue.”

“Do you, my dear, like I, feel an absence of emanated energy to summon from the air around us?”

“I feel quantities never before felt. I fear we may even have overslept to a time when another purging flood, long overdue, is eminent.”

“I don’t feel the excess energy of which you speak. In fact, even what little powers I seem to possess seem draining, even as I speak. Why, do you suppose?”

“Let me try another candle,” Uxana insists.

She finds the pile, feel-sorts through the waxy columns to find one that’s hopefully not too flaky, too soft, too bored with worm holes. The one she finally chooses in desperation seems slightly misshapen, as if sagged slightly after removal from its mold.

She sets the retrieved candle on the flat surface of a rock. She hopes for a spontaneous combustion, but it doesn’t happen.

She finger-locates its wick, squeezes it three times between a forefinger and thumb.

“Lalina prtuxus reonlin,” she provides the initiatory mantra from memory.

She sits back. She concentrates. A mentat-light isn’t easy for her despite all of her practice over the last few hours.

“I thought you were going to mentat an artificial flicker,” Zila says, an obvious hint of whining complaint in her voice.

“I thought you were going to mentat an artificial flicker,” Uxana says, and tries to keep a hint of whining complaint from her voice.

“I’ve tried,” Zila says. “It’s not happening.”

“Qantum-lu splinx,” Uxana continues with the alternative. She wonders if she should start all over, if Zila’s interruption has interfered with the necessary wick-lighting formula.

“I’m cold,” Zila says.

“Flixim palenum plodnominium,” Uxana says. She waits. She thinks she’s failed. She prepares for a repeat.

The wick of the candle ignites.

“Yes!” Uxana self-congratulates. Only to see the full horror of what her conjured light reveals.

Zila — if what exists upon the rock can actually be called Zila — is a deformed conglomeration of live flesh and contorted blue candle wax wildly malformed to resemble neither candle nor Primary Color Sister of The Sisterhood.

“I can’t see,” the thing says. Its mouth is only recognizable by the way a hole in the macabre collage elastically concaves and convexes around its circumference.

Uxana, despite all of her mentat efforts to maintain consciousness, feels her knees buckle and make painfully hard contact with the stone of the floor.

For her, at least, darkness returns.

Copyright 2009 W. MALTESE


“So, how about we take a look at Uranus?” Sydney suggests.

“Don’t you think you might at least want to give me flowers and a box of chocolates first?” Cooper says.

“Very funny,” Sydney grants. He flashes a wide smile of appreciation.

“Come on.”

He tosses Cooper another bag of natural almonds and heads for the stairs. Cooper follows.

“You’re sure Mr. Ranlin isn’t going to mind?”

“First thing Mr. Ranlin is going to suggest, when you two meet up, is that you call him Gregory. As for his minding … he probably would if the telescope wasn’t pre-set. As it is, it’s just a case of my pushing a button, and you putting an eye to a small eyepiece. How easy is that not to screw up?”

“I wouldn’t want him angry.”

“Angry enough to bite you’re studly neck, and bleed you dry, you mean? Don’t worry. Since Gregory is obviously up and out so early this evening, he’ll come back full as a tick. Without my having told you, you wouldn’t even be able to tell that he’s not just another friendly, charming human being. Besides, when he finds out you’re a diviner, he’s going to want you up and about in sunlight, not hampered by forever being in the dark. Which reminds me … did you really see a werewolf in Matty Donnelly’s future?”

“As I’ve said … usually what I see isn’t all that clear. This time was no exception. It’s like a slideshow gone hyper on meth. Whatever I saw, as regards Matty, though, it definitely looked lupine.”


“Wolf-like. Definitely hirsute.”



“Jeez, why didn’t you just say so? Obviously, you didn’t go to school in Flicker. Here, even some one-syllable words can get us all confused.”

“A slight exaggeration on your part, I would guess.”

“Okay, but not by much; believe me. Just remember if you want to come across as a genuine Flicker High jock, keep your conversation down to a few barely decipherable grunts.”

“I thought Coach Waynright said scholastics count.”

“Coach Waynright says a lot of things that aren’t true. I’ll bet, if confronted, he’d even deny that he likes watching us boys naked in the shower.”

“Does he? I mean, like watching us boys naked in the shower?”

“Don’t worry, buddy, it never goes any farther than an occasional gawk and sigh of jealous envy. The coach is harmless. On the other hand, I….”

On the second-floor landing, they take the skywalk to the observatory out back. From the road out front, few people would guess the large Tudor mansion comes complete with the most extensive sky-observing equipment this side of the astronomy department at the University of Washington in Seattle. Nor that the house’s owner has not only discovered a comet, Gregorran6, but is published in several prestigious scientific journals, and is widely respected by his heavens-watching peers.

“To prove how concerned Gregory is — not! — about any of us accessing his precious telescope, please note…” Sydney tries the observatory door, and it opens. “…how he doesn’t even bother to lock the damned place up. Try getting into his bedroom, though, especially after dawn, and you’ll need a wrecking ball and box of dynamite.”

“He sleeps in a regular bedroom, then? Not in a grave? Surely, in a coffin.”

“Haven’t a clue. I can only tell you for sure that he goes into his bedroom just before dawn, every morning, and shuts the door. I’ve been in there, during the night, though, and I’ve seen no coffin. Just a big bed. Too many windows to let in too much daylight. Drapes not nearly heavy enough. My personal opinion. I mean, if it’s true that daylight for him is a killer.”

“You think it may not be?”

“I only know that he keeps insisting that a whole lot of what people believe about vampires just isn’t so. He even insinuated, once, that a silver bullet wouldn’t kill them.”

“Isn’t that what kills a werewolf?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we should ask Matty?” Sydney laughs.

Cooper laughs, too.

“This way,” Sydney says. “Before that great view of Uranus, I want to show you the great view from the observation deck at the top of the dome. On clear days, you can see all of the way to Dry Falls.”

The two maneuver a series of ascending metal staircases and an eventual narrow metal catwalk that dead-ends at a metal door.

Sydney pushes open the door and steps on out. Cooper follows.

“Whose house do you think is burning down to the ground over there?”

Sydney asks and points.

Copyright 2009 W. MALTESE