First off, I want to give a shout-out to eagle-eyed proofreader Chris Pearce. No sooner did “Death Comes to Agratha” go live than she sent me an email pointing out a typo in “The Mission,” the story to which there is a link in the author’s bio. To correct this typo, I had to go on a deep archaeological dig down through all the strata and layers of rubble that underlie the current SHOWCASE site.
Oh my, is there the stuff buried down there. And all of it effectively inaccessible.
Very well, I need to do something about that—and I will, but before I tell you what that something is, I’d like to take this opportunity to take you on a guided tour of the dig.
SHOWCASE debuted on June 14, 2013, with Issue #1. The original concept was that it would be a weekly webzine, publishing five- to ten-thousand words of short fiction in each issue, plus other features as we developed them. Accordingly, SHOWCASE #1 featured:
“The Vending Machine,” by Sarah L. Byrne
Marta was working late again. She got up from her desk for a break, walked down the corridor, and habit made her turn aside into an alcove where she stopped, confronted by The Vending Machine.
The gentle white–noise whirr surrounded her, soothing. Easing the stresses of the office, making it all fade into the background. Marta stared into the shrine–like interior. Lit by a soft glow, displaying the rows of snacks wrapped shiny red and gold and silver like Christmas. She put her fingertips on the glass.
Food is not your friend, her therapist said. But it sure felt like it sometimes…
“Smart Money,” by Samuel Marzioli
Harold Lewis entered the liquor store, a decrepit old space that was as dusty and unkempt as it was gaudy. Seasonal decorations lined the scuffed and holed walls and ceiling, along with advertisements featuring alcohol and scantily clad girls in semi–erotic poses. Far from an oddity, it was indicative of the kind of slum the Mars colony had become over the past fifty years.
He stopped briefly by the counter and said to the tattooed and heavily pierced girl behind it, “Where’s your whiskey?”
The girl didn’t look up…
The machine on the table hummed softly, accompanied by the gentle ticking of a clock. “Imagine,” Thomas said, “if one could wind and rewind time like a spool of tape.” He smoothed his upper lip with slender fingers in a bad attempt to hide his excitement.
Abigail frowned slightly and moved her queen. “Check.” Sunlight crept across the carpet, broken into shards by the summer leaves outside the window, and warmed the air in the study.
Thomas moved his king. “Well?”
“It sounds dangerous to me,” she said mildly…
“Sam, maybe we should head back to the main highway.” Marian’s small voice hardly registered over the noise of the SUV’s massive tires pounding over the rocky scree that covered the approach to the butte rising in front of them.
“C’mon, Marian,” Sam said. “This is what it’s all about. Life on the edge. You can’t hardly buy this kind of experience.”
“What if we get stuck out here?” Marian said.
Sam chortled. “You can’t get ‘stuck’ anywhere on the planet anymore. If we do get in trouble, we only need to—
SHOWCASE #1 also included our first-ever non-fiction feature:
Badger & Vole Review: Star Trek Into Darkness
(For what it’s worth, I did try to get a review of Star Trek: The Latest One for this week, but Vole adamantly refuses to return to doing movie reviews.)
SHOWCASE #2 rolled out right on schedule a week later, and introduced a new site design (which was later retconned onto #1), the new URL and web host, which we still use today, and a bunch of other new features, most notably The Feedback Loop: a discussion board I optimistically predicted would be “either be a great way for authors, fans, and Stupefying Stories staff to communicate, or else an enormous colossal headache from Hell to manage and moderate. Which will it be? Ask us again in about six months.” Actually, the answer was to become painfully obvious in less than three.
For fiction, SHOWCASE #2 featured:
“Elves Are Douchebags,” by Robert Lowell Russell
Floriel’s eyes were gold, her hair silver, and her features so fine, Jack thought they should be chiseled in marble: paint and canvas would be too temporary. Her smile made him ache. Braless, she wore a bright pink t-shirt several sizes too small that proclaimed her the World’s Greatest Grandmother.
Loriel’s beauty mirrored his sister’s. He wore an Armani jacket with the sleeves ripped off and was bare-chested. Muscles rippled across his pale flesh.
I could totally go gay for him, thought Jack. “Our appointment was for ten,” he said aloud, tapping his watch. “It’s noon.”
Loriel smiled. “Your temporal distinctions are so quaint. A thousand apologies, my mortal friend, but my honor had been challenged.”
“All you can eat pancakes at IHOP,” explained Floriel.
Jack sighed. Why are elves such douchebags?
“The Millionth Soul,” by Franziska Louise
“Hi, I’m Death.” The guy on the barstool next to me gives me a scorching once-over. Is he hitting on me?
“Uh, okay, Seth—”
Oh. Role-player. I sip on my Manhattan and eye his black cloak and huge scythe. “You don’t look like Brad Pitt.”
His expression turns quizzical. “Who?”
“You know, Brad Pitt, from Meet Joe Black?”
“My name is neither Pitt nor Black. My name is Death.”
“Okay, buddy, listen…”
“Muscle the Menhir,” by Robert Bagnall
On July 5, 2009, a hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure was discovered in a field in Staffordshire, England. The Staffordshire Hoard, as it became known, provided no clue as to why it had been buried, or even if it had been hidden deliberately or simply lost.
The location where the hoard was discovered lies about thirteen miles from the village of Bradley, where there may—or may not; archaeologists disagree—be the remains of a partly destroyed stone circle.
These two facts are probably unrelated. But perhaps not…
“It’s just one of those random keys that you find laying around your house,” I explained to Rachel. The cop walked slowly to my driver’s door. I looked up into his aviator’s. My reflection sneered back at me.
“Just keep it under sixty,” he said into my cleavage, as he handed back my license and registration.
“It doesn’t look familiar?” Rachel asked me, turning the key over and over in her hand.
“No, it’s been here since I bought the car from Mrs. Steadman a couple of months ago.”
“That creepy old lady who used to live down the block?”
SHOWCASE #2 also featured the review that really set the tone for Badger & Vole:
Badger & Vole Review: Man of Steel
Again, for what it’s worth, I did try to get a review of Batman vs Superman: We Really Wish We Were The Avengers, but Vole refuses even to watch that one.
SHOWCASE #3 featured the release announcement for the July 2013 issue of Stupefying Stories, notable now because I still love the cover art we got for Mark Wolf’s story, “For the Love of a Grenitschee,” plus these stories:
“The Mission,” by Arthur Bangs
“When I catch it, can I eat it?”
Mr. Tremblay, Executive Mission Administrator of The Pilgrim’s Progress, stared across the expanse of his mahogany desk at his Chief Maintenance Engineer. A ginger-haired man named Wilbur, the maintenance engineer had the physique of a prize-winning heifer and a way of speaking that suggested a dearth of intellectual subtlety.
“Can you what?” Tremblay asked.
“I said, can I eat it? I seen pictures of these things on TV. They look like lobsters.” Wilbur licked his lips. “I never ate a lobster before.”
“I don’t care what you do with it, as long as you capture it before we reach Arcadia. The last thing we need is for a Homardian to stow away in one of the equipment or supply containers we’re bringing down to the planet.”
“Why? What harm is one little lobster gonna do down there?”
Tremblay removed his glasses. “Homardians are capable of asexual reproduction. Allowing one to escape to the planet is the same as allowing a million. If that happens, all of the Western Alliance’s plans will have been for nothing…”
I knew that friggin’ guy was trouble when he walked in here.
I mean, sometimes you can see the wheels turn behind a guy’s eyes and know he’s up to no good. That’s why I left the “We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service” sign hanging on the wall when I bought this launderette 17 years ago, in case some of them gang-bangers came in here to settle their beefs. But I’ve never had any real trouble. You’d think I’d have plenty of problems in a neighborhood like this, but really, people just want a decent place to get their clothes clean.
Don’t look at me like that, you bastard. You wanted a statement, I’m giving you a statement…
“The Cat’s Tale,” by Simon Kewin
I mean, I know this whole bizarre set-up is just a thought-experiment. That’s not a hell of a lot of consolation when you’re stuck here inside this box, I can tell you. Soon as I’m out of here, I’m ripping your damn face off with my claws, no questions asked. Assuming I get out of here alive, of course.
Because, yeah, yeah, I may be dead already and just haven’t noticed. Or wait, no, I’m dead and I’m alive. Both at the same time. Actually, I get that. If I catch a mouse and drop it on the floor, a lot of the time it’ll just lie there. Could be dead, which is boring, could be just playing dead, waiting for its chance to scuttle off, which is fun. See? It’s alive and dead. That’s not rocket science is it? No need for your fancy radiation and hydrocyanic-poisoning rig. No violation of animal rights. Okay, there’s the mouse, but they’re just, like, food, right?
And while we’re on the subject…
Plus Badger & Vole doing machine-gun reviews of World War Z, R.I.P.D., The Wolverine, Elysium, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Planes, Kick-Ass 2, Paranoia, Jobs, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and 2 Guns. Boy, there were a lot of forgettable movies that summer.
SHOWCASE #4 featured:
“A Turning Point,” by Michael D. Turner
The loft over the garage loft was hot, and smelled faintly of gasoline, motor oil, and dust. Less dust today, after yesterday’s clean-up. It had been a long-delayed cleaning; the loft was so full of boxes, trunks, and junk that Jimmy’s grandfather couldn’t get into it very easily. Instead he’d handed up the old Kirby vacuum with its hose already attached, for ten-year-old Jimmy to finally get at least some of the accumulated dirt and dust off everything. The only things Jimmy had ever seen removed from the loft were the two large boxes of Christmas decorations kept right at the top of the heavy swing-down ladder.
Today was payment for yesterday’s work. Somewhere up here, amid the photo albums and old clothes of long-dead relatives, underneath collections of disused fishing poles; somewhere was an old locker that might, just maybe, have some old comic books…
“Waste Not,” by Rhonda Parrish
The sun peeked over the horizon, sending its golden light out over the land. The beams danced on the water in the creek and flowed over the green field of corn. Even through the dirty hayloft window it was a beautiful sight, a lovely moment. Then he had to go and spoil it.
“You still in bed? Useless as yer pa! Git up. Those pigs won’t feed ‘emselves.” Grandpa’s voice, slurred already, drowned out the morning birdsong.
I rolled out of bed and got dressed, then wandered into the kitchen-area. He could scream all he wanted, I wasn’t going to run for him. If he was in such a hurry for the pigs to get fed he could do it his own damned self for a change.
He sat at the scarred table that I’m told had been in the family for generations. All’s I know for sure is that it’s heavy as sin. Damned thing was a bitch to get into the hayloft when we moved out of the house to get off the ground level. I glanced in his direction and confirmed, as if there was any doubt, that he was drunk. It was there, in his liquid posture and glassy eyes. He’d always been a drunk, but it got worse after the ghouls came…
“Full Disclosure,” by S. R. Mastrantone
Unlike some, Sophie Black had never been afraid of visiting the dentist. As she sat in the fish-tank blue hue of the waiting room, studying the nervous faces of the other patients, she felt something like excitement stirring in her belly. Has it been that long since I spoke to someone who wasn’t Robert?
Later, when the prodding and scraping was done, the dentist smiled and asked Sophie to stop in at the nurse’s office. “It’s something new the government are making us do…”
“The Lost Chapter from Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Sean Thomas
“Because it’s fun!’ Jubal expounded.
Mike had not yet grokked the concept of fun. He was bewildered at the amount of effort that this race devoted to entertainment. As a nestling his sole concern was surviving the harsh Martian landscape. Once he was admitted into the nest, what free time he had after doing the Old One’s bidding and cleaning the nest of his water brother’s excretions was spent grokking the fullness of the universe. The idea of a fair baffled him, as Martians had no such events.
“Oh Mike,” Jill squealed, “it’s a wonderful place full of rides and games and sweet cotton candy!”
Mike digested Jill’s comment and did not grok sweetness. When he ate his first shirt whose primary material was cotton the primary sensation was not one of sweetness…
Plus a new non-fiction feature:
Author’s Spotlight: Mark Niemann-Ross, on writing “The Music Teacher”
And one of my all-time favorite movie reviews:
Badger & Vole Review: The
Wild Wild Lone Ranger
SHOWCASE #5 featured:
“The Piano is a Percussion Instrument,” by Maude Larke
Harry came through the screen door and paused a moment, as he lifted the ax to hold it across his body. He felt like an anti-hero in a horror movie, and imagined the camera looking up at him from the floor. He strode slowly and heavily—stiffly, in fact, as he was no actor, and had a strange idea of how an actor would move in this kind of scene—through the hallway and into the back den, with its pine walls. He came to the upright piano, a 120-year-old Boston, and then realized he would have to set down his ax, as he suddenly had the inspiration to start from the inside.
What Harry did not know is that a piano is like a pet that you get just because it is cute, and then find out what a chore it is to maintain it…
“Timeless Bore,” by Peter Wood
With a flash of light the man from the future appeared. Mac rolled his eyes. All eternity to explore and the time traveler kept hanging around Mac’s two-pump filling station in Perdue, North Carolina.
Dressed in glowing silver, Philip Seven, the man from the future, stood in front of a shelf stocked with oil filters and air hoses. “How are things in 1971?” Philip Seven asked.
Mac busied himself at the cash register. “Same as when you came yesterday.” The day before Philip had stayed for six grueling hours, telling Mac never-ending stories of the distant future…
“After the Kaiju Attack,” by John Zaharick
Ice. He hated when they filled his glass with ice. It wasn’t there to keep the cream soda cold. The soda was already cold. They put it in to serve him less.
Barney read the song lists on the mini-jukebox in the booth as he waited for Will. He resented having to huddle at a table, but a gang of raygun goths crowded the counter. The boys wore dark-toned imitation pressure suits—one had managed to slip a milkshake straw into a respirator mask—and greased their hair. The girls had on all-black or all-white, contrasted sharply by hair the color of electrified noble gases, from which sprouted antennae. They all wore makeup and looked like dead astronauts. Barney frowned. He would belt his kid for trying to leave the house like that…
“Space Program,” by Lance Mushung
The rover moved at turtle speed over the lifeless powdery dirt. I’d been directing it up a gentle slope for hours. Although it was hard to believe, the scenery of the Moon’s surface was becoming a bit mundane, a bit mind-numbing. That was especially surprising considering how much the mottled gray Moon had beckoned since I was a kid.
Jan and Samir were sitting next to me and watching the camera monitors to make certain the rover didn’t get into trouble. “Stop for a few minutes next to that rock over there,” Samir said. He pointed to a stone on the monitor. “It’s unusual and I want to take a closer look.” With his wild gray hair, Samir looked like a mad scientist excited about studying some new and different specimen.
“Do you think there will ever be any more missions to the Moon?” Jan asked me, while the rover was stopped…
“The Wishing Hour,” by Romie Stott
Nira was indeed pregnant, belly like an albino watermelon and nipples like dormant volcanoes. When she walked, she waddle-stomped, and when she walked, she burped. She waddle-stomp-burped down the stairs and up again to collect a package from Omaha.
Congratulations on your purchase of auction lot 74, the note read. We hope you find satisfaction in this antique brass teapot, and we hope you will rate us highly in your online feedback. The pot was lightweight and slender and smelled of salt. Nira buffed it with a dry palm and sure enough the kitchen filled with purple smoke and a genie appeared…
Plus another of my favorite sprawling, meandering, wildly off-topic columns:
Badger & Vole Review: Pacific Rim
By the time we got to SHOWCASE #6, it was becoming obvious that a weekly webzine was every bit as much work as a monthly magazine, and worse, SHOWCASE was getting in the way of our raison d’être, Stupefying Stories. At the same time, a number of unpleasant things were coming to a head in my personal life, and you’ll find them detailed in the editorial, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”
Frankly, I’d forgotten—or perhaps more accurately, repressed the memory of—that summer. 2013 was a lousy year in general, but July, August, and September in particular… Sheesh.
SHOWCASE #6 did mark the first appearance of the Rampant Loon Press Publications Catalog, useful now only as an historical artifact, and featured the following stories:
“The Storyteller,” by Alex Shvartsman
You don’t know the entire story.
The fable has some of it right. There was a young woman named Scheherazade, and she lived in a dark age. The Persian tyrant king took a virgin to his bed every night, and then had her beheaded in the morning. Scheherazade was a vizier’s daughter, growing up at court and blossoming into a beauty. At a time when most people couldn’t read Scheherazade was a student of history and art, and a collector of books. She understood the nature of men and feared that her father’s position wouldn’t protect her for long…
“Here There Be Monsters?” by Robert Lowell Russell
The canary-yellow shirt read Camp Fit, but it didn’t quite fit the bulbous, pre-adolescent boy cringing in the cabin’s corner. Rows of bunks lined both sides of the room. Standing over the boy, Worgly raised his shaggy brown arms and roared his terrible roar. “You’re going to eat me!” And the monster gnashed his terrible teeth, and rolled his terrible eyes, and showed his terrible claws.
The boy’s expression changed from terror to puzzlement. “You want me to eat you?”
“Yes!” shouted Worgly. “Wait… No.”
Pulling a tattered manual from his fur, the monster flipped through it and read for a moment, then nodded and put the book away again. “Do-over.” Worgly pointed a talon at the boy…
Anna Joaquim sighed contentedly, taking Dabney Joaquim’s arm and snuggling closer. She did not have eyes for him, though. Looking into the deep darkness of the Wild Lands beyond the Interstate Rail car window, she whispered, “I love you.”
Dabney knew her action and words were, if not a lie, at least a gross misrepresentation of her feelings. He detected the lack of proper tonal inflection, skin moisture levels, muscle tone and pheromone production present if the words had been directed at him. He’d known since his activation that her deepest desire was to walk the unprotected Wild Lands. It was therefore his desire as well. Every Life Companion had its human’s memories and desires uploaded. Dabney’s job was to make sure his human’s life was completely fulfilled. He bit his lower lip, hoping she wouldn’t notice his non-response. He had no idea how to meet her desire to be in the Wild Lands…
In the end, there was no pain. That was due to the drugs, and through the fuzzy mist that blanketed her thoughts Marta was pleased they worked as well as they were supposed to. At the moment it was somewhat hazy, but the past few months hadn’t been much fun. The doctor had explained what was happening, but Marta didn’t feel as if her body was betraying her. Difficult to find fault after ninety-two relatively problem-free years. It had been a good run.
She was vaguely aware of what seemed to be every living descendant offering tearful goodbyes, right down to the youngest great-grandchild. Marta couldn’t recall his name but managed to form a ghost of a smile beneath her breathing tube. The mass of humanity slowly emptied from the room until just her children and the doctor remained…
Another Author’s Spotlight:
Guy Stewart, on writing “Oath”
And yet another movie review in which Badger & Vole managed to talk about almost every other film Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ever made, except for the one they were supposed to be reviewing:
Badger & Vole Review: The World’s End
SHOWCASE #7 marks the final appearance of our reader’s forum. To be blunt, in three months it had turned into the Giant Spam-Post Magnet from Hell, and we were spending more time moderating comments and deleting bogus spam-bot accounts than anything else. There was an also an editorial, “Why SHOWCASE?”, which, having just re-read it now, I should probably find a home for on the new site, as it explains a great deal about Rampant Loon Press, Stupefying Stories, our design philosophy, and a multitude of other things.
As for fiction, SHOWCASE #7 featured:
“The Day of Reckoning is upon us,” Preacher Paul said.
“You reckon?” Jake answered.
Paul watched Jake for telltale signs of guilt, but Jake only nodded and went on rocking his chair on the general store’s porch.
“You’d best do everything you can to prepare,” Paul added. “I’m here to offer you counsel if you need it.”
“Before you get too far in that sermon of yours, you ought to know I don’t have any money for you, Preacher.”
Paul shook his head and stroked his beard. “That’s just what the Devil’s telling you to say.”
Dottie paused outside the drying barn where most of Poppa’s burley crop hung like baleen in the gaping mouth of a whale. She was tempted to pluck a leaf and inhale its aroma of dried fruit, but then she noticed the wooden figure of Bacco Joe guarding the shadows just beyond the doorway. Even in the dim light, she could make out the rope burn on Joe’s neck. Dottie’s hands flitted to her own neck and scratched the tender skin that itched with sympathy pains.
Until the previous summer, the old cigar-store Indian had always occupied a certain corner in Dottie’s house, passing along with the farm from father to son as a talisman of good harvest since the earliest generation planted his first row of burley. When she was still alive Dottie’s mother judged Bacco Joe sacrilegious and kept him covered with a quilt, out of fear that the statue likely challenged at least three of God’s Ten Commandments to Moses.
Now Bacco Joe was making appearances all over the farm. Before today’s sighting Dottie had last seen him standing on the back porch of the big house, the carved feathers of his war bonnet bristling like the quills of a porcupine expecting trouble. Each time he disappeared, Dottie prayed he wouldn’t come back. So far, her prayers had gone unanswered.
Dottie felt Bacco Joe leering at her, though his visage hadn’t changed from its usual stolid expression. Dottie knew from experience with her own father that a lot of things went on beneath the mask of a hard face. Thinking of Poppa and the wooden Indian at the same time evoked a memory of the previous summer, and of Uncle Leon and his ill-fated practical joke. Looking back on it, Dottie figured the trouble with Joe had begun with Uncle Leon’s fondness for telling a tall tale…
“In Vino Veritas,” by Anatoly Belilovsky
The lights come on: dazzling white-on-white. “For the love of God, Montresor!” I say, shielding my face, but in seconds my eyes adjust and the abrasive glare softens. “What is this place?” My voice drops to a whisper, its echoes mere pinpricks.
“But, my dear Fortunato,” says Montresor, “it should be obvious…”
“Dude, that’s a big hole,” said Thomas.
“Yup,” said Will.
Thomas sighed and took a drink. “Now I understand why you asked me to come fix your wall instead of calling your landlord.”
Will shrugged. “Yeah, that’s part of it.”
Thomas just stared at the giant hole in the wall. “I mean, what the hell did you do? I figured you just punched the wall or something.”
“Nah. I did it on purpose.”
Thomas shook head and finished his beer. “I don’t know, man. I agreed to do this for a six-pack, but this is gonna be a big job.”
“That’s fine, man. I got a bottle of vodka.”
There was a huge gap between SHOWCASE #7 and SHOWCASE #8, for reasons explained in the editorial, “Family Matters.” As for fiction, this issue featured:
“Soft Magic,” by Paul DesCombaz
“So that’s it?” Marcy asked. “That’s the only spell you ever pulled off?”
With laser focus, her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Deg scratched at his ear as though he might discover gold bullion buried behind the lobe.
“Yeah, more or less,” he said, grinning and shaking his tawny mop of hair. “Here.” He tipped the box of candy into Marcy’s palm and a single black brick tumbled out. “One bottomless box of licorice. The perfect spell.”
Squishing the hardish rectangle between her fingers, Marcy frowned. “You only made the black kind?”
Deg swiped the semi-flattened candy back from her and popped it into his mouth. “Hey, those happen to be my favorite,” he said.
Marcy noted that he chewed with his mouth wide open.
The two of them sat on the edge of Marcy’s bed, listening to Deg’s lips smack, staring at anything but each other, for what seemed like six eternities. The thin rain pattering against the bedroom window tapped like bored fingers on a snare drum.
Thankfully, before the awkward silence could pass into the dimension of the unbearable, Deg coughed into his fist and asked, “So how about you, big shot? What’s your conjuring masterpiece?”
“The All-Seeing Ring,” by Kelda Crich
“It is a powerful artefact, Miss. An ancient device that will twist your vision to the unseen,” whispered the shopkeeper.
The ring was heavy in my hand, heavier than might be reasonably expected, as if its power had transformed into a physical manifestation. An old white-metal ring, layered with twists of woven medieval carvings. I stared, transfixed, trying to recognise the skull-faced creatures that peered out of the metal vines. The creatures’ eyes and teeth were picked out in small fragments of crystal. They leered at me with knowing glances.
I held the ring between my thumb and forefinger, ready to push it onto my willing finger.
“Not yet,” whispered the shopkeeper. “We must come to an arrangement.”
“How much?” I asked. The price was irrelevant. I was willing to pay anything to obtain such an object of weird power.
I nodded. It was a ridiculously small sum for an item of such influence.
I hurried home, through the desolate streets and the dirty, ice-cold rain water. I was wrapped in anticipation. I knew that I had acquired something influential and obscure. The ring spoke to me, to the hidden aspect of my mind. I have always believed in the concealed mysteries of the world, and believed in mechanisms that might tear away the obscuring veil. I knew that if I were to place the ring onto my finger I would be changed forever. I wanted that. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be special.
A moment of courage, bolstered by a glass of raw vodka, and the ring was on my finger…
“The Calling Card,” by Eric J. Guignard
The calling card was black as midnight, and the message written across its face shimmered fire-gold. Letters and runes bowed together presenting a line of script which, when read, caused Old Man Popp to tremble.
Sorry I missed you. Will try back later.
The card measured only a few inches long and half that in height. Popp might have overlooked it entirely as he came home that afternoon, but the faint smell of brimstone caused him to search for its source. At first he thought he’d left the coffee maker on again and the java was burning, but then he found the card on the kitchen table, leaning against a half-empty bottle of gin.
This was the third card Popp had found on his table in the past month. He thought the first card was a joke. The second one caused him concern. And now number three…
“What do you want me to do, make an appointment?” Popp called out to the room. “I’m not going to sit here and wait for you, that’s for sure.”
He crinkled the card up and flicked it in the trash. Some guys just have poor timing, he thought and lit a cigar.
Two days later, Popp came home late at night…
“The Blue Ridge Wreath,” by Georgia Ruth
My headlights illuminated a narrow path directly in front of my truck. Through the wispy fog I could barely see the asphalt burrowing through dark outlines of trees that might be impressive in the daylight. Surely I’d been this way before, but nothing looked familiar to my weary brain. I was afraid I’d missed my turn back where an abandoned van could have hidden helpful signs. There was nothing else to indicate my location, and so I pressed onward.
A small green arrow pointed to the right towards Rutland, a town I never heard of. But the Blue Ridge Parkway passed lots of small towns I never heard of, and I had to exit to get to any of them. I thought I would try to find a crafts shop or fruit stand where I could ask directions. The chances of finding an open store in the mountains were getting slim and slimmer as light withdrew from the forest.
Up ahead, a tiny glow through the ethereal wall gave me hope for civilization. A twisted half-mile later, I nosed my Jeep Cherokee towards the unpainted side of a general store with two gas pumps dying in the weeds. The old man peering at me through the dirt-splattered window watched me get out of the truck. I hoped the feeble floodlight at the corner of the gravel parking space made me appear harmless. I turned the knob and scraped open the door, bringing to life a jangle of bells overhead. The musty smell of stained hardwood floors reminded me of my grandparents’ store in Tennessee tobacco country. Years ago, they ran a business like this down the road from their farmhouse, providing the necessities to a close-knit community.
I looked around at the merchandise and felt the past come back to haunt me…
But Badger & Vole were beginning to lose it, as evidenced by:
Badger & Vole Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
SHOWCASE #9 returned to form, with the release announcement for TWO: The 2nd Annual Horror Special, one of my favorite editorials, “Armistice Day,” and five terrific stories. I still snicker when I read Carly Berg’s tale, but all of them are great. You’ll also note that we took a new and more succinct approach to the story teasers.
“Jackie, We Hardly Knew Ye,” by Carly Berg
What really happened on that terrible November day in Dallas? Fifty years later, the truth can finally be revealed…
“Tempora Mutantur,” by Anatoly Belilovsky
In April of 2848 a scientific expedition set sail from Stalinpour, to brave the crocodile-infested coast of Greenland and explore the fabled lost city of Broke-Land. But even the ancient legends could not prepare them for the horror they found there…
When she joined the department the older cops warned her there would be one case she would never forget; one crime she could never solve. Then it came in the form of a beautiful young Jane Doe, found murdered by poison, in a crime scene scrubbed so clean there was only one puzzling clue…
“Happily Ever After,” by Edward Ahern
It was just a simple Sunday dinner, but when her husband Prince Fürst insisted on inviting her wicked stepmother, Princess Blanche felt entitled to invite the evil witch as well. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
“Lessons Learned From My Fifth Attempt to Conquer the World,” by Jason Andrew
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors, esteemed colleagues: there may be some opportunities for improvement here…
As well as a surprisingly positive, well-focused, and on-topic movie review:
Badger & Vole Review: Ender’s Game
SHOWCASE #10 was the last of the first-gen issues. It featured:
“An Indelible Feast,” by Alex Shvartsman
Adria’s is the most expensive restaurant in the world, because they can serve diners nearly anything—with just one small exception…
“Stanhope’s Finest,” by Natalie J. E. Potts
“I am a survivor from the Meso-Air crash, requesting rescue from Sydney, Australia. I need urgent medical assistance. I think I might have eaten some poisonous crabs. They were green with red dots, and oh my God…”
“Allegory at Table Seven,” by Jarod K. Anderson
Rounding out this week’s Food Trilogy, the story that asks, what happens when the impossible meets the unbelievable over a nice Greek salad?
Badger & Vole’s last hurrah:
Badger & Vole Review: THOR: The Dark World
A somewhat unfocused editorial that attempted to explain my vision of the future of publishing:
“Show Your Work,” by Bruce Bethke
And in a moment of either pure brilliance or sheer hubris, one last, self-indulgent attempt to resuscitate the Author’s Spotlight feature:
“Appliancé,” story and author’s commentary
In truth, the more I hear people prattle about the “Internet of Things,” the more brilliantly prescient “Appliancé” seems to me. But then, I wrote it.
And with SHOWCASE #11, we rested, took stock, and unveiled our new “Crevasse” website design, which seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, but turned out to be a dead-end road.
SHOWCASE #11 • November 22, 2013
As with so many roads that go to bad places, we took it with the best of intentions.
(To be continued…)
Wow…just…wow…how much has happened in the past three years…
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