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About this blog

Some of my writing

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

(After playing Steven Walkups D20 Modern Walking Dead scenario “Walker, Texas Danger” Saturday (March 23) with Adam Frager, Christopher Sparks, and Kevin from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at CaesarCon 2013)

From the Journal of Francis “Frank” Strazynski (also called “Sarge”)

The day it all went to hell, I was on a mission.

We were members of an elite DEA squad, code-named Omega Squad. We had assembled in an undisclosed, secret location on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas, where we waited to be briefed on our next mission. Chester Brickhouse was our heavy weapons guy and wore a tactical vest, as I did. Sam “God” Everready was a sniper and wore a light duty vest. Jed Caliber was our medic and wore a concealed vest.

A man wearing a black Armani suit with matching tie finally entered the room.

“Welcome gentlemen,” he said. “You all know why you’re here. You’re the special arm of the DEA, so as always, what is said in this room stays in this room. You’ve all heard about the recent incidents of cannibalism. The U.S. government has linked it to a new street drug, desomorphine, street name crock, a deadly, addictive derivative of morphine that can be up to 50% stronger and three times cheaper than heroine. It’s also more addictive. First-time crock users can be expected to live no more than two to three years after initial injection. Once the drug enters the user’s bloodstream, it immediately starts killing off the white blood cells of the flesh around it, leaving the user’s skin grievous and scaly, like a crocodile’s, before it completely rots away.

“People produce crock by purchasing over-the-counter codeine and mixing it with iodine and red phosphorous, sometimes adding other things like gasoline or hydrochloric acid. For many people, crocodile is easier to make and obtain than other comparatively less desired drugs. It is described as having a fast onset and short duration of action, with relatively little nausea or respiratory depression compared to the equivalent doses of morphine.

“The U.S. Government is finished trying to find a political solution to the war on drugs, so the President has authorized us to strike a blow against a major drug cartel leader.”

He picked up a cord with a button on the end and pressed it. The picture projected onto the screen at the front of the room showed people who had been using crock. Their skin was desiccated and damaged, obviously beyond repair. On at least one of the victims, bone showed through the torn skin of the user.

“We think the drug messes with their minds,” he went on. “They go crazy. If you see people with their flesh coming off, walking funny, in a dazed state, they’re usually on crock.”

“Do we get to shoot ‘em?” I asked.

He nodded.

“This drug started in the soviet block and it’s coming to America,” he went on.

The next slide came up, showing an Hispanic man wearing a turban.

“His name is Alberto Guerrera,” he went on. “He’s the leader Hueva Del Demino.”

“Demon Spawn,” I translated.

“He has a mountain compound south of the Coronado National Forest. He runs drugs across the border. We are unable to track the routes he takes because he doesn’t use vehicles to transport his drugs. He uses pack animals. With our satellites focused on heat signatures and vehicles, his traffic shipments are travelling undetectable. He has contacts with MI-13, the Mexican mafia, and other street gangs to distribute them once they cross the border.

“Gentlemen, we caught a break.”

He snapped his fingers. A small Hispanic man entered the room.

“This is Enrico,” the government spook went on. “He was captured a month ago and has offered to lead you up the trail to the mountain hideout. Time is of the essence. It seems that Alberto himself is supervising this shipment personally. Your mission is to capture or eliminate him. As usual, the U.S. Government does not acknowledge the existence of this squad, so leave your DEA badges and IDs with me. As a bonus, you can keep all the cash you can find.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

We handed over our IDs and he left the room.

“Enrico, do you speak English?” I asked.

“Yes, I speak English,” Enrico replied.

“That’s good.”

“You think I’m stupid.”

“You might be. We don’t know yet. We’re gonna find out. If you survive, you’re probably not.”

“Hey, I’m just getting you to the trail, then I’m leaving.”

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh.”

“What’s to stop you from taking us to the trail and warning this guy?” Everready asked.

“See, I got caught with a little drugs,” Enrico said. “I don’t want to go away forever.”

“That works.”

“So, the government’s paying me and giving me a new identity and all that good stuff.”

“So, how many guards are at this place?” I asked.

“There’s about six or seven ... teen,” Enrico said.

“What are they armed with?”

“AK-47s, M-16s. You see, your government sent a load of weapons to us. Thank you U.S. Government.”

“Damned U.S. Government,” Caliber said.

“You’re welcome. We’ll repay you in kind with bullets,” I said.

“‘Thank you U.S. Government,’” Caliber said. “Hell.”

I asked the man to draw us a map of the compound and show us weak spots and strong points, as well as where Alberto might be. There was only one entrance on the map he drew and we took only a short time examining it. The place was actually within a cave in the side of the mountain and contained barracks, an armory, stables, a common area, storage room, and laboratory. He also showed us “Alberto’s Door” which was off the common room. Apparently, only Alberto went into that door. Two guards were posted outside of the main entrance of the place at night. Guards were changed every two hours or so.

He also told us there were tripwires and booby traps that he would lead us through. He said he was not allowed to go into Alberto’s chamber but did know the location of the door that led into it. Enrico was to lead us to the cave entrance and then find his own way back.

We got loaded up. I requisitioned a few flashbangs and a few concussion grenades in addition to my frag grenades, Beretta, and H&K Mp5. Caliber carried an M4 carbine. Brickhouse was armed with a desert eagle, an M4 carbine, a sawed off shotgun, and a hatchet. Everready was armed with an M82 sniper rifle. We had suppressors for most of our weapons. We were also given some C-4 and simple timers to demolish the site. Enrico was only armed with a hunting knife.

A stealth Blackhawk took us from the briefing area into the wilderness. The vehicle flew nap of earth and made a few false landings, just in case we were being tracked. We flew for about an hour before we were offloaded in Mexico.

I moved to a secure position as Enrico motioned us to move out. Brickhouse took point and I followed behind with Caliber behind me and Everready in the rear. Enrico lead us, walking by Brickhouse. We kept about 15 feet between us.

It only took us a while to get close to the objective. Then we heard a woman scream somewhere up ahead.

“I think we’re close,” Caliber whispered.

A woman ran down the trail at us. She was obviously terrified as she approached Brickhouse and Enrico.

“Los muertos! Los muertos!” she screamed.

The dead! The dead!

She had badly torn bite marks on her arms.

“Los muertos! Los muertos!” she cried again.

“What’s she yelling?” Caliber asked.

“Los muertos! Los muertos!”

“She says there’s dead people up there,” I hissed at him as I moved into the brush on the side of the deer trail we’d been following.

“I think we should kill her,” Caliber said. “Knock her out, anyway.”

She pushed past us and ran down the trail, pointing back behind her. We spotted several people shambling down the trail.

“Stop where you are!” Brickhouse called. “Stop where you are!”

Nicer than I would have been, I thought.

The men didn’t stop. I noticed one of them was missing an arm, probably a victim of crock. Enrico pulled out his knife. Then we opened fire.

Brickhouse’s first shot struck one of the nearest men in the chest and it should have killed him but he only staggered and then kept coming. Caliber shot the same man, blasting him in the neck and taking his head off as if the body had been rotten for some time. I fired at one of the men towards the back of the group, hitting him in the chest. He didn’t fall. I began to suspect they were wearing some kind of armor.

“They must be hopped up on goofballs,” I said.

Then the night was torn by the crack of Everready’s 50-caliber. The blast took off the man’s arm and left it hanging by a thread. There was no way he should have been still walking towards us.

“Must be some new kind of crock,” I said.

“This ain’t right!” Everready said. “This just ain’t right!”

I switched my weapon to full auto as Jed fired into the three remaining cannibals, barely missing Brickhouse. The men moved towards us, one of them closing on Brickhouse while the other went for Enrico, who stabbed the man in the chest over and over. It didn’t seem to slow the cannibal down. Brickhouse put the carbine right to a cannibal’s head and blasted most of skull to pieces. He still didn’t go down!

Brickhouse moved back away from the crockheads.

Everready shot the same one he’d hit before, blowing a hole through the man’s body and ripping him apart. I moved through the woods nearer to Enrico and then opened up with the H&K, firing rounds into the area with the two remaining cannibals. None of my bullets struck the targets sufficiently to slow them down, however.

“Los Muertos! Los Muertos!” Enrico shrieked.

He turned and ran away.

Caliber shot another of the men and he went down. Brickhouse stepped up to the last man, who had moved towards Caliber.

“Cover your mouth,” Brickhouse said to Caliber.

He put the carbine to the cannibal’s head and blew it off his shoulders. The body kept walking for a moment before it fell to the ground. I was glad I was over in the woods.

As the smoke cleared, the smell of cordite filled the air. Black ooze seeped out of the bullet holes, cuts, and gashes on the bodies. One had a bowie knife stuck in his chest where his heart should have been.

Enrico came back, badly shaken.

“Alright Jed, so what are these guys on?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Caliber replied. “Let me check them out.”

“Ay dios mio,” Enrico said. “I knew these men. They are some of Alberto’s runners? These are the guys that would take the shipments down this trail.”

“Are they taking the drugs?” I asked.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Everready said.

“I know these men,” Enrico said. “Alberto’s rules are no drugs. No drugs.”

“These guys weren’t on any drugs,” Brickhouse said. “I looked right into their eyes; there was nothing looking back out of that head.”

“Figure out what happened to them doc,” I muttered to Caliber and moved up the trail as Everready pulled the bowie knife that was almost as big as a machete out of one of the corpses.

I found a position to keep watch up the trail as the others talked quietly.

“They must be on some kind of combination of drugs that keeps the body active,” I heard Brickhouse say.

After examining the bodies, Caliber went through the pockets of our attackers.

“I found some pesos,” I heard him say.

“I’ll get you to the entrance and the entrance only!” Enrico hissed.

“Where’s the boobies?” Caliber asked him.

“I’ll get you to the entrance.”

We resumed our marching order and headed up the trail, soon arriving at the cave entrance. It was a rocky outcrop on the side of the mountain. Vegetation was scattered around; large pieces of bushes were thrown around in the area, probably for camouflage. No guards were evident.

“Something’s going on!” Enrico hissed.

“We may not be the first ones here,” Everready said.

“Enrico, when was the last time you were here?” Caliber asked.

“Four months ago,” the Mexican answered.

“Oh Jesus!”

“Four months!” Everready said.

“For the love of all that’s pure and holy!” Caliber said.

“I’m your only hope!” Enrico said. “I got you to the entrance. I am done.”

He turned around and walked down the trail. Caliber started to examine the area around the entrance.

“Why aren’t we moving?” I asked. “We should be moving in.”

He and Brickhouse pointed out the scorch marks on the side of the mountain where there had obviously been explosions. Caliber also found pieces of bodies that had been blown apart.

“Looks like they started the hoedown without us,” Caliber said.

“Well, this is taken care of then,” Brickhouse said. “Let’s finish her up.”

“I say we’re late to the party. Let’s go.”

We crept up to the entrance, Brickhouse still taking point, followed closely by Caliber and myself. Everready followed up behind. There were no guards at the cave entrance itself. Brickhouse moved forward, flash grenade in one hand, and looked down the other directions of the first intersection while Caliber and I covered him. He seemed to pay particular attention to the corridor to the left.

Bare light bulbs lit the corridor straight ahead.

Brickhouse crept back to us.

“Cannibals eating the livestock down there,” he said, pointing to the left corridor.

“I don’t think we should bother ‘em,” Caliber said.

Brickhouse pointed to the corridor to the right and headed back to the intersection, slipping around the corner. We followed him.

A door at the end under another bare light bulb had a sign on it. It read “El Arsenal.” Brickhouse headed down the hall, followed by Caliber. Everready and I stopped at the intersection. I covered the corridor to the stables where I could see two people hunched over a dead horse. Everready stayed near me and trained his rifle down the corridor towards the other two.

Brickhouse checked the door to make sure it was not rigged and then tried the latch. It proved to be locked. He leaned back to kick it, but Caliber quickly stopped him.

“We’ve got to be quiet,” Caliber hissed at him.

He took out a small lock pick set and worked at the lock. They pushed the door open and a scream and a blast of AK-47 gunfire came from the room. A crash followed from inside.

“Die stinking Americans!” I heard someone yell.

There was more gunfire from down the hallway and I barely heard the “pup-pup” of return fire by the silenced weapons of my companions.

“Keep an eye on them,” I said to Everready, nodding at the two cannibals.

I moved down the hallway to support the other two, keeping close to the wall. I could see Brickhouse in the room on the floor on our side of a desk. One of the Mexicans jumped up and aimed down at him.

“Put down your weapons!” the Mexican yelled. “Put down your weapons or your friend dies!”

“I don’t know him that well,” I said.

Caliber shot the man, hitting him in the abdomen. He cried out and fell to the ground, firing his gun as he went down.

“How dramatic,” I said. “He’s watched too many movies.”

Brickhouse got up, moving by the injured man and kicking the gun away from him. He went to another hallway that led out of the room on the left and peered around the corner. I also moved into the room. One of the men was lying under a small pile of rubble. I peered up at the ceiling and saw the bullet holes right above him. He’d fired into the ceiling and the falling debris had incapacitated him.

“We could interrogate him,” Caliber said.

I nodded and we used the zip straps to cuff both of the prisoners. Caliber saw to the man he’d shot though it looked like he actually made the man worse. We called Everready down to the room and closed the armory door behind him.

“Do you speak English?” I asked one of the prisoners.

He spit on my boots.

“Shine ‘em while you’re down there,” I said.

“Alberto’s going to kill all of you!” the man muttered. “This is his cave.”

“It’s his cave?”

“Americans set this plague upon us. He’ll kill every American.”

“What plague?”

“Set what plague? You don’t see the los muertos walking around?”

“The Los Muertos? That’s what you call your cannibal friends?”

“The dead. They’re dead!”

“That would explain why they were so hard to kill.”

“They’re all dead.”

“So, what kind of drugs do you give these dead people to make ‘em dead.”

“Alberto’s no drugs. No drugs. We’re not allowed to take drugs. Alberto catches us taking drugs, he kill us. One of our scouts came down the trail and said some crazy man bit him. So we took him. We thought it was not a deep wound so we let him sleep it off.”

“Sounds like they got rabies.”

“And then, one by one, people started dying and coming back.”

“Not good,” Caliber said.

“How many are left,” I asked the prisoner.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Me and José, we locked ourselves in here and said we’d shoot anything that comes through that door, until–”

“Alberto know that?”

“Alberto will save us! He has not saved us yet but he will save us. You cannot kill him.”

“How long you been in here?”

“Two days.”

“What you been drinking, your urine?”

“No, right over there.”

I looked to my right. A refrigerator stood against the wall.

“A refrigerator full of beer,” he muttered.

“Who were you waiting for?” Caliber asked.

“Alberto,” the man replied.


“No. Enrico, that little swine! He ran away like the little bitch he is.”

“But the muerto aren’t going to get him, right?” I asked. “So who’s the bitch now?”

He glared at me.

“Why don’t you tell us where Alberto is?” I continued. “Because we know where some of those muertos are and you’d make a wonderful distraction.”

“He’s probably in his room, plotting his revenge,” he said.

“How many more are in here?” Brickhouse asked.

“Five!” the man suddenly said.

“How many of your people who aren’t muertos?” I asked.

“Me and José were the only two. We locked ourselves in. We were not going to open up until Alberto gets us.”

“How many muertos?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many were in the place before the muertos?”

“Six or seven ... teen.”

“You got rats in here?” Brickhouse, still watching the other door, asked.

“No rats. Alberto makes sure we keep it clean.”

“Sam, how are those muertos doing over there with the horses?” I asked Everready, who was still watching out of the door we’d come in.

A slow, determined banging began on the door we hadn’t entered yet.

“Yeah, uh, José, if you don’t want to get left for the muertos, you’d better be really cooperative about right now,” I said.

He looked at the door and then back at me.

“Alberto save me,” he said. “I’ll be okay. That’s probably Alberto busting through the door. He’ll kill all you Americans! Wear your ears as a necklace.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Sweet,” Caliber said sarcastically.

“That would be really not a clean necklace,” I said. “Then we’ll just leave you here.”

“Just uncuff me first,” the Mexican said.

“No. There’s no way. That’s not going to happen.”

“We could kneecap him and then uncuff him,” Everready said.

“I thought Americans were kind to their prisoners,” the Mexican said.

“We are,” Everready replied.

“We’re not American,” Brickhouse said.

“We’re not Americans,” Everready echoed him. “We don’t exist.”

“Australians?” the Mexican said.

I turned from him.

“So, should we just declare this a black op and kill everything?” I asked the others.

“I thought it was a black op ...” Everready said.

“I’m not talking about José, here,” I said.

We ignored the persistent banging for the moment to search the room, though Brickhouse put a grenade on the handle with the pin out so that it would fall if anyone opened it. There was a box of old pineapple grenades and Brickhouse suggested we rig a few doors with them. We talked about circling around the barracks and I pointed out that there were so many ways to get flanked in the terrible place. Caliber suggested we lock the door we’d come through and move linearly through the place to Alberto’s rooms. He also suggested booby trapping the doors we went through.

I searched more carefully and found five claymores and tripwires. I suggested putting a claymore in the hallway between ourselves and the stables and taking the rest with us. I ended up setting two claymores, one pointing towards the stables and the other up the other hallway. I told the others where I’d set them up.

Someone was still banging on the door to the barracks. Then they started jiggling the handle. The grenade was still sitting there.

“Someone get that grenade out of there,” I said. “Where’s the pin?”

Caliber dragged the two Mexicans to the corner.

“We don’t have the manpower to take prisoners,” Everready said. “It’s a black op. I say we just stack ‘em like cordwood somewhere.”

“Okay,” Caliber said.

He executed the two prisoners with his silenced sidearm.

“He’s the medic, he knows how to handle these things,” I said.

Brickhouse took the grenade from its place, then he pushed the door open, shoved the grenade into the crack, and tried to pull the door shut.

“Oh fuck me!” I said, as I ran for cover. “Thanks for the heads up!”

To my horror, I saw that Brickhouse had not gotten the door shut. It slowly opened into the other room.

“Duck and cover!” Brickhouse shouted and ran.

Someone was coming through the door when the grenade went off behind them, blasting them to pieces and sending their body parts flying into the room.

“Five hostiles, two just went out of sight, one’s legless!” Everready, who was the only who in position to see into the room, said.

Brickhouse moved to Everready and fired at the legless thing that was pulling itself towards the two men. The headshot was tore away part of the skull but the thing kept coming.

“Never send a weapon’s guy to do a sniper’s job,” Everready muttered.

Caliber blew the thing’s head off. Two more people stumbled into the room, their guts hanging out.

You can’t see me, I thought over and over. You can’t see me.

I shot the nearest one in the head and it dropped. Everready finished off the last one with his handgun by blasting its head off. Brickhouse aimed at the door and the rest of us waited to see if anything else came into the room.

“I don’t hear anything,” Caliber said.

“There were two more in the room,” Everready said. “I don’t know where they’re at. No confirmation of down.”

Brickhouse fired into the doorway and I heard someone hit the ground. The last one shambled into the room towards Everready. I shot it in the head and it slammed against the wall and slid slowly down to the floor where it lay still. I trained my Mp5 back at the doorway.

“Clear,” Everready said.

Brickhouse moved into the barracks and I followed him. There were some more dead bodies, one of them with a hunk of door stuck into the side of the head.

“What is going on here?” I muttered.

The room had several cots. Bloodstained blankets littered the floor. Bits and pieces of bodies were scattered around the room and we figured that we’d dealt with at least 17 dead since entering the place.

While the others searched the room for valuables, I secured the other door that led into the room.

“Should we trap the doors behind us that are still intact?” I asked. “Grenade trap ‘em?”

“If we can, yeah,” Caliber said.

I went back to the arsenal and brought back the a dozen grenades. We rigged the door with a grenade that would go off if anyone came through. I also rigged the door to the arsenal so that the grenade would go off if that door was opened.

“Just remember them if we have to get out of there,” Brickhouse said.

Brickhouse took point again, leading us into a kitchen. A long table with unfinished food sitting upon it stood near several upset chairs. A quick look under the table revealed nothing. A set of double doors appeared to be secured from the other side while an archway led out to the main corridor. I quickly secured the archway.

Brickhouse kicked open the double doors to the kitchen. Screams of girls filled the air and a heavyset woman stood defiantly in the middle of the kitchen. She held a butcher cleaver in her hand. Behind her, three young girls cried out in fear.

“The dead! The dead!” she screamed in broken English. “I bring the girls here! No diablos get here! You Americans?”

“I’m American,” Brickhouse said.

“Did you bring this plague?”

“Your boss did. We’re here to clean it up.”

“Alberto is my son!”

“Then your son did,” I said.

“You will not speak of him this way!”

“He’s feeding these people the crock and turning them into cannibals,” Brickhouse said.

“We don’t do crock. We don’t do crock here. We do simple drugs. Dope. Heroin. Cocaine. Nothing bad.”

We all stared at her. Then I moved back to cover the archway. The girls were all very young.

“These girls help me clean around here,” the woman said to Brickhouse.

“You’re Alberto’s mom?” Caliber said.


“Put your butcher knife away,” Brickhouse said.

The old woman put the butcher knife down.

“You’re not dead,” I heard her say. “I let no muertos in here. No muertos come here. I told the girls no muertos get here.”

Brickhouse walked over to us.

“You understand that she’s going to have an issue with our mission here,” he said to us.

“To kill her son,” Caliber said. “Yeah, we won’t tell her that part.”

“We could always take him prisoner,” I said. “That is an option.”

“It’s kind of a sticky situation,” Brickhouse said. “Let’s just go ahead, escort her out of here real quick, tell her to get the hell out of here, and then get back.”

“To where?” Everready said. “She’s probably safer where she’s at,”

“We could rebar the door,” Caliber said.

Brickhouse lowered his voice.

“When I put a bullet in her son’s head, I don’t want her coming at me with a butcher knife,” he said.

The three of them discussed it while I looked at the metal door to Alberto’s safe room. There was no camera there. I asked Caliber to put another claymore facing down the tunnel and he set it up. In the end, Brickhouse escorted the woman and the little girls to the entrance of the caves and returned a few minutes later.

The door to Alberto’s inner sanctum was made of metal and an intercom was set into the wall beside it. It proved to be locked. Caliber worked on the lock for a couple of minutes and managed to pick it. He drew his pistol and pulled the door open. A narrow corridor turned sharply to the left and opened into a small chamber.

Brickhouse led the way. I was close behind, followed by Caliber and Everready. Brickhouse moved to the corner and peered around it. Then he chucked the flashbang down the hall. It exploded and he pressed into the room with me close behind. Alberto was sitting behind his desk, blinking his eyes. He threw down an AK-47.

“Policia!” he screamed. “Policia! Policia! American policia? Save me!”

He moved forward, arms outstretched to embrace us.

“Get on the ground!” Brickhouse screamed at him. “Get on the ground!”

He shoved Alberto to the ground.

“Oh, God bless America!” Alberto said.

He was shaking with fear.

“I will give you one million dollars if you get me out of here!” he said.

“Each,” Everready said.

“One million American dollars!”

Everready tied up Alberto with zip ties.

“Each,” Everready said again. “I haven’t heard the answer to that yet.”

“I only have a million on me,” Alberto said weakly.

“You’re in no position to barter there, boy,” Brickhouse said to him.

I moved back down the corridor, watching the way we came. Alberto was gibbering and they finally gagged him. The others searched the room.

There were a couple million dollars worth of valuables, as well as a laptop and records of his organization.

“I’ll give you the password if you get me out of here!” Alberto mumbled through the gag.

“Password to what?” Everready said.

“The computer,” I muttered. “Grab the laptop. Grab the prisoner. Grab the money. Let’s go.”

Caliber put the laptop in its case while the rest of us grabbed everything of value. We discussed taking out the drug lab and Caliber suggested using all of the claymores near the entrance to cave, saving us the time of dealing with the cannibals and the drug lab. I pointed out we had C-4 too and he added that to the equation.

“All right, let’s just go down to the main entrance, plant C-4 on our way out, and a couple claymores, and let it go to hell,” Brickhouse said.

“I’m okay with that,” Everready said.

“Something’s very wrong here,” I muttered.

“Any other children here?” Brickhouse asked Alberto. “We found three already.”

“And your mom,” I said. “She’s safe.”

“She’s safe?” Alberto muttered. “There’s only three kids, they help out in the kitchen. Just get me out of here! The generator’s about to run out right ... now.”

The lights suddenly went out in the room. I switched to night vision and saw that the others had as well.

Brickhouse stared at Alberto.

“He’s covering his ass, guys,” Brickhouse said. “He’s not giving us shit.”

“Okay,” Caliber said.

He fired a single bullet into Alberto’s chest. The man looked very surprised before he dropped to the ground, dead. Someone took his photo. We had the proof we needed.

There was a crudely made secret door in the wall. Brickhouse suggested that it might be a quick way out and opened it up. Then we heard an explosion from down the corridor somewhere. It sounded like a claymore going off. Brickhouse returned a few moments later and told us it led to the main passage.

“Entrance’s got fireworks going on,” he said.

He closed the interior secret door and we headed out of the safe room, back the way we came. We crossed the kitchen and went through the barracks without incident, returning to the arsenal and putting the crude grenade traps back into place. En route, we heard explosions in the main corridor deeper into the complex where we’d left more claymores.

Looking down the hallway outside of the arsenal, we spotted several more cannibals wandering around in the dark.

“Take ‘em out,” Caliber whispered.

Brickhouse and I coordinated our shots while Caliber watched the way we’d come. Two head shots and both of the men in the hallway dropped to the ground and stopped moving. We watched for several seconds to make sure there weren’t more of them. It looked like there were a couple more bodies there.

“You might want to hit those in the heads,” Everready said, looking through the scope of his sniper rifle.

We again coordinated and both fired at the corpses on the ground. They both jerked and then lay still.

“You see any more?” Brickhouse asked Everready.

“Don’t see any more,” he replied.

“Clear,” Brickhouse said. “Let’s go.”

He headed up the corridor and two more of the cannibals lurched around the corner.

“Oh crap!” I said.

I took a knee as one of the things grappled with Brickhouse. He shoved the man off, put his rifle barrel to the man’s face, and blew his head off. He crossed the corridor towards the cave entrance.

“One hostile!” he called down to us as the other man lurched towards him and grabbed him.

Brickhouse flung the man off him. There was the report of the 50-caliber rifle from Everready behind me and the man’s head blew to pieces and the body fell to the ground.

“Clear?” I called.

“Clear!” Brickhouse said, a little shook up.

We set charges of C-4 at the entrance and set it off as we headed for the LZ. As we cleared the woods around the mountain, we called for evac. As we boarded the Blackhawk, the pilot hollered back at us.

“Good thing you guys called when you did!” he said. “There’s rioting in El Paso and they’re calling every able-body to come help. I was told to give you 20 more minutes and then I had to go back.”

As we flew towards the city, I could see smoke and flames rising towards the sky. The helicopter landed on a roof not far from where we’d originally taken off. We walked to the edge of the roof and realized that the things we’d encountered were not contained to the mountains.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

(After playing the Tabloid! scenario “Faux Pas” Friday (March 22) with Josh Smith, Buddy Rosso, Jeff Laforest, Adam Frager, and Steven Walkup from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at CaesarCon 2013)

“Editorial meeting! In my office, everybody – now!” bellowed the editor as he strode through the reporter’s bullpen. He didn’t wait to see if anyone followed, but barged right through and planted himself at his desk. He was sweaty and his tie was pulled down, but he wore a nice suit. He always put people in mind of J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider Man comic books, at least for his temper and his tendency to hit people.

The editorial offices of the World Tattler-Tribune were in one of the squat skyscrapers in the greatest city in the world: Akron, Ohio.

Howard Combine was an ace tabloid reporter. He had an athletic build, blue eyes, a soul patch, and a nice tan. He was a bush pilot and was into voodoo. He was also a smug liberal and could talk down a conservative Republican like no one else. From Quahog, R.I., and graduated from James Woods High. His fellow reporters didn’t know much about him.

Mark Farcas was a good-looking though thin and pasty man with thinning brown hair. He was nervous-looking and always watchful. He covered Bigfoot and dead rock stars (like Elvis Presley). He had graduated from Tudbull High School in Scranton, Penn. After that he went to the beach where things went well. In an effort to better himself, he enrolled in Columbia School of Journalism but unfortunately that story on poodle-barbecuing cultists was good, but there was no witness protection program for reporters. He got a job at an amusement park but was framed for beating up a kid so he turned to tabloid reporting. He was also being hunted by the.

Horace Shrugg had long, greasy hair and squinty eyes. He was shifty-looking with a gold tooth prominent in the front of his mouth. He usually wore jeans and a t-shirt. He was a photographer who’d graduated from Eunice Harper Higgins High School in San Antonio, Texas. He went to college at the Conservatory of Secrets Humanity Was Not meant to Know. He had a hacker fix his grades but then headed to the CIA University of the Air and there was an “incident.” He decided that exposing the truth was the best idea ever. That’s when he started tabloid reporting.

George Schmidlap was a tall, thin Dwight-Shrute-ish looking man who wore his hair parted down the center. He wore thick-framed bifocals and had a thick, black beard and mustache. He didn’t have a penny to his name and lived in basement somewhere. He was shifty and always watchful. He told his fellow reporters that he was wanted by the law for a crime he didn’t commit. He’d had trouble getting into college so found a job at Captain Jeffery Spaulding Junior High, but quit it when he got blamed for allegedly flunking the star of the rugby team. Things went bad at his next job as a nuclear weapons technician and he travelled the country with 5,000 neo-hippies for a while before getting back into the Academy of Data-Entry, where he’d failed to get enrolled before. He blew his academic probation there, however, and decided to be a tabloid reporter.

Ralph Fisher had dark hair and was handsome but his face was scarred and slightly burned. He wore a fine suit that fit his tall frame perfectly. He also wore thick glasses which his fellow reporters knew were fake (ala Clark Kent). After graduating from Benedict Arnold Senior High School in Muncie, Ind., he went to college for a while. He was arrested for, as he put it, “unknown reasons.” Then he went to the beach and won the lottery, finally going back to school – which didn’t work out either. It wasn’t his fault that time, it was an accident, honest. He became a highway surveyor and then had to marry a woman he’d gotten pregnant. He was transferred to Russia and the last words he remembered hearing at that place of employment had been “Oh my god! Don’t mix those–!” before the explosion. The company paid him quite a bit of dough to keep quiet but his good looks were ruined. He tried to go back to college but late-night research at Lawson’s Absolute Center of the Universe School led him to secrets better left undiscovered. He knew people were hunting him, however, because he knew too much. So, he became a tabloid reporter.

All of them started to get up and head for the office except for Fisher,

“Where are you guys going?” he asked. “He can wait. He pays us.”

“You remember the last time we made him wait more than five minutes?” Schmidlap asked the man. “Wasn’t pretty.”

As they all squeezed into the cramped office – there was no place to stand, let alone sit – they saw a short, skinny, bald, bespectacled man with a bow tie standing alongside the editor’s desk. He acted nervous to be the center of attention, though his pinched little face still radiated that “I’m-better-than-all-you-weasels” sense of smug superiority that only comes with excessive pride in one’s undergrad education.

“So, you a CPA?” Combine asked the little man.

The man simply shrugged and rolled his eyes.

“Two things, staff,” the editor said. “First, I want you to meet Lester Windooth III. He’s our new head of Research and Fact Checking. Unlike you bums, Lester’s done something with his life. He was a History professor–”

“With an English composition minor, sir,” the newcomer had the temerity to add.

“Like I was saying, he’s educated, and he’s here to oversee our fact checking. There’s been complains that we ain’t always getting our history right, and I want that to stop!”

With that, he slammed his fist on the desk and glared at each of them, even though they hadn’t done anything wrong lately.

“Second thing – the public wants real news. They’re getting tired of these Hollywood Heights, who’s-sleeping-with-who stories you’ve been filing! Sales are slipping. I want ground-breaking material here, stuff that’s gonna make people sit up and take notice.”

He picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk and thrust them into the reporters’ hands.

“This is a good one I’m thinking of running. Lester’s already checked it. What do you think?”

The article read:

What’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb?


In a startling announcement exclusive to the World Tattler-Tribune, Canadian historian

Anton Sacka-Weejie has proven that US Vice-President and Civil War general Ulysses

S. Grant was really a space alien!

“The evidence is all there,” explains Anton, professor at the Great Slave Lake Academy

of Arts and Sciences. “There are links to this ‘war hero’ and all sorts of strange events

like the Wendigo up there and the Men in Black of the American Southwest. Your

government’s got documents proving it all, but they’ve locked those all away. Think about

it. Why do you suppose they started asking ‘Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?’”

Ulysses S. Grant was a top general for the Confederate army during the Civil War (or

War Between the States for our southern readers). After the war, General Grant went on

to become Vice-President of the United States.

With information from Civil War Secret Service files, Professor Sacka-Weejie proves

Grant was not of this world. “No human could ever drink the quantities of whisky he did

and live. Why, President Lincoln had to keep him supplied with barrels of the stuff. What

did he do with it? Well, no one ever saw him bathing.”

Professor Sacka-Weejie explains why it has taken so long for the news to be revealed by

pointing to the powers of alien beings. “They don’t want us to know just how Grant won the

war. In fact, there are still secrets they are trying to suppress.”

They read over the story, Fisher muttering in Russian. The editor sat down behind the desk, took out a cigar and started smoking at his desk. It was 1998 and smoking wasn’t being persecuted in the U.S. yet. It’s time was coming though. The air in the room started turning blue with the stench.

“You know, I just heard that the stories about Grant were false, because he was such a small-statured man that one drink would get him hammered,” Schmidlap said without even reading the story. “He wasn’t really an alcoholic. That’s just what I heard.”

“What do you think of the ...?” the editor bellowed. “Just ... just don’t talk anymore!”

He turned to Fisher.

“What do you think of that story?” he said.

Fisher replied in Russian at first.

“Yeah, English there, Smirnoff!”

“I really think that, first of all, your fact-checker’s wrong because wasn’t he president, not vice-president?” Fisher said. “He was the president, he wasn’t the vice-president.”

“He was in the Union,” Farcas said.

“He was Union?” the editor asked.


“This is the new fact-checker and he wrote ... who wrote this?” Fisher asked.

The editor turned on Windooth and glared at him. The little man squirmed for a long time.

“Well, I may have been in error, but it was in keeping with modern educational standards,” Windooth said.

With that, the editor turned and snarled at his reporters.

“Well, we can’t go printing this story ‘til we’ve checked the facts,” he said.

“Well, he’s the fact-checker, right?” Fisher asked.

“Well you are now because he obviously sucks!”

“You should fire him,” Combine said.

“You don’t tell me who to fire,” the editor said. “I tell you that you’re fired.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I am replaceable.”

“Exactly. Anyway, I want you to go find this Professor Sacka-whatja and check out just what the real story is. Get your tickets from accounting and have a nice trip. Enjoy Canada. Get out!”

“Dasvidaniya, boss,” Fisher said.

They all left the office, followed by Windooth. The door slammed behind him.

“So, your little scene’s made you look good at my expense,” Windooth hissed. “Well, I’ll make you sorry you ever heard of Dr. Windooth.”

With that, he slunk away.

“Doctor?” Fisher said. “What are you, a pharmacologist or something?”

The reporters returned to the bullpen and looked over the story more carefully. Then they headed down to accounting to get their plane tickets.

“Where to?” the rat-like little accountant at the desk asked. “Where are they supposed to be for?”

“Canada,” Schmidlap said.

“You know how big Canada is?”

“I thought he told you?”

“Canada’s really big,” Shrugg said.

“Yeah,” the rat replied. “Find out where you’re supposed to go and then I’ll give you the money for the tickets.”

Fisher looked over the newspaper article again.

“Great Slave Lake Academy of Arts and Sciences,” he read.

“Yeah, where’s that?” the accountant asked.

“Uh ...” Schmidlap said.

“We have to find out where that is,” Fisher said. “Somewhere in Canada.”

They headed off to try to find out where the place was. The office had a 1983 Encyclopedia Britannica set that was missing the U and X books. Fisher started looking through the atlas at the office. He found Great Slave Lake in Canada near the city of Yellowknife. Combine and Shrugg headed down to the public library while Farcas headed off to Akron University to see what he could learn.

The public library had a surprisingly large “Canada” section consisting of a bookshelf full of books about the country. Most of them were written in crayon, but they were fairly comprehensive. They could not find anything by Professor Sacka-Weejie. However, Shrugg located an entry for the Great Slave Lake Academy of Arts and Sciences in Grommp’s Guide to Government Grants. It stated that the Professor A. Sacka-Weejie received a grant of $10,000 from the US Department of Defense, Psi-Lab division. No phone number for the academy was given and the address listed was Post Office Box 647A-/* in Yellowknife.

Farcas talked to some co-eds at Akron University. They seemed quite enamored of the handsome man until they noticed that he was wearing a wedding ring. He’d been married ever since the Christmas Party when he had been interning at a newspaper a year before. He’d woken up in Mexico with a hangover and a spouse.

They all met back in the bullpen after lunch. They agreed that Yellowknife was the place to go. They headed down to accounting where they were received plane tickets.

“Coach?” Fisher asked as he looked at the ticket. “You expect me to fly coach?”

“At least you’re not flying with the baggage,” the accountant said.

“Can’t I get an upgrade?”

“Fisher, we go through this any time you go anywhere! You always want an upgrade.”

“Well, you dress for success and I’m not dressed for coach.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to dress down.”

“I agree with him,” Combine said. “We should be flying first class.”

“It’s nice that you two are in agreement,” the accountant said. “It’s very nice. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“At least one of us wants to attempt to get into the mile-high club.”

“Well, work together then. Ew. But that’s fine.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Farcas said.

Fisher tried to fast talk the man into giving him an upgrade, as he did every time he had to fly somewhere.

“Get outta here!” the accountant yelled.

“But–” Fisher said.

“Don’t any of the rest of you try it either!”


The accountant reached up to the window over his desk, slamming it down. For some reason, the accounting department had a big window that could be closed at the whim of the accountant on duty. No one was sure why, except that it allowed accounting more easily not to deal with people asking them for money. There was a door right next to the window, so it wasn’t as effective as it could have been.

“Do you want the receipts?” Fisher mumbled.

“Of course I want the receipts!” he heard the accountant shout from behind the glazed window.

They flew out of Akron in an hour, going to Calgary, where they had a five-minute layover. Unfortunately, their flight was taking off in four, so they had to run the length of the airport. They made it to the plane and it took them to Yellowknife. It was snowing when they arrived that evening. Combine asked Fisher if it was as bad as Russia. Fisher sent Farcas to get a car.

“I don’t think we’re going to get a limo in Yellowknife,” Combine said.

“Hey, you need a taxi, eh?” a voice called from a nearby yellow cab.

“Yeah, we need a taxi,” Fisher said to the man who was leaning out the cab window.

“Well, my taxi’s right here, and I’ve got doughnuts,” the cab driver called.

“Doughnuts?” Fisher said.

“Doughnuts. Free doughnut for every ride.”

“I don’t want a doughnut.”

“You don’t have to eat it. I’ll eat it for you if you want.”

The driver was pretty fat and filled the front seat. They weren’t sure how long it might have been since he got out of his cab. The car had a funky smell but the back seat looked clean.

“Take us to the finest hotel,” Fisher said as they got into the car.

“Oh, you’re going to have a hard time finding a hotel, eh,” the driver said. “They’re all booked up.”

“Something big going on in town?” Farcas asked.

“Yeah. There’s a political convention of the Indigenous People’s Party, eh.”

“Don’t they live in igloos?”

“Well, yeah, but they’re a political movement and they’re having some kind of convention, so it’s all booked up.”

“The what?” Schmidlap asked.

“We’ll try a hotel,” the cab driver said. “Maybe you’ll get lucky. C’mon, let’s go.”

They tried five hotels, but they found all of them were booked up. They’d never seen so many indigenous Canadian people, all of them wearing fine suits.

The driver was giving them each another doughnut every time they went to anther hotel.

“I’ve got a jelly,” he said at one point. “You want a jelly?”

At one of the last hotels, Shrugg tried to bribe the concierge to get rooms with a whole American dollar. He was gently rebuffed by the unimpressed concierge.

“However, seeing as you are Americans, our lower brothers, so it is, eh,” the concierge said.

“Lower brothers?” Shrugg muttered.

“Let me make a few phone calls and see if I can help you out.”


“Here, have a brewski while you wait.”

The concierge handed cans of beer to all of them. Then he made a few phone calls. Their cab was waiting but the driver said he was not going to leave the meter running. Everyone in Canada seemed so nice and polite.

The concierge returned and told them that the only place available was the Snowblind Chalet out on the edge of the city.

“So, tell ‘em to take you there,” the concierge said. “I think they’ve still got some room left. But you’d better hurry, cause I hear those indigenous people are just snatching them up.”

The cab was still waiting out front and the cabbie had fresh boxes of doughnuts in the front seat. They could also smell bacon and guessed he’d gone for a sandwich while waiting for them to get back.

With all this sugar, I could probably run there, Shrugg thought.

The cabbie was just popping open a beer when they returned.

“Oh, hey. Oh, hey,” he said. “Oh, you’re back, eh? Where we going?”

“Snowblind Chalet,” Schmidlap said.

They got into the cab and he drove them to the edge of town.

“You know anything about the college here?” Fisher asked en route.

“I didn’t know there was a college here, eh,” the cabbie replied.

Shrugg was getting bored. He told Schmidlap to look at him and then fired the flashbulb off in the other man’s face.

“You know anything about the Great Slave Lake Academy of Arts and Science?” Fisher asked.

“I know Great Slave Lake is out this way,” the cabbie admitted. “I never heard of no academy of science or art.”

“Do you know of anybody that might?” Combine asked.

“No, not really,” the cabbie said.

“You ever heard of Anton Sacka-Weejie?” Schmidlap asked.

“No,” the cabbie said. “Nope. But I’m not very well educated, eh.”

“I thought you had a master’s degree,” Fisher joshed.

“No, I have a Ph.D.,” the cabbie said. “But, you know, it’s in brewing.”

“A post-hole digger?” Schmidlap said.



The cabbie didn’t get it.

Farcas asked about the Canucks, which got the cabbie talking about hockey, which he did until they pulled up outside of the Snowblind Chalet.

The chalet was right on the edge of the city. In fact, the forest started right across the street next to the dog teams’ kennels. There were two rooms remaining but the owner said he could roll a bed in for one of them. The cost was $40 Canadian per night. The front of the hotel was part office, part living room with a television blaring with a hockey game behind the front desk. Only a single lamp was lit, leaving many suggestive shadows. The owner was a round, sweaty fellow with a smooth, shiny face.

“You’re Americans, right?” the owner said. “Oh, it’s so great to see Americans. Now I got to carry stuff, God damn. So glad you’re here, eh!”

He seemed to go back and forth between fawning affection and grumpiness. He reminded Combine of Tinfoil Ray, a man he’d met during his time living on the beach. Shrugg guessed to himself that the man had been subjected to too many mind wipes.

The two adjoining rooms were on the second floor and had a lovely view of the dog kennel. Fisher checked his own room for microphones and cameras but found nothing out of the ordinary. When he started screaming in Russian, someone knocked on his door and asked him to keep it down.

Combine walked down to talk to the owner, who was sitting in the back and watching hockey. Combine banged the door and called for service. The owner came out in a rush.

“What do you want, eh!?!” he bellowed. Then lowered his voice. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for the university,” Combine said.

“Yellowknife doesn’t have a university. It’s a crappy town.”

“Cabbie that dropped us off said there was supposed to be one on that side of town.”

“What was his name, eh?”

“I don’t remember. I don’t remember him giving us his name.”

“Was it Bob?”

“I don’t think so.”

“He’s a liar! How about – was it Dan?”

“Didn’t see the–”

“Dan’s crazy! He’s crazy! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. How about Phil? Was it Phil?”


“Definitely wasn’t Phil?”

“Definitely wasn’t Phil. He gave us a bunch of doughnuts though.”

“Did you pay him, eh?”

“Yeah, one of us did. So, pretty much everybody you’re rattling off here is kind of crazy?”

“No. There’s Sally. She’s stupid. I like her so much. But damn, she’s so stupid. What were we talking about?”

“The university.”

“No, I don’t know about no university.”

“Any college?”


“It’s supposed to be on Slave Lake.”

“Well, there might be something up in Snowdrift, eh.”

“Snowdrift? How far is Snowdrift?’

“About 30 miles. Down the road.”

Combine returned to the others and told them what he’d learned. Shrugg mentioned that there was a post office box in Yellowknife for the college. Schmidlap was too busy to talk: he was stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down out of his hotel room. Fisher suggested he wait until they left the next day.

“Oh yeah,” Schmidlap said.

Fisher and Schmidlap shared a room while Combine, Farcas, and Shrugg shared the other, Shrugg getting stuck with the roll-out bed.

* * *

They were all awakened in the early morning hours by the howling the sled dogs across the street. It went on for a minute or so before the howling changed to that kind of screaming the dogs did when James Arness, the alien, tore them up in The Thing. Fisher leapt out of bed and threw the curtains open. He heard movement in the room next door.

* * *

“Don’t turn on the lights!” Farcas said as he crossed the room to the window and threw back the curtains.

“What do you see?” Combine said from the warmth of his covers.

Shrugg stumbled out of bed, buck naked, and ran to the window.

Across the road, they could see a tall, manlike figure, flailing about. There might have been dogs around it if that was what those dark specks were.

* * *

“I got my headline!” Fisher said loudly. “‘Canadian Dogs Attack Bigfoot!’ Let’s hope Horace gets pictures!”

“Wait, does he have his camera!?!” Schmidlap said.

He ran to the adjoining door and burst through it into the other room.

“It’s bigfoot!” Fisher yelled. “It’s bigfoot out there! The dogs are attacking bigfoot!”

Shrugg flung open the sash and a cold wind blew into the room. Schmidlap saw that his camera was sitting on the nearby desk.

“Take the camera!” Schmidlap yelled, grabbing up the device.

He shoved the camera into Shrugg’s hands and then gave him a shove out the window.

“Grab him!” Combine yelled.

There was a flash from the camera and Farcas tried to grab the man until he realized that he was naked. Then he let him fall out of the second story window.

“Don’t break the camera!” Schmidlap called as he fell backwards, blinded by the flashbulb again.

Combine, still lying in the bed, saw Schmidlap’s ass, exposed through the open back door of the ratty long johns that he wore, coming at his face. He quickly rolled over and slid out of the bed as Schmidlap landed. Combine was very cold in just his boxers in the increasingly colder room but he ran to the window to see what was going on outside.

* * *

Next door, Fisher leaned against the window and saw the naked Shrugg disappear into a snow drift under the window. Only the camera didn’t disappear into the drift as Shrugg held it over his head.

“It’s cold!” a muffled voice came from the snowdrift.

He quickly scrambled out of the snow. Another window was flung open over his head.

“Take a picture!” Fisher yelled, leaning out the window. “Do your job!”

Shrugg struggled out of the snowdrift and ran towards the road, taking photographs the entire time.

* * *

“Did he die?” Schmidlap said, struggling to the window. “What’s going on?”

“Get the picture!” Fisher shouted from the next window.

Shrugg ran across the road, flashbulb still going off erratically as he took pictures. He stopped in the middle of the highway.

The huge thing spotted him. Suddenly, a sickly green light lanced down out of the sky, just like in the science fiction shows. The snow swirled up golden flakes and a gust of freezing cold wind slammed into Shrugg. Frost coated his cheeks, icicles hung from his eyebrows (and other places), and his skin was transformed into a trendy, pale blue-white – kind of like a northwoods nosferatu.

Back at the hotel, the blast of cold stopped just short of the windows as the others all ducked back inside. When they looked again, they saw Shrugg slowly walking back, shivering and shaking.

Fisher ran down to the lobby. He found a bar on the door and the owner standing in the middle of the room with a shotgun in his hand.

“No, eh!” the man said nervously. “It’s just a bear, eh. But stay inside. It’s just a bear but stay inside.”

He looked scared to death.

“It’s just a bear!” he said again. “I said it’s just a bear.”

“I believe you!” Fisher said. “I have friend out there. He fell out the window and I have to go get him. He’s going to freeze to death.”

“Oh ... he’ll be fine, eh,” the other man said. “It’s just a bear, eh.”

“He’ll be fine,” Fisher said. “Can I take him this coat?”

“But it’s a bear! You don’t want to give a bear a coat, eh.”

“No no.”

The conversation continued to go around in circles as Combine entered the lobby.

* * *

Meanwhile, Farcas leapt out of the window with a blanket. He landed in another snow drift. Then he headed for Shrugg.

Schmidlap looked up into the sky but could see no sign of where the green light had come from. However, he saw what looked like an extra star in Orion’s belt that just might have been suspicious. He watched it for some time.

* * *

“You ain’t never heard a bear before?” the owner said. “It’s just a bear.”

“This bear show up often, in town?” Fisher asked.

“It’s just a bear,” the other man said. “I don’t know what’s so exciting about a bear, eh.”

“But does he show up often?”

“No, I don’t think so, eh.”

He called for Combine to go back to bed as well.

* * *

Farcas wrapped the blanket from Shrugg’s roll-away bed around him. It was rough, like it was made of a mixture of burlap and wool, but at least it was warm. The two of them stumbled back to the hotel. Just as they reached the door and tried to open it, there was a shout from within and someone fired a shotgun.

* * *

The owner was alternating between begging the others to go back to bed and screaming at them that there was nothing out there. Then there was a rattle from the door.

“The bear!” he shrieked.

He fired both barrels at the door. Fortunately, he was a lousy shot. One blast blew a hole in the wall on one side of the door and the other blast tore through the wall on the other side of the door. Fisher leapt at the man, who turned back towards him. The hot barrel of the shotgun slammed into his face.

“Oh, I’m sorry, eh!” the owner said. “Sorry about that!”

A rattle came from the door and the bar fell to the floor. The shotgun had blasted through both sides of it.

“We need to get a cold beer on that,” the owner said, ushering Fisher towards his living area.

The door slowly creaked open to reveal Farcas and Shrugg peeking in. The owner was alternatingly soothing or berating Fisher and pressing a cold beer on his face where the shotgun had slightly burned the man.

“I’m really sorry,” the man said. “Why’d you do that!?! You shouldn’t have done that! Oh, I’m hoping you’re going to be okay. Don’t ever do that again! Are you sure? Let’s get a beer on you, let’s get something cold. Man, you’re so stupid! But you’re great guests.”

He told Fisher to hold the beer to his face. Then he opened a second beer.

“And put that in your mouth,” he said.

“Thanks man,” Fisher said.

“Have a doughnut too,” the man said. “You want some smokes? Smoking’s bad! You shouldn’t smoke! Here, give me one.”

Farcas helped Shrugg upstairs where the man took a hot shower. Combine returned to bed and Fisher arrived at the rooms a short time later. They all discussed briefly what they’d seen.

“Yeah, a star was moving up there,” Schmidlap said. “I think there was a UFO. Green light.”

“You think there was extra-terrestrial involvement?” Combine asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what the one thing was. It was huge!”

“Did we all see it?”

Everyone agreed that they had seen it.

“Did it look like it was pissed?” Combine asked.

“Ripping dogs up,” Farcas said.

* * *

The rest of the night was quiet. Shrugg made sure he wore pants to bed.

The next morning a mountie was talking to the owner when they came down from their room.

“It was a bear,” the owner was telling the man.

“Yeah, those bears are awful,” the mountie said.

“I don’t like those bears.”

“Hello, good day, eh,” the man said to the reporters.

They muttered about green lights and UFOs.

“They grow ‘em big up in Canada, I guess,” Schmidlap said.

He and Fisher headed off for breakfast at the diner next to the hotel.

* * *

Combine, Shrugg, and Farcas went out to the scene of the attack. They found some dead dogs and some tracks while the mountie examined the scene as well. Shrugg took some pictures of the tracks that might have been bear tracks but didn’t look terribly much like bear tracks. He also took pictures of the dogs.

Combine realized that the wounds on the dead dogs looked a great deal like cattle mutilations. He wondered if the animals were actually cows that had been turned into dogs and then mutilated.

“It’s probably the voodoo people from Zimbabwe came here, brought some cow carcasses and used to voodoo magic to turn them into dogs,” he said.

Farcas examined the tracks. Though the wind had blown them and they looked somewhat like bear tracks, he didn’t think they looked like the traditional bigfoot tracks.

Shrugg also took some pictures of Ed, the Mountie.

“This is a big story, huh?” Farcas said to him. “Lots of ripped up dogs.”

“Oh no,” Ed said. “It looks like it was just a bear, eh.”

“Like I said, a bear came and ripped up all these dogs.”

“It was just a bear, eh.”


“It’s a terrible thing but when you live on the edge of town, these kinds of things happen, eh. Oh, you’re not from around here, are you? Are you liking Canadia?”


“It’s a great country. It’s a great country.”

He looked into the distance, his eyes sparkling in the sun and the wind blowing his hair just enough, his jacket bright red against the cold, white snow. Shrugg took a photo.

“Do you get bear attacks like this often,” Farcas asked.

“Oh, not often but every once in awhile,” Ed said.

“Every once in a while?”

“Because it is Canada.”

“Yeah. Does this happen on a regular basis?”

“Well, I just said not often.”

“Well, no.”

“Which would mean not a regular basis, eh.”

“Well, not often, but like the same time every month?”

“No. No, I think the last bear attack was a while back.”

“Totally irregular?”

“That’s what it seems like. Every once in a while you have a bear.”

“What kind of bear does this sort of thing?”

“A big one. Ed McTaggert,” he motioned towards the hotel, “yeah, he said it was a bear. Sounds like it was a bear, eh. Said he tried to shoot it through the door.”

“No, that was ... us.”

“You shot it through the door?”

“He shot us through the door.”

“You look pretty good for somebody who’s been shot through a door.”

“Luckily he missed.”

“Oh, that’s good, eh.”

Shrugg said if they had any more reports of bear attack, they’d help them look for the bear.

“Are you bear hunters?” Ed asked.

“No,” Shrugg said.

“Why are you hunting bear?”

“It might help out the region.”

“Well, that’s my job, eh. We’re looking into it. Don’t worry about it, eh.”

“Well, we’re more than happy to help,” Combine said.

“Why do you want to help us?” Ed said. “You’re just civilians; you might get hurt. We don’t want you getting hurt, eh. You should leave this up to the professionals. You know we’re Royal ... and Canadian ... and Mounted. We are the police, eh.”

“Think of us as Scooby-Doo without the dog,” Combine said.

“Yeah, do they ever get hurt?” Farcas asked.

“It’s just a bear, eh!” Ed said. “God. What is wrong with you guys? You’re all obsessed about this bear?”

“We don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Farcas said.

“Well, they’re not my dogs, eh,” Ed said.

“How about a dollar?” Shrugg said, holding out an American dollar bill.

Combine asked the mountie about a university or science academy on Slave Lake in Snowdrift, but the man didn’t know anything about it. When they asked how many people were in Snowdrift, he guessed at a couple hundred.

Then Ed the Mountie mounted up on his horse and headed out majestically. When Farcas called to him and he came back.

“What would be a good place to locate ... someone,” Farcas asked. “We’ve got a friend up here we’re trying to locate, but we don’t know where he is up here.”

“Do you know his address?” Ed asked.

“No, unfortunately, we don’t.”

“Do you know his name, eh?”

“Yeah, his name is Anton Sacka-Weejie.”

“I never heard of him. Is he a missing person?”

“No, he’s just a contact we have up here that we’re trying to get hold of.”

“Well, you could try a telephone book.”

“We do have a P.O. Box for him.”

“Well, then you’ll have to go to the post office, eh. You go to the post office, if he’s got a P.O. Box, they might be able to tell you what his address is.”

“Oh, okay, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Then he headed off.

* * *

Fisher and Schmidlap, meanwhile, had a nice breakfast with plenty of back bacon, eggs, gravy, and toast. The waitress brought them beers too.

“With breakfast?” Schmidlap said.

“Oh, sorry, eh,” the girl said. “That should be light beer.”

They also asked if there was a place to rent a car and they learned that the car rental places were all booked up. When Fisher told them they were trying to find a way to get to other parts of Great Slave Lake, the waitress told them that they might be able to rent a plane. She wrote down the information on a card.

“It’s Captain Sturgeon,” she said.

“Captain Sturgeon?”

“He’s great. He’s an American.”

* * *


* * *

The five reporters met up after Fisher and Schmidlap had finished their breakfast. They discussed renting a car and Fisher told them he’d found a guy who could fly them to where they wanted to go. Combine suggested renting dog sleds but that idea was soon nixed. Then he talked about renting snowmobiles.

Farcas and Shrugg headed for the post office to try to track down the address attached to the P.O. Box. Meanwhile, Fisher and Schmidlap went to find Captain Sturgeon. Combine went to inquire about snowmobile rentals.

* * *

Combine didn’t have much luck finding rental snowmobiles. They would cost $50 a day, each, and none of them had brought the heavy coats and hoods they’d need for such overland travel.

He headed to the post office.

* * *

A large group of people had formed a picket line and were protesting in front of the post office. Signs read “Management Unfair,” “Boycott Canadian Post Office,” and “More Stamps.” No one was crossing the picket line. Some locals were watching and one man even had a fold-out chair, a TV tray, and a cooler.

“What’s happening?” Farcas asked the man in the chair. “What’s going on?”

“Hey, you have a funny accent,” the man said, pouring some coffee from a thermos.

He put some doughnuts, cooked back bacon, and cigarettes onto the TV tray.

“Nice spread there,” Farcas said to him.

“Yeah, I’m waiting for them to beat up the next scab that tries to go through,” the man said. He brightened up but then looked sad. “Oh, that little old lady’s changed her mind. She isn’t going. Damn it.”

“What’s got you all in such an uproar here?”

“Oh, the Canadian Post Office is on strike ... again.”

“Oh, they are?”

“Yeah. See, look.”

He pointed at the building. Over the door was a sign that read “Six days since the last strike.” The “Six” was one of those numbers that could be changed. Everyone once in a while, someone peeked out the windows upstairs.

“Wow,” Farcas said. “Oh, I just need to check on something inside real quick. I don’t work there.”

“Me either,” the man said.

“Nice. That’s great. At least you don’t have to personally put up with their crap then.”

“Well, I don’t get my mail. I’m waiting for them to stop and then I’m going to get my mail.”

“At least you don’t have to wait for bills,” said Combine, who had come up during the last part of the conversation.

“I do have to wait for bills, eh,” the man said.

He opened up a beer from his cooler and took a swig.

“They got to break to go to the bathroom sometime, and that’s when I’m going in,” he said.

He looked them over.

“Are you scabs?” he asked.

“No no no no,” Farcas said quickly. “I just need to go in and check some mail.”

“Oh, look at that! Little girl! Oh ... she left. Damn it.”

“I just need to go in and check some mail.”

“Oh. Go!”

“I have a feeling that would be real ...”

“Entertaining,” Shrugg interjected.

“... hazardous to our health,” Farcas finished.

“I’ll hold your camera if you don’t want them to break it, eh?” the man said.

“I don’t want you to hold the camera but that’s a good idea not to take it with me,” Shrugg said.

“Well, I’m not going anywhere. Not ‘til this cooler’s empty, at least.”

Farcas headed up to the protesters. They glared at him.

“So, I hear you’re having problems with the management in there,” he said.

“That’s right, eh!” one of the protesters said angrily. “You a scab?”

“No no no no no,” Farcas said.

The other protesters started muttering amongst themselves that he was probably a scab. The last one sounded like a British woman.

The protesters looked around.

“Who was that, eh?” one of them said.

“I’ve been watching Monty Python,” another man said, laughing. “It’s funny.”

“I want to go talk to them and tell them how bad they’re doing a job with you guys,” Farcas said.

“They know, eh,” the man said to him. “They know what they’ve been doing.”

“But I’m trained in this. I can convince them to give you ... what are you actually looking for?”

“Better work and better pay, eh!”

“Well, you know what–”

“And more doughnuts. And longer breaks, eh. And coffee. And beer. We want to be able to smoke in the mail room. We want to be able to smoke the mail if it’s the right kind, eh.”

“I’m trained in negotiations. Why don’t I go in there and see what I can do for you guys?”

“All right, you can go in,” the spokesman said. He turned to the other strikers. “He’s gonna get us better jobs.” Then he turned back to Farcas. “Don’t come out ‘til you get us better jobs, eh.”

Farcas jotted down some information and then asked Shrugg if he was ready.

“Who’s that?” the spokesman said.

“Fact checker,” Shrugg replied.

“He has some information for me that I can use in the negotiations,” Farcas said.

“Yeah, grab him!” the spokesman said, pointing at Shrugg.

Two of the other men on strike grabbed him.

“If you’re a scab, eh, we’re going to beat the crap out of him!” the spokesman said. He turned to Combine. “Who the hell are you, eh?”

“I’m looking for work,” Combine said. “I just got into town. I’m looking for work.”

The strikers glared at him.

“Don’t be crossing the line or you’re a scab!” the spokesman said. “There’s nothing in there but our jobs and if you try to take our jobs, we’re going to beat the crap out of you.”

“What if this is the only place in town for me to get a job?” Combine said.

“You’re out of luck, then, because then one of us will get fired.”

“Yeah, he ain’t taking my job!” another man said.

“He ain’t taking my job!”

“Meauh – JOB!”

“Don’t you be taking Elmo’s job,” the spokesman said. “He’s been there 14 years. He’s this close to retirement. He’s got a fat pension saved up.”

“I was with him,” Combine pointed after Farcas, who was just entering the building.

“So he is a scab!” the spokesman said. “I’m beating his ass when he comes out.”

“What’s that!?!” Shrugg said, pointing.

When the picketers looked, he ran away. He ended up leaving his camera with Combine, telling the man he hadn’t been warm since the night before. He headed back for Akron with the film of the photos he’d taken.

* * *

Farcas closed the doors behind him and made sure they were locked. He broke into the back room and quickly found out who owned the P.O. Box they were looking for. The address was in the town of Snowdrift. He jotted it down and pocketed it.

Then he looked around the place for some beer but couldn’t find it. There were no more doughnuts, only empty boxes.

* * *

Fisher and Schmidlap found the office of Captain Sturgeon.

“Captain Sturgeon,” Fisher said as they entered the place.

“Yes, can I help you?” the small man behind the desk asked in a frighteningly boring monotone.

Captain Sturgeon had a bland face, flat brown hair, and dull brown eyes. He spoke without inflection.

“Hi, I’m Ralph Fisher.”

“Hello Ralph Fisher, I’m Captain Sturgeon.”

“The waitress at the restaurant said that you might be able to fly us around Great Slave Lake today.”

“Yes, I have a plane. I could fly you around Great Slave Lake today.”

“How much would that cost us?”

“It would cost ...”

His eyes glazed over in thought.

“... how many? It’s just you and your friend, here?”

“Five of us,” Schmidlap said.

“There are five of you?” Captain Sturgeon said. “It would be $100 and then I fly you.”

“Will you fly us back after?”

“Yes, I can wait and fly you back after.”

“For another hundred?”

“It will be another $100. No, I will give you a discount. It will be $50.”

“I have another question,” Fisher said. “How long have you been up here?”

“Only for a few months,” Captain Sturgeon said. “I was working in Florida but I found it very dull.”

“Very dull?” Fisher said.

Captain Sturgeon handed him a form to fill out. It was a standard boilerplate with background information and an agreement not to sue if there was an accident.

“You ever see anything weird flying around up here?” Fisher asked.

“I don’t see anything weird, no,” Captain Sturgeon said in his flat monotone. “It’s boring in Canada. I’m looking for a little excitement.”

“When can we leave?”

“What time do you wish to leave? I can have the plan ready for you anytime. You said you wanted to leave today. I can leave anytime today.”

“How about noon?” Schmidlap said.

“Very well, meet me here at noon,” Captain Sturgeon said.

“Is there a library in town?” Fisher asked.

“I don’t know,” Captain Sturgeon replied. “I don’t read.”

“You don’t know, you don’t read? You been here a couple months and you didn’t drive by a building that says ‘library?’”

“No. It’s very dull here. I don’t pay much attention to buildings.”

“Any newspaper in town.”

“I believe so but I don’t read the newspaper. I don’t read.”

“You don’t know the name of the newspaper?”

“It is probably the Yellowknife Newspaper.”

“Thank you very much, Captain Sturgeon.”

“You’re very welcome. It was very nice to meet you. It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to me all month.”

They headed back into town and stopped at the newspaper office. The only unusual things in the paper over the last few months were the bear attacks. There had been about three in the last year. Fisher was pretty sure it was all a conspiracy.

* * *

Farcas found a typewriter and typed up the demands that the picketers wanted. Then he put a note on it to the effect that management would provide the employees with all of the demands. He took it up to the offices of management where he found the men in suits frantically sorting mail.

“I need you guys to sign this,” Farcas said.

“Oh, thank God!” one of the men said. “A scab finally showed up, eh! Okay, come here!”

“No no no no no!” Farcas said as they hustled him into the room and shoved him in front of a pile of mail that came up to his shoulder.

“Get sorting!” the man said. “Thanks so much! We appreciate this so much! We’ll get you some doughnuts, eh!”

Then they went back to sorting the mail.

“I need you to sign for the boxes I’m delivering that are downstairs,” Farcas said.

“What?” one of the men said. “You’re just a delivery boy!”

He signed the bottom of the sheet of paper with an “x.”

“Thank you,” Farcas said.

“Send some scabs!” the man called after him as he left. “We’ll take anybody. We’re desperate, eh!”

Farcas left the building and held up the piece of paper.

“I got you a deal!” he shouted at the picketers.

They looked surprised and then broke out into a cheer. They rushed forward and grabbed Farcas, lifting him up onto their shoulders and bearing him to a nearby bar, where they plied him with drinks. He had been so convincing that they didn’t even look at the paper he’d held up. He found himself there for some time.

The old man with the chair had folded it up and joined the crowd. Combine did the same thing. The next hour was taken up with eating and drinking. Farcas was not sure where the piece of paper was. The last he remembered having it was in the bathroom. He was very, very drunk.

Combine and Farcas hailed a cab with an Arab driving it. He drove them back to the Snowdrift Hotel, looking around suspiciously the entire time. He dropped them off, charging them double of what Combine thought they should pay. Fisher and Schmidlap pulled up at about the same time.

“Hey ... you guys ...” Farcas said drunkenly. He looked disheveled and reeked of alcohol.

“You don’t want to know what happened,” Combine said.

Farcas fell over into the snow. His notepad fell out of his pocket, open to the page where he’d jotted down the address.

* * *

They took a cab to Captain Sturgeon’s airport. There was a single-engine plane on the tarmac.

“Are you ready to leave now, sirs?” Captain Sturgeon asked, his voice monotone.

“Yes, we are ready,” Fisher said.

“Is your friend going to be okay?”

“Yeah, he’ll be fine.”

“Do you need help getting him on board?”

“No, we’ll get him on board.”

“Let’s go then.”

They got Farcas on the tiny plane and strapped him into a seat.

“Didn’t I see you in that movie ... Star Wars?” Fisher asked Captain Sturgeon.

“I don’t know that movie,” the other man replied. “I’ve never seen that movie, sir.”

“You’re from America and you’ve never seen Star Wars?”

“No. I’ve never seen Star Wars. I don’t see many movies.”

“You’re like a robot.”

Captain Sturgeon did a preflight check while Fisher talked to the others about medical droids from the movie Star Wars.

They flew up over the Great Slave Lake and soon spotted another village on its shore. Just then a UFO shot down from the north. The big, silvery, cigar-shaped objected jinked and swerved through the air like no normal flying craft. Suddenly, sickly green beams lanced out from its hull, just missing Captain Sturgeon’s craft. Where the beams struck ground, dirt and snow exploded into the air. Where they hit water, the ice shattered into a thousand pieces. Captain Sturgeon didn’t seem to have noticed.

Fisher grabbed the camera that was around Farcas’ neck and started taking pictures out of the windows as best he could.

“Get us to the ground!” Schmidlap yelled. “Land this thing!”

Captain Sturgeon shoved forward on the controls and the aircraft headed straight down. He began his own series of jinks and turns, sending the tiny craft flying like a fighter jet. Everyone was tossed around the cabin except for Captain Sturgeon. Fisher continued to take photographs as quickly as he could. One of the doors flew open and the unconscious Farcas was almost flung out.

Sturgeon was quite the pilot.

“Finally, some excitement,” he mumbled in his monotone voice at one point.

He flew through a barn that was blasted to pieces by the green beam a moment later. He flew between trees and under bridges, one of which were also destroyed behind them. He remained completely and utterly calm throughout the entire mad flight. After several minutes, the green beams stopped and there was no sign of the UFO.

“Don’t worry, guys, I got pictures of it,” Fisher said.

Shortly after that, they landed near the town of Snowdrift. True to its name, there were many snowdrifts in the village, one of which they dumped Farcas into to wake him up as they were tired of carrying him. He had a terrible hangover and he found some bruises on himself that he couldn’t explain.

“What did you guys do?” he asked.

“You fell in the parking lot,” Combine said.

“We got attacked by a UFO,” Schmidlap said.

“But I got pictures, man!” Fisher said. “I got pictures of everything. It’s going to blow the doors off all the conspiracies. I got proof, man! Nobody can cover his up! I got proof!”

“Great,” Farcas said, holding his head and groaning.

“I’m going to have to let my buddy Tinfoil Ray know about this,” Combine muttered.

* * *

Great Slave Lake Academy of Arts and Sciences was actually a little log cabin in the deep, snow-bound woods. As they got closer, they could see that the place looked like it’d been ransacked. Fantastic junk, some of it snow-covered, some of it not, was scattered among the trees all around the building. The cabin itself looked like a scavenger’s dream. It was covered with nailed-down bits of everything: flattened tin cans, old boards, hides, plastic sheeting, truck fenders, old windows, screen doors, and traffic signs. A satellite dish perched precariously on the roof. The place seemed deserted except for the hum of a generator.

A wooden sign nailed over the door read “GREAT SLAVE LAKE ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIE―” but the rest was missing. A yellowed note taped on the door read “True seekers round back.”

“Black helicopters, man,” Fisher whispered. “Black Helicopters. Black Suburbans.”

At the back of the cabin in a small clearing was a battered picnic table cleared of snow. A well-worn path led from it to the house, while other tracks stomped all around the clearing and branched off the woods in various directions.

Fisher suggested sitting at the table and calling Professor Sacka-Weejie out. He sat down at the picnic table. Combine sat down while Farcas looked at the tracks, which bore a striking resemblance to the tracks of the creature that had appeared near the hotel the night before. They were the wrong shape and size for bigfoot or yeti tracks. Fisher called out for Professor Sacka-Weejie.

Schmidlap wandered to the front of the house and started looking through the junk in the hopes of finding something worthwhile.

Suddenly there was a terrible hissing and gurgling noise from the house! Something horrifying was happening inside. Just as Fisher and Combine stood up, the back door opened and out came a stunted humanoid clutching a smoking something in its three-fingered hand. It seemed to be wearing some kind of silver suit like ... well, you know. The suit covered its face too, except for its huge, saucer-like eyes.

“Take a picture! Take a picture!” Fisher screamed.

Farcas realized he had the camera and took a picture of the alien.

“Doctor Sacka-Weejie, I presume?” Fisher said calmly to the figure.

“Eeeep!” the figure said. “Eeeep!”

Then it turned and bolted back to the cabin, slamming the back door behind it. Just then Schmidlap came around the side of the building.

“There’s an alien in there!” Fisher said. “There’s an alien in there! We got a picture! We got a picture!”

“I got the picture,” Farcas said.

“What are we waiting for!?!” Schmidlap said.

He ran to the back door but found it locked.

“I’m not going to be fooled by THEM!” a voice came through the door. “I know that THEY’RE coming to get me because THEY know that I know what THEY already know!”

“Who is ‘they?’” Fisher called through the door.

“You know who THEY are because you’re part of THEM.”

“No we’re not!”

“THEY are part of an evil conspiracy run by THEM and THEY ... you ... have come to get me to make me one of THEM or get rid of me so that THEY can continue in their secret plans to have the world run by THEM.”

“We’re not them!” Farcas called. “We’re us!”

“They’re after me, too, man!” Fisher said. “I know what you’re talking about, man! They’re after me too!”

“No no, it’s a trick,” the voice called out again. “I think that you’re part of THEM.”

“We’re not part of them, we’re part of us!” Farcas said again.

“No! For THEM, us is THEM,” the voice said.

“So aliens can speak ... English?” Schmidlap said.

“Well, they do have those transcommunicator thingies,” Combine said.

“Don’t try to confuse me!” the voice called out.

“Hey! The black helicopters have been chasing me for years!” Fisher said. “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

“You’re just trying to trick me!”

“No, I’m not trying to trick you.”

“Bigfoot was out here,” Schmidlap suddenly said.

“I know all about the fake moon landing and all that other stuff,” Fisher went on. “I believe you. The government lies! They didn’t land on the moon–”

“Why were you shooting at us from your spaceship?” Schmidlap asked.

“What!?!” the voice said. “Don’t try to confuse me!”

The others looked at Schmidlap.

“You said there was an alien in there!” he said.

“I know you’re THEM,” the voice came from behind the door again. “There’s no aliens in here. You’re just trying to trick me into opening the door.”

“We got a picture!”

“We just saw one come out!” Combine said.

“No no no!” the voice replied. “You’re not going to confuse me. I’m not going to let THEM take me away and brainwash me.”

“We just got shot at by a spaceship when we were flying here!” Schmidlap said.

“I’m a reporter,” Fisher said.

“With some crazy bush pilot that acts like he’s dead inside,” Combine said.

“Excuse me fellows, excuse me,” Farcas said, trying to change his voice. “I got beer and pizza, eh.”

“And you’re not going to fool me with your creepy accent!” the voice behind the door said.

“Wait,” Schmidlap said. “Now wait. Who we talking to?”

“You ordered pizza, eh?” Farcas said, still trying to disguise his voice.

“We’re just talking to the door,” Fisher said. “We’re just talking to the door. You know as much as we do.”

“Is this Anton Sacka-Weejie?” Schmidlap said.

“I know you’re working for THEM and I know you’re going to try to keep me from telling the truth!” the voice said.

“No, we want to talk to you about Grant’s tomb!”


“We work for a tabloid and we’re fact checking one of our stories.”

“Do you know who’s in Grant’s tomb, by chance?” Combine asked.

“Wait a minute,” the voice called. “You’re going to print the truth.”

“Yeah!” Schmidlap said.

“The whole truth?”

“And nothing but the truth,” Combine said.

“You’re idiots!”

“That’s what we get paid to do, sir,” Schmidlap said.

They were finally able to convince the man to open the door. Professor Anton Sacka-Weejie turned out to be a human being. He was very short, standing only four foot eight inches, and completely bald. He had hugely thick glasses that magnified his eyes and he was wearing a silver snowmobile suit with hood and a face mask for warmth. He did only have three fingers on his right hand and the smoking thing he was holding was a cup of espresso.

“So, you believe in telling the truth?” he asked them. “You believe in bigfoot and the aliens and–”

“Yeah!” Schmidlap said.

“We seen one last night,” Combine said.

“Come on in,” Professor Sacka-Weejie said.

“So great, we got a picture ...” Schmidlap said. He shook his head. “You guys are awesome.”

Professor Sacka-Weejie’s story didn’t make much sense. He started babbling about THEM and THE CONSPIRACY. He went on about clones and how World War I was all part of THEIR plot and how he had been enlightened and how it all started in 1864 and the assassination of Lincoln wasn’t really Lincoln and how Booth could see the clones and how U.S. money had secret messages coded in it and it was not as pretty as Canadian money anyway.

“And would you like some coffee?” he said.

Schmidlap was trying to write down as much of the babbling rant as he could. Combine was getting as much of it down in shorthand as he could.

What Fisher understood the professor was trying to say that there was an evil conspiracy of ancient proportions that had been working for centuries to control humanity for its own evil ends. According to him, sometime in the 1800s THEY perfected the secrets of cloning and behavioral conditioning. That allowed THEM to clone world leaders and then condition their clones into absolute loyalty to THEIR conspiracy. THEIR clones weren’t perfect, though, so people who knew what to look for could spot THEIR clones.

When they asked how he knew all of that, he told them that he’d been enlightened by friends.

“Oh, and they’re coming over for coffee!” he said.

Just then, they heard that burbling and hissing noise they’d heard every time the sickly green beams had appeared. The noise was coming from outside. A charged scent of ozone filled the air and the clomp of footsteps came from outside. The professor’s face was beatifically calm as the said “They’re here,” and got up to open the door.

“Uh-oh,” someone said.

Outside were two tall visitors. They wore silvery suits. They were bald. They had large, saucer-like eyes. They had three-fingered hands. They were not the professor’s cousins.

“Take a picture!” Fisher hissed.

They saw the reporters and did a double-take. Then they raised their three-fingered hands which were clutching silvery tubes and pointed them straight at the reporters.

Farcas closed his eyes and took a picture, the flash filling the room momentarily with light. Fisher and Schmidlap ducked for cover. Combine walked towards the creatures. A purple ray erupted from the aliens’ weapons and struck Fisher and Combine. Both of them fell over, paralyzed, Fisher pointing forward. Schmidlap leapt over the back of the couch and cowered there, hero that he was.

The aliens looked towards Farcas. Schmidlap headed for a full-length mirror on the wall nearby while Farcas ducked and crawled behind a chair. One of the aliens tried to shoot Schmidlap but missed him, the purple ray actually striking the mirror, creating a rippling affect behind it, though not bouncing off it like Schmidlap had hoped. The other alien fired at Farcas but missed him as well.

“No no, it’s not THEM!” Professor Sacka-Weejie called. “It’s not THEM! They’re friends.”

The aliens stopped firing. Schmidlap slipped into the next room and used the mirror to see the aliens. Farcas lifted up his arms from behind the couch.

“Hi?” he said.

“They are friends of yours, Professor Sacka-Weejie?” one of the aliens said in a deep voice.

“Yes, yes they are,” Professor Sacka-Weejie said. “They’re not with THEM. They are seekers of the truth! Seekers of the truth!”

“Ah, very well. Our apologies.”

One of them flipped a switch on his weapon and fired his weapon at Fisher.

“Take a picture! Take a picture! Take a picture!” the man shrieked as the paralysis wore off.

Then they did the same thing to Combine.

“Most ... we apologize most ... very much,” one of the aliens said.

“Let me just get everyone some coffee,” said Professor Sacka-Weejie.

They sat around the little table with the aliens to chit chat. Professor Sacka-Weejie brought out a pot of coffee and a jug of anti-freeze. The aliens seemed to like the latter in their coffee. When Schmidlap got out his Dictaphone, the alien waved him off.

“No, please,” the creature said. “Do not record us. Please. Please. You have to understand.”

They confirmed the professor’s story about THEM as Combine took notes in shorthand.

“Were you the ones that were shooting at us earlier?” Fisher asked.

“We had to make sure you weren’t working for THEM,” the alien said. “You see, we feel bad because we’re the ones that taught THEM the secrets of cloning a long time ago. We didn’t realize that THEY would use these secrets to evil ends. Ever since, we have been trying to secretly make amends. Of course, we don’t want to go public. That would create a panic, and THEY would be able to blame us for things THEY did. Furthermore, THEY are always hunting for our secret alien base, and if anyone printed anything about us, THEY might be able to find it. Finally, there’s always the problem that THEY are a secret conspiracy. Anybody who reveals something about THEM becomes a target. This could make your lives exciting ... but short.”

He looked over all of them.

“I call them Sid and Nancy,” Professor Sacka-Weejie loudly whispered to the reporters as he looked at the aliens.

“Why did you vaporize that ... what was that you vaporized in town the other night?” Fisher asked.

“The Wendigo?” Sid said. “It was sent to investigate you. It got ...”

“Hungry?” Farcas asked.

“... a little excited,” the alien said.

“What is a wendigo?” Fisher asked.

“It is one of our servants who conceals its presence by staying in the deep woods,” Nancy said. “We sent it to look you over and see if you were a threat to our plans.”

“You found out the cameraman was very little of a threat,” Farcas said.

Fisher laughed.

“In many ways,” Sid said. “His squiggly-spooch is very small.”

“So how did you know we were coming up here?” Fisher asked.

“Oh, we have ways of finding that out.”

According to Sacka-Weejie, Sid, and Nancy, the story about Grant being a space alien was a forgery, written by THEM.

“Oh, it was true,” Sacka-Weejie said. “Grant was. Grant was an alien.”

“We planted him to try to undo some of the damage caused by THEIR clones,” Nancy said. “But that’s not something we want everyone to know about. THEY wrote the article to expose the aliens and increase fear of alien contact. THEY are evil and cunning.”

When they told him that Lester Windooth III had written the article, Sid noted that he might be one of THEM.

“You might want to be cautious around him,” he said. “We need to keep complete secrecy; otherwise THEY might get the upper hand. Not to mention, THEY might be chasing anyone who tells anything about THEM.”

When Schmidlap asked if they wanted to confirm Windooth’s story, Nancy said that they would rather the reporters denied it. THEY were trying to get the story out to discredit the aliens and make them look evil. What the aliens basically wanted was their involvement not to be publicized at all. Combine suggested they could write the story to get rid of any mention of their involvement.

“That would be most appreciated,” Sid said. “Truth is important.”

Both aliens looked at Professor Sacka-Weejie and he nodded.

“Can you give us more knowledge on who THEY are?” Combine said.

The aliens confessed that they were not entirely sure. They only knew that it was a large, world-spanning conspiracy that had been replacing world leaders with clones for hundreds of years. They knew only that the organization consisted of evil humans. They hoped that the tabloid reporters wouldn’t tell the part of the story that involved the aliens at all. They noted that they had no problem of them telling the story of the wendigo, so long as they didn’t mention the aliens or the conspiracy. They felt it would endanger the reporters. They also asked if they had photographs of anything connected to the aliens and wanted the photographs of themselves back as well as any photographs of their ship.

“We will destroy them on our return,” Fisher said.

“We were fairly sure you were working for THEM,” Nancy said.

“Could we get one of those guns to deal with Windooth?” Schmidlap asked.

“No,” Sid said. “We can’t.”

Farcas suggested that they could make a sketch of Windooth so the aliens would know what he looked like and they agreed. They were not sure if Windooth was one of THEIR agents, but it sounded like he might have been.

“My question is this: is there any way we can expose the clones,” Fisher asked. “Is there any weakness of the clones?”

“Certain people can tell,” Sid said.

“They’re world leaders?” Schmidlap asked.

“Your last Republican president was one. The actor. He started malfunctioning towards the end.”

“He still is,” Farcas said.

Combine asked if, when they wrote the story of the wendigo, they might give hints on how to recognize the clones. Schmidlap pointed out that if they mentioned clones, they would make targets of themselves.

“We don’t want to see you hurt,” Nancy said. “You seem nice. Sorry about the whole paralyzation thing. Sorry about that. Sorry.”

“Is there any way we could write it up so that we could convey the traits that tell the clones apart from actual humans?” Combine asked. “We could say that those types of people might actually be wendigo in disguise, not clones.”

The aliens were afraid it might still give away too much. They feared that if THEY find out about their reporters’ knowledge of THEM, they might become targets. Schmidlap agreed that it might say too much.

“Well, can we write it up anyways and go with you?” Combine asked.

“Our ships are not meant for humans,” Nancy said. “I don’t think that you would survive. The non-Euclidean geometry might drive you mad.”

“My question is this: the quote we have in the paper says you have proof,” Fisher said to Professor Sacka-Weejie. “We don’t want to discredit you, but they sent us up here to interview you.”

“Tell them that there was no proof,” the professor said. “Tell your editor that the story was a fake. That’d be the best way to do it. They never came up here to interview me.”

He was more than willing to give them a quote noting that the story was a forgery and that he never made the quote. He also said he didn’t know where they got his name from. He also agreed to let them take a picture of him.

“How would you describe your school?” Farcas asked the man.

“We seek the truth,” Professor Sacka-Weejie said. “But don’t mention THEM.”

They decided to bring back the wendigo story.

“What is buried in Grant’s tomb?” Combine asked.

“It’s an alien,” Sid said.

Schmidlap pointed out that Windooth might be one of THEM and was trying to make the aliens out to be evil so they’d fear them.

“Did he have to really drink all that much whiskey?” Fisher asked.

“Oh yeah,” Nancy said. “It was very important for him to drink the whiskey so he could survive in your carbon-based environment. And it was really good whiskey. At least that’s what he told us.”

They decided to go with the wendigo story. The aliens said they appreciated it and warned them to be careful of THEM. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any good way to identify THEM.

“Before you guys leave, make sure you try some of the Canadian whiskey,” Farcas told the aliens. “It’s good stuff.”

“Oh, we have,” Sid said. “It’s almost as good as this.”

He pointed to the anti-freeze bottle they had been using to top off their coffee.

“We do like putting whiskey in our coffee also,” Farcas said.

* * *

When the reporters returned to Akron, they turned over the photograph of Professor Sacka-Weejie. They also found that Shrugg’s pictures of the wendigo actually turned out fairly well and could be used with the story.

Most of the pictures that Fisher had taken when they had been in Captain Sturgeon’s plane actually somehow ended up being of himself. Mostly he was mugging for the camera and giving a big thumbs up or had his mouth in an “o” and was pointing at where he thought the UFO was, almost as if he were trying to get into the picture with the UFO. He didn’t remember doing any of that.

The UFO was not in any of the photographs.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

(After playing Adam Frager’s Dungeons and Dragons scenario “Fight for the Fallen Keep” Friday (March 22) with Aaron, Josh Smith, and Jeff Laforest from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at CaesarCon 2013)

A story of Gruff Gusslegut: Dwarf Ranger

Brycewater was a decent-sized city on the edge of Lake Koran. It was known for its fishing, had fertile soil, and excelled in the crafts and arts. We had paid for a week’s stay at the local inn and enjoyed our stay there to that point.

We had come to the city in our travels and were staying at the Broken Buckle Inn. It was a fine establishment and stood three stories tall, built of cobblestone with louvered cedar shutters and a three-flued chimney running up the back. Large fieldstones encased the double doors as well as the windows flanking the doorway. A wooden plank sign roughly three feet high and two feet wide read “Broken Buckle Inn” above a crude painted leather boot with a broken buckle upon it. The common area was very large and run by Ted Rosenhall, the innkeeper, who stood about six feet tall with shoulder-length hair pulled tight into a pony tail.

I’m Gruff Gusslegut, dwarf ranger. I liked the forest more than the mine and carried a battleaxe and a bow. I also took less care of my beard than some other dwarves. Or so it appeared. Actually, my beard was perfect for the wilderness. I even had a few bird’s nests built into it, though there were no birds. Might have been an egg though. Sometimes I found them there.

With me was Jakob Rocksmasher, a priest of Kord, and the token human of the party. He tended to beat his religion into those he was trying to convert. He was also a klutz and always tripping over his own feet. Faldrial Moonshiver, a half-elven thief of no little repute, was also part of the group. He thought he was better looking than he was and had long, chestnut brown hair. It was perfect without a strand out of place. He carried a rapier and a hand crossbow – the weapons of the pansy. Finally, there was the halfling mage (or so he claimed) Tweedle T’Dum. We had never seen him actually cast a spell. He wore a pointed hat and carried a quarterstaff with a knob on the end, proving he was a wizard. At least to some.

There had been rumors of increased banditry and robbery on the local highways. Trade into and out of the city was nearly at a standstill, though the morale of the people still seemed high. The independent city was still doing well but many worried that without trade, residents would leave and the economy would be damaged as well. Not much was known about the attacks as, to that date, there had been no survivors. Those who had investigated the scenes of the attacks believed it to be the work of orcs.

On that third morning, the conversations in the common room seemed a bit livelier and there was a general excitement about the city. Town criers called out that the magistrate, John Armshed, had declared a quest to local heroes and mercenaries to aid their country and reclaim the nearby keep of Fort Senkin. All those interested were to join a town gathering in two days in front of the town hall. Fliers and signs were posted at every cross street as well as every mercantile shop and front door.

We decided we’d try to help so I bought a small cask of ale and strapped it to my back. Jakob got some money from all of us to buy a magical healing wand in anticipation of injuries.

We spent the next two days gathering information in the city. We learned that the keep lay about three day’s walk north and stood atop a large plateau with little or no cover. Approaching the keep would be very dangerous if the guard posts were manned as the enemy had a vantage point. We also learned that there were abandoned mines under the keep, but they were filled with monsters and giant spiders. That incensed me as I loathed the horrid beasts.

We learned that Lord Senkin was a great adventurer and had performed great deeds throughout the lands. He was said to have done everything from slaying dragons to running around with gnomes bent on burning down taverns. They said he even knew a minotaur and others who comprised a diverse group and ventured far and wide. However, it was said that many scholars believed the stories of Lord Senkin to be false or misleading. Until his later years, many stories about his adventures didn’t hold up. Locations never existed or were ever heard of. It was like he came from another world.

We also learned that a man named Perry Faustburg might have information. He was one of the last guards at Fort Senkin and was working repairing weapons. Faldrial suggested we go to the local smithy.

“Why?” I asked. “Do we need some armor?”

“He was the last known guard,” Faldrial said. “He’s going to know more about the castle than anybody else.”

“Oh. So he’ll have plans.”

“Possibly. And he can tell you all about the spiders, too.”

“I friggin’ hate spiders!”

We spent a half day looking around the city before we found the man. The Clank and Bang Smithy had a stone front with a central chimney. Anvils flanked either side of the forge in the back and several men with worn aprons moved about the place. They were too busy to speak to us but I stopped one of the apprentices and he pointed out Perry Faustburg in the back. He was an old man, at least 65, his white hair pulled back into a ponytail. His beard was long and pointed. He looked up from the sword he was repairing.

“I assume you’re here because of the keep?” he asked.

“Yes, we are,” Faldrial said.

“What do you want to know?”

“Everything!” I said.

“Everything you know,” Faldrial said.


“What about the spiders?”

“I hate spiders.”

“There are no spiders I know about at the keep,” Faustburg said.

“We were told there were big spiders,” Jakob said. “The size of cattle and they only ate dogs and small children.”

“I didn’t hear that,” I muttered.

“You must be drinking the ale down at that one place,” Faustburg said. “It affects your mind from what I understand.”

“No,” Jakob said.

“We just want to know what you know about the keep,” I said. “There’s a meeting tomorrow.”

“Keep Senkin, as you probably know by now, was run by a man named Lord Senkin,” Faustburg said. “He was a great man. A very caring man. Everybody there I worked with always considered him a little off. He seemed–”

“He like little boys?” I asked.


“He like little girls?” Jakob asked.

“Could be,” Faustburg said. “I don’t know. I didn’t know the man that well. Nobody ever knew anything of his past. It was like he came out of nowhere. Nobody knew his parents or his towns. He would talk about places, but nobody knew of them. Either they were far away or he was just making them up. He kept referring to a place called Argana, but nobody ever knew if it was a region, a country, a city. Nobody ever knew.”

“Sounds made up,” I said.

“That’s what a lot of people thought,” Faustburg said.

Once Faustburg started talking, he wouldn’t shut up. He told us that Lord Senkin had once vanquished 50 kobolds all by himself. He also related that Senkin was looking for something called the Domav Stone, but never said much more about it.

As he seemed rather verbose, I invited him back to the Broken Buckle to have a meal with us, wet his whistle with beer, and tell us more. He was happy to comply and we talked to him for a long time about the place and about Lord Senkin. One very useful piece of information was that a coal shaft ran from the cellars of the keep down into the mines below. The coal was gathered and burned to keep the keep heated. He also said there was an entrance to what he called the Coughing Mines in one of the nearby hillsides. He even drew us a map that showed the entrance to the Coughing Mines.

After he left, we discussed how best to approach the keep.

* * *

In the center of town was the town square. A beautiful park stood there, surrounded by a red brick road. Tall prestigious homes and businesses circled the park. In the center sat a large fountain depicting scholars holding books and scrolls while pointing to the heavens. On the north end was a five-story building with multiple wings and balconies, all made of stone and brick. Tall, graceful towers flanked the entrance to the front of the building and were capped with copper roofs. Ivy climbed up the side of the building.

We arrived close to noon to find a large crowd. An older man with peppered black hair and a mustache walked out onto one of the balconies on the town hall. He wore a fine suede jacket that went to his knees. The rest of his attire was very clean and well kept and he had a lot of silver buttons.

He cleared his throat and the crowd quieted down.

“I have called this gathering, as you all well know by now, to help take back Fort Senkin,” he said. “It has recently come to my attention that many of the local bandit attacks have been traced back to the keep. I know many of you wish I would have acted earlier to put an end to these attacks, but I wasn’t willing to put the safety of the city at risk by thinning our already short supply of militia and guards. It’s also because of this that I’m putting out a request to any and all capable heroes, adventurers, and mercenaries for their assistance. We don’t know all the details yet, but many, if not all of the attacks have come from orcs. We’ve also received word that Fort Senkin is now crawling with the hideous creatures. It doesn’t take an enlightened magus to figure out that this is where the attacks are stemming from and, by ridding the fort of the orcs, it will make this county and city ever safe.

“For those of you brave enough to take back the keep, you will not only be rewarded one thousand gold pieces, but also given the title to the keep. Those of you interested, please see me in my office in an hour. Thank you.”

People in the crowd were calling out questions but the man merely turned and disappeared back into the town hall.

Jakob and I pushed our way through the crowd to the town hall, the others following behind.

“I assume you’re interested in taking back the keep?” Mayor John Armshed asked us.

“Yes,” Jakob said.

“And killing spiders,” I added.

“Very well,” the mayor replied. “I’m very much in need of your assistance. Like I said, I can’t spare the guards to try to take back the keep. I’m just afraid that with all the bandit attacks, there could be more of them lurking out there.”

He told us that Fort Senkin fell 15 year ago. The place sat dormant and unoccupied for many of those years. Only recently was there any activity. The elderly Lord Senkin himself disappeared without warning, vanishing. Shortly after that, the fort was deserted. Nobody knew where he had disappeared.

“I have a loyal and local scout,” the mayor said. “His name is Saul DeTarka. He recently tracked the orcs from an attack on a caravan to the keep. Even though the caravan was well-armed, because many of the bandit attacks had been well-known of by that point, all were lost and no bodies were found.”

After searching the debris of the caravan, the scout had found something. The mayor took out a stout and sturdy battle axe with dwarven runes on the blade. The handle was made of stone and set below it was a dull piece of obsidian. I could see a name on the side of the battle axe.

“It says Laddiger!” I said.

I looked at Tweedle, the smartest in our group.

“Who’s Laddiger?” I asked him.

He usually knew such things.

“He’s the god of the duergar,” Jakob said.

“Duergar!?!” I said. “Oh.”

“Those are your people.”

“Well, it’s been nice working with you,” I said to the rest of the group.

“They’re your people, but–”

“They’re not my people!”

“They’re like the bad–”

“Duergar aren’t my people!”

“You’re a dwarf, aren’t you?”

“Duergar ain’t dwarves!”

“You’re a dwarf.”


“And they’re dwarves.”

“No, they’re not!”

“They’re evil dwarves.”

“Duergar are these ... vermin that ... they just look like dwarves. Uh ... I think they can turn invisible at will. We’re going to have to buy some flour.”

“Can you turn invisible at will?”

“No! Can you.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Do it right now.”

“What’s that over there?”

He pointed over my shoulder but I didn’t look away from the man.

“You can’t bluff me,” I said.

“Look, it’s a duergar!” Jakob said, still pointing.

“Entertaining,” the mayor said, obviously not entertained. “I got word early this morning that another attack was on the north road, roughly 20 miles from the city. I sent DeTarka to investigate. There’s no telling when he’ll be back. As of now, that’s all I know. I suggest you ask around the city. There are still those who used to serve Lord Senkin that may know more about the keep.”

“Yeah, we already talked to everybody,” I said. “Everybody.”

“If you were to spare guards, how many guards could you spare?” Tweedle asked.

“Yeah, like for a distraction?” I asked. “Four?”

“I’m not going to risk any of my men’s lives for going foolishly at the keep,” the mayor said.

“Not foolishly,” Tweedle said.

“What if we just send them towards the keep, not to it?” I asked.

“I’m not sure what plan you might have, but once you see where the keep is located, you won’t be able to get close,” he said.

“Do you know what times the attacks happen?” Faldrial asked.

“It’s at night,” the mayor said. “It’s always at night or dusk or early morning.”

“That sounds like duergar,” I muttered. “They don’t like the light.”

“Or dwarves,” Jakob said.

I glared at him.

“No,” I said.

“Or orcs,” he went on.

“Maybe,” I said. “Or goblins.”

Tweedle started to mention the secret entrance to the keep but I shushed him, whispering to him that we didn’t know if we could trust the mayor. I asked to look at the axe and saw that it was fairly well made. It was dull and simple, like duergar weapons tended to be. It had a decent balance.

We were escorted out of the mayor’s office and the town hall. I again suggested buying some flour as I thought duergar could turn invisible.

“Okay wizard, here’s a question,” I said to Tweedle.

“No,” he replied.

“How did you know what I’m going to ask?”

“I don’t.”

“Well then how can you answer?”

“Because I’m pretty sure that’s the answer, but go ahead. You can still ask.”

“Okay, I’ll ask. You know about invisible stuff?”

“Uh ... I ... a little bit.”

“So, if somebody’s invisible and they’re standing in water, does the water ... does it leave it a hole?”

He didn’t think it would. He thought it would look like the water was running through.

“Are you afraid of invisible spiders?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Wait, spiders can be invisible too?” Jakob asked.

We agreed to meet back in the town square in an hour. Faldrial talked of getting in with a caravan and I told him to investigate it. I purchased five one-pound bags of flour and a horse, though no tack and saddle. Jakob arrived with horses and a wagon. While I was shopping, I heard the orcs at the fort had a powerful warlock that could turn living flesh into ash. That was why no bodies had ever been recovered after the attacks.

“That’s your job,” I said to Tweedle. “Warlock’s your job.”

“My job?” he said.

“You’re a wizard, you fight the warlock,” I said. “Challenge him to a magical duel.”

“It’s a lot easier if he sees you first, though.”

“Because he’ll ... like my beard?”

“On fire and then I can kill him.”

“Not light it, like it! Shut up!”

“Light it on fire.”

We had also heard of a bandit group called the Legion of Green, whose members dressed as orcs to frighten their victims. They hauled said victims away to devour them, being freakish and primitive people who practiced cannibalism and human sacrifice.

It looked like it would only be a day and a half ride to the keep. We set off that afternoon and made what progress we could before nightfall.

* * *

We found the cave entrance the next afternoon. A large an ominous hole choked with weeds sat at the base of a large hill. A riverbed lay not far from the mine and nearby, barely visible, were the remnants of an old mining community, burnt to the ground. Foundations stuck up to and fro, lining the weedy, broken paths and roads. Nearly buried near the cave entrance was a rail line, now rusty with age.

We had seen Fort Senkin in the distance. It encompassed almost the entire plateau on which it stood. The path up to the keep was narrow and crossed a small, stone bridge near the walls. The portcullis was down. At each corner of the keep were large towers where we could make out the tops of siege equipment. A small trickle of smoke rose up from the structure. In the center of the place was the tall keep itself. The stonework looked loose, pitted, and worn. Several windows were built into the walls and there was a small balcony at the top.

We hid the horses and wagon in a nearby copse of trees that offered good shelter. Then we cleared away the weeds, cobwebs, and vines from the cave entrance and saw nothing but blackness within. As the wind picked up, we could hear the sounds of water dropping far away. It sounded like an old man coughing. Jakob thought he actually heard an old man coughing.

We entered the cave, Faldrial lighting a hooded lantern. I led the way. The floor was lined with track that led to three open tunnels. Two more had collapsed on either side. Track led into the tunnels that left the hub. In the tunnel to the left, I found barely visible tracks of some kind. I told the others. After some discussion, Tweedle headed into the right tunnel and we all followed. It went several hundred feet, the track giving out about halfway, where the tunnel turned into a natural cave until it came to the side of a deep ravine. I dropped a rock in and guessed that it fell about 100 feet.

“I don’t think this is the way,” I said. “And I don’t have any rope, so we’re going to have to head back.”

“Well, I have rope,” Tweedle said. “I have fifty foot. Unfortunately, that’s not going to make it down.”

“Let’s go back and try another tunnel first.”


“Before we start climbing, let’s try another tunnel.”

“I’m not much of a climber,” Jakob said.

“Yeah, exactly, c’mon, let’s go,” I said.

I headed back down the tunnel. The others followed.

“You know what it seems like to me?” Jakob said. “It seems like to me this was a way in but somebody did something to make sure that no one would get in.”

“You have the most vast imagination of any man I’ve ever met,” I grumbled.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Let’s go.”

When we got back, we headed left. We went about 90 feet, following the rail line, before the tunnel came to a four-way intersection. The track went each direction. To the left, the tunnel immediately opened into a large room. Straight ahead and to the right, it went as far as I could see.

I motioned for Faldrial to put the hood on his lantern.

“Hold on,” I said. “Wait here.”

I crept to the edge of the room and looked in. It was about sixty feet deep and forty feet wide. There were multiple wooden bins held together by rusty iron bands. Most of them looked empty but some held debris. There was sign of coal in some of the bins as well. There was no movement.

“Clear,” I whispered.

Light appeared behind me and I carefully entered the room. Tweedle picked up a chunk of coal from a bin near the entrance as I continued into the room. There was a cry and a dark, crusty brown dog-headed thing popped up out of one of the bins. Several other heads popped up as well. There were horns on the things’ heads and they had glowing red eyes.

“Kobolds!” I said.

They glared at me.

“You kobolds want to make some money?” I said.

The kobold started to lunge out of the box and I stumbled back and fired two arrows into the room. One of Tweedle’s sling bullets struck a kobold near the front of the pack, hitting it in the head. It fell back into the bin. Faldrial’s hand crossbow bolt hit one of the kobolds in the room and it fell with a scream.

The creatures tumbled out of the bins and rushed us.

“C’mon you damned spider-lovers!” I shouted.

Two of them rushed me, their short spears glancing off my armor. Two others used the bins for cover as they approached us. Then Jakob ran into the room, moving between a couple kobolds.

“Glory to Kord!” he yelled.

The morning star came down hard on the ground next to the kobold.

I dropped my bow, drew my battle axe, and cleaved one of the kobolds facing me in half. I swung my axe around my head after the kill, splashing everyone in the area with kobold blood. A kobold popped his head out to look and was struck in the face by one of Tweedle’s sling bullets. It went down without a sound. Another kobold tried to stab me again but I easily dodged the blow. They tried to flank Jakob and another hand crossbow bolt flew into the room. Jakob easily blocked another of the kobolds with his shield and then ran between a pair of them. He tapped his morning star almost gently on another kobold’s head. The creature fell to the floor.

Seeing him subdue his enemy, I turned my axe sideways and tried to knock out the kobold I faced but the creature leapt out of the way. Tweedle kicked a crate. Faldrial slipped around the side of the room and then ran through the last kobold with his rapier.

We looted the dead bodies. The bins were empty except for some raw ore. I tied up the unconscious kobold, first tying his hands, then his feet, and then wrapping the rest of Tweedle’s 50 feet of rope around the creature until I had used it all. Jakob used his healing wand on it and it awoke. It struggled against the bonds and I slapped it in the face.

“Stop struggling,” I growled. “You speak common?”

He looked at me blankly. I asked he spoke dwarvish but the blank look didn’t leave his face. I grabbed him by the throat.

“Speak common!” I shouted at the terrified creature.

He shrieked something in some tongue I didn’t understand. I put him down.

“Shut up,” I said to the beast. “One yip for yes and two yips for no.”

He continued to shriek and squeal.

“That’s way too many,” I said.

“I don’t understand what he’s saying,” Jakob said.

“I can’t under understand him either.”

“Maybe we should just kill him now.”

Then Faldrial said something in a hissing language that bore a resemblance to what the kobold was still shrieking.

“You speak gibberish?” Jakob said.

“I do,” Faldrial said. “Fluently.”

He talked to the kobold and told us that he’d asked it if there were any other humanoids in the mines. I told him to ask if there were any spiders down there. The kobold nodded frantically. I glared at him.

“It’s going to be bad for you from now on,” Faldrial said to me.

“No it’s not,” I said. “I love killing spiders.”

“I know you love killing spiders but apparently we’ve got a lot of them.”

“Ask him if knows the way up to the keep.”

He spoke to the kobold and the creature asked him some question in return. I shook him.

“You’re sounding evasive to me!” I shouted in the creature’s face.

Faldrial spoke at length to the kobold.

“What are you telling this guy?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

“Possibly getting him to help us,” Faldrial said.

“All right, that’s fine with me,” I said. “I got nothing against kobolds.”

Faldrial also told us that if the creature acted funny to just chop him in half.

“Shall I do it right now?” Jakob said. “He’s acting funny right now.”

The kobold said something to Faldrial.

“What’d he say?” I asked.

“What’d he say?” Jakob said.

“He’s going to offer to be our guide,” Faldrial told us.

“Does he know the way up to the keep?” I asked.

“He says he knows his way through the mine.”

“Does he know his way to the entrance up to the keep? Because if he doesn’t, there’s no reason to drag him along.”

“Do you think he’s lying?” Jakob asked.

Faldrial talked to the creature and told us that he didn’t know how to get into the keep, but could take us as far as where the spiders laired. I told him to ask the kobold if other kobolds lived in the place.

“Lots,” he translated.

“He’s lying,” I said.

“I think there’s some, but not a lot.”

“But he could lead us past the other kobolds to the spider area. He thinks.”


“That’s what he’s telling us.”

“Yes. That’s basically what he’s saying.”

“Fair enough. Hopefully that’s the right way. Ask him if anyone in his tribe can lead us up to the keep.”

He spoke to the kobold again and then told us none of the kobolds went past the spider room. I started unwrapping the rope from around it and then untied the creature’s feet. I tied his hands behind his back as Faldrial spoke to it in his own language again. He told us that the kobold still claimed he didn’t know of any way into the keep. I told the half-elf to warn the kobold that if shouted out or warned anyone of our approach that he would be instantly killed, but if he cooperated with us, we’d let him go. He translated my threat and told us that the kobold agreed.

The kobold led us out of the room and straight on through the intersection, where the tunnel began to head downwards. He took us through another intersection with a cave-in to the left and caves to the right. Some 50 feet after the second intersection, still following the rail line, the corridor opened into a huge room. The kobold stopped before we reached the entrance and said something quietly in his language.

“Ask him what’s here,” I said. “Is this the spiders, here?”

“He says he goes no further,” Faldrial said. “We’re where the spiders start.”

I started to untie the kobold.

“Tell him to tell his people that if they leave us alone, we’ll leave them alone,” I said. “Live and let live.”

“We should knock him out and throw him in the middle of the room and see if spiders eat him,” Jakob said.

“That seems kind of ... evil,” I muttered. “And awful.”

The kobold, now untied, ran away. I suggested getting some of the kobold bodies. After discussing it for a few moments, Jakob objecting that the spiders wanted blood and I noting that two were killed by blunt sling bullets, I went back to the room with the kobold bodies and retrieved the two corpses that Tweedle had killed. Tweedle asked for a torch and I gave him one. Jakob chanted and his morning star glowed.

“That’s magic,” I said.

“This is what magic looks like,” Jakob said to Tweedle.

The room beyond looked like a staging area. A track ran through it as far as we could see in the dark. A tunnel lay to the right and another tunnel lay further down the left wall. On the track were a half dozen mine carts, some tipped on their side and others upright, waiting for their next load. Wooden bins were scattered around the room. The ceiling was out of sight though I could make out stalactites there. I could hear water dripping all around. Spider webs hung down from the ceiling and tatters of the webs clung to the walls.

“I’ll scout ahead,” I whispered. “Cover me.”

I moved into the room, which proved to be only about 80 feet deep, and I saw nothing in the mine carts or the bins. However, shadows moved in the webs above.

“Spiders! Let’s get ‘em!” I said.

I headed for the opposite wall and thought I heard Jakob say “Where’s he going?” somewhere behind me. Then the spiders started to swing down on their webs. There were at least four of the things, each of them the size of a man.

Faldrial drew his hand crossbow and aimed at the things. Tweedle took out his sling and swung it around his head. He let fly, striking one of the spiders. Then he backed up to the entrance of the room. I shot the same spider twice, putting two shafts into it, but it continued to descend, blood dripping from its wounds.

“These things are tough!” I called out.

Jakob chanted and I felt suddenly blessed by his presence. The spiders dropped lightly to the ground and rushed towards us with that awful, eight-legged gait the nasties had. Faldrial shot the one filled with arrows as it approached him and it slowed to a crawl. Someone mumbled and two blue, magical missiles flew across the room and struck one of the spiders. I stopped and looked around.

“Was that the halfling?” I said. “Did we miss it? Son of a–!”

I fired two arrows at the spider that had been struck by the magic missiles, both of them sinking into the flesh of the beast. It slowed and stumbled as I backed away. Jakob slammed his morning star into the same spider, crushing its skull, while Faldrial closed his lantern, dropped his crossbow, and moved towards him.

“Come on!” I yelled at the spiders.

They did so, crossing the room. Two of them tried to bite Jakob but he blocked the horrid beasts and they did not injure him. I was not so lucky, however. The spider bit my left arm and I felt the terrible poison course through my veins. I felt terribly weak.

“Buggery stupid buggers!” I shrieked.

“Are you okay?” Jakob called to me.

“Spiders!” I shouted. “Why did it have to be spiders!?!”

Another sling bullet struck the spider that was still latched onto my arm. It fell off me and was badly injured, almost swaying on its eight legs. I dropped my bow and drew the battle axe from my back, then brought it down, but the spider skittered aside. Jakob was swinging wildly at the spiders around him.

Faldrial moved around the edge of the battle and flanked one of the spiders he fought. He skewered it, burying his rapier deep in the beast. The spider turned on the half-elf and bit him, blood and black venom spewing from the wound. Faldrial went pale and sagged. Another spider tried to bite Jakob but the man used his shield expertly. The last creature tried to bite me and sagged, dropping to the ground, its legs curling up underneath it.

“I hate you!” I bellowed.

Another sling bullet slammed into the spider that was fighting Jakob. I moved to stand by him and cut the spider he faced with my battle axe. Jakob turned to the spider that was trying to kill Faldrial. He slammed his glowing morning star down on the creature, cracking its thorax. Faldrial stabbed ineffectively and did a back flip away. The spider turned from him and bit Jakob, who stumbled back, visible sagging. The other spider bit me, tearing at the flesh of my chest and ripping through my leather armor.

“Damn you, spiders!” I cried. “This is why I hate you!”

Another glowing pair of magical missiles struck the spider that had just bit me. A leg flew off and the thing dropped the floor, dead. I glanced behind me and saw smoke coming off Tweedle’s finger.

“Yes!” I said. “I saw it!”

“What’d you see?” Jakob said.

“Never mind. It’s okay.”

“I didn’t see nothing!”

I moved to the last spider and brought my battle axe down upon it, killing it. I followed up the kill by swinging my axe over my head once again.

We tended to our wounds and tried to clean them of the spider venom. Tweedle retrieved his torch while I got arrows out of the dead spiders.

“I feel like crap,” I said, slumping against the wall.

“This armor is so heavy,” Jakob said.

He suggested going somewhere to rest. I disagreed, noting that we’d just gotten there and we had to press on.

“Okay, have fun,” he said.

“What?” I said. “Just stay in the back.”

Tweedle was, meanwhile, examining the spiders. Jakob used his wand to heal those of us who were injured and Tweedle asked if there was any way to get the poison from the spiders.

“Well,” I said, “your typical spider has a venom sack. It’s located just inside the mouth at the top in the back. Giant spiders – regular spiders it’s different. They’re notoriously difficult to remove. You got a dagger?”

He didn’t. While Jakob talked about getting rest and using his magic to restore everyone to their full strength, I crossed the room and briefly looked down the corridor opposite the one we’d come in. A passageway continued on into the darkness, going gradually upward as far as I could see.

I went back to the room where we’d killed the kobolds and brought back one of the short spears, breaking the head off and making a small dagger. I was able to remove the venom sacks from two of the spiders. I told Tweedle that the poison would have to be injected somehow.

We discussed what to do. I pointed out that if the orcs were nighttime raiders, they would find our camp if we camped outside. If we camped in the mines, we’d have to deal with the kobolds. I didn’t think we’d explored enough to set up a base camp in the caves yet. Jakob was of the opinion that we should camp in the room where we’d killed the kobolds. Faldrial thought we should push through, as did I. I noted that if it looked like the odds would be too steep, we could fall back to the mines.

In the end, we decided to at least scout ahead. I went down the dark corridor as quietly as I could. It went to about 100 yards before the rail came to an end in a larger room, the rough walls being replaced with flagstone and cobble. A single mine cart sat at the end of the track near a ramp. A small pile of coal sat near the ramp, the rest of the floor caked with black powder. On either side were dumbwaiters with two more in front of me. To the far right was a set of steps going up. There were a lot of boot prints in the coal dust.

I went back and told them I’d found the shaft that led up to the keep but that someone had been there.

We discussed when we should strike and the general consensus was to wait until nightfall in the hopes that most of the orcs and their warlock would go out to raid the countryside. I suggested we move to the end of the corridor and examine the shaft and the basement. We listened up the stairwell but I couldn’t hear anything. Faldrial said he could hear voices and movement up above somewhere. He suggested he scout ahead.

“If only there was some way of making you invisible,” I muttered. Then I turned to the human. “Jakob, that’s what I meant to tell you. That I saw something earlier.”

“You did?” he replied.



“In battle. When I said ‘I saw it.’ And you said ‘What?’ And I said ‘I’ll tell you later.’ I’m telling you now.”

“What was it?”

“It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. I think the halfling actually cast a spell and I think I saw it.”


“I saw smoke coming out of his finger.”

Tweedle asked what we’d do if we had invisibility and I told him that if Faldrial was invisible, he could scout around above and get numbers of the enemy and figure out where they were.

“Hey look, an orc,” Tweedle suddenly said, pointing.

Jakob and I looked and I heard someone speak some strange words. When I turned around, Faldrial was gone and Tweedle was smiling.

“Where’d Faldrial go?” he asked.

“Did he skulk away?” Jakob asked.

Tweedle told us he’d cast a spell on the half-elf to turn him invisible so he could scout above.

Faldrial returned a short time later to tell us that the cellars above had orc cooks. He noted that dumbwaiters went up into those cellars and the orcs above were tenderizing meat. He said it appeared that they were actually eating the dead from the caravans.

I suggested the possibility of using lamp oil as the poison but it was pointed out that they orcs would taste it – it would taste horrible. My suggestion of adding a lot of pepper wasn’t taken very well.

We ended up going back to the room where we’d killed the kobolds and resting long enough for the spell casters to regain their spells. We figured after we had done so, it would be late enough that the orcs might be out raiding.

* * *

Faldrial crept up the steps ahead of us. He signaled us to come forward and, once we were at the top of the steps, we peeked over. Five orc cooks were in the room.

We attacked.

Faldrial rushed into the room and ran through the nearest orc. I shot two arrows into the room, dispatching two more of them.

“If you surrender, you will not be killed,” I said quietly in orc.

Then Tweedle shot one of them with his sling.

“Warning shot,” I muttered in orc. “That was just a warning shot.”

Jakob charged into the room and smashed the skull of another of the orcs. Then he finished off the last orc.

We had killed all of them without making a racket.

Faldrial peeked through the double doors on one wall and told us there were six orcs and three duergar within. The other set of double doors on the same wall led to the same room. Another door had a plate that read “Armory.” Faldrial said it looked like it was filled with various goods that had probably come from the various attacks on caravans. Two doors led into a storage room filled with more goods. Sleeping in the corner was a bald dwarf with gray skin and a raggedy beard. We killed him handily. Other doors opened into a hallway.

We found our way to a garden, passing various bedrooms. Three small doors that led to garderobes. Archways opened into some kind of sitting room. We dispatched the orcs in the bedrooms and the orcs and duergar in the sitting room.

From there, we went up the main hallway to the large double doors at the top. They opened into a large room with a fireplace, desk, and chairs. Further into the room were a balcony and a chest. A wall split the room in two and stepping around the corner was another gray dwarf. He glared at us and readied his battle axe.

“He’s mine,” I said.

Two magic missiles flew between Jakob and Iand struck the duergar. We both looked over our shoulders but Tweedle just shrugged at us.

“Was that you?” Jakob asked him.

The halfling shrugged again.

“That’s weird,” Jakob said.

The duergar muttered something in dwarvish. It sounded like “Arise my followers.” Then he vanished.

“Flour! Flour!” I shouted.

Two nearby doors opened and two men came out. They were obviously dead and looked as if they’d started rotting.

“Do your job, cleric!” I said.

Faldrial moved around one of the things and it struck him a blow to the arm. The thief ran the thing through but it did not fall.

“Get the flour out!” I yelled.

I dropped my bow and pulled the axe from my back. I swung widely and missed the horrible creature nearest to me.

Then Jakob raised his holy symbol and flexed his muscles at the creatures. That was all he did. Just looked buff. It must have been too much for them, however, because the skin melted from their bones and the things literally fell apart.

Tweedle stepped forward, said a few words, and suddenly a colorful spray of light burst from his fingers and filled the air in front of him.

“What the hell was that?” Jakob asked.

“Nothing,” Tweedle said.

“Sleep,” I heard a dwarven voice say from the far end of the room.

“I’m not tired ... you douche,” I said.

Then I heard someone running across the room, probably around the wall that cut the room in two. Jakob flung a bag of flour into the area and it burst open on the balcony, pretty far from where the duergar should have been. However, it was apparently right on target. The flour coated the duergar and Tweedle cast another magic missile spell, the bolts striking him. He stumbled and then glared at us just before he grew to over eight feet tall. He swung at Faldrial, who stood nearby, but missed, and then backed up onto the balcony. The half-elf tried to stab the creature ineffectually.

With a roar, I rushed across the room and ran into the giant duergar, trying unsuccessfully to push him off the balcony. Jakob cast another spell and then Tweedle cast another magic missile at the creature. The bolts struck him in the face and he fell over the balcony to his death.

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