The Science Of Magic

Chapter 2 


In the beginning...

Billy-Ray, a totally untrusting and wholly unforgiving sort of fellow, was the catalyst. Unlike typical catalysts, he was changed by the reaction he initiated. I knew he was bad news, as soon as I saw him. I recognized him, but could not remember his name.

First of all, he was tripping his brains out on Methamphetamines.

In the second place, (actually, given the first item, one shouldn't need a second,) I should have known better than to deal with anyone who was named Billy-Ray.

When he came bashing the door of my house, I was not pleased, but I tried to be polite. His expression would have made a blooded Pit-Bull hesitate.

"Oh, hi. What can I do for you-eh? I'm sorry, I don't recall your name." I pressed my index finger between the pages of the book I still held.

"Billy-Rayeayyeeya" With the unilaterally Southern gift for mangling the language, he pronounced "Ray" in five, distinct syllables. Before I could interrupt, he added,  "Where's Fuggin Zach."

It was not a question; it was a threat. Observing his stance, and the utter absence of humor in his face, I groped for a way to stall. I felt it would be unwise at this point, to tell him the truth; I didn't know a Zach, of any variety, Fuggin' or otherwise.

Something in my face gave my thoughts away, and before I could conjure up some B.S. to calm him down, he swung at me.

I keep in pretty good shape, for a man my age. Though I'm not much of a fighter, I will not stand still for a beating, either. I ducked. His fist continued into the side of the house, with a flat, squishy thud. It sounded like it hurt.

He moved past me, and looked around. I think he was saying "ouch!" (or perhaps something more colorful) when I swung the book at him.

I truly meant, as they say in the south, to "Col' Cock" him with it. My aim was a little off, or he slipped, and I clipped his nose with it instead. The edge of the binding struck him right where the cartilage joins the bone of the skull.

I had expected him to swing on me, from the first moment I saw his pudgy, pimpled face. I was concerned that I might have to resort to violence. I always endeavor to keep the acts of violence to a minimum, especially violence directed toward me.

I stepped around him, through the front door and reached back to pull it shut behind me. If he would not play nice, well, I refused to play at all.

Billy-Ray had no sense of humor. He glared at me, cupping his nose in his left hand. In his right hand was a pistol.

While I had been shot at before, I had never been hit. Most folks can't shoot worth a damn, anyway. I blame it on Television; too many cop shows. Billy-Ray was not one of those. As angry, and buzzed as he was, he held the weapon level and steady. His finger did not rest directly on the trigger, and he did not try to site down the barrel. So, it was with a decided lack of enthusiasm, that I watched the world slip into slow motion. I don't recall the gun's report, but I remember the sound of glass collapsing, and I remember the red-gold flash, expanding from the barrel.

I remember fervently desiring to be somewhere else- anywhere at all.

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null and void, part 1

I was sure I was dead. At the same time, I had the notion that I wouldn't be sure about anything, if I were dead. It's the flip side of Descartes' old saw.

After all, I had seen the gun flash, heard the crackling tinkle of the glass, and everything went black. It remains black, even now. It was dark in the truest sense of the word: there was no light. My eyes worked furiously at the nothing; there was not even enough light to generate the optical illusion of phosphenes. There was nothing. Though I had no sense of up and down, no feeling of gravity, I was not floating, either. My body was statically centered in the nothing. No light, no sensations, Nada, Niente, nothing- null and void.

After what seemed like several days (but then, I had no way to measure) in the light-less, air-less, gravity-less, heat-less (apparently, the molecules here did not actually move) void, I got a notion.

I remember it precisely and completely; it is the most vivid thought I have ever processed. It would please me to report that it was momentous or profound, but it was not.

I wanted a cookie.

Chocolate chip; 32.6 chips, in a sandy-tan colored disk 5.125 inches in circumference. I knew its odor, intimately. For a flashing instant, I knew the precise combination of ingredients and the chemical reactions that brought it into its cookie-ness. For that fleeting moment, I knew precisely how many molecules were in it, and what a strange quark really is.

Then it was gone, like a recalcitrant lover, in the night. In it's place was the cookie itself. The vision, the technical CAT-scan-like perception of the thing was gone, but I still kept the intimate understanding of it's cookie-ness (even if I couldn't call the sub-atomics by name, any longer, I kept a feel for it's essence).

I apparently  turned the alleged cookie with what appeared to be an appendage I call a hand (I wasn't sure of much, at this point). I scrutinized it from every angle, which is when I had my second notion.

I wasn't actually seeing this. I mean, with no light, It should be impossible to see. Shouldn't it? Furthermore, (and more to the point,) unless I was vastly mistaken about a good many things, dead men have neither use nor desire for cookies. I could, nonetheless, see the thing, and change the perspective of the view at will.

This, of course, led to my third notion, "What the fuck?"

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I had loads of time to think, it was the only thing possible, under the circumstances. Eventually, my brain adjusted to the direct input of information, the perception of what was around me. I began to perceive faint bands of what may have been light, which gave the place the air of a very smooth-walled cave.

There was, of course, no cave, no lights, no anything. The visuals were my brain's answer to the lack of referents. I was beginning to wonder if this was Nirvana, or Oblivion or whatever. It was a common theme in all religious philosophies, the perfect state of being.

If it was Heaven or Nirvana, (whatever) it was very boring. I envisioned a good many disgruntled faithful, if this was the Promised Land.

Boredom, Sheer boredom led me to it. I conjured whatever my perception could latch on to. Things were just as easy to dispose of, easier actually.

With a slowly diminishing sense of wonder I zapped up a pen, two books, a church bell , a pair of ladies' briefs (still warm), a bicycle, a chain-saw, (exactly) 112,456 Hishi beads, and a very confused pussycat, that writhed and twisted, in the absence of gravitational referents.

There was a Seven-Eleven in Weehauken, (that's in New Jersey,) that became an easy source for conjurables. I was treated to a CAT scan of each item I zapped. I continued for some time, but as I came to realize that everything is made of the same basic stuff, I lost interest.

For a time, I was (for lack of a better term) homesick. I let my mind sift through my memories of home. It was not doing much to improve my mood, but somewhere along the way, I got another notion.

Moreover, it was momentous. A leap of logic that started with the dumbest thought I ever had. My first I thought, "I wish I could zap home to me, that easily," was wholly absurd. I made the leap to the next logical thought, zap me to home.

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 null and void part 2

As I later discovered, time doesn't work in the Null and Void; at least not in the same manner as in the "real" world. Had I zapped directly back, I would have arrived in precisely the right spot and time to catch the bullet I missed, earlier (relatively speaking).

When I did finally zap back it was to, what I hoped would be, the rear of the house. As reality flashed back into focus, I saw that I overshot by a few yards. I was in the neighbor‘s backyard. I heard the echo of Billy-Ray's nine-mm, and the clatter of glass.

As I moved toward the front, I picked up a 26-inch-length of 1-inch black iron gas pipe. It usually served as ballast for the pool cover, but it worked just fine on Billy-Ray. He never saw it coming.

Billy-Ray had been peering through the open door, when I smacked him. The momentum tottered him toward the house, I propelled him into it, with my boot. That took care of any assault counter-charges.

I hovered over him for a moment, trying to balance my common sense and the icy rage I felt, for my attempted murderer. I hefted the pipe in my hands and considered my alternatives.

I knew he had no compunctions about pulling the trigger on me, no thoughts like I was having now. That made him a dangerous and untrustworthy commodity. I don't know for sure what prevented me from killing him on the spot. Philosophically, I was in mortal peril from Billy-Ray, I had every right to kill him first. I would like to think that I would never kill anything, without the dire need to do so.

I examined his head. Because there was a trickle of blood, where I clobbered him, I pressed lightly on his split scalp. I wasn't sure what I would feel if his skull was cracked, but I am against killing, without a damned good reason.

Nevertheless, I couldn't let this go. I had a pretty good measure of Billy-Ray's mentality; the incident would gnaw at his redneck pea-brain. He would wonder what had happened, build little cartoon scenarios of the possibilities until he came to the inescapable conclusion:

"Summa-bitch tricked me"

I didn't know if I could pull that trick again, but I couldn't be sure until I tried. With my eyes closed, I envisioned a chocolate chip cookie and then I felt it in my hand. This would require some further investigation.

I bit into the cookie and thought about it, here's what came out:


  1. Billy -Ray had become a problem
  2. I must solve the problem now, or it would escalate
  3. I find myself unwilling or unable to solve it by repeatedly bashing his head, with the pipe, though logic dictated this as the only reasonable course of action.
  4. I must find an alternative to killing him, but it must be foolproof - I did not want to confront the redneck-son-of-a-bitch every few months
  5. Calling the Police would only serve to complicate my life

I sat with my face in my hands, for a few moments.

That great, undulating mass of bodies, the Human Race, is a constant puzzlement to me. Anthropology tends to ascribe noble motivations to the species. Unlike the many Anthro-a-pologists I know, I do not subscribe to the Noble Savage theory of civilization. Humans are filthy, malodorous beasts, often harboring the basest of intentions. Shave off the hair, pluck the carcass free of vermin, stand it upright; and you have a clean beast. Many of the people I see every day, might better be chained to an immovable object.

While we are tied to our bodies, we are tied to the organic chemistry that animates them. So, we are tied to inexplicable urges and desires, patterns of thought, the basis of which is bio-chemical. The simplest example being, getting out of bed. Nearly everyone must have felt the urge to roll over and go back to sleep. This urge has nothing to do with rational thought, morality, or sloth. It is a matter of Seratonin levels in the brain.

The miracle of humanity is what we chose to do about those bio-chemical motivations.

So, what-in-the-hell are people like Billy-Raeaeay thinking? How do you analyze the thought process that leads one to fire a gun at another? Is it possible they don't mean to kill or maim? Did Billy-Ray have a moment of remorse or guilt?

A flash of inspiration and the desire to try out my new trick again collided.

Billy-Ray was not smart, and he sure as hell wasn't pretty, but he was large. I doubted I could take him in a fair fight; though it's my opinion, he had forfeited those rights, when he tried to kill me. 

I fetched a roll of duct tape.

I retrieved his weapon, it was one of those ceramic alloy pistols, primarily used to get by metal detectors. It took a moment to figure it out, then I removed the clip and the round in the chamber, and wrapped his limp hands around it. I took four or five turns of tape around his wrists and the butt of the gun. Then I taped his upper arms to his rib cage,  just above the elbows. I wrassled him upright and hung him by the collar, from the brass coat-hook. I used the rest of the tape, attaching the iron pipe to his waist. It looked pretty natural, as if he were saying freeze! or stop or I'll shoot! But it would look more natural if his eyes were open.

I zapped up another cookie and sat back to await his awakening. To be sure he fully understood the situation, I would explain it to him, right before I zapped him.

This time, instead zapping a cookie, or myself, I zapped ol' Billy-Ray. It was the first time I had zapped something else to somewhere else, but I figured it should be no more difficult than the cookie. If I aimed him properly, he would reappear in front of the security desk at the Metro Court Complex, where he'll have all those nice policemen to help him.

And, now, with Billy-Ray handled, it seems I had some thinking to do.

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the Science of Magic

It was the first thing I tried to do, with my new talent, not counting Billy-Ray. Perhaps it was, as some pundits have claimed, motivated by childhood wish fulfillment. It seemed to me, a natural thing to do with the gift.

The big problem was credibility. I figured people would be amazed when they saw what I could do, amused and entertained.

People do not go to see a magic show for reality, they don't believe in the magic, they go to be fooled. When we watch, we know the magician doesn't saw the lady in half. It's a trick.

We share the illusion; on some level we understand the working of the trick, (i.e. the hand is quicker than the eye,) but we don't know the details. It is the cleverness of the details that we admire.

Real magic scares the shit out of people.

My career lasted 6 months, and was totally funded by myself. My gate barely covered travel expenses. I was banned from eleven establishments.

One illusion I performed was to make a rose appear in a lady's hand. I thought it was a graceful and elegant "illusion". I had her stand thirty feet away from me, used no cover, mirror or device. She just stood there with her hands open, palms up while I zapped a rose into them. She was a volunteer from the audience, I really never saw her before that moment.

She looked at the rose in her hands and looked at me. Her face was pale, the color draining as I watched her. The hairs on her forearms stood up .

She dropped the rose and backed a step away from me.

"You . . ." she faltered and pointed her finger at me, then backed another step.

"You really did that." She spoke timidly, her eyes flitted from her hands, to the rose and finally to me. Her voice rose, in the frenzied hysteria of a housewife, caught shoplifting.

The Rose shattered on the ground.

"That was no trick, no illusion. You really did that," she raised her hand to her forehead, spun and headed for the exit.

The crowd had been utterly silent, it remained so, as she threaded her way through the cafe tables. For a bleak moment, she hesitated, turning her head to glance at her pocketbook. She left it where it was and left the room.

The fatalist in me took over, I reached out through the flux and zapped up a sewing needle. I let it drop to the floor and, yes, I could hear it when it hit.

I had tried for years, before I discovered my "talent", haunting all the novelty and magic shops. No one had designed a trick that I could get to work. From the simplest pull to the most elaborate theatricals, they were beyond me. I could get proficient at handling and operating them, lord knows it wasn't that, but something always went wrong. Even when the mechanics operated flawlessly, the illusion would never come off.

The (once) Magnificent Maronie, who was now called just "Maronie", eyed me from behind the cash register. I had the impression that, were I an alien simulacrum, Maronie would have detected it. He had been incredibly patient with me, as a teacher and a salesperson. He knew how hard I tried, how diligently I practiced, all for nothing.

"Hoibie," he said in his corkscrew, Flatbush accent, "youse're just plain jinxed."

From that day forward, I never attempted another mechanical trick, except as camouflage for real magic. It's a shame he passed on before I learned to use my talent. As with most magicians, (no matter how jaded,) some child-like part of his psyche believed in the real thing.

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Father never came back from the battle. His body was not recovered. They came to the farm to tell me. It was six months since I'd last seen Mother.

Stories were everywhere. One story had Mother being eaten by a dragon, another said she had been encorcled by one of the magical folk she befriended. My least favorite had her running off with Galleas - which may have been true, but Galleas was probably Mom's uncle and therefore not likely to be running off in the way they meant.

I had my own ideas and most of them had to do with a story I had heard about a færy princess and a human prince, who fell in love and ran away together.


I had much to do in those first few days, after the soldiers came to tell me of Father's alleged demise. Most of the village came to offer their condolences and see how I was reacting. Mother and Dad were well respected.

Elias Pottrattle sent his two eldest daughters over to help me with the house. When they arrived, early in the morning, I was not only relieved but also secretly delighted. There was nothing fancy about Jane or Maggie Pottrattle, but they were full growed, as old Elias would say.

It wasn't until that afternoon, when old Elias showed up, that I realized the true nature of the situation. He made sure there was no time for, eh, extra-curricular activities. Bless his heart anyway, Elias Pottrattle is a hardheaded, brook-no-nonsense, farmer with a heart of solid gold.

Many times, I had walked with he and Father through the orchards. I would listen to them rattle on about the trees, or the wars. Often, I had overheard Elias say, "Curse and bebother your orchard, Rod McDonogh. Nary a farm near by can boast of a harvest like yours. It truly is the finest in the land." (Whenever I thought of old Elias, I thought of him saying, "finest in the land", with his broad grin and brogue.)

"Elias T. Pottrattle! You know this orchard wouldn't be half as good without your help and advice." It was a comfortable formula for them. Elias always got his pick of the orchard's harvest from Dad.

Dad told me once, "I don't know of a better man. He is smart, honest, and humane. If you are ever in real trouble, son, and we're not around, you can always trust Elias."

Mom and Dad often had tips for me in the event they "weren't around" I thought little of it, until they were both gone. It's one of the reasons I don't believe they're dead.

I knew that I should be searching the family journals. Mom and Dad had made such a fuss about them they just might contain some clue as to their whereabouts. However, I just couldn't work up any enthusiasm.

Sometime after mid-day, Elias pulled up with a cart full of bedrolls and family. They went to work, preparing the house for the memorial service, to be held that evening.

"Well, Nod. I'm sorry to hear about your father, he was a good man." He climbed down from his wagon and encompassed my shoulders with one arm.

"He thought very highly of you, sir, as do I."

"Did you decide about the service?"

"For both of them, Elias. But, I won't fully believe either of them dead, until I see the body. We'll just think of it as a farewell party, wherever they've got to."

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Time is not a Dimension, it is an observational phenomenon.

The fourth Dimension (which includes Duration not Time) is like a cosmic CAT scan. You can perceive every aspect of an object or section of space. It alters your point of view.

Traveling the fourth is a very disconcerting experience; as if you're being stretched and turned inside out, at the same time. All your right angles grow right angles of their own.

In-between the fourth and fifth Dimension is access to time. It's as easy to travel as an elevator, for me. I can even 'home in' on a particular object's essence to find a particular spot in time. There are also dimensional gates, through which anyone can travel, (much easier than projecting yourself) but you have to know how to find or make them.

At first I wasted this on things like: my seventh birthday party; the first time I got kissed (now that was an erotic experience;) the first time I got ... well let's just say another erotic first. And all without any Temporal Paradox.

 Mundane. Boring. I was disappointed, and I felt like a peeping tom.

Naturally, I zapped up a million dollars in cash; it filled up the hall closet (what a pain in the ass,) and answered a vague question I had about my talent.

I didn't create anything, I procured it from elsewhere. In this particular case; the elsewhere was a Federal Reserve repository, where the NSA. was paying off the CIA.

It was the only place I could home in on, where that much cash was available in one lump. From the amount of press coverage, and the speed at which the story broke, and the announcement claiming all the bills were numbered, I gathered it would be unwise to spend any of the bills.

From the speed at which the FBI, battered in my door, and wrestled me to the ground, I gathered that all those rumors about electronic tracers, embedded in the new money, weren't too far from wrong. Please remember; I was never at the repository, they couldn't have traced me unless they traced the bills themselves.

The only thing that saved me, was zapping all the money to an Ecuadorian mission I knew of, en masse, just before they opened the closet. The bemused look on Special Agent Flaherty's face, was worth it.



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Father Vargas

Father Vargas tamped out the candles. His stiffly arthritic motions, were nonetheless, practiced and precise. He gained a sense of satisfaction, by watching the grey plumes, as the wicks smoldered. It had always seemed to him that, more than the light, the smoke traveled to God.

He moved through the Apse and toward the choir loft. Bless their hearts, they were dreadful singers, and he couldn‘t really blame them; there hasn‘t been an exciting Catholic mass since 1342. Innocuous singing is sort of a tradition. Now Methodists; they could sing a hymn.

They were a good lot, this congregation. Good-hearted and loving, their children practically grew up communally. Everyone worked at one of the factories, and there were three shifts. The young ones would be shuffled between homes and authority, to facilitate the varied shifts. The American companies frowned on couples working together.

Vargas disliked the Companies; the hard lives and bad schools they offered these people, but the alternatives were grim. The people traditionally lived off the rain forest; it offered them meat, fruit, tools, protection, raw materials and water. Now, the jungle had been hacked away all around them. They were stranded on an island of green, in a concrete and asphalt jungle. Without the factories, they would have had to migrate to the vast slums, growing up around the cities.

If only they could get a real school built, he could get the children out before they were all swallowed up.

When he moved to the Narthex door, he spotted it. Young Julio had left him another present. From the look of it, there was enough goat dung to account for seven or eight good-sized goats.

Exhaling a prayer, he moved to the Sexton‘s closet for a broom and shovel.

The hinges screeched as he opened the door, he was making a mental note to oil them, when he noticed a vague shimmering in the air at the top of the closet. Father Vargas looked up and profaned for the first time in thirty-two years.

"Holy shit!" he said as one million dollars in U.S. cash, fell from the heavens, and knocked him to the floor.

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Something Nasty cont'd

I strained my ears to the limit. I squinted, snake-eyed in the dark. I stretched every sense.

No Bees.

I was very tired of bees. In fact, I believe I hated them. The way they buzz; the nasty, stripy, yellow-and-black bottoms. Oh yes, and what good are bees without stingers?

I felt my still throbbing, slightly swollen (well, slightly is plenty) hand. I felt myself spiraling into a state of agitation, the kind where I tend to do something stupid or dangerous. I stopped myself before I began whimpering.

The only safe place I found to rest was perched high in this tree, above the River. I used my good hand to move some of the tree branches out of my line of sight. I couldn't see any bees.

Precariously balanced in the joining of three large limbs, I had vainly attempted to sleep. After two (or was it three) days, I was beginning to wonder if the magic business was, maybe, the wrong one for me. So far, it had been nothing but trouble; painful trouble at that.

Admittedly, I was eating well; but I did all the hunting and cooking myself. I was learning new things; how much a bee sting hurts, how cold the River is, what it feels like to be hit in the head and half-drowned. I hadn't learned any magic or earned any money. On top of everything else, I was catching cold.

I was finally dry, though and relatively safe. Gods knew what shape my little cottage was in, and my gardens; thank the Gods for the Gnomes. I breathed a large sigh, mourning simpler days. With a profound sneeze, I fell from the tree, into the River.

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the Gnomes

It was from that warm confusion I fled. The hectic movement of so many people through the house was dizzying. I needed respite from noise, people, condolences, smoke and wine. Leaving Elias to intercept inquiries, I slipped off through the gardens.

Father's return from one of his many journeys always inspired an extra bit of excitement. Wherever he had been, he always procured a specimen. He was, at heart, a simple farmer who simply loved to grow things. We had developed various gardens  to accommodate native conditions. What seemed, on casual inspection, a few acres of pedestrian woods; in fact, harbored exotic plants from around the world.

This was a favorite spot of ours, my father and me. The McDonogh family, were a unit, and shared in nearly everything. This was, however, just between Dad and me.

A stand of great knobby oaks had contrived to dam a streamlet, with their thirsty roots. A small, clear pond had resulted; around it grew Kalinchoe, Portulaca and other flowering succulents. The run-off created a streamlet of it's own, which wandered off across a grassy meadow. The water eventually joined the River about two miles Southeast.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I caught a whisper of movement to the side. I jerked about, involuntarily,. Tiny shadows were in motion, all throughout the flowers. I froze.

The moon, freed of the clouds, glittered across the surface of the water and lit up a hundred diminutive faces. The faces were angular and thin, their eyes glowing like sapphires, in the moonlight.

I heard a petite voice exclaim, "He looks like his father, he does."

Another chirped, "Spitting image."

"Who..." I worked my mouth opened and closed a few times, without any real purpose.

"I am Edwin, Eldest of Clan Forester, protectors of the forest by virtue of- uh!"

A smaller, obviously female version of the little fellow elbowed him out of the way, "We are the Gnomes, hereabouts." She hitched her thumb in the first gnome's direction and rolled her eyes dramatically. "He's the boss."

Many little voices giggled together; I found myself joining them.

"It's about showing the lad the proper respect. He asked a proper question, he deserves a proper answer. None of this, 'we're The Gnomes!'" He said this last in falsetto, which, for him, was incredibly squeaky.

"Edwin! Now is not the time." Edith, the female version of Edwin, turned from him and curtsied to me. "The McDonogh family are our friends. Have we not come here to honor the young one's father? Let's do that and forget the rest."

Her eyes relit with moonlight. For a moment, I remembered the reverent tone of my father's voice, on one of our many walks.


"I'm not much on hunting, Nod, only in dire circumstances. I try not to harm anything that offers no harm." He made a gesture with his arms, one I took to portray the encompassing of our little patch of forest.

"The forest is filled with the living. Most have as much, if not more right to be here than us."


"Come, look into the water at the reflection of the stars. This is where we first met your father, gazing at the evening sky in the water. He was wounded and had come a long way, pursued by elves."

Now Edwin spoke up, "It was I who found him here, bleeding, exhausted, using his sword as a crutch. We were unsure of him, but we have no love of Elves; we tricked them and led them away."

"When he espied us, he leaned on his sword and said, 'Hurry away my little people, I am pursued by many elves. I must stop them here or die in the attempt. They must not find my wife, she is full with child. Hurry to your homes and families.'"

"By that act he declared himself our friend and since that time we have looked after his gardens, home and family, especially a nosy little wanker named Nod, who was born that spring. He almost caught us at our business a hundred times." Edwin grinned at me, and a sea of tiny teeth flashed in the moonlight, behind him.

I was overwhelmed. Here was my first real evidence of the magic I had sought most of my young life. Evidence, too, that Father was involved in some kind of intrigue. It was tempered by the sadness I felt for my parents and the enormity of the responsibility I had taken on.

I was past thinking or feeling anything. For the first time in days, I felt I might sleep. I had to get back, it was getting late and there were people all over the house.

"I need to get back, now. Will I see you again?"

"We spoke often with your father. He was especially thoughtful about the, eh, orchard." Edwin's diminutive face took on a flush of embarrassment. It took me a moment to catch on.

"Of course, I'll honor any arrangements my father made." I scanned the crowd of little faces for signs of approval. One of the Gnomes was pushing through the crowd. When he reached Edith he stopped and whispered something to her.

"Someone approaches, on the path from your house." Edith made a gesture with her hand and the crowd of Gnomes disappeared into the undergrowth.

"We will speak at another time. Your father would have been proud of you, and he was a very good man. I must leave you. Tell no one of this."

The whisper of her voice remained after she had disappeared.

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Something Nasty cont'd

Throughout my aquatic ordeal, I managed to hang on to the vial of Bee's Mead (Stringewart juice) I collected for Herbert. I was not aware of this as I slithered up the bank of the river; nor had I an inkling, as I stumbled through the forest or spent the night in a tree. I was thinking only of my aching body.

Camp was just a few paces through those trees. There would be towels, blankets, and food. Herbert would have started a fire by now.

I felt safer already; I couldn't hear any bees.

I dragged my waterlogged body toward the campsite we had pre-arranged. I couldn't smell a fire, but wizards are notorious addle-pates. I figured he just got involved in spell casting and forgot.

Though I was shivering, I removed my wet clothing as I approached the campsite. Large, fragrant, pine boughs tangled about me and something fell from my shirt pocket. It was the vial of Bees' Mead, still unbroken. I gathered it up and pushed through the trees.

The tent and its contents were strewn around the little glade, as if fallen from the sky. The ground was kicked and scuffed; one of the trees had five arrows embedded in it. There was no sign of Herbert or draft animals, no fire, and no food among the scattered debris.

What in the Hells had happened here?

I dried as well as I could, packed up anything salvageable and headed off in search of Herbert.

The Sun was sliding down the southwestern horizon. A chill breeze ran down my collar and snatched away, what warmth I had. From my lofty position in an evergreen, (which are royal pains in the ass to climb, by the way) I scanned as far as my eyesight would allow.

There was no sign of Herbert; no sign of anything, except that small, dark cloud buzzing on the horizon.


I shimmied down the pine tree (this is no mean feat, either) as fast as I could, and headed out in the most likely direction to track Herbert: That being, any direction away from the bees.

I woke up scared. I've learned to trust these little intuitions, something (besides stark cowardice, to which I freely admit,) makes these things happen. I can't explain them but I know they work.

Something quite nasty, was lurking in the dark. I had no idea what it might be, but it was out there waiting for me.

I hushed my breathing as much as possible. I stared out into the blackness and just listened. No matter how many times I practice, I just can't see in the dark.

Keeping quiet, I gathered my gear and slipped into my boots. I crept away with nary a sound.


The terrain had begun to sprout large rocks. I was stumbling over some of these, when I landed face-first, on the ground. My attention was not so much drawn to my battered nose, (which, naturally, was bleeding) as toward the object that bloodied it.

The object was a long black cylinder, which flared at one end. A glass lens was inserted in the flared end.

A magic lantern. And not just any lantern, but Herbert's personal magic lantern. In the faint moonlight, I could just make out his runes on the side:


It was an omen (or he tripped on the same rock and dropped it.)

I rolled over and sat on my posterior, dabbed my nose on my tattered sleeve, and reached for the lantern. By working the emblem as I had seen Herbert do, I managed to light the thing up.

I gathered myself up and set off in search of Herbert, and away from the quite nasty something.

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I wasn't really comfortable after that, I changed my address, and my habits. I zapped money, only as I needed it, and then only from a locked vault. I burned any bills engraved after 1994. As I got better, I could even target, political slush funds and crooked business accounts. I had plenty of money, which I spent freely. I gave up even pretending to work and became a professional partier.

I had come quite a way, since the first days of indiscriminate zapping.


Two things had been bothering me. First; though I might have as much as two or three hundred thousand dollars, at any given time, I couldn‘t get a MasterCard. Second, though I could do or get anything I wanted, I was bored. The money, the parlor tricks, the parties, had become ordinary to me.

I got very good at the materializing bit. Before long, I could materialize anything I could visualize, in an instant. It led me to a rather barbarian, hedonistic lifestyle.

I was a hit at parties, too. At one, I materialized a girl's under-things right out from under her clothes (actually, I've grown quite fond of that one.) Of course, I hid the actual act under a screen of stage flourish and snappy patter.

I got inspired. I went to 1930's New York and rented a cheap, but secure apartment ($17.00 cheap.) Then I bought every solid gold coin I could find. Do you have any idea how much a 1924 twenty-dollar double eagle is worth, seventy years later?

The only hitch was finding money I could spend in 1930. Some of the money was collectable, and worth more than face value now. Back then, it was strictly face value. So, I brought considerably less than one thousand back with me. My sources of old currency were exhausted after the first try.

That's when I discovered the hidden side to my talent. All I had to do was zap the double eagles to me. Or gold bars for that matter. Then sit back and watch them materialize. If I could locate them, They could be zapped.

I could sell the coins and here was a provable source of income. I could get credit cards, bank accounts, pay taxes... I did it anyway.

Once, I was transferring some coins. Two hundred of them, if I remember correctly. It was early summer and I was just in jeans and a T-shirt. The coins were in a backpack. Though it was heavy, I had it slung over one shoulder.

A mugger approached me with a knife. I smiled a little as he said, "Hand it over, old dude."

I should have recognized my reaction as a danger signal. I easily could have zapped the coins to my place; fact is, I didn't have to carry them at all. I could have zapped them from my place when I got where I was going. I could have zapped the knife away from him or, zapped him away.

I was feeling flat-out bored, and dangerously invincible.

"Listen Dude, you are making the mistake of your life, just walk away and I'll forget it ever happened." I believe I actually sneered at him. He could have easily beaten the crap out of me.

My bravado must have made him wonder for a moment, it certainly made me wonder. He hesitated, then started toward me.

I smiled and zapped up a  Warrior 3000® assault weapon. (You'll find out about those suckers in about ten or twenty years.) Among other things, they fire repeating rounds of the most amazing, tiniest projectiles I had ever seen, at about 250 per minute.

He froze, still looking at me, then at the weapon.

I cut his outline into the wall behind him, which took only a minute. His eyes bugged. He dropped the knife, just as part of the wall crumbled behind him.

As an afterthought, I zapped all his clothes from him as he ran off through the park.

But here is the moral of my little story kiddies; I was still bored. I wanted excitement and this wasn't cutting it.

I had to think of something.

Eventually, I did.

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Something Nasty

The odor had been pervading the air for some distance. The land was way too dry for marsh gasses, so I assumed something large and unwashed, died. Apparently, it had been lying in the sun, for some time.

Having nowhere set as a destination, I altered my path in an attempt to avoid the smell. After the third detour, I was back on my original track.

Ah well, at least I was dry.

It was with a modicum of surprise that I was stopped dead in my tracks.

While I was trying to decided if I had walked into a wall of rancid fur-or a very smelly, hairy tree- it spoke to me:

"Oh, honey! Any higher and we'll be engaged."

A wave of sewer gas washed over me, I swatted great masses of matted fur out of my face.

"Oooh! Do that again, please. A little to the left."

I was plucked from the ground, and finally released from my hairy prison. I was however, being clasped around the middle by a large furry appendage. The hand brought me around, face to face (I use the term loosely) with the great fuzzy beast, to whom it belonged.

"I say, you're not very large are you? Then of course you know that, don't you? Of course you do." The creature was moving, throughout it's odiferous oratory, but I was too distracted by the smell to notice where we were going.

"Silly old me, most of the woodland creatures I meet are rather small for their size, relatively speaking, speaking of relatives my uncle Sylvestri insists that the Pixie fellow Phineas, is a no good son-of-"

"Would you mind very much, putting me down?"

"Yes but that would mean-"

I interrupted the beast, as politely as possible, after all, it had surrounded me with one hand.

"Do, please, release me"

"Yes, but I feel it only fair to explain to you-"

"Release me and we'll talk."


"At once, please." While I remained polite, I was forceful.

With a monstrous shrug, It enthusiastically dropped me into the deep, cold river.

Eternity passed and I was yanked out again. I wheezed and gasped and dripped, then it held me up in the warm sun and cool air.

"Better now?" It asked.

I was holding my breath, trying to slow my heart's thumping. The creature‘s fetid breath washed over me. I crinkled my nose in disgust.

The creature was standing knee-deep in the River, which left me dangling about two feet above it. I managed to avert my face as the talkative halatotic, began anew.

"Herbert came through here in a big hurry, about two days ago. He asked me to find you, watch out for you," The beast gave me what can only be called a grin, because of the position on it's face.

"So you've been following me through the forest?" I asked, trying to sound braver than I was.

"Yes. Your name is Nod, is it not?" The beast pulled me up further to look at me. "You suit the description Herbert gave me." He looked puzzled.

"My name is Nod. Did Herbert say anything else?"

"No, just watch for you and give you a message," He bobbed his head once, then looked puzzled again, "He was in rather a hurry."

"Message?" I inquired.

"I am trying to remember the message, even as we speak." The brute's face crinkled into a look of intense concentration.

"That would be awfully nice." I prompted. His look of concentration crinkled more.

"You could put me down now, if you'd like to. On the land, please."

The beast looked at me for a moment, then released his grip on my clothing. I landed with a thud. I wobbled to my feet, rubbing my butt.

"Yes, yes. Goodness, what an addle-pate I've become. Herbert requests that you meet him four days hence. Silly of me to forget, really, it's such a simple thing. Naturally when Herbert requested my assistance, well of course I had to say yes, after all he saved me from-"

"Meet him where?"

"That is a problem, I don't remember. Heavens I'll get so I'll forget my name next. Herbert would never forgive me if I led you awry."

"What's your name?" I was trying to be congenial, and relax the monster enough so he could remember.

"My name is Axlerod." He thumped his chest with a meaty hand. I extended my hand, imitating Herbert's odd greeting. Axlerod looked at it for a moment, then light dawned upon that hideous face. He stuck out a meat hook of a hand and crushed all the bones in my fingers.

He pumped my arm for a bit, then the light dawned again.

"Ooh! By golly, that was it. Herbert said to meet him at the West Glen of Rog." He looked incredibly pleased with himself.

"Do you know where this Glen is?"

"No. I thought you might know. Herbert said to ask for "Westkeep", he was not more detailed in his message"

"Westkeep!" It was the last thing I wanted to hear. Westkeep had many legends, and that was never good. Reports alternately claimed it was cursed, haunted, abandoned, inhabited by the spirits of the unjustly murdered, the gravesite if Drinn, the source of all evil, the source of all good, possessed by demons. Whatever the truth, nobody went there on purpose, I was sure I didn't want to go.

Ah well.

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I went through the checklist, unhurriedly. Though the trips had become rather routine for me, I was aware of the inherent danger of the situation. This was, after all, more dangerous than space travel or Scuba diving. At that, other dangerous hobbies, had established safety procedures, culled from deaths and disaster.

My little hobby did not afford me that luxury, any deaths or disasters would be mine.

So far:   Herbert = 36      D&D = 0

The list grew over the first 10 or 15 jumps. After the first few jumps, I began to bring emergency equipment with me. With each new jump, I'd add something to the list.

Things like:

  1. rope, (the very first trip)
  2. a short-wave/ AM-FM radio (yes a radio, I'll explain why in a moment),
  3. a small tool-kit, (the third trip)
  4. a first aid kit (just try to find a Band-Aid in fifteenth-century Venezia)
  5. a waterproof, metal container with strike-anywhere matches
  6. and food; in the form of canned goods (the fourth trip)

On the fifth trip, I added a can opener to the list.


Anyway, by the twentieth trip, the list had grown considerably, and so had the backpack. I surveyed myself in the hall mirror. I had a radio slung over my right shoulder and the coil of rope over my left. My left hand clutched duffel, my right clung to a tent. On my back, was a fourty pound backpack. I looked like a bad ad for a sporting goods store.

A couple of quick shrugs later, all that junk was on the ground, and I had come to a realization. I didn't need to carry this stuff, As long as I could locate it, I could send for it, when I got where I was going.


The radio started when I was visiting Mexico, in 1100. I actually zapped that to me, because of what I observed, there. It was not the barbaric tribal civilization I was expecting, quite the opposite.

After I hid all the accessories I brought (a radio was not among them), I slid through the foliage, toward the large city that was evident through the trees. I wanted to see this up close.

Imagine being able to see, with your own eyes, which parts of history are bogus - how could I resist?

The silvery ship hovered over the towering steps for a moment before dropping to it's landing spot. Admittedly, I was stunned by the inescapable conclusions I reached. It explained a good many things.

However, that is another story completely.

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Something Nasty cont'd: What happened to Herbert

I expected Nod some time ago, and it was not like him to be late without a very good reason. He was impressively responsible, for a kid. I was not going to worry about him for another eight hours.

I was practicing my archery skills, with equipment that belonged to Nod's Father. He was marvelously well equipped, for a farmer. It made me wonder; like so much else about him.

What Nod called the cottage, for instance, was actually a twelve-room structure with two sub-basements. The basements formed a column from which the bearing walls were cantilevered. Unearthed, they would resemble the tower commonly referred to as a rook.

This type of construction was not even conceived at home, until the 1300's, which was roughly eight hundred years later than the equivalent local era.

Basically the cottage was hung from the tower, which was four stories high, and made of bluish stone. The bottom two floors were buried and the top floor was the library.

In essence, it meant that if attacked, the defenders could "fall back" further into the house. The shell of the cottage could burn around them and they would remain safe in the tower.

More to the point, the Cottage included at least five outbuildings, of which only the barn was discernible from any distance. They all looked like they just grew there, of their own volition.

It was from the one Nod called the Playroom, that I procured the archery stuff. It was in a stand of trees, and I took it to be a moss-covered hillock, at first. Inside, it was the size of a high school gymnasium, and stocked with every Iron-Age weapon I could think of.

I was pondering this, as I blithely fired five arrows at a makeshift target tree. The shafts were thwacking nicely and in neat groups, I was pleased. It had been a while since I had done this.

 Starting off to retrieve the last volley, I felt relaxed. Even though I was not fond of weapons, I realized I was not in suburban America; the rules here, were different.

"Herbert?" said the little voice inside my head.

While I was debating whether to answer or ignore it, I thought of all the things that could generate voices in your head, and there were many. Only one, however, fit into the category "Voices in your head that use your first name":


"So," I thought, "if I ignore it will it go away?"

Of course the answer I expected was "-If your not crazy-"

The answer I got was: "Herbert, Talk We Need I To In/Now-You."

Well, if I were to have voices in my head, they would damn well speak proper English. The nerve of some neurosis.

My thoughts were cut short by a jolt of nausea, and a whirling, spinning sensation. It had all the earmarks of a zapping, but the dizziness puzzled me.

The wind began to pick up, scattering gear about the campsite. I reached for the tent as it skittered past, and successfully, collapsed it.

I was still holding the bow, when everything stopped and I arrived, at . . . Well, I arrived.

"Herbert It Glad Is Me To Meet, Now-You I Love You," Said the bright-purple gasbag.

To coin a phrase, "Ah well."

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My name is Herbert Gunderson. I was a misunderstood child, a mediocre student, an average husband and an utter failure at business. It's a family tradition.

Just before I was born, my father bought a factory with the family fortune. The factory made "widgets of some type or another", Father was never very clear on the details. In fact, the factory produced widgets that balanced the propellers on lighter-than-air ships. When he bought the business there were precisely fifteen lighter than air ships in the world, six of them were owned and maintained by Goodyear.

He invested in this over another company, the newly formed International Business Machines. The stock was selling for $1.00 a share.

My father was overheard saying, "Ridiculous! The typewriter has reached the height of efficiency, why design a better one?" He was also overheard describing the R-101 disaster as, "A minor setback."

In 1954, he stepped in front of a moving train. No one, including the police, thought to question the nature of his death. It was an accident. Father was a clumsy man.

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I had these terrible nightmares. Always the same dreams in the same order. The first segment is just random scenes of violence, without any sound. (I hadn't realized one could dream with sound, until I had a silent dream.) Segments three and five are more scenes of violence. The violence changes scenery and characters often, but the antagonists remain the same.

They always wore the same uniforms, silvery-gray armor festooned with gadgets. The helmets had mirrored face-shields, in which the scenes of unspeakable cruelty and horror were reflected.

In segment two there is a church. People are huddled inside, obviously in fear. They are listening to a large-screen TV, placed by the altar.

Many are holding hands, some are praying, all are intent on the well dressed, middle-aged male on the screen. He is addressing a large assembly of similarly dressed males. The lighting is harsh, the camera angle unflattering. Age and stress show through the layers of make-up.

"... so there is nothing to fear. Stay in your homes; there is no invasion. I repeat 'there is no invasion.' Local authorities are handling some unrelated disturbances in several areas of the-"

The signal reverts to a snowy fizz.

Still, the people remain intent on the screen; as the doors are beaten open, they huddle. The great oak doors thunder on the ground, soldiers with mirrored face-shields rush in. Still, the people just watch.

Soldiers in silvery-gray armor and mirrored face shields separate the people at gunpoint. All the male adults are shot immediately, dropped where they stand. Their wives and children are led outside and separated. The youngest adult females are led away first, the elderly are executed and pushed into a pile.

The remaining children are separated, male and female. All but the youngest males are castrated with a tool designed for that purpose. Designed to do it in the most efficient way, that would leave the greatest number surviving. As a cost effectiveness measure, no anesthetic was used. The screams scared the remaining children, into silence.

The rest of the dreams are worse, parts beggar my belief. Always, the guys in the mirrored helmets are the lead characters.

I spent years figuring out the symbolism, Jung, Freud (the dirty old man) you name it, I tried it. I finally came to grips with the fact of the dreams, but I still woke up trembling and cold in the middle of the night.

I believe I always had the talent. I had been programmed to believe such things were fantasy; even people who believed, didn't believe it when they saw it. When confronted with incontrovertible evidence of the fantastical, the human mind will see that with which it is familiar.

So, when the dreams got a little too real, I'd smoke a couple of bowls, and go time tripping. I set myself adrift on the river that runs in between space and time, let myself float in the Null and Void until I was drawn somewhere. Think of it as the world's greatest virtual reality game.

It was a favorite pastime of mine, lately. It was a sure cure for boredom. Usually I would land in some strange place or time on planet earth, have some fun with some of the locals, and split for home.

This time I landed in a contemporary little town. All the people were frantic in the streets, rushing about and babbling gibberish. I couldn't understand it, I'm no linguist, but those were not earth languages.

A man ran up to me in the street, he made fists around my lapels and shook me, shouting gibberish in my face. Something about the facial expression...

Several others joined him, tugging me way from the street and gibbering. One of the women shrieked and pointed, I covered my ears and watched their faces. That's when it came to me; I knew these faces. I had seen their silent screams reflected in mirrored face shields, in my dreams.

I struggled to break free of their urgent grasp. The movement of the crowd was bottlenecking at an intersection; a large silvery craft straddled the sidewalks on either side. Two or three dozen uniformed defenders were being massacred by a few soldiers in mirrored face shields. More face shields were erupting from the craft. Each of them carried a Warrior 3000, though I did not know what it was called, that was the first time I'd ever seen one.

I broke away and sprinted down some back streets. Following the thinning of the crowd, I finally found an empty alley. It was ill lit and smelled of garbage and sewage. I backed against a high wall, in the shadows. I needed to gather my wits, I was fleeing in panic.

Numb is the best way to describe my state; I knew what I had seen, I even believed it. It just didn't mean anything to me yet.

When my breathing was under control, I sketched a hasty portal on the bricks and zapped myself out of there.

Somewhere in between here and there, I realized how much money I'd wasted on psychoanalysis.

Chapter 1 Contents Chapter 3

Spatio-Temporal Dislocation

At the hatch of the silver ship, a soldier wearing a silver face shield stopped what he was doing. He touched the comm-link on his wrist, in response to the alarm.

The silver face shield jerked up and peered at the crowd. Somebody had just launched an inter-dimensional link. The catalog claimed this planet didn't have access to the S.T.D. technology.

He pressed a stud on the side of the comm-link.

"Did Central launch another S.T.D. link?"

"Negative, not from here, but I can see it."

"See if you can track it, and launch another portal." As he spoke, he jumped from the craft and ran off in the direction of the S.T.D. anomaly.


Congratulations! You found another one. Click  the asterisk for an oldie but goodie


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just left of center

The drawing was all wrong, that is, my viewpoint was all wrong. I suppose, slightly skewed would be a better term. I had returned to that spot hundreds of times, always landing in precisely the same place. I had practically worn a groove in the carpet.

I placed my anchor directly front of the Bosche; I always landed directly in front of the anchor.

I landed here instead. Here was not over there, where I should be, here was a yard left of there, and much too close to the bookcase. It was a definite miscalculation.

It had only happened once before, while zapping myself from enlightened France, circa 1600. It was one of my first few forays into time and space. I was using that same Hieronomous Bosche print as my homing beacon (it wasn't until much later I started calling them anchors.)

The Bosche print hung in the hall way, by the front door (that was the only place all three panels would fit.) I spent many smoky hours studying the picture; I could probably draw a sketch of it, freehand, from memory. So it was the perfect thing to home in on.


In 1929 in Darmstadt, Germany the Deutsche Museum was proudly displaying the original of that print. It hung in a locked, windowless room on the 1st floor. It was the only object d'art in the room. It took me a few confused minutes staring at the original to figure it out. (I still haven't figured it all out.)

After that, I was very careful what I used to home in on. I spent hours generating hand drawn geometric shapes on cards, and encasing them in Lucite®. They were not easy to memorize but they were unlikely to occur naturally. These became my anchors.

When I zapped through the fabric of reality, these designs were my homing beacons,  my anchors. I left a different one behind, each time I traveled to a new spot. I always returned to precisely the same position, with respect to the anchor. Precisely.

I recorded each design in a large leather bound notebook, and made notes beside each, as a reminder. I wanted to avoid zapping myself inside a rock, though I wasn't sure if the Universe would let me do that. I wondered at the results of such a union. Would the rock and I explode or would we be fused into a Herbert-rock and would it kill me?

Not for the last time, I wished I knew what the hell was going on.

I was trembling, pretty shaken. The prospect of becoming Herbert the Bookcase left me with my first clear realization of what I was playing with. I had always known my talent could be dangerous. I never came so close to experiencing it before.

More importantly, I realized that I wasn't alone with my gift. Someone was messing with the dimensional energy. Perhaps the bad landing was the result of an attempt to catch me. If not, the dimensional energy was very fragile indeed.

I would have to modify my ideas about dimensional travel, considerably.

Finally, after years of feeling just barely sane, my mind was vindicated. My psychotic dreams weren't dreams, they were real. Suddenly, that thought didn't make me feel much better.

While I was modifying my world-view, a familiar shimmer appeared in the air in front of the Bosche. Someone (or something) was zapping itself into my apartment, precisely where I should have landed.

I have never owned a weapon and, as I scanned the room for inspiration, I saw only books. I'm fond of books but, in a situation like this, they're no substitute for a 9mm.

I knocked the floor lamp over, in my haste. It gave me an idea, and there was no time for another. I yanked the plug from the wall, grabbed the split, worn part of the cord and freed it from the lamp.

Quickly, I grabbed the poker and tongs from the fireplace. After parting the two wires of the cord, I twisted one around each fireplace object.

I tipped over the fish tank, in front of the Bosche. Then I dropped the tongs on the floor in the puddle with the struggling fish. I shoved a couch pillow on top of the tongs. Carefully, I balanced the poker on the pillow, over the tongs.

I crawled on all fours to where the plug end of the cord lay. I had time for one deep breath as the shimmer solidified into... silver body armor and a mirrored face shield.

I pushed the plug into the receptacle.

I did not think to electrocute the poor bastard. I figured his armor would protect him from the shock. I may have been wrong about that.

The silver face shield scanned from left to right (that is; from my left to my right). As the shivering field of energy solidified, the body and the armor that encased it took on mass.

The resultant weight, of the armored foot on the poker, forced it to make contact with the tongs. That, in turn, closed the electrical circuit and started the fireworks.

I gaped at the scene, from the front hallway. The armored figure was writhing in a cocoon of flashing, sputtering light. Jagged whorls of static electricity arced to anything grounded, including me.

The soldier was twitching spastically inside the energy shimmer. As the light intensified the figure melted (collapsed, folded,) into a gooey-looking lump on the carpet.

I zapped myself out of there.


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