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Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Now mermaids are not like they are in the storybooks..."

Fantasy flash fiction tale

The moment she grabbed my butt I knew it was over.

I knew it was over, because she had ten-inch-long claws, and ten feet under the murky water I couldn't scream. I kicked; silt filtered around my ears, in my nose, scratching my skin. Another set of claws caught my shoulder, and the sting in my spine told me she had sharp teeth, too.

Mama had warned me not to go looking for mermaids. "They're not like in the storybooks," she'd said, her eyes distant. But with that smile tickling the corner of her mouth, of course I'd go looking! If she REALLY didn't want me to find her map of "second star to the right, and straight on til morning," she shouldn't have left it just lying around in that padlocked safe in the secret cave under her bedroom floor.

Maybe that wasn't really "just lying around."

Still, what with the slippery hands gripping my forearms and my lungs burning for lack of air, I had to blame someone. Another solid kick--my bare foot hit a scaly, slimy thing. Like a giant snake? I yelped, and mud and water flooded my throat, and my eyes jerked open. The light of the moon above me looked even further away than I'd remembered, and for a second, before I closed my eyes again, I saw the pale, toothy face, and the huge blank lidless fish eyes, just staring at me.

Okay, now I was freaked out. I thrashed, and my fist hit the creature's face--"bop them on the nose to establish dominance," Mom had said. She said that about sharks, not mermaids, but who can tell the difference, anyway? It released me, and I shot towards the surface.

I got one gulp of air before it grabbed my foot again. My fingers scraped against the rock on the shore. I heaved myself up, slipping on the algae, and bashing my knee against an underwater stone. A rough tongue scraped my knee. Oh gosh oh gosh...

Just as I got half my torso onto shore, the mermaid rocketed out of the water, grabbed the back of my head, and tried to slam my skull against the rock. A violent push-up on my part protected my sweet tender brainmeats--and knocked me back into the water.

Holy COW this was ridiculous! I squealed with repressed rage--I don't know why I bothered to repress it--

And for a second the mermaid backed off. I treaded water as she stared at me from a few feet away. The moon reflected off her heavy, seaweed-mat of black hair as I heaved. The gills in her neck flared, and blew steam. We looked at each other for a terrifying, beautiful second, just breathing, me with my lungs, her with her gills. When I blinked, she blinked, her eyelid transparent like an amphibian's. Blink. Breathe. Holy crap, this was happening. Two living creatures, connected by water, and air.

Okay, so high pitched sounds got to her! Communication, like a whale. I did it again.

She dove.

Uh-oh, I messed up. I didn't want her down there. Something brushed against my leg. Hooo boy okay I couldn't see...my heart thudded a mile a minute in my chest. I tried to control my breathing, in case she decided to yank me under again. Slowly, slowly, I treaded my way back towards the rock...

And made it to shore.

I got out, dripping, and backed away from the water's edge. There, on the sand, far behind the rocks, lay the pan-pipe I'd pinched from Mama's safe. It used to belong to a child who never grew up. Mama always said she never grew up, but I always thought she was talking about someone else...

I thought about playing it again, to see if the mermaid would come back. I liked her. It wasn't her fault she tried to drown me. It was like that otter that loved the baby duckling, and tucked it under its armpit to swim around with it, until the poor little baby duck drowned. It was ignorance, and violent love. Very violent love.

A dark cloud blotted out the stars above me as the sea breeze puffed in gusts, gusts slamming the water against the rocks. It was a bit of a stormy night, wasn't it? A night for good boys and girls, fresh from a bath, to curl up under soft, downy sheets with a book and a warm glass of milk as the rain tickled the windowpanes outside. I'd had my adventure. Time to pocket the pan-pipe and head home.

You know, Mama didn't get to have a secret cave under her bedroom floor by playing it safe.

I grinned like the mermaid, put the pan-pipe to my lips, and blew.

The End.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Parable of the Gooberlator -- with apologies to Jesus

The kingdom of atheism is like a man who took his spaceship in for repairs and began to argue with the mechanic about the part he needed.

"I've never heard of a Gooberlator," he said. "I think you're putting me on."

Because there were no gooberlators in the shop, and because gooberlators are highly sensitive, tiny, and explosive nano tech nuclear fusion generators, neither the mechanic nor the owner of the spaceship could actually see a gooberlator. However, the mechanic had installed hundreds in the past using precision instruments and the Gooberlator Instruction Manual, and he'd also experienced the effect of The Gooberlator in his own life.

"How do I know you're not crazy?" The spaceship owner went on. "I'm just supposed to listen to your testimony of something I can't see?"

"You can read the Gooberlator Manual if you like…" said the mechanic, scratching his simple head.

"Written by men! Pah," said the spaceship owner.

"Well, you can't go into space without this part," shrugged the mechanic. "I don't know what else to tell you, feller--you'll blow up in a fiery inferno if you try. The quantum engine of your ship'll trap you in a horrific time paradox where your consciousness lives forever in the moment of the explosion."

"You'd damn me to eternal torment for not believing in your Gooberlator?" the spaceship owner gasped. "How cruel! How evil, to punish someone for what they don't have enough evidence to believe!"

"It's not…I mean…" The mechanic scratched his head. "What?"

"I shouldn't be punished for not believing in something I can't see!"

"But…with all due respect sir, innit your own fault if you go to space with the wrong equipment? I can't see gravity, Imma still goin' die if I jump off a cliff."

"I have experience with gravity. Everyone has. I've never experienced this gooberlator, and for all I know you're selling me something for no reason!"

"The Gooberlator is very expensive," the mechanic sighed. He'd spent nearly his whole life savings on his. "But no one's making you go to space."

The spaceship owner pointed out the window, enraged. "Yes they are! You know as well as I do all humanity's being forced to space after the Groknak accords!"

The mechanic looked outside at the destroyed planet earth, crawling with zombies, aliens, man-eating plants and such. Somewhere in the distance a harpy ate a guy, and a volcano erupted. "Oh, yeah, I forgot." He realized the spaceship owner was right, that truly in this world the only certainties are space and taxes. Space, with her scythe and hood, comes to us all. Space waits for no man. Oh space, where is your sting…

"Well, if you have to go to space, you have to have a gooberlator," said the mechanic.

"Look, there are as many spaceship parts and parts-sellers as there are world religions. How do I know your Gooberlator is the right one?"

"Well, I reckon you can do what I did and research them all. You'll have to buy a catalog about each part, and study it, and learn its function and the reasons it ultimately doesn't work as a life-saving nuclear stabilizer combo power-generator. You'll read a lot of debate, and you're right, there are liars out there who try to sell fake parts. That's why you do your homework, and find a trusted mechanic."

The spaceship owner honestly paused for a moment. He didn't need to tell the other what they both already knew: because of Earth's electro-pollution dome, there was no way to get communication from the refugees currently in space to find out how their ships had turned out. People were fleeing the planet almost as fast as they were being born, and they never came back. So all the research was very model-based, and even thinking about trying to do that much research made the space owner clearly dizzy.

The mechanic looked at the owner with kind eyes, and said, gently, "You know, you can sometimes tell how well these ships work by running them here in the atmosphere. It's not foolproof, but you could buy a gooberlator, and see how much better your ship holds up in storms, and how its glow lights up the night sky, and keeps you on a straight course when you don't know where to go. I love my Gooberlator. 'Course the experience is different for errybody. You can always return it later."

"I'm not gonna let you take my money and mess with my ship for anything that's not certain," said the owner. "And nobody like me has time for all that silly reading you're talking about--the Gooberlator Manual, plus all the other major texts in the world? My time is money!"

"I reckon if you take the time just to read the Gooberlator manual with an open mind, that'll be enough…"

"And if it's not?" the wanna-be spaceman scoffed. "I'd have to become a full-on mechanic to really know for sure!"

"You could just talk to your friends who got gooberlators, and see how they like 'em so far..."

"But anecdote means nothing!" The owner shouted.

The mechanic squinted. "Isn't that the way you pick most things, though? Your doctor, your lawyer, your lamp on Amazon Space Prime, even your vote for Evil Dictator Space President--don't you usually read some reviews, look up some tech specs, and talk to people who've experienced it to make the choice?"

The owner blinked. For a second, he realized his hypocrisy, but that made him uncomfortable so he quickly quoted something he'd seen once in an angry youtube rant: "Improbable claims require extraordinary evidence. Hmpf!"

The mechanic scratched his head again. "Who's deciding what's improbable, here? We live in a world where they're all growing pancreases in peetree dishes, talking to each other long-distance on little hand boxes, riding flying machines, building computers that almost act like people, and swapping their organs around between bodies. All of those things got called improbable at one time or another, so what makes the Gooberlator more improbable than the Higgs Boson?"

"People have seen the Higgs Boson!"

The mechanic rubbed his mustache, thoughtfully. "Are you sure? With their eyes?"


"I…don't think that's true, and if it is, more people than've seen the Higgs Boson claim to have seen God--I mean, the Gooberlator. I reckon most of us don't have the eyes for that, though." The mechanic saw the spaceship owner about to open his mouth again, and it was way past lunchtime, and the mechanic had a long line of people waiting who did want gooberlators, so he decided to end the conversation. "I'm sorry, sir," he said. "I gotta get back to work."

"By all means, go! Don't try to sell me any more crap!"

The mechanic began to walk away, to take the grimy tunnel from the shop out to the garage. He paused at the magnetic door to look back over his shoulder. "You know, you will go to space one day, whether you're ready or not. Wouldn't it be better to do all that hard research now, and find the Gooberlator before it's too late?

Or do you really plan on coasting your whole life, and then taking off into the unknown without making sure you're truly prepared?"

Jen Finelli writes more offensive parables like this here and here. If you'd rather read horrorscience fiction, or literary flash, click on the word you prefer! Be warned that the horror is truly horrible, the science fiction is very nerdy, and the lit flash very experimental. This is the home of the weird. If you liked this story, please share! Wicked souls like Jen's feed off that kind of thing.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Flip Flap Floodle: A New "Classic" Nursery Tale

Hey guys! I just got finished reading Flip Flap Floodle by Joan Y. Edwards, a sweet little children's story for reading aloud to preschool/nursery age kids. It features a little duck who plays a flute, which is a pretty cute idea for a protagonist. The little duck meets many different kinds of people along his journey to musical greatness: those who are too busy with their own song to pay attention to him, those who recognize his talent and encourage him--and those who eat him.

"Wait, what?"

Yeah, no lie. That's one of the reasons I said this story would make a good addition to the classic repertoire of nursery rhymes. It's got that good old-fashioned scare you get from the three little pigs, or the original Red Riding Hood, and it's full of sweet little ditties and sounds that will make little kids laugh. It understands the consequence-free mentality of a child, while sharing the heartfelt themes parents might even need to hear again themselves (especially if you're a writer or an artist): never give up, and never stop playing your own little song.

Oh, and it's super-cute.

You can pick up Flip Flap Floodle on Amazon at the link above, and you should click on Joan's name to learn more about her! She's a very sweet, positive, and supportive person, and you can also read an interview with her here, where she shares some encouraging tips for burgeoning writers, and tells the story of how Flip Flap Floodle came to be. (Its origin is really sweet.)

Happy reading!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Artist Highlight: The artists of Oahu (My Travel Diary)

Hey there! Blog's been quiet for a bit, hasn't it?

Kewala Barim - Vida mia by Rebecca Snow

As you may have heard on twitter, I'm still pausing our Soul-Linker series to do some mental cleansing of the concept, but that will be back soon. In the meantime, I've been exploring some great art from across the USA (and the world), and I'd love to do a quick series celebrating artists!

For the first little highlight, I want to invite you to visit Hawaii through the images of Rebecca Snow and Patrice A. Federspiel. Both of these ladies immigrated to Hawaii from the mainland and fell so much in love with its colors and stories that they've dedicated their work to its beauties and become kama aina, or "of the land," which means they've completely adopted Hawaii as home over many years.

Rebecca specializes in tropical, multi-colored interpretations of the island's surfer girls, which are her most popular creations. She also enjoys translating views of her favorite spots on Oahu into splashes of orange, pinks, and all the other colors of laughter. Here are a few more of her pieces I have hanging in my home.

She labeled all the girls after ladies in our family!
These trees are my favorite.
You can buy Rebecca's art at several stores on the island--just ask the local art shop if they carry Rebecca Snow--or if you can find her online at rebeccasnowart.blogspot.com. On a personal note, Rebecca accomplishes her pieces despite fighting some tough medical battles, which makes the joy and exuberance in the images even more touching. It's much harder for self-employed artists to deal with things like health insurance, so whenever you purchase someone's art, you're contributing to their well-being, as well as your own.

Wellness and its association with color is a common thesis of Patrice's work. She sells most of her work with attached thoughts on personal well-being, occasionally sharing recipes as well, and in her personal life she gardens a portion of her own food. Her husband, Keanu, runs a tour guide service all around the island of Oahu, and I had the opportunity to enjoy some of his expertise and hospitality (for free? What?) while I was stationed there for military duty. Keanu's tours last the whole day, are fully customizable to riders' needs, and include literally any snacks and drinks (alcoholic or otherwise!) that riders request, at no extra charge. He's much more flexible (and his van can enter more hidden places) than any of the larger, more corporate tour services, which often only take you to a few scattered, well-known spots you could've found yourself. The best part of Keanu's tours? He gives away one of Patrice's prints to each rider. (Are you kidding me? Free art, yes please!) I picked up these little numbers on my trip.

These pictures, to me, really evoke feminine strength. I was really torn between the mountain-woman you see here and a glorious, sun-rise-evoking pineapple painting, which you can hopefully find online by visiting Patrice's website.

That brings me to another artist who celebrates female strength in Hawaii: Rose Adare. I didn't get to meet Rose, but I saw some of her pictures in an art gallery and I just wanted to share the find with you. You can see her art by clicking on the picture below!
At the same gallery I also got to see the work of Colin Redican. He's got some pictures with a slight Dali-esque surrealist quality, and his nudes are incredible and weird. You can find his work by clicking on his picture below:

And finally, I saw several pieces by Ed Furuike. His stunning landscapes are all done with a very impressionist-inspired style, and he's got one starry night that's really a Hawaiian-fusion Van Gogh. You can find him here:

Unfortunately, I lost the names of some of the other wonderful artists whose work I enjoyed, so you missed out there, but I'll try to collect more next time I go. In the meantime, check out Patrice and Rebecca, and let me know if you have some favorite Hawaiian artists you'd like me to highlight! Leave a note below!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 10

Previous post here

Beginning here

When the desert falls away before you at the top of the hill, a blue seascape takes your breath away. Below you, a cliff-face drops down to groves and groves of deep jade trees flecked with oranges, and a port town of bronze and umber, leather-colored roofs creeps out right to the edge of the water. The town seems sea-hungry, with boardwalks and piers fingering out into the waves as if the whole brown port might just crawl out into the sea like an octopus going home. You can almost imagine it cluttering across the water towards the turquoise and rose-pink horizon, and then sinking to crawl on the bottom of the sea…

You look behind you, at the arid sand-dunes as their tips swirl into the dry wind. Melly comes up behind you, and then clambers up a rise above you. Her half-ponytail blows in the wind as she crosses her arms over her chest and strikes up a Captain Morgan, looking for all the world as if she just conquered all she surveys. "We'll stop and buy some tincture of time here," she says.

"Tincture of time?" You repeat, imagining potions that freeze the clock, or slow down your enemies…you hope it's not just an expression.

"It's a bit complex, y'see," Melly says, starting to climb down the cliff-face. "Humans ain't s'posed to control time, only control our selves, in time. We're its ally, not its master--think riding the horse bareback, instead'o'tryin' to beat it into submission with saddles and bits and bridles and clocks. The tincture of time's like the horse's carrot."

You don't understand the metaphor at all, but warm breath and soft little humid horse whiskers play in your memory over your palm. The last time you fed a horse was…when was that? Did that really happen? You distinctly remember a wide, green pasture, splinters in an old ocher fence, and the galloping of hooves, the musty scent of manure, and the slime left on the carrot as the huge teeth nibble and nibble away…

It's weird how you have memories that may or may not be yours.

"You comin'?" Melly calls from down below you. 

"Why don't you use your jetpack?" you shout down.

"Shhhh! Swearing's illegal here!" 

"Huh?" You glance down the cliff, and then left along the slope of the hill where the desert meets the edge of the sky-and-water view. Maybe it's time to put those long-distance hiking skills to the test, because you won't be climbing down after Melly any time soon.

"I'll meet you at the bottom," you say, and with that, you break off on your own.

Meet the Tincture of Time, and discover what swearing has to do with Melly's jetpack! Next week.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 9

You and Melly now stand alone in the empty village square, surrounded by half-devoured candy houses. Syrup sparkles in the sunlight. Sprinkles slide to the ground off a nearby roof that's got a big, slimy chunk bitten out of it.

"Were the people made of candy, too?" you wonder.

"They were. Gingerbread people. Folks say that's why they were so dang militant," Melly says. "But you can be militant without wiping each other out, I say. I'm militant as heck."

"What do you mean, militant?"

"Well, if you were made o' edible stuff, you'd be armed all the time, right?"

"Aren't we all edible stuff to someone?" you ask.

"Sure, and do you hang out unarmed with those someones? Bears or whateva."

"Sure, if there's mutual trust there."

Melly rolls her eyes at you. "Wrong answer. Trust but verify, I always say. Ain't nothin' better to verify with than a good ole laser-sword. Anyhoo, so they did well for a while, but they didn't count on the slime in their DNA. 'Member how I told you it's gotten into errything in our world? Well, they didn't defend against that. So their protectiveness turned to jealousy, to paranoia, until they jumped at erry little thing. Fear's mighty dangerous."

"And they wiped each other out." You gasp in realization, almost smirking, because the image of primal, horrified chaos, of men and women running through the streets with axes, families eating each other alive as votes are taken on who's the traitor, children huddling in the dark as insane caretakers hunt and whisper "I know you're a monster, I know, I won't let you eat my children"--the whole thing seems different when imagined through the lens of gingerbread people.

Melly begins to trudge through the village streets again, pressing onward again, and you follow. You contemplate asking her if you can break off a roof to carry in your pocket, but you realize very quickly that would be disrespectful, and you hold your tongue and your half-smirking laughter at bay. This place exists to petrify, to mark the memory of the little candy people who went insane here. You've got to learn to respect that.

"I'm surprised you're not mad at him," Melly says presently.

"Mad? Why would I be mad?"

"Took your agency and all that. Didn't let you save yourself. You're the protag an' all." Melly shrugged.

You look around at the deserted streets. It's hard to be mad when someone saves you from goo-assimilation! If anything, you're mad he didn't save all the little candy people. 

But then again, isn't she right? Aren't you supposed to be the master of your own story, opening your own doors? "Yeah, well, I am mad," you say, with not even a quarter of your heart in your puffed-up voice. "We had it under control."

Melly smiles and looks up to the sky, and you have a distinct feeling you've fallen into her trap. You hunch your shoulders, and search for something to say back at, not to, her. Something slimy whispers in your ear, and you find the perfect thing: guilt.

"You said you'd warn me before something bad came up. Trigger warning and such--you have a 'sense' for these things, you said." Your voice is cold.

"What, is black goo triggering for you?" She says almost everything in the same even tone, so it's hard to know if she's making fun of you or not. You glare at her, and you catch a sympathetic look back. "Nah, I mean it. I'll warn you if something that's triggerin' comes up. Most folks from your world don't got experience with slime waves. If anything, I had ta warn me." She stares towards the end of the street, hunches her back, and sighs. "I am sorry I snapped atchoo back there, though."

You almost don't remember what she's talking about. "Oh, when I ate the roof."

"Like with many, many snaps through history, the thing I snapped about wa'nt what I was really mad about, Mera. Didn't like how you talked about the Master of the Caves. He's my best friend. I'm not sorry for bein' mad. But I shouldn't of snapped."

You shrug. "It's not healthy to hold in anger."

"'S'not healthy to blast it out, either. There's a way to let it out without lettin' it take charge."

"Well. I'm not mad." You wipe sweat off your forehead--you've gotten to the edge of the village now, and a heat-wave hits you as you're back in the desert. You look back, and realize there's something keeping the candy-town cold--preserved, remembered. "While we're having this heart-to-heart, though, can you answer a question for me?"

"Mebbe." Melly sounds friendly enough, so you go for it.

"Why'd you get upset the first day, when I asked if you were a story character?"

Melly narrows her eyes and shakes her head. Okay, you get it. You drop the subject and pick up another one. This one's stringy, and long, and you pull it and see the past and the future, holding together the story you're in. A good subject. "Where are we off to, now?" you ask.

"We'll cross through the Jungle of Questioning Worms, and then we got one more stretch o' valley between us and the center. There I'll show you the lab, and you'll have had a good view o' what the slime's doing in our world, and then maybe you can use your ecology expertise to come up with a solution."

"Sounds good," you say. But you glance at the burnt, raised welts on her ankle, and suddenly you wonder if you've got what it takes. You glance back at the empty town behind you. Mist rises from it, obscuring the desert sun. The details of the candy houses disappear into the fog, and a shiver runs down your spine.

See you next week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Black and White Exclusive Just For You!

Hey folks! Got a special treat for you--you can download full size, if you want. It's the continuation of the story over at becominghero.ninja, and I had a trouble deciding between b&w and color, so here's the pure, un-colored one, just for you!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 8: In which your agency is briefly borrowed by someone else

Last week's adventure here

Part 1 here

The wave of slime crashes down towards you and your flamethrower. You're a tiny candle as the darkness plunges down, waving your flickering flame in circles above your head--

Something surfs under the crest of the crashing wave, something glowing and muscular, speeding towards you, racing to beat the fall of the slime. Before you can decide whether it's friend or foe it crashes into you, a solid warmth wraps around you, and you're rocketing through the closing tube of goo together as a pro-surfer one. The light at the end of the tunnel starts to go out--you zip out of the wave, surfing along a rooftop, just in time. 

"You've got a better angle to fire from here!" he shouts as he skies away, down the slope of goo trailing along the building, over into the street where Melly struggles with her ankle. She's surrounded by black slime; her face lights up as she sees him approach, but you can't quite make him out--you see a back, and shoulders, and it's almost like looking into a kaleidoscope. 

But you turn to focus, because the goo's coming up the house, and you're swinging your flamethrower as it tries to lick at your feet. The goo squeals and squelches. You hold it back. It tries to loop around behind you. You've got your little circle of clean, but it's creeping…creeping…

The surfer glances at Melly, and although the face isn't clear you can distinctly see, or feel, an "oh well" smirk cross his face. He raises his hand, and throws a golden rock.

The rock lands in the center of the goo, and with roaring, slurping scream, rushing past you from every corner of the little gingerbread town, the goo sucks into the stone.

You climb gingerly down the side of the candy house, and bend over by the stone. It's no longer golden. It's black, and swirling, like a nebula trapped inside a glass.

"Whoa." You look at Melly, and not at the weird kaleidoscope-man. "We could use this."

Melly shakes her head as she rises to her feet, and points--and you see a new blackened scar wrapped around her ankle like angry Henna. "It can't get the slime outta livin' things, not without killin' 'em. We think mebbe the goo's encodin' itself into the introns in our DNA."

She picks up the rock, and when you turn to look, the kaleidoscope man is gone. She grins, sighs, and puts the rock in her pocket. 

"Who was that?" you ask.

"That?" Melly smirks. "That was why I got mad at you back there. That's my best friend, and you were talking' crap about him." 

You didn't recognize him. He's hard to really…see. "That's the Master of the Caves?"

"That's the Master of the Caves."

See you next week.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 7: In Which You Use Your Flame-Thrower

Last week's adventure here
Part 1 here

You've explicitly asked me not to violate the great Bechdel test record you had going by including your conversation with Melly about the sandal'd Master of the Caves. It would slow down the story anyway, so I'll acquiesce, this once.

I can summarize it in one sentence, though: you don't like him.

Melly shrugs as you reach the end of the desert and, consequently, the end of your conversation.

"Oh my gosh," you interrupt yourself. "Is this a town made of candy?"

Melly glares at you.

"What? Have I offended some local custom?" Is this like when you thought Melly was a fairy or a space dwarf just because she was short? "Do they think candy is a diminutive term for their valuable architectural achievements? I don't mean it that way!"

Melly glares more.

"Or are their customs an offense to you? Are bright colors and simple shapes some kind of obscenity where you come from?" You're trying to wrap your head around Melly's glare, and it's only intensifying as she tightens her vest around herself and marches down a street that to you seems to be laid with swirled red and white mints instead of cobblestones.

"Wait, is it me? Are you upset that I'm so naive about your world as to think you people would make stuff with sugar?"

Melly almost groans aloud. You can't help but pick a marshmallow off a lady's windowsill, and you find it's sweet and squishy just as you thought.

"Wait, it's totally sugar! Why are you judging me?" you ask.

Melly moans, finally stopping now to catch you mid-reaching-for-another-bite. "Oh heck no, you did not just eat a windowsill," she says.

"It's your fault!" you cry. "You're glaring at me! I get nervous when people glare at me, and when I get nervous I get sugar cravings!"

"You're jus' the kinda person I don't ever wanna be," Melly mutters.

You don't respond to that. You're taken aback by the sudden disgust from someone who's supposed to be your wise guide. It's like a betrayal. It hurts.

She goes on, as if just in case you thought it was an accident: "In any way." And she turns to keep walking.

When suddenly her step lands in a shadow.

The shadow squelches.

"Oh, snap," Melly says.

The shimmering goo's spread all over the street--you see it now, thin, almost transparent, but it's the same black goo that possessed the tree, the maiasaura-killer, now suckling on the sweet graham cracker rooftops and gum-drop bushes with a rhythmic, undulating pulsation and sttttthhhhh sound--

And it's growing up Melly's ankle!

You scream and the flame-thrower comes to life. You're attacking the goo on the street, rounding Melly, trying to cut the portion on her off from the greater body of slime. It shimmers off the roofs, slurps off the bushes, no longer spreading itself thin as it gathers into one mass--one mass bigger than you, bigger than this whole little town, towering over your tiny spurt of flame.

You're pulling the trigger with one hand and holding the weight of the hot barrel with the other hand as the whole contraption shudders in your arms, shaking your whole small form. You feel yourself jiggling, jiggling like the slime rising above you like jello, like the jello you saw in the cave, wait is the cave-master the creator of the slime, is--oh gosh it's hot around you, the thing is bubbling, the goo is melting, it's--but it's still on her leg!

Melly's behind you now, and kicking her ankle against the mint-stones. "Whatchoo lookin' at?" she yells. "Don't look at me, look at that!"

You whirl. The wave of slime crashes down towards you.

I'll see you here next week.