- Mild Mannered: Issue #10
I’m lying on my couch, holding my phone above my face. My eyes are glued to the little “Saved” counter on my profile on the Fantastik Comics website. In the time since I got home, the number had gone above 1,000.
The front door opens and closes as Kara gets home from work. The unique jangling of her keys tells me she’s carrying something in her hands.
“Jules! I bought food!” She yells out, probably assuming I’m in my room.
“I also used the money from your account to do it…” she says more quietly, not realizing I’m on the couch.
I don’t react to this though. I’m still too focused on the rising number on my profile. I have an audience now. There are going to be people looking at my art just because a stupid, haughty, well dressed stranger told them to. That’s pressure I don’t need.
“JULES!” Kara yells up the stairs.
“I’m over here.”
She pops her head in the living room, holding what looks to be takeout. We probably should have just got groceries, but I’m not exactly complaining either.
“What are you doing in here? I figured you’d be obsessing over your computer.”
“I didn’t make it that far. I got caught on my phone here.”
She sits down next to me, setting the bag of food on the table. She holds out her hand, and I place my phone in it.
The light shines and flickers across her face as she flicks down to refresh the page.
“A lot of people have been looking at your profile…”
She jumps off the couch, eyes glimmering with energy.
“This is amazing! See, you have a following now! I told you your art would be good enough!”
I snatch the phone out of her hand. I tap the screen, perform a quick search, and hand it back to her.
“It wasn’t me. It was him.”
Kara takes the phone and sifts through the artwork Tobias had submitted. She seems impressed, but her face contorts with furrowed brow.
“I don’t understand.”
I explain everything that happened at Michael’s shop while we eat. When I mention that Tobias has comic strips that go viral online, her face lights up with understanding.
“Oh! I think I’ve seen one of those. Never really thought about who drew it though.”
She pulls out her phone and starts scrolling through it likely, to show me.
“Yeah, it’s just, I don’t know how to feel about this. On one hand, this is likely the only way I was going to move forward in the contest. On the other, it feels wrong that I only got by on a chance encounter.”
Kara finishes finding the comic and hands me her phone. It looks like someone else edited the word bubbles to make a funny meme, but I don’t think I get it.
“You gotta relax, buddy. Successful people often work hard, but they all got a lucky break somewhere along the way. Maybe this is yours?”
I finish scrolling through the comic and set her phone down.
“But is this a lucky break, or is it just cheating?”
Kara throws her hands in the air.
“I give up. You’re completely hopeless.”
“Hey!” I exclaim.
Kara stands and walks away, taking her takeout box with her.
“You’re hopeless. You catch a lucky break, and decide to sit there, over analyzing it. Do you know how badly some people would love to be you right now?!”
“But I didn’t get there on my own! What kind of man am I if-”
“What are you even talking about?! ‘What kind of man are you?’” She mocks. “You’re the kind who doesn’t know what he wants, and is too afraid to go for it when he does, and when he’s forced to have what he wants, he asks if he deserves it.”
“I mean, you don’t need to say it like that.”
She sets the takeout on a counter, and turns to face me.
“What was the name of the last guy I tried going out with?”
“It was Rodrigo, right?”
I’m not sure what just happened here? What is her point?
“His name was Rodney.” Her voice is low. Quiet.
“Why does this matter? You shut him down because you thought he was boring, didn’t you?”
“Yes! But you don’t care enough about me to ask why I haven’t tried finding someone since. You haven’t asked why I started picking up more shifts.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve been sitting here worried sick about this art contest and Michael and I couldn’t tell you what my best friend was doing the last few weeks outside of work and talking me through my shit.
“Jules, my mom cut me off.”
“She wasn’t exactly happy that I dropped out of college. We’ve been going back and forth for months, but she finally pulled the trigger.”
“Kara, I’m so sor-”
“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear how sorry you are. I just want you to stop being so damn sorry for yourself.”
- The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 24
I try to push myself off the ground when I hear my protégé crash into the beast. The sound of breaking wood tells me they landed on one of the fallen bookshelves. I can’t waste too much time. I use my cane to pull myself back to my feet. Looking over, I see Con grappling with our unseeable enemy.
Well, I was going to throw him my cane to use as a weapon, but he seems too busy for that. I can only hope he doesn’t need it, seeing as it’s all supporting me right now. I struggle to move forward, needing to complete my modified ritual.
When I initially discovered this stone, the shenwu had it set in the middle of a room, with channeling energy used to create a powerful protection field. I experimented with the stone myself and found different effects the talisman could produce based on the kind of energy put into it, as well as other controlling factors, such as my chalk lines. The circles I drew crossed over each other, allowing me to push the energy from one side to the other. The intersecting lines would condense the power from the stone into a beam of light that should do more than stun our adversary. While it can’t kill the beast, I can hope for incapacitation.
I lay the talisman upon the ground in the middle of one circle. I’ll need Con to bring the monster into position to finish this, but I have to say, this kind of encounter becomes much more simple with the addition of a half-demon child on my side.
I look again to my helper. Con and the demon were having an intense battle of strength. The boy could throw a rather spectacular punch, which became especially impressive when you realize how much larger the creature is over the child.
But it was the passion that moved me most. The feral zeal with which he attacks was admirable. While his fighting was unrefined, he understood enough about the way he and his enemy act to render such training unnecessary.
Con takes both of his hands together and slams them as hard as he can into the beast, sending it flying, not entirely unlike what the demon had done to me not so long ago. The beast crashes into debris and I realize this is my chance.
“Con! Catch!” I throw the cane to the boy. Con grabs the stick in midair, looking a little perplexed in addition to the exhaustion he must feel.
“I need you to move the demon to the center of this circle,” I point to the chalk drawing with the talisman in the center, “once there, hit him with the gem on the end of the cane, while focusing your energy similar to how I had you do so with that truth spell earlier. It will electrify the beast and…”
“I got it, Branner.” And with that he jumped back into his fight.
Meanwhile, I needed to perform my end of this plan. Taking a seat on the floor in the circle opposite the trinket, I consider how to best enact my ritual. The chant I use for the talisman is a rough translation of the original Chinese words spoken to activate the stone’s mystic properties. But it’s been said that a spell spoken in the original language is stronger.
While I’ve been studying it since I first received the stone, I haven’t had a chance to test the properties. Now I need to decide whether I think the concentrated power from the English translation will be enough, or if I should attempt the Chinese phrasing in the event the extra power is needed. This beast is draining so much energy from myself and Con, that putting it down now is imperative if I hope to live to save these people.
I start chanting. In Chinese. I’m terrible, but the effect is activating. The chalk lines light up with the energy of the talisman leading me to think it will at least be equally as powerful.
Con is across the room, using something I never considered he’d might be skilled with; his agility. He leaps from wreckage to the beast itself, and lands several hits, then jumps to another destroyed bookshelf. All this taunting enrages the demon, whose attacks have become so much more violent, and yet, it works. The unbridled fury keeps the monster from refining his strikes and most importantly, keeps him from using his deadly fire eyes.
The boy is leading the beast back to my ritual. I’m keeping as close an eye on them as I can, without losing my concentration on the chant. Con’s tactics are much better than I’d have ever expected. He’s balancing his strength with his speed, attacking enough to keep the demon’s attention, but not enough to provoke an over-reaction.
His strength and agility are far beyond anything I could imagine a human has the capability to perform. Each move he takes is planned multiple steps ahead of time. His martial prowess is astounding. However, I’m reminded that each strategy and strike are learned from a life of need and want. You do not excel at violence like this without leading a harsh life.
Each step Con brings the monster towards me, echoes with the pounding of my heart. I’m worried. I’m regretting my choice of going with the Chinese chant. I should have gone with the translation I had been using. If this attack fails, I can’t guarantee we’ll make it out of this room alive.
No! I can’t think like that. The energy feeding into the talisman from myself can’t be tainted with doubt. This will work. This must work.
The beast is almost in position. Con runs right up to the demonic being and seems to slap its face. He then turns and quickly runs towards me. The monster is charging right behind him, ready to kill. Con stops right in front of me, flashes a smile and bends backwards, sending the cane right into the face of the demon. Sparks pour out from the gem, electrifying the targeted monstrosity who lets out the roar of all his agony.
I end my chant, letting the talisman do the rest of the work. The lines of chalk glow brighter when our final goal shows itself. The beam of light shoots up from the center of the second circle, piercing the enemy.
The roar of agony turns to one of pure fear as he realizes what is happening. As the light drills through the monster, portions of his being start to fade, unable to ever regrow in this realm. He pulls all his effort together to move out of the ritual, but the damage was done. He collapsed, more than likely cursing his immortality.
I let out a sigh of relief, hopeful that we can solve the rest of this mystery without further interruption. Con falls on his back, exhausted from his efforts.
“That was amazing…” he says, drifting off into unconsciousness.
“You certainly were.”
- The Elysian: Sixteenth Dream
As we reach the door, I pull out my keys.
The strange gold one that took me to the expanse of space.
The obsidian one specked with stars that brought me here.
The leafy one that seemed to loop me back here.
And finally the key of the forest. I place it in the lock and turn it. As the door opens and the familiar light shines out, I become a little contemplative.
“Let’s get going, bud!” Godemir urged. I comply and we step through.
Where will we go? A far-off field? Deep beneath the ocean? Another time? Another dimension?
The light fades and my vision comes into focus.
Or …a …diner?
I look around, doing my best to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Checkerboard tile, steel rod chairs, leather covered booths, pastel blue, and hot rod red.
Yeah, I’m in a 50’s diner. But then again, I look out the window and see nothing. Similar to when I found myself in Luna’s sky, though I get the feeling I’m not going to see the wonders of space this time. It’s just an empty black as far as my perception will go. I turn back to the inside of the building looking for a sign of life.
The furniture wasn’t covered in dust, and I could smell some kind of food, so I don’t think it’s abandoned.
“Hello!? Is anyone here?!” I yell out. I feel some fidgeting on my shoulder.
“What are you? Crazy? Don’t you know anything about stealth?” My friend was obviously not too thrilled with my brilliant tactic to find out who is in this building.
“I’m already dead, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“How about second death?”
I turn and look at the door to the kitchen. An older gentleman stood just outside of it, who definitely wasn’t there before. His hair was thinned and unkempt, but long, going to almost his shoulders. His clothes were very out of place in this building, dark rags, looked to have not been washed in ages. I would have expected him to walk with a cane to complete the Scrooge look, but it was not to be.
“Hi there! I don’t suppose you have a key to this door, do you?” I have no shame.
“You’re really just going to ask that right of way?” Godemir voiced his concern in a whisper, as he hides on my shoulder. I wave my hand at him and continue speaking with the man in the room.
“I kind of need it as soon as possible.” I reach into my pocket, ready to grab my keys in case I have to run.
The old man studies me, slowly walking closer. He stops a little ahead and pulls out a chair at one of the tables.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” His voice is deep and foreboding. And yet there’s a longing to it. Something mournful.
I shuffle a little realizing how rude I was. Luna and Puck both seemed very aware of me, but I don’t know why all these beings would. The spirit on my shoulder hops up and answers for me.
“Sorry fer my friend here. My name’s Godemir. This rude ass is Rodriguez. He’s just a foolish mortal trying to outrun death.”
“Whoa, hey, too mean,” I whisper to my ‘friend’.
“Your travels have reached my ears, Mr. Rodriguez. A soul trying to escape death. A futile pursuit. But an entertaining one to say the least.”
He takes his seat and gestures for me to do the same. I comply, keeping an eye on the door from which he appeared. Are there more people here?
“What do you guys use to communicate? I had barely left Luna and Robin Goodfellow already knew about me…”
“Do you not even understand the entities who are giving you audience? The power they possess? And they spend their time teaching you lessons and playing games. Why are you so special?”
“I dunno. You tell me. You are going to give me a challenge, aren’t you? For your key?”
He glares at me, his mind trying to find a way to not say what I know to be true.
“…Yes. My earlier question was not to say I’m unaware of you, but to say we do not know each other. We’re not friends. I owe you nothing. What purpose would I have to give you my key?”
That’s a good question. Why would these entities be giving me keys? Is it a trap? A bigger game? I couldn’t say.
“I’m sure you have one. What it is, I don’t care, so long as I can find my way to my family.”
He gives a smile and reaches into his cloak and produces a deck of cards.
“I do not suppose you are familiar with gin rummy?”