Tagged: brother

Looking at the Scalpel

  • by jennot in any way compromise your sister
  • three sons and two daughters
  • rural lava fields
  • asked Henri how his vacation was going
  • now that I’ve read it

Tune in next time part 213                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

Looking at the scalpel I remembered my father’s last words to me, Jason, Jim, Jemma, and Jemima: “I would not in any way compromise your sister against her wishes. You know how Freya is. She’s game for anything! I can’t believe that of all my children I have three sons and two daughters who are so uptight and inhibited. You five should try to be more openminded like your other siblings. Why, when I was a youth in the rural lava fields of Iceland, it was anything goes! Our little village was a popular holiday destination for broad-minded Frenchmen, and they taught me much. It was always educational when I ‘asked Henri how his vacation was going‘– if you know what I mean. But you handed me this petition, and now that I’ve read it I think that you don’t, in fact, know what I mean.”

He shook his head and expelled the lot of us from the Oval Office. I don’t know about my siblings, but I never saw my father again.

Until today.

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Standing Just Inside the Door

  • by jengirl with brown hair
  • People do.
  • no one knows where he went
  • “There are balloons.”
  • thinking it was kind of funny

Tune in next time part 207                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

Standing just inside the door was a girl with brown hair and a bright orange pinkie on her left hand. That was a sign that she was a very high ranking Pinkie Swear, and also tough. She’d endured the agony of having her entire little finger tattooed a shade of orange too bright for most hunters to look upon. It’s hard to believe that anyone would voluntarily do that, but people do. People do.

“I can tell you’re not Jason,” she said, taking in my crocs, “but you’re probably looking for him. He was here about half an hour ago and no one knows where he went. We were preparing to celebrate his tattoo ritual,” she gestured around the black-lit room. “There are balloons.”

“Yes there are,” I agreed. The floor was knee deep with them, all glowing under the unnatural illumination.

I was thinking it was kind of funny that the Pinks expected Jason to pledge fealty, when for as long as I could remember he’d been more of a thumb wrestling kind of guy. Back at the Academy, he’d been thumb wrestling champion four years running.

If there’s one thing my association with my twin had taught me, it was that you should never trust a thumb wrestler. It takes a certain psychopathy to excel at the sport.

Had Jason’s foray in this group been benign? Was he merely studying this foreign faction the way Dian Fossey studied gorillas? Or had his mission been more sinister?

I looked around at all the fanciful balloons. What might Jason have hidden beneath their glowing childish joy?

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I Didn’t Want to Take the Proffered Hand

  • by jenget your hands out of your pockets
  • — or a lover
  • Are you two brothers?
  • notwithstanding the absurdity
  • Then things got worse.

Tune in next time part 203                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

I didn’t want to take the proffered hand until I knew to whom it belonged. For all I knew these clowns had jeweled daggers of their own and wanted to use them on me. I hauled myself higher.

“What the?” said the voice above me. “Are you climbing with your toes? It’d go a lot faster if you’d get your hands out of your pockets.”

There was something so familiar about the voice. Did it belong to an enemy — or a lover? I had so many of each, and many people qualified as both.

I finally did pull my hands from my pockets so that I could grab the floor where these mystery individuals stood and haul myself out of the shaft. I found myself face to face with my identical twin, Jason. Beside him stood a man I’d never seen before.

“Hey wow,” the stranger said. “Are you two brothers?” He elbowed Jason. “You never told me Charlie was your brother.”

“Never seen this guy before,” Jason said without his lisp.

“But he looks just like you!”

Things were looking up, notwithstanding the absurdity of pretending I didn’t see the resemblance between myself and my twin.

Then things got worse.


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If I Went Back the Way I’d Come

  • by jensitting there, all puckered up
  • there was this guy there
  • surreptitiously unbutton the top of your shirt
  • It was implied.
  • “Truly.”

Tune in next time part 201                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

If I went back the way I’d come I’d end up in the rocket surgery with Jim, the Professor’s girlfriend, and the remains of poor Absinthia. I hated the thought of seeing her sitting there, all puckered up and bloody, so I began to search for another exit. There were no other visible doors, but perhaps there was a hidden passageway. I ran my hands along the walls, feeling for seams, and eavesdropping on Jim’s conversation.

“But who was that guy?” asked a feminine voice, probably the Professor’s one-legged girlfriend.

“What guy?” drawled Jim.

“When I got here with the ransom note, there was this guy there with your sisters!” the woman said. “I saw him!”

“I didn’t see a guy,” Jim lied. Whatever his reasons for lying, he was doing me a favor. I kept up my search. Maybe he was in on the Professor’s kidnapping.

“Don’t you surreptitiously unbutton the top of your shirt at me, Jim,” the woman said. “I’m not going to be distracted by your muscles and all of your sexy chest hair. You can’t seduce your way out of this one.”

“Who says I’m trying to seduce you?” Jim purred.

It was implied. By the striptease. And by the way you’ve got your hands on my hips now.” She sounded distracted.

“I’d never use sex as a distraction,” Jim said. “Truly.”

I heard kissing noises.

Just then my fingers found a hidden button near the top of the wall, which, when pressed, caused a panel to slide open, revealing a fire pole. The problem was I was standing at the base of it. I peered up into the darkness above, trying to gauge how high it was and whether I had the strength to climb it.

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I Heard No One Else

  • by Kentdecided to sit down and use my legs to
  • parched and cracked
  • silent graveyard barren of trees
  • and all to no purpose
  • Your brain forges a link

Tune in next time part 196                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

I heard no one else in the rocket surgery, and if the clamorous calamity that finished off Dr Belladonna hadn’t drawn Jim’s attention I didn’t have any theories as to what would. With luck that meant he wouldn’t turn up.

The paralytic had not fully worn off, even after my nap, so I decided to sit down and use my legs to get the pants on in a bicycling motion. The shirt and jacket I donned without using my legs at all. The shoes matched the outfit splendidly, but there was no way I could cram my parched and cracked feet into the tiny wingtips. Yoda’s Crocs were infinitely less stylish and didn’t coordinate at all, but they were better than going barefoot.

My plan was to find a way back to the surface, and hope not to encounter Jim along the way. I found another door and opened it to reveal a moonlit, silent graveyard barren of trees. How could that be? It couldn’t. What I’d taken for headstones were paper shredders, dozens of them arranged in rows throughout the large room. The full moon was merely a large, round fluorescent bulb.

“Figured it out yet, big brother?” Jim’s amplified voice seemed to be coming from the false moon. “You’ve gone and killed Absinthia, and all to no purpose.”

“That was an accident, one she brought on herself,” I muttered. I had no way to know if he could actually hear me.

Another eerie, echoey transmission boomed out in Jim’s bayou drawl. “Don’t imagine you know Jason’s whereabouts? Save me some time and trouble. Since there’s no way out of here, I can go ahead and spell out what I have planned, and you won’t be able to stop me. Twins, such as you and Jason, you know what happens under the perfect conditions? Your brain forges a link to his.”


“And once that happens,” Jim said, “I’ll have what I need to defeat Mother once and for all.”

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My First Impulse Was to Flee

  • by jenninja assassin on the prowl in west LA
  • twine marks on only one wrist
  • they said he was not the type of person
  • scabs and scars
  • “What’s the matter?” screamed the ladies.

Tune in next time part 195                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

My first impulse was to flee the scene as quickly and quietly as a ninja assassin on the prowl in west LA, to get far away from the stench of burnt flesh, and all of the blood. But I had been on the run for so, so long, and I was exhausted. I felt like a man with twine marks on only one wrist, which is the Contrarian way of saying ‘burning the candle at both ends.’

I locked the door to the rocket surgery to make sure no one walked in on me while I slept, then I curled up on the operating table and took a nap. When people described my brother Jason, they said he was not the type of person who could sleep just anywhere, that he was very finicky about where he bedded down, but they would never say that about me. The slab of stainless steel was an island in a sea of Absinthia’s blood, and upon it I slept like a baby.

When I awoke, I spent a few minutes counting all my scabs and scars, cataloging the myriad ways I now differed from my twin. It wasn’t just our sleep habits that would enable people to tell us apart any longer.

Self-examination complete, I leapt from the table and onto Absinthia’s desk chair. My momentum and the chair’s excellent casters carried me away from the gore, and around a corner. Here was Absinthia’s apartment, replete with bed and shower. If only I’d explored last night I could have slept in comfort. At least I could still get clean.

After my ablutions, I rifled through Absinthia’s closet, hoping to find something a little more dignified than my calico pinafore. In addition to the doctor’s clothes, none of which would fit me, I found a cache of men’s clothing that fit me a little too well. It was as if they’d been tailored for me, which meant they’d probably been tailored for Jason. But the shoes were too small.

“What’s the matter?” screamed the ladies. That’s what I call my intuition, my gut feelings. ‘The ladies’ had never let me down. And right now they were trying to tell me something important. If the shoes were too small for me, they were too small for Jason. That meant, the ladies assured me, that these clothes had been tailored for my younger brother Jim.

I froze.

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Dramatis Personae

r-avatarFaithful blog readers have no doubt lost hours of their lives reading our chain story, cleverly titled Tune In Next Time. Since it’s been going on for more than a year and the cast has grown by leaps and bounds, we decided it was time to develop something of a cheat sheet. And here it is, without further ado.

Our Protagonist: Though we have yet to learn this man’s name, we have learned many interesting facts about him. His mother was a two-term US president before several scandals forced her to retire. Now his younger brother Thor holds that office. His father was presumed dead in some sort of sex scandal that is related to both the president leaving office and a cataclysm that merged the Great Lakes into one and obliterated several states. Our hero is part-Indian, immune to jellyfish stings, and spent at least part of his childhood in a cult. He is a graduate of the Hopscotch Academy who wound up in a career involving both crime and espionage. He sometimes uses the codename Ludovico, sometimes Winifred. He has the layout of at least one Hall of Mirrors memorized, and can imitate any kind of bird or beast.

New facts about our protagonist: His name is five syllables long, but we still don’t know what it is. As per family tradition, he was born at the North Pole. He learned everything he knows about stealth during his time as a stowaway on a tramp steamer in the South China Sea. Unlike his twin, he can sleep anywhere. He has blue-gray eyes and a super hairy chest. There is a tattoo hidden under his chest hair, given to him by Tessa. It contains, naturally, a hidden message. While at the Academy he was a member of the Ninja Defense League to learn how to defend against ninjas, and learned how to control the minds of others through an odd vocal technique he calls “hypnotoading,” and also how to break through most hypnotic trances. He is not English. He refers to his intuition as “The Ladies.”

He has a twin brother, a wife, and many former lovers, all dangerous.

His family: Our protagonist has a large family. They own an inflatable woman factory, and it is rumored that all the men in the family have a certain exotic compound in their semen.

  • ZsaZsa – Mother: Her name is ZsaZsa, but Father always called her Ralph. Like her husband and most of her children she was born at a military facility. She is a former US President who now pulls the strings and rules from the shadows. Her sprawling plan for world domination is called The Brontosaurus by Tessa and our protagonist. She was removed from office following the infamous White House Sex Scandal that resulted in her husband’s presumed death, and a scheme to bomb Contraria’s enemies and make it look like an accident. She is the current Ambassador to South Dakota. She employs ninjas in her schemes and machinations. She was last seen at a breakfast-themed strip club in Harmonia, near the airport.
  • Jack – Father: Turns out our hero’s father isn’t dead after all. His name is Jack. Like his wife and most of their children he was born at a military facility. He’s mixed up with the Contrarians in a bid to either become President of the United States (of Australia), or found his own rogue nation. Whatever his plans, he’s blowing through his whole treasury to pay for prostitutes. Jack spent his youth in the rural lava fields of Iceland. He has never been convicted of anything, or even charged, but many people call him The Devil. At one point in time he dated his ex-girlfriend’s sister, daughter, and niece at the same time. His faked death involved being run over by a backhoe. He signals his cohorts through the use of a linen pocket square because he is allergic to silk. Wants the protagonist’s help to defeat John and Tessa, but is refused. Last seen engaged in group sex with Esmerelda, Cleopatra, and Darlene in a black velvet room in an unnamed country.
  • Aunt Züg: Mom’s twin sister. Last seen impersonating Mom and plotting to exploit the Pirate-Ninja alliance in naval action against North Dakota.
  • Thor: Our protagonist’s younger brother, and current president of the United States. Often utilizes his twin sister as a body double. He is married to Tallulah, and thinks he is the father of Svetlana’s child by the protagonist. His sometime lover is professional wrestler Great Hammer, but they are currently on the outs. Made enemies of the militant vegans through meat-based legislation. Was last seen in their clutches aboard the presidential zeppelin above the Contrarian city of Pittsburghistan.
  • Freya: Thor’s twin, our protagonist’s younger sister. Despite being different genders, they are nearly impossible to tell apart when dressed. Played a part in the sex scandal that “killed” her father and got her mother thrown out of office. Has hypnotic powers. Got her training at a ranch in the high desert. Last seen making out with a Santa lookalike in an arctic spa in Pittsburghistan.
  • Jason: Our protagonist’s identical twin brother, and America’s #1 wedding rapper. He has a lisp, which is a good way to tell the brothers apart. Was thumb-wrestling champion at the Academy for four years running. Even though he was a terrible student, he seems somewhat adept at codes. Is in love with Kelly, who does not seem to return his affections proportionately. Perhaps is aligned with Tallulah, Taylor, Tara, and Tanya. May have been inducted into the Pinkie Swears. Last seen in a submarine in the Academy’s secret submarine dock.
  • Jim: Our protagonist’s younger brother, and the only twinless sibling in the family. He is a triplet, along with Jemima and Jemma. He has a southern drawl, small feet, and lots of theories about twins. Like most of the family he has a grudge against Mother. He claims to never use sex as a distraction while using sex as a distraction. Last seen in Dr Absinthia Belladonna’s subterranean apartment/laboratory, making out with the Professor’s unnamed girlfriend. Once worked in a bank with Kelly, the love of Jason’s life, and slept with her. Has a wife named Esmerelda.
  • Jemima: One of the triplets. Wears a dashing green and blue cardigan. Is currently drugged by Jim and under his control. Last seen locked in Dr Absinthia Belladonna’s bedroom with Jemma.
  • Jemma: One of the triplets. As the youngest female in the family she is promised to the Guild of Fire Eaters, and has the tattoos on her spine and ribcage to prove it. Wears a dashing green and blue cardigan. Is currently drugged by Jim and under his control. Last seen locked in Dr Absinthia Belladonna’s bedroom with Jemima.
  • Jinx Damocles: Our hero thought Jinx was his Great-Uncle, when in reality he is his step-grandfather. Is missing his left arm and only has one good eye. He was born in the “North Country.” Was thought dead following a plane crash in South America, but turned up in a small church in Rhode Island. Owned a theme park in Harmonia called Valentine Village, which our hero inherited when Jinx was declared dead. Last seen under a tree in the Harmonious countryside, near the trainline to Barbershoppe.
  • Fleur: Our hero’s blue-eyed wife. It was an arranged marriage, designed to tighten bonds between the US and Contraria, and neither of them are particularly happy with the match. That didn’t stop Fleur from insisting that her husband take part in many elaborate fertility rituals, and she is now pregnant with twins. This pleases her warlord father immensely. She trained all of the jellyfish in the Contrarian National Aquarium. Last seen, heavily pregnant, on a news broadcast, spending time with Viscount Arlo, whom she is sleeping with.
  • Isolde: Fleur’s sister, our hero’s sister-in-law. He has a crush on her and tried to talk her into taking part in the fertility rites. But Isolde is infatuated with Harry, a Contrarian noble whom she expects to marry as soon as Fleur delivers. Last seen in a Contrarian leathergoods store.

His friends and enemies:

  • Tessa: Tessa is very tricky. A former partner of John and our protagonist in several illegal schemes, she has double crossed them both several times.  She attended the Academy with our hero, and was valedictorian because she drugged everyone else. She has auburn hair, an impressive bosom, and gets hiccups when she’s horny. Her formidable ninja skills take our hero by surprise and suggest chapters of her backstory as yet unexplored. She was involved romantically with our protagonist in the past, and is currently engaged to John. She has at least four sisters and at least one robot duplicate. She has a cyberpunk unicorn tramp stamp spewing rainbows across her ass, and another unicorn tattoo around the front, grazing on her pubic hair. She spent time as a captive of the mimes. It’s hard to say when she was last seen, or if she really exists at all. Perhaps she has always been someone else in disguise. But if she’s not, then she was last seen wearing Mother’s favorite bracelet in the subbasement beneath the Academy’s root cellar, having just collected a sample of our hero’s semen under orders from the class reunion committee so that her colleagues can isolate and synthesize a certain exotic compound found therein.
  • John: Our protagonist’s former partner in crime and/or espionage. He’s described as an intimidating guy who sucks at ciphers. Is possibly Russian. He spent his childhood in a Tibetan monastery, an experience that left him with a deathly fear of the Himalayan Snowcock. Has a scar on his ring finger. He seems to be passingly good at roller derby, and is mixed up somehow with the warlords of Contraria. Has at least two sisters and is engaged to Tessa. According to Jack, John’s hair is not his own. He has an ex-wife named Hildegard, and feet that are not for the faint of heart. Last seen wearing a skintight orange jumpsuit and no shoes, ascending to the Academy’s root cellar with Hipster Jane.
  • Lyudmila: John’s sister Lyudmila (not to be confused with his one-time date by the same name) is a former sushi chef and current contortionist and helicopter pilot. Owns miniature Pinschers named Trouble and Time. She is one of our hero’s many former lovers, and is, of late, aligned with Tessa in some unknown scheme. Last seen drugging our protagonist and delivering him into the hands of Aphrodite and Heinrich Hunter.
  • Svetlana: John’s other sister. Svetlana is also a contortionist. She and her sister Lyudmila once had a sideshow act, but now hate each other “with good reason.” Has narrow hips, a scratchy voice, and a predilection for blowguns. She is the subject of an international manhunt which she eluded for years by using her contortionist skills and a harness to secret herself under the clothing of Heinrich Hunter, masquerading as his rotund belly. It’s unclear what Heinrich gets out of the arrangement. This former lover of our hero is quite pregnant with his child. She blackmailed him to help in her schemes by threatening to tell his wife and her warlord father about the baby. Last seen in a hallway in Valentine Village, with Heinrich, Jenkins, and an unconscious ninja.
  • Tallulah: Tessa’s sister, the most dangerous person our hero has ever met. Has unusual blue-black eyes and a tendency to impersonate her sister. Or perhaps has always been her sister. Is married to Thor. Wants to work with our protagonist to topple the governments of the US and Contraria, just like they planned in kindergarten. While disguised as Tessa disguised as Svetlana disguised as an old man, she claimed to have a son by our protagonist, but he does not think that’s true. Last seen with her sister Taylor, Tanya, and Tara walking into Jason’s underground lair  upstairs from Dr Absinthia Belladonna’s apartment/laboratory.
  • Kelly: The love of Jason’s life. As part of the plan to rob a bank with the protagonist, and possibly others, she worked in a bank with Jim, and slept with him. Went to jail in place of our protagonist, a fact that Jason is unwilling to forgive and forget. Now that she’s out of prison they have reconnected. Last seen tied up with Jason in an underground room at Valentine Village.
  • Aphrodite Hunter: A pirate with surgically enhanced breasts, and a glass eye. She is married to Heinrich and sleeping with Captain Jorgensen. Is involved in the Pirate-Ninja Alliance. Knows that her husband carts Svetlana around under his clothes. Last seen in a warehouse in the hinterlands being treated for inhaling a jellyfish.
  • Heinrich Hunter: Another pirate, with possible ninja connections. Has a floppy red mustache and carries a katana and an uzi. Smuggled Svetlana under his clothes for many years, which made him appear fat. His marriage to Aphrodite is over due to him having to pee in her mouth to neutralize the jellyfish toxin. Last seen in a hallway in Valentine Village with Svetlana, Jenkins, and an unconscious ninja.
  • Dr Minka Stiletto: A hypnotist in Ipswitch, Massachusetts. Has control over both the town and the Sanitation Workers Union. Wears, but does not need, an eyepatch. Sometimes hypnotizes our protagonist and uses him as a sex toy. Last seen being decapitated by Tessa in her jungle-themed hypnotism office.
  • Ulrike: A dangerous German woman with at least one sister. She hunts by smell, but tells our hero apart from his twin by feeling his corneas. Is a former lover of both our hero and John. Last seen corrupting minors outside a hall of mirrors on the boardwalk.
  • Myxolemia: Our hero’s prom date, arranged by his mother of course. It didn’t go well. She is now the American Ambassador to Contraria, and has metal studs where her eyelashes should be. Last seen unconscious in a Pittburghistan leather goods shoppe.
  • Michiko: The rebellious daughter of the leader of NinjaVision. She enjoys Harajuku clothing, and drives a Hello Kitty themed Lincoln. She owns a self storage place. Last seen behind the counter at her self storage operation.
  • Captain Jorgensen: A pirate captain involved in the Pirate-Ninja Alliance. Sometime lover of Aphrodite Hunter. Last seen aboard his ship.
  • Mitzy: Has access to a helicopter, but does not pilot it. Kidnaps people for the president, or people pretending to be the president. Last seen at the White House.
  • Oscar: Head of the Sanitation Workers Union. Last seen in Rhode Island being dragged into a barber shop.
  • Alonzo and Enzo: Milanese sanitation workers in the employ of Dr Minka Stiletto. Last seen dragging Oscar into a Rhode Island barber shop.

If somehow you have not read the entire saga, this page will make it easy to catch up.

Mitzy’s Goons Frogmarched Me

  • k-avatarsang the last line of the song
  • nothing to do with my sister being in the room
  • seating configuration woes
  • strands of red hair
  • recommended by four out of five

Tune In Next Time Part 33                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

Mitzy’s goons frogmarched me down a long hallway and into a windowless room with a beaten up desk where my brother Thor sat, flanked by secret service. On the desk was a birthday cake. As the door closed behind me, the secret service agents sang the last line of the song and Thor blew out his candles.

He swiped a delicate finger through the bright blue frosting and then licked it off. The minty smell hit me, and he said, “Alternative cake decoration recommended by four out of five dentists.”

I smirked. “Hello, ‘Thor,'” I said. But of course I could tell by the voice that this was in fact Thor’s twin, Freya. They were otherwise identical, at least above the waist. “I thought since the scandal you wouldn’t be welcome anymore. Does Mother know you’re here? And by the way, it’s not your birthday.”

“Of course not, on all counts,” Freya replied calmly. “And it’s father’s birthday. Didn’t you think there were too many candles?” She folded her hands on the desk. “Sit. I have many questions for you.”

Freya was using the only chair, so I remained standing. But a drop of sweat ran down the back of my neck. My unease had nothing to do with my sister being in the room, or with her pretending to be my brother, or even the seating configuration woes. What chilled my blood was noticing the strands of red hair on the carpet.

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The Helicopter Flew Over the Sea

  • by jenpresidential sex saga
  • ushered into the presence of Thor himself
  • and the hissing of the flames
  • — and go away with it
  • the old house in which my father died

Tune In Next Time Part 32                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

The helicopter flew over the sea for an hour, and then over the land, and finally touched down on the lawn of the old house in which my father died. Some people call it the White House. I didn’t like to be reminded of the part my father played in the presidential sex saga scandal, and wondered why Mitzy brought me here, of all places. I wished I could take the helicopter’s controls — wrench them from the pilot’s hands if I must! — and go away with it to some other location.

I looked at Mitzy for an explanation. Perhaps we were here to destroy the damn place, and the hissing of the flames would sing me to sleep tonight. My hopes were dashed when Mitzy said, “And now he will be ushered into the presence of Thor himself!”

Thor was, of course, my brother. He had been vice-president until the whole sex scandal forced our mother from office. I wondered many times if he orchestrated the imbroglio that resulted in our father’s death. I hoped I would survive this encounter. Tessa was the furthest thing from my mind, which, as it turns out, was a mistake.

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Wandering the Suburban Blightscape

  • k-avatarhome with his sister
  • attained an altitude of four thousand feet
  • “No, that isn’t elegant.”
  • found myself in a cul-de-sac
  • threw herself into my arms

Wandering the suburban blightscape of Simon’s neighborhood, I found myself in a cul-de-sac rimmed with identical split-level houses. I hoped Simon was home with his sister. She shouldn’t be left alone in such desolation.

Spotting the four-digit number that spelt “Simon” in the arcane addressing scheme of the development, and which was the sole means of distinguishing one house from any other, I rang the bell. Seconds later the door opened and Simone threw herself into my arms.

“Isn’t Simon here?” I asked with the breath she crushed from my lungs.

“He went up in the balloon this morning and he hasn’t come back!” Simone gasped.

This didn’t bode well. On the balloon’s previous flight, it had attained an altitude of four thousand feet and then couldn’t be coaxed to descend by the usual means. The Civil Air Patrol was called in and had to determine the best way to return Simon and his wayward contraption to terra firma.

“You could shoot down the balloon with arrows,” Simon’s brother had suggested. Minos coveted Simon’s collection of baseball cards and could be relied upon to offer malevolent advice on any topic.

The ranking officer of the Patrol was cool-headed. “No, that isn’t elegant.” The grizzled veteran glanced about the room before concluding, “We’ll use the grappling hooks!”

Now I stroked Simone’s jet hair and told her it would all be fine, but I suppressed a shudder as I recalled the cruel barbs of those hooks, and of the crewmen who launched them.

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