NYC Midnight – Flash Fiction Challenge #1

I am a sucker for competition, especially in regards to trying to prove my intellect or skill. When it comes to writing contests, there is no other drug I would choose. I love the stress and panic that comes with the possibility of winning. The awards given would prove, once and for all, that I was worth-while and had talent. However, only until recently have I even received any kind of recognition.

As I’ve mentioned before, I won third place for my column “Gay Agenda” in the Renegade Rip.  That award gave me so much self-worth I didn’t know what to do with it or myself.

When the chance to compete in the “NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge” arose I had to enter. Sure it cost me $50, but it guaranteed two of my stories would be read and critiqued by the judges; and it entered me into a chance at winning a cash prize.

The idea behind the contest is that the entrant is put into a group of around 30 people, and in that group each person has to write a 1,000 word story in a specific genre, that takes place at a designated location and must include a single item. Whether the item is crucial to the plot is up to the writer. For the first challenge, I was given the genre of Sci-Fi. My location was “a man-made island” and the item to be included somewhere in the story was “a skeleton.”  I have included it below so that people could read it. Followed immediately after is the feedback I received, and I have to say I agree with everything noted, with the exception of one.

Without further ado, here is my first entry into the flash fiction competition, brought to you by NYC Midnight Madness. I placed 13th out of 15 spots, in a group of 31 contestants.

______________________________________________________________________

SCHIFF’S ISLAND

Darris Shiff stood on the shore of his newly formed island with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes bounced from one aluminum robo-mech to the next as they bustled about the land mass spreading like a bubble across the surface of the ocean. 

“What do you think?” he said, gesturing with both arms to the scene. 

The young woman with chestnut skin glanced around at the construction with a blank expression. 

“I imagine the Terrestrial Brethren will be pleased.”  

“Good. All it took were a few quadrillion global credits, and here I stand on the precipice of a new age, away from the stench of poverty and war.”  

The young woman licked her lips, turned, and walked to the small table that had been set up for the meeting. A large blue and green hologram spun counterclockwise at the center, with a series of dots typing out flags of data. The sound of the robo-mechs and the waves lapping at the shore dulled the sound of the robotic voice reading each tag. 

“Your assistant informed me that the expected completion date is two weeks from now. That will not sit well with the Brethren. ” 

Schiff sighed, “No, it won’t, but you can’t rush progress. So, it will have to do. Most of the heat and salty ocean air has had a hand in the destruction of the majority of my mechs.” 

“And yet you persist.” 

Schiff turned to her with a broad grin. 

“One does what they must to survive.” 

The woman circled the table and examined the hologram. The grid of illuminated digital lines formed the peak of a single mountain rising like a beak from the tropical foliage and numerous buildings, turrets, and barriers surrounding its base. 

“I could survive here,” she said.  

Darris walked to the table and pressed a single button on the panel at its side. The hologram flickered away.  

“When can we expect them? I am ready for the Dalian Eclipse.” 

The woman smirked. “Are you so certain of that?” 

“Who are you to-” started Schiff, but the loud hum of an approaching ship cut through his response.  

The two looked up toward the sound to see a hover yacht emerged from the dense fog that circled the island. A long, red flag trailed from the rear to signal their station and identity. 

“Finally,” Schiff said. 

The woman narrowed her green eyes at the back of Darris’ head. 

The leisure cruiser pulled close to the island and dropped anchor only a few meters from where the two stood. A shimmering electron gangplank birthed forth from its side and rested at the edge of the shore, as a group of five men in billowing gold garments stepped to the edge of the craft. 

Schiff rushed forward and took his spot at the end of the walkway, as he tugged, tucked, and pressed his clothes to impress. 

“It is a pleasure to meet with you, gentlemen,” Schiff said, with half a bow. “Welcome to my island.” 

The man at the head of the group, with a gaunt face and a hooked nose, pursed his lips together and nodded. 

“Indeed, Mr. Schiff.”  

The men stepped around their host and walked onto the shore. 

“As you can see, everything is coming along nicely. I have developed the technology to build new lands, away from the coppers, for those willing to pay the price.” 

The five men moved about and appraised the scene before them like a flock of birds. 

“Pay?” one of the five said. “Hopefully, that does not include us. Considering what we’re offering you.” 

“Of course not, gentlemen.” 

The men chittered their approval. 

Schiff stepped next to the table and ignited the hologram.  

“As you can see the look of the finished product. We have all the amenities to protect us from pirates and the poor.” 

The Brethren circled the display and gestured to each of the features with their commentary. 

“You’ve done well. A man with your talents deserves what the Brethren offer.” 

Schiff moved to speak, but his voice escaped him. Instead, his jaw opened and closed like the limbs of one of his malfunctioning robo-mechs. 

“Provided you guarantee our own private property in this ocean world, you can join the brotherhood and live forever, like us.” 

Schiff nodded. 

The man with the hooked nose grinned and pulled from a pocket a clear plastic box that contained a single squirming creature that resembled a grub. 

Darris’ hands shook as he lifted them to grab his prize. For so long he had heard the rumors of what it took to be a Brethren, but he had never believed it until the leader placed it in his open palm. 

“Thank you.” 

The growl of an engine drew the attention of everyone gathered on the beach to the ship that exploded from the fog flying a tattered acid-green flag, adorned with the skeleton of a shark. 

“Pirates!” One of the men shrieked, sending the brethren into a panic. 

The young woman seized her moment. With moves as quick as lightning, she pulled a pistol from her boot and shot a single bolt at the gangplank where it short-circuited the walkway, trapping the men on the island. 

“You’re not going anywhere.”  

“We will give you money!” one of them shrieked. 

The young woman sneered. 

“I don’t want your filthy credits.”  

The young woman fired a charged bolt into each of the Brethren’s heads and stopped when she came to Darris. 

Schiff dropped to his knees, with the box still clutched in his hands. 

“Why are you doing this?”  

“One must do what it takes to survive,” the woman said. “And the world without your kind is better off.” 

Schiff glanced from his captor to the dead men on the ground, to the Kubuli in his hands. 

“Thank you for building us a beautiful new world.” 

With one final bullet, the Brethren were no more. 

______________________________________________________________________

JUDGES’ FEEDBACK:

{1751} I truly appreciated the revenge that the young woman takes on the people who would obviously have only used the newly invented land to serve themselves (because that’s what they do best).  {1739}  Schiff’s struggle to join a secret society is intriguing. The tech that he has developed to prove himself, makes him a sympathetic character.  {1743}  This is quite a taut and penetrating flash science fiction.  The slam bang ending is a working hologram itself, italicized with a “Kabuli.”  That pirate ship bursting through fog, flying its shark flag is a real keeper.  Fine piece of writing, this.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1751}  It seems astounding to me that the men who have such power and wealth would have no bodyguards and only one ship on and off the island; you might improve the story if the young woman had disabled even more obstacles, such as bodyguards or more ships, as it might make her victory seem less miraculous and more plausible. However, this is only a suggestion.  {1739}  The story really begins once the Brethren arrive. Consider truncating the opening sequence. Nothing is written that makes the Brethren or Schiff bad people. They all seem to be pretty hard working folks. Schiff mentions that steps are taken to protect against pirates, yet his facility is immediately overrun. This is a big conflict.  {1743}  An em dash is rendered as: –.

Advertisements

‘Toot-Toot’ Says My Own Horn

I have to admit, I’m rather proud of this one.  I wasn’t entirely certain where it was going but it ended up being rather good.  If I do say so myself, and I do.

A Year of Writing Prompts by Brian A. Klems and Zachary Petit

January 13

“Your neighbor has taken in an unsual pet and it does something unpleasant to your house/yard. Confront your neighbor.”

I stand in my backyard, admiring my work. My garden has never looked as wonderful as it does this very moment. In the far corner, bathed in the shade of the two willows standing sentinel on either side, is my most prized flower. It is a rare corpse flower and very soon it will blossom. Many have told me how insane I am to plant one in my very backyard but they do not know it’s value. The site of it is rather entrancing but the stench I’m afraid, well, it isn’t called a corpse flower for nothing.

I had come by it in the strangest of fashions. I took a trip with my neighbor to Indonesia. He had some family members there and I didn’t want to travel alone. We had quite a lovely time. Our only souvenirs was an old book given to him by a strange man in some market, and mine was a snippet of the Tetrastigma vine, by which the corpse flower can grow and survive.

The grass makes a metallic sound, like a brillo pad on a pot, as I walk closer to my pet. It stands taller than me. Maybe even past it usual height of six feet.

My heart begins to pound in my chest. Very soon it will blossom and when it does I will be on the front page of the life and time section of the local paper. And certainly, everyone in town will want to come and see it, get a whiff of it’s wretched aroma. How many people can say that they have? None. That’s how many. And here I am, the one with it blossoming in his garden.

The next day I wake early in the morning and rush out to see if the petals have begun to spread. Sure enough, it has. I take out a measuring tape and mentally note the length. It has gotten a full foot further away from its pistil. For extra care I get some manure from the garage and sprinkle it around it’s base and water it once more. That done I busy myself with the other parts of my personal eden to keep my mind off of my prized possession.

Before I tuck in for the night I measure it once more. The petal has lowered another six inches. Excitement rushes through my limbs like electricity.

Even with the excitement I am still able to fall fast asleep.

In the early hours of dawn I rush outside and before I’ve taken a step over the threshold I can smell the rotting stench of the flower. My legs can barely move quick enough for me and I nearly stumble over them in my rush to see my blossoming beauty. Shrouded under the willows it has opened its crimson petals, that bleach into a pearly white as it reaches the base of the pistil.

“Fantastic” I say, as I pinch my nose.

I hurry back inside and dial the number for the paper. The journalist insisted I call the moment it flowered so that he could come out and inspect it for himself, before writing the article of course. I was happy to ablige.

“Gerald,” I say, my voice raising in pitch, “I’m sorry did I wake you? No matter I have some exciting news.”

It is in my eager awaiting for his dreary response when I hear the crash and screech of wood. Glancing through the lace curtains I see no site of anything and return to the phone call. He quickly agrees to rush over immediately.

I hang up the phone and rush into the backyard and that’s when I see them, my neighbors zombies have congregated around my flower and are tugging on its delicate petal.

My hand flies to my garden shovel and I rush out to them and beat them back into Anthony’s backyard. They growl with irritation, one of them gurgles and glares at me with the eye dangling out of its socket. I replace the boards over the fragmented hole they had made in the fence.

“Damn things,” I say. “Anthony!” I call through the fence. I follow my beckoning with another and another until I am almost hoarse. The man must sleep like the dead.

The zombies listfully paw at the fence and that’s when I feel it appropriate to get the garden hose. The noze seems to turn forever until it jerks to halt and I know that the pressure it high enough. Placing my thumb over the spout an press the water into a sharp spray and point it at the pests.

They moan again and shuffle across the yard to the other side.

“That should do it,” I say.

I promptly return to my bedroom where I dress in a flurry, picking only the best ensemble for the event. Properly attired I resign to the living room to wait for my visitor.

At eight o’clock, on the dot, he knocks on my door.

“Gerald!” I say, opening he door.

He obviously spent little to no time on his outfit. What should be a nicely pressed shirt, with tie, and slacks, he’s donned sweatpants and a knitted skull cap. The only thing worthy of his esteemed profession is a Canon camera, on a strap, hanging at the top of his pot-belly. I force a smile and welcome him in.

“I could smell it from the street,” he says, “I can only imagine what it must be like up close.”

“It’s certainly a treasure.”

“I wouldn’t say something like that,” he says quietly.

I usher him out to my prize. The noble queen of my garden.

His expression goes sour and he holds up his camera with one hand, while pinching his nose shut with the other.

“It’s pollen isn’t toxic is it?”

“No,” I assure him.

He snaps a couple of photos and my heart pounds in my chest.

“Would you like something to drink?” I ask, “Coffee perhaps?”

“Yes, please,” he says excitedly relieved, “Black.”

I bustle back into the house and buzz around the kitchen making a fresh pot.

Once again I hear the screech of twisting wood and the percussion of thin planks of wood falling into a pile.

“Dear god.”

In the back yard I see the zombies have forced their way back into my yard and have surrounded poor Gerald. I pick up the shovel and advance. The metal smashes against his face and one is momentarily stunned. The others continue on in their endless quest for flesh.

“Anthony!” I scream over my shoulder as I whack at another that has it’s rotting hands wrapped around Gerald’s wrist. The blade of the shovel severs the limbs from his torso and Geral goes stumbling backwards onto his rump.

I call again for my neighbor.

The most spry of the four, Sharon I think Anthony calls her, rushes upon the fallen journalist, but before she can realize she still has working knees I body check her to her side where she falls and lands on her back. Her limbs move continuously like a tortoise turned on its shell.

Before anoher one of the beasts could continue their attack I pull Gerald to his feet and escort him safely inside.

He is visibly frazzled.

“What the hell?” He screams, making his way into the living room. “I have to get the hell out of here.”

I Jump in front of him and barricade the door with my body.

“Please, no! I really need this article.”

“You’re insane. I’m not going back out there!”

The whites of his eyes are turning pink.

“I beg of you. Just sit tight. You are absolutely safe in here. I swear to you. I am just going to get my neighbor. They’re his zombies and I’m sure he can corral them.” I pause and study his features which have not softened in the slightest. “This is very important to me. You can’t leave just now.”

He jerks around, startled by some imaginary noise.

I Step forward and put my hands on his shoulders.

“You are far from danger in my house.” I step to the table by the door and open the drawer, retrieving the pistol within. “Here,” I hand him the automatic weapon, “take this just in case.”

With some reluctance he accepts it and I usher him into the recliner. Once the two meet he bounces once and he relaxes.

“Okay.”

My heart leaps into my throat.

“Thank you,” I say.

I exits and storm across the front lawn to Anthony’s front door, whereupon I bang repeatedly upon it until he arrives to answer the door.

“Can I help you Shawn?” he says.

He is clearly just waking, for his glass eye is pointed in an odd angle. Dressed in only a pair of leopard bikini briefs. The hair ringing the crown of his baldhead is sticking out at odd angles.

“You need to contain those monsters,” I say pointing toward his backyard. “They very nearly at the man who has come to write the column on my prized corpse flower!”

He rolls his one good eye.

“I promised I would not tell anyone you had resurrected the dead with the tome, but here I stand regretting that decision. Should I alert the townspeople.” I make a fake shocked expression. “NO need the journalist has already seen them.”

Anthony growls like one of his pets.

“Fine,” he mumbles.

He shuts the door and I return to my guest, who is still very shaken. He very nearly shoots me as I come through the front door.

“It’s alright,” I say, holding up my hands, “it’s just me.”

Gerald gulps and lowers the gun.

“All taken care of,” I say, beaming.

I wrench him from the chair and pull him back into the backyard. The zombies have long since fled, back into their yard.

The stench of the flower has only grown. I can barely stand in front of it without wanting to retch. The writer’s eyes dart nervously around as I lift the camera and cup his hand around it, while simultaneously turning it on. His finger intuitively returns to it and he finds himself calm enough to start snapping photos, moving around to get different angles.

I can hear Anthony in the backyard. He yells and snaps what sounds like a whip and the zombies moan, which in turn seems to startle Gerald who fires a shot into the yard and I hear a grunt and excited groans.

I poke my head through the hole in the fence to find Anthony dead from a gunshot wound right through the head, laying sprawled on the lawn. His zombies have eagerly descended upon their handler and are ripping into his flesh.

“Damn,” I say.

I rip the pistol from Gerald’s hand and storm into Anthony’s backyard and pop a round in each of the zombies brains, ending their undead lives.

Returning to my own lot of land I find Gerald staring slack jawed at me.

“Did you want to ask me any questions about my horticultural technique?” I ask.

Luck is for Fools

There is a lot of myself in today’s story.  There are those who have luck and those who do not.  I am in the not category.  I’m not where near the other.  If there was a spectrum from 1 to 10, 1 being the luckiest, and 10 being the opposite of that I would be  hard 9.  It’s just a matter of life.  Although, sometimes I tell myself (because of some gut feeling) that my luck just hasn’t come up.  And right now, why would I want to waste my pot of gold on an actual pot of precious metal coins than on landing a literary agent and selling my book. (They’re a package deal, by the way.  I’m talking to you fate.)

A Year of Writing Prompts by Brian A Klems and Zachary Petit
January 8
Treasure Awaits
“You receive a letter in the mail from an out-of-town relative asking you to drop everything and meet him in Boston ASAP. He doesn’t say why, but signs off on the letter with the phrase: “Treasure Awaits.””

The letter from my Uncle Bernard Frush came sealed with wax. Embossed into the red paraffin was the symbol of our family crest, a fish jumping from a grove of rushes. The writing on the front was beautifully written in the finest calligraphy I had ever seen, or probably ever would by a human hand. My uncle was always one for the dramatic.

“Who’s that from,” My wife asked.

I lifted the letter to show her, but before she could view the address she must have caught sight of the wax seal and pinpointed the sender.

I tore it open and began to read.

“So what does ‘ol Burns have to say,” she said.

She pulled a dish from the top rack of our faulty dishwasher and dried it with a towel.

I quickly scanned the letter written in the same hand as the envelope.

It was his usual weekly catch ups, informing me, his second favorite nephew after my cousin Brandon, of his recent travels. The man had chosen at the age of forty to go hiking across the United States. For what reason, I do not know. I guess he had had enough of suburbia and wanted freedom. Before trekking out on his journey he rid himself of the everyday trappings of normal life, cell phone, his house, furniture, clothes. Anything that wasn’t paper or transportable he ditched.

My mother tried to talk him out of it but could get nowhere. The one thing you could count on when Burns made up his made there was no changing it. Even if it was the wildest of ideas.

“Come on,” my wife said, “I’m dying of anticipation.”

“He’s just saying how well his trip is going and…”

It took me a moment for it to register but at the end of the letter he commanded me to go to Boston.

“He says that treasure awaits.” I dropped the letter, clutched in one hand, to my leg.

Michelle laughed.

“I’m sure it’s all of the life lessons he’s learned on his journey.

I turned to her, arching my eyebrow.

“How do you get that?”

“Thomas,” she said, grabbing another dish, “Be realistic. The man is insane. Who gives up everything they have-“

“What if it is actual treasure?”

Michelle stopped drying the dish.

“He set out for some reason. Maybe this was it?” I said.

“The man had a mid-life crisis. He has nothing left to live for. No job. No wife. No children.” She said, stowing the dish in the cupboard and closing it’s door. “That must be terribly lonely.”

“But think about it,” I said, rushing to the breakfast bar, “He’s always been obsessed with history and conspiracy theories.”

“Yes,” she said, “He never had a television because he was convinced that it was a tool of the government to brainwash us.”

“Well-“

“He’s not right, Thomas.”

I looked at the letter one more time.

Come immediately. Time is of the essence.

I read the sentence over and over, until it was burned into my vision. I looked up at Michelle and the words flickered across her face.

“You’re not going,” she said.

I Put the letter back in the envelope.

“Maybe-“

“Besides we don’t even have the money to buy a plane ticket right now.”

I nod, defeated. She’s right, of course. I’m not Uncle Berny. I have Michelle, a mortgage, a job, and children. There is no sense in taking off at the last moment.

The next evening she and I are cuddled up on our overstuffed sofa that has long lost it’s selling point, while the kids played hide-and-seek around us. Our old tube television is flickering as the National evening news with Brian Williams pipes up at the top of the hour. The main story told by the faces of my uncle and cousin holding a chest filled with large circular pieces of gold in a rotting chest. My jaw drops open and I turn to Michelle.

“Maybe he’ll split it with us?”

An Attempt at Irony

Todays prompt is going to be a hard one. That’s for fucking sure. Mainly it’s because I have no energy today. I am just absolutely 100% out of it. But, such is the weekend.

A Year of Writing Prompts by Brian A. Klems & Zachary Petit
January 3
A Cold Where you (Fill in the Blank) Instead of Sneeze
“You’ve developed a cold, only to discover that instead of sneezing, you (fill in the blank) every time you feel like you have to sneeze. This side effect proves to create a fairly entertaining scene at the office during your weekly budget meeting.”

Terry clutched the phone in his hands, listening to the ring on the other line. With any luck no one would answer and he could leave a message on the office answering machine. That was his best bet to avoid today altogether. No one at work would understand.

Although, the line clicked and Sheila answered the phone.

“Morgan, Pollock, and Masters, Magician Bounty Hunter.”

Terry pinched his nose.

“Sheila, It’s me, I’m not going to be able to come in today. I feel terrible.”

“Oh no, that’s not good! Well we will miss you at the financers meeting. The head from the state is coming in to talk to us about funding. I’m sure Lowell won’t mind. You get better.”

“Thank you,” Terry said from halfway down his throat.

The line clicked and went dead.

Relief flowed through his body and that’s when he could feel it surge. Terry craned back his head, his mouth gaping, and he let out the loudest sneeze, but with it came a puff of smoke and a young child appeared from within.

The young lad stepped from the thinning cloud and looked around Terry’s unkempt apartment. Panic was beginning to blossom in his face, as his lower lip trembled. There would only be a few moments before the boy exploded into tears. A crying child was the last thing his neighbors needed to hear. They knew he lived alone.

“Hey, buddy,” he said in a sickening sweet voice, “It’ll be okay.”

The young boy wrapped his arms around his stomach.

“Where am I?” He said stepping away from terry.

“It’s okay,” he said, “This is all a dream.”

The boy’s eyes grew wide.

“Really?” he said, “I don’t remember taking a nap. I was shopping with mommy.”

“Yeah, you fell asleep under some coats. She’ll find you in a second.”

The boy looked perplexed.

“How do you know that?”

“Cause this is a special dream.”

Preceded by a large gasp, terry sneezed again and the boy vanished from the room.

“Thank the gods,” he said.

The last few sneezes had become even more infrequent and produced the most horrible of momentary guests. At least the kid disappeared before he could cry. The one woman shrieked so much the nosey neighbor next door came poking around to make sure everything was “okay.” Terry wasn’t sure that he had bought that it was tv program he had been watching.

Now without the worry of work looming before him, terry rushed to the kitchen and began to concoct a potion to end this magical mishap. It wasn’t entirely obvious where he had gotten the calling cold but he had it never-the-less. He must have gotten it when he had been on assignment in Southron and they raided that sorcerer’s drug den. It had been absolutely unsanitary.

He was certain that had been where.

The ingredients came quick to his mind. This wasn’t the first time he’d have to brew one. He had gotten the same thing back in school. Luckily, his parents could excuse him and no one would ever learned he was a blossoming magician.

Pulling the sage from the cupboard he could feel another sneeze building. He tensed his face muscles and refused to let it out. Though try as he might it had a will of it’s own and he blew. This time he conjured a flock of parakeets that fluttered furiously around his apartment.

“I can deal with this,” he said.

He bustled around the kitchen pouring each item into his battered black cauldron. He stirred it the appropriate amount of times until it turned a beautiful lavender and he knew it was ready. He couldn’t ladle it fast enough into a copper mug.

Just as the rim touched his lips the phone began to ring. He looked over at the caller ID and it was the offce number. His blood went cold and he sneezed again, dispelling the birds back to wherever they had come from.

He set the steaming cup down and answered the phone, pinching his nose as he did it.

“Hello,” he moaned.

“Tare, look I know you’re sick but Sgt. Errol is coming and I know he will be absolutely pissed if you’re not here. He is insistent that he meets you. He wants to meet the man who took down the Black Ranfort warlock.”

Terry moaned again.

“Boss, I would love to but I can’t-“

“Terry, if you do you know we’ll get more money than we could ever need to take down these filthy magicians. Don’t you want to be the guy named the man who eradicated all things magical?”

Not really, he thought.

“I would, yes. But I can’t even get off the couch, Rick.”

“Look, if you come in I’ll give you the raise you’ve been hounding me for.”

Terry gulped. That raise had been his mission the past two years. It would give him enough money to move out of the tiny apartment he lived in, that he now noticed was covered in bird shirt and feathers.

“See you in a few.”

Before Terry could argue his boss ended the call.

For a brief moment panick gripped his chest, but then the saw the cup gleam out of the corner of his eye. He chugged it and waited, but within only a few moments he sneezed again, producing a pair of old men playing chess, table and all. But he didn’t have time to explain, he hurried around his apartment trying to get ready. Although he didn’t want to look too good. He put on a white shirt, top button undone, a striped tie as slap-dash as he could get it, and a brown coat. He put on his glasses and messed up his hair and then tried to wrestle it into something decent.

By the time he was dressed and ready to go he sneezed again and the men disappeared.

He hurried as quick as he could and got to the office without a single sneeze. That would mean the potion was working. He just needed to trust his skill.

He climbed the steps to the fourth floor office just o wear himself out and appear more sickly. This wasn’t his first rodeo. By the time he entered the office he was sweaty, red faced, and breathing heavily.

“Terry! You look awful.”

He could barely speak so instead waved and nodded.

“Go right on in.”

He wound his way around the cubicles to the conference room and entered. Everyone stood, especially Sgt. Errol.”

“Son,” he said, shaking his hand, “I really admire your moxy. If I was as sick as you I’d have told my boss to go fuck himself and not come in.”

Everyone laughed nervously.

“This is why I wanted to meet you. You are the best. I’ve been keeping an eye on you. I knew you were something special. It’s guys like you that will take down this magical menace and-“

The sneeze built in his chest, which prompted him to swallow air.

“You alright?”

Terry nodded as he cosed his eyes an concentrated.

“Course you are!” Sgt. Errol said, slapping him on the back.

Terry sneezed and in a puff of smoke appeared a man, bathing in a shower on top of the table.  The water slowly trickled away out of the shower head, as the man looked out of the clear curtain.