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STRANGE REMEMBRANCES — Frank Smith

The wizard Atlas Sparks was lounging around his apartment on East 11th Street listening to records. In a few hours, he would be kicked out of the Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Mark’s Place for trying to destroy the world.

Smudging the vinyl, Atlas maneuvered a record back into its sleeve. He chose a new record from his roommate’s collection and plopped the disc onto the turntable.

Atlas’ life, extended by dabbling in different forms of magic, stretched behind him like a sack of groceries spilled on the sidewalk. The year was 1978. He’d done the whole hermit thing for a few decades, hiding out in the hinterlands, until he’d become tired of listening to the whirs and clicks in his brain. So he did what weirdos do—he moved to New York City.

The record popped and hissed as the needle cut along the groove, amplifying Donna Summer as she sang about feeling love. Between her sultry voice and Giorgio Moroder’s synthesizers, Atlas felt the love.  

Though he was very old, he’d aged in his way: slowly.  Silver amongst the chestnut, lines beside the eyes, a halting gate from old injuries, gray eyes burdened by melancholies—Atlas could pass for the kind of modern man who kept current on his library fines.

Disco, with its synthetic sounds and accelerated rhythms, was everything the future was meant to sound like. Above it all, Donna Summer soared on the sounds of technology, reminding Atlas that humanity still had its place. He was in tune; his third eye was open.

But all things end.

Familiar footsteps trod along the stairs.

Atlas sprung from the couch, clicked off the record player, shelved the records. As he crossed the threshold of his bedroom, the front door clicked open, sucking the air out of the apartment. Keys fell into a ceramic dish. A jacket thumped onto a chair. The TV set dialed on and off. A throat cleared.

“I’m home,” Jeremy hollered. “Anyone here?”

“Back here,” Atlas yelled.

“Were you listening to my records? Don’t lie. I can always tell.” Jeremy said.

Atlas loitered in his bedroom to give Jeremy a few moments to unwind.

Entering the cramped and cluttered living room, Atlas found Jeremy crumpled against the sofa with the top button of his trousers undone, shirt untucked, and a carton of milk in his hand.

“How was work?” Atlas said.

Jeremy sucked milk straight from the carton and moaned.

“Rough day?”

“So hot in these clothes,” Jeremy said, tugging at the collar of his dress shirt. Jeremy was a yeti, a yeti covered in a thick pelt of silvery fur, a yeti who purchased his business-casual wear at a big-and-tall store. When not slumped on the couch like a pile of garbage on the curb, he stood seven feet tall.

Atlas said, “You’re home early.”

“I blew it, man. I always blow it. God, I’m so stupid.” Jeremy finished the carton of milk and let it fall to the floor.

“I’ll get that later,” Atlas said. “What happened?”

“You know our horoscope books, right? The astrology series,” Jeremy said. He, worked in the editorial department of a small publisher of occult books.

“I don’t do horoscopes,” Atlas said.

“Right, well, that must be the one made-up thing you don’t believe in. Whatever. So our horoscopes…. Every year, we do one book for each of the signs—Aries, Taurus, Andorian, Kryptonian, and, well, I guess as it turns out, I’ve been reusing the same text every year.”

“On purpose?”

“I’ve been there fifteen years and no one ever noticed. I have a rotation. I skip years. Y’know ’79 will be all the same junk from ’77, and ’76 was the same as ’78. I’ve been using, basically, the same sets of material all the years I’ve been there. And so what? But, we hired a new production manager, and she started looking into my titles, and….”

Jeremy groaned. He dropped his head into his hands. “What am I going to do?”

“You hated that job, and you were bad at it.”

“You’re bad at your job,” Jeremy bellowed.

“I don’t have a job.”

“Oh, rub it in,” Jeremy said. “I had the publication schedule worked out for, like, years, man. No one else was as on top of their deadlines as me.”

“In retrospect, that mighta been the overestimation whut led to my eventual downfall,” he added.  

“You’ll find a new job.”

“I need money now, Atlas!” He stretched out his arms to indicate how his arms had paid for the grandeur of a sixth-floor walkup with floors slanted so severely that roundish objects collected below the easternmost wainscot.

“Money,” he added.

“Get a job. Don’t get a job. Why do you even want to have a job?” Atlas said. “I tried one once.”

Jeremy stared into the middle distance. He turned on the TV, and stared at Andy Griffith instead. Unable to concentrate on the television, Atlas forced words into the boxes of a magazine crossword puzzle. Time whiled itself away.

“I grew up outside a town like Mayberry, like the Bhutanese version of Mayberry,” Jeremy said. “Everything is groovy bucolic until you get caught eating one of Dzongsar’s goats and then you are persona non-grata.”

“Screaming mobs and pitchforks,” Atlas said, not looking up from his crossword puzzle. “The first time I visited New York, I swam here by way of the Black Sea.”

“Let’s get drunk.”

“I don’t drink,” Atlas said. “Drinking makes me sad.”

“You can watch me get drunk. I’ll show you how to do it with élan, some real pizzazz.”

 

The dimly lit bar was smoky and dank, with floors that reeked of hangovers yet to come. The bartender spilled more drinks than he served and the jukebox vomited up the same Rolling Stones song over and over.

Atlas hummed Donna Summer, recalling her breathy whisper, the echoing whistle of her voice, the mechanical disco rhythm.

“What is that?” Jeremy said.

“Just a song,” Atlas said.

“No, I know that one—you were listening to my records.”

“Of course, you have excellent taste in music.”

Jeremy wandered to the back room with a couple cans of Schaefer. He sunk into a booth, hiding in the shadows. Atlas sat opposite, at the edge of the booth, in the dim light.

When sober, the human mind can’t process the sight of a walking, talking, seven-foot-tall hairy beastie. The reality is too strange, so the brain overlooks the monster or replaces it with the familiar. That tall guy, he’s just really hirsute; no way could he be a yeti—yetis don’t exist.

Once drunk, however, the mind is dulled and horrors creep out of the dark.

“We were meant for better things,” Jeremy said. “I could tear any man here’s arm out of his socket and beat him to death with it. I’ve done it before. I know how I’ll die, brother. Do you? When all this craps out for good, I’ll return to the mountains. That’ll be it. I could be the last of my kind. Who even knows anymore? No one cares.”

“Where was this pizzazz you were going to show me?”

Jeremy drew his legs onto the bench and hugged his knees. He was tall, but lean. “Hey, wizard-man, why don’t you do us a trick?” he said.  

“I’m bored enough, you know.”

“Quit yer yappin’ and show me what you got. I bet they used to be terrified of you.”

“They were.”

Atlas cleared a space on the floor and drew his body into the half-lotus. Slipping into a state of absolute serenity, he closed his eyes and began to chant a well-chewed mantra, one he had repeated during the dark times, the bad times, the evil times. In this Gnostic state, Atlas observed the gears that moved the world, the astral meaning of everything, how to create—and where to destroy.

His chanting drew stares from the other patrons of the bar—bums and punks, uptown kids looking for downtown dirt, downtown dirt looking for cheap drinks. Like some kind of out-of-touch throwback to the Village’s bohemian years, Atlas created a hip, mumbo-jumbo kinda vibe that threatened to turn the dingy bar into a meditation retreat. People were getting annoyed. Plus, Atlas was blocking the jukebox.

After a few freaked-out drunks complained, the bartender decided he had to do something. Throwing down his rag, he wobbled over to the jukebox.

“What’s this?” said the bartender. He spoke with a heavy Ukrainian accent.

“End of the world, bub,” Jeremy said.

“Tell your friend to take it outside,” he said, nudging Atlas with his foot. “End of the world is bad for business.”

“Careful,” Jeremy warned. “You break him out of his chant, and it all falls apart.”

The low murmuring of Atlas’ mantra began to absorb all the sound in the bar—slurred voices, the jukebox, traffic noises creeping in through the poorly insulated windows. Atlas drew from the energy surrounding the room, going deeper into a meditative state as he began to align the necessary powers to break the world.

​_“Tell your friend to cut it out,” said the bartender.

“Look at me,” Jeremy said. “Look at me with your real eyes. Tell me what you see.”

Yellow eyes flashed in the darkness.

Nearly tripping over a chair, the bartender backed away. He raised his hands in the sign of the Evil Eye.

“Why would you do this?” he said. “My bar is a nice place. This is a home. We are good people here. We are all good people. Even you. Stop what you are doing. We are good people.”

The bar went silent. No more talking. No more Rolling Stones. Mouths moved without voices. A bottle fell to the floor and shattered noiselessly.

Home. This place is a home, he’d said.

Atlas’ knees popped as he rose from the dusty floor. The jukebox kicked back to life—playing a Donna Summer song not in its track listing.  

“You saved the world tonight, old man,” Atlas said.

 

Outside, the streets were slick with rain. Streetlights reflected in the puddles gathered by the curbs. The city in stark relief.

“You ever feel like you’re not a part of this place?” Jeremy said.  

“The city?”

“No, the whole world, like there’s something wrong about you, and you don’t fit.”

Atlas looked at his seven-foot-tall friend, his stooped shoulders and yellow fangs; his long, hairy arms protruding from the sleeves of his jacket; the digital wristwatch buried somewhere in the fur; his intolerably low tolerance for alcohol; his yeti-ness, his everything.

“You do fine,” he said. But Jeremy wasn’t listening.

“Look at that beauty,” Jeremy said.

The memory of a woman stood under a streetlight. She held a hand out from under her umbrella to check the rain. Her clothing was modern, though a little out of fashion. She had been a Madison Avenue secretary, or a typist at a law firm, or a mother working part-time in the city, or a graduate student picking up some office work.

She could see Jeremy and Atlas, and she smiled.

The low-beam headlights on a Chevy Impala passed right through her and she was gone.

Magic is real, but it is old, and it has been on Earth a very long time. There are soft places where the hidden levels of reality bleed through. Atlas and Jeremy’s ancestors wandered through one of these soft places long ago and never found their way home. Now they work crossword puzzles. They drink and have sex. They take jobs and lose them. They misunderstand what the stars tell them. They have lost their way.  

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The Story We Didn’t Accept

submitted with seventeen additional chapters

You may have heard rumors that Joss Whedon has submitted to Planet Scumm continuously since Scummy first opened the data-banks for contributions from earthlings.  Apparently, he believes only Scummy can understand the deepest and most intimate stories that lurk in his heart. Joss Whedon is now mailing full, hand-written manuscripts to the beleaguered team of editor-thralls under Scummy’s command. We don’t know how he got our addresses, but he sends individual copies to each of us and our families. He has ignored numerous requests to cut it out, back off, and has violated restraining orders.

Each new manuscript is another fresh hell with detailed drawings and deranged marginalia appearing and disappearing.  Scummy has therefore seen fit to end this torture in the most expedient way possible and ordered the editorial staff to just go ahead and publish Joss Wheedon’s mad ramblings in the hope that this will sate, rather than inflame, his desire for Scummy’s attention. 


The Nathan Filian Dilation Disaster: A Space Opera -Season 3 EP 6

by Joss Whedon ( aka MR. PARTY)

Dedicated to the cast and crew of Firefly

“I am a leave on the wind, watch how well I fly.”

–Washed         

It is comiccon time again! Party the mouse, (mcfly is his last name!) loves comiccon and he is going as usual because he likes it alot. His favoriate actor is a horse who is nathin fillion, handsome star of Waterfly and Castle. A panel is happening, ( with nathan fillion the horsee at comicon so party is going for sure. This panel will be about the show and also about personal life, which was Party’s main interest.

Party gets no tickets but when he ask to go in the guy on line who is watching says “i know you, you are party” and he is let in. Party is famous because he is always all over everoyone and they love it Usually Party parties with Dr. Dre and the Insane Clown Posse but when Nathin Fillion is in town you know Party is going to be at the panel Nathin Fillion is in.

Just then suddenly killer Borrgins flooded the auditoreum! Party flew into action, picking up Nathin and flying him down to the closed-down Century Pigion exhibit while killing borrigans. It was their only hope! And it was Party’s only hope for some time alone with Nathin. Party’s probiscus was getting all gooey just rubbing up on Nathin while they flew down the hallway and into the closed down ship from the anime STARWAR!o

Nathin is so grateful he says now I want to do something for you. Party’s eyes were gleaming as Nathin went really hard on loving his belly and then his probsicus and just when things were getting gooey oh no Party rolled onto the time dialator button!

His bum presses the button!

“Nice going with your butt, Party!” said Nathin admiringly but he is a little peeved, but not too much because Party did save his life beofre. Plus evryonne love party and nathin likes to be popular so he likes the popular people too. Sometimes the wrong people are popular, but Party is actually really nice.

Sally acorn says “oh brother, not again!” (She was of course in the Pidgeon the whole time, and knew trouble and speed(but she is not as fast as party) from her brother Tailz.)(also however she was hiding).

“Gross you were watching!” exclaimed Joss. “That’s okay though I don’t mind.”Hores nathan looks shy but exicted too. I didn’t mind because everyone knows SAlly is really cute. Sally says “but now we are in anther dimesiions mabe we have some time for doing more stuff.” so theyy put the ship into time park and for a while  you just see the ship squawking and rocking back and forth and you horse Nathin whinny “OHHHHHH YEAH” and they walk out looking sheepish but really cool because Party found some super-powered robo sunglasses and some juggling balls in the spaceship and now he is doing tricks and Nathin and Sally are talking about how good he is at juggling then.

Of course, the time park would make it so you wouuld see all of these things insttantly or very slwly dpedning on when you were watching it from. By the way the “time machine” isnot really a time machine though. However, it can make traveling through time possible in some cases. But mostly it works by transposoong all of the ships different dimesntions into another dimensions that goes in a different direction. This can cause the user to “slide” or “slip” in time or to be in a differnt dimension after., Thats why you can see from the outside of timepark but cannot interffere ever.

 

In this time the process takes them to earth  4444443 which is one earth where nathan is a human ape and there is only one of him. And he wears a fedora. But two now! Nathan and partygo to comicon again which they realize is happening in this earth time also right now. They get to comiccon and horeses nathan is not let in at first but when everyone sees he is with party the mouse (interdimensional fame has certain privaleges) they let everyone in who is on line to celebrate. Now the comicon is PACKED! Jjust the way party likes it. 🙂

Earth 4444443 is the planet of dance parties also.  Everyone is dancing all the time but noow that party is here even the ones who dont dance are dancing. Party grinds all the people who are dancing and none is jealous even though he is with everyone. But he parties way too hard on human Nathin and breaks his leg. No one who there is can fix les, and Nathin is in too much pain to go on partying. He is partied out.

Party cries. At least he’ll still have horhse Nathin.

 

“Oh no! Says panda bear allen tudick who lives in this dimesions already (see my earlier sotry for background on this[imdb firefly episode summary]).

 

There is nothing harder for a horse to do than to shoot the the huuman they were in another timeline or dimsension or planet because they are themself, especially when they are just becoming newest best frind. regular version of him who is his newest best friend, but sometimes there are party fowls and no one knows that as well as Party who gives him a big speech and makes him feel beetter. The speech goes:

 

“Nathan, just the horse Nathan, this is the right thing to do. Have you ever used a laser cannon? They are actually really easy, but sometimes they can backfire and cause a massive time dilation so be really careful. The laser party is bright green and basically looks like the lasers in STARWARStar Wars.”

 

Nathan Fillion’s head blew up. Pieces of his beautiful brain were scattered on everyone at Comicon like pink snow falling, but remember the snow is actually the brain of the greatest (human )actor of a generation. Everyone loved it but also they were sad. Also his teeth made clattering sounds when they fall. It smelled bad, but good.

 

then the crowd parted and Party saw Party in this dimension who is Robert Downey Jr and plays iron man and he has the suit on.( also the suit is becoming real and later party will really be real iron man, see my other story for more on this) And then this deminsion’s Robert Downey Jr. who is a slug with no comedic timing calls Party a balding loser but no one laughs.

 

It turns out when your just a tiny party fly you can fit in the iron man suit with the robert downey jr version of yourself and no one can see you and you get really sweaty. This is what happens when Bruce Willis comes on stage to play the rock harmonica version of the cantina song (techno version) and literally everyone goes crazy. Even ded mouse is there and he is bowing down to bruce willis because bruce is playing the version party wrote. Dr. Dre is actually in the Insane Clown Posse now and The Goo Goo Dolls are singing “Party goo” after ruce Willis finishes and crowd surfs with party all the way bak to the time dilator.

)

What a crazy day!

 

Love,

Jhoss Whedon

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PROJECT UNCIA — Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

Cold.

While she sleeps she dreams of cold. Deep cold that clings to the nostrils and whiskers, cold that seeps into the ears. Not the cold of home, but the cold of the between place. The dark place, with its distant, tiny lights. She moves through the cold, but it is not her cold. It is a cold without snow.

An alarm sounds. She is on her paws in an instant. Anxiety pumps into her system. Her cubs are in danger. She does not know how she knows this, nor has she ever mated. But the alarm awakens every maternal instinct within her. She must find her cubs.

A two-legger comes in. Her hackles rise until she recognizes his scent. She has no love for the two-leggers and their strange things and their strange smells. She does not like what they have done to her. But something within her tells her that she needs this one’s help to find her cubs, so she endures it. For now.

An opening appears and beyond it she sees her waiting harness. She does not like the harness and backs away from it. The two-legger makes soft, soothing sounds and touches something in his hand. Awareness floods into her. She needs the harness to save her cubs. She does not like it, but she steps through the opening and into the thing. She likes it less when the two-legger fastens it around her.

The harness hisses and bites into her back. She shakes her head. Suddenly she is… more. Her sight is more intense. Every sound is amplified. She can smell the two-legger’s fear. There is danger here, even in the deep cold. Something pumps into her from the fangs of the harness. She calms, but remains alert.

The two-legger inserts tubes into her nostrils. She lets out a mrowl of protest and tries to paw them off. They stink too much of two-leggers and two-legger things. Somehow he has tied them to her head. They do not come off. She must endure the stink.

The two-legger ruffles her fur. The harness does not let her turn to bite him. Not a hard bite, just enough to let him know she does not like to be touched, but the harness does not let her. He leaves her, and the opening disappears behind him.

This part. This part she remembers. This is her least favorite part of all. The walls close in around her. She crouches low and still they come. She is small as can be, and it seems the walls will crush her. The walls shrink down around her, and the world shakes, shakes so hard she fears she will be shaken off from it.

And then she is falling.

Her stomach turns with her and her claws unsheathe, though they find no purchase on the floor. Her ears ache–she is falling so fast. She cannot tell which way is up and she snarls in terror. The enclosed place grows warm, and her cries more desperate. The enclosed place whips about like a predator trying to snap the neck of its prey. She is its prey and she screams.

The place stops falling, but she is still moving. She bounces against the walls, and though the harness absorbs some of the impacts, it does not cushion all of them. Then the enclosed place is still. An opening appears with a soft hiss. The hiss of a predator too tired to fight any more. She shakes off her bruises and slinks through the opening.

She is home.

She bounds in the snow a few times before she realizes that this is not home. The smells are off, but it is more like home here than she has seen in a long time. She runs over the snow, her broad feet sending up little white plumes. Every muscle rejoices.

The tubes in her nostrils feed pure air to her lungs as she runs. She hardly smells the strangeness of this place. Then another scent hits her. Her cubs. The scent of her cubs makes its way to her around the tubes in her nostrils. They are not close, but they are not far either. They are hurt. And they are in trouble. Something is between her and them. She does not know the scent, but she can tell that it is big and it is a predator. The air in its direction stinks of blood.

She must be quick. She must be clever. She must find her way to her cubs before the predator-thing finds her. She heads for the tree line, nostrils flaring as they scent the air, ears pivoting to catch the slightest sound. Shadows dapple her body. To save her cubs, she must become one with the shadows.

She reaches the trees. Like the air of this place, there is something wrong about their scent too. There are no little scents, no scents of birds or rodents, no scent at all of the little prey that make the trees their home. What does it mean?

Branches tangle about her limbs. They lift her into the air. She snarls and snaps, but they lift her toward a maw that opens in the side of a tree. A vertical maw that stinks of rotten meat.

She snaps and snarls and claws and tears. A branch breaks within her jaws, and she spits out blood that tastes like pine sap. The remaining branches whip her into the air, but strength flows into her now. She will not be the tree-thing’s meal today.

It lets her go. She rolls in the snow to clear some of the sap-blood from her fur. She knows the danger now and plays a chase game with it. She breaks into a dancing run, moving in and out of shadows, close enough to the trees to have some cover, not so close that a tree-thing might snatch her again.

The big predator scent grows stronger. She angles her approach to it, trying to scent out her cubs beyond it. She could make a wide circle around it, but her cubs are in danger. She must get past the predator quickly.

She crouches down in the snow. The big predator’s lair is ahead of her. No other place stinks so strongly. She inches up the hill, and peers over the top.

The fur of a bear hangs down over armor plates that smell like two-legger things. It stands upright like a two-legger, but its face sports the fangs of many, many serpents. If it sees her and catches her, it will kill her and eat her. She knows this for a fact.

Her tail flicks behind her as she considers. The serpent-head pivots,and it holds something in a paw. A thing that looks like the two-legger things that spit death from afar. Like the two-leggers, the big predator will not play fair.

She will use that to her advantage. She has only the beginnings of an idea, but already she moves. She snarls and charges down the hill, faster and faster. She ducks to the side, and the death-thing churns up snow where she was a moment before. She launches herself at the big predator and knocks it to the ground.

Claws and teeth are everywhere. Claws and teeth strike against metal. Only on its shoulder do they hit home. The big predator roars in pain. She hurt it, did not kill it. Good. She bounds off its chest and runs from it. She does not have to look behind her to know that it gives chase.

She runs in, zigs and zags. Blood courses through her veins. She is alive. Every thrum of her heart tells her so. She is alive. Every ache in her muscles tells her so. She is alive. She still dances the beautiful, awful dance of life and death. She is alive.

The death-thing misses her again. The predator howls in rage. She must not be too fast. She must dance closer to the jaws of death than she ever has before. She must dance this dance if she is to save her cubs.

The death-thing strikes a rear paw. A glancing blow, but still she tumbles nose over tail in the snow. The predator slows, its serpent-fanged mouth grinning in anticipation. It puts away the death-thing and draws instead a long metal fang.

She limps, but she is not as hurt as she pretends. The two-legged predator closes in on her. She scurries just out of its reach. It nears again. Closer. Closer. The predator raises its long metal fang.

Branches twine around the predator and lift it into the air. The metal fang twirls from its paw into the snow. She darts away as fast as her wound will let her. Part of her wants to see the outcome of the struggle, but the scent of her cubs urges her onward.

She still must be careful. She investigates the den of the two-legged predator. There is no spoor of a mate. The scent of another predator-thing is several days old. Hopefully she will have found her cubs before it returns. Something flows into her system to help blank the pain. She is so close to her cubs now.

A fence surrounds an open area. One quick spring and she is over it. Her cubs. She should be able to see her cubs now. Instead she sees two two-leggers. The kind from home, not the big predator kind.

One lays prone in the snow. The other kneels and shakes him.

“Koshkin! Wake up! The search-and-rescue cyborg is here.”

She does not understand the words. The prone figure moans. He is hurt. He looks like a two-legger, but he smells like a cub. Perhaps the two-leggers changed him the way they changed her, only more so. It does not matter. She must save him.

The other two-legger tries to help her, but she warns her off with a growl. The two-legger harness around his body makes a passable scruff. She drags the not-cub across the snow. She is tired. Cold above, she is tired. Fire floods her veins and she grows strong again, but she knows this strength will not last.

The two-legger takes a two-legger thing from her harness and makes an opening in the fence. Inch by inch she drags the not-cub to a clearing. She is so tired now, and the fire inside her can give her no new strength. She rests her head and forepaws on the not-cub’s chest. She does not trust the female two-legger, but she is so tired.

The next sound she hears is the roar of a big two-legger thing landing in the snow. They want to take the not-cub from her, but she growls them off and hauls him up the ramp herself.

They will take him from her, eventually. They always do. But she will keep him safe until they are up in the big cold again. She will eat. She will groom herself. She will sleep, and dream of running in the snows of home.


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STELLAR NURSERY EXCERPT – FRANK SMITH

Find here an excerpt transmitted by Scummy to tantalize the people of earth in anticipation of the upcoming release of Planet Scumm! Some words from author Frank Smith:

One month ago they’d set off from the domes of Titan Colony to meet with the Science Council on Mars—the Madeira’s longest run yet. They’d made it as far as Europa and her quiet seas when they hit trouble. The ship’s computer had detected hull damage, requiring Zadie to take a spacewalk to investigate the problem.

She hated spacewalks. Like many who grew up on the domed colonies, Zadie was agoraphobic. Being in space was an overload. All this was in her psych profile, and yet she still had clearance to do a spacewalk. So—can’t be that bad, right?

“Can’t be that bad,” Zadie said. Her personal mantra.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

With each slow breath, she reminded herself that she was a body inside of the suit—a person who deserved to continue existing. Keeping her eyes on her feet, Zadie took small steps forward. Soon, she was bounding over the hull of the ship…

READ IT IN THE ISSUE


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Smita Bhattacharta — Interview

Author Smita Bhattacharta was kind enough to take set aside some time to answer satisfy Scummy’s curiosity about her work, process and life. recorded below is the exchange as transmitted through another of Scummy’s many minions. 

You sent us a story that’s not entirely sci-fi in character, so what is your relationship to science fiction? What are a few of your favorite sci-fi stories, if any?

I think anything bizarre is of interest to me, and I’d categorize the brand of fiction I like to read and write to be ‘slipstream’ and not strictly science fiction. This would mean books such as those by Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood or even Stephen King. Edgar Allen Po too, if you will– he’s a remarkable writer of weird, goosebumps inducing fiction. So, actually, ‘weird’ is what I go for. For example, I found the British series Black Mirror enthralling and want to write a series of short stories just like those.

Check out PRIEST’s CONCUBINE RIGHT HERE!

Sci-fi has often been a genre that presents alternative ways of looking at and criticizing contemporary mores and values. How do you use fiction as a lens to explore feminism or otherwise challenge the status-quo?

It’s a great question because I think sci-fi is one of the best ways to challenge status quo, somewhat like a premonition or an antecedent. Anything can happen in books, right? And easier if it’s one of your own. I can give my female characters special powers and expand on their ordinary ones. I can make them dream the impossible and have them achieve it too. It’s pretty, freaking empowering!

For this particular story, I related intimately with the protagonist—Selvi. I felt her angst, her fury and her determination to change the destiny thrust on her. She did it smartly and that is one way women can deal with situations they think they cannot change because of unshakable customs or social mores. To be honest, this feeling of helplessness is not uncommon for women in India, especially those belonging to slightly poorer or rigid cultures. But what if a smart one among them rose to be a Selvi and helped elevate the rest of her sistren alongside?

How integral is science fiction as a part of public consciousness in India? 

Very! Our local sci-fi heroes are both eclectic and adorable. We have Chacha Chaudhury (A red turbaned clever old man and his helper from Jupiter who together vanquish evil) and Nagraj (King of snakes, a local spin to the Western superheroes, bit of a cliché though) which areobjects of awe when young, and cause of much mirth when older. We also have some prolific sci-fi writers: Satyajit Ray (Professor Shanku’s stories), Amitava Gosh (The Calcutta Chromosome), Salman Rushdie (Grimus) among others. There are a host of young writers and I think some interesting work is going on here.

You seem like a bit of a world traveler, where have you lived and what has brought you there?

I’ve lived all over India and now live and work in my favorite Indian city, Mumbai. I get restless every now and set off on a solo trip or if my friends are available, set off with them. I’ve been to most of Asia, Europe and America. I’m lucky that my work allows me to travel to some exotic locations where I get to learn about other cultures and people and eat their yummy food. Travel is key to leading a fulfilled life; it helps expand the mind and you realize there are other, often better, ways to live. And of course, it’s fun!

I was looking through your blog and found a post from last year with what looked like parts of the same story you sent us, was this originally part of a novel or serial story?

The Priest’s Concubine was a chapter in the novel I was writing a few years ago which some of my beta readers felt was too dark to be read. Stomach churning and gory, they said. But I loved writing and reading them. So, I concluded the world was just not ready for the book J, and I should take out pieces of the novel and make stories out of them. To be honest, I like gory and macabre, much to the dismay of my loved ones, and this is right up my alley. Also, this story is metaphorical and funny, elements I added later. To me anything macabre but with comic elements makes for great entertainment. Like American Psycho or Fight Club. Fargo and Black Mirror. Dexter. I should really read Kurt Vonnegut soon.

What makes you put down a piece and move on? What stood out to you about the section you salvaged for us? Tell us a little more about your process if you can, what kinds of things do you have in mind when starting on a piece? How much emerges as you write?

When I write, I start living the scene, the characters, the feeling; all duality disappears. As soon as I stop connecting with the piece, I discard it. I cannot bring myself to write anymore. I do give myself a break and try again, and if it comes back, I persist. If not, I focus on another idea. I strongly believe a good short story—the kind that stays in the reader’s minds for a really long time—is an idea that is dying to be written. It does not allow you to sleep, eat or chill in peace. Yes, that happens to me.

In the piece I submitted to Planet Scumm, the villainous priest is everything I detest about patriarchy: the obfuscating rules, the pompousness, the un-shakeable assurance of its leaders that everyone else will bend easily to their directives. The protagonist Selvi is the foil to all this, and through her, I raise my voice against the atrocities the helpless in the world face, especially those ruled by the hard norms of patriarchy and religion.


Smita Bhattacharya is an award winning short story writer based out of Mumbai. She has published two books: He Knew a Firefly and Vengeful. Though, seeking to write the next big novel, she considers short stories her pièce de résistance. Her short stories have appeared in several Indian and international publications (The Statesman, DNA-Me, Fiction Magazines, Chicago Literati, Eastlit, Elsewherelit, Earthen Lamp Journal, Tall Tales, The Pomegranate Anthology). 


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THE PRIEST’S CONCUBINE – SMITA BHATTACHARTA

Shaukya was both the head priest and the de-facto leader of Dhruvgiri, a remote village atop the mountains. One morning he called a meeting of the village elders, saying the goddess had spoken to his wife, Wagmani, once again, and she had an important announcement to make.

“The goddess told me of a way to save our women,” Wagmani proclaimed.

Puzzled, the villagers looked at one another.

“But what’s wrong with them?” one asked.

“Haven’t you noticed?” she said. “They look sick. Emaciated. As if something’s gnawing at them from inside.”

They thought of the women they knew—mothers, daughters, and wives. Yes, a few did look sickly, but…

“It’s because of the lack of pleasurable love in their lives,” Wagmani said.

They stared back at her, not understanding.

Shaukya interjected. “What she means is–thehe goddess thinks the men of the village don’t know how to keep their women happy, and that’s showing up in their health. This needs to be corrected.” And he told them how.

There was an uproar.

“This is preposterous.”

“What do you mean we need practice?”

“Where will we find the girls for such an enterprise?”

“It’s immoral to even talk about it.”

Shaukya tried to calm them down. “It’s the goddess’ wish,” he said.

“That’s impossible,” they protested.

“Goddess Barohi has spoken to my wife,” he said firmly. “And when she asks for something, we do it. Or there’s going to be a disaster.”

“What kind of disaster?”

He shrugged. “Drought. Famine. Mass childlessness.”

Shaukya was seventy years old. His wife, Wagmani, was twenty, and his fourth. She was the daughter of the richest man in the village and exquisitely beautiful. His earlier wives, equally beautiful and accomplished, had given him no children. With this one, though, he had hope. He was trying hard enough and if she failed to give him the progeny he so desperately wanted, he hoped this new plan  might work. Luckily, beauty and money had not bred intelligence in her, and Wagmani had been easy to sway. Coming from her, the directive sounded almost innocent. He’d sometimes taken his people’s naivety for granted, and that hadn’t worked out so well in the past.

Now, infusing authority into his voice, he said, “I’ve already planned it out for us. First, we’ll build a temple for the goddess: bigger and grander than the one we have. For that, every household will need to donate some gold. Next, each of you will sacrifice one girl from your family for the service. It could be anyone!”

“But it’s immoral!” said the villagers.  

“Not when the goddess decrees it,” Shaukya comforted.

“But why does the goddess speak to Wagmani alone?” a villager wondered aloud to his wife, later in the safety of his house.

His wife replied, “Shaukya and Wagmani serve the goddess, and so they have divine powers.”

“But what if we don’t need to do anything at all? Everything might still be fine.”

His wife took a step back, aghast.

“Don’t say things like that,” she begged. “You’ve little children. Have you forgotten the drought that happened three years ago? We refused to give gold to the temple. And the flood that came two years before that, and the fire that raged through the village the year I was born. All because we neglected the goddess..”

Her husband nodded ruefully. He did remember.

Thus, after some discussion and many threats, the village fell in line.

The temple was builta stately edifice in white marbleat the centre of the village.Upon its altar was placed a stone idol of the goddess: sturdy, ten-feet-tall, her skin a muddy-puddle brown, her eyes red and fiery, her hair a matted ash-black that reached halfway down her back like a thousand caterpillars, a garland of nettles around her neck, her purple and gold sari hitched up to her knee, a gold crown on her head.

Then the women arrived: maids from the rich, daughters and wives from the poor, disobedient and unruly or quiet and submissive. Mostly the women were unattractive or had displeased their households. The temple maids—or Barohi’s angels as they were called—were trained by Shaukya and a few of his chosen men. A section of the temple had been cordoned off for the training period and no one was allowed to enter the area, not even the priest’s wife. The girls were sent to rooms around the altar. Each had a room of her own, with illustrations on the wall depicting her specialty. In their incense-filled, lamp-lit confines, the girls worked round-the-clock to teach the men of Dhruvgiri the art of love.

There was no dearth of devotees. Men came knocking at the very next day following the temple’s opening. The devotees had to give a donation to avail themselves of the angels’ services. Shaukya had convinced everyone that it was a divine act of love; both parties were cleansing themselves of their turpitudes. They served the women of the village by training the men, and encouraged their goddess to protect the village.  More men and women arrived everyday. After a while, no one checked to see if the  women in the village had grown healthier.

Then Selvi arrived.

The villagers later claimed the ground shivered and the river’s water roiled when Selvi was dragged into the temple. Her screaming was heard far and wide—the piteous screeching of a dying bird—as she struggled to free herself from the grasps of the two men holding her.

“This is wrong!” she cried. “Let me go.”

“Stop screaming,” Wagmani scolded. “You should be grateful. You’re the chosen one.”

“This is a lie,” Selvi spat. “A story concocted by that stupid old priest.”

The angels held their breath. Some looked nervously at the ceiling, dreading a shower of boulders. Others turned to look out the door, ducking their heads, as if fearing a flood.

“Shut your mouth, girl,” Wagmani hissed. “Are you calling us liars?”

Selvi glared back. “Why does the goddess speak to you only?” she demanded.

“Because I’m her divine messenger,” Wagmani replied.

Selvi laughed. “Wake up, woman. Your husband only wants to avoid the dark road to the brothel.”

Wagmani covered her ears in alarm.

“Shut your foul mouth,” she yelled. Then, turning to Shaukya, “Let’s take her to a brothel and leave her there. She doesn’t deserve to be even the temple’s maid.”

But Shaukya was looking at Selvi with interest rather than anger. A strange gleam had come into his eyes.

Selvi was anything but beautiful—or what they considered beautiful in Dhruvgiri. Her dark brown face was uneven and gleamed like fish scales. Her cherry red lips were fixed in a grotesque grin, even, when she wasn’t smiling. Long, grizzled hair framed her round face. She was thick all over: thick waist, thick wrists, thick calves. Plentiful gold jewellery sat on her skin like yellow bugs wallowing in  mud. Her father was rich, but had wanted to rid himself of the burden of marrying her off gettingoffgetting her married.

Shaukya thought Selvi was fascinating. He’d never known anyone so repulsive to be so fiery. The priest hadn’t been challenged for a while, and this could be interesting. The gold he’d take. The girl he’d tame.

So, when Wagmani raised a hand to slap Selvi, he stopped her.

“No,” he commanded. “She’s going to be my personal servant.”

“What?” Wagmani protested. “But you’re married to me.”

He looked at her with barely controlled rage. Wagmani averted her eyes. Shaukya gestured for his men to take a screaming Selvi to the training area and ordered that no other girl was to be taken in until her lessons were complete.

And so began Selvi’s time at the temple of Barohi.

At first, no one dared to venture close to the training area, but after three weeks, when the first of the maids did sneak pastmore out of curiosity than pitythey heard silence. hen giggles… soft chatter… laughter? They stopped in surprisesurpriset. Had the poor girl been terrified into madness?

Wagmani heard the news with trepidation. She’d noticed the changes herself. Her husband was a transformed man: more composed, dreamy-eyed, almost kind. A strange smile played on his lips. He scarcely heard her when she spoke and rarely called her to bed anymore. She grew increasingly bitter, until one day, after a fiery argument with Shaukya, in which the maids kept hearing the words “you told me to,” Wagmani rushed to the terrace and hurled herself off. Some would claim she was pushed a hand’s shadow was seen before she fell—but Shaukya quelled all rumors.

“She has sacrificed herself to the goddess,” he said.

And now Selvi was to take her place.

The wedding celebrations lasted three days. The village had seen nothing like it before. More remarkably, they’d never seen Shaukya so happy.

A month later, Shaukya called another meeting of the villager elders.

“Congratulations.” They clapped.

His face fell for a minute, then brightened again. “That good news will come soon. The goddess is benevolent,” he said.

“Then what did you call us for?”

“My wife has a wish.”

There was faint murmuring. That Shaukya was heeding his wife’s wishes was unusual. He was indeed smitten.

“What is it?” they asked warily.

“She says the temple angels have been working too hard and deserve a day off. A day of celebration.”

Well, no one had a problem with that. The girls were doing the goddess’ work after all, and some eating and merrymakingmerry-making never harmed anyone.

A grand feast was held in a large open space right outside the village, with dancing, drinking, music, all in excess. And within the hour, there was enough debauchery to churn an ocean.

Then, in the midst of all the delirious cheering and music…

“What’s that?” a voice from the crowd asked in wonder.

Everyone stopped. Turned to look.

Their mouths fell open.

The temple was up in flames. Great tongues of fire leapt up from it, greedy and unstoppable. The evening sky blazed red.

“What’s happening?” the villagers gasped, too shocked to move.

Then, as if an invisible hand had turned all their faces to look in one direction, they saw her, emerging out of the shadows, hair flying, wrapped in an eerie orange glow, mouth agape in a silent scream.

They ran to her.

“Where’s the priest?” they asked.

“Dead,” she whispered.

“What happened?”

“He’d displeased me,” she murmured. “He’d lied.”

“What? What do you mean?”

But she didn’t reply. Merely stood still, a flaming rock, her eyes unblinking, a soft, mad chant on her lips.

A strange calm overtook the villagers as they gazed at her, as if a puzzle they’d wanted to solve all their lives was going to finally unravel. No one thought to run to the burning temple to rescue the priest or save their houses.

Then, an angel spoke, breaking the hush.

“But… don’t you see?”

“What?” a mumble from the crowd, as if held in a shared dream.

“The goddess!” the angels said together.

The bloodshot eyes, the knotted hair, the bronzed face and nettles around the neck. The crown of gold, the purple sari, it was she!

The temple angels fell to their knees first, followed by the rest of the village, one after another.

They all looked up to the goddess, and listened.


Smita Bhattacharya is an award winning short story writer based out of Mumbai. She has published two books: He Knew a Firefly and Vengeful. Though, seeking to write the next big novel, she considers short stories her pièce de résistance. Her short stories have appeared in several Indian and international publications (The Statesman, DNA-Me, Fiction Magazines, Chicago Literati, Eastlit, Elsewherelit, Earthen Lamp Journal, Tall Tales, The Pomegranate Anthology). 


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Bill McCormick – Interview

Sean Clancy, one of Scummy’s main minions, was dispatched recently to learn more about the world of Korzac and its discoverer Bill McCormick. Here is the transmission Sean sent to Scummy detailing his findings:
kay, that should work.
It just told me “this call is now being recorded.”

Yeah I think they’re legally required to make sure everyone knows when that’s happening.
Oh, that’s cool. I do a radio show on Fox and we have all sorts of disclaimers.

Oh, no kidding? What about?
I do a weekly radio show called “The Big Wake-Up Call” on WBIG, which is Fox Sports, and I talk about anything but sports. I talk about politics and science and comedy, comic books, whatever crosses my mind. It’s a pretty free-ranging show. It’ll be seven years this October.

And it’s on a sports network?
They’ve got plenty of sports stuff, and they brought me in originally to do pop culture. It kind of got free-ranging, and then when I started getting science fiction stuff published, people would write in and go “Well, if you’re writing science fiction, do you know anything about science?” One thing led to another and here we are.

Always great when you come in for one thing and can move it towards whatever you want to do.
Like I said, it’s a pretty free-ranging show and it’s a lot of fun to do.The guy who hosts it is a guy named Ryan Gatenby, and he’s been doing it–I don’t know–twelve, thirteen years. I’ve been with him for the last seven. So it’s fun. Once a week, get on the radio, wave at people, you know. They can’t see me waving, of course, because it’s the radio, but I do it anyway.

Read KORZAC RIGHT NOW!

So with “Korzac,” it seems like one of those stories where a lot of thought has been put into how this species functions. Did you think of this alien species first, these strange, warlike bug-people? Or did you conceive the plot of the story first, and then slot this species in?
None of the above. I was playing around with a language exercise, and instead of just saying “this is ‘mom,’ this is ‘dad,'” trying to come up with different synonyms so I wasn’t always boring. Came up with “progenitor,” and once I started working with that I came up with this whole fake lineage of random names–mates and progenitors and different things. And I looked at it and I said “Wow, that’d be a fun story,” and I backtracked into it to figure out, well, what kind of species would do this and how would it work? Next thing you know I’m writing “Korzac.”

So you started with alternate terms for parentage and went from there?
Yeah.

Huh.
(Laughter). I know. But, it’s where I started.

Could you ever see Korzac or the Dernians–even something tangentially related to this setting you’ve created–appearing in other stories?
I try and keep my stories separate, but obviously I only have one brain, so things do occasionally cross over. With “Korzac” though, if I was going to cross something over, I would probably just go back and expand that story. It’s a story that if I really wanted to sit down and tackle into it, I think I could make at least a novella out of it.

It does seem like we’re coming in on the tail end of a larger story.
Right. I mean, “Korzac” is actually a slice of the middle if you think about it for a second. Obviously the Dernians have done all these amazing things, and now they’re starting to piece the galaxy together in one giant web. I actually wrote what the threat really is. I’ve got that on my computer somewhere. But it just became such a long, wandering piece that it took away from Korzac. If I was going to go back to it, I would insert that threat and build what the Dernians are like. Probably break out my synonym generator and burn it to the ground trying to get it all to happen. I’ve thought about it, but right now I’ve got two… three… two and a half novels I have to get knocked out and turned into two different publishers. Plus I’ve got four graphic novels and two comic books that I’m working on. Korzac is going to have to be a labor of love. But I’ll get to it. I know it’s one of those things.

What was really interesting about how they’re presented in the story is that–in part–they have this throwback, pulpy science fiction quality with your stereotypical empire in space, but also they’re strangely progressive. Like all good heroes or villains they view themselves as the protagonists in their own story, right? They think they’re doing what’s best? Is that how you see the Dernians?
I’ll be blunt here, I definitely ripped the whole pulp concept from A. E. van Vogt. I mean, everything he did was just larger than life, sci-fi pulp-type stuff. As a child that ruined my brain, forever. So there’s always going to be an element of that there.

As to the species themselves, it was more a matter of–like I said before–backtracking into how they would mate, how they would have all these children and do all of this stuff. I just started having some fun with it. That’s an integral part of anything I write. I have to have a good time doing it. So coming up with the different chambers… (laughter) and what they have to deal with just seemed like a fun way of doing it. And you can actually credit one of my ex-girlfriends for calling her private area her “cathedral and chamber of love.” So that made it into the story.

(Laughter) We won’t mention any names, but…
Yeah I can’t give her name out because I’ve got a new girlfriend now, who lives with me, and…

I understand. You mentioned the work you’re doing, and it’s always great to hear of writers who are able to get their work out there and be busy. Being busy as a writer tends to be both a curse and a blessing. I was looking at your website, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on self-promotion.
My experience is kind of unique, but it’s fun. I lost my job in 2010. I was going through a really dark time. So I started writing, kind of as therapy. I’d always written non-fiction. I wrote stuff that ended up on Fox, I’d been published in a bunch of different magazines. I did a lot of music-related stuff, because I’d played in bands and worked with bands for many many years–some very famous, and some “ehh.” Not so hot.

My experience was coming at it from the entertainment industry. In 2011 I wrote a story, called “And the Beat Goes Phut,” P-H-U-T. It got picked up by Bewildering Stories–much to my surprise and much to everyone’s surprise I think. They decided to release it on September 11, 2011. That was going to be the release date of the story. Then they realized that the “villain,” such as it was–“antagonist” I guess, would be a much better word–was this Muslim guy. It hadn’t clicked that September 11 with an evil Muslim might set off a lot of warning bells and sirens. Personally I wished they would have released it then. Probably would have gotten some great pub. But they pushed it back a month. Anyway it came out, and it came out to really good reviews. Again, much to my surprise. It was really my first real take at trying to do this. I’d played around with different stuff before but I’d never really, seriously done it.

That came out, and then a story called “If Thou Art God,” came out–which I wrote, obviously. Then, all of a sudden offers started coming in. Originally to write for a comic book series, and then to get other short stories done. I’m just kind of fielding stuff right now. I’ve had calls from different publishers and different things and sometimes it’s a good fit, and sometimes it’s accidental. Like finding you guys online.

Do you have anything you try to avoid when you’re sending work out?
My stuff tends to be edgier and a little more adult, so I tend to avoid any religious publishers. I see no reason to offend them. There are certain publishing companies that have very strict guidelines–some I can adhere to and work with and others that I just don’t. There’s plenty of room out there for everybody. Including me! I try to keep my audience engaged. I’ve got a few thousand people that follow me or are friended with me on Facebook. A few thousand more on Twitter. I don’t do Instagram or stuff like that–mostly because I don’t do a lot of photos. Only so many pictures of my ugly head I can throw online. We have a running joke that I have a face for radio, and that’s fine.

I love the fact that my last novel, The Brittle Riders, got bootlegged in Russia. On the one hand I’m upset they sold 35,000 copies of my novel and I’ll never see a penny from it. But on the other hand it’s pretty exciting getting fan mail from Russia!

If someone’s going to go to the trouble of bootlegging your stuff, clearly they liked it.
The funny thing is that, in Russia, the themes I touch on–in Brittle Riders, not in “Korzac,”–are actually against the law. This has got to be an underground book over there, because–

Like a Beatles, rocks and rolls thing going on.
It’s like punk rock literature. Very underground. That’s cool to me. I grew up being a punk. I was talking with a pastor at my church and he was like, “You’re 55-years-old and you’re still more punk than all the kids running around with safety pins.” I came up with a lot of the originals. There’s a lot of that attitude that’s ingrained in me, which makes me a little prickly to be around sometimes but, I try not to. I try not to drop an f-bomb every three seconds.

Any other upcoming work you’d like to plug?
The Brittle Riders trilogy is hitting the first week of April. “Korzac” is coming out, which I’m really stoked about because I wouldn’t let my girlfriend read it until it got published. There’s an anthology out called The Dogs of War, which I wrote a furry-themed horror piece (for). If you’re into furries, there’s a horror piece for furries that I wrote. It’s getting really great reviews. The story is called “The Loving Children.” Then my comic books Legend Parallel and Pestilent. Legend Parallel Issue 02 is coming out right now, and Pestilent will be out this summer. Both are very dark, both are rated “M for Mature.” They’ve got nudity and boobs-a-popin, and lots of really good violence. Lots of gross, mean violence. Ripping peoples’ hearts out and stuff like that–it’s a lot of fun.

That’s how I avoid therapy. See, I have these thoughts in my head, and if I acted them out I’d be in prison, but if I write them out they give me money. So I think this is better.


Bill McCormick began writing professionally in 1986 when he worked for Chicago Rocker Magazine in conjunction with his radio show on Z-95 (ABC-FM). He went on to write for several other magazines and later transitioned to blogs. He currently writes a sports blog at Jay The Joke, as well as a twisted news blog at World News Center. The latter provides source material for his weekly radio show on WBIG 1280 AM, FOX! Sports. Yes, you read that correctly, he does a show about anything other than sports on a sports radio station.

In 2011, Bill started submitting some fictional short stories to various publishers. Much to his surprise, and the consternation of linguists everywhere, they began publishing his efforts. Bill has expanded his repertoire to include comic books, graphic novels, and full length novels. He has currently penned everything from dystopian nightmares to cuddly children’s stories.

Bill is a big fan of nicotine, vodka, music, and this rambunctious redhead (formerly a bottle blonde) who keeps waking up in his bed.


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KORZAC: NÖRDICON OF DERN – BILL MCCORMICK

Korzac: Nördicon of Dern, Most High Admiral of the Fleet of Reverential Destiny, Honorary Moon God of the Exalted Planet Cloorbius, Holder of the Scepter of Gloptium Prime, Wielder of the Sword of Infinite Cuts, Prime Mate of Nizbo, Progenitor of Hazna, Quizbo, and Yath, Prime Mate of Ilxhan, Progenitor of Ooklsa and Horth, Prime Mate of Unquin, Progenitor of Jaexx, Wongaloo, Hipth, Sarf, and Tronk, Secondary Mate of Kandok, Junhre, Lorpa, and Krad, sat hacking into his claw like a skiggling zak.

The Dernian armada needed him to be focused and, for the most part, he was. His Vice Admiral, Oxlis, was a fine mind in his own right and made sure Korzac stayed on top of his game. And he hadn’t become Nördicon by having bad game.

Despite his current illness, Korzac was a prime specimen ,of the best Dern had to offer. Over six and a half feet tall with knee- length purple hair, perfectly oiled, cascading over his black and blue shell. His upper claws glistened naturally and his lower arms, with the traditional six fingers each, were finely muscled. His legs were thick and firm, and his hooves were perfect triangles. His pale blue skin and yellow eyes were straight out of one of those modeling books young femmes liked to swoon over.

Well, normally all that would be true. Right now his shiny black lips were dull gray, his bright yellow eyes were rheumy, and his smooth skin was oddly mottled. He knew what he had, and it wasn’t fatal, but that didn’t make it any more welcome.

He’d attained his rank while only having to use the Right of Assassination twice. The fewest in the history of the Nördicons. His ascension was the stuff of textbooks for all future Nördicons. He supposed that was something to be proud of. Maybe when he retired.

System 232: update.

Quantum bridges complete

Total loss of life: 6.38 billion

They’d slid into Wala-Un-sook space unnoticed. The Deceptor Shields having done their job, magnificently, again. Unlike that backwards planet, Earth, which had been kind enough to surrender right after they’d blown the first hole in one of their continents, the Wala-Un-sooks showed no inclination of being polite. In fact, they were being downright rude.

System 17: update

Quantum bridges detected

Current inhabitants reside on 4th planet from solar center

Population: approximately 1.72 million

Technological status: pre-industrial

Chance of survival… … Zero

He’d been forced to implement attack plan Gama Zed Zed Minor to counter the Wala-Un-sook. Which was fine. He knew his crew preferred a good battle before conquest. He watched as two battle cruisers pulled past his flagship and raced towards the edges of the Wala-Un-sook armada. They had placed their smaller fighters as protection and he wanted them taken out before he committed the destroyers.

They had their work cut out for them. This was the last system their scientists needed to create the Quantum Entanglement Grid, which would keep the invaders out of this third of the galaxy.

Of course, in accordance with the Diplomatic Gnosis of Necessity, they’d asked each planet for permission first. The Grid enablers on each planet would only kill about a third of their population and each was, naturally, offered time to evacuate within their system. All had declined. Earth had even threatened legal action.

That announcement had led to days of laughter in the High Council chambers. It was also the reason Korzac had decided to lead the assault there personally. No one sued a Nördicon and lived.

The Wala-Un-sook, on the other hand, would be offered an honorable defeat. Even as their entrails drifted into the vacuum, they’d earned that much.

At least.

He let out a garnoofing sound which caused the bridge crew to cringe without comment. He privately admitted it wasn’t pleasant while appreciating their decorum.

He hated being sick.

He heard a gentle rustle beside him and turned to face a young cadet. He forgot her name. She was holding a clip-pad with several icons highlighted.

Not everything was glory and battle when you were a leader. He motioned for her to speak.

“Forgive my presence, sir,” she began . “I have the updates on the Grid you requested.”

He nodded for her to continue.

“Since the Earthlings have agreed to participate in Xhak-Ko …”

His raised claw stopped her.

“What? With no Wark-Hana or Quandikran first? Are they that eager naturally or did Ilzak come up with some new threat?”

“As far as I know, neither sir. It seems there was some sort of fertility or rebirth festival going on when Ambassador Ilzak arrived to oversee the installation of the grid. It’s called…” she checked her notes, “e-stir, I believe. Our linguists are having problems with their many languages and religions, most of which contradict each other.  Anyway, sir, he decided to take advantage of it to see if he could get the work going earlier. About thirty percent of the population agreed to join in Xhak-Ko with us so he issued the Formal Writ of Apology for the little hole you left in some place which used to be called … le-wee-zee-anna … and repatriated the citizens of that continent to other locations, either on their planet or in their system, depending on their wishes. He is currently setting up the grid unit on the empty continent. He reports he is one galactic year ahead of schedule.”

He hacked again. Flushed with embarrassment, he nodded.

“Ilzax is one of the good ones. I once saw him stop a war with a simple orgy and some oils. Well, I hope the Xhak-Ko with those primitives was worth his time.”

“Yes, sir,” she continued, “he reports he has personally had carnal relations with eleven different humans, that’s what they call themselves, and says, despite their limited amount of orifices, they really seem to enjoy everything and, he enjoys them as well.”

Despite himself Korzac laughed. Then he garnoofed again. The cadet didn’t blink.

“Very well, cadet, is there anything else?”

“Yes sir,” she smiled, “the remaining thirteen grid units are now complete and have successfully finished testing. The ones on inhabited worlds have produced fewer casualties than predicted.”

He beamed.

“That is good news.”

She bowed slightly.

“Yes sir. Will you be needing sex before I go?”

He frowned.

“Sadly, no. I’m so glumped I’d never make it past your first chamber.”

She giggled at the old joke, bowed again, and left.

Korzac adjusted himself in his chair to better see the battle screens.

The destroyers were arcing into the main force of the Wala-Un-sook armada. The battle would be fierce, but the ending was inevitable. Wala-Un-sook would soon be the property of Dern.

 

System 837: update

Quantum bridges complete

Total loss of life: 1.31 billion

Survivors: 2.33 million

Rescue ships have been launched

Another look at the battle screens showed him all was going well outside. Oxlis could handle things from here on out. He nodded to him, rose from his chair, and exited the bridge. He was grateful the rituals of salutes and obsequiousness were abated in times of formal battle.

He was almost to his cabin when the ship’s doctor greeted him in the hall and handed him a small bag.

“Huff.”

Korzac shrugged, took the bag, and huffed it into all six nasal slits. He immediately felt better. He could feel it, go glass-ice in his veins like the shatter-shatter of his youthful indiscretions.

He turned to the doctor and smiled.

“Believe it or not it’s an Earth remedy. Something called Anthrax. Doesn’t seem to do them any good but it tested out perfectly against the Gorfian flu. How’s your breathing?”

“All clear. I can’t feel any congestion at all.”

“Good. You’ll still need a day of rest so go to your cabin. Your skin and muscles should be fine in two shifts.”

Korzac wasn’t due back on the bridge until then anyway, so this worked out perfectly. Instead of five days of misery he figured he could easily get to the fourth chamber now. He heard his lung rattle and decided that might be pushing things.

Still, he did feel better.

He got to his cabin and sat at his command desk. He pulled up the files on the invaders to see if there was any new information.

They’d been discovered one hundred years ago when Operation Oversight had been put in place. He was barely old enough to play with dolls when it happened. Dernian scientists had launched a probe one billion parsecs above the galactic plane. Their intent was to get a real-time map of this galaxy and its relation to as many others as they could. The idea was that a single location would garner the most complete data when all distances were equal and there was less time dilation to deal with.

What they found, instead, horrified them. An entire section of the galaxy, over forty systems, was connected by quantum bridges and those bridges were expanding. Someone, or something, was, literally, knitting together the galaxy and whatever life forms had been there were gone now.

All attempts at communication had been ignored. They didn’t know if the invaders were organic or cybernetic. All they knew was Dern, and its whole section of the galaxy, was in their path.

All the best scientists, and even many of the lesser ones agreed, within two thousand years this half of the galaxy would be under the control of the invaders.

In another ten thousand the whole galaxy would be overrun. Something had to be done.

An elderly scientist, named Quizex, had tried one last attempt at communication. He’d mapped out where molecules here were quantumly entangled with molecules inside the invaders territory. This would allow real-time communication. His plan was to send a variety of signals, ranging from the lowest audio to the highest visual, simultaneously, and see if they responded to any of them.

The plan was approved by the High Council and put into effect on the fortieth anniversary of the discovery of the invaders.

The quantum connection was enabled, the signals were sent and, then, something amazing happened.

One of the bridges erupted and shattered. They’d seen its demise through the entanglement andhirty years later, when the quantum ripples hit the probe above the galactic plane, they had confirmation.

They still didn’t know anything about the invaders but they knew how to stop them.

Scientists had spent those intervening years figuring out how to best use this knowledge. The day Korzac was announced as the new Nördicon was the day they had confirmation of their theories and presented their findings.

They would place quantum entanglement generators on fifteen worlds evenly spaced around Dern. Once enabled they would create a Quantum Dome which would protect them from an attack in any direction.

Their research had also led to these glorious Foldspace ships which could travel from system to system in a heartbeat. Combined with the Deceptor Shields they already used, they had the stealthiest––and most powerful––fleet known.

Within five years the entire grid would be active and Dern along with its sudden, if reluctant, allies, would be safe.

Korzac settled into his cabin, well pleased with the progress. He poured himself a snifter of gwindakwan, confident the doctor wouldn’t complain too much, and settled in to catch up on the latest news.

System 54: update

Quantum bridges detected

Current inhabitants reside on 3rd planet from solar center

Population: approximately 2.71 billion

Technological status: interstellar

Chance of survival: 40%

He silently toasted those who would be lost, and those who preceded them. Their numbers increasing every day. There was no way Dern could save them all.A glance at the grid screen showed him that, in this section of the galaxy, those few survivors would be safe and able to start lives on new worlds.

Now, if only someone could tell him who these invaders were and what they wanted, that would be great.


Bill McCormick began writing professionally in 1986 when he worked for Chicago Rocker Magazine in conjunction with his radio show on Z-95 (ABC-FM). He went on to write for several other magazines and later transitioned to blogs. He currently writes a sports blog at Jay The Joke, as well as a twisted news blog at World News Center. The latter provides source material for his weekly radio show on WBIG 1280 AM, FOX! Sports. Yes, you read that correctly, he does a show about anything other than sports on a sports radio station.

In 2011, Bill started submitting some fictional short stories to various publishers. Much to his surprise, and the consternation of linguists everywhere, they began publishing his efforts. Bill has expanded his repertoire to include comic books, graphic novels, and full length novels. He has currently penned everything from dystopian nightmares to cuddly children’s stories.

Bill is a big fan of nicotine, vodka, music, and this rambunctious redhead (formerly a bottle blonde) who keeps waking up in his bed.


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WHITEFLOWER DUET – R.A. GOLI

Amber Whiteflower skirted along the edge of the forest, the dappled sunlight casting picturesque patterns on the ground as she headed towards her grandmother’s house. Her tune was a cheerful melody that peaked and fell as her temperament dictated. Today it was lilting and high, indicative of the good mood she was in. She was excited to be visiting Grandma Lottie, who had been sick of late. So Amber had baked her some faeberry muffins and made quaffberry jam. The small woven basket dangled from her slender arm as she skipped along, the bird and insect symphony providing a soundtrack to her journey. Continue reading WHITEFLOWER DUET – R.A. GOLI

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A Critical Reappraisal of- Oh, Hell, It’s “Leprechaun 4: In Space” Isn’t It?

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No one even likes this holiday

Planet Scumm is a science fiction zine. Leprechaun 4: In Space is the fourth film in the Leprechaun series. It’s the one in space. It’s a science fiction film. It’s tangentially related to St. Patrick’s Day. God has abandoned us.

Any questions? No? Fine.

Leprechaun 4: In Space is like the fever dream of a Stargate SG1 grip who’s addicted to whippets. After an opening credits sequence featuring a ribbed for her pleasure spaceship and some Windows 98 screensaver asteroids (reminiscent of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but shit), we’re introduced to our ostensible heroes. Rather, we’re introduced to our gross, porny space marine scene-fillers, each doing their best to emulate Bill Paxton in Aliens. Now, you might be thinking there’s no way the schlock filmmakers behind Leprechaun would go for an Aliens ripoff in 1996, a full decade later. YOU’D BE WRONG. Wrong just like I was. Wrong about so many things.

I don’t blame you, Gabe.

(Side note: I watched this, like, a day after Paxton died, and I can think of no better tribute to the man than a movie which nearly surpasses his performance as Private Hudson when it comes to making space marines look like cowardly little mouthbreathers. Rest in peace, Bill.)

As we learn from Sgt. Hooker–a cyborg who likes to say “fuck”, which, you know, neat–the squad’s after an alien who’s been causing trouble at some mining colonies. Do these colonies mine gold perhaps? Maybe. Hooker never says because this is a Leprechaun movie that doesn’t give a damn about doing tricksy leprechaun stuff. BOO.

(Also, there’s no other place to stick this, but Hooker is played by Tim Colceri, an actor who makes a brief appearance in Full Metal Jacket. Yeah, Leprechaun 4: In Space is only one degree of separation from Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam masterpiece. Think about that when you’re trying to fall asleep at night.)

FUCK YOUR FINGER SOLDIER! SEE I HAVE ONE TOO!

Dr. Tina Reeves enters the scene. She’s our protagonist by virtue of the fact that she’s not immediately repellant. Reeves is a doctor of… something (space?), and DEMANDS that she be allowed to follow these TRAINED KILLERS to an UNKNOWN PLANET to KILL WHAT IS PROBABLY A LEPRECHAUN. Hooker’s all “Is that really a smart idea?”, but he says it in a condescending, sexist way, which totally undercuts his argument. So off they go!

Meanwhile, while the marines are loading their guns and rubbing one another down with oil, trouble brews on the planet below. A space princess in full Barbarella gear is chained to the wall of a hidden cavern and/or community-run climbing gym. And who’s behind this nefarious imprisonment?

It’s a leprechaun. The leprechaun, Leprechaun Four. Warwick Davis just walks out–no hiding in the shadows, no coy Irish brogue echoing through the cave–and starts chatting with the space princess. Leprechaun Four wants to marry her so he can inherit her planet, I suppose, and by way of persuasion he promises her a share of his gold. Of course, in a Shakespearean aside we learn that Leprechaun Four intends to kill Barbarella as soon as they tie the knot. Just what fans of the Leprechaun Cinematic Universe love–courtly intrigue!

This is the part of the film where questions start piling up, never to be cleared from one’s brain again. Why does a space princess need gold? Surely she’s already wealthy, due to her owning a planet and all. And, is gold even that big a deal in the future? Has Starfleet not perfected replicator tech yet? Leprechaun Four isn’t even offering her that much–it’s maybe a tableful of old-ass goblets and coins, stuff you probably couldn’t even melt down for circuits. And one more thing: WHY IS THERE A LEPRECHAUN IN SPA-

Anyway, the space idiots arrive and shoot the hell out of L4’s Duplo block cave. There’s a gag with a green lightsaber and a doomed marine named Lucky, because Ireland. Suddenly, one of the space idiots tosses a grenade next to Barbarella. Since she’s his meal ticket L4 knocks her out of the way and dives on the explosive, which blows him to smithereens.

Yeah. The frigging leprechaun dies. Say what you want about the team behind Leprechaun 4, but they had the stones to give L4 his Butch and Sundance moment in the first ten minutes of the movie. (That said, this is a deeply weird scene because it really makes you sympathize with L4. He hasn’t had time to do anything awful yet when the space marines barge in and turn his toddler playpen into a shooting gallery. When he takes a ‘nade for Barbarella it really throws into question who we’re meant to root for.)

Job done, the space idiots pack up the gold and the princess and head back to the ship. But not before Kowalski (yes, there’s a Kowalski, of course there’s a Kowalski) does a pee-pee on L4’s green, dismembered corpse. The rest of the marines laugh, and it’s not a “Wow, what a funny thing Kowalksi just thought up right now” kind of laugh, but a “Wow, there goes Kowalski again, urinating on yet another mythological creature we’ve gunned down in the name of mining rights” kind of laugh.

But not so fast space idiots! Some green lighting from the corpse travels up Kowalski’s pee stream, and suddenly the rest of the marines are making STI jokes at his expense. Like, is this a common occurrence? Is the company medic trained to treat urinary tract infections caused by eldritch energy? WHY IS THERE A LEPRECHAUN IN SPA-

Didn’t this happen in “A Sound of Thunder” too?

Back on the ship, we’re introduced to some supporting space idiots, who are apparently financing this mission. Space marines take contract work on the side in this future.

Harold is Dr. Mittenhand‘s assistant. He and Hooker have a meet-cute where Harold shows off the shrink ray he uses to conveniently store freight, and Hooker brings up A Totally Unimportant Point. To paraphrase:

“What happens when you need to make things big again?” asks Hooker.

“Oh, there’s a Make Things Big Again button,” says Harold, “Despite the name, it makes normal things big too.”

“Would that work on, say, a small creature of Irish folklore? A ‘leprechaun,’ if you will?”

“What? Why would you ask me that?”

“Please kill me I don’t want to be in this awful movie any mo-“

The rest of the crew parties-down in the shipboard bar, which looks like it’s been set up for a high school prom, or as a showroom for mail-order brides. Everyone’s getting lit on Zima, but not one person says “Hey guys, that was a leprechaun right? Like, we in the future all still understand the cultural context of a short little man in a green suit? Who’s magic? We were making jokes about Detroit and Stevie Wonder earlier so I’m assuming the still scans.”

Kowalski stumbles off with Delores. (Did I not mention Delores yet? Her story is that she’s another space marine. BOOM, you’re caught up.) They’re heading off to play with “Mr. Snake.” Sorry to disappoint, movie fans, but the space idiots don’t have an unimaginatively-named pet anaconda–“Mr. Snake” is military jargon for “Kowalski’s sickly green penis.”

And, for a brief moment, we’re left to wonder: at what point does Kowalski’s pee-paw end, and the leprechaun begin?

Kowalski and Delores start smooching, and this makes “Mr. Snake” come out. Apparently, arousal is the final necessary component to whatever hex hit Kowalski’s penis, because as soon as Kowalski pitches a tent the leprechaun is reborn like Gandalf the White, and he burrows out of Kowalski’s crotch. (This is the part where most people will Google “Is Warwick Davis knighted?” He’s not.)

Leprechaun Four the Green starts tearing around the ship, looking to free Barbarella from the medical wing so they can get hitched. The rest of the crew gear up to kill it, again, AT ANY COST. Well, not any cost, really. More like “at the cost of exactly one more space idiot.”

See, they trap L4G in the trash compactor, and that’s full of bacteria which can quickly degrade organic matter. Cool, whatever, so Books and Mooch head in wearing biohazard suits. (L4G has one on as well, and it fits perfectly–where did that come from? Do they ever bring kids with these folklore kill squads?) Now, does L4G play some clever trick on Books and Mooch? Does he, maybe, conjure up a pretty lady or a large meatball sandwich, to trick Mooch into taking off his helmet and melting his own face off?

Nah. He just cuts Mooch. With, like, a knife. A regular knife.

Here’s the ultimate sin of Leprechaun 4: In Space. It’s not just that it has a cast of porny overacters. It’s not just that the scene on the box art never happens (and doesn’t even make sense, considering this is set in a future that’s far more advanced than lunar lander-era NASA). It’s that L4G is a dang leprechaun, and yet for the first half of the flick his chief methods of dispatching the space idiots are stabbing, shooting, and otherwise doing anything but leveraging his super-convenient, poorly-defined magic.

This mundane stuff keeps happening. After Mooch gets wasted, the space idiots have a pow-wow with Dr. Mittenhand, and they immediately opt to give the space princess to L4G in exchange for their own lives. Earth’s finest, folks.

Mittenhand won’t have it though. See, he’s a one-armed torso riding on a robot chassis (this is the part of the movie where numb fatigue sets in and the voices grow louder), and he needs the princess’s blood (?) to regenerate the rest of his body. After a lengthy discussion of the space idiots’ contract with the good doctor, Hooker comes to the conclusion that they need to protect the princess, or else they won’t get their stock payouts. Just what fans of the Leprechaun Cinematic Universe love–contract negotiation!

So, the space idiots go back out to kill L4G, who at this point is just wandering around the ship, quoting Shakespeare. Hooker tries to cheer up Delores, who feels guilty because her rockin’ bod made a small green man burst out of another man’s penis.

“Kowalski would have wanted it that way,” says Hooker. “He was a marine.”

There’s a space idiot named Danny, by the way. That’s relevant only because L4G kills him next, while singing “Danny Boy.” Then Delores gets it by, sigh, getting pushed over a railing. Come on man! You’re a leprechaun! Aren’t leprechauns powered by ironic murders?

While this half-assed hunt is on, Mittenhand is extracting the healing blood from Barbarella, using what looks like a Creepy Crawlers playset. Isn’t it weird to see something with porn-quality sets, but no sex? Watching this movie I just kept expecting a sharp turn into leprechaun sex but, nope. Never happens. Where’s my escapism, Hollywood?

After several gunfights (with a leprechaun) and one truly magical kill–L4G slams a serving plate into Harold’s face with telekinesis, pancaking it–our space idiots manage to lose the princess. BUT, L4G can’t leave yet, because he also needs his gold! Remember that? Remember the gold, and the shrink ray? Oh, also, Mittenhand’s been injected with a combination of princess blood, spider, and scorpion. Remember that, too. (Also: What’s my name? Do you remember my name? Why does everything look… green?)

Harold no! Who will host the ship’s open mic?

L4G catches the remaining marines off-guard, and he finally uses his weird leprechaun powers. What on, you ask? What does he use them for? Hmm? You say he uses them for a profoundly unfunny scene where Hooker attacks the rest of the space idiots while wearing a dress? How did you know?

Books, Reeves, and Sticks (there’s always a Sticks) kill Hooker. Turns out Hooker wasn’t even a cyborg–just a straight-up robot! Like in Alien! Does that matter to the space idiots? Certainly not as much as his wearing a dress seemed to!

“Human or not, he was a marine.” Was he though? Does it count if you’ve just been programmed to be a marine? WHY IS THERE A LEPRECHAUN IN SPA-

FUCK YOUR HETERONORMATIVITY SOLDIER! I’VE A TINY PURSE AND ROBOT LEGS.

At this point there’s no respite from the insanity. The film cuts away from a dead cyborg marine–sorry, robot marine–in a sparkly dress to Mittenhand, who’s now been transformed into a mutant Mittenspider. Just what fans of the Leprechaun Cinematic Universe love–spider-creatures with bad German accents!

“Mittenspider” is not my coinage, by the way–the monster actually calls itself that.

“Now, I am… Mittenspider!”

“The hell? Are you from a different movie? This is the Leprechaun 4 set.”

In fairness, this is what I look like every St. Patrick’s Day.

SO. L4G turns on the ship’s self-destruct, so that he can erase the evidence of his being a leprechaun in space, I guess. Sticks heads to Mittenhand’s lab to stop the explosion. Meanwhile, Books and Reeves accidentally shoot L4G with the growth ray, in the cargo bay. He turns into a giant and immediately looks into his pants with the implication–heh heh, get this–that he now has a Very Large Penis. Which suggests that, for all his leprechaun powers, he can’t make his penis bigger? That doesn’t seem like a tall ask for a leprechaun, but, hey, the miracles of science will suffice.

Apparently, getting hit with the shrink ray also turned off L4G’s magic, because he spends the rest of the finale clomping around the cargo bay like King Kong, trying to crush Books into a fine paste. You know, like the fae folk of yore! At the same time, Reeves rushes through the ship’s ventilation shafts, dodging Mittenspider.

In fairness, this is also what I look like every St. Patrick’s Day.

Wouldn’t you know it, our heroes manage to flush L4G out of the airlock, which is a famous ending never before seen in film and never seen again–certainly not from notorious anti-Irish filmmaker James Cameron. They also kill Mittenspider and save Sticks. (They couldn’t save my soul, though.)

At the last minute, the surviving space idiots guess the password to abort the self-destruct. As they laugh, L4G explosively decompresses in the vacuum of space, and his giant, gross hand flips them off through the viewfinder. And in a way, children, haven’t we all been flipped off by a little cash-hungry man with a green suit and a fake accent? Flipped off where it counts the most–the heart. I know I have. Also, I can’t hear the sound of birds anymore and my eyes are bleedi-

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! May the snakes below be kept at bay with your drunken revels!

By Sean Clancy, Planet Scumm’s Irish-American editor


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