WINNERS – JUNE AND JULY FLASH FICTION CONTESTS


Sorry for the long radio-silence, we moved last month and still haven’t gotten our feet back under us. Long overdue, below are the winners for June and July. I’m afraid we never got the August contest posted, so we will resume the madness in September.

Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke and Michael Stricklandwho tied for winner of eSpec Books’ June Flash Fiction Contest. Their prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook each from among the eSpec publication list. 

Honorable Mention – Carol Gyzander – The Crossroads

Our congratulations to Jonathon Mastwinner of eSpec Books’ July Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention – Ef Deal – Ice Cream Man


JUNE – CHANGE

Neverending
Christopher J. Burke

When the klaxon sounded, Valaron’s heart lifted even as the hair on his skin stood.  Only one traveler had come down the bridge in the past century. Friend or foe, he flew with wings spread to their fullest to meet the returning soldier or invading enemy. Taking a position near the bridge’s base, he drew his sword in salute.

Moments later, a reddish-black demon with three horns, tattered wings folding behind its back, and a bottle in its hand cantered down the ramp. His bare feet left a trail of dark, brimstone prints behind him that evaporated into rising smoke clouds.

Valaron lowered his sword and his face. “Oh, it’s you, Rupsgath. Why have you returned?”

“I have come for you!” He raised the bottle in his hand. “To get you drunk!”

“Why will you not leave me be? Be gone from Clarita, and return no more.”

The demon sat heavily on a large stone. He sank his teeth into the bottle’s cork and pulled it free with a satisfying pop. “Leave you be? It’s been eighty years since I last came! Have you seen any other than me in all that time?”

Rupsgath tilted his head back, held the bottle high above his maw and poured himself a drink. Then he offered the bottle to his host. Valaron declined.

The demon shrugged and took a second swig. “You must have realized by now, that no one else is returning. The war is done. The combatants have all fallen, to their deaths or to some lower dimensions. Only you and I are left, guarding domains from non-existent invaders.”

Valaron scoffed. “There are others out there. They didn’t all go to war. Some traveled the planes. Scholars, emissaries! They’ll return. And until they do, I will remain here. Some must guard Clarita always, or else it become defiled!”

“The lone sentry, I know the job.” He belched, emitting a wisp of smoke. “I handle that the way I deal with most things. Poorly. That’s why I’m here.”

“To torment me further?”

“No. To say ‘Good bye.’ I’ve had enough of the solidarity life, sitting on rocks in the middle of lava pools, just alone with my thoughts. And some booze.”

He looked the angel squarely. “I’m leaving. I’m going to walk the planes. Maybe I’ll return in another hundred years, or maybe a thousand. Maybe not at all. But I’m finished watching over an empty domain, protecting it from outsiders. Like any creature in the heavens or hells would want to call it home!”

Putting the near-empty bottle down on the ground, Rupsgath stood and turned away. “You could come with me. Or we could go separate ways. But there’s no one left to fight off.” He left out a laugh. “If you stay, I believe the saying is that you can beat that sword into a plowshare.”

Valaron raised his sword high again and shook his fist. “If you’re determined to leave, then do so, and never darken the bridge again! I’ll erect a fence around that defiled spot in your ‘honor’.”

“As you desire.” The demon walked the pavement to the bridge, his claws setting sparks on the stone. “If you ever do get tired of this place, visit Guumpthus. Take some holy water and sanctify a path. There’ll be no infernal magic to counter it. Farewell.”

The decrepit creature faded in the distance as the bridge crossed the planes.

Valaron thrust his sword into the dirt. Crops needed tending, and the steeple needed to be shined. He glanced back at the empty bridge once more. Maybe those would wait until tomorrow. Perhaps, he thought, I may take one day off.


JUNE – CHANGE

Last
Michael Strickland

She shudders, drawing one of her last breaths. Though she never contemplated death, her thoughts often turned — as they do again now — to those loved ones who had gone before. She feels their presence close by.

Her mate, proud and strong, prone to violence. Cut down by an armed gang, his massive body riddled with bullets. As he lay dying, he had strength enough only to open his eyes and gaze at her with a look that might have been remorse.

Strange but gentle hands touch her. Probing, pressing, even caressing. She feels a brief but sharp sting in her leg, like the bite of a horsefly. Relaxation spreads through her, and she breathes easier.

Her mother, that larger-than-life matriarch, without whom she wouldn’t have survived. She went peacefully, but she went nonetheless. Watching the life slip away from the one who’d given her life had been the hardest thing she’d ever endured, until….

A machine begins beeping. Her eyes flutter open, and she looks at the figures standing around her. White coats, shiny instruments, busy hands. One of them holds a black box that clicks and flashes every time he raises it to his face.

Her baby, her dear sweet girl, ripped away from her and brutally butchered. She hadn’t left the site where it happened till the rains had long since washed away the last of the blood.

They had all left her… but they have come back. They all stand around her, a soft green halo enveloping them. They lean in close, touch her. Something inside her gives out, and she melts away with them, all pain gone forever.

*    *

The man leans in close, stethoscope pressed to her torso. The grim look on his face gives away his words before he speaks them. “She’s gone,” he whispers.

The others just stand dumbstruck in shock or reverence, busy hands now slack at their sides.

Finally, one of them breaks the silence and gently strokes the rhino’s head. “She’s the last. We’ll never see the likes of her again on Earth.”


JULY – FREEDOM

Tempus Fugit
Jonathon Mast

“The year’s 2017.”

The guy stares at me a second, his mouth half-open. The lights from the neon signs reflect off his bald head. I’ll give him credit, though, he recovers quickly. “Well, obviously.”

“Don’t do that.” I pour another two beers and hand them off to Mel for delivery to the back room. She winks at me. I remind myself, You’ve done this hundreds of times. This is just one more. “You were going to act all smooth and try to figure out when you are. It’s – let’s see here – just shy of ten in the evening, Tuesday, August first, 2017. So now you don’t have to pretend you know what you’re doing. Trust me, you don’t. Besides, it just pisses me off.”

Aric the Red, munching some fried pickle chips, glances up. “Do not anger her. She will destroy you. Trust me.” Even though he wears jeans, he still looks every inch the viking he is.

“Well, I wasn’t threatening him that far. Not everyone tries conquering the bar.”

Aric shrugs.

The new guy looks at me, looks down at Aric, and sits at the bar next to the ancient Norseman. “You know about Chronometrics agents?”

“Nah. I just can tell a time traveler. We get a lot of them here.” I pour three more and pass them down the bar, collecting tabs as I go. Don’t let your hands shake. He can’t see how nervous you are. Get this right. “So, what kind of beer do you drink where you’re from?” He looks so young.

“Beer?”

I put on my sorry face. “Ah. You must be from one of the prohibition epochs. Sorry, man. Here, this one’s on me.” I pour an IPA and set it front of him. “All right. What are you here for? Info? Stopping something terrible from happening? You don’t look like one of the lost ones.” Don’t act like you already know the answer.

“I’m, uh, making sure that Daedalus doesn’t destroy the timeline.” He stares at the glass, tapping its side. “Is this safe?”

Yeah, well, I don’t want to destroy it either. I pause. There’s a reason I don’t travel myself. I just run the bar. Way easier. Except this time, I can’t mess up. Way too much on the line. Think. What did I say? Oh, crap. Just. Just be you. That can’t mess it up, right? “It’s not what I’d drink, but it’s safe. Daedalus, huh? Hey, Mel!” I call. “You remember when those Daedalus clowns passed through here?”

Mel comes from the back room counting one’s. I can see her trying not to look at the new guy. She’d probably bust up laughing and ruin everything. “Daedalus? Those were the guys with the rocketpacks powered by moonlight?”

Oh, thank you, Mel, for letting me just respond to you. “No, those were the Lunattacks. These guys, they wore the red body suits, eyepatches –”

“Oh, yeah!” Mel nods. “What? Four years ago?”

The new guy jumps to his feet. “I need to go there!”

“Sure. Hey, tell me I said hi when you get there.” I wink at him. “Make sure you mention you turned your nose up at the free drink.”

He knits his eyebrows together in that way he still has and runs out the front door. I sag against the bar. Mission accomplished? Did I do what I was supposed to do?

And then the new guy comes out from the kitchen, a little older, still just as bald, drying his hands on his apron. “Wow. You put up with me like that?” He kisses me on the cheek.

“Well, you wised up.” Yep. Be a smartass. Cover up your fear.

“I helped,” Aric puts in.

My hubby drops another plate of fried pickle chips in front of him. “You never let me forget it.”

I grab him and take a deep, deep breath. “Well, paradox resolved. I didn’t mess up. You went back, and you still drink crap IPA’s. Everything happened the way you remember. We made it. We made it! I still have you! Now we know we can live happily ever after.” And we kiss, because really, that’s what you do when you say a line like that.

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eSPEC BOOKS JULY FLASH FICTION CONTEST


Freedom

We are fortunate to have many freedoms in our lives. With that in mind, this month we are giving you the freedom to write about ANYTHING you want in 740 words or less. Deadline: July 31.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com to learn about the available titles.

eSPEC BOOKS JUNE FLASH FICTION CONTEST


ChangeLife is about to seriously transform for those of us working behind scenes here at eSpec Books. With that in mind, this month we want you to tell us your tales of Change in 628 words or less. Deadline: June 30.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com to learn about the available titles.

WINNER – WARP DRIVE


Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke, winner of eSpec Books’ April Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at: 

eSPEC BOOKS MAY FLASH FICTION CONTEST – MISBEHAVIN’


Warp Space and Chill

Christopher J. Burke

The wall monitor of my stateroom displayed a stunning view of the spaceport as the ship prepared for its departure. One could almost believe it an actual window, allowing folks on the station to peer into my cabin. I resisted the urge to wave. The rest of the room met, even exceeded, my expectations for the new flagship of the Blue Star Lines. They didn’t skimp, and neither had I when I purchased top-tier accommodations. After all, this would be my home for the next three days.

I had just stowed a few personal effects when I felt a familiar sensation. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the spaceport slip away and sink down the display. Then a red light flashed, accompanied by a three-toned chime.

“This is Irina, your flight attendant,” said a voice from a speaker. “All first-class passengers must report to the common area at this time.”

That sounded like an excellent idea. The common area housed the kitchen and the bar. But food and drink would have to wait. As soon as an attendant – this one was Ashley – spotted me, she checked off her clipboard. “Mr. Fletcher Ward, please sit in seat 8 and buckle in, please. We’re almost ready for the jump to warp space.”

Within a few moments, the ten of us, eight passengers and two attendants, sat securely. I thought them a bit over-protective with the procedures – I’ve taken dozens of voyages before – until they reminded us that of the new warp engine design. No one from the Sol system had ever experienced warp speeds like we would feel on this maiden voyage to Tau Ceti. Just a few ago, this trip would’ve taken weeks, and wouldn’t have been a leisure trip by any means.

Another flashing light and three more tones. “This is your Captain, speaking. Ship time is 2130 hours. In a few moments, I will engage the warp drive. For those of you familiar with our ships to Alpha Centauri, you may be aware of the effects of jumping to warp space. What you may not realize is that this ship with its new drive will cruise at ten times of the speed you’re used to. There may be a little discomfort at first, but it will pass. The drive will be engaged for approximately 12 hours for the first leg of our trip.”

The Captain continued to calm us and the fifty or so on the decks below until the ship was in position. I looked to my left and gave the young lady next to me a reassuring smile. She hesitated, then smiled back and added a little wink. A positive start to the first evening, I hoped. Then the drive engaged. She threw her head back, shut her eyes, and grit her teeth. I felt sorry for her discomfort, but at the same time a little comforted that she couldn’t see I was feeling exactly the same way. Grin and bear it best I could.

When we were free to move about again, she was clearly a little light-headed. Ashley quickly approached. “Ms. Verona, would you like me to escort you back to your cabin.”

She gave a quick nod, and the two eased away. Ms. Verona – I hadn’t gotten a first name yet – was going to be down for the night, alone. Pity. Looking around, Irina was supporting a gentleman in his efforts to walk, and an older couple in matching outfits helped each other.

The evening was young, and I didn’t want to return to my room so early. At least, not alone. As soon as I could, I stood and strolled to the table in the center of the room. A quick glance showed only four of us remained, with me being the only one of Sol ancestry. The others must be of hearty stock.

On the far left, near the bar, was a fellow with brown and amber skin. If that alone didn’t tell you he was from Alpha Centauri, the vestigial cranial horns were a giveaway. He was traveling far from home.

A little closer to me stood a tall, attractive woman with reddish-copper skin. Her dark brown hair hung down to her shoulders. From the few like her that I’ve met vacationing on Mars, I knew she was from one of the inner planets about Tau Ceti.  My guess: this was a ride home for her.

On my right, already seated at the table, was something new to me. Light-skinned with definite bluish tones. From a water planet? Amphibious, perhaps? Not from Tau Ceti. A neighboring system? Epsilon Eridani, maybe. Never met anyone from Ran.

Her smile was warm, charming. Her deep azure eyes, captivating. She invited me to sit before I could ask. Before I could find words to speak actually.

She introduced herself as “Sessastrass”, and confirmed her homeworld with me. She hadn’t been back for a couple of years and decided to do it right. The others joined us. The big guy was “Ro’K” for short, without elaborating. The lovely copper lady was “Amayya”.

Ro’K started the ball rolling, “Have you seen those views yet out the screens?”

Lame, but workable. Sessastrass answered him, “Only regular space. We’re missing the real show. The flashing, swirling lights should be amazing on that big glass.”

I tapped the table. “Plenty of time. That will be going on all night. And for most of the next three days.”

By this point, Irina and Ashley had returned. Drinks were served. Scotch for me, vodka for Ro’K, white wine for the red lady, and a seltzer for the blue woman. Now it started to be a party.

After a little more chatting, I reached inside my jacket and pulled a deck of cards from my pocket. “Anyone up for friendly games? No wagering, just ‘points’.”

Ro’K laughed. “I don’t know how ‘friendly’ you want to be, but I generally shy away from men who travel with their own cards. I heard an old story about getting an earful of cider that way.”

I didn’t get the reference but I put the deck down and slid it away from me. “Fair enough. I’d wager that there are sealed decks behind the bar, complete with Blue Star logos on them.”

Minutes later, we broke the seal and played started dealing. Card games are a great way to relax and read people, something I tend to excel at among humans. I’m less experienced with other races but always up to the challenge. Genuine curiosity feeds conversation, and it didn’t hurt my card playing either.

Ro’K was the first to fall. He’d already been traveling for days before just to get to this ship. He announced he was retiring. He made a slight bow in Amaya’s direction and then turned and locked eyes with Sessastrass for a moment. Then he burst out in a laugh and turned to me. “So how do we settle up these ‘points’? I don’t want to leave in anyone’s debt, and I need to make good.”

I started to protest, but he insisted.

“Irina, a round of drinks for the table. On me.”

Amayya spoke up, “The drinks are free.”

Ro’K pointed to a locked cabinet behind the bar. “Not all of them. Enjoy the ‘Top Shelf’. It’ll be a new experience.”

Irina poured out four measures of some kind of Centaurian brandy. Ro’K took his and returned to his room. Sessastrass demurred and pass hers to me. Amayya slowly savored her drink, opened her eyes wide and asked, “Who’s ready for another round?”

I raised an eyebrow and then I realized she meant the cards. But I was ready to score more “points” with the ladies. Oddly, I fared better than I’d planned despite the buzz and my usual slow-playing the cards. I won near every hand, Amayya winning the rest. My poor, dear blue lady tried but just wasn’t getting the hang of it. I wondered if she feared buying the next round.

Not that I could drink another. As I finished the second glass – and I was determined to finish – I knew I could either sleep in my own bed or the floor of the common room. I announced it was my last hand.

“Our last chance to even the score, is it?” Amayya asked with a coy smile. The brandy made me hopeful she was flirting. In reality, she slow-plays better than I do. When the cards hit the table, I realized I’d been hustled, and glad no actual money was on the table.

“Not good at mixing cards and brandy, are we?’ she laughed. “Come on. Let me help you to your room, and we can figure out how to settle up those points.”

I didn’t protest too strongly. Standing up, on the second try, I said good night to Sessastrass, mesmerized once again by her dark blue irises until Amayya pulled me away.

When my cabin door opened, we were greeted by an amazing warp space light show coming through the window, the likes I’ve never seen. Flashing white bursts, streaks of blue, the entire spectrum of color swirling on the monitor and through my brandy-addled brain.

Amayya closed the door and helped me to the center of the room, then stood facing me, holding me gently but firmly. “So how are we to settle? I believe the old Earth expression is that you ‘lost your shirt’. Seems fair enough to me. I’ll take it.”

With one quick motion, both her hands flew to pull my shirt open, popping a button or two. Before I knew what had happened, my shirt and jacket were on the floor by the bed. I started to wish I’d lost more. And drunk less.

I was so absorbed by Amayya’s hands on my chest, I hadn’t heard the door open. In our stumbling, neither of us had a thought to lock it. We didn’t realize that we weren’t alone until Sessastrass cleared her throat. She stood there wearing a simple floral silk robe, tied at the waist. Stunned, we said nothing.

“If Fletcher’s losses cost his shirt, I’m sure that mine cost more.” With a pull of the drawstring, her robe fell to the floor.  Shades of blue, swirling in patterns like the window behind us, all the way down.

I was too stunned to smile like schoolboy, still unable to move. Amayya smiled wide enough for the both of us. I heard nothing but was certain this siren was singing her tune. Sessastrass approached us more like a model on the runway than the fish I’d thought to reel in.

She stepped up to Amayya first, their eyes locked. Blue hands caressed red shoulders. Then Sessastrass’s lips drew back, and that was first time I noticed…my, what sharp teeth she had. Amayya had no reaction. Then again, neither had I.

Nor did I move an inch when she struck, biting into the base of Amayya’s neck. I can hear her slurp greedily. When she pulled away, barely a drop of blood showed, and the wound seemed already cauterized. The hold on Amayya slipped as she started to buckle at the knees. Sessastrass caught her and carried her to the bed, and then returned to me.

“I saved you for last. I like the blood of the humans in this system. It’s so … exotic.”

She leaned in, stood on her toes, and pulled me down toward her. She gave me a kiss on the lips first. “When on Earth …” she laughed. Then she flashed her teeth again, and that little pinch was the last I remembered.

When I awoke it felt like the entire ship had shuddered. The room was dark, except for the flashing red warning light. The swirling lights on the monitor had switched to black with a few pinpoints of light.

I lay on the bed with Amayya draped over me. She was wearing my shirt. It might’ve been the night of my life but I couldn’t recall. My head hurt when I lifted it, so I lay there listening to Amayya’s breathing. Thank God, she was breathing.

Slowly, her hands started to feel their way across my chest as she realized where she was. Then she reached out and gripped my arm tightly and moved closer. I think we’d stay in for breakfast.

eSPEC BOOKS MAY FLASH FICTION CONTEST – MISBEHAVIN’


Misbehavin

On May 2511, in the Firefly universe, the Battle of Serenity Valley begins during the Unification War, to be considered to be the final decisive battle in the war. In commemoration of that fateful day, tell us your tales of Misbehavin’ in 2511 words or less. Deadline: May 31.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com for a list of titles.

APRIL FLASH FICTION CONTEST – WARP DRIVE


Unfortunately, due to insufficient entries, there was no winner of the March Betrayal Flash Fiction Contest.

Warp DriveApril 5, 2063 – Humans make first contact with an alien race, the Vulcans, following the success of Zefram Cochrane’s warp drive in the Phoenix launch earlier in the day (Star Trek: First Contact) To commemorate that notable event, this month’s theme is warp drive…but don’t let that limit you, stories can be any genre, any time period, as long as some concept of warp drive is incorporated. You have a maximum of 2063 words. Deadline: April 30.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com for a list of titles.

WINNER – SUPERSTITION


Our congratulations to Anton Kukal, winner of eSpec Books’ February Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at: 

MARCH FLASH FICTION CONTEST – BETRAYAL


Monsters in the Attic

Anton Kukal

Gerry lay in his bed with the covers pulled over his head listening to the monsters open the attic door, the soft clicking of the knob being turned, the squeaking as it swung, the metallic bump as it closed again. His heart pounded in his chest. The monsters crept down the hallway, soft creaking footfalls echoing on the hardwood, until they stopped at the open door of his bedroom.

Not able to endure the silence, Gerry dared a one-eyed peek between the folds of his blanket. Three monsters waited, but he knew better than to cry out. Daddy had to go to work. He owned a company that did energy research for the government. Mommy had an early meeting. Neither would believe him, and both would be mad, really mad, so he held his breath, watching the monsters, hoping they would walk past his room.

With wrinkled orange skin, the monsters had heads like squished oranges with pointed ears, and big yellow eyeballs with bright red pupils that glistened in the dim glow of his Scooby Doo night-light. The eyes never blinked. They didn’t have eyelids, but they had plenty of teeth, yellow and long and sharp. They wore dirty, greasy rags as clothing, all stitched together into a rectangle of cloth pulled over their heads and tied at their waist with frayed ropes. They didn’t have shoes on their boney feet, but they had nails on the ends of their fingers that made their hands look like claws.

One of them carried a big cardboard box, the box Daddy used to store the Christmas decorations; the box Daddy blamed him for taking. The monsters were thieves. Last week, they stole the motor out of Mommy’s vacuum cleaner and the week before they’d taken the motherboard from Daddy’s computer. Lots of other things disappeared too, like the screen door spring, the cookie cooling racks, and all the silverware. They’d been eating with plastic ever since. Of course, he got in trouble for every missing thing.

The monsters moved past his room, creeping downstairs where he heard them rummaging in the closets and poking through the pantry. The basement door creaked. The monsters were going to Daddy’s workshop where they would move Daddy’s tools around. He always got in trouble when Daddy’s tools were moved, but not as much trouble as when the monsters played tricks. Sometimes they did silly things like putting grease on the door handle, but they also did dangerous things, like stringing a trip rope on the basement stairs. Of course, Daddy would blame Gerry for everything and Gerry would get punished.

At the breakfast table the next morning, Gerry had to warn Daddy, “The monsters went into your workshop last night. You should be careful if you go there.”

Daddy looked up from his iPad. He always checked his email at the breakfast table. Mommy didn’t like that, but Daddy did it anyway.

“Gerry, there are no such things as monsters,” Daddy said with a big sigh. “Monsters are only superstitions. Superstitions are things people use to explain the unexplained.”

Daddy was a scientist. He gave talks all over the world. Everyone said Daddy was very smart, but sometimes Gerry didn’t think so. “But everything can be explained. The monsters did it all.”

“I’ll tell you who is responsible,” Daddy’s voice gave him chills. “There’s a bad little boy in the house whose attention-seeking behavior is causing him to act out.”

Gerry knew better than to argue. Daddy was working himself up. He didn’t want a spanking or to go to bed without dinner. If only Daddy would believe him. He wanted to cry, but that would just get him in more trouble, so he tried to hold the tears back.

Mommy crossed the room and laid a hand on Daddy’s shoulder. “Let’s not start the day off poorly.”

 “We have to get a handle on this monster thing.” Daddy rose from the table and stomped away, leaving the rest of his breakfast uneaten.

Mommy sat down next to him, and put a hand on his arm. “Why do you go into Daddy’s workshop?”

“I don’t,” he insisted.

“Gerry, I know things are bad, but stealing things only makes our situation worse.”

“I didn’t.”

Mommy gave him that look. The one that always made him feel guilty even if he wasn’t. “And you have to stop setting your little surprises through the house. The iron balanced above the bathroom door could have really hurt someone.”

“I didn’t put the iron there,” Gerry insisted. “I can’t even reach the top of the bathroom door.”

Mommy sighed and pressed her forehead against his head. She started to cry. “You have to stay out of Daddy’s workroom. You have to stop your pranks. You know how much stress Daddy is under. The government is canceling his contract. His business is going bankrupt. We’re underwater on our mortgage. The bills are piling up.”

Gerry opened his mouth, but Mommy laid a finger over his lips.

“I don’t want to hear about monsters. There’re just superstitions, like your father said.”

As Mommy went back to finishing the dishes, he muttered under his breath, “The monsters are real.”

That night he lay in bed listening to the monsters creep past his room. He didn’t understand about ‘bankrupting’ and ‘mortgages,’ but they sounded real bad and they made Daddy angry all the time and Mommy so sad. He decided enough was enough. If Daddy and Mommy wouldn’t stop the monsters from messing up the workroom, from stealing things, and setting their nasty tricks, then he would have to do it. He got out of bed, put on his bunny rabbit slippers and picked up his little slugger T-ball bat.

The door to Daddy’s workroom in the basement was open so he walked right in. He caught the monsters using Daddy’s tools to work on a device about as tall as him. All the missing stuff was there. A gazillion wires connected Christmas lights to computer chips and circuit boards mounted on two cookie cooling racks, both attached to the shiny trashcan from the upstairs bathroom. Through holes cut in the trashcan, he could see springs connected to knives, the knives working as levers, pushing back and forth, controlling gears that drove spinning spoons and seemed to generate a strange glowing ball of cracking energy.

“You have to leave.” Gerry announced, talking like Daddy would talk.

The monsters looked up from their work, red pupils staring, mouths open in surprise. Their teeth looked so sharp, glistening in the florescent light. He wanted to run upstairs and hide under his covers.

Gerry lifted the bat and pointed the tip at them. “You have to leave!”

One of the monsters put down the wrench it was holding. “That’s what we are trying to do. My name is Hinky. My friends and I came from another world.”

“Just go back there.”

“The internal power supply of our portal generator broke so we’ve been building a perpetual motion engine as an external power supply.”

“Daddy gets mad when you don’t put his tools back. His ‘bankrupt’ is upside down, and his business is ‘mortgage,’ so you can’t stay here anymore.”

The monster took a step toward Gerry. “We want go. Your father’s workshop is very well equipped, but parts have been hard to find.”

“Is that why you stole the vacuum motor, the computer parts, and everything else?”

“We needed them for the perpetual motion engine,” Hinky explained.

“Why put the iron above the bathroom door?” Gerry could understand stealing stuff to go home, but not the mean tricks. “Daddy fell down the stairs on your trip rope. He could have been really hurt.”

The other two monsters giggled, inanely.

Hinky shrugged. “We’re gremlins. We like to play pranks.”

“You should stop that!”

Hinky smiled, looking almost sad. “I think that too. Sometimes I can control myself, but it’s hard for me and impossible for them.”

“I got in lots of trouble for your stealing.”

“I’m sorry,” Hinky said. The other two giggled, again.

“Our stuff is ruined.”

“I know your family is having financial trouble and our presence is adding to your worries. I intend to pay you back.”

Without supervision, the other gremlins had started playing with Daddy’s torch, the one with the big tanks of ‘oxy-something’ and ‘seta-lean.’

“Make them stop!” Gerry shouted. “Daddy says the torch could blow up the whole house.”

Hinky turned. “Back to work!” They looked sullen. “You want to go home, right?” Grudgingly, the gremlins picked up their tools. “They’re not as smart as me.”

Gerry could see that. “How long till you leave?”

“Minutes.”

“Really?”

“Just a few more adjustments and then we’ll connect the perpetual motion engine,” Hinky pointed to the device made of their stuff and then to the flat bar of shiny metal lying on the floor, “to our portal generator and be gone.”

“How will you go?”

“We warp space and time, folding reality over itself, to move from one location to another almost instantly.” Hinky reached in and hooked a spring to one of the knives.

Gerry didn’t understand the explanation.

One of the other gremlins drilled a hole in the shaft of a fork and bolted it onto the base of Mommy’s missing iron, energy cracked between the tines. The other used one of Daddy’s extension cords to connect the two machines.

“Will it work?” Gerry asked.

“Watch,” Hinky pressed the button on the stolen kitchen timer and the air above the portal generator began to shimmer. A dot of colored lights appeared, then the lights became a small ring, and then the ring was big enough for the gremlins to walk through. The two giggling gremlins leapt into the ring and disappeared.

“I’m leaving the perpetual motion engine behind. It uses forms of energy that your world has not yet discovered.” Hinky bent down and picked up the portal generator. “Give the engine to your father as payment for letting us stay here. He can reverse engineer its components and isolate the energies. All your money problems will be solved. Enjoy your life, little human.”

Hinky stepped through the portal and the prismatic spray of lights winked away.

Daddy stormed into the workroom. “I finally caught you!”

Gerry had never seen Daddy so mad, and he tried to explain. “I followed the monsters here! I talked to them. They are gremlins from another world.” That was the wrong thing to say, but he had proof this time. He pointed to the device. “They left you their perpetual motion engine. They said you can reverse ‘something’ it and make lots of money.”

Daddy was in a rage. “I’ve told you never to use my tools without my permission. I can’t believe you built our stuff into some child’s toy.”

“I didn’t,” Gerry insisted.

Daddy picked up the device, raised it high above his head, and then brought it crashing down against the tile floor. The device shattered, springs popping and gears rolling away, sparks danced from its innards, and then with a sad little whine, the levers stopped moving, all the lights winked out, and a small curl of smoke rose from the ruins.

“How many times do I have to tell you,” Daddy raged. “Monsters are just superstitions!”