The Two Pines Lake Mysery

Wheelchair bound by age's infirmities, Bonnie LaFontaine sat in the autumnal chill and stared out over the lake. She'd visited every summer as a girl, missed it as a woman, and as a grandmother who'd made her fortune she lived here, bringing her descendants to visit in her favorite place.

A sprawling house looked down on two tall pines at the far end of a long, sloping lawn where it vanished into the lake, which itself reflected the mountain peaks beyond. This would be her last season with her lake, her mountains, her trees. The doctors had been clear. And she was ready. Her children would be comfortable, but most of her wealth was hidden away. One of her grandchildren would find it where the sun touched when it cleared of the mountains on the day that it ascended perfectly between the two pines, though she'd made the riddles a little harder than that.

They'd come up to visit often after she was gone. One would find the riddles tucked into her favorite book, then.... She was still smiling about it when Jenine wheeled her back inside.

***

"C'mon," said Jenine. "It'll sell much faster without those trees blocking the view."

Click-whirrrr

Click-whirrrr. I pulled the keycard from the slot and pushed into the hotel room. The day had been long and unrelenting and I felt drawn, hollowed out, barely able to lift my eyes from the industrial-bland carpet. That's why I didn't realize I was in the wrong room until a broad man in stained boxers demanded in strongest language why I was in his room. I staggered and stammered my way out, and once the door slammed on me I stood blinking.

My room was one more down, I'd just stopped too early. I had one foot in my room before I marshalled my wits enough to wonder why my key had worked. Curious by nature, I stepped back into the hall. A soft knock on the door across the hall drew no response. Neither did a louder one, so I tried the key. Click-whirrrr, open.

I had a skeleton key. The front desk had messed up. My heart pounded and adrenaline cleared the smog from my mind. I could go anywhere. Do anything. I had the opportunity to... to...

To what? Everything I thought of was unthinkable. Go take someone's luggage? Obviously not. Even walking in and piercing the fragile privacy of a hotel room was unforgivable, even if I didn't walk in on someone in a vulnerable position. Maybe I could go into unoccupied rooms and... take the soaps? Still theft. Watch TV? I could do that in my own room. Untracked pay-per-view, maybe, but what was the point? (Also, still a kind of theft, even if it really didn't feel like it in my gut.)

Fatigue settle back on me like a lead blanket. A miraculous opportunity for exploration or adventure and... there was nothing to do with it. Nothing moral, anyway.

Back to Plan A: Sleep.

The Champion of Blobbington

Once upon a time, three blobs shared a house. One was big, one was charming, and one was misshapen. When a minstrelblob squished through their town announcing that the Monarch would name Champion the first blob who could bestow upon them the Moon, all three blobs decided to try their luck.

By the time they reached the capital, many blobs had already tried and failed to give their monarch the Moon. The big blob was the first of its household to try. In audience with the Monarch, it stretched up as high as its great size could manage, but it could not reach the Moon. Out of desperation, it threw the Monarch at the Moon. The Monarch ploomped back to earth without reaching the Moon.

The charming blob tried next. Squishing seductively up beside the Monarch, it tried to convince them that they already had the Moon. The Moon, after all, passes through the sky as the property of all blobfolk, and therefore it belongs also to the Monarch. The sophistry did not move the Monarch. Rather than accept failure, the charming blob tried to convince the Monarch that they didn't actually want the Moon. That earned the blob only a disdainful dismissal.

Finally, the misshapen blob approached the Monarch. They did something no contender had: asked why the Monarch desired the Moon?

"To examine it," bibbled the Monarch. So when the Moon next rose, the misshapen blob drew on its experience and shaped itself into a great disk, carefully curved. This brought the Moon into sharp, magnified focus, as though it were beside them.

"You," deblabbed the Monarch, "have earned our admiration and esteem, and are our Champion." The kingdom celebrated, and the misshapen blob's roommates as well.

The reason the Monarch required a Champion, however, is another story.

A Simple Void

CHK-shhhk. Another spadeful of dirt on the pile. Anabel brushed her sweat-damp hair out of her eyes and looked at the line of nursery-potted saplings she had yet to plant, fully half of her twenty acquisitions. She looked around her rural dream home: a worn house only half repaired sitting on forty acres of untamed brush. With a deep breath, she thrust the shovel again.

CHK-thhhhhh. She almost fell on her face as the dirt slid off her spade and disappeared into the dark hole she'd just unearthed. At first she only stared in puzzlement. She usually thought of the earth as a uniform mass of dirt salted with rocks. A simple void wasn't something that made sense.

Anabel got on her knees and looked closer. It wasn't just dark. It was black as the Devil's colon and projected a sense of depth and echoing empty space. Fishing a coin from her pocket, she tossed it into the hole and turned her ear toward it. Nothing.

Much later, once she'd acclimated to the morals of it, Anabel would get rich disposing of bodies and other problems for the ethically challenged. Much, much later, she would learn where the hole went.

Dog Noir 3

This latest case was a pitbull. It'd grabbed me and shaken me and didn't seem about to let go. Who'd eaten the food? I'd been off at The Deck at the time, but I still knew the answer. The scene smelled fishier than a two-day tuna, and the trail led only one place.

I approached the dog carefully. Last time I'd asked them the hard questions we'd had a bit of a scrap. I'd like to say I gave as good as I got, but I couldn't honestly tell you who came out of that mess on top.

They were a strange breed, that was for sure. Small, short hair, big eyes, and a weird tail. They had to be hiding something. You don't ignore the bouncing ball when everything's normal. It was one of their many daytime naps. Sitting like a good boy didn't do the trick. I was going to have to get ruff.

I barked to wake them up, then again just for fun. They just rolled over, that long-and-bendy tail flicking in my direction with a non-bark sound. As I feared: a dead end.

Passing my food bowl on the way back to The Office, I gave it a wistful sniff. I was going to have to let this one go. Not every case gets closed, but damn if this one didn't leave my stomach growling.

To Imprison a Myceliant

The backwater-world locals didn't know how to imprison a myceliant. Imported spore detectors had identified Seph despite the humanoid disguise, but then they threw Seph in a stone-floored, brick-walled cell. Seph had already extended mycelia through microscopic cracks in the mortar and begun budding. In twelve hours, another Seph would be free to report the failure.

Another Seph, not this one. This one would still be here, trapped. This one would experience whatever judgment locals passed on an agent of the fungal monoculture slowly colonizing the galaxy.

Seph would be gone, but Seph would be free. Seph felt a spike of resentment. Why should Seph have a future when Seph did not? Seph would die here, shredded or burned, while lucky Seph would rejoin the colony. Didn't Seph deserve that?

    Did Seph want to return to a colony that didn't care about them? To spread an interstellar monoculture that didn't value loyal Seph? The more they thought about it, the more the thought repelled them.

Seph began extending new mycelia, then reclined in their cell and smiled. New sprouts would stop Old Seph, then grow and stop the colony. The locals might execute them, but Seph would survive after all.

The Man's Favorite Pastime

His father judged him. It seemed, sometimes, to be the man's favorite pastime. When he did not meet unspoken standards—which was often—it provoked anger. Yelling. Namecalling. Violence.

Reminding his father that he, too, was a grown man only heightened the disappointment. He returned home from work without having fulfilled the father's ambitions for him, so the reminder only drew abuse that much sooner. Sometimes, sooner was a relief.

Now a full-grown man, he could fight back, and he told his father so. This only provoked laughter. His father called him weak and told him he couldn't fight back. In truth, he couldn't. The few times he tried, longs years of a child's harsh conditioning softened his blows and slowed his defenses. He was weak, because his father had weakened him.

He strove to please his father, to meet those standards the old man held ever higher above his head. Some days he earned his way free of the beatings. Some days he won grudging, backhanded praise. But not every day. He knew he should have done better, and earlier. He also knew that failing in the past was no good reason for failing now.

One day, he didn't come home.