Prisoner No. 34

Chateau D’If


Longball, Chapter 6: Baboon

The alpha female of a baboon tribe, when holding court, is a calculating machine of underhanded intrigue. Her air of calm repose disguises a cunning wit that cuts with the quickness of a rapier in the hands of a fencing master. She peers with bored disdain at her court assembled before her, and rules with insouciant force. With a simple wave of her arm, she may reward with fabulous baubles or condemn to horrible demise. Her long machinations have crafted such a sturdy straightjacket of obligation, gratitude, hope, and dread that on most occasions she simply watches with languid eyes the fretting and strutting upon her stage as the players perform in exact accordance with her unspoken commands. Yet on rare occasion, her own passion overcomes her, and she plays…

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Longball, Chapter 5: Chameleon

The chameleon is stealthy, mysterious, sneaky, and crafty, but never shy or undecided. As a creature closely watched by predators and prey alike, it grows first uncomfortable, then suspicious, but after constant observation, proceeds beyond alarmed paranoia to ingenious subterfuge. The creature adapts to ceaseless scrutiny by concealing itself through camouflage, misdirection, and disguise, hiding its movement, sound, and even odor…

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Longball, Chapter 4: Honeybear

The honeybear, when drowsy, is a languid lump of shambling shag. He may lie in lazy repose, his only motion the inevitable augmentation and diminution of his bulk as it gradually swells with inhalation then dwindles as the barely taxed gas seeps out. On occasion, he may reluctantly lift a paw to absentmindedly scratch an ant or flea, but as often as not will forget the nuisance, and drowse back into stillness mid-stroke. He will occasionally rise in search of a meal, but even then stumbles about with negligence, the slowness of his movement matched by the dullness of his wit. He relies on neither fierceness nor fleetness for nourishment or defense, but merely allows his nose to guide him to the sweet fragrance of fresh blossoms and sticky nectar. He blunders into bushes, brambles, thistles and stumps, meandering about the forest with only the vaguest hint of direction. The creatures of the wilderness fear him not, as his only danger to them arises from the unpredictable staggering of his weighty bulk, but even this is preceded by the noisy crackling of underbrush and the heavy thud of his tread, and is easily avoided…

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Longball, Chapter 3: Jackal

The jackal, when in a pack of his boorish compatriots, is a tireless annoyance of insistent sound and struggle. He celebrates his brutish existence through a cacophonous outpouring of barking, cackling, howling, grunting, growling, wailing, cawing, lowing, crying, shrieking, belching, barfing, and moaning. His perpetual disturbance of the auditory realm is accompanied by a simultaneous agitation of haphazard physical motion. He is forever scratching, nipping, wagging, crawling, twitching, floundering, skipping, staggering, jumping, dancing, shaking, vibrating, swaying, and otherwise traveling in random directions at every rate from imperceptible ooze to dead sprint, exclusive only of the velocity of standing still. He is forever sniffing, scouting, cocking an ear, licking, pawing, and mouthing the objects and creatures within his reach, testing each for tastiness, danger, and amusement. He may stumble into a field of the most pleasing and deliciously ripe melons and spend hours pouncing on them, exploding their plump rinds, and never sample a single slurp of pulp. Or he may stuff himself full of moldering, maggoty dung to the point of vomiting. He may find the most seductive she-bitch in heat, begging for his affection, and simply gobble her up, bones and all. In fit of pique, he may copulate prodigiously with a hornet’s nest. His erratic and incongruous behavior is often dangerous, frequently perplexing, but never dull. Each motion, each quiver, each shimmy or scream, is a pitifully desperate attempt to garner the attention of his fickle mates, outdoing them by any means, be it buffoonery, shocking idiocy, sheer audacity, or utter insanity, to be lofted briefly upon the transient throne of their adulation, if only for the brief space between the magnitude of his latest outrage and the infinitesimal half-life of the pack’s attention span.

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Longball, Chapter 2: Songbird

The songbird is an exuberant creature of vivacious freedom. She perches eagerly on her shining talons, anticipating a blessed future. She casts her music into an indifferent wind, but its notes are like dappled rays from a nurturing sun, warming the souls of beetles, hyenas, lions, men. She stretches her taught wings in shimmering display, and the creatures in her domain luxuriate in her graceful beauty. She needs no armor, no weapons, for as danger approaches, she lofts into the enfolding arms of the rushing sky.

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Longball: Chapter 1, Anaconda

The anaconda, when gorged, is a languid knot of sinewy contentment. He lies wrapped in twisted ropes of casual digestion, with his methodical gizzard deconstructing a preposterously large mass of animal flesh as he slumbers. He lolls placidly, perhaps on a thick limb of a mossy tree, or a comfortably warm stone. He heeds not the avian cacophony of jackdaws, macaws, or cockatoos, even as they perch and preen on his extremities, littering his skin with feathers, fruit, and guano. The furtive scramblings of beetles, purposeful trudgings of ants, and glistening oozings of slugs go unnoticed, so at ease is he. Even the sultry slitherings of a female snake, drawn by the attractive wealth of his black bulk, elicit barely a budge, as she winds her way between his curves and coils to extract his valuable seed. As the seasons pass, rain beads gently on his skin, dust cakes in his crevasses, and his once-sleek sheen dims into dusky spots and wrinkles. Yet all the while, his belly gradually empties and his slack frame swells menacingly with vigorous new mass. When the moss and the mud have rendered him nearly indistinguishable from the slowly decaying matter in which he lies, and passing eyes mistake him for a rotting log or some ancient, crumbling rock, at last he expels the few bits indigestible detritus from a meal so distant as to be forgotten. He splits his skin, and emerges with robust eagerness for the ravenous hunt.

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 15: Ideal Pastime

“I have dispatched the message advising our home planet of our altered itinerary,” she informed him.

“I imagine this will cause some small quantity of political upheaval on our home world,” he noted dryly. “At least, years from now, when the message arrives.”

“As you suggested, I refrained from all mention that our new destination is peopled by an alien species,” she added.

“Yes, best to let those with foreknowledge reveal this bit of disconcerting news as they deem fit.” “At any rate, we have managed to put most of the ship’s repairs back to rights, so with fortune we will have an uneventful journey to the little blue stone,” she said hopefully…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 14: Swing Re-Set


She was leaning close over his shoulder, speaking in an uncomfortably loud voice, directly into his ear.

“I’m telling you,” he whined, “this star does some weird stuff. It doesn’t stay in one place like a normal star.” He twisted a bit in his chair, trying to move his auditory canal further from her booming voice.


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Bear the Ember, Chapter 13:  Turn Over the Rock

She emerged from the tube leading to the airlock, the void torch, now extinguished, still in her hand. He had felt the sudden surge from the re-ignition of the engines a few minutes previously.

“Considering the great learning of the ship’s designers, I imagined they would have concocted a means of re-ignition more clever than passing a flame into a touch-hole.”

She dropped the torch and stripped off her void suit.

“There is beauty and confidence in simplicity,” he replied.

“Still,” she continued, “returning to the void was most unwelcome,” she observed, sitting down at the table with him.

“I see you still carry our little interloper,” he observed, gesturing to the small blue stone she held…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 12:  Wild Goose Space

“What did you do to our star?” she demanded.

He was hoping the previous day’s mishap had taken some of the steam out of her boiler, but unfortunately, it seemed to only stoke her to bolder flames.

“Uh, I observed it?” he offered weakly. “Or, at least, I tried.”

“Well,” she barked, “some amateur astronomer in some godforsaken backwater reported our star went missing, and now I’m getting calls from bureaucrats, newspapers, politicians, and, most importantly, our grant-writing agency! We are supposed to be the foremost experts here! This is our star! Now what happened to it?”

“It disappeared…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 11: Motive Powder  

As he drifted up from a dreamless slumber, he became gradually aware. The soft sheets were drifts of gentle snow piled against his limbs. The bleak, pulsating pain in his arm was a distracting and unwelcome disturbance. Yet, the yielding, reassuring heat of her body was a refuge from the sharp chill that encroached on his exhausted bliss. He drifted aimlessly along the undulating river of semi-consciousness. He hugged her warm frame tighter, warding off the cold that poked and prodded every part of him that was not in pleasant contact with her reassuring skin. His eyes fluttered open for a moment, then closed in a placating stupor. But the cold was pestering him…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 10: Vanishing Tact

“What do you mean, ‘disappeared’? Her bulbous, sweaty face was leaning over his cubicle’s partition, which was groaning in protest at her threatening bulk. “A star cannot simply disappear! You are a disgrace to your profession! And what is worse, you are disgracing the prestigious name of this research institute!”

The partition groaned again as she pushed in closer to him, her face clenched into a ball of fury. “Find that star and get me my data or you will never…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 9: Serious Conspicion

Her eyes opened only slowly. She was vaguely aware of something warm pressed against her. Warm, and comfortable. It was a body. Then she gasped, “The void!” At the sound of her voice, his eyes popped open.

“You live?” he whispered incredulously.

“You rescued me,” she replied hoarsely.

“I..” he stuttered, “I had despaired of all hope. I thought you surely lost.”

“I prayed you would come to me, deliver from the abyss,” she said. “And you did…”

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 8: Blank Space

He felt a little creeped out, sitting in Node 324 alone. The lights still blazed over the entire floor around him. But at this late hour, the big, empty office held an eerie aspect. The colors were wrong, the shadows dropping at odd angles.  The lack of sounds other than his own digits whipping over the keyboard made it all seem surreal…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 7: Ardor Among Thieves

He stood as a thief in the night, under a dark sky, before a great structure of stone. It was old, immeasurably ancient. Great columns ranked along its façade, and in the middle stood a door. He held in his hand a key. A secret and mysterious key he had purloined from he knew not where. It slid noiselessly into the lock, and the door swung silently open before him. He entered, and saw that he was in an enormous hall, with high, vaulted ceilings. The hall stretched before him, long and longer still, so that he could not see the far end. He looked at his feet, and realized he was but a tiny creature in this huge, hollow place. So tiny indeed, that he would need many steps to cross a single one of the innumerable flagstones that paved its vast floor…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 6: Black Missed

He awoke to the foul taste of combustibles clinging to his tongue. He was in bed. Peering around, he realized he was not in his own sleeping closet, but hers. He took a quick personal inventory, noting that all of his limbs were still attached. He peeked under the sheet covering him, and gazing at his relaxed mid-section, noted wryly, “Glad you could finally get some rest, my little friend. It appears we live on, and may yet serve our purpose.”

He began to sit up, but was halted by the pain and stiffness in his torso. With a groan he relaxed back onto the bed. “Provided we escape the evil designs of our mutinous crewmate,” he mused.

The door suddenly popped open, and she rushed in. “You emerge!” she declared, rushing over to the bed, and grasping him in a tight embrace. Her tight, enthusiastic hug caused pain to shoot through him. “I feared so that you would never awaken.”

Grasping her and pushing her back to arms length, he peered at her face. “I appear to be still of one piece,” he informed her. “Yet not fully sound in all aspects. A certain delicacy may be required.” She seemed tired and haggard…

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Bear the Ember, Chapter 5: Target Praxis

“Target not acquired.” The message glowed on his computer screen.

He paused, puzzled. He tapped more keys, then an image popped up. It showed a few dim points of light, indicating background stars, but not the red disk he expected to dominate the image.

He rapidly clicked more buttons, and the targeting coordinates popped up on the screen. He opened an electronic celestial observation positioning calculator, punched in the date, time, and geographic location of the telescope, and compared the resulting coordinates to his targeting dataset. They matched. He punched another button, and a 3-D model of the stars and their locations glowed on screen. He hit another button to set them in motion, watching them move gracefully across his screen while a small blue ball representing his planet circled its home star. A line ran from his planet to the star that was the focus of his research, with targeting coordinates scrolling beneath the line as the angles changed. He stopped it at the moment of the observation, the one showing nothing but background stars. The coordinates matched…

Bear the Ember, Chapter 4:  Sub-Coupe-Taneous

“Best hopes for the log period.” He said encouragingly as she emerged from her closet.

“Do you not mean, ‘Best Hopes for the day’?” She asked.

“Having no true day or night, but only log periods governing our cycles, I find this more appropriate.” He replied. “I have prepared some tea.” He added.

She took a swallow, and grimaced. “Is this the daily fare?” She said scornfully.

“Indeed.” He confirmed. “I must say it has greatly improved with the sulfurous essence removed from the water. My sincerest gratitude to you for rectifying the water purification system.”

“It was the least of my latest endeavors.” She acknowledged.

“I observe that you have reclaimed your waste bin. I pray it will keep your closet orderly and presentable.” He said graciously…

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Catfish Blues

For some, fishing is pastime to idle away a pleasant day. For others, it is a sport, a challenge, a skill to perfect. For yet others, it is a ritual, like the retelling of an ancient myth you only dimly remember from somewhere deep in your bones.

One day I decided to check out a local lake I hadn’t yet tested. With rod, reel and tackle in hand, I tucked my license into my tackle box along with the pocket fishing regulation guide that came with it. I stopped at a bait shop I noticed on the way, standard practice for the seasoned angler. Fisherman’s lore says check with the locals when first dropping your line in a new locale. And the local bait shop guy is the CIA of pescatarian intelligence. They chit-chat with every fisherman in the area, and they know that if you pull in a full stringer, you’ll be back sometime soon for more bait, maybe some lures, or even a new rod. At the bait shop, I grabbed the standard styrofoam cup of nightcrawlers and a container of relatively fresh minnows and asked the counter guy where the best spots were. He gave me a couple recommendations, which I duly noted, and then tried to sell me on some rubbery jigs that looked like squid made of lime jello. I was pretty skeptical, but bought a few just to keep up relations with my only information source…

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Bear the Ember

Chapter 3: Berate Expectations

Interplanetary Information Collection and Cataloguing, Node 324

He groaned audibly as he stared at the glowing screen. His stick-thin limbs stretched over a button-board, his slender digits tapping with whip-like rapidity. “Data set incomplete, resend.” The message read.

“Complete dataset transmitted at 07:23:16. Completion tag and confirmation attached.”

His digits tapped again, and he leaned toward the screen to examine the tag. It indicated a completed transfer. Yet the image he looked at showed only about a half of a glowing red circle, in the lower-right corner, and a blurry orange streak projecting from it.

“Preliminary analysis indicates dataset incomplete.” He typed.

“Ping-back for confirmation.” Came the response.

He tapped the button board a few more times, sending the dataset back to its origin. Then he waited. A few seconds later the response appeared. “Data set comparison executed. Verified. Complete.”

He waved his limbs in a gesture of helplessness, and said aloud, “Then why am I looking at half a star…”

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Bear the Ember

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

Chapter 2: Estranged Bedfellows

As soon as she was out of site down the corridor, he moved to another shaft and wriggled and limped his way to the propulsion section. A row of hoppers full of powdered fuel stretched in a motionless line in front of the empty maw of the fuel feeder. He had fixed it exactly forty-one times, replacing rollers and bearings, re-aligning the tracks, adjusting the weight and balance sensors. Once he even opened the propulsion section doors to find the entire compartment filled with powdered propellant. He had shoveled out tons of powder, filling nearly every available empty space on the ship, to create enough space to get to the broken powdering machine and fix the sensors that automatically shut it off when full. But after the forty-first malfunction, he found he was unable to get it working again. He had tried readjusting, realigning, and replacing every part for which he had a spare. He had even fabricated several new parts from scraps and other spare parts on the ship. But the feeder stood in stubborn rest. He wasn’t even really sure what was wrong with it…

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Bear the Ember

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

Chapter 1: Solitary Refinement

Confined. Compressed. Constrained. Enclosed. Encased. Restricted. Imprisoned.

Technically, his world, his responsibility, his existential burden, encompassed over a thousand cubic miles. It stretched from the 40-foot thick, soft, energy-absorbing aerogel protruding like a clown’s nose on the tip of the craft, through the mile-long fuselage housing optics, communications, hibernation pods, life support, habitat, power, propulsion, RADAR, and innumerable other systems, machines, tools, and supplies. The electromagnetic deceleration apparatus encompassed most of that volume, its net of conductive filaments forming a funnel five thousand miles in diameter at its open end, gradually narrowing over miles to a 10-foot access port. The starship itself clutched within its innards nearly a cubic mile of pressurized volume, guarding it jealously from the cold, ravenous grasp of the nothingness without. It shuttled through the darkness, a needle of contained order probing the endless, vast chaos of space.

His life was circumscribed. Though he could touch every piece of every machine enclosed in the steel hull, each was accessible only through a labyrinth of crawlspaces barely wide enough to squeeze through. The habitat pod itself was only a few hundred cubic feet of space, and most of that occupied by controls and equipment. Pipes, levers, conduits, storage lockers, and every manner of solid obstruction protruded to interfere with movement, so that any journey of two or three feet might require a duck, a twist sideways, a hop and a lunge. His limbs ached for freedom. His soul yearned for release. And every fiber of his being pleaded for the presence, the touch, of another living being, to relieve the excruciating loneliness of his purgatory…

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The Damned’s Dilemma

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

With meticulous caution he poured the yellowed salt distilled from the Dead Sea into the shape of a pentagram. Then he lit candles of wax boiled down from the flesh of vile murderers. He chanted the terrible words written in letters of human blood, scrawled on pages of human intestines, and bound in human skin.

A low howling of wind rose up, and the candles flickered under its baleful influence. Within the pentagram, a small dot of impenetrable darkness appeared, slowly swelling until in filled the entire space inside the pentagram from floor to ceiling. Then, with a rapid flash, the darkness disappeared, and a small child, barely more than a baby, stood in its place. Its cherubic features, glossy golden curls, and snowy white skin were breathtakingly beautiful. But its eyes held nothing like innocence. They were the eyes of someone old, wise, a full of the chilling knowledge of good and evil…

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The Collage

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

The First Hot Summer Day

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a peaceful kingdom. The kingdom had high, majestic mountains with sparkling white snow caps. And in those placid mountains, was a lake of clear blue water. Around the lake was a rocky beach, covered in smooth, age-worn stones. The stones were very colorful, from rust-red, to pert pink, to twinkling turquoise, to alluring aqua, and many other colors beside. The wonderful tints and hues created a fascinating mosaic on the beach. So much so, that the people of the nearby village called it “The Collage.” It was said in the village that if you carried home a basket of these stunning stones, you would be blessed with true happiness for life.

Now in this village lived two young girls. They were sisters. In fact, they were twin sisters. Identical in every way, the sisters were often mistaken for one another by the villagers. They had the same hair, the same eyes, the same face, the same body, and even the same feet.

But the sisters were very different from each other in one very important way. Their minds diverged. Each sister had in her head very different thoughts…

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Your Bucket

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

Your bucket has a hole

Pump with Sissyphean vigor

With luck

You might fill it enough

To become an optimist

The Miller’s Daughters
By Stirling Edgewood
Copyright 2020
Once upon a time, there was a grand kingdom, filled with mighty rivers, majestic mountains, mysterious forests, and fertile plains. In a far corner of the kingdom, was a little village. In that village, there lived a miller. This miller was hard working and prosperous. He lived with his wife and many children. The miller raised his children to be honest and hardworking, and he told them, “Always demand an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work, and never settle for a shilling less nor a shekel more.”
Among his children, the miller had three daughters. These daughters were virtuous and dutiful. Every day, they cooked and cleaned, stitched and sowed, and did everything, little and large, to keep their household ordered and harmonious.
Now in this village, on one night each week, in the village square, the people came together to dance. The girls loved to dance, and the day of each dance, they always would ask the miller, “May we go to the dance tonight?”…

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Kalamongo Beach

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

This is a retelling of a joke I heard in 3rd grade. I’ve added a few details. Props to the original author, whoever he is.

Once there was a little boy named Johnny. One day, his family moved to a new country, where no one knew them, and no one in the country even knew they were there. They arrived in the morning, just about when school was starting, and Johnny’s mother said, “Go to school.”

“But I don’t even know where the school is!” Johnny replied…

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Dem Three Garyuuugeuan Pigs

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

A ways back, not round here, was a pretty spot. A kingdom, I tell ya. Fulla’ grand castles, fancy princesses, dashin’ princes, magical doin’s, and dragons. Lots and lotsa’ dragons. Now way off yonder, tucked into a cornera ‘dat kingdom like a hankee in a gentleman’s pocket, was a farm. And on dis farm was three pigs…

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