I’m Not Even Supposed To Be Here Tonight.

In a Kevin Smith inspired twist, I was forced to step up and come into work tonight to cover for one of my guys.

That’s what a leader does: He takes a shotgun to his plans and does the job when no one else is available. Still, I figured I could use the time to write once the check-in rush slows down.

And now it has.

And now I find myself as blocked as Trump after he hosts one of those parties where he serves nothing but McDonald’s to professional athletes. I have no self-confidence left as a writer, even though I’m desperate to finish my latest series.

This sucks.

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Fourteen.

Magic is a tricky thing.

It’s not simply a matter of manipulating ancient energies to achieve one’s desires. It’s about establishing the perfect balance between one’s will and the power of creation itself. A simple word can change the entire nature of a spell, transforming it from benevolent to destructive.

It’s all a question of interpretation.

For example, in 1587 a fledgling mystic who was part of the infamous Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, USA,Β cast a spell he was certain would protect his people from the harsh conditions and Native American “savages” they were surrounded by. And so, he prepared the incantation and did whatever it is magic types do before they tap into forces beyond their true comprehension. Then he spoke five simple words:

“Let my people know peace.”

Anyone who knows their history knows what happened next. That attempt at supernatural benevolence led down a particularly dark path. From that point on the community became known as the Lost Colony due to the subsequent unexplained disappearance of its population.

So what happened?

Well, personally I believe the would-be savior got exactly what he wanted: from that moment on his people never suffered again in any way. Obviously whatever deity was in a giving mood that day decided life is pain and removed the good people of Roanoke from the equation, thus ending their suffering.

That leads to us to Tommy Preston’s latest predicament. He had to prove himself worthy of passing through a doorway protected by a magical alarm system designed to keep superpowered intruders from penetrating a stronghold’s never center. If he failed, a series of defensive sigils would emit incapacitating voltage, making him the latest victim to wind up one of The Dark’s trophies/snacks.

“π•Ίπ–“π–‘π–ž π–™π–π–”π–˜π–Š π–•π–šπ–—π–Š 𝖔𝖋 π–π–Šπ–†π–—π–™ 𝖒𝖆y π–Šπ–“π–™π–Šπ–—.”

Seems simple enough for a crusader of justice, right? Especially for one who began his career during the golden age of humanity, no?

Tommy didn’t know what the test actually consisted of, only that Nemesis had demanded he speak the truth about those allies Golden Lad had lost when The Dark’s forces conquered his reality. And that’s exactly what he did.

Now he had crossed said threshold and was moving down a bleak, antiseptic hallway at a brisk, entirely human pace – though he had no idea what was going to happen next.

Would have been nice if you’d told me what to expect once I made it this far, new pal ‘o mine,” Tommy thought as he reached the end of the line, as it were. The passageway ceased to exist, and another cavernous room took its place. A lone, mute caretaker waited for the Lad to make the first move.

But Golden Lad had to get the lay of the land before he could start the game.

Time and space were insignificant, wholly irrelevant concepts, with eighty-six thousand square feet filling a space designed to hold one-fourth that size. The open-concept space was unnervingly silent – almost. Buzzing fluorescent lights cast their luminescence over one hundred metal gurneys, each one holding a seemingly lifeless figure.

The room’s sole conscious occupant stepped from the few shadows present

(darkness seemed to cling to him)

and allowed himself to be scrutinized.

“I… know you,” Tommy’s voice was weak, raspy, tinged with shock and disbelief. You… you were the first of us. Some say even said you were the best of us all.” He didn’t have the words to articulate his emotions. Until he found a few that he prayed would lead to an answer.

“How? How did you fall so far?”

The imposing gentlemen in the blue gray three-piece suit, pitch-black fedora and equally dark curtain mask that obscured his entire face, was more than ready for the query. In fact, he provided the same answer he had delivered hundreds of times prior to this moment.

“You say I’ve fallen… but I prefer to say I’ve risen to heights our kind could never dream possible. We fancied ourselves gods… but here…” he strolled between two stretchers, taping the metallic rails on both simultaneously.

“Here I am a god.”

On November 13th, 1936, this world was introduced to the first costumed crimefighter to take up the battle against the forces of evil on American shores. A master of disguise, he employed an arsenal of gadgets to stop his foes dead in their tracks and left behind a calling card bearing the image of a clock-face over a domino mask, the words “The Clock Has Struck” or “The Clock Will Strike At…” scrawled across its center. daxo7k0-744ad8bd-bccb-4d40-970c-94d140a16fd7

Beneath the cloak he was Brian O’Brien

(it was the Golden Age of comic books, don’t blame me)

an obscenely rich, respected member of high society, but to the criminal underworld and his peers he was the archetype, the standard by which all mystery men and women were to be measured.

Golden Lad never knew just why the The Clock took up the “good fight”, truthfully it never really mattered. But in this moment, he’d have given anything to know why this once incorruptible protector of the innocent switched sides when it mattered most.

“I’m afraid you’re not going to get the answers you’re so hungry for, Preston,” The Clock’s voice was soothing, rhythmic, almost hypnotic. He advanced to Tommy’s position like a snake slithering upon its prey. “Nor are you going to save any of our former peers. In fact, by removing my… employers’ remaining acolytes, all you and your new allies have done is upset the Balance so grievously this whole world is about to fall into the abyss!” he announced with righteous fury, his gloved fists balled into weapons aching to be unleashed. “How the hell did you even pass the test anyway? Your heart isn’t made of pure darkness!”

Remember what I said about interpretation?

A wave or realization rolled across Tommy’s besieged consciousness but was quickly eradicated as The Clock raised his left hand and released a stream of crimson lightning that knocked the disillusioned golden age hero off his feet.

(Sheev Palpatine would have been proud.)

The average human being’s nerve centers offer very little resistance to the passage of an electric current. When nerves are overcome by an electric shock, the results include intense pain, tingling, numbness, weakness or difficulty controlling one’s limbs. When a shock occurs, the victim may be dazed or may experience amnesia, seizure or respiratory arrest. This type of damage can also cause psychiatric disorders.

(I wonder if this is what happened to the Trumps?)

The Lad struggled to force his body to rise up against this unrelenting onslaught, but this battle wouldn’t be won with physical force.

“There’s no shame in surrendering, Preston,” The Clock pleaded with his former contemporary. “You’re the last man standing… so to speak. You’ve fought longer and harder than all these…” he waved his right hand around, pointing out the slumbering paladins surrounding them. “Has-beens.”

That did it.

A spark ignited deep in Tommy Preston’s core. A symphony of familiar whispers, speaking as one, filled his consciousness and soon began to roar.

“𝒲𝑒 𝒽𝒢𝓋𝑒 π“ˆπ“π‘’π“…π“‰ π’»π‘œπ“‡ π“‰π‘œπ‘œ π“π‘œπ“ƒπ‘”, π’Ήπ“‡π‘œπ“Œπ“ƒπ‘’π’Ή 𝒢𝓃𝒹 π’Έπ’½π‘œπ“€π’Ύπ“ƒπ‘” 𝒾𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 π’Ήπ’Άπ“‡π“€π“ƒπ‘’π“ˆπ“ˆ. 𝒯𝒽𝑒 𝓉𝒾𝓂𝑒 π’½π’Άπ“ˆ π’Έπ‘œπ“‚π‘’. π’΄π‘œπ“Šπ“‡ 𝓉𝒾𝓂𝑒 π’½π’Άπ“ˆ π’Έπ‘œπ“‚π‘’ 𝒢𝓉 π“π’Άπ“ˆπ“‰. π’«π“Šπ“‰ π’Άπ“ˆπ’Ύπ’Ήπ‘’ π“Žπ‘œπ“Šπ“‡ π“ˆπ’½π’Άπ“‚π‘’ 𝒢𝓃𝒹 𝓇𝑒𝑔𝓇𝑒𝓉. π’©π‘œπ“Œ… 𝒢𝒸𝒸𝑒𝓅𝓉 π‘œπ“Šπ“‡ π‘œπ’»π’»π‘’π“‡π’Ύπ“ƒπ‘” 𝒢𝓃𝒹 𝓁𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉 π‘œπ“Šπ“‡ π’Ήπ’Άπ“‡π“€π‘’π“ˆπ“‰ π’½π‘œπ“Šπ“‡.”

“You’re… right, O’Brien,” Tommy stammered, clenching his fists and bringing himself into a kneeling position. “I have outfought… everyone around me. But let’s face it… that’s because your masters didn’t consider me a threat… and more… importantly… they needed me to maintain this so-called Balance.” The Lad wheezed as he rose to his feet, wavering like a newborn calf as he did. “But if this really is the end… I’m going to go out on my feet… you damn turncoat!”

The Clock ended his blitz out of sheer confoundment – and perhaps even a little respect. Not that it kept him from holding his position.

“Look at you, Preston… fighting to the bitter, last breath. But the fact remains, your power is long gone, my friend.”Β  Clock_002

A low, virtually invisible radiance emerged from the comatose champions.

“You know what I’ve always loved about our line of work, Clock?” Tommy said as he lumbered forward, his strength fading further with each step. He was running on fumes – and hope. “Wiping that smug look off the bad guy’s face after they’ve finally finished monologuing.”

The weak light became a glow. The glow became a series of beams of incandescent light aimed directly at the golden age warrior.

“The Heart of Gold was once an object of unbelievable power whose true nature I denied – but no more. It took the suffering of an entire civilization, a broken people, and fed it to me, a damn child… but against their will.”

Lumbering steps became steady and focused.

“No more. I’m not that child anymore. And those people are gone forever… but others are taking their place. My brothers and sisters have risen… and they’re offering me their power… without hesitation and of their own free will.”

Golden Lad shone once again, with the intensity and rage of a thousand white hot suns. He left the floor and levitated above his fellow-guardian-turned-jailer.

“Your time, Clock… has run out.”

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Thank You, Mistress Fate.

On September 16, between the hours of five and seven pm, I was walking on a beach, its exact location is a mystery to me, but Aruba is the most likely culprit.

The sand was… well, sand, but I never lost my footing. The sun was blistering hot but welcoming. The waves were meeting the shore in the epitome of harmonic balance. The gulls did their thing above, squawking like Republicans in front of a television camera.

And that’s where my memory ends – with one glaring exception which I will recount in a moment. But truthfully, the location is irrelevant. All that truly matters is this irrefutable fact: On September 16, between the hours of five and seven pm, I was lying on an operating table at the Greater Niagara General Hospital. A surgical team was repairing my broken body, specifically my shattered left hip.

The hip joint, known in medical circles as the acetabulofemoral joint (art. coxae), is the joint between the head of the femur and acetabulum of the pelvis. Its primary function is to support the weight of the body in both static (that’s standing to us laypeople) and dynamic (walking or running) postures. The hip joints have very important roles in retaining balance, and for maintaining the pelvic inclination angle, without which we’d all be… I believe the medical term is “screwed”.

Let’s get back to me and the result of my ineptitude while carrying a case of dog food and a bag of flyers, shall we?

The surgeon made an incision over the hip, through the layers of bruised tissue through which he removed the diseased and damaged bone and cartilage, leaving only the healthy bone behind. He then implanted a replacement socket into the pelvic bone after which he inserted a metal stem made of titanium (apparently Canadian health care, as awesome as it is, won’t cover the cost of adamantium replacement parts) into the top of the thighbone, which was then topped with a replacement ball.

Total hip replacement surgery with acetabular prosthesis outline

Total hip replacement surgery with anatomical acetabular prosthesis outline diagram. Labeled educational medical operation process description with new artificial bone structure vector illustration.

I’ll give you a second to stop cringing. All good? Then we’ll continue.

By now you’re no doubt attempting to reconcile the two conflicting accounts of my whereabouts on September 16, between the hours of five and seven pm. I know I would if I was in your place. However, I’m in my place, and so there is no conflict. For you see, the second I regained consciousness in GNGH’s recovery ward I knew exactly what had happened – though I was as mystified as you’re about to be. Then again, I spent the next two hours pulling an Uma Thurman from Kill Bill Volume One (trying to shake the effects of the anesthesia and move my left foot) so there was plenty of time to analyze the situation.

Here is what I concluded: My damaged body was in a GNGH operating room. Conversely, my soul, the spirit or immaterial part of a human being, the seat of human personality, intellect, will, and emotions, regarded as an entity that survives the body after death, was on a beach somewhere in the universe.

Sounds kinda scary, doesn’t it?

And of course, it raises all sorts of questions:

  • Was I hallucinating as a result of some really powerful anesthesia?
  • Did my mind create its own reality as a coping mechanism?
  • Am I making this shit up?
  • Has The Hook finally snapped?
  • And if so, who won the pool?

I’ll let you, my gentle readers, debate those queries among yourselves. But in case you’re wondering if I was frightened in any way, worry not, my friends. For you see, as some of you have no doubt realized by now…

I wasn’t alone on that beach.

Far from it. In fact, that beach was exactly where I needed to be. It was a place I wished I’d visited years ago, the year 2017, specifically. But Mistress Fate obviously concluded the time wasn’t right back then, that my need wasn’t great enough. Fortunately, she extended her mercy to this lost soul that evening.

And so, The Hook and Rockin’ Ronnie

(you just knew it, didn’t you?)

were reunited at last on the blissful sands of Limbo Beach.

The precise details of our conversation remain beyond my reach, sort of like trying to hold a fistful of sand; you can see it, but you can’t control it.

But my fallen brother told me everything was going to be okay.

And it was.

There’s nothing more to say, nothing of significance at least.

I love you, brother.

Thank you for being there when I needed you the most, even when the boundaries of space and time stood in the way. I’ve spent five years regretting not being able to save you, but you saved me.

I miss you – every damn day, Ronnie, every damn day.

(Man, typing through tears royally sucks.)

See you in the trenches and the Halls of Limbo, kids…

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Thirteen.

“You’re just a bullet! All you know how to do is strike where you’ve been pointed. The question is, who’s holding the gun?”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Tommy -“

“Don’t call me that! We’re not friends! You may think you’re the hero here… but based on what I’ve seen here today, you’ve damned my world!”

“This world was damned years ago, Golden Lad…” William made sure to emphasize Tommy Preston’s “working title” while falling back on his most effective coping mechanism. “But this little drama isn’t over yet. And as I was about to tell you… I’m not just the bullet, I’m the gun, buddy, and I AM THE LAW!”

Though this non-team

(with respect to Stephen Strange’s comic book allies)

had scored yet another victory while convincing a pair of Korean goblins to throw in with them

(though for how long was anybody’s guess)

the fight was far from over. They had yet to penetrate the stronghold’s nerve center and face whatever defenses remain in place there – and there was still the matter of one of the universe’s most powerful and ancient beings, Cthulhu, to resolve.

Oh, and Tommy was melting down. Fast.

Nemesis, however, chose to ignore the lad’s degenerating mental state, choosing instead to take an inventory of his squad’s resources. That meant questioning his supernatural “allies”.

“Appa, Kimchee! What’s the sitrep on the Biggest bad here? He hasn’t squashed us yet… so is he going to be friend or foe?” 

But before the diabolical duo could answer, a pained-yet-unmistakably-feminine voice rang out.

“Neither word… applies… to one of the Great Old Ones, William Nemesis,” Madame Strange explained as she battled her body’s urge to collapse once more. “Cthulhu has been enslaved and forced to carry out our enemy’s agenda. There can be no greater humiliation for one of his stature. But as much as he no doubt desires revenge upon our mutual foes… I fear his fate lies elsewhere.” Strange then closed her haunting eyes and began to chant.

“Ooookaaay… she’s trippin’!” Appa declared as he addressed Nemesis.. “I’d forget about both of them if I were you, pal. You better get moving, this place isn’t going to be here much longer!”

“This facility… or this world?” was William’s obvious query.

Once again, Appa and Kimchee answered in stereo. “BOTH!”

Tommy began to crack even further – until fate stepped in. Again.

Waves of barely perceptible energy cascaded across the entire complex. To the average person’s naked eye, it would appear as though they were having a stroke and they were fading in and out of consciousness. However, everyone in this merry little band knew from the feeling of dread emanating from their core that wasn’t the case.

“WILLIAM! WE HAVE TO MOVE… NOW!” Strange shrieked as she struggled to finish her incantation.

The goblins giggled like devilish schoolgirls. “Yes, William… the clock, as you mortals say… is ticking… though not for much longer! Get through that doorway while it’s still standing!”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you… you double-crossing bastards?” William moved into position, tossing a tiny piece of forest green vitreous silica projectile glass at the high dokkaebi. It landed in front of them, shattering instantly. The endgame, as the aforementioned Stephen Strange would say, was about to begin. “Is the pathway established, Madame?”

Strange shook like a dwarf willow in a hurricane – but she never wavered. “Yes.”

(Though clearly she didn’t have the strength to waste on small talk.)

“Great. Hang on… I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“Easier said than done… you libidinous, dimension-hopping dumbass,” rang through the Madame’s addled mind. e1_9cqvwyaijbgf

Moldavite is a form of glass formed by a meteorite impact in southern Germany (which created the NΓΆrdlinger Ries crater to be exact) that occurred about 15 million years ago.

Fun Fact: Moldavites were discovered by mankind’s hunched ancestors in the Czech Republic and Austria, who used them to make flaked tools. Some of the worked moldavites date to the Aurignacian period of the Upper Paleolithic, approximately 43,000 to 26,000 years before the present.

In this so-called modern world, moldavites are often used, rough or cut, as semi-precious stones in jewelry. They have purported metaphysical qualities and are often used in crystal healing.

The truth?

The space rock in question was all that remained of a thirteenth-dimensional imp who chose the wrong side in the final battle between The Light and The Dark. Her fossilized remains were scattered across the Multiverse. To those with inherent supernatural abilities the fragments have a number of uses.

Like ensnaring pesky Korean goblins, for example.

Emerald flames circled the two magical malcontents, forcing them to huddle together like two Klansmen stranded in the middle of Harlem. Their beady eyes cut through the supernatural fire and fixated on Nemesis. As you can imagine, he was unaffected by their disdain.

“Don’t look at me like that. You know you were going to double-cross us the first chance you got!”

Madame Strange and Nemesis exchanged knowing looks and the strategy William telepathically put in place earlier began to unfold. The sorceress had formed a link with Cthulhu as the primordial leviathan fought against his arcane chains.

(No mean feat, even for a magic wielder of her prowess. Imagine trying to mainline wet kitty litter.)

Of course, as much as the physical strain was excruciating, she knew her consciousness would be liquified the nanosecond said mental stream started to flow.

(Humans, even those of the superpowered variety, can’t withstand the cerebral voltage an ancient god puts out.)

But that’s where Appa and Kimchee came in. 

Another Fun Fact: Goblin brains are surprisingly resilient and make great delivery systems when one is trying to communicate with an ancient cosmic entity. 

Nemesis pointed at the doorway separating the ad hoc team from their ultimate goal. Anyone able to do the impossible and tune out the soundtrack of the world would have heard an ethereal orchestra of hushed voices. “Tommy!” he shouted as the static in his own inner world began to rise in intensity. 

For his part, the Lad was utterly overwhelmed; in a matter of hours his entire reality – which was already tattered and torn – had been truly ripped to shreds. He was surrounded by strangers, hopelessly in over his head, and powerless. Where was he supposed to go from here?

Fortunately, that’s precisely what Nemesis was trying to tell him.

“Tommy, you need to go through that door… but it’s not going to be easy! I need to do exactly what I say!”

Golden Lad parted his chapped lips to utter a, “You can’t be seriously asking me to trust you even more than I already have! What’s left of my whole world is collapsing because of you!”

But he didn’t have the strength left to resist. he was well and truly done. And so, he answered with what little strength remained in his magically transformed body.

“Tell me what you want me to do.”

“William!” Madame Strange beckoned with fiery passion as hot as the supernatural flames trapping Appa and Kimchee. “Get on with it before I’m reduced to dust – and I take you with me!”

Cthulhu felt the arcane telepathic pathway laid out in front of him

(relatively speaking)

and knew it was his salvation, so he pushed his considerable psychic might in its direction, buckling Strange’s defenses.

“Just speak the truth about what’s beyond that opening, man! But do it before you take a single step!” William directed as he heeded Strange’s warning and started his contribution to their shared enterprise.

“What’s beyond it?”

“Dammit, Tommy, you know! Your friends, man! Your friends are there… they’ve been there all along!” Nemesis hollered as a buzzing in his brain signaled the onset of an aneurysm. “The enemy’s been feeding on their power… but there’s barely anything left… so hurry the hell up!” A numbness radiated across the left side of his face and he was addressing two Golden Lads instead of one.

“He’ll die… unless you let us help, mortal fool!” the desperate goblins implored William. They could feel his blunt telepathy slicing into their other-dimensional brain boxes, splitting them open before channeling their cerebral voltage to Madame Strange’s own mind. She wrapped herself in their collective spiritual energy, using it as a buffer between her thoughts and Cthulhu’s unimaginable omnipotence. 

Tommy Preston could feel his world spasming as its place in the Multiverse became less stable by the minute – but he put all his fear and self-doubt aside and spoke his truth plainly and honestly, for probably the first time in his life.

“I miss my friends. Bob, Harold… my darling, Peggy…” his voice trialed off as tears ran down his weathered face. The whispering voices grew stronger as he approached the threshold… images

“I felt so lost after finding the Heart, separated from the rest of the world. Even my family didn’t know me anymore… but then I found them, my true family. We were alone together. The things that go bump in the night were afraid of us. Even when everything changed and things got bad… really bad… I knew we could win if we just stayed together.”

The whispers became a demonic glee club, chanting a deafening chorus of taunts designed to drive him mad – but the Lad held his ground.

(While stepping forward, ironically.)

“The enemy made Hitler’s Schutzstaffel look like clowns. We’d never seen such inhumanity. But my family never gave up,” Tommy shouted over the thunderous chanting as he reached a hand through the doorway…

“BUT I DID! I GAVE UP A LONG TIME AGO… BUT NO MORE! IF YOU’RE THERE, EVERYONE… I’M COMING FOR YOU!”

Sigils inscribed on the floor and across the entryway appeared, glowing blood red. They were designed with one purpose: To prevent any superpowered trespassers foolish enough to invade this space from penetrating its inner sanctum. The dark magic used to create the symbols would instantly incinerate any interlopers.  

But Tommy Preston, the broken man who was once a child who found the Heart of Gold, an artifact powered by “the blood of a thousand martyred Aztecs”, that granted him the powers of strength and courage, paid them no mind. Seventy-eight years after that fateful day, the seemingly-limitless energy he gained from the sacrifice of an entire tribe had been exhausted. Now he was just a mortal man, albeit one on a mission he had been unknowingly waiting his entire life to undertake.

He advanced with fearless determination and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance, the pain of his tormented life transformed into a shield.

But would that shield withstand what was to come?

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Twelve.

“I still say we end these little κ°œμžμ‹λ“€ and let God sort the rest out,” the words spit from Golden Lad’s mouth like venom. He wanted revenge for decades of misery and it didn’t matter who paid the toll.

“Yeah, about that…” Nemesis paused before responding. “In case you hadn’t noticed from the paradise you’ve been living in, buddy, God’s AWOL. Has been for decades. That’s how The Dark seized control in the first place.”

“Don’t you dare speak their names, you dimension-hopping vagabond!” the high dokkaebi hissed in unison. A containment spell cast by Madame Strange held them in check. For a time, at least.

“They know your true nature, William Nemesis,” the alluring Strange observed in a tone drier than a martini. “These creatures are not to be played with. We must determine how to use them to control Cthulhu… and swiftly.”

“We’ll never tell, Strange One! He is our 개λ₯Ό 곡격 to unleash as we see fit!” the slightly larger of the two Korean goblins gleefully bragged, as the Great Old One he referred to grew even more agitated at being referred to as an attack dog.

“All right, this is going to get confusing fast,” Nemesis noted, pointing at the slightly grander devil. “You’re going to be Appa, and your partner-in-crime there is Kimchee. μ΄ν•΄ν•˜λ‹€?”

The supernatural tricksters looked at one another briefly before answering, once again, in stereo. “We are familiar with the reference… and we agree.”

Tommy “Golden Lad” Preston was less than amused. “Okay, great! Now that we all have cool codenames… can we get on with it?”

“We’ll never surrender!” Kimchee boasted. “And your plans, whatever they may be, will soon be as spoiled as your souls!”

He hated to admit it, but the Lad knew the beast’s words rang true. “The little jerk’s right, reinforcements are sure to be coming through that doorway any minute.”

“No, you son of a mortal sow,” Appa corrected. “We were all that remained of this outpost’s formidable defenses… and now that we have fallen, the prize you seek, such as it is, is surely forfeit!”

“Such as it is…” as they trailed off the words reverberated in the Lad’s consciousness, but his compatriots knew exactly what the goblin meant.

Madame Strange prepared to torture the high dokkaebi into submission – but Nemesis had other plans.

“Let’s face it, the Big Guy isn’t the only pet here, guys. As you said, this world is just an outpost… and one that’s outlived its usefulness at that. You’ve got to be bored out of your horned skulls now that this world’s resistance is all dried up. How’d you like to be free to really eff λ˜₯ up? We’ll let you go scot-free afterwards.”

The imps in question could hardly resist a chance to truly test their mettle against what they perceived as the only truly worthy opponents left: Their current “employers”. And so, they agreed to Nemesis’ terms.

A ball of anxiety formed in Tommy’s stomach, and he began to sweat at the implication behind William’s words about his home dimension – but his fear wasn’t his teammate’s responsibility.

As it turned out, they all had bigger problems to wrestle with.

Who knows what other horrors await our heroes?

An effervescent buzzing vibrated through the massive antechamber from the same hatchway that brought the goblins and Cthulhu into play. In seconds it grew deafening. Hundreds of fairies, each the diameter of a child’s hand and clad in emerald armor that covered all but their protruding teeth and glowing crimson eyes, fluttered their way into view.

(And you know they weren’t there to bestow wishes on our company, right?)

Tommy summed the group’s situation most eloquently.

“Look at these Gravel Agitators with wings! I bet they’re going to start hurling magical pineapples!”

“I barely understood that… but you’re right, Tommy, we’re screwed!” William said as he turned his attention to the goblins. “I thought you said you were the last of this joint’s defenses, fellas?”

“We said formidable defenses. These chicks are irrelevant!” Appa replied, gleefully anticipating the carnage he was certain was about to unfold.

Nemesis telekinetically gathered up whatever pieces of the shattered transport device he could find to form an ad hoc shield, because sure enough, the fairy squadron began lobbing mystical grenades in the form of explosive passion fruit.

“They don’t seem very irrelevant to me!” Tommy hollered as he ducked for cover beneath William’s improvised rampart.

“Yeah, and didn’t you date a few of them back in the day?” Kimchee inquired of his brethren, a query that intrigued Madame Strange.

“Date? How would that wor-” her statement died in her throat as a passion fruit fireball landed beside her immaculate frame, sending her flying.

Tommy, of course, had even more commentary to add. “Great, there goes our powerhouse… she’s gonna get clobbered out there!! The Heart’s still not responding to me… so you’re all we’ve got, man!”

“Not quite,” was all Nemesis had to offer as he glared at Appa and Kimchee.

But the goblins were as rigid as a Kardashian competing on the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.

“Come on, you μ•…λ§ˆ,” William shouted as he hurled anything and everything his mind could snatch at the fairy attack squadron. “Are you MexiCANS or MexiCAN’TS?”

“”That makes no sense, boyo!” the Lad responded as he continued to seek out a port in this paranormal storm.

“I know!” was William’s comeback, though his words were slurred by shrapnel slicing across his face and already tattered costume. “But it’s from one of my favorite films! And Strange’ll be fine, trust me!”

But his new allies (?) remained as stock-still as their stone counterparts in Korean gardens, so Nemesis launched his counter-offensive as best he could.

WHAM-ETH! A piece of plexiglass sliced a fairy’s wings right off, sending it on a collision course with five of its compatriots, their miniature bombs exploding upon impact.

Z-Z-Z-Z-WAP! Thirty fairies were taken out by a twitching, still highly live power line Nemesis telekinetically lifted into their path.Β  download

CRUNCH-ETH! Fifty pixies found themselves transformed into otherworldly pancakes beneath a sizable chunk of metal.

AIIEEE! One truly unlucky flying soldier found itself drawn and quartered while inadvertently soaring directly into William’s broad TK wave.

Even though she had been knocked into the lands of Morpheus, Madame Strange was protected by a dual-pronged precast spell: A Reflection Hex creates a shield around a certain line (in this case the madame’s unresponsive form), but instead of just preventing unwanted influences from entering, they’re also proactive, reflecting the harmful energy back to where it came from.

TOUCHÉ! Two dozen stubborn fairies paid the price for attempting to bomb their slumbering prey, as their miniscule shells were instantly directed right back at them.

The other half of Strange’s abracadabra, a Combat Protective Charm functions just as the name suggests, exerting reactionary responses which allow the target to transfigure negative energy and use it to fuel various forms of magic.

The murderous sprites’ ranks had been thinned by Nemesis and the snoozing sorceress, but not enough to ensure the band’s survival.

Appa and Kimchee finally sprang to life – sadly, it was only to merrily sing “Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na… Deadmen! Deadmen! Deadmen! And Dead Witch!”

Until Kimchee found his courage and sense of honor

(as much honor as a goblin is capable of, at least)

at last. “Hey, don’t you think we should listen to the angular one in the leather jacket and jump in here?” he asked his arcane partner-in-magical-mischief.

“Why?” Appa threw the question right back. “Aren’t we having fun watching this show?”

“Sure… but the mojo the curvy one cast has worn off and They’ll assume we’ve turned on Them already since we haven’t helped the Warfairies!”

Appa grumbled like my Uncle Butch’s stomach after my Aunt Marlene’s Nuclear Chili, and he slooowly nodded in agreement with his hobgoblin colleague. Seconds later they jointly cast their scaly arms towards the fracas and summoned bolt after bolt of red lightning that scattered and spread across the chamber.

ZZZZZWAP!Β The remaining savage airborne fairyfolk were instantaneously exterminated, their enchanted armor tumbled to the marble floor like a mystical hailstorm.

“Took you μž‘μ€ 바보듀 long enough,” Tommy exclaimed, kicking bits of diminutive armor out of his path to Madame Strange. “We were almost blown to bits!”

“Better late than never, Tommy,” Nemesis said, beckoning Appa and Kimchee forward. “One last thing, guys, and you’re free to go… though the real fun’s barely started, so you may want to stick around.”

“What is it now, you μ˜μƒμ„ μž…μ€ 바보?” Appa inquired, to which Wiliam merely pointed at Cthulhu, still furiously bucking at his mystical restraints.

β€œOh yeah… that guy,” the high dokkaebi replied in pitch-perfect stereo.

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Eleven.

Your average costumed crusader’s biggest concern is a persistent arch-enemy who… just… won’t… quit, constantly escaping from prison or evading capture altogether.

The Joker springs to mind, of course.

(Though if Batman had any real guts and a true sense of morality he would’ve ended the Clown Prince of Crime decades ago, thus saving thousands of lives in Gotham and the world.)

Tommy Preston, a.k.a. Golden Lad, had barely survived a global conflict during which he saw all of his superpowered counterparts – good and evil – apparently perish. He spent the next few decades taking down petty criminals in a New York that had become a shadow of itself.

Mysterious, breathtakingly-beautiful, her true identity a closely guarded secret, Madame Strange spent the golden age of heroism carving out a specific niche for herself: Dispatching fearsome foes with names like Bohlog, Bonza, Dingo Bill, and The Octopus

(it was a different age, so don’t judge)

who constantly threatened America’s far-flung air outposts and naval stations. Her recent past is an enigma, though it’s clear she’s graduated from military base defense to Multiversal maintenance. 

And William Nemesis? Well, he’s been busy traversing the Multiverse dismantling the infrastructure demi-gods known as The Dark established on various parallel earths like Tommy’s.

But none of these paladins, even the dimension-hopping Nemesis, was prepared to face the most recognizable member of the Great Old Ones.

Terrifyingly-Fun Fact: The Great Old Ones are primordial, inhuman beings of unfathomable power who once presided over various realities. They were, in fact, the beta version of The Dark, The Light, and The Grey, creatures that God Herself found too uncontrollable and dangerous to be allowed to roam free in the vicinity of her prized creation, humanity.

They are things that give the nightmares under your bed, in your closet, in your head, nightmares. The dark things all dark things are modelled on.

And so, rather than admit to having designed flawed deities, the Big Gal hid the Great Old Ones hidden away beneath the earth and in pocket dimensions. In time they became myths to be used as fodder for scribes and worshipped by doomsday cults.

The_great_old_ones_by_tentaclesandteeth-d7xmcz0

Though I’ve already described him as a humanoid monstrosity with a squid-like face and wings, Cthulhu, like most cosmic entities, is too abstract by human perception to be accurately described. He (it?) is infamously known for his grotesque appearance (picture a Kardashian without the Botox) and variable gigantic size (picture a range between The Rock… and Asia), as well as another charming trait of his: The ability to drive any mortal unlucky enough to gaze upon his form to madness.

Fortunately for our heroic triumvirate, Cthulhu appeared to be having a bad day, at least by leviathan standards. His clawed hands trembled, his leathery wings vibrated, and his tentacles elongated and shrunk – all in unison. However, he did not advance towards our heroes, not an inch.

“Why is that… thing… just… standing there?” Golden Lad whispered to Nemesis, who was, quite frankly, freaking out.

“Strange…” William ignored the Lad and instead addressed his reluctant teammate in a low voice, as if a higher tone would anger the inexplicably immobile, silent colossus. “You have any idea why we’re still coherent and not a pile of blubbering goo right now?”

Equally mute as their newest opponent, Madame Strange was perplexed; Cthulhu’s most well-known plan of attack was to simply let loose a psychic attack so potent it rips through a human mind like a navy destroyer plowing through a pond. In some cases the mere sight of this beast is enough to incapacitate a mere mortal.

But instead of unleashing a mental howitzer, Cthulhu… did nothing.

After sixty excruciating seconds Strange finally spoke. “He… is resisting.”

“Resisting? Then let’s kill this thing and get on with it!” Golden Lad blurted out in a particularly bloodthirsty tone.

“How do you propose we do that, Tommy Preston? This is one of the most ancient beings in existence! He should be able to tear this world apart in seconds! None of us should have survived the act of gazing upon his visage for an instant… never mind the minutes we’ve spent blabbering!” was all Strange could say as her feverish mind raced through one doomed scenario after another. “What say you, William Nemesis? What does the great strategist propose we do?”

Once again, William refused to answer, focusing instead on an intermittent shimmer beside the paralyzed titan. It seemed to alternate between Cthulhu’s left and right sides.

“Well? What have you?” the Madame demanded once more, in her best turn-of-the-century detective voice.

For his part, Nemesis remained silent – vocally, at least.

A moment later, Madame Strange twitched slightly before firing a burst of crimson lightning from her nimble fingers. Nemesis reached out telekinetically and sent a pile of debris toward Cthulhu – though slightly to the right, while Strange’s lightning strike veered to the left. To Golden Lad it looked like his companions had struck out – until a bizarre set of screams echoed out from what appeared to be empty air.

An unbelievably tense moment passed and the oxygen in the chamber became electric and heavy. The smell of rotting cabbage permeated the trio’s nasal cavities and optic nerves.

“Damn it!” Nemesis shouted as frantically wiped tears from his eyes. “Get ready to fight, you two! They won’t be vulnerable for long!”

“Who?” was Tommy’s response as he used his cape as a giant handkerchief, wiping a river of tears away from his magically-transformed face.

Strange rushed forward, answering the Lad’s query as she did so. “The 고도깨비; high dokkaebi!”

“Korean goblins,” Tommy hissed. “I hate these things.”  μ‚°μˆ˜κ·€λ¬Έμ „

“That’s a bit racist, but how -” William suddenly realized there wasn’t time to ask the Lad where he acquired his knowledge of the crimson-scaled supernatural creatures they were about to face.

Especially with a wave of arrows rushing at them, their tips a mix of white, black, red, blue, and yellow, the five colors of the Obangsaek, the traditional Korean color spectrum.

“Say what you want about theses little guys, at least they’re patriotic devils,” Nemesis thought to himself as he projected a TK blast at the deadly  projectiles rushing at himself and Tommy. The bolts hit the invisible shield and were instantly pulverized.

For her part, Madame Strange gestured and opened a wide portal directly in front of her. The arrows whizzed right into the aperture and disappeared from view. A second portal instantaneously materialized to the rear of the other-dimensional diabolical duo. Their own weapons, their trajectory and properties now altered by Strange’s voodoo, collided with the floor behind them, erupting with demoniac force.

The Korean goblins were tossed about like Hacky Sacks – but Hacky Sacks with little horns, razor-sharp claws, golden fangs and beady eyes. And Hacky Sacks that exist only to drive mortals beyond the limits of sanity.

“KILL THE LITTLE BUGGERS! GRIND THEIR BONES INTO PASTE!” Tommy wailed, completely lost to bloodlust.

Madame Strange wasn’t quite so murderously inclined. “Stay your hand, William Nemesis. These foul creatures have knowledge that will prove most useful.”

“I’m not concerned about the inner workings of this place, Strange,” William countered. “They’re all laid out the same from world to world. These ‘supreme overlords’ have no imagination.”

“I’m referring to how they controlled the Great Old One… or have you forgotten about Cthulhu?”

Golden Lad and Nemesis gazed at the primordial leviathan still struggling to break free of his supernatural bondage.

“Oh yeah… that guy,” they said in pitch-perfect stereo.

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Ten.

When I was a kid I wasn’t just afraid of the dark, I was terrified of it, to the point of paralysis even.

One night, as I lay shivering in my bed, my jaw aching from grinding my still-developing teeth into dust, my bedroom door opened slowly and a massive figure stood in the half-light for a moment before entering. My grandfather didn’t switch on the light, he simply burned through a few minutes of precious time watching my eyes dart between him, the closet, and the floor in front of my bed. Then he pulled up a chair, sat beside me… and stared.

(As you may imagine, that didn’t calm me down in the least, but I wasn’t about to argue with a hulking Polish immigrant who worked as a bouncer in the toughest dive bar in St. Catharines.)

An eternity passed before my grandfather finally shattered the silence with all the grace of the proverbial hopped-up bull in the world’s unluckiest china shop.

“There is nothing to fear in the shadows. All things have a purpose, a role to play… even those that dwell in the dark.”

My grandfather was incredibly, almost inexplicably, well-read, but that statement still seemed highly suspicious to me, so I dug deep and found the courage to speak at last.

“Even the monsters?” I squeaked.

“Especially them,” he replied. Then he spoke the words that would dictate the course of my life from that point on. “How would you recognize good without evil? And never forget, mΓ³j sΕ‚odki chΕ‚opcze, those you call ‘monsters’ are just creatures who cannot resist the darkness that lives in all of us.”

“So I shouldn’t be afraid of them?”

“Oh no, your fear should never be denied! It’s been put there to make you faster, stronger, and so determined to live that you fight harder than you ever would without it. Good must always stand against evil, that is the only way the Balance survives.”

“What is the Balance, Dziadek?”

“It is the reason the world as you know it exists. God created the Balance to ensure neither good nor evil rises above the other.”

(You just know I had to ask, right?)

“What would happen if they did, Dziadek?”

“It would be the end… of everything.”

“So since we’re good… we have to always fight evil?”

It was clear he had enough of them, but my grandfather considered my question nevertheless, as though he knew the answer would open a door that could never be closed. And then the night got even stranger.

“Who said we were good, chΕ‚opak?”

“You mean we’re evil?” I said in a gasping voice as my eyes grew five times larger.

My grandfather rarely laughed

(especially while sober)

but he chuckled while giving me one last answer. “We are not evil, mΓ³j kumpel… nor are we good. No… we are something else entirely.”

giphy

The memory of that night is never far from the surface of my troubled mind, and the same could be said of William Nemesis – especially as he and his newly-acquired “allies” stood outside the Film Center Building, also known as 630 Ninth Avenue, a 13-story office building on the east side of Ninth Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets in New York’s appropriately named Hell’s Kitchen.

An NYC landmark, the Film Center Building was a rectangular structure largely made of brown brick, with windows on all sides. although the ground story had a marble façade, and the second story had a white-stone façade. The main entrance on Ninth Avenue led to a rectangular vestibule, which in turn led to the lobby.

“My friends are being held in Hell’s Kitchen?” Golden Lad had to express his disbelief out loud. He couldn’t believe this possibility never occurred to him before. His hands were clenched so hard blood seeped out between the folds. After decades of assuming they were as dead as disco he finally had a chance to free his comrades – and the source of his power, the Heart of Gold, was nearly inert.

“It gets stranger, Tommy,” I put a hand on his vibrating shoulder, knowing full well a comforting touch from the man who turned his world upside-down wasn’t going to make a bit of difference… but I figured it couldn’t hurt. “Wait ’til you see where we have to go to get to them. I hope you have a sweet tooth.”

“Why do men always talk so much in this day and age?” Madame Strange questioned as she waved a hand in front of the Film Center’s doors, reducing them to H2O. Her far-from-subtle hocus-pocus had already dispersed the crowd that followed us from the Empire, removing the possibility of collateral damage and proving there was a source of compassion beneath that frigid exterior.

But her patience wasn’t wearing thin at this point, it had snapped.

The group made their way through the main lobby, an elevator lobby, and a passageway leading to a series of secondary entrances. The lobby’s walls and ceilings resembled tapestries. The Center’s stair risers, ventilation grilles, directory signs, and elevator doors were designed in a multicolored scheme. The upper stories contained offices, which were initially used largely by major film companies. Now they sat empty, as did the rest of the building, though the Center still housed nearly 100 film vaults, all of which had been converted to hold various treasures seized by this world’s conquerors.

“This place is empty,” Tommy remarked, his voice echoing through the 13-storey structure.

“Your grasp of the obvious is most impressive, Golden Lad,” the Madame countered, her haunting eyes focused forward at all times. “The enemy knows we are coming, Nemesis. How will your scheme deal with that?”

“Unclench… both of you,” he responded, trying to sound as commanding as possible as they stood before the most popular confectionary retailer in this metropolis. “We have a few moments. And besides, we’re here.”

Sadly, William’s attempt at reigning in his band of heroic malcontents was far from up to snuff. Strange remained irked beyond measure; you could actually hear her growl if you listened closely.

Admittedly, Tommy and Nemesis didn’t help matters by stopping to stuff their gobs with as many Schmackary’s cookies as they could shove down

(he may have been a grown man now who was once a kid in a grown man’s body – but deep down he was still a kid)

before Strange cast spell after spell at the back wall of the store – to no avail.

Unfortunately it was William’s job to break the bad news. “Yeah, the creatures behind that wall have always assumed their barrier would hold against any assault. That’s also why we haven’t seen them. They don’t consider us a threat.”

Madame Strange wasn’t willing to accept that. “NOT A THREAT?! YOU HAVE ALREADY ERADICATED THIS WORLD’S REMAINING ACOLYTES OF THE DARK… AND NOW I STAND BESIDE YOU! I WILL SHOW THEM WHAT A THREAT ACTUALLY IS!”

Her eyes clouded over with a red mist, she raised her arms and prepared to launch every erg of her power at the irksome boundary… and then Nemesis shut her down.

“Save your magical mojo. I’ve got this,” he announced, without the soothing stroking, of course.

(He certainly hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to be a toad.)

William stood before the blank wall and in a calm low voice, uttered a password.

“White knight.”

(Apparently even ancient gods believe in irony.)

The no-longer-concealed gateway shimmered before turning to black dust and dropping to the floor. A frosty breeze seemed to beckon the trio and they eagerly obliged, the gateway reforming behind them. A narrow corridor made up of marble from floor to ceiling soon gave way to a grand barren chamber with a substantial transparent cylinder as its focal point. Dozens of stainless steel gurneys surrounded the cylinder in the otherwise empty space.

“The hell?” was all Tommy could say.

“This is where it happens,” Strange exclaimed. “It is identical in ever reality I’ve visited thus far. This is where Their slaves drain their prey’s collective lifeforce and send it across the Multiverse so They can use it to sustain their unholy existence, Golden Lad.”

The Lad just stared at Nemesis for confirmation.

But there was no time for explanations.

The cylinder hissed like a deadly reptile announcing it’s presence and then a barely perceptible glow caught William’s eye. “They know something’s gone wrong,” he said. “They’re sending in reinforcements to protect the assets.”

He projected a telekinetic wave at the device – but the hissing and glowing only increased.

Madame Strange was most clinical in her assessment. “Your power is useless against Their apparatus. You are less than useless.”

Nemesis wouldn’t even cast a quick glance in her direction, he simply asked her a query as Tommy Preston wracked his brain trying to figure out how he was going to survive whatever was about to emerge from the device. “Are you invulnerable, Strange?”

She flexed her immaculate chest out like a strutting magical peacock before answering. “Of course I am, you simpleton, why -”

The indignant response died on her unblemished lips. Her unequaled bod left the marble floor and collided with the celestial contraption a nanosecond later, projected by a power not her own. The bulk of the teleportation gadget was shattered, reduced to fragments.

“What do you know? There really is more than one way to skin a necromantic cat!” Nemesis gleefully exclaimed to Golden Lad.

“You do realize she’s going to turn you back into a frog – and then she’s going to crush you under her heels?” Tommy asked.

But Nemesis wasn’t overwrought with concern, to say the least.

“Trust me… she’s about to get over it.”

Sure enough, the only door in the antechamber, a polished ebony aperture, free of any hinges or knobs, fell forward, thudding with a deafening roar as it met the marble floor. An inhuman personage, freed of its confinement and conditioned to act as the ultimate junkyard dog, lumbered into view. Barely humanoid, is sported the head of an octopus, a face composed of tentacles, a scaly, oily-grey body, and monstrous claws on its hands and feet. Protracted, slim wings completed the horrifying picture.

“YOU… LTTLE… LITTLE… MAN!” Strange shrieked as she rose to her feet spasming with rage.cthulhu-cthulhu-has-awakened

The Lad and Nemesis just pointed to the figure at the other end of the space.

Madame Strange flung around, screaming, WHAT NOW?” as she did so.

One nauseating glance later, a single word left Strange’s mouth…

“Cthulhu.”

“Technically, it’s actually Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn… but close enough,” William corrected as he steeled himself for battle most foul.

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5×5 With The Hook: Sean Armstrong.

It’s been a minute, but the 5×5 series is back in full force, readers.

Today we’re shining the Hook-Signal on author Sean Armstrong, whose work, like my own, crosses genres.

The Green Girl and the Serum is a YA science fiction superhero novel centered on three generations of a family cursed by a genetic code which has given them superhuman abilities.

(All the Hookey DNA contains is a pasty complexion and luck that’s sketchy at best.)

Find it on “the Amazon“.

Here’s the rundown on the first book in Sean’s literary universe:

Stacey Roberts is an average young woman whose dreams for the future are shattered when she is injected with a serum by the British Military, transforming her into the Green Girl. She escapes her captors and begins a life on the run. Years later she is reunited with Ben Fox, who, like her, has been injected with the serum.

The Green Girl strikes back at the military with the aid of Ben and his Mega Human Haven. Eventually Stacey finds herself at odds with another Mega Human group known as the Outcasts led by Surge, a figure from Ben’s past who plans to use the serum to create an army of Mega Humans to help his faction take over the world. Is Stacey up for this task? And what does her father have to do with the serum and its origin?

I don’t know about you, but I’m hooked.

(Yeah, I went there. Deal with it.)

A scribe after my own heart, Sean is a disabled author who lives in Stoke on Trent Staffordshire, England. His work incorporates themes that appeal to every reader, whether they’re fans of superheroes or not. I mean, we all have complicated familial relationships, right? And who isn’t fearful of their government and genetic engineering these days?

And finally, Sean’s MC was inspired by an ex whose star only crossed with his for a brief, shining moment. Who hasn’t experienced a breakup that stuck with them forever, am I right?

I really need to get some kick-ass, dedicated fans…

Unlike yours truly, Sean is incredibly focused and has already formulated a clear vision for his “Greenverse” (that term came form my addled brain, not Sean’s laser-focused consciousness) that includes the following adventures the Green Girl will be living through in the near future:

The Green Girl Destiny – Three years have passed since the defeat of the Outcasts and their leader Surge. Stacey is still fighting a war over her humanity and her powers and is now forced to find and recruit more Mega Humans. Haven receives a message from Washington warning them of an attack conducted by a human military faction known as The Faithful. Ben, Haven, and Stacey travel to Alaska where an old enemy of theirs lurks hungry for revenge. Which of these factions will win the war and will Stacey regain her lost humanity?

The Green Girls: Daughter of Fate – Stacey’s daughters Jen and Michelle are pitted
against each other as one of them betrays Haven to the reborn Outcasts.

The Green Girls: Daughters of Destiny – Both daughters use their combined might against the Outcasts.

The New Green Girl: Child of Fate – Stacey’s granddaughter is kidnapped by a scientist who wants to use her DNA to create a new serum and to resurrect the Mega Human program.

The New Green Girl: Bloodlines – Stacey’s granddaughter, Tara, reunites with her family and together they tackle the threat posed by Blackice and his forces who intend to use the serum to rule the world.

(Told you Sean was focused.)

Now’s the time on Sprockets when we dance! (As a Canadian I’m contractually obligated to throw in a Mike Myers reference.) And when I subject my guest to a unique form of torture brilliance. Namely, the 5×5 treatment.

ONE)  What’s your dream cast for a Green Girl movie franchise? (Most authors picture certain actors as they’re creating their own characters.)

Maybe Anya Taylor-Joy as the role of Stacey? 052021_Anya_Taylor_Joy_Lede

TWO)  Do you have a playlist that helps stimulate your creative juices?

I normally listen to Jeff Wayne’s Musical version of the War of the Worlds when I am writing.

(Fascinating choice.)

THREE)  If you could have dinner in any time period with any fellow writer, living or otherwise, where in the timestream would this meal take place and who would you be breaking bread with?

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis as both are two of my favorite fantasy authors. I would love to go to the pub with them and have a beer or two.

FOUR)  Cats: evil or just misunderstood?

Evil.

FIVE)  What inspired you to write this particular story?

I was inspired by two things the first was the Metal Gear Solid line of games for the story as well as the interesting cast of characters. The second was the film Unbreakable in which Bruce Willis’ character David Dunn, is the sole survivor of a train derailment. He meets Elijah Price, a man who suffers with brittle bones who convinces Dunn that he is a superhero.

As a bonus, Robert, I’ve included a pic from my book event that was held at Fenton Community CafΓ© in Stoke on Trent. Unfortunately only four people turned up. It was sort of a launch event. I originally published the book during the Covid outbreak, so I couldn’t launch it properly.

IMG_2801[1]

Thanks for the ridiculously-cool snapshots, Sean! You can find this phenomenal scribe on the Interweb at these cyber-spots:

I want to thank Sean Armstrong for joining us today. The Greenverse (I think it’s going to catch on) is fascinating and I wish you all the best in the future, buddy.

See you in the cyberverse, kids…

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Nine.

Where were we?

Oh yeah, William Nemesis had just been turned into a frog.

(Admittedly, it wasn’t one of his finer moments – though he’d certainly experienced stranger.)

Unlike his cartoon counterparts or telepaths of great renown

(Nemesis’ telepathic abilities were low-level; great for the Jedi mind trick but that’s about it)

he found himself unable to speak or communicate in any way. In fact, his mind appeared to be regressing to an animalistic state, hence the insatiable hunger for as many flies as his now-elongated tongue could snatch. This left the magical ball in the hands responsible for William’s fate: the scantily-clad sorceress known as Madame Strange.

Still reeling from her own actions – she hadn’t employed this particular skill in many a moon – Strange was still paralyzed, unable to fully process the events she had just set into motion. She had been trailing her prey across worlds, a baker’s dozen, in fact, and now, on the world of her birth ironically, a simple slip-up undid all her hard work,

Then Nog (“Nemesis” mixed with “frog”) released a massive croak and snapped the antagonistic mage back to life.

“Oh very well,” she sighed in a sultry tone. “I believe my point has been sufficiently established… you will listen to my words and no longer invade my personal space unless requested to do so, correct?” The command left her exquisite lips just as Strange realized an amphibian couldn’t answer even if it wanted to, and so she began to reverse her supernatural handiwork when yet another player player entered the fray…

Madame_strange

Do not mess with the Madame…

“WHERE… IS… HE!” The voice that merged from the figure standing in the Empire’s doorway was hoarse and weak yet simultaneously brimming with rage.

“Oh, it’s you,” Madame Strange was unimpressed and quickly turned her attention back to Nemesis.

But this newest arrival to the proceedings wasn’t content to be dismissed. “I WON’T ASK AGAIN… YOU HARLOT!”

That did it.

“I have little time to play with you… you mewling stripling. Now go find a tailor to make you some more mature garments before I have you join… him.” Strange’s frigid dismissal did little to cool Golden Lad’s white-hot anger – but seeing Nemesis reshaped into an amphibian certainly did.

(Okay, so I lied. the Lad is actually an old player, not a new one. Sue me.)Β 

At any rate, GL burst into a raucous fit of maniacal laughter at the sight of his “super fan’s” transformation. “I’d forgotten you could do that, Strange!” he announced between giggles before snapping back to a tenuous form of sanity. “Where the hell have you been, anyway? No one’s seen you for decades… not since you disappeared in a burst of blinding light over the Statue of Liberty. I could have used your help all this time, you know!”

Her mind momentarily cast itself back to the event in question but Madame Strange had no time for such trivial reminisces. Gesturing in arcane fashion, she at last undid her witchery and restored William Nemesis to his gangly mortal form.

Having a human throat again meant he could finally articulate his feelings. – and he had plenty of them. “What precisely is your damage, you golden age Kardashian reject? It’s not enough to stalk me across the Multiverse… you had to make me a low-rent Thor variant too? If I had the time I’d kick your magnificent ass! And Tommy, you should be directing your anger where it belongs… we’ve got a lab full of your friends that needs burning to the ground!”

Tommy Preston was flabbergasted, so much so he had no retort. On one hand, his power, which had been drawn from the souls of a thousand martyred Aztecs, had been irrevocably drained

(completely against his will, it should be noted)Β 

and he was pissed about it. On the other, he had just been told his lost allies were not only still breathing, there was a chance they could be freed?Β  6588626-img_0041

“You better not be messing with me, boyo – ”

“He isn’t,” Madame Strange coldly injected. “But freeing your friends from their dormancy will mean nothing if this world’s death throes are the first and last noise they hear upon awakening.”

Tommy’s already-brittle consciousness was about to splinter beyond repair. William knew he had to channel the Speed Force and bring this Titanic-sized train wreck back under control before his entire mission was rendered pointless.

“Yes, Tommy, now that those two middle-management thralls are out of the picture this world is on a countdown… but believe me when I tell you there is an army of the most unconventional, marginalized, forgotten heroes across a host of realities fighting to make sure every world survives the conflict that ‘s coming.”

His words penetrated Golden Lad’s wounded heart. He knew what it was to be the hero everyone overlooks – and what it felt like to be a world’s only hope.

But Madame Strange was another story altogether.

“Your actions have obliterated the Balance on thirteen worlds now, forcing them onto a collision course with their final end, William Nemesis, what makes you think your allies will succeed before time runs out on these realities?” she questioned with chilling superiority.

“The best of things, Strange. The thing that powers me and every one of my brothers in this war… hope.”

“SERIOUSLY? HOPE’S YOUR SECRET WEAPON!” Golden Lad sputtered. “Even I’m not buying into that! And I’ve been flying around in shorts for decades!”

“Okay, fine,” William groaned as he headed towards the Empire Diner’s mangled front entrance. “I also have a plan so airtight it’s practically hermetically sealed. Can you two just trust me so we can get moving before this earth really is lost for good?”

The two heroes of a bygone age just stared at Nemesis as though someone had pressed “pause” on their lives. “Okay, fine,” he responded. “I know you feel rudderless without your power but the Heart of Gold is still functioning -”

“Then why the hell did I have to walk back here, you idiot?” was Tommy’s snappy comeback.

“You still have your costume, don’t you?” William then grabbed a cup of ice cold java left behind by an Empire patron who vacated as soon as the action began. It sloshed against Golden Lad’s chiseled chest without leaving a single drop behind. “And the mojo that keeps it clean is still in place… so there’s a shining example of hope right there!”

The Lad looked unimpressed. To say the least.

“And there’s a way to get the Heart back up to full power… but only if we get ourselves to that lab!” Nemesis’ sales pitch appeared to be doing the trick with Tommy – but Madame Strange was still a rock.

“I know what you’re worried about, lady, but there’s a strategy in place to keep this and every reality from disintegrating and becoming a giant cosmic energy drink for She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named… assuming She ever finds Her way back from wherever the hell She disappeared to!”

Madame Strange cracked ever… so… slightly.

“Very well,” she relented. “Let us go and dismantle the remainder of The Dark’s infrastructure so this stratagem of yours can commence. But know this, William Nemesis…

(a big fan of dramatic pauses, Madame Strange)

I represent one who will not allow the Multiverse to fall under any circumstances,” she shot a glacial glare in the direction of both male heroes. “I know spells that make the frog form seem like paradise.”

“Greeeat,” was their dual acknowledgment.

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Stumbling Through The Darkness…

I think there’s a reason my first novel I chose to title my first novel, Into The Dark and not Please Buy This Novel or The Bookie’s Gonna Take My Thumbs!

(Though the latter kinda pops.)

I have indeed been wandering somewhat aimlessly through a seemingly-impenetrable shroud of darkness of late, though honestly, I had no idea how serious the situation had actually become. In retrospect, I know the exact date, moment, and time when things began to go askew: September 15, 11:33 am are the date and time. As for the moment…

My lovely bride and I were returning from the vet with our trusty canine companion (who had contracted a mild case of kennel cough from a new groomer) completely unaware that our lives were about to change forever.

(Suspense, kids!)

I had a case of dog food in one arm, flyers from the driveway in another, when I tripped on a stone pad in front of a set of wooden stairs leading to our home. Jerry Lewis – or if you prefer, Chevy Chase –Β  would’ve been proud of the impromptu “dance” I engaged in before falling upon said staircase. I hit the wooden structure with all the force of a drunken rampaging Hulk. Unlike Bruce Banner’s other half, though, my frame is all-too vulnerable to injury. All I can vividly recall is my wife calling out to me as I fell. That, and the pain.

Brief, but unbelievably intense pain.

Following that, I found myself on the lawn to the left of the “killer staircase”, writhing in literal blinding agony. I soon discovered that closing my eyes while remaining perfectly still helped to alleviate the effects of the waves of torment coursing across my mortal form. An ambulance bearing two guardian angels arrived thirty minutes later – though we live a scant eight minutes form the local ER – and I soon found myself in a hospital bed receiving a grim diagnosis.

My left hip had fared far worse in the collision than the wooden staircase. It had, in fact, been shattered. In retrospect though, the outcome could have been far, far worse. If my head collided with the stairs as hard as my hip did, I would be either paralyzed or dead.Β  And so, twenty-four hours later The Hook underwent a full replacement of a fragmented joint.

“We’re all stunned… this should be happening at 72, Mr. Hookey, not 52!” – my ER doctor, a genuinely kind physician with a sense of humor.

The surgery itself was fairly routine. My experience while under anesthesia, however, was not. Something extraordinary happened to me as I lay in a medially-induced slumber, but I’m just not ready to share the details at this time, sorry.

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X-ray scan image of hip joints with orthopedic hip joint replacement implant head and screws in human skeleton in blue gray tones. Scanned in orthopedics traumatology surgery hospital clinic.

Titanium isn’t vibranium… but it’s pretty cool.

My surgeon expected me to spend three to four days recovering from my procedure but as usual, Mistress Fate had other ideas. As it turns out, I am anemic and simply put, lacked the required strength for physiotherapy. On Day Eight however, I mustered the power needed to take a stroll down a hallway with a walker and to climb and descend a set of stairs in the physio gym. (The son of an addict, I resisted taking my pain pills – until I finally accepted how vital pain management is to one’s physiotherapy regiment.) As soon as that Herculean task was completed, however, I undertook a few more excruciating missions:

  • Sloooowly getting into the passenger seat of our car in order to avoid spending money on another ambulance ride, this time to our home.Β Β 
  • Ascending those dreaded front stairs, this time successfully.
  • Moving through our home to the rented hospital bed my spouse had set up in our dining room where I would spend the next six weeks sleeping on my back instead of my usual side.
  • Sitting on a commode while struggling with my IBS, now amped up a thousand times by the fact I couldn’t find the strength to push while struggling with waves of pain coming from my body’s attempt to bond with a titanium hip. (My apologies for the imagery.)
  • Adhering to restrictions such as not bending over or pivoting backwards or most importantly, not breaking 90 degrees with my new hip.

The weeks following my accident have been dominated by challenges: financial, physical, and mental. The psychological scars left by my incident have effected my creative journey as an author as well – to say the very least. Ironically, I found myself with a very open schedule, one that was very conducive to writing.

And yet, I was hopelessly blocked.Β 

Time and persistence allowed me to open the creative flood gates eventually. Then I started to lose faith in myself as an indie author responsible for his own marketing strategies. And so, long cerebral story short, I unpublished and republished my book in the span of 48 hours after much soul-searching. Nothing would please me more than landing an agent, or better yet, getting the attention of Neil Gaiman, Henry Winkler or Stephen King as a certain writer did recently – but I’m completely on my own.

But I’ve finally accepted my fate and most importantly, made peace with it.

I’ll never be the man or bellman I was but I’m still here, ready to rage against the dying of the light, every single day if necessary. And I am ecstatic to report that my medical experts are quite pleased with my progress. Fortunately, my family has spurred me onΒ  as I work out four times a day and as I go walking at a track, where senior citizens leave me in the dust. I’ve never felt more blessed to live in a country where my surgery, hospital stay, in-home nurses and physiotherapists haven’t costed me a dime.

God bless the Great White North.Β 

This has been the most laborious post I’ve ever written. Period. I’ve had no real desire to share this latest adventure but I feel you deserve some explanation for my recent erratic online behavior, friends. I will now take questions from the audience…

Posted in Hotel Life | 17 Comments