The distinct popping sound of gunfire can be heard echoing through the armored and reinforced interior of Air Force one. Four Secret Service agents rush up the stairs into the President’s traveling office at the top of the jets cabin.
The President is pushed through the communications room and into a corner of the lounge just outside the cockpit door. The agents take positions around the room hoping to save the President’s life. Two other people in the office follow protocol and crouch to the sides of the aircraft to stay out of the agents line of fire to the stairs. The third man, General McKinnon draws his own weapon and takes position in line next to the agents. They all await the approaching threat to enter or for the all clear to be given.
“What’s happening out there? Is it terrorists? Did someone sneak on board with the press pool?”
A violent shutter reverberates through the 747 followed by the sudden loss of gravity as the plane begins to quickly descend toward the earth. Shouted warnings are given over the intercom as the President and his men are thrown against the ceiling of the craft.
“Massive depressurization detected. We are making emergency descent to eight thousand feet.”
Immediately after the aircraft begins its controlled fall, the noise of gunfire ends and the clamor of screams and shouting echo up the stairwell to the men. The President watches lead agent Barlow holding his hand to his ear, getting filled in on his earpiece even as he works to steady himself on the ceiling and readies for the gravity to return.
A chill runs along the Presidents spine when he sees the fear etched on the face of this man he thought was made of stone.
“It’s still heading to the President. We have to move him into the cockpit!”
“Get ready Mr. President. The pilot is leveling the plane and will open the cockpit door. As soon as you are inside, they will lock that door, strap you in and we’ll continue our descent.”
The day was gonna be piss-awful. As soon as Brandon P Marshall woke up, he could tell. For an eighteen-year-old male with hormones running rampant, that wasn’t exactly new, but this time, the forewarning had seemed a whole order of magnitude different. The headache hadn’t helped either. It had centred on his left temple with the combined tenacity of a thundercloud and a nest of angry bees.
Whichever way he moved, the cloud blackened and the buzzing intensified. An attempted tug on his morning woody had made the bees fucking angry. It was also a Monday, which meant boring classes and jerk teachers who treated him like shit. Even the sunlight hurt. The sound of the Marshall family in the kitchen rattled him, too.
At times like these, he contemplated revenge for being brought into the frigging awful world. He’d devised a wide repertoire to choose from, ranging from the teasingly psychological to the daringly physical. To go downstairs naked with his woody exposed wasn’t something that could be done often, but it was worth it for the look on his mom’s face.
His dad threatened him with a beating but he’d chickened out at the last moment. Such a fucking wimp. And Brandon had a bigger dick than his dad anyway. Another favourite included emptying a box of roaches on the kitchen floor. A plague of locusts was also on his list but that was a tad too biblical.
Higher up the scale, it got seriously messy and terminal. To be brutally honest—as opposed to honestly brutal (hah!)—he still preferred shock and awe rather than shots and gore. After all, with dead people, there was no turning back. Somewhere towards the top was cyanide gas, but getting potassium cyanide out of the chem lab would take a lot of planning. And then there was the hazard of crime labs and toxicology, which would screw his chances once and for all.
But, something about that particular morning made him think a final solution was required. Perhaps it had to do with the noise that came from downstairs; Dwayne, Debra and Rebekah, all aged one, were doing their best to out-screech each other, with the occasional random, futile interjection from his mom. Why the hell had she wanted more kids after so many years? Then, to add insult to injury, out had popped three. And three times loud is FUCKING LOUD. Somehow, his dad just sat through it, as if he’d gone deaf overnight. As usual, he’d be reading the Kansas City Star over his breakfast cereal and pretending it was The New York Times. He was such a fucking jackoff.
Brandon’s cell phone rang with its irritating wake-up call. It wasn’t just your usual cell phone, but a 4G quad core with 2×2 MIMO to ensure maximum coverage. He’d bought that after months as a part-time cook at KFC, during which he’d put on thirty pounds. The phone was said to be ‘state of the art’. Great, he thought, except when he tried saying that out aloud just then, he heard it as ‘fake of the fart’, which wasn’t what he meant at all.
Shit, my brain is getting rambled … no, no, scrambled. What the fuck is going on? Brain humour… tumour… Shit! I’m dying! Nothing to lose, then.
W R Todd
The Whitaker House Curse
December 23, 1902: the last entry in the diary of Jules Croft
I must confess that for someone who is about to die, writing in my diary is a most odd notion. However, since there is no form of self-defense, no diminutive space on earth in which I can hide that will keep me from this terrible fate, I must do what comes naturally—I must write.
Being a man of middle age and a widower of nearly six years, writing gives me a chance to converse with my beloved Joan. She never answers me, of course, but I know the spirit of my dearest reads what I write, nonetheless. It comforts me to know that, and I must do what comforts my soul. These few words will be my last comfort—in this life and the next.
It is almost midnight. The witching hour. The winds howl outside my home. Their coldness has breached the window I now sit by; they betray the one who is, no doubt, waiting anxiously in the eldritch comfort of the shadows outside, counting down the minutes to my doom. At the appropriate time he will enter and begin to search the rooms, one by one, until he has found the only one occupied. That room is my room, and the Devil himself will be here to collect on a debt.
There is great debate in theological circles as to what the Devil looks like. Can he take the shape of a mere human, or is he the cloven hooved monstrosity portrayed in so many paintings and pictures? I have seen both diabolical manifestations of that most fallen of angels. And even at this very moment, as I hear the deliberate, hollow clapping on the cobblestone in the street below my window, I know which form he takes this night. The intruder is not far off. He is eager to take what is his, so I must hurry to put to paper the events that precipitated this dreadful event:
In 2001 the New Scientist reported that researchers had isolated a gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm. Within five years it had been spliced into the chromosomes of mice, pigs and rhesus monkeys, transported through the cell walls by a retro-virus denuded of its own genetic material.
Results remain secret, but success could yield extreme rewards. If ageing could be stopped or even reversed, and diseased or damaged organs regrown, life could be extended well beyond a natural span. No longer would you expect to retire and wait for death. You might remain fulfilled and active for ever, your worn out parts simply regrown and replaced.
Attempting to regrow impaired or elderly tissues, a scientist will one day modify the DNA of a human being by injecting the gene-carrying virus. It is just a matter of time.
Before consenting to treatment, you may want to ask a simple question: could there be a situation in which you would want to die but were unable to do so?
She ignored his swearing as he fixed whatever was wrong with the sails. Instead she looked out at the undulating blue which glowed in the sunlight. A shimmering surface. Unknown what lay below.
“I shoulda knowed he’d stiff me. Typical damn chink furreigner.” He banged a tool against the deck, making her flinch.
You only discover what’s underneath after you’ve dived in. And then it’s too late.
“We Burmese. Not chinks.”
“Chink, gook, burmen, same thing.” Damp patches spread under his arms and down the back of his short-sleeved shirt. He was clumsy, the spanner often slipping from the corroded bolt he was trying to tighten near the mast, something he had called a bird neck … no, gooseneck. “Don’tcha mean ta say Myanma? Ain’t you all proud nowadays?”
“That is literary, not spoken.”
“Just mincing words.” More cursing as he used brute force to adjust the fittings, kneeling and surrounded by tools. “Hey now, you just go on and enjoy yourself there,” he said, with a tone she thought might be sarcasm. “Nothing else ferrit, right?”
The anger steaming from him made it impossible to relax and enjoy it.
“I would help but I do not know much about boats.”
“You’re telling me you grew up by water without learnin’ a damn thing about boats? You gotta be shittin’ me.”
“My ah phay … my father …” But her voice faded out, and she looked up at the sky, shading her eyes with a forearm.
A dot which grew in size; it resolved into a speeding jet, low in the distance, roar of engines reaching them across the water. A machine’s screech breaking the natural peace. He stopped to watch it too. Soon it faded to a dwindling streak on the horizon.
“Military. Jest sabre rattlin’, pay it no mind,” he said. “We all so impressed now, we shakin’ in our boots. Still, ’tis mighty odd fer the M.A.F. ta be this fer away from Pathein. Wonder what’s got them all riled up? Lookin’ fer something?”
Carrion birds circled high in the cloudless sky, lazily surfing the hot thermals rising above the huge confluence of people gathered in the royal courtyard of the grand palace of Memnon. The high walled and gated square covered an area the size of a battleground and backdrops the sight of many a grand procession and close quarter sporting tournament. It even had tiered seating with private enclosures for important guests and the Pharaoh’s extended family.
Today it looked as if the whole city of Thebes had packed tightly together to witness the execution of Toomak, high priestess, shaman, and necromancer for the royal family and former close friend of Memnon himself. For months, the marketplace gossip has been of Toomak’s whereabouts, who had disappeared following the murder of the king’s only son Haspet. For twenty years, her magus powers helped Memnon hold the throne of Egypt, starting with success in the civil war, and culminating in the defeat of Memnon’s twin brother Hakset whom Memnon still keeps in chains in the palace dungeons.
Her magical powers seem to have no boundaries, from conjuring up the great flood wiping out most of the enemy chariots threatening the gates of the city, to the death of the usurper himself Xerses the Great. A hugely muscled and fabled warrior who now stood alone on the battlefield in front of twenty-five thousand of his own men, challenging anyone brave enough to fight him in solo hand to hand combat, in substitute for a full scale war. To the victor, unity of the two crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, to the loser, death.
Xerses and his army had already defeated the Pharaoh of the lower kingdom, and now he threw down the gauntlet, challenging Memnon to pit his crown of the upper kingdom against his own.
Storytellers recalled how his entire army laughed and jeered at the sight of a frail dark skinned old woman pass through Memnon’s ranks and walk towards the fabled warrior.
“I see no soldier before me.” Xerses cried, turning around and lapping up the adulation of his men.
“Is there anyone else hiding behind your whore mother’s legs that have big enough balls to die like a man in place of this miserable old hag.”
Memnon’s army murmured their disapproval of the insult, but under strict orders, they remained motionless. The Pharaoh also, did not want to appear a coward in front of his men, but his generals had already persuaded him not to take up the challenge for the sake of his people. Xerses was a true giant of a man, and even though Memnon was an expert with the sword, he stood little chance of success. The Pharaoh’s army numbered less than five thousand, half of which were reserve fighters, making defeat inevitable. This unanimously agreed vote decided that Toomak’s magic would be the best option.
The sun flashed from the surface of Xerses’ highly polished sword while he passed the time practicing thrusts and parries as Toomak slowly approached; finally stopping less than five paces away. Both armies watched in silence, with the only sound heard was the wind flapping the royal blue and gold pennant atop of a golden spear attached to Memnon’s chariot.
Xerses paused and deep in thought, he stroked his pointed black beard, unsure of what to do next.
‘Should I, the greatest fighter hack down the feeble old woman and claim victory over the royal palace, or ignore the insolence, sound the advance and fight Memnon’s army directly, guaranteeing my status as a noble warrior?’