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Dreadful Fan Fiction

by Kim Slone 2 years ago in fan fiction
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How I became a writer

Dreadful Fan Fiction or How I became a writer

A penny dreadful (also called penny horrible, penny awful,[1] penny number and penny blood[n 1]) was a type of British fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing an (old) penny. The term, however, soon came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet "libraries". The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap pulp paper and were aimed primarily at working class adolescents.[3]

Story One – Consummation Street

It’s raining outside. No matter. I like rain. Like hearing it pound on the metal roof while snuggled under the covers, sitting up against the pillows with a cat on lap, gouda on plate, House White (I’m sure there’s a registered trademark here) in the glass on the bedside table, remote in hand. After office bliss.

Except that the cat’s the fluffy one, the newest one, the high maintenance one-year-old who still loves all things dairy. He’s showing interest in the cheese – too much interest. Gotta push him off. What’s on TV?

CBC news, the last five minutes, then Consummation Street. Not a huge fan of soap operas, wonder what makes this one unique? This story’s been running for the better part of 50 years and I discovered it eight months ago. Now, if I miss what Steve said to Sally I have to watch the Sunday morning omnibus. Yup, it’s that bad.

Tonight’s the big wedding, right on Valentine’s Day (how corny) and Philip and Lisa are marching down the aisle even though they’re already married, because they need a big shindig involving friends and family. No just getting on with normal life after the melodramatic hospital bed exchange of vows, no, not them. They need the whole thing, Lisa in white, friends and family in the church, etc.

Dick’s there, too – Lisa’s ex, still in love with her, saved Philip’s life, been boinking Lisa in a few unfortunate episodes; Lisa’s trying not to do any more of it; Dick won’t leave her alone. Philip knows, but nobody knows he knows. Standard soap opera.

Oh, boy, can’t miss this!

Oh, wait, what’s this? Philip is suing Lisa for divorce, publicly humiliating her after setting her up to believe this is her wedding day? Like he’s been a total prince – with his constant nasty mood at home and here’s Lisa trying to prop him up, take care of his little boy and run a business AND trying to get Philip to sack Dick ‘cause she can’t work with him, without coming out and saying exactly why – she’s a walking ad for Xanax at this point, all frazzled nerve endings – and he thinks her little bit of stress relief, which is now OVER, is grounds for him to get up on his high horse and feel superior? Not only that, but he thinks she deserves a public flogging for it? Not only that, but he’s known about it for a while and been pretending everything’s fine, lying in wait for just the right moment to inflict maximum damage? Oh, no, no, no, no; no, no, no, no; no, no, no, no; noooo –

This is just begging for a rewrite!

Okay, my character in this story – a North American a lot like me, but make her a successful writer, so money is not an issue. She can afford to sit over tea or pints at the pub and have conversation with the locals. She just moved into a flat on the street, oh, let’s say eight months ago. Let’s call her Penny Dreadful (hey, if Marianne can be Faithfull, then Penny can be Dreadful) and let’s put her in the church, too. Right behind Anita and Boris.

So, rewinding back to … now…

“Oh, that’s right, she’s been playing away with her ex this whole time I’m lying in hospital and all…” Philip is spouting, while Lisa is crying, and Dick has subsided in embarrassment.

“Aww, come off it, you!” comes a thundering contralto from the captive audience. Philip looks around, startled, still angry but puzzled at the interruption. Isn’t this supposed to be his moment?

I stand up, six feet tall in two-inch heels, (I can run if I have to, and still look elegant until I do). I step out into the aisle putting my hands on my hips.

“So bloody what?” I demand. “So bloody what? She played away. Big honkin’ deal. You need to stop making such a big deal about sex. It happens, you like it, women like it too.” (At this point the rowdy boys – David, Graeme and Eddie, with Kirk and Chesney -- start hooting and clapping from the back row, other side)

“There’s no need for a public shaming about it. Here you are, serving papers from your solicitor, (Why do they call their lawyers different names based on what they’re doing? In this case, ‘solicitor’ sounds so, well, dirty!) SO you’ve known about it this long and kept your knowledge to yourself. Instead of calling off the wedding, you keep right on and go through with it, planning this big public humiliation scene as if the wrong Lisa’s done to you warrants your unlimited punishment. Well, mister, let me tell you – Lisa’s well rid of you at this point.” More hoots and catcalls from the back row. I can see them all lining up now to take Philip’s place. Lisa really is very pretty.

“Sex is one thing – I don’t excuse the dalliance, but at the same time, your hatred and hostility are worse! Much worse! Your lying in wait to cause maximum pain makes YOU the bad guy…”

Here Philip can’t believe his ears – he’s the bad guy?

“And here`s poor Lisa – propping you up when you do nothing but bitch at home, poisoning the air you have to breathe together. Taking care of your kid ‘cause somebody’s supposed to LOVE him in all this adult flea circus, and she’s trying to work with her ex, finds out she can’t; and trying to get you to sack him; while you remain clueless. Here she is caught between a Dick and a Prick, and you can’t find it in your heart to back her up. Frankly, I don’t know how she’s supposed to choose between those options!”

“No, instead you act like this is the sixteenth century and you’re prosecuting a witch trial. Here’s this lone woman up in front of a crowd, and you’re here to itemize her “crimes” like you’re pristine and perfect. Oh, puleease!”

Philip, gaping, can’t quite figure out where to begin. I save him the trouble.

“This is the twenty-first century, folks.” My gaze takes in the whole crowd of assembled onlookers. “All you men need to modern up – and you women need to stop being sorry for the wrong guy in these things. Public shaming went out with the guillotine and the stocks.”

At this point, Philip has found his voice. “And what gives you the right …” he begins.

“And did it ever occur to you,” I interrupt (can’t let his line of thought get started – too much to lose if I do. Gotta keep running under my own head of steam if any social progress is going to be made.) “Did it ever occur to you that you might be embarrassing your intended audience with all this? Like they might be better people than you think? Better than you are?”

I look pointedly at the “audience”. Honestly, sometimes these proper British types are entirely too civilised for their own good. But, they finally take the hint and start filing out of the pews, making their way to the door.

“Wait, wait, I’m not finished!” Philip yells at their retreating backs. Some of them shake their heads in disapproval of him.

“I think you are,” I answer him in my indoor voice, as the last guest leaves. I turn to Lisa.

“If I were you,” I inform her, “He wouldn’t be good enough for me anymore. I don’t care what you’ve done, or who – he’s no teammate if he’s capable of this planned attack. This… is the very nature of abuse.”

She doesn’t move or respond.

*sigh*

“So be it.” My last word. Then, I too, am out the door. The British, of course, write a different story.

Story Two – Crying Angels, My Early Education

So, how did I become Penny Dreadful, you might ask? Well, for starters, I’m a huge fan of reading. Having discovered books before I went to school (because my parents like to read), arriving at Day One, Grade One, raring to go, I was highly motivated to learn how to read. And before I could read, my favourite stories were on TV in cartoon form. “Casper the Friendly Ghost” with his friend, Wendy the Good Witch, were my preschool imaginary friends.

Well, as any child learns by Day Two, school entails a lot more than decoding the magic distilled in books. Other arcane subjects include a lot of manipulation of numbers – such a bore – and a fair amount of social pressure – “don’t run, don’t make noise, single file, no talking, no laughing, no making faces at your friends, don’t giggle, don’t snort your milk, don’t laugh – I said don’t laugh – I swear if you keep laughing I’m going to wipe that silly grin off your face, young lady!” All of those injunctions, of course, are designed to do nothing so much as make the laugh reflex irresistible. Since I was in trouble a lot for finding the whole set of rules ridiculous and acting out, I spent a lot of time staring at corners while the rest of the class went on with their lessons behind me.

Homework was another matter. I couldn’t see the point. Wasn’t I spending enough time in school already? Why did I have to repeat the whole business once I got home? I mean, after a long tedious day at school, a slightly shorter bus ride with the same people I spent all day with, finally landing off the bus and into my home, relief and time to decompress, right? Why ruin that wonderful after school time with homework? What did they want to do, take over my whole life? Puleeasze!

So, very often, I didn’t do homework. At first, Mom didn’t notice. After all, I never told her I had homework, and what I didn’t tell her, she didn’t know. The nun could yell and scream and guilt trip all she wanted, but if I didn’t want to tell Mom, I wasn’t going to. That nun had absolutely no authority over me – no intimidation factor at all. Why? You ask.

Because she wasn’t a normal person, that’s why. She wasn’t my mom. She wasn’t anybody’s mom. Nobody told me that she had any right to boss me around. She made me sit at the back of the class – this wasn’t her fault, I was the tallest kid in the class, and other students had to see over me. Not possible. So I was at the back of the seating arrangement all the time. That put me out of the range of distance where I thought the nun was talking to me every time she spoke. As far as I knew, she was talking to me only when she said my name. Not my job, man.

Then there was the fact that she could never be a mommy, so she could never actually have any legitimate authority over any kid. Like all nuns make this agreement with God that they will never get married and never have kids, but will spend all their time saying their prayers, cleaning up the house where all the nuns live, cleaning up the church, and teaching. Oh, and they’ll go to church every day. All of this for the rest of their lives. Yuck! Yuck, yuck, yuckity-yuck! Who in their right mind would sign that kind of a contract, eh? Not anyone I need to listen to, that’s for darn sure!

Then there was the whole bit with calling all nuns “sister”. Well, in my family, nobody I called a sister was older than me, so they didn’t outrank me. They certainly didn’t boss me around. That was only Mom’s job. And nuns could never be mommies.

So, that pretty much sums up the authority issue with nuns. They could tell me what they wanted, but it never fazed me. I didn’t argue with them. I knew they wouldn’t agree with me. But what did they know about how the world really worked? They were obviously clueless about the proper lines of authority in the real world, but I didn’t need to get into a debate about it. I just let them talk, cajole, scream and remonstrate, then after they had run out of steam, made my way back to my desk like nothing had happened. Next lesson. Same as the first. A little bit louder and a little bit worse.

While the lessons were going on, if it was something I didn’t want to do, I’d doodle in the composition book. I’d draw a line of ants marching off the page. I’d try to draw my favourite characters from TV last night. That was pretty dismal, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying. I kept hearing that you’re supposed to keep on trying if you don’t succeed with something you want to do. So I kept on trying to draw my favourite characters. Eventually I was told I’d succeed, no matter what it was. Of course, that “try, try again” instruction is intended to encourage slow learners to study their lessons harder. It wasn’t meant for attitude cases to use to rationalise their alternative pursuits. But, never mind. Something from early school actually turned out to have some value after all.

Then one day my Mom came to open house at the school. I really should have seen this coming, but at age six, I didn’t. I was too busy watching birds on the playground scratching for grass seeds and then taking flight any old time they felt like it. If something got their attention at the top of the tree, the birds could just be there in a jiffy, no problem. I used to envy the birds for their freedom.

Open House was on a Sunday. We didn’t go to mass – that was nothing new. We never went to mass, even though the nuns said it was a horrible sin not to. I didn’t really believe in God yet, so I didn’t think we were hurting Him all that much, since my Mom and Dad were OK with getting up on Sunday just as if it were Saturday and doing normal things without getting all dressed up and going to church. What was the big deal?

For Open House, we did get all dressed up. Just Mom and me. Dad didn’t go. He stayed home with the littler kids who weren’t in school yet. Mom and I went to school and I got to show her my classroom and all the kids had work up on the wall – some kids had more than one piece of work on the wall because they were the favourites. (They did great work, near perfect, so they really deserved their favourite status. I was still annoyed with them though. They were the little girls who sat at the front of the room near the teacher, like they started out her favourites before they had done any work yet.)

I had one piece of work up on the wall. It was good. Not perfect, I could never be perfect, but it was OK. I was so happy and proud my Mom could see what I did there. Now she knew where I went every day and I could take comfort in the fact that whenever she wasn’t there, she could visualise where I was. She could know, what she could only guess about before.

Then we went to my desk. The nun told me to open up my composition book to show my mom. I started to get uneasy. I did it anyway, knowing I couldn’t get out of it. I opened up my composition book.

And there for all the world and my mother to see were pages and pages of doodles, with rubber stamp angels with folded hands and tear-streamed faces admonishing, “You can do better,” – that was the kicker that brought the point home to my Mom, I was sure. I had made the angel cry.

My teacher had a whole drawer full of rubber stamp angels, to give encouragement to all of us future Catholic adults that our work mattered to somebody, even if we didn’t have any other daily reminders. Most of the angels were happy and smiling. One was angry, for naughty types. One was actually crying. I got the crying angel.

Well, Mom didn’t say anything then. She and the nun talked grown up talk over my head for a bit, and I pushed a few stray papers back into my untidy desk, trying to pretend I could disappear. Mom seemed OK and the nun made her way to somebody else’s parents. After a few more minutes in the room, it was time to go.

On the way home Mom told me that she was surprised I wasn’t doing so well. She shook her head like she just couldn’t believe what she had seen, because she knew I was smart. She just didn’t understand why I wasn’t doing better in school. I stared at Mom, wondering why I had never seen her quite the way she was that day. I looked at her and it suddenly dawned on me that what I did at that school mattered to my Mom! School wasn’t just some place kids had to go to because the law said so. School mattered to somebody who mattered to me. Someone I gave a damn about gave a damn what I did when she wasn’t around to see. The light finally dawned.

From that point on, I tried harder. Concentrating was still hard, especially on hot afternoons when I languished in the back of the classroom, seeing birds setting down and taking off in the school yard whenever they pleased, while I was stuck sitting in a hot and sticky wool dress and saddle shoes. When the letters on the blackboard looked like they could grow eyes, arms and legs and start dancing around any time they pleased if somebody played the right music – you had to be ready for such things to happen at any time – Looney Tunes had taught me that much!

I still drew cartoons and doodles. But I got a lot better at the boring school stuff, too. And Mom was right. I really was smart. So smart that after third grade, I had to go to public school because Mom and Dad started having philosophical differences with the whole Catholic universe as it is applied to children. And it was in fourth grade, in public school, that I became a writer.

My teacher was a man with gentle manners who loved poetry and gave us essay assignments, just for the heck of it. And I discovered that writing my perception of the world around me was fun and got that teacher to smile. If I was making my teacher smile, my angel couldn’t possibly be crying, could she? It was fun, and the teacher and the angel were happy with me. It felt like a guilty pleasure. Like something I would rather do than official school could turn out to be just what school required.

Go figure.

Story Three: Imaginary Friends

Real artists have day jobs. It’s true, and not just on bumper stickers. And depending on the job, it not only pays the rent, it also gives you material.

Thank Goddess for temp agencies. It turns out that as an adult I still have that quiet attitude problem I had in grade one. If I don’t see the adjunct lines of authority right away – the unofficial pecking order, not the organizational chart – I’m very likely to say the wrong thing to the wrong sensitive ego in the office. In fact, I’m not just likely to, I’m guaranteed to goof up that way. Like there’s this banana peel in my path and I step right onto it because I’m busy reading an official memo and thinking that’s all there is to the job. Because the second part of that truism that “real artists have day jobs” is the one that goes, “work is not just about work.” I keep forgetting that one.

So, my daylight career has consisted of a series of temp jobs, each about six to eight months, followed by a quick change, or a short period of unemployment. Looks like hell on a resume, but my reputation with two different agencies is golden. Turns out I’m excellent at the actual work. A logical mind is an asset on the job for the first few months before the social pecking order tries to assert itself. Then, grab a seat and maybe an umbrella, because I’ve been told the resulting *KA-BOOM* can be quite entertaining.

I guess I should have paid more attention to all those number manipulations after all and gone to college for math and computers. Then I would have ended up in an IT department somewhere and wouldn’t have all these unwritten social rituals laying a minefield of expectations in front of me with my co-workers. I’d be working with number geeks who make the same social mistakes I do. Instead I went to university for liberal arts – one would think that was a logical choice given my art and literature preferences, but no one could have foreseen the employment dead end that turned out to be. So much for the idealism of the late seventies.

So a BA and a buck fifty will get me a Caffe Americano at Starbucks. A BA that might get me a job at the counter of Timmy’s. Not that I’d mind much. I do customer service really well, it turns out. Because I give a damn in the moment about that particular person’s needs. Who knew? Like I make all these social mistakes because I can’t see the mines in front of me, but when someone comes to me to solve a problem, and it’s my job to do so, and I have all the tools I need; I connect with humanity, one human at a time. Oddly enough, it works.

Unfortunately, a career at Timmy’s plays hell on a resume, too. Why are we so prejudiced? Why ask why? Do what you love, do what you’re good at. I hear that all the time. I do both. I also get asked why I make minimum wage. To which the only reply I can think of is a big fat raspberry. You know, the stick-your-tongue-out-and-blow-through-tight-lips brat sound. Naturally I refrain from this in an adult conversation. Wonder what would happen if I didn’t?

(Note to self: answer the next embarrassing question about my career choices with a raspberry!)

At this point my current figment buddy (someone else’s character that I wish were real so I could talk to him) is rolling on the floor. He’s a detective, ex-military, wandering the highways of life relying on buses and hitchhiking, carrying no baggage and breezing out of any area as soon as he’s solved a problem. The perfect Kerouac hero. (Isn’t it fun to say ‘kerouac’?) Yes, this is a real book, or actually a series, and if you read the footnotes you can get to know this guy too. I refer people to my favourites.

For the purposes of this narrative I’ll call him Chance.

“I told you so,” he’s saying now. I answer him with a raspberry.

“Crude, but effective, the inarticulate, yet eloquent, response,” he jabs. For a numbers guy, he manages the words quite well, too.

“Any doubt about my meaning?” I ask.

“Nope. So when are you going back to school for IT?”

“In a few short years when tuition is free.”

“Why wait?”

Why indeed? Hmmmmm.

Story Four: Inspired by Bigfoot

Fan fiction and other people’s characters – gotta love ‘em. Sometimes I get a really rip-snortin’ great idea and a short time later I borrow the book from the library. It seems the best stories have already been written. So, I think I’ll write fan fic for a while to get it out of my brain until a real idea floats to the surface. I guess I’ll know when it does. Maybe.

Then sometimes I have a beautiful idea for a character and can’t do anything with him. Like Little Foot. You’ve heard of Bigfoot, right? Well, one day I was following a car on the highway through the Ojibwe First Nation Reserve and that car’s license plate had “Little Foot” on it. As soon as it had my attention I started watching the underbrush at the side of the road for a mini-Bigfoot critter.

The idea became one that wouldn’t leave me alone.

I also make dolls. This started because the White Bird gallery (It’s something else now) where I had just shown my paintings was having a fibre arts show next, and I was trying to figure out how to get into it. My paintings are portraits of gods and goddesses, heroes and avatars.

Fibre arts made a new challenge. Since I didn’t knit or crochet, weave or spin at that point, the only thing I could think of was to make simple dolls out of cloth, then paint them to look like the gods and goddesses, heroes and avatars. So I did.

I made Barbie-size flat pancake dolls and painted them. I also made name tags with little gossipy narratives about who they were and what they did. I entered a dozen dolls in the show. I sold one.

But, that didn’t stop the doll making. I got better. I joined a group and got even better yet. By the time I saw “Little Foot” on that license plate, I was making a little critter with jointed arms and legs and a pivoting head. He was adorable. Lots of people said so. He didn’t sell. But maybe he would if I also wrote a story about him? I raced home and took him apart, felting raw wool onto his fabric skin to make him hairy, put him back together and sat down to write about him.

Thud.

Nothing would come that didn’t sound cutesy and boring.

Little Foot languished in my art room for a few months until my brother came to visit. I told him about the problem. He told me that there is a real legend about a little humanoid that lives in the forest and that our own Cherokee ancestors knew about it. My bro’s like that. He knows about the first nations stuff. So, Little Foot went home with him and he’ll work on the story.

Meanwhile, the little adorable still haunts me. I still make dolls. The Japanese make little adorables of every character in their popular culture. They have the adult character, then they make a “chibi” out of it. I’m not making this up. You can Google it if you don’t believe me.

I’m still making dolls. I start to make chibi animals out of polymer clay. That’s the oven bake clay that results in a little plastic toy when you bake it. I also make forays into the realm of air dry clay, in an attempt to bypass the oven bake kind that releases plastic fumes into the air. This effort meets with varying degrees of success.

The dense, heavy, earth based air dry clays crumble as they dry. They’re really not workable. Too messy. The light and foamy air dry clay is wonderful. It sticks to itself very well. As it dries, it stays attached to itself. Then, after about two weeks, it keeps drying and starts cracking. Nothing comes off, but fissures start to form that need caulking. That’s all right – it’s easy to caulk the cracks with more of the clay. Just make sure you have more of the same color.

The presentable chibis sell well at the annual Art in the Park event. This is encouraging. Naturally, I make art because I love to do it. It also feels really wonderful when what I love to do is something that other people love to see and be around. I love to see my little adorables find homes. I like enthusiastic appreciation as much as the next artist.

Still thinking about Little Foot. I Google “Little Foot” just to make sure it hasn’t already been done.

I pull up Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper and am immediately transported back to age fifteen and a haunting story about an indigenous race on a far away planet, the writing being the cheesy 1960’s style science fiction. Then I remember why I can’t write Little Foot. The basic story has already been written.

Only now I read that it has also been rewritten – given a “reboot” with some modern characters and the same basic story line by a contemporary writer who also loved the original story all those years ago. (John Scalzi is the name, and he’s written more than this reboot, called Fuzzy Nation. He’s a real writer. And he doesn’t need a day job anymore.)

I don’t know whether to be miffed that it happened again – getting an idea and finding out it’s been done before – or overjoyed to be back into awareness of a story that’s an old friend. It’s not really a contest. I opt for joy. I’m thrilled to remember Little Fuzzy.

I discover several things:

Little Fuzzy is now in the public domain and I immediately download it to my thumb drive. The other stories are still under copyright, owned by H. Beam Piper’s estate. That’s right, the original author died. More on that later. The estate is very generous in recognizing the fan fiction written by others (Bill Tuning and Ardath Mayhar, with an adaptation of the original “Little Fuzzy” by Benson Parker, and yet another sequel in another direction by Wolfgang Diehr) and in authorizing John Scalzi’s reboot – Fuzzy Nation. It’s out now hardbound and is coming out in softcover in five months. Gotta getta! Marking my calendar. The library will have the hardbound book at the end of this week. Salivating ….

Meanwhile, the cover art that haunts me is available on the internet as well. I print a few copies to work from and am now altering teddy bears from Value Village to resemble the little adorable fuzzies to the best of my ability. Well, Michael Whelan, the cover artist who designed the image of the fuzzy that has become the standard in fandom has nothing to worry about with my altered bears – no copyright infringement here – because I’m not as successful as I would like to be in making them look like his. But I’m having a lot of fun. I also have a line of fan fic in my head that has to come out about the fuzzies, so here goes: (note, my character here is younger now and has a different name).

Logbook dated 30190204 M. Livingstone

Man,that was fun. I just finished up an assignment for a new client – the Company had sent me out here to see what all the fuss was about with this planet changing from Class 3 to Class 4. Sure they already had plenty of agents in place, but sometimes a contractor can get access to places an agent has trouble getting into. Especially a contractor like me.

If I’d known the straight life was this easy, I’d have gone straight a long time ago. To think I can do what I used to do and collect a paycheck for it! Not that I didn’t make money before, but actually getting paid the agreed upon amount could get dicey. Now, it’s all there on payday, the right amount, right on time. I love direct deposit. I should have done this years ago.

I’m a security consultant. That means I break in through the client’s existing security structure, then tell them how to fix it to keep other people like me out. I swear it’s a racket. When I was a crook I had to work a lot harder to make this kind of money. And I’m a lot safer doing it today. For one thing, I don’t have to worry about cops – I’m already straight! And I don’t have to hang out with all those other crooks!

Every morning, first thing, I shower, have my coffee, and check email. If there’s no new work to do, I return social mail, then play around on YouTwitFace, the amalgam of three different social media platforms. It’s a good way to stay in touch with all my contacts and let my dreaming mind free associate on downtime. As long as I trust it and give it downtime regularly, I get wonderful flashes of insight to solve the most arcane puzzles. That’s handy in my work.

Dreaming mind and waking mind. Most people put a clear boundary between those two functions or states of being. I don’t know how they do that. I’ve never been able to. Dreaming mind has always informed waking mind, not always at a convenient time. They talk to each other whenever they please and there’s never been anything I could do to separate them. Anyway, I’ve found a way to make it work.

Email – a few spam messages, advertisers gearing up for Christmas. Archaic holidays from Terran Graeco-Roman culture linger in the collective unconscious long after the sponsoring deities sail into the land of myth. Now it’s basically a harvest fair for the technotrade industry. I suppose the human mind needs the continuity of holiday rituals to anchor itself to sanity while stretching lightyears across the galaxy. Can’t knock it. It’s also an anchoring event in the annual economic cycle. And everything turns on economics.

No emails from friends today. That’s odd. Maybe I’ve been working too hard, been out of touch too long. Have to remedy that today.

Here’s one from the client – I’m pretty sure he’s a satisfied customer, but I’d better check. I open it.

Heyo Mo Na Can u cl Ltl FuzE 4 me I mis hm Luv Nugt

Okay, obviously a prank from Richard Bianco, the big cheese at the Company, probably drunk and obviously lonely, pretending to be writing to me in the voice of his fuzzy companion, Nugget. “Hello Mona, Can you call Little Fuzzy for me? I miss him. Love, Nugget” -- the translation isn’t hard.

But Rick’s loneliness could be trouble for me. I don’t want him focusing any predictable ideas on me; I like being a free agent. This could be bad for business whether my answer is yes or no. I have to proceed carefully.

I can’t risk replying to the email. I’ll have to call and have a face-to-face. I’ll take a few minutes, first. (I know what you’re thinking. Like, what makes her so sure old Bianco is after a date? She thinks really well of herself, doesn’t she?) Well, let’s just say I’ve been around enough to know a few things:

One – I’m average height, slender and blonde, and I haven’t been disfigured in a high speed chase or an axe-fight, so some social rituals are pretty predictable, and

Two -- I happen to know that at the top of the socio-political food chain, the view gets pretty lonely. Those are just the generalisations. On top of that, I also know:

Three – Rick Bianco was very lonely before Nugget showed up in his penthouse. Now, neither Fuzzy nor Terran is supposed to be able to live alone for very long without going bug-nuts, so I’m pretty safe in my assumptions.)

However, I still have to do business with Mr. Bianco, and so I have to tread carefully. Just as I start to punch in his contact number, I hit the cancel button. I have another idea: What if I just pretend to take this email at face value, and reply as if I believe I’m really talking to Nugget? Then when Rick makes a blunder I can point to, I can be the tactful one and say, “Oh, my, Mr. Bianco, I had no idea!” or something to that effect. It might save my rep and the business relationship at one go.

I hit the reply button on the email and return Nugget’s greeting. It occurs to me that the message might actually be from Nugget, because it has come through as a reply to an earlier message from me – Nugget would only have to find my email to his big person, hit “Reply” and talk to me in his own words. I have no idea if the little guy has picked up that much tech savvy by watching his Terran sponsor, but since he’s the only Fuzzy in the home, he might just be bored enough to observe and imitate. It’s not as if he gets to do much Fuzzy stuff.

Note to self: remind current client to schedule Fuzzy play dates for his little friend.

“Hello Nugget. Yes, I can contact Little Fuzzy for you, but you can also email him yourself. Here is his email address – ask Pappy Rick to start the email for you, OK? [email protected] – that’s where Little Fuzzy gets his mail when he talks to hagga school children to tell them about fuzzies. I know he would love to hear from you. Tell Pappy Rick I will see him soon to make sure all the work was done the way he wanted it. Love, Mona”

I know what you’re thinking – school children on planet Z? Let me explain. Ever since the reclassification and the Pendarvis decision, with the adoption of the little people came a host of other considerations. The most important of these was how to care for the little folk properly, respecting them as adults of their species and not limiting their growth or putting a ceiling on their curiosity, while also maintaining their physical safety. In short, when you take responsibility for a family member, you do the right things for them. That means that any big person adopting a Fuzzy had to agree never to leave planet Z and abandon the Fuzzy family member. That’s huge. For a planet full of single professionals who like their freedom to travel and relocate, it’s as binding as a marriage. Basically it means that if you make a permanent move, your Fuzzy family go with you. With that in mind, Federation authorities also opened planet Z up to settlement for Terran families with their children. That’s another huge step.

I came in on that wave, although I qualify as yet another young adult professional, unattached. And, although I’ve found every Fuzzy I’ve met to be captivating company, I’ve resisted the urge to adopt and settle down. I know my limits, and I still want to travel – a lot – to some dangerous places. Better to remain Auntie Mona, than Mummy Mona. Doesn’t stop me from teaching, though – just as I sometimes do in the Terran schools (substitute, Maths). I had a wonderful time teaching Nugget the meaning of the popular songs I’d put on the sound system while I worked. He would even follow me when I took a break and did my dance exercise routine. We must have looked pretty funny shakin’ it to the speeded up techno version of Pachelbel’s Canon!

Note to self X2: Show Nugget how to find his favourite videos. It’ll be interesting to see the dance routines he comes up with on his own.

I know Fuzzies do dance, because Nugget told me stories about how the different families would come together on the migration and stop for a few nights sitting around, telling stories, sharing food and catching up on gossip. They’d also sing and dance together and select new mates in hopes of encouraging a baby boom of live births as a result of the gather.

The familiar chime on my combined communicator – yes I have one of those – it saves a lot of passwords – alerts me to a new message. It’s a reply from Nugget. Here we go!

Helo Mona – c I spel OK? C vid e o luv Nugt

And the little bugger attached a video link. Okay, I’ll play along. Figuring I can kill any virus Rick might inadvertently pass along with his juvenile prank, I open the link.

The video opens with Nugget’s face close to the webcam, then Nugget retreating to the chair at Rick’s desk. Then he starts to sing and the tune sounds a little familiar in his high, reedy voice.

“No-ho washa keeva aki Damfing vov intaa

“No-ho washa keeva aki Damfing vov intaa

In my minds ear, I hear a chorus chanting “Wimoweh” in the background. No kidding, the little guy has filked, “The lion sleeps tonight” (literally, “the Damnthing isn’t here…”). But he used our word, “damnthing” instead of the gashta word “hesh-nazza”, or the other phrase, “so-shi-fazzu” (literally the “run-like-hell”). I guess it didn’t scan. Well, how about that. The Fuzzies also like to filk from us. If they hear a song that has meaning for them, they’re apparently all over it with the translation. OK, I’m about to overload on the cute factor here. I can’t help laughing. I hit the “live” button to engage my own webcam.

“Thank you, Nugget,” I say to the little live image above the video, while it’s still playing. “That makes my day! Say Hi to Pappy Rick for me, OK? I’ll forward this to Little Fuzzy and the whole group. Next time you see them, you can all sing it together.”

Note to self X3: Copy this video to the linguists and cultural anthropologists working with the Fuzzies at the university. And really remind Pappy Rick about more play dates for Nugget. This filking will probably go viral among the Fuzzies. He should be in on it too. He’ll have a blast!

Story Five: Consummation Street revisited (and possibly mashed up with Nugget and Rick at a later date)

You’ve heard about military research and development of non-lethal weapons by now, right? The R&D projects to develop riot control tools for using on civilians without having too much adverse media attention? Of course you have. There’s everything from subsonics to manipulate bodily functions, such as the “brown noise” which gives sudden, uncontrollable diarrhea, to the anti-traction polymer that can be sprayed on pavement and make it more slippery than black ice. Fun stuff.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you had some of those tools available to you for a small price, say, what you might pay for a new cell phone? Seriously, have you ever thought how you might use one of those weapons in your own life, just to keep some living space around you?

For illustration purposes, let’s go back to Consummation Street where Penny Dreadful is sitting in the Wayward Wanderers Inn, listening to Louise making the work day miserable for Sheena, the daughter in law she has never approved of. Sheena’s guilty of something, Louise knows, and while Sheena is trying to keep her head up and move on, Louise is getting her digs in moment by moment, never letting up. Nag, nag, nag. She looks like she can’t wait for Sheena to lose it and scream at her, whereupon Louise will probably say Sheena’s unfit for customer service or adult life. It’s obviously no-win for Sheena – having to be at work, and being unable to create dignified space around her with Louise at her every other minute.

Then when Sheena tries to tell Gary about the hostile work environment, he tells her to ignore it. Rise above it. He’s clueless, because that advice only works once or twice, not when the nagging happens all day long and you have to be there. How many minutes are there in a day, anyway? Well, sixty minutes per hour, eight hours a day makes 480 minutes. At the rate Louise is going, she’s averaging an insult or a dig at Sheena every three to five minutes. That means twelve to twenty insults per hour, or ninety-six to one hundred sixty insults a day. That’s pretty much a hostile work environment, no question. There has to be a way to make Louise shut her gob and let Sheena function. So here we are: (Begin story)

Geez, I’m so glad I don’t need a day job anymore. Look at Louise there, tearing a strip off Sheena. Look at Sheena – and here she is answering calmly, reminding Louise that they both need to work together, so could Louise just stop already?

I definitely would lose my patience with any Louise I had to deal with in the office. So glad Louises generally didn’t surface right away when I was working temp. Bad enough to be sabotaged by the occasional “Necessary Nina” doctoring my computer, then asking me if I was able to print – with a smirk. When I said yes I could print, she’d shake her head and say, “No, I don’t think so …” and trail off. By then, of course, I had found the work around. Necessary Nina never quite anticipated my intelligence or resourcefulness. But she did manage to create extra unnecessary stress for me at work.

No, now that I’m a writer, my income arrives in chunks making the office jobs unnecessary. Just in the nick of time, too. The older I get, the less patience I have with asinine games interfering with the work itself.

Of course, now that I’m independent in my work, I still buy the occasional scratch ticket, and I happen to be scratching it now while Louise is sharpening her claws on poor Sheena.

Well, what do you know – I’m quite a winner today. I’ll keep quiet, though, unlike Steve, who had to celebrate and announce his win, breaking poor Gary’s heart. Gary had let Steve go in front of him and buy the winning ticket, and now Steve won’t share with Gary. Well, quite a few people are not exactly known for grace. I mean, it’s not like the win represents hard-earned wages, now, is it?

I put the ticket in my pocket and make my way to the bar, just as Sheena is about to let fly with Louise’s excuse to fire her, and clear my throat to get Sheena’s attention. Being all too eager to turn from Louise, Sheena turns to me with the “Oh what now?” glare in her eyes.

“Might I have a word?” I ask.

Louise comes over to listen in.

“Privately,” I say, pointedly.

Sheena motions me to step through the bar into her private living space behind it.

“Be careful, Penny,” Louise calls. “Count your fingers as well as your change with that one!”

Sheena whirls, and I turn her back around with a hand on her shoulder.

“I promise you won’t have to put up with this much longer, if you ignore her once more,” I say.

That’s enough for Sheena and she continues to lead me through.

Gary is at the table when we arrive. “Oh good,” I say, “I can talk to you both then.” Sheena motions for me to have a seat and I pull out the ticket.

Gary looks at it and collapses on the table in a depressed heap. “So everyone but me is lucky this year! Wonderful!” he groans.

“Not so fast,” I say. “I’d say we’re all pretty lucky today, since I intend to share this with you.”

Gary picks himself back up and brightens, although not quite smiling yet. Still has to be sure I said what he thinks he heard.

“I beg pardon,” he asks.

“You heard me correctly,” I say. “I just won two hundred thousand quid – that’s roughly three and a half hundred thousand of what I’m used to – right? Well, since I make plenty of my own money and this didn’t come from wages, I’m quite happy to share. I also heard what happened with Steve. I know that had to hurt.”

They look at each other. I look at both of them as the light dawns. Sheena gives one of her trademarked triumphant squeals.

“Why don’t we take a day off, say tomorrow, and go to the lottery office to claim the winnings, shall we? You’ll need to make sure you’re carrying bank documents – like a deposit ticket with your account number on it – and I’ll do the same. I’m sure Lemon Limos can spare one of the cabs for a day.”

Well, Gary loses no time setting up the day off and the cab, and off we go bright and early the next day. We spend a fair amount of time explaining ourselves to the lottery corporation, as in No we don’t work for the lottery office, no we don’t have any relatives working for them, etc. Finally they believe us and make the necessary electronic transfers. It’s twenty minutes after four when we finally emerge from the lottery building.

Sheena and Gary look truly stunned. “Shall we stop for tea before we head back to Manchester?” I offer. Of course we do, we’re all famished and need to process our sudden change in fortune before we head back.

We find a pub on a street over from the downtown financial centre and order our meal. As we relax in the booth, of course we’re talking about what to do with it all.

“Lemon Limos and Charles first!” Gary exclaims. Sheena nods vigorously.

“May I give you an idea?” I ask.

Gary’s gesture and facial expression are expansive, like he’s had considerable weight removed from his shoulders, which he has. “Of course, milady,” he declaims with a flourish. “I think the least I can do for my benefactress is listen to her ideas – especially since the last one was so beneficial to Sheena and me!” Whereupon he takes a good hearty draft of his pint of lager.

Sheena whoops her agreement. I look around and use my hands palm down to encourage them to be quieter, but I can’t keep the smile off my face either.

“If I were you,” I begin, “I’d keep some of that money in reserve, and have adoption papers for Alex drawn up.” Here I look at both of them. They’ve suddenly become very quiet and attentive. How do I know their business? I’ll tell them soon enough.

“I’d ask her to sign them, and of course, she’ll name a fee, which you won’t quibble about. Then you get her to sign in front of a notary, and pay her the adoption fee (pause for emphasis, looking at Sheena – as in remember to use this phrase from now on) – then record the document at the courthouse and nobody has anything over you. Then you can deal with Lisa (who is currently blackmailing them to keep Gary’s daughter Amy more than anyone would like – I told you this is a soap opera, didn’t I?) however you like.”

There is silence at the table for a minute and a half. It feels longer than it is. Finally, Sheena summons up the right words.

“And, how do you know about Alex?” she asks.

“Because, here is the point where I tell you why I’m on your street,” I begin. This is going to be interesting. Well, here goes, might as well plunge right in. In for a penny, in for a pound and all that.

Gary beats me to the punch. “Is this the point where you tell us you’re a spy, working for MI-6 and all?”

Sheena and I both laugh.

“No, Gary, not quite,” I say. “I do work for law enforcement, and I’m on loan to her majesty’s finest, only because the issue I’m working on involves the whole English speaking world. That means Her Majesty, the US Commander in Chief, my RCMP supervisor in Canada, along with Australia and New Zealand as well.”

“What could we all be working on together?” Sheena wants to know.

“Human trafficking.” I answer. Nothing like being blunt. Everyone is silent for another moment.

“We already know about the money you’ve spent to rescue Alex,” I say, pointedly offering a word that sounds better than “buy”. “And you can be glad you did what you did, even if others disagree, because if you hadn’t paid to keep him, he was on his way to a brothel in Dubai.” I let that sink in.

“And, while we’re on the subject of secrets you don’t have to keep anymore, you can relax about paying for Alex because your old friend Screech is on the international task force and he already knows about it and has not moved against you. He won’t. We’re all waiting for Riley to move again and when she does, we’ll bring her in (because you’ll tell us her demands to sign the papers) and sweat her to make her tell us about her contacts. Meanwhile, you’re safe in keeping Alex.”

They both heave a sigh. Our dinners arrive and we start eating. It’s been a long day.

Finally, Sheena comes up for air. “Well, I feel so much better,” she says. “Now I can say ‘boo’ to Lisa. I just wish I had a magic bullet for Louise!”

“About that,” I say, fishing in my pocket. Time for a little bonus. I find something the size of a memory stick and put it on the table toward Sheena. “Here” I say.

“What now?” Gary grumbles, half to himself.

“This is an emitter,” I explain. “Spy equipment. It emits sound waves on a certain frequency. We’d love to test it informally. You could help us out.”

Sheena looks at me for a long moment. I continue.

“It emits a pulsed subsonic wave, so no one hears it, but if it’s pointed at someone at close range, they get a feeling in their nose like they’re about to sneeze. If you keep it pointed and activated for three seconds – one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three – their train of thought is completely derailed. Might come in handy next time Louise is at you without letup.”

“Now wait a minute here,” Gary begins. This has apparently gone too far for him to countenance.

“I can’t stand by and let you do to me mum what amounts to torture!”

“No, Gary, and I commend you for that concern.” I say. “But I saw what Sheena has to deal with and I know she needs this.”

“For the odd comment?” Gary is clearly taking umbrage. “I hardly think it warrants an electronic device!”

Sheena is about to answer, but I beat her to the punch.

“I saw what Sheena has to deal with, and I promise you, Gary, this is warranted. Your sainted mum never lets up. Yesterday while I was scratching the ticket I saw Sheena refuse the bait, answering your mum calmly and in an adult manner, asking if they couldn’t just work together as adults, three times in ten minutes, while Louise was having none of it. If that keeps up all day, Sheena’s being asked to run a gauntlet at work – receiving upwards of a hundred or more insults all day long and not answer back. That’s a demand for superhuman patience, and I dare say you couldn’t bear up the way you expect her to. It isn’t just a few insults, it’s every minute, all day long.”

After that little speech, Sheena applauds.

“But rest assured, Gary,” I say, “She won’t have this little weapon without oversight. I can disable it anytime I think she’s going too far with it. If she uses it without provocation or seems to like it too much, I can reprogram it remotely and it won’t respond to her pushing the button.”

“Put it in your pocket,” I tell her. “And test it right now, on me.”

Sheena gasps and after a minute, puts it in her pocket.

“Now, push the button and count three seconds,” I say. I am immediately aware of the most piercing pain in my left nostril that I have ever experienced without sneezing. I wince, close my left eye and press my left nostril with my index finger for an interminable three seconds, when the pain leaves me as quickly as it appeared.

I take a breath. “Well,” I sigh. “You saw how that worked, right?” Sheena nods.

“Very well, then,” I continue. “Now you know it will definitely derail a train of thought. Be careful how often you use it. Only when you’ve given her a chance to back off on her own, and then make sure no one is between you and her, then – give ‘er! It shouldn’t take more than 21 days to teach her some manners at work!”

At this point, Gary knows he can’t talk either Sheena or me out of it, so he gives in. We all toast to new beginnings and pay the bill, and then we head back to Manchester.

Note to self: Why do I continue to watch a soap opera that so often is just begging for a re-write?

And there you have it. This is how I became a Fanfic writer – imaginary friends that I get exposed to through pop culture and can’t let go. Will there be any more adventures for Penny Dreadful – my alter ego? Who knows? Stay tuned….

fan fiction

About the author

Kim Slone

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