Archives for category: About My Patreon Page

6.16.17.ALEXAS.FAN.1

From Goodreads came the first review of One Day in the Life of Alexa:
One Day in the Life of Alexa
, by Lisa Mason (Bast Books) incorporates lively prose, past/present time jumps, and the consequences of longevity technology. Kosovo refugee Alexa enrolls in a secret pilot program designed to extend her life span. Her best friend, Marya, is not accepted, but Marya’s infant aka “Little Monster” is. As the decades roll by, Alexa adapts to a life of constant measurement and surveillance. [Plot spoilers omitted] In reflection, the book is as much about the enduring trauma of war as it is about longevity technology, and in this it feels more like mainstream than science fiction. Mason’s skill as a writer sustains a quick, absorbing read with an appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms (like the repeated refrain, “No matter how long I live, I will always remember this”)
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35200314-one-day-in-the-life-of-alexa#other_reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lisa Mason doesn’t disappoint us on that issue and gives us a look …
By R Bruce Miller on October 1, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
“Scifi is nominally about the future and the impact of technology on society. Lisa Mason doesn’t disappoint us on that issue and gives us a look at a desirable biotechnology with some serious long-term and unforeseen consequences. However, like all the truly great scifi writers, what she really writes about is you and me and today and what is really important in life. Alexa lives an improbable life and yet, somehow, is a very real everywoman. Solzhenitsyn would have appreciated the homage. Cats! Grow your own organic food! Yes, there is much fun to be had on this journey, but the message nonetheless is solid and important. I enjoyed every word even though this book spoiled my day because I had no choice but to read it in one sitting while drinking too much coffee.”
And here’s another five-star review, and then I’ll let you decide:
“[Alexa] finds her internal resource that allows her to survive many more days in a much more uplifting manner than poor Ivan Denisovich. Discovering where her strengths [lie] is not depressing but uplifting for this reader.” On US Kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0711PP65J
“I truly loved Alexa. The homage to Solzhenitsyn was wonderfully well done. Your concept and characters were on the mark and very timely. Bravo!”
Book Description:
Alexa Denisovitch
, a refugee from Kosovo during the 1999 war, is just seventeen when she is accepted by GenGineer Laboratories as a Tester for Longeva, a revolutionary additive that may significantly extend her longevity.
But becoming a Tester has unintended consequences and Longeva causes devastating unforeseen side effects.
Confronting environmental, political, and personal perils of the future, Alexa must grapple with the tough questions of life, love, and death.
So there you have it, my friends. The novel is short, but I took a long time researching and writing it.
One Day in the Life of Alexa is in Print in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Japan.
Now an ebook on BarnesandNoble, Kobo, Apple, and Smashwords!
One Day in the Life of Alexa is also offered as a Kindle ebook at US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories, previously published stories, book excerpts, movie critiques and recommendations, and more exclusively for my patrons.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, beautiful covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

11.19.13cube

I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, went to school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and, upon graduation, migrated to San Francisco, California. There I lived for five years and then migrated to the East Bay where I’ve lived ever since.
When I was working in downtown San Francisco, I often saw a punk Chinese-American bicycle messenger, complete with tattoos and a colorful Mohawk. A young woman, no less.
The late, great Herb Caen, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, was fascinated with the bicycle messengers, who had their own subculture. Caen frequently reported on the exploits of his favorite bicycle messenger, which made their way into “The Oniomancer.”
I myself saw a convocation of bicycle messengers outside of a fancy grocery store at a little park behind the Embarcadero Center, a huge office complex built by the Rockefellers and resembling Rockefeller Square in New York City.
So all that detail was brewing in my head. I knew I had a story to tell, but what?
Turns out Tom knew an artist, a kind of down-and-out guy, who had a knack for finding valuable things. Without a metal detector. He would just walk down the city street and—lo!—there would be a diamond brooch at his feet. I’m serious.
After I learned about his amazing gift, I began to find things myself. A fourteen-gold charm of a Chinese ship in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A sterling silver Mercedes Benz car key-ring on Broadway. Really.
I began to research this little-known talent and came across the answer in the Encyclopedia of Occultism: Oniomancer. The talented person is called an Oniomancer.
I knew I had my story, then.
A word about Chinese-Americans (in this troubled time): We’ve had many delightful Chinese-American acquaintances in San Francisco and many delightful neighbors in the East Bay.
But like families of every race and ethnicity (Tom is an eighth Cherokee Indian, I’m a Croatian American), Chinese-American families have their own problems. Around the corner from our apartment on Telegraph Hill lived a traditional Chinese family. At night, we would hear Mom and Dad screaming at the kids and (ahem) beating the crap out of them.
I wondered what sort of serious rebellion the Chinese-American bicycle messenger Girl with the Pink Hair must have gone through.
Please join friends, readers, and fans on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m even offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, beautiful covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

6.3.18.LADIESSMALL

Updated for 2020! Published in print in seven countries and as an ebook on eighteen markets worldwide.
As I mulled over my published short fiction (now forty stories), I found seven wildly different stories with one thing in common–a heroine totally unlike me. I’m the girl next door. I have no idea where these strange ladies came from.
In The Oniomancer (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine), a Chinese-American punk bicycle messenger finds an artifact on the street. In Guardian (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine), an African-American gallerist resorts to voodoo to confront a criminal. In Felicitas (Desire Burn: Women Writing from the Dark Side of Passion [Carroll and Graf]), an immigrant faces life as a cat shapeshifter. In Stripper (Unique Magazine), an exotic dancer battles the Mob. In Triad (Universe 2 [Bantam]), Dana Anad lives half the time as a woman, half the time as a man, and falls in love with a very strange lady. In Destination (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), a driver takes three strangers from a ride board on a cross-country trip as the radio reports that a serial killer is on the loose. In Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis (Fantastic Alice [Ace]), Alice considers life after Wonderland.
Five stars on Facebook and Amazon! “Great work, Lisa Mason!”
“Hilarious, provocative, profound.”
From Jeanne-Mary Allen, Author on Facebook and the Book Brothers Blog: “Kyle Wylde and I are thrilled to have found such a talented, dedicated, and brilliant collection of shorts in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories…Your style/craft is highly impressive.”
From the San Francisco Book Review: “Strange Ladies: 7 Stories offers everything you could possibly want, from more traditional science fiction and fantasy tropes to thought-provoking explorations of gender issues and pleasing postmodern humor…This is a must-read collection.” http://anotheruniverse.com/strange-ladies-7-stories/
From the Book Brothers Review Blog: “Lisa Mason might just be the female Philip K. Dick. Like Dick, Mason’s stories are far more than just sci-fi tales, they are brimming with insight into human consciousness and the social condition….Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is a sci-fi collection of excellent quality. If you like deeply crafted worlds with strange, yet relatable characters, then you won’t want to miss it.” http://www.thebookbrothers.com/2013/09/the-book-brothers-review-strange.html#more
And on Amazon: 5.0 out of 5 stars This one falls in the must-read category, an appellation that I rarely use.
“I have been a fan of Lisa Mason from the beginning of her writing career, but I confess that I often overlook her short fiction. That turns out to have been a big mistake! I have just read Strange Ladies thinking I would revisit a few old friends and discover a few I had missed. Well, I had missed more than I had thought, and I regret that oversight. This collection was so much fun! I loved each and every story and enjoyed their unique twists, turns, and insights. I thank Ms Mason especially, though, for the high note ending with the big smiles in Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis. Uh oh, I guess I still am a child of the summer of love. Well played. You made me laugh at the world and myself.”
From Amazing Stories. com “I’m quite impressed, not only by the writing, which gleams and sparkles, but also by [Lisa Mason’s] versatility . . . Mason is a wordsmith . . . her modern take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a hilarious gem! [This collection] sparkles, whirls, and fizzes. Mason is clearly a writer to follow!”—Amazing Stories
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collection that will make you think
Format: Kindle Edition
“My definition of a good short story is one that you keep thinking about for days, and this book had several of them.”
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo.
On Kindle at US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is in Print in the U.S., in the U.K., in Germany, in France, in Spain, in Italy, and in Japan.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got delightful new stories and previously published stories, books excerpts, writing tips, movie recommendations, and more there for you with more on the way.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, beautiful covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

 

9.6.17.TGA.1

New Review of The Gilded Age at http://sfbookreview.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-gilded-age-by-lisa-mason.html:
“The world of 2495 is at an unsustainable twelve billion population. Zhu Wong is a Daughter of Compassion, a group working to enforce the birth restriction laws. She is in jail awaiting trial when she is recruited by the Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications (LISA, I love the acronym) to t-port back to 1895 San Francisco. She accepts the deal. Her mission is to find Wing Sing, take her and the aurelia to the mission run by Donaldina Cameron. In 1967 Wing Sing’s daughter will eventually give the brooch to Chiron at the end of his stay in the Summer of Love project.
Zhu finds Wing Sing, but she doesn’t have the aurelia. They are captured by a Chinese gang. Zhu is bought away from them by Jessie, a madam, Wing Sing stuck with the Tong. Zhu does work for Jessie, but is more valuable as a bookkeeper so avoids becoming a prostitute. Daniel Watkins is the son of a real estate magnate coming to San Francisco to collect on debts. He is low on funds and is referred to lodging at Jessie’s where his life becomes entwined with Zhu’s. Somehow Zhu is attracted to this heavy drinking smoker who has distinct views of women. Despite herself and her mission, Zhu cares about Jessie and Daniel.
I loved the character of Zhu. Somehow I wasn’t repulsed by Daniel and Jessie. They are more a product of their environment doing what they can with their sense of right and wrong. Very enjoyable, I read the last two hundred pages straight through. This is definitely a stand alone novel, though Summer of Love is mentioned several times. I’ll have to read that one as a prequel rather than book one.”
And this is from Library Journal:
“The discovery of a golden brooch that should not exist in the 25th century prompts the Luxon Institute to send a young Chinese woman 600 years back in time. She arrives in San Francisco in 1895 to prevent the future from altering the past. This sequel to Summer of Love (LJ 6/15/94), seen through the eyes of an observer from the future, juxtaposes the tempestuous, sprawling milieu of boomtown San Francisco with its shadowy underside of prostitution and decadence. Mason’s graceful prose and her skill in orchestrating a complex and satisfying plot make this a solid purchase for sf collections.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This is from a reader:
https://www.amazon.ca/Golden-Nineties-Lisa-Mason/dp/0553373315
5.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotic Read
By,Robin Booneon Published on Amazon.com|Verified Purchase
“Lisa Mason’s Summer of Love and The Golden Nineties both have this quality – you want to reread them as soon as you’ve read them. Her writing conveys an abiding love of San Francisco, and interesting bits of California history are woven into the storylines. The writing is so compelling that you feel as though time travel were a possibility. I hope she writes more of these San Francisco fantasies!”
And this is from Publisher’s Weekly
https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-553-37331-8
“Mason’s sequel to Summer of Love is a delightful expansion of that work and a major step forward for her. The tale centers on Zhu Wong, a Chinese national whose lawyer plea-bargains her release from prison so that Chiron and his companions from the previous novel’s Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications can transport her 600 years into the past to find a macguffin called the aurelia. Once in San Francisco, 1895, Mason brings the environment and the times to life with her rendering of the city’s activities, especially its corruption. The several historic personages who appear–including Frank Norris, Jack London and Susan B. Anthony–are all given dimensions that reflect the rigor of Mason’s research without leaving the reader overburdened by minutiae. Zhu Wong finds herself embroiled in a world of decadence and prostitution; she sees friends and companions abuse themselves with such things as alcohol, cocaine and corsets. As with Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary, Mason uses the novel partially to explore the role of women in society. As Zhu grows to understand the hypocrisies of the 1890s, she becomes even less comfortable with the presumptions of her own time. She creates several “closed time loops,” apparent paradoxes that impede her mission–and, perhaps more important, thwart her own desires. Eventually she finds her way out of the time loops and in the process teaches everyone–including herself–a few lessons about life. Her bravura performance with this book should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify her position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.
And this just in from an Amazon.com reader
Buy It
By Uke Enthusiast
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
“One of my favorite books. I am delighted it is back in print. A thoroughly entertaining time travel story supported by vivid characterizations and settings.”
Book Description: The year is 1895 and immigrants the world over are flocking to California on the transcontinental railroad and on transoceanic steamships. The Zoetrope demonstrates the persistence of vision, patent medicines addict children to morphine, and women are rallying for the vote. In San Francisco, saloons are the booming business, followed by brothels, and the Barbary Coast is a dangerous sink of iniquity. Atop Telegraph Hill bloody jousting tournaments are held and in Chinatown the tongs deal in opium, murder-for-hire, and slave girls.
Zhu Wong, a prisoner in twenty-fifth century China, is given a choice–stand trial for murder or go on a risky time-travel project to the San Francisco of 1895 to rescue a slave girl and take her to safety. Charmed by the city’s opulent glamour, Zhu will discover the city’s darkest secrets. A fervent population control activist in a world of twelve billion people, she will become an indentured servant to the city’s most notorious madam. Fiercely disciplined, she will fall desperately in love with the troubled self-destructive heir to a fading fortune.
And when the careful plans of the Gilded Age Project start unraveling, Zhu will discover that her choices not only affect the future but mean the difference between her own life or death.
“A winning mixture of intelligence and passion.” The New York Times Book Review
“Graceful prose. . . .A complex and satisfying plot.” Library Journal
“Rollicking. . . .Dazzling.” Locus Magazine
“Should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify Mason’s position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.” Publisher’s Weekly
The cover, by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, is styled to look like an 1890s billboard.
The Gilded Age is BACK IN PRINT! Order the beautiful trade paperback in the U.S., in the U.K., in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, and in Japan.
The ebook
is at BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords and on Kindle worldwide at US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
So there you have it, my friends
. Bantam Books, a division of Random House, published this as The Golden Nineties. Yes, I changed the title. I think the new title is better. (Wish I’d thought of it in the first place) This is the Author’s Preferred Print Edition.
Whether you’re a longtime reader or new, I hope you enjoy this classic!
Join my other patrons on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/lisamasonfantasyandsciencefictionwriter?alert=2 I’ve got delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie recommendations, and more exclusively for patrons.
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Please disregard any ad you see here. They have been placed without my permission.

9-24-16-illyria-smll

Summary: From the extinguished HomeWorld, the Settlers traveled across the stars to NewWorld with hopes of starting over again. In the war-torn nation of Illyria, Maya just wants to grow vegetables and live in peace. But she has a dark secret she can never reveal, especially to her beloved Yuri.
Introduction: For my novella, “One Day in the Life of Alexa,” I studied the horrific 1990s wars in the Balkans, as well as the history leading up to those conflicts. I was struck by the adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” and the tragic effects on the lives of ordinary people.
The story’s title, “Illyria, My Love” was inspired by Hiroshima, Mon Amour, an hallucinogenic 1959 film directed by Alain Resnais that flips through (and mixes up) two characters’ pasts, presents, and futures. Interesting, though at times very slow-going.
Regarding print fiction, “Illyria, My Love” is in the vein of Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow and the classic story by Fritz Leiber, “The Man Who Never Grew Young”. Both of those stories are told from the viewpoint of a man.
I wanted a woman’s viewpoint, so this is one woman’s tragedy, told through the ironic lens of backwards-in-time.
Please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. Friends, readers, and fans, help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m also offering a critique of your writing sample per submission.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

CHROME.MED.295.KB

CHROME
Lisa Mason
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
March, 2020 Excerpt
8
Snatch Job
Creepin’ cryptids, Kinyonga hates hot bloods. Especially young hot bloods with their stink of fur and sweat and mating hormones. Especially young rodents, the humblest Blend of the hot-blood humble.
Let’s face it, ol’ Jimi the One and Only hates kids. He is a walking no-kid zone and not just baby goats, which is what “kid” means, if you want to get technical. He hates Chrome kiddies of every Blend, including baby chameleons.
So they’re cute. So what. Baby leopard Blends are cute. Baby boa constrictor Blends are adorable. Baby scorpion Blends are the darlingest things. Until they grow up big enough and mean enough and poisonous enough to rip out your throat, strangle you, or sting you to death.
Now that is a fitting meditation for Blend Day. Day of grief. Day of despair. Chrome wouldn’t have baby leopard Blends, baby boa constrictor Blends, or baby scorpion Blends if it weren’t for the Tweakers and the Twitchers.
So what happened to the Emirk technicians of two-and-a-half centuries ago? The Tweakers or the Twitchers, as they’ve come contemptuously to be called in the Chromian lexicon. What became of them?
Kinyonga snickers. You can’t fool Mother Nature for very long.
Soon after Kinyonga’s human ancestors were modified with chameleon genes, an aerosol-borne Plague struck Chrome. A genetically mutated mix of bird flu and swine flu and a touch of fascist flu. The Plague killed every human being, every last Tweaker and Twitcher on the planetoid.
Only the Blends with their radically tampered chromosomes could resist the swift, virulent, and highly contagious affliction that started out with a sore throat and violent sneezing and, in a day or two, resulted in death by excruciatingly painful paroxysms.
So don’t fool with Mother Nature, the Blends often snicker.
Kinyonga smacks the rat girl across her pointy gray face. She snaps at him, sinking her teeth into his wrist, drawing blood. Dang, these Feralists and their freakin’ fangs. Why don’t they have the decency to file them like every other civilized Reformist?
The cabbie glances in the rearview mirror with his big bovine eyes. But he doesn’t open the Security Eye on his dashboard or tap his Tatt and wink the cops about a suspicious altercation in the backseat of his cab.
So, okay. A stand-up bull.
“Don’t worry about it, quarryman,” Kinyonga says to him, slugging the rat girl’s jaw hard. He shakes his wrist loose from her nasty little fangs. Considers stabbing her with a dart from his blowgun, knocking her the hell out. Then he decides against it. A waste of good poison. “There’s another twenty credits in it for you when you get us where we’re goin’ to and keep your snout shut.”
The Big Boss had advanced him a generous allowance of free-trade credits to grease paws and claws in this latest installment of the secret evil endeavor. That suits Kinyonga just fine. He should require such generosity in every client’s contract from now on. Free-trade credits are the best kind of currency. Untraceable, good for everything everywhere you go, and tax-free. Don’t leave home without them.
Naturally, he’d skimmed fifteen percent off the top for Number One. Plus he didn’t lease a hydrocar like the Big Boss had told him to, but hired the cab instead. Which saved him another bunch of credits for the better purpose of lining his own pockets. Maybe he’ll remember to thank the Big Boss for the working capital. Or maybe not. Jimi Kinyonga doesn’t do gratitude.
The rat girl flops on the car seat, stunned by his punch, a stain of blood on her thin gray lips. The cabbie continues to stare in the rearview, his hand edging toward the Security Eye.
Perhaps an explanation is in order. Kinyonga sighs, an appropriately heartfelt long-suffering sigh. “She’s, like, my step-niece, three times removed. Messy, messy bond-mate breakup, y’know? Her dad kidnapped her after using up his visiting days. I’m just returning her to her ever-lovin’ mommy. Rats, they are the best when it comes to family. Love them rat kiddies to death. Watch the freakin’ road, okay?”
“Try your step-niece forty times removed,” the cabbie lows gloomily but obediently returns his eyes to the hectic traffic.
Every vehicle on Chrome uses polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, the blue and pink canisters of oxygen and hydrogen gases bubbling merrily on hood or boot. But there all similarity among the vehicles ceases and the Blend of the driver often shapes the vehicle’s style.
A utility vehicle the size of a canary’s country cottage lumbers by, the flap-eared elephant driver plowing through traffic without a glance left or right. Dim-witted or oblivious? Both and then some, in Kinyonga’s astute psychological analysis.
A lean, muscular sports car helmed by a lean, muscular jaguar slinks swiftly amid knots of stalled beetle cars. Chunky flatbed trucks driven by rams or impalas bully their way through the gridlock. Bang! Two trucks trade fenders, and the burly drivers climb out, antlers curving from their foreheads. They push up denim shirtsleeves over buff biceps, spoiling for a fight.
The pastel avian cars are the most ridiculous, in Kinyonga’s aesthetic opinion, with their winged front fenders, fancy feathered tails on the back. Some birdbrain of a driver glides her gorgeous hot-pink Falcon sedan through the traffic in erratic swoops, suddenly switches course, and, amid squealing brakes, honking horns, and angry curses, flutters off in the opposite direction.
High above the herds and swarms on the streets swoop sleek silver flivvers. These are the exclusive transportation of visiting Emirk executives and the elite Chromian Blends who staff the Emirk Intelligence Agency. Emirk Corporation leases its used flivvers to the Chrome City police. By Emirk regulations, the Chromian police are only permitted to use the worn and dingy second-hand flycraft, and only for high-alert emergencies.
How can Emirk justify its control of Chromian skies, ol’ Jimi wants to know? Because Emirk claims exclusive legal ownership of the airspace over Chrome. Emirk claims exclusive legal ownership of everything on Chrome. Who can challenge that?
We Chromians can. Kinyonga snorts in disgust at the arrogant insectile flivver droning in the sky above him. Emblazoned on wing and tail, the Emirk corporate mark, the stylized blood-blue “E” inside a silver square.
“One of these days,” he mutters, the scarlet and turquoise patterns swirling up and down his arms in the heat of his anger, “one of these days, we Blends will ride in the sky, too. Our sky.”
But his Chromian revolutionary sentiment doesn’t jive with the task at hand. He gets down to it.
The rat girl, recovering from his punch, lurches up squealing. Wiggling her pink fingers behind her back. Kinyonga whips her around, winds more duct tape around her wrists so she can’t tap her yellow Tatt and wink for help. Dang, these kids. Have they no respect for their elders? She’s sobbing and squeaking. Far more trouble than he thought she’d be when he’d spotted her on the trash-strewn street of Mysburgh.
Two uniformed dog cops on hydrocycles cruise by, lane-splitting amid the traffic. They slow down, glance inside the cab the way dog Blends do. Not keenly curious like a feline, but looking around. Snuffling around, picking up scents. One cop has the long, narrow snout of a German shepherd, the other flat-faced and pug-nosed like one of them Oriental breeds. Pekinese? Lhasa apso? Kinyonga can never keep straight all the breeds of domestic dog Blends on Chrome. Like he should know about some person with a tongue hanging out of his mouth.
Kinyonga shoves the rat girl face down on the car seat, sits on top of her. Summons up the image of someone respectable who typically would be riding in a commercial cab. Camouflage, baby. He camouflages himself as a young corporate executive. A spaniel in a smart three-piece business suit, button-down shirt, and necktie. The chunk of a faux-gold watch on his wrist. His hand resting not on the rat girl’s neck, but on a shiny black faux-leather briefcase. He spreads his jaws, smiles pleasantly.
The dog cops nod and speed away.
He hisses with relief and reassumes his chameleon identity. That was a serious stretch of his transformative talents, camouflaging himself out of whole cloth. Out of a stereotype, without an actual surrounding background for him to feed off the images. Camouflaging out of his emotional need of the moment.
That’s the only time when his unruly chameleon emotions work in his favor.
Awesome, Number One, he congratulates himself.
The rat girl lies quietly beneath him, subdued. He doesn’t want to suffocate her. He’s supposed to deliver her, like, alive. He slides off her, and she starts squeaking and flailing around again.
His brilliant mercurial mind hits upon a solution. “Muzzle up and sit still,” he commands her in an adult voice. “No one is going to hurt you, honey.”
That settles her down. If only everyone was so easy to lie to.
The bull cabbie pulls out of the stream of traffic on Broadway, speeds onto an off-ramp leading to Outer Chrome Road. The highway stretches before them, a bleak ribbon of concrete taking them far away from the hustle-bustle of Chrome City. Far away from the littered streets of Mysburgh, from Rodentia Valley. Far away from everything civilized on Chrome.
It’s good to head away from the City. Too many cops. Too many diurnals with their prying eyes. But Kinyonga frowns, not relishing where they’re going. He leans back in the seat, mulls the job over.
Who witnessed this latest sorry caper? No one, that’s who. Almost no one. There’s the cabbie. Kinyonga may have to take him out later, as in a snuff job. But maybe killing him won’t be required? Kinyonga considers the question. The cabbie and his sponsor will want to do more business, lucrative business, with a cut-throat mercenary like Jimi Kinyonga. The cabbie will keep his snout shut, if he knows what’s good for him.
Everyone wants to do more business on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
Then there was the little turtle he spotted camping out on the sidewalk. In Mysburgh, of all places for a reptile to be. That made no sense. Which arouses his suspicions. He took note of the black-and-gold design on her carapace. Pretty, pretty. Unusual, too, from what he’s seen of turtles and tortoises, who live on the east side of Cretaceous Way. The turtles and tortoises he’s seen mostly have unremarkable carapaces of drab olive. She—he knew she was a she on account of the frilly dress—seemed to be asleep.
But maybe not. The turtle could have been watching him from inside her carapace. Number One does not discount the watchful reptilian eye of a Blend who set herself down where she did not belong.
They watch. They listen. They spy.
And no one knows they’re spying, huddled up inside their carapaces. He’s heard strange tales about turtle Blends. Tortoises, too.
She could have witnessed the kidnapping. Could have seen him, with his own distinctive markings. Could have seen the cab with that tacky billboard on the roof.
She could have seen everything.
This information isn’t something he will share with the Big Boss anytime soon. This information is Kinyonga’s very own personal business. He may have to take out the turtle, too, as in eliminating her. But later. Later.
The bull cabbie speeds down Outer Chrome Road, navigating the cab toward the district where the Big Boss has instructed Kinyonga to take the snatch job. It’s a long drive, but the streets will be emptier. Everything is emptier in that forsaken place.
After this gets done, he’s off to the second part of the job. A much tougher assignment than the snatch job. He’s not looking forward to it. Hades.
“Step on it,” Jimi Kinyonga hisses. Then clamps his jaws shut. Dang, he hates having to small-talk with a cabbie.
9
Naja de Capello
Do not taste the air. He resists the ancient urge, applying all his will. All the years of his schooling, his self-discipline. He clasps his shapely cold hands beneath the table. Clasps them so tightly, his knuckles ache. He blinks his eyes against the overly bright lights in the conference room on the sixth floor of the Capitol Building. Concentrates on the voices around him. Yapping, growling, hissing. Lilting.
Facilis est descensus. The descent to hell is easy.
Do not taste the air. Do not.
A human being—an Earthian, a pure Earthian—presides at the head of the conference table, the ebony tabletop so polished it shines like a long, black mirror. The lilting voice belongs to her. In the course of two centuries dealing with the Plague, Emirk Corporation has vastly improved the safesuits. This latest visiting corporate executive sits comfortably inside a transparent bubble surrounding her entire body. Her oxygen supply and waste products units are tucked in a sculptural nodule below the base of her spine.
The safesuit amply reveals her perfect human face. Her eyes as blue as jewels. The crisp curls of her peach-colored hair. Her perfect womanly figure, a figure fashionably clad in a business suit the color of Emirk blood-blue. The Emirk corporate mark—the stylized blood-blue “E” inside a silver square—decorates her lapel, the earrings on the lobes of her tiny pale ears, a ring on the finger of her right hand. The ring on her left hand is a gold-and-diamond wedding band.
Her six human bodyguards, in safesuits and blood-blue uniforms, form a phalanx around her, gripping the latest deadly make of handheld assault weapons from Earth.
Two dozen Chromian bodyguards stand watchfully around the human entourage, gripping less powerful, less modern guns. But they’ve got guns, too. Also serious assault weapons. The Chromian bodyguards wear blood-blue uniforms, the Emirk corporate mark on their lapels. “Emirk Intelligence Agency” flashes across the backs of their jackets. With their perfectly filed teeth, smooth waxed faces, and no trace of a tail, you might almost mistake them for human beings.
Except for one thing: they don’t wear safesuits. That’s the tip-off. They don’t fear the Chromian air, the Chromian water, the Chromian food. Why should they? No matter what cosmetics they’ve applied or surgeries they’ve endured, they are Blends. Extreme Reformist Blends, to be sure. But native Chromians immune to the lingering Plague.
Naja de Capello happens to know these particular bodyguards are Doberman pinschers. In spite of the filing and waxing and cosmetic surgery, there is no concealing the lean ferocity of their ancestral beast. Not from his eyes.
De Capello doesn’t often see any kind of weapon carried openly by Blends on Chrome. Since Liberation Day, weaponry on Chrome has been declared illegal by Emirk Corporation, except for the imported guns worn by the elite E.I.A. officers. Worn, too, by Special Forces officers patrolling high security areas—the Emirk space shuttle launchpad in the Airfield District, the Emirk headquarters in downtown Chrome City where the visiting executives must sequester themselves when they’re not presiding over meetings like this.
As a Chromian government official, of course De Capello carries an illegal concealed handgun. An antique Walther PPK with eight rounds, which he bought for an exorbitant sum on the black market. The rounds he parcels out judiciously. Blackmarket bullets are difficult to come by and expensive. He sniffs, indignant. As a high-ranking official in the Bureau of Human Affairs, he ought to be able to carry a weapon legally. He’s exposed to Feralists every day.
These days, criminals and crazies get their weapons, all kinds of weapons, on the black market. Chromian politicians, too.
Do not taste the air. Do not.
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MysteryCoverSmall

Every Mystery Unexplained
Lisa Mason
1
“As long as the human mind delights in mysteries, so it will love magic and magicians. I would say to all beginners, ‘Keep three things in mind:
First–Practice constantly new sleights, novel devices, and invent new combinations of old feats. You must always have something new wherewith to dazzle.
Second–Make your work artistic by clothing each illusion with all the glamour and shadows of fairyland and the suggestions of incantations and supernatural powers in order to prepare the observer’s mind for a mystery.
Third–Leave every mystery unexplained.'”
–Harry Kellar, “The Greatest Magician in the World,” 1887
My father is done with the doves and colored scarves by the time he gets to the spirit show. “And now, ladies and gentlemen,” Uncle Brady announces, his voice as sonorous as a Shakespearean ghost, “Professor Flint will endeavor through his astonishing, miraculous, and mysterious psychic powers to establish communication with the Spirits of the Dead!”
“Endeavor to establish communication with the Dead,” I whisper to Mr. Pannini, the booking agent for the Tivoli Theater, as we watch from the wings. “A pity he seldom endeavors to establish communication with me.
The audience shifts and titters, restless in the early evening, which is awfully cold and gloomy even for fog-haunted San Francisco. Gaslights flicker, leaking fumes into the chill, damp air. A smell of mold clings to the dark velvet curtains, a sepulchral odor that leaves me uneasy.
“The old man is a boiled shirt, is he?” Pannini says with a grin. He is a dapper, clove-scented, well-oiled dandy in fancy gabardine and a velvet bowler, a massive mustache curling over his lip. Some ten years my senior, I suppose, with the air of the rake about him. My father dislikes him intensely. “Nothing a young gentleman like yourself cannot handle, I’ll wager.”
“I endure,” I say, “the dutiful son.” I like Pannini. He slips me a Mecca cigarette. I light up, quick and guilty. My father has forbidden me to smoke.
My father has forbidden me to grow a mustache till I reach the age of one-and-twenty, which has been a source of more contention between us than cigarettes, since extravagant mustaches are all the rage for gentlemen in our year of 1895. A requirement of fashion that occupies many of my thoughts despite other concerns, such as the bank panic, massive unemployment, and civil unrest throughout our great nation of America. What lady will consider me without a mustache? I chafe at each passing day of these next nine months, shave the scant fuzz from my lip–dutiful son–and speculate pessimistically on what poor bristles may be produced when Pop’s injunction has expired.
“And what will you do, Professor Flint,” Uncle Brady is inquiring onstage, “if you should encounter the Grim Reaper Himself?”
“I shall challenge Him to a duel!” my father replies.
“A duel?” Uncle Brady says, inviting the audience to marvel with him.
“A duel to the death!” my father declares.
Onstage, my father arduously prepares himself to establish communication with the Spirits of the Dead. Of Pop’s many talents, this is one of his best, the dramatic preparation for impending dire difficulty. Uncle Brady assists him, yanking off Pop’s cutaway coat, ceremoniously withdrawing the dueling sword from the trunk. My father effects much rolling of eyes, rolling up of sleeves, girding of loins. He kneads his forehead, unleashing psychic powers.
A pity he had not prepared so well for my mother’s death.
Someone snores in the audience with an exaggerated gargle. A heckler? A pack of hoodlums in scruffy top hats tip rotgut in the back row. There has been an air of uncertainty, of desperation, since we arrived in San Francisco. No one in the far West honors paper money. You must pay in gold or silver coin. Only half the seats in the Tivoli are filled tonight.
“He ain’t Houdini,” Pannini says, not unkindly. “With a switcheroo act.”
No, Pop is not that dare devilish young rascal, the dexterous Harry Houdini. No one can top Houdini who, with his wild antics, has spoiled audiences from St. Pete’s to Nome. Everyone is clamoring to see “Metamorphosis,” during which the monsieur and the mademoiselle, each bound at wrist and ankle, exchange places in the box in three seconds flat.
“No, but I know how Houdini pulls off ‘Metamorphosis,'” I say. “I know exactly how he does it. The box trick has been around for a hundred years.”
“The box trick?” Pannini raises his eyebrows.
Over the years, the box trick has been vastly improved, ingeniously improvised, and presented again and again, fresh as the morning dew. But I bite my tongue. I cannot reveal how Houdini’s “Metamorphosis” is pulled off, not even if I wanted to.
“You know all about the box trick, do you?” Pannini prompts, intrigued by my hesitation.
“Sorry,” I say. “We magicians have a code of secrecy. We’ve all sworn not to reveal how an illusion is accomplished. Even if we’re not the ones performing it. Especially then.”
“Ah, a code of secrecy,” Pannini says with a shrug. “Well, don’t look so glum, Danny. It’s a fair crowd for the Tivoli. For a magic act.”
Now I shrug, and draw deeply on the Mecca.
“The old man has got to get himself a pretty heifer onstage,” Pannini says. “That’ll draw ’em in.”
“Oh, we had a beautiful lady in the act.”
“Did you?” Pannini says, suddenly animated. “Well, trot her out, sir.”
“She died,” I say. “Last spring.”
I fling the Mecca to the floor, stamp it out. My father will raise Cain when he smells tobacco on my breath.
“Sorry,” Pannini says.
When I look again, he’s vanished.
As it is, my father has got a good act. Not a great act, perhaps, not a spectacular act like Harry Houdini’s, but a very good act. He’s worked on this act, in its various permutations, for all the twenty years I have walked upon the earth and before then, too, according to Uncle Brady. My father is no dare devilish robust rascal, but a well weathered man, lean of flesh and spare of hair, whom some people mistake for my grandfather. Yet Pop has not lost his touch, in my opinion. In my opinion–and as his only son and heir apparent, I’m entitled to my opinion–it’s a lousy crowd for the astonishing, the miraculous, the mysterious Professor Flint.
Then again, nothing seems right since my mother died.
Now my father takes up the sword, commences feints and thrusts. In the sulfuric glare of the limelights, I can see sweat pooling over the starched wing collar that throttles his throat, soaking through his threadbare brocade vest like a bloodstain. I used to worry about Pop’s health. He always was a scrawny bird, and scrofula and consumption ran in his family. Sometimes it seemed to me that the exertions of the stage, not to mention the financial uncertainties of magic, would do him in.
I don’t worry so much about Pop anymore. He turned out to be the strong one. Which only goes to show you. You never can tell from the look of things what the truth is or what, an illusion.
With a swift, decisive jab, my father thrusts the sword–back into its scabbard. That’s right. This preliminary action sequence is intended to arouse any flagging interest among gentlemen in the audience. Gentlemen are by nature discontent and easily bored, not to mention skeptical. Sure enough, one of the hoodlums in the back row shouts, “Bloody well get on with it, man!”
But my father never concedes to a quick, cheap thrill. No, there are ladies and children in the audience–usually there are, anyway, though such tender persons appear to be singularly lacking at the Tivoli tonight. Ladies and children of sensitive sensibilities may become alarmed by Professor Flint’s aggressive antics. They may pause, they may press gentle pale fingertips to their pale throats, they may wonder if the next mystery will be too much for them to bear.
It is for this portion of the audience that my father sheaths the sword. A portion deserving, as my mother used to say, of a performer’s special courtesy. A portion endowed themselves with the power of trembling lips, of fluttering eyelashes, of little cries of joy or alarm, of those gentle pale fingertips just as she, my mother, was so amply endowed.
It is for them that my father now trots out the dancing handkerchief.
“But first, ladies and gentlemen,” he announces, “before I challenge the Grim Reaper to a duel to the death, I shall endeavor to prove that the power of Life goes beyond Death. Beyond the grave itself!”
To be honest, I personally think the dancing handkerchief is the silliest of illusions.
I’m always astonished at how much the ladies and the children and the gentlemen love it.
Need I say that all of the Tivoli’s stagehands, Mr. Pannini, and anyone and everyone not privy to our techniques, have been banished from backstage. Need I say that Uncle Brady and I sprint like souls possessed to our respective positions at each wing abutting the stage. Need I hint that the dancing handkerchief illusion works much like a marionette. Need I add that we gleefully seize the wonderfully simple and devilishly clever devices. For they are devices. There is no person on earth once clearly shown who would ever mistake the technical application of wrist and wire for the appearance of something supernatural.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Pop is saying, “I will endeavor to demonstrate the miraculous Power of Life utilizing the most ordinary of personal accoutrements.”
My father has got one of those masterful voices and the ability to project his ironic personality out into a crowd. Yet I worry how well he will project his personality tonight, for the air feels thick in the Tivoli Theater. I feel a chill sweep through the room, like a draft from a back door left carelessly ajar.
“Does anyone,” Pop says, “have a handkerchief? Of purest white silk, if you please?”
In this surly crowd, reeking of cheap whiskey and unwashed clothes, I fear no person in attendance is genteel enough to possess the requested accoutrement. The chill deepens, and a cloud of bay fog drifts in. Clear across the stage I can see Uncle Brady twist his head around, glancing behind himself, at me, out there. He’s working up a fury for the stagehands. Some rotter has left a door open, taking petty revenge, perhaps, for his banishment from backstage.
One of the very few ladies in the audience stands, works her way to the aisle, and approaches the stage. I heave a sigh of relief. Across the stage, Uncle Brady pantomimes wiping his brow. What a lady she is, too, tall and slim, in a ruffled burgundy dress. Her coiffure tilts above her forehead at a saucy angle, a curl coiled on the high curve of her cheek. She smiles at my father, who bows graciously, and glances around at her neighbors, seeking their approval of her boldness. Her dark eyes light upon me, as I peer out from the wing. I can smell her perfume, a rich musk of red roses. She holds forth a white silk handkerchief in her elegant fingers.
Da,” she says in a purring contralto, “I have handkerchief.”
And then she winks at me.
Oh, Lord. I duck out of sight. Pop will have my hide if he should notice that someone in the audience has spied me skulking about in the wings. He proceeds apace with the illusion, however, deftly knotting one corner of the lady’s handkerchief. When he’s done, the handkerchief looks just like a little ghost, with a pert peaked head and a drooping shroud. He tosses the handkerchief on the stage, casually leaning over to rearrange the silk and attach the fabric to the—ah, never mind.
It’s a mystery unexplained.
Much like a marionette, as I’ve said. That’s all you need to know.
“Thus I shall prove, ladies and gentlemen,” my father says, “that within each small thing, even a mere handkerchief from this beautiful lady, the Spirit of Life can come alive.
And off we go, Uncle Brady and me at opposite ends of the stage, making that little ghost come alive.
First, the handkerchief raises its head, struggling to become animated, then (pardon me) gives up the ghost, and falls slack again. My father coaxes it, by turns tender, then stern, and the handkerchief rises, rises, growing more vigorous by the moment, finally standing upright and positively lively. The ghost leaps into Pop’s hands, leaps down again, and capers across the stage like a maniac. Pop gives chase, captures it. It swiftly escapes, and he gives chase again. At last he seizes the handkerchief and hands it to the lady, still bobbing and wiggling like a hooked fish. She cries out. Pop takes the wiggler back, unties the knot, and, with a murmured apology, releases a lifeless handkerchief.
The lady beams and displays her erstwhile ghost. Everyone in the front rows leans forward, entranced, applauding wildly.
Like I said, they always love the dancing handkerchief.
“Thank you, madam,” Pop says. “What is your name, please?”
“I am Zena Troubetzskoy.”
“Bloody well get on with it, man!” the hoodlum in the back row yells again. His pals guffaw.
“Madame Troubetzskoy, I am charmed,” my father says, ignoring the hecklers, and takes her handkerchief yet again and produces from it a fresh red rose. He regards the rose as if it is a wondrous treasure and hands silk and bloom to her.
Zena stares, openmouthed. As I peer from the wing again, I see a flush infuse her cheeks, staining her face as if with a sudden fever. “Can you really communicate with the Other Side, Professor Flint?” she asks.
“I certainly can,” Pop says.
Liar, I think. The enmity between stage magicians and spiritualist mediums revolves around this very point–what we each claim we can do. No one has actually established communication with the Spirits of the Dead. No one has proven that the soul survives. Yet spiritualist mediums deceive people with cruelties–and with illusions any stage magician can readily replicate. Maskelyne, the Royal Illusionist, exposed the Davenport brothers’ spirit cabinet as nothing more than the good old box trick. Anderson, the Great Wizard of the North, produced better table-tipping and spirit raps than the Fox sisters, who have bilked many a silver dollar from the bereaved.
If my father really could establish communication with the Other Side, don’t you think he would have contacted my mother?
But what else is my father supposed to say? No, not really? He cannot say that, not in front of an audience in a theater. A magician must never reveal the secrets of his illusions, must never explain the mystery though there is no mystery. That is our code of secrecy.
Still, I am uneasy with Pop’s charade, his disingenuous answer. Is he any better than a deceitful spiritualist medium?
If Zena Troubetzskoy is perturbed by my father’s lie, however, she gives no sign. “How marvelous,” she says and returns to the darkness beyond the limelights.
Now our rented orchestra strikes up a sprightly tune. Uncle Brady rushes onstage to assist Pop, while I pull the ghost getup over myself, head to toe, and sprint to my appointed place before the pane of plate glass. The pane, which the audience cannot see, is situated just so, in relation to the activities onstage and the activities offstage, and to a strategically placed spotlight. When light and darkness are arranged precisely right, when the physics of reflection and refraction are manipulated correctly, you will see an apparition appear out of nowhere onstage with Professor Flint. You will see the apparition joust with him in a death-defying duel. You will see him pierce the apparition clear through with his sword. At which point, you will see the apparition perish amid much pathos, and disappear before your very eyes.
All right, the ghost duel is not actually so death-defying. Not like the real stunts of that dare devilish Houdini, who trusses himself up like an animal bound for slaughter and swallows needles. Nor is the ghost duel original to my father. Professor J. H. Pepper pioneered the illusion, and many others have presented it in various permutations such as “The Blue Room” or “The Room of Mortality,” in which a skeleton in a coffin transforms itself into a young woman, then withers again into bare bones. Still, I think the ghost duel is the high point of Professor Flint’s act.
I never tired of watching this illusion back in the days when my mother played the ghost. When I was a kid, I used to love it. Uncle Brady would intone his Grand Invocation of the Spirits of the Dead, and the ghost would appear–just like that!–floating over the stage. And you could feel how the audience began to believe. Ladies would weep, and children cry out. Some gentlemen would toot their noses, while others would gasp, with fear or shock or the wonder of it all. One time in Cheyenne someone called out, “Praise the Lord!” and someone else answered, “Amen!”
What a ghost my mother played! Pop would fling down a leather glove in challenge, whip his sword from its scabbard. The apparition would fling down its own white silk glove, defiantly produce its own weapon. And off they would go, leaping and sparring. My mother was so charming and spritely and graceful that the ladies would stop their weeping, the children would laugh, the gentlemen would stop tooting in their handkerchiefs. These hardy people of our young American nation, who faced death daily by consumption or childbirth or fever, they would gaze at that graceful ghost and they would smile. I could see joy stealing into their hearts, and it was magic.
I am not nearly as charming a ghost as my mother once was, but I can spar, I can feint, and the duel has got this audience warmed up at last. From the location offstage where I accomplish my part of the illusion, I can hear the cheers and exclamations of encouragement. Pop pierces me through the heart, I perish and vanish, and it’s over. I fling off the ghost getup, and dash up onstage. The audience stands and applauds. Mr. Pannini gives me the thumbs-up.
I can see the relief on my father’s face. Pop is the sort of man who makes a meticulous accounting of each triumph and especially of each failure, however small. The failures disturb him far more than the triumphs ever give him satisfaction. Uncle Brady beams and bows, but he gives a little shake of his head, a sort of cringe to his shoulder, and I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking nothing has seemed right since the accident took my mother’s life last spring.
The woman in the burgundy dress rushes up to the stage, clapping furiously, the red rose tucked behind her ear. Zena Troubetzskoy says, “How marvelous! Oh! How marvelous!”
2
First light of the dawn, and I smell wood smoke and the bitter, bracing scent of coffee. The flicker of a fire pries my eyelids open. Uncle Brady is already up, bending over our campfire, brewing coffee in a dented tin pot. I have spent the night out of doors, in the fog and the gloom, and I am aching all over, I am shivering, and my mouth tastes of stale cigarette smoke.
“Rise and shine, Danny,” Uncle Brady says. “You look like Pepper’s ghost warmed over, son.”
I do not doubt it. We have been on the road for a long time. I’m accustomed to sleeping on the ground or in the back of our wagon, accustomed to roots and rocks and rough boards assaulting my spine. But that doesn’t mean I no longer feel pain. Years ago, my father invested in a Henderson freight wagon with a canvas top. The thing is enormous, a regular cabin on wheels, built for durability, not comfort or speed. We require a team of four sturdy draft horses to pull it. Most of the customized interior is devoted to the transport of our equipment. I know well the narrow confines of my bunk, the sweltering heat or the numbing cold, the lack of a moment alone–but that doesn’t mean I relish each nightly ordeal any more than when Pop first started us out.
For months I’ve yearned for this engagement in San Francisco. For months I’ve hoped our stay would bring me some relief. There are magnificent hotels in San Francisco, hotels as fine as the best in New York City or Paris. What I would give for just one night at the Palace or Lucky Baldwin’s. For a stuffed mattress, a down pillow, a blazing fireplace, and a hot bath. For a cup of coffee brewed by one of the hotel chefs whose culinary reputations are repeated among vagabonds like us in the reverent tones reserved for legends and miracles.
But though it’s likely Pop could afford just one night at a magnificent hotel, though Pop suffers from arthritis in his hips and surely yearns for a hot bath and a soft mattress more than I do, the magnificent hotels will not permit Uncle Brady to stay in a suite with my father and me.
Which is a mystery to me.
For Uncle Brady is as deft with my father’s craft as any of our finest illusionists. He assists my father with our books of account and the management of our tour as shrewdly as any Harvard-schooled mercantilist. He is my dearest friend, and he was my mother’s faithful companion in the years before she and my father married.
But Uncle Brady’s complexion is the same rich brown color of the coffee he’s brewing. The magnificent hotels will insist that Uncle Brady stay in the servants’ quarters, and that is unacceptable to my father. When it comes to Uncle Brady, Pop has never tolerated anything but treatment equal to the hospitalities offered himself or me. He may be a boiled shirt, but my father has insisted upon this policy ever since he met Uncle Brady and my mother. And that was at the end of their journey from Georgia, in the terrible year before I was born.
So we’ve camped out for the night in the weedy field at Fourth Street and Mission, side-by-side with the medicine shows and quack peddlers and dime museums. The field is a carnival by day and a shindig by night, hosted by some of the most disreputable scoundrels in the far West. I have spent the dawn hours sitting up against a wheel of our wagon, wrapped in a reeking, buffalo-skin blanket, a derringer in one hand, and a large brass bell in the other. My father does not actually expect me to kill or even fend off a would-be horse thief. If our horses are accosted, I am to shoot into the air and ring the bell like mad, and Pop and Uncle Brady will make their appearances with our revolver and our shotgun. Instead vigilance, however, I fell into a poor facsimile of sleep, my slumber tormented by a dream of the gypsies we encountered in Cheyenne last spring. I dreamed of Leilani, taunting me.
My father extracts himself from our wagon with all the brittle dignity of a nobleman come to survey his hinterlands. Does he say good morning as I am painfully rousing myself? Does he inquire about my comfort or well-being or the restfulness of my slumber?
“You smoked a cigarette last night, Daniel,” is the first thing my father says to me. He seizes the mug Uncle Brady offers him and tosses scalding coffee down his throat. He does not wince or grumble at the taste or heat.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” I mumble.
“When you turn twenty-one, you may do as you please, sir,” he says in a tone that leads me to suspect I will have little more freedom then than I do at twenty. “You may give over your health to wrack and ruin. You may cast away all I have taught you, cast away your livelihood, cast your very soul to the Devil. But till then, sir, till then, as long as you are in my company, you will abide by the rules.”
“Professor,” Uncle Brady says before I can summon up another disrespectful retort. “May we please discuss the state of our affairs?”
I collect my own mug of grit, crouch by the fire, and brace myself for the bad news.
“We’re broke,” Uncle Brady says. “Nearly broke.”
“I thought we cleared ten thousand dollars in Tacoma,” Pop says.
“An agent from Tacoma showed up yesterday afternoon,” Uncle Brady says.
“I saw no agent,” Pop says.
“I try not to worry you, Professor, before a performance,” Uncle Brady says. “He said the theater wasn’t insured. The fire cleaned them out.”
“It wasn’t our fault!” I say, though I know that’s not strictly true. Pop keeps kegs of methylated spirits for fireworks effects. A cigarette discarded by some careless stranger sent everything up in flames, including a good deal of our equipment. Worst of all, the accursed pane of plate glass, which we cart about in the wagon swaddled up like a newborn babe, was ruined. Uncle Brady had to wire ahead to San Francisco for a new pane, which we employed to such good effect last night.
My father is impassive. “You reimbursed him?”
“Of course,” Uncle Brady says. “We must do that if we’re ever to play Tacoma again. Then there’s the new glass, and the extra charge for an expedited order. There’s all the equipment that has to be replaced.” He pulls a list from his vest pocket, fits spectacles onto his nose. “The magic portfolio. The vanishing birdcage. The enchanted demon’s head.”
“Not the enchanted demon’s head!” I say.
Uncle Brady shoots me an exasperated look over the top of his spectacles. “The flip-over boxes and the feathered bouquets. Then there’s the costumes. I was only able to salvage three or four of them.”
My father grunts, I groan, and my stomach emits a sound resembling the utterances of a rabid dog. I’ve not eaten a thing since yesterday noon, and that was a meal of pemmican washed down with hard well water. The water had a smell to it that much reminded me of a cesspool. Traitorous thoughts fill my head. Perhaps I could secure employment as a waiter at one of the famous restaurants of San Francisco. At Coppa’s, say, or the Tadich Grill. At least then I could get something decent to eat and drink.
My father only says, “I’m grateful our suppliers have been so prompt, trustworthy, and courteous. We could not have gone on with the show without them.”
“Nevertheless,” Uncle Brady says, “we’re broke. Nearly broke. I’ve got a bill here for fifty dollars.” He wets his thumb and leafs through a stack of invoices. “It’s forty days overdue, Professor. We’ll get no more credit from the Chicago Magic Company if we don’t pay it at once.”
“Pop,” I say, “I’m hungry.”
“Go feed the horses,” my father says, unmoved. To Uncle Brady, “Pay it. And the take from last night?”
“The theater was half-full,” Uncle Brady says. “At this rate, our engagement here won’t cover our traveling expenses from Tacoma.”
Our engagement here is to last three weeks. “Oh, that’s splendid.” I pull myself to my feet. “You may both go and starve and good luck to you. As for me, I’m tired of magic. I’m not cut out to be a magician, anyway. I shall seek my own fortune in San Francisco.” I strike a defiant pose. “I shall go wait tables.”
“Perhaps the boy should go find some day work, Professor,” Uncle Brady says. “We’ll have to rehearse without him.”
“If you’re through with your coffee, Daniel,” my father says, ignoring the both of us, “go feed the horses like I told you.”
“May I remind you, Uncle Brady, I’m a person of twenty years, not a boy.” And to my father, “I will take no more orders from you, sir. I will abide by no more of your rules.”
“Comport yourself like a person of twenty years and attend to your animals, sir,” my father says. “They cannot feed themselves, whereas you can.”
“This squabbling won’t pay the bills,” Uncle Brady says.
“The bills,” I say. “Always the bills. You can take the bills and go–”
“I beg your pardon, gentlemen,” says a purring contralto. “Forgive me for interrupting your breakfast.”
We all turn, mouths gaping. Zena Troubetzskoy strolls up our campfire, smiling serenely. She is composed and fresh in her burgundy dress, the red rose tucked behind her ear. When I meet her gaze, she gives me that wink of hers.
“What breakfast,” I mutter but my anger vanishes like magic before her flirtatious wink. She is no girl of my age, but a woman older by a handful of years, and my pulse quickens in her presence.
My father casts a look at me that could choke a horse. He stands and bows, ever gracious. “Good morning, Madame Troubetzskoy.”
“You remember me, sir?”
“But of course. What on earth brings you to this unwholesome campground, madam?” He flips his hand at me; go get her a stool to sit on. I hop to it, retrieving one from the back of our wagon.
She sits, warming her hands over the campfire. “Professor Flint,” she says, “last night you said you can communicate with the Souls of the Other Side. Didn’t you?”
Uncle Brady and I trade glances. My father clears his throat. “So I did.”
“Then, Professor Flint, I must ask if you would attempt to communicate with my dear husband. There is something I urgently need to tell him. I cannot find peace till I do.”
My father takes her hand. “My dear Madame Troubetzskoy.”
“Please call me Zena.”
“Zena. I am a magician, Zena, a stage magician. Not a spiritualist medium.”
“Whatever you wish to call yourself is fine with me, Professor.”
“Zena.” My father kneels at her feet and lowers his voice. “We are not before an audience, so I must tell you something in the strictest confidence.”
“Yes?” Her eyes shine with anticipation.
“I’m a magician, as I’ve said. What I do, what we do–up there on the stage. It’s only an illusion.”
Her face darkens. “Oh, please, I implore you, Professor.”
“All an illusion, madam. It isn’t real.”
“But you told me you can communicate with the Other Side. You told me you have psychic powers. You told me.”
My father glances at Uncle Brady and me, and his mouth puckers up as if he has bitten a lemon. Pop does not consider anything he does in his act to be a lie. He never misrepresents himself. The audience knows it’s stage magic. The audience knows it’s an illusion. But this lovely woman in a burgundy dress has taken him at his word. And he does not want to confess that he lied, even if he did fudge a bit. He does not want to admit to false pretenses, however fleeting. He cannot bear to be exposed as a hypocrite like poor old Anderson, the great Wizard of the North, who so effortlessly discerned people’s intimate secrets onstage, but got so addled with drink that he often could not find his own way home.
“I said I endeavor to communicate with the Other Side,” my father scrupulously corrects her.
“Then endeavor for me,” she says. “Oh, please, won’t you try? You’ve got more psychic power than you know, Professor.”
Bosh,” my father says, but he glows with pleasure at her praise, nonetheless. Account for each triumph, however small; that’s Pop. I roll my eyes at Uncle Brady, but he shrugs and looks away.
“I shall pay you, of course.”
Whereupon she rummages in her burgundy satin purse and pulls out two gleaming gold coins.
Need I say our eyes bug out?
“Mercy,” Uncle Brady whispers. He helps himself to the coins in Zena’s outstretched palm, gives one to me. It turns out to be not a coin, at all, but a fat, irregular lozenge of pure gold, soft to the tooth and heavy in the hand, without the smell of inferior metals. The sort of unmarked token gamblers, robbers, and prospectors prefer to carry in the far West. Better than minted money because you can cash it in at any assay office or bank. Or you can trade such a token for goods or services at any respectable establishment or, for that matter, with any corsair or brigand. No questions asked. The piece I hold in my hand could be worth fifty dollars, or much more. Enough to pay the Chicago Magic Company in full, and then some.
My father clears his throat again. “Madame Zena,” he says, “would you like to sit at a séance? Is that what you would like to do?”
“Oh, yes, please!” she says.
On the one hand, I’m disgusted with my father for stepping over the ethical line drawn between stage magicians and spiritualist mediums. On the other hand, I’m proud of him for this small sacrifice of his integrity he’s willing to make for the sake of our show. For the sake of his family. I don’t really want to wait tables. I am Danny Flint, the eminent Professor Flint’s only son and heir apparent. I have been immersed in the wonder and the business of prestidigitation my whole life, starting when my father plucked me in my diapers out of a folding portfolio and told me to wave at the audience. One day he will pass the mantle of magic on to me.
Need I say that Uncle Brady and I dash to the wagon like souls on fire as my father serves Zena coffee and chats with her, commenting on the new day and the alarming direction of ladies’ fashions. Pop has made his decision. Uncle Brady and I trade grins. We are not displeased.
“This is going to be tricky, son,” Uncle Brady says. “We don’t know a thing about her.”
I hold up the gold piece. “We know this.
Make no mistake, spiritualist mediums who convince the gullible that they actually communicate with the Dead undertake plenty of research before they work their illusions. They make it their business to discover intimate details about those who come to sit at a séance. They possess the con artist’s knack of parlaying what they discover in the heat of the moment into more information, more confidence. Mediums employ the “Room of Mortality” illusion; they employ the good old box trick. Let no one ever be deceived about that.
We feverishly set up the tiny dining area at the back of our wagon, rearranging our shabby little table and four chairs. We position false walls gleaned from our backdrops. I’m feeling better and better about this turn of events. In truth, rigging up a parlor to produce a fake séance for an audience of one is absurdly simple for us. Excitement chases away the last dregs of my discontent. Gold. The lady has got gold.
“What else do we know about her?” Uncle Brady quizzes me. When my father is hard on me, Uncle Brady is forgiving. When my father is a boiled shirt, Uncle Brady is the soul of kindness. When my father imposes his rules and injunctions, Uncle Brady gently takes me by the hand and leads me down the paths of new knowledge. I respect my father. I love Uncle Brady. I have always called this distinguished, dark-skinned man Uncle Brady. So did my mother. For that matter, so has Professor Flint.
I grin, intrigued by his new game. “She was married.”
“And widowed,” Uncle Brady coaches me.
“She’s Russian,” I say. “Plenty of Russians in California, aren’t there?”
“Russians settled in this territory forty years ago,” Uncle Brady says. “A lot of them gold miners.”
“She wears some expensive perfume, a wonderful scent of red roses. Nice touch, Pop giving her that fresh rose. Where did he get it from, anyway? We haven’t paid a florist, have we?”
Uncle Brady shakes his head. “The mysterious Professor Flint has got a few tricks up his sleeve, I guess. Her dress is very pretty, but not quite in the height of fashion. I’d say she’s frugal.”
“I’d say she’s rich. Perhaps she owns a gold mine.” I rub my fingertips on the token. Let no one dissuade you that the sight of pure gold cannot send a lustful thrill through your very marrow.
“They’re coming.” Uncle Brady ducks behind the false walls, leaving me to brush bread crumbs from the table. I take Zena Troubetzskoy’s hand as she climbs into the wagon. My father climbs in after her, gallantly producing a red silk rose, a prop quite the worse for wear, kept in our inventory far too long.
“Oh, no thank you,” Zena murmurs, patting the bloom tucked behind her ear. The red rose, the real one, is dewy and fresh, as if it has just been plucked from the bush. “You need not try to amuse me with parlor tricks, Professor Flint. I want to speak with my husband.”
My father glances at me, and I see the frisson of panic in his eyes. He’s out of his depth, and he knows it. “Go get us a candle, Daniel.”
“Yes, Father.” I unobtrusively relieve Zena of her burgundy satin purse, excuse myself, and duck behind the false walls as my father continues to chat with her. Uncle Brady seizes the purse. We have no intention of relieving the lady of any more gold than she has freely relinquished. Instead, silently, carefully, we empty the purse, searching for information.
A lady’s purse typically contains a calling card, a monogrammed handkerchief, perhaps a ferrotype of the dearly departed. A pressed corsage would be superb, a letter even better, but I would settle for any sort of personal effect that would provide a clue as to who Zena Troubetzskoy is. Cosmetics, liver pills, a receipt from her dressmaker, the label on the purse itself. All I require are a few clues, which I will convey to my father through the simple method of coded. . . .never mind. Suffice it to say, we have methods of conveying information to each other which Zena could not possibly detect.
But there is nothing. Nothing but the purse itself–no label–and the plain white silk handkerchief she lent to my father last night. And gold. More gold tokens, quite a trove of them.
I slip back into our makeshift parlor, restore the purse to the lady, set candlestick and candle in the center of our table. I signal my father regarding the paucity of our findings. I sit. My father lights the candle and closes the canvas flap over the back of our wagon, plunging the parlor into darkness dimly lit by candlelight. We three join hands.
“I shall now endeavor to establish communication with the Souls of the Other Side,” my father says, cleverly borrowing her own words. He throws back his head and closes his eyes, hoping to unleash psychic powers. Uncle Brady sets to work behind the false walls, producing a fitful breeze that causes our candle flame to flicker convincingly.
Zena’s hand begins to tremble violently in mine. “Oh, Nickie,” she whispers under her breath.
Before my father can utter a word, I murmur, “Nickie?”
“Oh, yes!” Zena cries. “Nickie, is that you?”
“‘Tis I, my rose,” I say, unable to stop myself. “‘Tis Nickie.”
My father blinks at me, but he dare not scowl.
“I’m so sorry, Nickie,” Zena says. Tears burst from her eyes. “I never meant to leave you. I never meant to leave you in the mountains, the terrible mountains.”
“The terrible mountains,” I say.
“And here I am in my dress with a rose in my hair,” Zena says.
“You look beautiful as always,” I say.
“I never cared about the gold, not really. I just wanted to be near you. Yet I abandoned you, Nickie. I’m so very sorry.”
“I forgive you, Zena,” I say. “I know you did not mean to abandon me.”
“Do you, Nickie? Do you really?”
“Of course, my rose.”
“All I’ve wanted ever since is your forgiveness.”
“I forgive you, Zena,” I say. “Always and forever.”
She begins to sob in earnest, withdrawing her hands from mine and my father’s, and covering her face. My father blows out the candle, and stands, and throws back the canvas flap. Morning sunlight and fresh chilly air pour into our wagon. Zena finds her white silk handkerchief in her purse and dabs at her eyes. My father is impassive. I cannot read his face when he glances at me.
“Thank you,” she says to me, pressing my hand. Her touch is as cool and light as the brush of a bird’s wing. “Thank you so very much.”
“I am honored to assist you, madam.” I confess I am wildly pleased with myself, despite the lady’s distress. I read her like a book. Perhaps I am cut out to be a stage magician, after all.
“May I return tomorrow morning?” she says to my father. “There is so much more I want to say to my husband.”
“Oh, I think not, Madame Zena,” my father says sternly. “As I’ve said, we are not spiritualist mediums.”
“But do you see how talented your son is? Oh, he’s quite amazing! I knew he would be.”
“Yes, but this is not his calling or mine,” my father insists. Do I detect a small sour note of envy in his tone? Only a moment ago, he was the amazing Professor Flint. “We must rehearse. We are expecting an important shipment of new equipment, which must be unpacked and made ready. We must go on with the show, madam. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, please, Professor,” she says so plaintively that only a man with no heart at all could refuse her. She dips into her purse, pulls out another gold token. She tucks it into my hand, closes my fingers over it. Only a fool would refuse her.
My father is no fool. “Very well,” he says. “Tomorrow morning.” And off she goes, the hem of her dress rustling over the damp grass.
Uncle Brady tears down the false walls and stacks them carefully around the plate glass. I linger at the table, mulling over my small triumph. It’s odd, but I’m sure I felt something. A sort of stirring when I’d taken Zena’s hand.
“Daniel?” my father says.
“Ah, yes, the horses,” I say, and scramble to my task. I’m ashamed of my earlier outburst. Perhaps my father will let the incident go unremarked, but, knowing Pop, that’s not likely.
“When you finish with the horses, sir,” my father says, “go downtown.”
“I didn’t mean it, Pop,” I say. “I don’t know the first thing about waiting tables.”
“They say those fancy restaurants will stiff a new waiter,” Uncle Brady says. “Profit from his labor, then pinch his penny.” He throws a look of sympathy in my direction.
“Go downtown,” my father repeats and shakes his finger at me, but his eyes hold something new. “She’ll want more than a con artist’s tricks from you tomorrow morning. You’d better go and see what you can dig up on our Madame Troubetzskoy.”
To discover what Danny finds out about Zena and the dark secrets of his past, read the complete story of “Every Mystery Unexplainedand join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. Thank you for your help while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new and previously published stories, book excerpts, writing tips, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
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CHROME.MED.295.KB

The CHROME cover, by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, is comprised of a dozen different elements which Tom carefully researched. We think the imagery looks kind of mid-century. I love the color scheme.
And yes! A Brand-new Reader Review of Chrome, the First One:
“So Walter Mosley reread Animal Farm and The Island of Dr Moreau and says to himself, “Oh, yes indeed, I’ve got a terrific idea for my next best seller.” But! Lisa says, “Hold on, hot stuff. You’re too late. Chrome is already on the streets. Haha!”
Wow! I just tore through Chrome. So much fun. Oh, I guess I should take a time-out to say that it was very well-written too, but I was enjoying the characters and the story so much that the superb writing simply did its job and I had to consciously reflect to notice the excellent and clever construction and reveals. Uh, isn’t that the definition of good writing?
I’m not usually a fan of sequels, but could we please have at least one more romp with Ms Lightfoot and her sidekick Terralina?”
Yes, I’m working next on CHROME COBRA and a third book to round out a trilogy, plus a prequel novella. LIBERATION DAY, which will explore the mysteries of the events leading up to freeing of the Blends from their cages.
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—four delightful stories, movie reviews, recipes, book excerpts, and more.
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Call me a fan girl and an SF geek, but I loved the Marvel Studios film, “Captain Marvel” (CM). This delightful film is the most woman-centric comics piece I’ve seen since “Wonder Woman” with the wonderful Gal Godot, who was born for the part. I truly hope she isn’t typecast for the rest of her career but that’s a risk actors take when they sign up to be a superhero.
While WW has more of an ethereal superhero plot, CM has the most personal storyline I’ve seen in quite a while in a comics film (caveat: I haven’t seen them all, but quite a few), exploring, as its central themes, the empowerment of women, friendship between women, and warm relations between black and white folks. My favorite themes in fiction and my own fiction (especially my novel, Summer of Love). The main character’s personal journey of discovering her true self, discovering her personal empowerment dovetails well with the greater plot.
Brie Larson is terrific as the lead, Carol Danvers. She captures the unruly emotions of her character, is funny, tender, and kick-ass deadly when she needs to be. Samuel Jackson, as Shield Agent Fury, is adorable (if digitally “anti-aged”), and there’s an even more adorable ginger tabby cat (a nod to “Alien”).
The story was created by a woman and a man, the screenplay written by the same woman, the same man, and an additional woman, and the film was directed by the woman story-screenplay writer and the man. No wonder it’s so good. Woman power is bred in its bones.
The screenplay is practically a perfect textbook example of what you should accomplish in your screenplay. (Note: you want to sell your screenplay, not a shooting script, which is a much different entity.) After the first screening, to acquaint me with the content, I sat through a second screening with a stopwatch and a notepad and pencil to take notes. I’m presently working on a screenplay adapting my print story that I sold to a major studio and needed some guidance and inspiration.
The rules about three-act structure aren’t arbitrary; they work to present the viewer (or reader) with a dynamic creation that carries you from start to finish. I’ve observed many effective books and stories that consciously (or unconsciously) follow the three-act structure. When I analyze my own work, stories and books, I see that I’ve consciously (or unconsciously) written often according to that structure.
A bonus: after the usual montage of Marvel Comics heroes, we see a 60-second montage of the cameos of Stan Lee in films, followed by a black page with red lettering THANK YOU STAN, and one final shot of his joyfully smiling face. As a young man, Lee started writing and drawing comic books around World War II. The comics industry had its ups and downs, publishers went out of business, but Lee persisted to create the powerhouse that is today Marvel Studios. His hilarious cameos in the films were always something to anticipate (like spotting Alfred Hitchcock in his movies). Lee died at age 95 last year. Sure enough, Stan makes a cameo in CM but I don’t know if it’s digital or was filmed before he died.
Now then: in Act One we open with Carol, known only as “Vers”, is beset by scattered disturbing dreams that seem to indicate an unknown life she had. This is always a tricky proposition to portray. The viewer has to pay attention, but attention is rewarded throughout the film, as we revisit the dreams—her fragmentary memories of a mysteriously lost life—in Act Two and Act Three and by the end make total sense of them.
Vers finds herself on HALA, the high-tech home planet of the Kree (a nod to “Forbidden Planet” and the high-tech Krell). The high-tech city, with dynamic images scrolling across the sides of buildings, is reminiscent of the futuristic Los Angeles in “Bladerunner.”
She is in training to “become the best she can be,” according to her mentor (played by Jude Law) as soldier in an on-going war fought by the Kree. She reports in to the Supreme Intelligence—an A.I. who rules the Kree and who appears as a woman. Vers’s problem is that she’s too emotional, too ready to laugh.
The Supreme Intelligence tells her “to serve well and with strength,” which is reminiscent of the oath in “Gladiator”, “Strength and honor,” and sure enough in the next scene, the African hunter from “Gladiator” appears as a member of a Kree military team.
She’s sent on a mission with the Kree team, there’s fighting (the writer-director is wise enough not to let any of the fight scenes go on too long—a problem for me in many comics films) with an alien race, the Skroll, whose appearance strongly resembles certain beloved aliens in “Star Trek”.
The Skroll capture Vers and probe her mind—more of those fragmentary memories emerge, including a woman who was once her mentor (the Supreme Intelligence takes the mentor’s appearance) and her best friend, a young black woman training to be a fighter jet pilot with Vers.
Then, at twenty minutes almost to the second, there’s a huge plot point that marks the end of Act One and spins the story around in a totally different direction.
Vers finds herself on C 53, Earth, Los Angeles in 1995. She crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, curiously picks up a video of “The Right Stuff,” blasts off the head of a cardboard Arnold Schwarzenegger display, and searches for communication equipment from a nearby Radio Shack so she can contact her mentor back in the Kree universe. This is a humorous nod to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with Pan Am as the brand on the space shuttle taking people from Earth to the Moon. The screenwriters of “2001” didn’t know the brand not only wouldn’t last until what was then the far future, Pan Am didn’t last past the 1970s. Blockbuster and Radio Shack, which seemed like indestructible brands in 1995, similarly didn’t last past the 2000s. So we viewers got a laugh out of that.
Enter Shield Agent Fury, Sam Jackson, in a scene reminiscent of “Men in Black”. Complications ensue. Certain personal details about Fury and Vers are skillfully revealed and then pay off a little later in plot points. I love it when writers pay off a setup and I become very annoyed when a setup doesn’t go anywhere.
CM also pokes fun at what appears to us now as clunky computer tech in 1995 (Carol awkwardly pecks with two fingers at a keyboard). There’s a fight between Vers and an alien enemy (the Skroll can shapeshift, taking on the appearance of whomever they see) atop a subway train reminiscent of “Indiana Jones.”
Act Two continues for fifty-five minutes with more complications circling around the storyline. There’s a midpoint at twenty minutes into Act Two. The script doctor, Linda Seger, is a big believer in the midpoint of a screenplay as a restatement of the overall themes. In CM, the two lead characters, seeking Carol’s long-lost best friend, travel in a futuristic jet plane from Los Angeles (L.A.) to Louisiana, (La.) where the friend lives. (“L.A.” to “La”—that’s a nice touch.) Vers is “going home” to her friend who has an appealing and intelligent young daughter, so we get some mother-daughter development. The personal relationships and Carol’s story of personal discovery, her personal empowerment are ramped up.
Then at fifty-five minutes, a HUGE mind-boggling plot point spins the story into a totally different direction, signaling the end of Act Two. I am NOT going to spoil the plot at this point, but my fedora is tipped at the screenwriters for a superb, memorable plot twist.
Act Three then lasts forty minutes, which is a bit long. But because of the HUGE plot twist, the writers have to re-establish certain back-stories and the forward momentum of the overall plot. Be assured the pace never flags. There are more fight scenes with multiple characters (as in all the comics films) and plenty of video-gamish space jets chasing and shooting at each other like in Star Wars. Because of the length, the writers cleverly slip in a hilarious midpoint twenty minutes into Act Three. (Okay, plot spoiler alert: the adorable cat isn’t really a cat.)
The conclusion for Carol, reinforcing her friendship with her best friend and her daughter, and for Agent Fury are fully satisfying (and the cat makes one last adorable cameo) and yet open the door to more of Captain Marvel. Indeed, a coda notes she will continue in “Avengers: Endgame”. We look forward to the film and intend to see it for Tom’s birthday in December, if the film is out on DVD.
With Captain Marvel by itself, though, a great time was had by all. If you don’t catch the film allusions (I probably missed many more), that’s okay. The film stands firmly by itself. Recommended.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. My first story “Arachne”, my first story published in OMNI magazine, appears exclusively there, plus a forthcoming account of how I published my first story in the premiere story venue at the time and the research I did. This review plus other movie reviews, and a couple of recipes with more forthcoming. Give back!
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ARACHNE.1.28.18.SMLL

“Arachne”, My First Published Story, Published in OMNI Magazine, Newly Revised
The flier levitates from a vermilion funnel and hovers. Stiff chatoyant wings, monocoque fuselage, compound visual apparatus. The flier skims over the variegated planetscape, seeking another spore source. Olfactory sensors switch on. The desired stimuli are detected; another spore source is located.
Down the flier dips. But the descent is disrupted for a moment by atmospheric turbulence. The flier’s fine landing gear is swept against a translucent aerial line, as strong as steel and sticky with glue. A beating wing tangles in more lines. The flier writhes.
The trapper hulks at the edge of the net. Stalked eyebuds swivel, pedipalps tense. At the tug of the flier’s struggler, the trapper scuttles down a suspended line, eight appendages gripping the spacerope with acrobatic agility. The trapper spits an arc of glue over the flier’s wings, guides the fiber around the flier’s slim waist. A pair of black slicers dripping with goo snap around the flier’s neck.
*   *   *
Carly Quester struggles out of the swoon. Blackout smears across the crisp white cube of her telelink like a splash of ash rain down a window. It’s happened again. Her system crashes for a monstrous second, she plunges into deep, black nothing. Then, inexplicably, she’s in link again, hanging like a child on a spinning swing to a vertiginous interface with the Venue.
Panic snaps at her. How many seconds lost this time?
“We will now hear Martino v. Quik Slip Microship, Inc.,” announces the Arbiter. Edges of his telelink gleam like razor blades. His presence in the Venue, a massive face draped in black, towers like an Easter Island godhead into the upper perimeter of telespace. The perimeter is a flat, gray cloudbank.
“On what theory does Quik Slip Microchip counterclaim to quiet title when Rosa Martino has been titleholder to the Wordsport Glossary for thirty-five years? Mediator for defendant? Ms. Quester?”
Carly hears her name—muffled, tinny—through the neckjack. Her answer jams in her throat. Weird, she shouldn’t feel her body in link. For an eerie second she feels like she’s inside the telelink, sweating and heaving inside the airless, computer-constructed telespace itself. Her body, hunched over the terminal in her windowless cubicle at Ava & Rice, wrapped up in a web of wires, mutters a curse.
But her presence in the Venue is struck dumb.
Gleeful static from the two scruffy solos representing the plaintiff, Martino. Carly can hear them ripple with excitement, killers closing in on their prey.
Of course, they’re on contingency, and old lady Martino probably couldn’t even scare up the filing fees. One of them, a weaselly hack, shrugs at the whirring seconds on the chronograph and says, “Not defaulting on your crooked counterclaim, are ya, hotshot?”
“Mediator for defense? The mediator from Ava & Rice? Ms. Quester?” thunders the Arbiter. “You have thirty seconds to log in your counterclaim.”
Telelinks of the jury, two rows of red-veined, glassy eyes floating across the purple right perimeter of the Venue, glance doubtfully at each other. The silvery pupils dart to and fro.
Gritty bile bites at the base of Carly’s throat. A peculiar ache throbs in her jaw, thrusts icy fingers into her neck. She tries audio again, but her presence in the Venue is still silent.
“Huh, hotshot?” goads the solo. His telelink has the sloppy look and gravelly sound cheap equipment produces. But for a second, he manages to hot-wire an I-only access into her telelink.
“You ball-breakers from the big firms, with your prime link. You think you’re so tough. Watch out, hotshot. I’m going to eat you alive this time, hotshot.”
The big board across the back perimeter of the Venue hums and clicks. Gaudy liquid crystal projections in each division indicate the moment. In Stats, the luminous red Beijing dial registers another three hundred thousand births. Chik-chik-chik-chik! Ten seconds later on Docket—bing!—the eminent mediation firm of Ava & Rice registers as defense for Pop Pharmaceutical against the Chinese women who claim they took glucose, instead of birth control pills. In Trade, bids for rice futures soar. On News, reports of fifteen suicides of corn investors are filed.
“In ten seconds your client will have defaulted, Ms. Quester, and I will cite you for contempt of this Venue—obstructing the speedy dispensation of justice,” says the Arbiter.
“I’m sorry, Your Honor, request a recess,” Carly says finally. Audio feeds back with an earsplitting whine.
Her telelink suddenly oscillates crazily, sharp white edges flipping black-white-purple-white, like her terminal’s shorting out. It’s all she can do to keep logged in. Metallic tickle–pain of electrical shock gooses her body to raise a limp hand and refocus the projection.
“On what grounds?” demands the Arbiter.
“I’m—I’m sick.”
Jagged flash; the Arbiter’s gavel cracks; telespace vibrates. “Mediation recessed until next week, this same time. Ms. Quester, you will approach the bench.”
As Carly approaches, the solo zooms in with one last I-only. “Hey hotshot, hotshot,” he says in a cushy vibe. “You new, right? A word to the wise, hotshot. The Arbiter, he hates to wait. Got a reputation for the fastest Venue in town. He disposes sixty mediations an hour sometimes. You hold him up, hotshot, you in trouble. Better talk fast, better have a rap. I’ll see you in the Venue, hotshot.”
The solo logs off, extinguishing the smeary bulb of his presence in telespace.
Fully in link at last, Carly slips and slides up to the Arbiter’s quarters. No privacy in the gleaming metal construct of telespace; no shadowed corner, no hidden booth behind which to hide her humiliation. All the blank eyes stare at her.
“Ms. Quester, you are hereby cited under Rule Two of the Code of Civil Procedure for obstruction of the speedy dispensation of justice. You are suspended from this Venue for thirty days.”
Thirty days. Thirty days suspended from the Venue could cost Carly her first job, a great job, with the prosperous mediation firm of Ava & Rice. How many other bright, qualified applicants did she beat out for this job? Three thousand? How many other bright, qualified applicants would vie for her position if she lost it? Ten thousand?
Her presence in the Venue sparkles with bright panic. “I’m permitted to show reasonable cause under Rule Two, Your Honor.”
“Proceed.”
“I blacked out for a second, I’ve not been well . . .”
“If the mediator cannot prepare the mediation you extend, you re-petition, you re-calendar, you notify the Venue, Ms. Quester, in advance. Dismissed.”
“But, Your Honor, I had no warning. I just went down for a second, no warning at all. I’ve not been well, it’s true, but not so bad as to keep me out of the Venue. Your Honor, I had no warning, please believe me.”
The Arbiter’s eyeball zooms in on her flickering link for a close-up. His glittering pupil pulses with his plain doubt. “You’re not been well but not so bad, but your system went down. All of a sudden! Oh, yes! You young wires, holding up my Venue with your lame excuses. I know why link fails most of the time. I should cite you for abuse of altering substances, too.”
Carly’s teeth begin to chatter; a puddle of urine floods her plastic seat. Then a fouler, hotter wash of shame. During her first link fifteen years ago, her ten-year-old body had disgraced her like this, in the presence of two hundred other link-prep students. She feels her body stress out at the memory of her juvenile dishonor. Her presence in the Venue vacillates.
“I’m not on drugs, Your Honor. I’m ill, I tell you, it’s something insidious striking without warning. It could be cancer or radiation poisoning.”
“Or the flu? Or a hangover? Or the disposal ate your brief?”
The Venue quivers with pitiless laughter from scores of unseen throats. The spectacle of a peer’s downfall is cause for rejoicing.
“Your Honor, request permission to enter medical documentation to establish reasonable cause.”
“Oh, very well, you’re new. Permission granted, Ms. Quester. Submit your documentation before your next mediation date. This Venue will now hear Sing Tao Development v. Homeowners’ Association of Death Valley. Issue is breach of warranty under federal standards governing the relocation of low-income housing into public parkland. Mediation for the defense?”
A team from Ava & Rice logs into the Venue with a brilliantly constructed defense. A silver spiral twirls across telespace, frosty tail ejecting wisps of pale yellow sophisms into its own blue-lipped devouring mouth. Standards met under the extraordinary circumstances of the relocation or standards not applicable under the extraordinary circumstances of the relocation; thus, in either case, no breach. Mediation for plaintiff withdraws the complaint in two seconds. Screams of outrage and despair whistle through the public telespace. Someone logs in a whimpering five-year-old child dying of third-degree sunburns. The Arbiter’s gavel booms like doom. Dismissed! In one second the homeowners’ association files suit against its former mediator. Teep! On Docket, Ava & Rice registers as new mediation in the malpractice suit brought by the Homeowners’ Association of Death Valley.
Carly logs out of telespace.
And links out into a heap of flesh and ooze, sprawled in her windowless cubicle at Ava & Rice. Blown it, she’s blown the mediation bad. Every first-year mediator’s nightmare come true. Carly rips the neckjack out, spills half a bottle of denatured alcohol into the needle-thin aperture. Grimaces as a tincture of pure alcohol bursts into her brain’s blood. Messy, careless—shit! Get too much of that old evil backrub up your linkslit—bang!—you’re dead, grunt. Happens every now and again around the firm, someone just drops dead.
She swabs herself off as best she can and flees her dim cubicle, link still flickering with fluorescent green light. Jogs down the endless corridor of cubicles, working off panic with sheer locomotion.
The mediation firm of Ava & Rice boasts five hundred partners, three thousand associates, one thousand secretaries, five hundred clerk-messengers, and ten thousand terminals interfaced with a mammoth sengine, all installed in a forty-story building downtown.
At every open door, the limp body of a mediator is wired up to a terminal. Some are as wasted as junkies, rolled-back eyes between precipitous skull bones. Some are bloated with the sloth, raw lips crusty with food solutions piped down their throats.
Everyone’s got a different handle on practicing mediation, but the basics are the same. Time is of the essence. When in doubt, dispute. When in the Venue, win. The volume of mediation is astronomical. Planning for the future becomes obsolete overnight. Catastrophe strikes with regularity. Billions of bucks are to be made, and you’d better grab them before someone else does.
How many bright, qualified applicants would vie for Carly’s position when the personnel committee finds out about her failure in the Venue? Fifteen thousand?
*   *   *
For the rest of “Arachne,” (the story is 9,000+ words) please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way. I’ve just posted “Arachne”, my FIRST story published in OMNI magazine, the premiere fiction venue at the time. Upcoming in a few days, a blog about how I got my first story published in OMNI, inspiration, influences, and research, plus the October Writing Tip, how to expand a novelette into a novel.
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