The ninth challenge in the Iron Writer contest ended in victory. I returned from the arena, carefully cleaned my weapons and returned them to their shelf, then strode off to the showers in dead silence. My servants congratulated one another as they took my armor, but when they looked at my face to see if it was flushed with victory, they saw only the blank serenity of one accustomed to crushing his opponents and who is already focused on the next battle.
If you want to check out the stories, they’re right HERE.
My official entry was the second story I wrote for the contest; I’ll post the first in this very blog post that you now hold in your hands. It has the same necessary set pieces: A loom, a sunken ship, a rollercoaster, and a pregnant camel. My first attempt was too long and shortening it would have been like wrestling a buttered goblin, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look.
Note that this superhero-themed story contains a bomb in a backpack, which was included unconsciously and may be so painfully pertinent in terms of current events that many readers might have considered it to be in poor taste. Oh well!
KISS OF THE MAN-SPIDER: FANTASTIC FIRST ISSUE! FEATURING… THE DEADLY CAMEL!
By Kyle B. Stiff
After Art proved to Rachel beyond a shadow of a doubt that Commander America could beat the Man-Spider in a one-on-one battle, she finally relented and agreed to introduce him to the old man that she was convinced was the real-life Padre Porter, the web-slinging crime-fighter also known as the Man-Spider. Despite his father’s insistence that the Man-Spider had saved his life years ago, Art was sure that an elaborate joke was being played on him.
“Alright,” Art said, “let’s go see this old fart you’re crushing on. But I have to be back by seven, or dad’ll be pissed.”
“I’m not ‘crushing’ on him,” Rachel said, still sulking. “In fact, he’s pretty gross.”
A hike through the neighborhood brought them to a dilapidated house tucked between overgrown foliage. Rachel entered without knocking. Art entered and was assaulted by the stench of post-game locker room and cigarette butts. He could hear wood knocking against wood and the sound of multiple conspiracy theory radio shows playing one on top of another.
Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw an old man with thin limbs working an old-fashioned loom. He had wisps of long white hair, a shirt that doubled as a napkin, and his eyes were covered in shadow. It was difficult to see, but it looked as if the old man was pulling string from his pocket. Art wanted to turn and leave, but he was enchanted by the pale, shining tapestry strung across the loom.
“Padre Porter?” Art said, feeling a little foolish. “Did you, uh, retire from fighting crime to pick up weaving?”
“I never retired,” the old man said immediately. “My old costume no longer fits, but I still weave the fates of men. I still spin justice, boy.”
Art realized that the old man spoke around a thick wad of saliva that collected at the corners of his mouth and around his tongue. He was further repulsed to see that the string stuck to his fingers as if his hands were coated in jelly or syrup.
“I guess I thought you were just a comic book character.”
“The greater part of reality you see only as a shadow. Did you know that Aleister Crowley, grand magister of the new age, was the inspiration for Professor Javier, leader of the Ex-Men, in your comic books? He taught us how to become more than human. He gave us our true names and turned us into supermen. But I can see that you, Camel, have brought me a gift in your backpack.”
Art was about to argue that not only was he not wearing a backpack, he also had nothing to do with the b-list super-villain whose lame power was the ability to go without water for weeks at a time. But when he reached behind himself he realized that he was, in fact, wearing a heavy backpack.
“Surprised?” said Padre Porter. “It’s a bomb, no doubt. You’re a victim of mind control sent by the Revengers to kill me. But mind control is such a fickle thing, isn’t it? Anyone can say the correct keywords to activate programming. For example: Rollercoaster.”
Art was struck by intense nausea. He felt as if he was teetering over the edge of a precipice and would fall at any moment. He crashed to his knees.
“Why have you come?” said Padre.
Art heard himself speaking. “Pregnant Camel comes across the wasteland to give birth to an explosion. We’ll kill you… just like we killed your syphilitic master.”
Art felt hands pull his backpack away. He could not resist. He saw men and women standing over him. Their faces were dead, their eyes were black and empty, and they carried automatic rifles and handguns.
Padre paused and leaned over his loom. His eyes were also black and dead. “I can’t do the work on my own anymore. My children are my hands and eyes now. Their thoughts are my thoughts.”
“Freedom fighters?” Art forced out the words. “They look like terrorists!”
“They’re the good guys. And you will be, too, once you reveal the location of your handler’s headquarters.”
Art clamped his mouth shut, but then heard himself say, “The museum, the sunken ship display. It’s the entrance to Titan IC. We call it Titan-99.”
“Rachel… Arachne, go and lead the others. Go and kill this man’s father, Commander America, just as I should have done so long ago.”
The superheroes filed out of the door silently. Still frozen in place, Art listened as Padre, the Man-Spider, explained that his fate would be rewoven as a bringer of justice. The old man returned to his loom and the shining tapestry and Art was horrified to see that he was pulling fresh string not from his pocket but from a grotesque opening on his lower belly.
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Hey readers! If you liked this post, you should check out some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.