The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

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The Problematic Shovel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

The Problematic Shovel

While driving to visit his parents for Mother’s Day weekend, Junfeng finds himself on an alien planet where he is gifted with a shovel with the power to bury any problem or dig up the solution to any problem.


Junfeng took the blood-stained shovel that the alien thrust into his hands. With his car stuck in a sand dune when he was in a forest a moment ago, he felt denying the shovel from the strange purple person – that was the only living being around in sight – would lead to even more trouble.

“What is this for?” Junfeng said without thinking about the words that came out of his mouth.

“I’m surprised that’s your first question,” the person said in English. “I was expecting, ‘Where am I?’ or ‘Who are you?’ Looks like I picked the right person for the job.”

“What job?”

A tentacle erupted from the sand a few steps in front of them. The top half was purple and looked like an octopus, while the bottom half was brown like a spider’s leg. With a panic scream, Junfeng smacked the tentacle, sending it to retreat to the ground.

“Yeah, sorry, those are a problem on this planet. Oh, my name is Modva. I created this shovel with the power to burry any problem or dig up the solution to your problem. Neat, huh? I still have some bugs to work out, but you can beta test those for me.”

Before Junfeng could ask anything, Modva pushed him, causing him to fall backward through a freestanding door. The door slammed shut and disappeared the second it closed. He stood up, dusted himself off, and gathered his bearings. The last of the sun’s rays were settling behind the trees. A familiar, in the sense that was from Earth, car drove past him. 

“Looks like I’m back in Canada,” Junfeng said, reasonably certain he was at the same spot before he wound up on a desert planet. He had only taken his eyes off the road for a second to get a drink of water, and when he looked up, he crashed into a pile of sand. “And I guess my car didn’t make it back with me.”

Junfeng remembered what the person said about the shovel being able to dig up solutions to problems. With nothing to lose, he walked over to a patch of dirt and started digging.

“Maybe I’ll unbury a nice car, like a Tesla or something,” Junfeng mumbled. 

After digging a small hole, a light shined through. The ground rumbled. Junfeng stepped back as a brand new Tesla car drove out from the dirt. He walked around, inspecting the silver vehicle to make sure it was real. He looked back at the hole, and it patched itself up. He put the shovel in the backseat and got in the driver’s seat. The car had a full charge and was ready to drive. He checked the glove compartment, and there was even insurance and title paperwork in his name. He buckled up and shifted the car into drive.

“This is going to impress my parents,” he said, bobbing his head.  

Junfeng was not particularly excited about his weekend visit to his parents for Mother’s Day. While he loved his family, lately, they’ve been increasingly negative about him being a mentalist. Granted, he was barely making ends meet performing a few corporate party gigs here and there, but he was doing more each year.

I know they just want what’s best for me, he reminded himself. Hopefully, this car will show them I’m doing well, but I’m sure they can find something else to critique, like the lack of a girlfriend.

He glanced at the shovel in the backseat.

“I wonder,” he said.

Junfeng pulled over to the side of the quiet road and started to dig.

“Okay, magic shovel, bring me the perfect girlfriend,” he said, feeling a mix of awkwardness and hopefulness for making such a wish.

He was about a foot deep when a hand burst out from the ground like a zombie movie. Junfeng fell backward as a gorgeous woman with long, blond hair emerged. She appeared to be about the same age and height as him. She was unfazed by the chilly May weather with her flora pattern sundress. 

The woman extended her hand out and smiled. “Hello, lover.”

Junfeng took her hand, standing back up. “Hello, there – um, what’s your name?”

The woman thought for a moment. “I don’t have one. I guess you have to choose one for me.”

“Oh, okay,” Junfeng said and thought. “How about Pearl?”

“I love it!” Pearl said, hugging him.

“All right. I think this is going to work. Now, we just need some sort of backstory before we see my parents,” Junfeng said, excited. “I can’t exactly say I dug you up.”

Pearl giggled. “I can’t wait to meet your parents! Where do they live?”

“They’re about an hour north of Vancouver,” Junfeng said. “But we’re almost there. Come inside, and we’ll work on our story.”

“This will be fun,” Pearl said as she got in the passenger seat. She pretended the dashboard was a drum set, drumming her fingers to a beat in her head while Junfeng put the shovel in the back. She stopped when Junfeng got seated. “Okay, so how about this: You saved me by pushing me out of the way from a runaway truck?”

“I think that’s a bit too far-fetched,” Junfeng said. “I was thinking of going with something more grounded like you enjoyed my performance at one of my corporate gigs.”

“I like that,” she said, slapping his leg in excitement. “Let’s say I work in HR too for this company. That’s a good job, right? Of course, it is. Plus, this story allows our story to be more natural and make you look good at being a…”

“A mentalist,” Junfeng finished.

“A mentalist. That’s so awesome, doing what you love. Not many people can say that.”

“I wish my parents would see it that way.”

“Tell me about your parents.”

“Well,” Junfeng started, thinking for a moment on what to share. “My mom, Akina, moved to Vancouver from Japan to be a TV actress. However, she changed careers and became an accountant because she said she wanted something more stable. That’s where slash how she met my dad, Nathan, who owns a movie prop equipment rental company.”

“Do you have any siblings?” Pearl asked as Junfeng pulled into his parents’ driveway of their country home.

“No, it’s just me.”

“Anything else I should know about your family?”

“Not that I can think of, but I’m sure you’ll get to know them over the weekend, and we can always say I didn’t tell you much. I’m sure my parents will be happy to see me with anyone. The bar of expectations for improvements is pretty low at this point.”

“Don’t you worry, Junfeng. I am going to make you look so awesome in your parents’ eyes.”

Junfeng laughed, and his face turned slightly red, thinking, Did I ever tell her my name? Surely I must’ve or shovel magic? He shrugged the thought off, and they both got out of the car. 

Junfeng’s father, Nathan, opened the front door to their modern single-story log cabin home.

“You’re late,” Nathan scoffed.

“Sorry,” Pearl immediately apologized. “It was my fault. We had to go back to my place because I forgot some things.”

Nathan’s grumpy demeanor shifted to forgiveness upon seeing Pearl. “Oh, you brought a lady.”

“Yes, this is Pearl.”

“Hello,” Pearl said with a smile and a wave. “It’s nice to meet you!”

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Nathan said as he opened the door, and Pearl stepped inside. He turned to Junfeng. “You got any bags?”

“Right, yes, I’ll go get those. You go inside. I’ll join you in a moment.”

Nathan nodded and closed the door behind while Junfeng jogged back to the car. He grabbed the shovel out from the backseat and opened the car truck so no one could see him dig up two overnight suitcases. Junfeng shook off the dirt, returned the shovel, and closed the doors. He jogged back up to the front door. With one hand holding the suitcases, he opened the door with the other. He dropped everything the moment he saw his family dangling in the air. 

Pearl held his parents by their necks. Her arms were now tentacles like the kind he saw on the desert planet.

“Hi, there, lover,” Pearl greeted with a smile.

“What the hell?” Junfeng shouted. “What are you doing?”

“I was just telling your parents how wonderful you are,” Pearl explained, keeping a smile.

“No, not like this!”

“Oh,” Pearl mumbled. She squeezed tighter. “I think my way is working. Don’t worry. I’ll be done with them soon.”

Junfeng looked back and forth between his parents and Pearl before coming up with the idea to run outside and grab the shovel. He flung open the door and yanked the shovel out. His car started to move and transform on its own.

“No, no, no, no, no,” he repeated. He looked at his shovel. “Let’s see if I can bury this problem.”

He rammed the shovel into the dirt and flung it at the car as it took a robotic humanoid form. The soil caused the robot to screech, reminding him of the wicked witch getting wet in Wizard of Oz. He tossed another patch at the robot, weakening it more. Several shovels fulls of dirt later, the robot sank into the ground. As much as he wanted to catch his breath, he knew he had his original problem still.

Junfeng dug up one more shovel full of dirt and raced back inside. He tossed the dirt at Pearl, causing her to drop his parents. Pearl’s arms morphed back to their human form. She hissed at him like a vampire hissing at the sun and leaped at him. He ran outside, and she followed.

Before Junfeng could strike the ground with the shovel, Pearl tackled him, tossing the shovel aside as she pinned him down. 

“Why are you trying to stop me?” Pearl demanded with a mix of rage and tears. “I only want what’s best for you.”

“You’re hurting my parents!”

“But they’re hurting you!”

“They’re just worried about me!”

“They’re stifling your dreams.”

“No one is stifling my dreams. The only one who can do that is me.”

Pearl screamed in pain as a pile of dirt hit her back. She fell on top of Junfeng, losing her grip over him. With her weakened, he pushed her off as another pile of dirt landed on her. She cried out as one last shovel full of dirt hit, causing her to sink into the Earth.

Junfeng’s mother, Akina, stood over him with the magical alien gadget in hand. She dropped the shovel, helped her son up, and hugged him. He hugged her back.

“I am so sorry we were so hard on you,” Akina said. “I do not know how, but she showed us one of your performances. You were really, really good.”

“Thank you,” Junfeng said. “Are you okay?”

“I should be asking you that,” Akina said as she let go. She took a moment to admire her son. “Come on. Dinner is ready. I bet you have a story to share.”

Junfeng picked up the shovel. “Hold on. I should bury some suitcases before those come to life too.”


The Problematic Shovel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Thank you for reading! This story was inspired by the writing prompt: “You were in your car just a minute ago. Now you’re in the middle of a desert with no sign of life anywhere. Except for that person in a lab coat. They walk up to you and you notice they’re holding a shovel stained with fresh blood. A shiver goes down your spine.”

The person in the lab coat, made me think of my end-timer character, Modva, who I’ve only featured in one story so far. From there, I thought about making this shovel “magical” with the power of burying problems and digging up solutions, with it having issues in vain of the lyre from The Problematic Lyre. I got another story in mind for Modva that I think would be fitting for an October release, so stay tuned for more!

Thank you again to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing the opening scene to life! May your Mother’s Day trip remain on Earth.

Dog-Sitting Cerberus - art by Chia Yee Liow at Design Pickle

Dog-Sitting Cerberus

With business to attend on another planet, Hades hires Sally to dog-sit his giant three-headed dog, Cerberus. As Sally takes the dog for a walk in the Underworld, they discover a locked away secret.


Sally Wilkerson wiped her brow with her arm and sighed from having just finished her mopping duties at The Creamatory of Screams. She put the mop in the grungy, yellow plastic bucket and pressed on the level, ringing out the last of the dirt.

Behind the cash register next to the ice cream station, her co-worker, Mark, counted the money. Mark took his time, making sure none of the bills were stuck together, every coin was there, credit card totals matched up, and everything was ready for the next day. Sally had learned not to interrupt because she didn’t want him to start over. She would have to wait to use one of her favorite closing puns like, “How in Hell did we do?” or “Everything good in Hell?” The puns about being in Hell, Michigan made Mark groan or roll his eyes every time, which was part of Sally’s fun. She often forgot that he was sixteen like her. 

As far as tiny towns went, Sally enjoyed living in Hell. She knew all of the locals and the tourists were fun. As she pushed the mop bucket back to its station, a tornado of flames erupted in the store. Mark screamed, knocking over the cash drawer as he ducked behind the counter while Sally stood unfazed.

From the flames, a tall, slender man stepped out. He pinched out a lingering ember of fire on his dark, almost black, purple suit with red pinstripes. He inspected his reflection from the ice cream cabinet, about to adjust his hair, but realized he had taken a form where his hair consisted of a blue flame. He stroked a finger along his grizzled movie star beard with crimson red skin.

“Hiya, Mr. H!” Sally greeted.

Mark stood up, picking up the fallen cash and ignoring their guest. Hades turned to Mark, snapped his fingers, and like magic, all of the money flew back to the register in perfect order.

“Your balance is correct, by the way,” Hades said to Mark as he walked up to Sally. “Sally, I have some business on another planet to deal with, and I need you to dog-sit Cerberus for me while I’m away.”

“Oh, wow,” Sally said. “Well, as you may know, Mr. H, I’m a good dog-sitting, but you’re talking about Cerberus. That’s way out of my qualifications.”

“Isn’t Cerberus like a giant-three dog?” Mark said, recalling what he knew about Greek mythology. “Can’t he handle himself?”

“Just because you’re a badass doesn’t mean you can’t use someone watching over you,” Hades said. “Cerberus just needs someone to play with for a bit while I’m gone. It will be easy for you. Just take him for a walk.”

“Well, if you think I can handle it.”

“Excellent. You start now.”

“Hey, wait!” Mark shouted. “We still need to close up.”

Hades snapped his fingers, and from a flame portal, a brand new XBOX gaming console landed in Mark’s arms.

Mark sat the compensation down. “Have fun dog-sitting!”

Hades twilled his wrist in the air, swirling Sally and himself in a ring of fire that warped them to the Grand Library in Earth’s Underworld. The ornate green walls always made Sally think of the Statue of Liberty. The library held several floors of well-organized books, curious artifacts, and eclectic works of art. Many dogs of every breed popped out from around the brightly lit library upon Hades’ return. With tails wagging, they welcomed them. Sally got down on her knees to pet the smaller dogs while Hades gave casual head scratches to some larger dogs.

With the dogs greeted, Hades whistled. “Cerberus! You have company.”

From around a corner, a black dog the size and strength of a tank popped his three heads out. The dog walked over gently as not to cause any books to shake off the shelves. Cerberus’ middle head licked Hades’ head, temporarily putting out the blue flame hair. Hades laughed and rubbed underneath the dog’s chin.

“You be a good boy for Sally,” Hades said in a warm but stern tone. “She’s going to keep you company for a few hours while I repair things.” 

Cerberus barked in acknowledgment.

Hades turned to Sally. “I’ll send someone to relieve you in a few hours. Make sure he doesn’t eat anyone he isn’t supposed to eat.”

In his flames, Hades vanished, leaving Sally hanging with questions.

Sally looked up at Cerberus into his large, red eyes. “So, do you want to go for a walkies?”

Cerberus barked and lowed his heads.

“I am I supposed to ride you?”

Cerberus wagged his tail.

Sally shrugged. “Okay, I guess I’m going to ride Cerberus.”

With the helping nudges of the other heads, Sally got up on Cerberus. The moment she got into position, Cerberus ran, causing some books to fall off the shelves. She gripped the red collar like she was holding on to the bar of a wild rollercoaster as they raced out of the library, bursting through a large double swigging wooden door and out into a cave.

It took a moment, but Sally acclimated herself to the ride. Several ghostly white transparent butterflies the size of her head crossed their path. Cerberus changed course and chased after the butterflies until they faded away. Sally laughed and petted the center head. Cerberus continued walking along a glowing green river. Sally took in the sights of the luminous green crystals and plants adoring the dusty red cave. The place smelled like an underground forest to Sally, which she wasn’t expecting, but appreciated.

As they continued down the river, Sally could no longer see the library. She was a bit concerned but also figured Cerberus knew the way back. A gentle harp melody snuck into her ears, bringing a feeling of sadness as she listened to the song.

“Where is that music coming from?” Sally said. Cerberus barked. “Can you find that sound?”

Cerberus run in the direction of the sound. As the music got louder, the cave got darker and smaller until they came to a pair of bronze doors. While the doors were huge compared to Sally, they were only the size of one of Cerberus’ heads. Cerberus pawed at the door and whimpered.

“I’ll go check it out,” Sally offered. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Cerberus lowered his heads, and Sally slid off. With a big push, she opened the door to a dome-like room. The glowing blue flames from the torches revealed piles and piles of musical instruments. Some she recognized, but many she didn’t. Sally stepped deeper into the room, and the music stopped.

“A visitor?” a voice called out, echoing in the room.

“I’m sorry,” Sally apologized as she searched for the person. “I was just following a beautiful song.”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Sally,” the voice replied.

“You know my name?”

“Of course. I know everything about you, including your future.”

“You do? Where are you?”

“In the center. I’m the giant four-string harp.”

Sally found the golden harp. It was three times her size. As the harp played, each one of its strings lit up as a different color. Sally’s jaw dropped in awe of its splendor. 

“I would love if you played with me,” the harp invited. “It would set me free with joy.”

Meanwhile, at the Underworld of the Green Planet, an animated skeleton of a lion that stood upright on his two feet gave Hades an update on rebuilding efforts.

“The rollercoaster is almost complete,” the skeleton lion explained over a 3D holographic map of the Underworld. “We’re still missing one of the carts for it.”

“I have someone retrieving that as well as the other items left on the surface,” Hades answered.

“Good. Once we get everything, it will be like this place never crashed on the surface.”

Twirling around in her green dress, Persephone skipped up to Hades. She rested her head on his shoulder like she was his second head.

“Is the rollercoaster fixed yet?” Persephone asked.

“We’re still putting it back together,” the lion skeleton answered.

“Sad,” Persephone said as she slumped away.

“Persephone,” Hades spoke with a gentle tone. “Would you kindly head to Earth and watch over the Underworld there? I have Sally dog-sitting Cerberus while we’re here.”

Persephone jumped into the air and started clapping. “That’s wonderful! I’m so excited to hear Apollo’s music again finally. It’s been so, so long.”

Hades laughed. “What are you talking about, Persephone? We have him locked away when he went mad after the Atlanteans left Earth.”

Persephone slouched to stop. “Oh. I thought you were finally letting him free.”

“No…Why would you think that?”

“Don’t you remember his prophecy?”

“Apollo was constantly spatting doomsday prophecies. That’s why we tricked him into transforming into a harp and locked him up.”

“I remember the one he said to you and bothers after you chained him up. It was so beautiful the way he sang it.” To the tune of a children’s melody, Persephone danced and sang, “The ice cream girl from Hell touched by the end-timers will set me free.”

The flame of Hades hair mellowed. “Oh, heavens.”

Sally approached the harp without any hesitation. She plucked a sting, filling the entire room with its note. The harp shimmered brighter and brighter, forcing Sally to shield her eyes with her arm until the light subdued. With the light gone, she saw in place of the harp a man with radiant golden skin. He shook his head, causing his long, curly brown hair to dip down to his knees.

Hades kicked down the door. Sally flinched to the sound of the door crashing into the instruments.

“Apollo!” Hades said with his fists clenched. 

“Uncle Hades,” Apollo greeted with warmth. “It’s so good to see you!”

“Wait, what’s going on?” Sally interrupted.

“Sally, go to Cerberus,” Hades said.

“Why?” Sally said. “This is Apollo. What’s he doing here?”

“I became overwhelmed with visions of the future,” Apollo explained as he walked toward Hades. “Then, Dionysus got me drunk, while Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades here locked me away here.”

“You were ranting non-stop about the destruction of a universe, someone collecting demigods, and I can’t remember what other nonsense,” Hades said, getting in front of Apollo. “You also became insistent on making sure those doomsdays would happen.”

“Not that they needed my guidance,” Apollo scoffed. “According to my original calculations, shouldn’t the universe have cracked?”

“It did, but it was resolved and turned out to be no big deal,” Hades said.

“Okay, time-out! Time-out,” Sally shouted like she was babysitting some fighting siblings.

Both Hades and Apollo looked at Sally.

Sally pointed at the ground. “Sit. Both of you.”

Hades crossed his arms. “I’m not going to sit.”

Apollo smirked. “I didn’t need to look into the future to see that coming.”

“Look,” Sally started, “I don’t know what happened back then, but Apollo hasn’t been ranting about the future since I’ve been here.”

“That is true,” Hades mumbled.

“Without as many followers believing in me, I suppose my powers have weakened over the years,” Apollo said. 

Sally put her hands on her hips. “Well, it sounds like you all just need to talk it out now. Just don’t resort to locking people up or having their liver pecked out or whatever you all did in the past.”

Apollo sighed. “I guess I didn’t leave you many options back then.”

“Oh, Zeus had many options for dealing with you back then, but this one seemed the least sadistic.”

Apollo laughed. “How is my father nowadays?”

“He’s still an ass, but he’s matured.”

“I guess I should pay him a visit.”

“You should. I do know Persephone wants to see you again.”

“Oh really? Maybe I can join you for game night?”

“Haha, no. I still remember what you cheat you are.”

“Surely you got some games I can’t cheat,”

As the two walked out of the room, Sally picked up a neon purple electric guitar. She pretended to play it as she walked back to Cerberus.


Dog-Sitting Cerberus - art by Chia Yee Liow at Design Pickle

This short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “As you may know, Mr. H, I have had a good experience as a professional dog sitter but clearly this is a task too monumental to take on. I mean this is Cerberus we’re talking about!”

When I saw this prompt, I pictured Sally from #TwinCities. This story takes place after their original meeting, so if you enjoy this adventure, be such to check out the first one.

Thank you to Chia Yee Liow at Design Pickle for bringing this scene to life. The butterflies Chia drew I incorporated into the story.

Thank you for reading this story!

You Have 2 Unread Prophecies - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

You Have 2 Unread Prophecies

After getting off the San Francisco trolly, a young woman receives a notification on her phone about two unread prophecies. When the first one comes true, her curiosity compiles her to investigate the second one, despite its danger. 


Claudia could not think of a single previous instance of when she took the San Francisco trolly with practically no other riders. It was just her and another woman with red hair like herself the whole ride home. It was nice at first, but as no one else boarded, the entire trip began to feel like a bad omen. Where is everyone? Is there a big event going on? Did something terrible happen? She could feel the whole trolly getting wider and bigger with each passing moment while the other passenger was jamming out to tunes on her headphones.

When Claudia’s stop finally arrived, she bolted out, nearly tripping on the steps on her way out. She could feel her face light up on fire with embarrassment, but the driver didn’t seem to notice as they said nothing and carried forward.

“What was that all about, Claudia?” she said to herself. “Come on, now.”

Claudia spent her first minute of freedom letting the world resize back to normal. She focused on her breathing and then listened to the sounds of the city. Feeling composed, it dawned on her that she hadn’t looked at her phone since leaving the coffee shop. She pulled it out from her laptop bag.

On the phone was a notification: “You have two unread prophecies.”

Claudia re-read the notification three times to make sure her eyes weren’t deceiving her. She thought it might’ve been something from one of her games getting her attention, but none of those had anything to do with prophecies. She tapped the banner, which brought her to her text messages.

The first message warned: “Watch out for the firebird.”

Claudia scratched her head. “There’s no such thing as a firebird.”

Curious, she scrolled down to the following message, which warned, “A woman in a black dress with a matching briefcase and a pink scarf will get off the next bus. A man in a brown suit and a brown briefcase will follow her and kill her.”

“That’s specifically odd,” Claudia said as she put her phone back in her bag. She then corrected herself. “Or oddly specific, but totally fake still.”

As she snapped her bag close, a pair of car headlights blasted her eyes. She looked up to a red convertible with a flaming bird painted on it swerve in her direction on the sidewalk. She leaped out of the way, avoiding the car. It continued to weave down the hill and around a corner.

“Idiot,” she grumbled. She paused, remembering the warning. “But there was a firebird on it.”

Claudia pulled out her phone again and re-read the second message. Consumed with curiosity, she decided to cross the street, placing her opposite of the bus stop, and waited.

She scrolled through her Instagram feed, catching up with news from her favorite local businesses and friends. There weren’t any major or terrible events she saw that would’ve warranted the trolley’s lack of people. I guess I didn’t miss out on anything, she thought. While scrolling, she kept an eye out for the bus after every few posts. The sun was almost gone, and the night was starting to take over.

She wasn’t sure what she would do if the message was true. She figured if she followed the woman, the man wouldn’t make a move on her with someone else present.

Safety in numbers, she remembered her parents drilling in her head.

As Claudia read a post about the Museum of Ice Cream, the bus approached the stop. She kept her phone out, pretending to be on it as the bus let out passengers. When the bus drove away, it revealed an Asian woman in a black dress with a pink scarf, holding a black briefcase as she walked up a flight of steps with a Caucasian man in a brown suit and briefcase following her. 

Claudia’s jaw dropped. “Well, fuck.”

Claudia looked both ways before jogging across the street, following the two up the stairs. The unassuming and easily missed concrete staircase provided a passage to the Ashbury Heights neighborhood and also provided some scenic views of the city. The woman continued up the street, walking along the sidewalk with the man not too far behind and Claudia not far behind him either. She caught strong gusts of the man’s tobacco and oak scented cologne that almost made her gag. She thought for a moment that her reaction would’ve drawn too much attention, but both strangers marched forward like they were eager to get home after a long day.

They walked past a dozen houses to a turn in the road, revealing the tiny thousand square-foot park, Mount Olympus. Claudia remembered one of her friends telling her this place was once considered the city’s geographical center. With a name like Mount Olympus, her first and only visited shattered Claudia’s grandiose expectations with disappointment. There was just an empty pedestal for a lost statue, and any views of the city were obstructed by trees and condominiums. Nothing had changed since her last visit with the expectation of maybe that there were even fewer viewing spots of the city.

Claudia kept back as the woman walked up the stairs to the top by the pedestal and waited. The man joined her.

“Cats are dangerous creatures,” the woman said to the man.

“Not as dangerous as birds,” the man replied. 

“You have the item?” the woman asked.

The man tapped on his briefcase. “I thought it would only be fitting to sell The Ring of Olympus here.”

The two exchanged briefcases. While the woman looked inside the briefcase given to her, the man reached inside the side of his jacket.

Thinking she saw a holster for a gun, she shouted, “He has a gun!”

The woman looked up at the man and immediately swung the briefcase at his face, knocking him out. As he hit the ground, a gun slid across the concrete. The woman walked over and kicked the weapon even more out of reach.

The woman looked down at Claudia. “Thanks for the warning. Are you okay?”

“I feel like I should be asking you that,” Claudia replied as she revealed herself.

The woman laughed as she walked down the stairs. “It’s my job to protect people.”

The woman extended her hand out. Claudia studied the friendly gesture for a moment before shaking her hand. The woman’s silver bracelet flashed a calm, blue light, rendering Claudia unconscious. The woman grabbed and gently laid Claudia down. She seized Claudia’s phone and tapped the screen with her bracelet, unlocking it. She went straight to the messages, finding the prophecies.

The woman held two fingers on her bracelet and spoke into it, “Hey, I got a situation of another innocent human getting one of those ‘prophecies’ to our operations. We really need to figure out who is sending these messages to people.”

From the balcony of a condominium across from the park, the redhead woman on the trolly with Claudia earlier spun and danced with a gigantic grin plastered across her face. She paused, leaning on the steel balcony rail as she watched backup arrive for the agent. Her grin grew even wider.

“Looks like you hit a nerve, Veritas,” she praised herself as she spun around to her freestanding door.

Veritas opened the fiery-orange door, revealing the aftermath of the first prophecy text message she sent to a person in Hoquiam, Washington. She closed and opened the door, rewatching the scene of her prophecy text in Augusta, Maine. She closed and opened her door several times, rewatching the endings of all of her escapades. She took a long look at the one in Atlanta, Georgia. When she closed the door, her smile snapped straight.

Veritas pulled out a tablet from the air. “I think it’s time to conclude this quest and force those secret keepers to reveal their truth.”


You Have 2 Unread Prophecies - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

For this short story, I wanted to expand on the mystery of, “You have 1 unread prophecy.” No prompt inspiration this time. I chose to write about San Francisco because I was thinking about Oklahoma City’s streetcars and then thought about the trolly system there. I looked around Google maps, learning about Mount Olympus, and thought that would be an interesting focal point.

For this story, I wanted to show the same thing happening to another person, but when I finished the first draft, I felt like it was basically an alternative version with nothing new. I thought it over and decided to use this story to reveal the person behind the prophecy message: the end-timer, Veritas. As I hinted in the story, Veritas is obsessed with the truth. She never tells a lie and believes the universe’s lies and secrets brought its downfall. 

The ending does set up for a third and final text prophecy story. I don’t have any ideas for it yet, but it will involve three unread prophecies. 😉

Script Thief

Detective Psychon arrives on The Glimmingdrift where he works with a client to solve who has been leaking their play scripts to the press.

NOTE: This story takes place after Who Killed The Toymaker Aboard Starbringer II? and at the same time as A Rescue Request to Santa. However, I wrote this sci-fi story to stand on its own. Enjoy!


Every piece of media and publicity Detective Psychon found about The Glimmingdrift recommended seeing a live show in the Dionysus Circle district. Spawning from a shady gambling past, the current captain revitalized the spaceship city to be a theatre lover’s paradise. Performing arts venues replaced the twelve casinos, keeping the flashy neon aesthetics and repurposing them for the arts. A neon blue holographic billboard promoting, “‘A Disastrous Carol’ Written and Directed by Scourge” briefly caught the detective’s attention as he walked deeper into the district.

Pairing with the performing arts, visitors also knew Dionysus Circle for its eclectic culinary collection of food vendors. Each booth was a work of art, often embodying the dish they best served. While the detective had no use for food, in a past life, he would’ve had a hard time picking something to eat based on all the tantalizing aromas as he strolled past them.

All the detective planned to do during his visit aboard The Glimmingdrift was to see a client.

Vertically, the district was only two to three levels tall, allowing people with wings to fly around, but no need for upper-level pedestrian walkways. The detective stopped in front of a mini-tower consisting of an elevator base to a circular observation deck. At the top was a penthouse suite that doubled as a living and rehearsal space for the prestigious writer and director, Canopus.

“I’m here to see Canopus,” the detective said to the private guard.

The muscular brown sasquatch with a black hoodie and jeans sized up the short-by-comparison human vampire. “What’s your business?”

“I’m the new hat designer,” the detective lied as requested by the client.

The guard looked at Psychon’s ragged black pointy hat with various hand-sewn patches adorned on it. The guard shrugged and stepped aside from the door. “Canopus is waiting for you.”

The door automatically slid open, and the detective stepped inside the freight elevator, which was large enough for a few dozen people. The elevator walls and ceiling were covered with living flowers and ivy, smelling like a spring meadow. A few of the flowers had a metallic sparkle to them. As the door closed and lifted him to the only destination, Psychon recalled his initial conversation with Canopus. They spoke on a holographic video call via their networkers.

Canopus patted her forehead with a towel using one tentacle while the second used her flower sewn hat as a fan. Her third tentacle held the networker as the last one raised a glass of ice water to her mouth. She took a sip through the rainbow swirly straw.

“Look, I need you to find out how my stories are getting leaked to the press,” Canopus said as she sat the glass down. “I don’t want to accuse my troupe falsely, and I don’t want to come across as unhinged.”

“Is it one media outlet that gets the inside details?” Psychon asked.

“No, it changes every time, but whoever gets it, it’s an exclusive.”

“That rules out any media outlet. Do you have any suspects on your team?”

“My troupe is loyal,” she said with a hateful glare with her large eyes.

The detective opted not to question her statement further and went with a different approach. “I’ll need to infiltrate your team to be sure. They may be unknowingly or unwittingly helping.”

Canopus tossed the towel aside and put her hat back on, which gave her an idea. “You could be my new hat designer.”

Psychon adjusted his pointy black hat he made himself. “I can pull that off, and I now know how to solve your problem.”

The elevator dinged open with a gentle musical melody. Like the elevator, plants covered every inch of the ceiling. Most of the walls were transparent or were windows to the outside, making the circular penthouse feel larger than it already was. Before walking on the plush green carpet, Psychon took off his boots and placed them on the shoe rack with the others.

The detective only took a couple of steps when Canopus ran up and greeted him with a tight, warm hug that lifted him from the floor. If Psychon needed to breathe, he would’ve been struggling at the moment. Instead, he grumbled, and Canopus carefully returned him to the ground.

“I’m so excited to see you,” Canopus apologized.

“I’m excited to be working with you too,” Psychon said as he straightened out his black trench coat.

Canopus turned back to her troupe of eight people working together for their latest show. Each person sat in a plush pod hung from the ceiling that formed a circle, so everyone was equal in discussion and rehearsal. All nine pods were large enough to fit Canopus, who was the largest person there. The detective noted the diversity of the troupe. From the reviews the detective gleamed about the company, the mix of ideas and cultural backgrounds was a favored trait.

Canopus returned to her pod. “Everyone, before I give out the scripts for tonight’s show, I have a special associate who I commissioned to design you each a special hat for this production.”

Psychon took off his hat, then one by one, he walked around the room, pulling out a hat from inside his hat, which was bigger on the inside. Each black and red striped hat was similar in appearance as not to cause any jealousy. However, they were different enough in size and strip width to tell each one apart. After the detective passed out all the hats, he returned to Canopus.

“I hope everyone enjoys their hats,” Psychon said as he gave the last one to Canopus.

“These are exquisite,” Canopus genuinely praised as she put on the hat. She took a rolled-up poster from her pod and unraveled it to show only Psychon. “This is for you as a thank you. You’re the first one to see the poster for tonight’s show.”

“Thank you,” Psychon said as he rolled up the poster and put it in his hat. “It’s been a pleasure working for you.”

The detective tipped his hat and returned to the elevator. Everything was going according to plan.

The detective made himself comfortable in the corner of an underwater themed bar. He sipped on his glass of blood while his networker projected live feeds from the hidden cameras placed in each of the hats. With the show starting in a few hours, no one attempted to leak any details about the production. With tentative diligence, he watched for any sleight of hand tricks as well as any outsiders who might be spying on them.

When a news alert with breaking details about Canopus’ latest show popped up on his feed, he almost didn’t want to believe it. Earlier, he scheduled his networker to push any news about the show to him. He tapped on the news box from The Daily Cork. 

The article revealed exclusive details about the plot. The story even mentioned the wardrobe and hats for the show. It included several suggestions on what to eat that paired with the show. Then down at the bottom was a witness sketch of the show poster, which Psychon plotted with Canopus to make sure only he saw it.

Psychon closed the networker video. “Time to pay The Daily Cork a visit for answers.”

The Daily Cork was a one-person operation specializing in culinary news and reviews, with the occasional story about performances, usually with food recommendations. Luckily for the detective, they had an office aboard The Glimmingdrift, but it was a private residence, which meant he couldn’t barge in.

The detective learned the residential hallways were designed without any decorations so people would get to and from home quickly without any distractions. The bright purple walls did give Psychon a sense of luxury despite the minimal architect. He knocked three times on the white door to Room 289. 

The door slid open, revealing a young 28-year-old human woman, although the snakes in her hazel hair exposed she was half-gorgon. She wore a thick, white sweater and a pair of tight red leggings. 

“Hello, Alaia,” Psychon said, forcing a warm smile. “I saw your article about Canopus’ latest show, and I wanted to see if you are interested in interviewing me about the hats I designed for it.”

Alaia beamed with excitement. “Yes, please come in.”

With the invite, Psychon stepped inside. “Thank you.”

The detective studied the white minimalist zen studio apartment room. If Alaia was hiding anything or anyone, there wasn’t much space to do it. He didn’t spy any surveillance equipment, and Alaia didn’t seem to recognize him either.

Alaia took a cross-legged seat on a mattress on the floor, which was the only piece of furniture. She sat up with an immaculate posture.

“So, tell me, what’s the story behind this show’s hats?” she asked. 

“Well, Canopus hired me to find out who was leaking details about her shows to the press, and so I made special hats with surveillance equipment to track her staff.” The snakes in Alaia’s hair rattled with nervous restlessness. Psychon held up a warning finger. “Don’t even try to turn me into stone. Vampires are immune. Now, tell me, how did you learn about the show when I saw no one contacting you?”

Alaia’s posture slouched. “I got an anonymous message. They said if I brought them some stuff, they would give an exclusive. I’ve seen other publications get exclusives, and so I took it. I thought it was a publicity stunt at first…”

“What did they want in return?” the detective questioned.

“I can’t pronounce it, but here’s the message. They wanted me to deliver it to a dumpster out back behind Canopus’ place.”

The journalist brought up the demands on her networker.

The detective swiped away the screen. “That explains everything.”

Canopus and her troupe stumbled up the penthouse entrance with celebratory bottles of wine and high spirits from a successful performance. The detective stood outside with the personal security guard.

“Psychon, it’s so good to see you,” Canopus said. “Do you have good news for me?”

“Yes, I’ve learned that your troupe is loyal, and you don’t have to worry about your shows being leaked to the press again.”

“Really?” Canopus said, about to drunk cry with happiness.

“Wait, I thought you were a hat designer?” one of Canopus associates asked.

“Detective is my proper title,” Psychon said.

“How’d you fix it?” Canopus asked.

“I set it on fire.”

“Set what on fire?”

“All of your plants, specifically the aglowies. Fun Fact: aglowies are native to the Yellow Planet and illegal on all the others. They are notorious for fusing with technology. They’ve been getting fertilizer in exchange for exclusive information about your shows.”

Canopus paused to soak in everything explained to her. “I got that plant as a souvenir when I visited the Yellow Planet for inspiration. That’s about the time when small little details started to leak to the press.”

Psychon nodded. “And as the plant grew bigger, it was able to expand its reach.”

A realization hit Canopus. “But the aglowies covered my entire place!”

“Yes, your whole penthouse suite is currently in flames. I had to get special permission from the ship’s captain, but once I explained the danger, she gave me access.”

The detective’s client took a big swig of wine. “I guess it was time for a remodel anyway.”


Script Thief - Dionysus Circle Scene artwork by Chen Kang at Design Pickle - black and white

For January’s short story, I wanted to reveal the case Detective Psychon was heading to that he referred in Who Killed The Toymaker Aboard Starbringer II? I thought it would be fun to explore more of The Glimmingdrift featured in A Rescue Request to Santa, having both stories take place at the same time. In the Santa story, I did mention Starbringer II landing there, so I’ve planned this idea in advance. I was also inspired by a bit of dialogue from a writing prompt, which I incorporated. The prompt was, ““How’d you fix it?” “I set it on fire.””

I got to work again with Chen Kang at Design Pickle to bring Dionysus Circle to life. I incorporated the tower in the background Chen drew as Canopus’ penthouse. Huge thanks to Chen for the fantastic art!

I have to say, I love writing a detective story in a speculative fiction world with Psychon as I can give him such weird and unusual cases. If you liked this story, be sure to click on the Detective Psychon tag for more with him or his character profile.

Be sure to join me on Patreon to read my works first.

Curious Dream Beginnings

A conversation with a philosophy professor about a repeating dream beginning prompts a revelation. 


For the past three months, my dreams began with waking up in my own room with a man in a white suit with pink accents on the end of my bed. He would encourage me to go through my bedroom door where I would be in some alternative reality for the rest of the dream. Regardless of what happened, I woke up refreshed. Still, with the way the dreams always started the same, it began to bother me.

I considered taking a psychological or a dream interruption class, but while doing some research I stumbled upon an online philosophy class taught by a fellow journalist, Hank Williams. In the sample lesson, he spoke with such wisdom and insight one would gain from interviewing numerous people. I was hooked.

Eventually after several classes, I got to have a one-on-one videoconference session with my professor. I started out by asking him course related questions, but the conversation drifted over to the subject of dreams and I solicited him for his thoughts on mine. He asked me questions I never considered and he seemed particularly interested in the man and the door I would go though.

“Do you recall seeing this man in your life before you started to have these dreams with him?” Hank asked.

“I don’t believe so,” I replied.

“Is this man always alone or is someone with him? A woman perhaps?”

“No, it’s just him.”

“Have you ever tried to touch this man to make sure he was there?”

“No, I never thought to do that.”

“This door you would go through, are you sure it was your door? Did the weight and movement of the door feel different from your real door?”

“I didn’t really notice anything…”

“How curious.”

Our conversation ended with him saying he would like to discuss the subject further tomorrow. He was curious if our chat would alter my dream. I didn’t think it would, but I said I would be glad to talk to him again tomorrow. 

Upon waking up in the dream, my philosophy professor sat at the end of my bed. He wore a dark brown suit under a light brown overcoat, being a stark difference between the man in the white suit who would normally sit there.

“Strange, isn’t it?” Hank commented.

I took a moment to startup my brain to process some words. “Hank?”

“Please, call me Quis.” He walked over to my door. “This isn’t really a dream and neither were those dreams you had.”

With those words, everything suddenly felt so real. It was like a fog had been lifted from my brain. My face got red with awkwardness, but Quis wasn’t paying any attention to me as he turned the door knob. On the other side was a sunny forest. He closed the door like a person who had gotten what they needed out of a fridge.

“When did you get this door replaced?” Quis asked, like he knew it was new. 

“About a few months ago, actually,” I said, shocked. 

“Then the dreams started, didn’t they?”

My jaw dropped. “Yes, they did.”

“Do you remember what the person looked like who installed it?”

“I do. I only remember her because she wore a red dress, which I thought was unusual, but I hate fashion criticisms myself.”

“Black hair, right?”

“Yes!”

“That would be Raven.” Quis gripped the door knob and yanked it out from the door. “That should put an end to their work. If you do run into my siblings, send them my regards.”

He tossed the broken pieces on the floor and left my apartment. I knew I wasn’t dreaming because I didn’t fall back asleep.


The final weekly short story for the year was inspired by the writing prompt: “You wake up from one of those dreams again. It starts in your own bed, in your real room, only outside the door is an alternate reality every time. The man you see in every dream was your Philosophy teacher this time. Who is he? ‘Strange, isn’t it?’ He says from the end of your bed.”

I thought this prompt would be a fun way to feature Quis again as I only wrote one story, Interview Spoilers, about the end-timer. I got to show a different side of him as previously he was portrayed as just a journalist, but like all the other end-timers, he does take on other roles. 

I hope you all have been enjoying the weekly stories this year! For the most part, I did keep up with my goal of releasing a new story every week with the exception being around A Killer Among the Spaceship Game Show, which took me two weeks to write part one and another week to finish it with part two.

I’ll talk more about my plans for 2021 later, but fun fact: The total word count of all my short stories this year (at the time I’m writing this) was 47,518 words. I do plan to revisit all of my stories, send them to an editor, and publish them as a book. 

If you’re on Reddit, I have a forum for my fictional universe so join the community today!

Thank you for reading!

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