The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: The Green Planet

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!

Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village

After overhearing an urban legend about an abandoned village, Haley “The Sounds” Riot and Robin Bee set off to test Haley’s future predicting music player to uncover the mystery behind the community.

* This story takes place after Body Drop, however, I wrote this to stand on its own.


Haley Riot pulled on the purple musical note attached to the retractable band around her neck. The networker designed to look like two beamed eighth notes brought life a three-dimensional map of their position in the woods. Beside the map were a few postings and news clippings about the Babylon Sisters Village. Some of the posts talked of treasure, murder, and ghosts but offered no evidence other than stories of people going missing who explored the area.

Haley was determined to solve the mystery and had a secret weapon on her side: a device that predicted the future and revealed truths through song titles. 

Robin Bee took a seat on a fallen tree as Haley reviewed the map. Once she caught her breath, she asked her girlfriend, “Are we on track?”

Haley swiped away the map. “Just down this hill, and we should be there.”

“Good,” Robin said as she laid down the log. “I didn’t expect this journey to be such an exhausting hike.”

“It wouldn’t be an abandoned village if it was next to a subway station.”

Robin sat back up. “Yeah, I know. Does your music player have any advice for approaching the village?”

Haley couldn’t tell if Robin was facetious or genuine. She had only helped solve one murder thanks to the music player, and Haley wanted to put it through a test on this urban legend she heard. Haley also often had difficulties reading Robin’s facial expressions, but she learned to default them all to seriousness. She decided to pull out the device to answer Robin’s question.

“What should we be aware of as we approach the village?” Haley said to her music player. She pressed the shuffle button. “Endless War.”

Robin sighed. “That’s helpful. Anyway, I’m ready to go.”

Haley pondered the meaning for a moment before letting out a frustrated moan as she returned the device to her short’s side pocket. “Yeah, let’s go.”

Haley led the way down the hill. The incline was steep enough for Haley to be mindful of her footing but not steep enough to slow her down.

“Ouch!” Haley mumbled, feeling a scratch across her tanned legs.

“You okay?”

“I felt something scratch my leg.”

“Told you you should’ve worn pants like me,” Robin said and then felt a scratch across her leg. “Ouch! Something scratched my leg too.”

When Robin got scratched, Haley knew it wasn’t her imagination. While Haley was human, Robin was a ghaukvoi, and her thick, blue skin was tougher. Before they could think about it, a bunch more scratches cut across both their legs. Haley cussed, and they both ran down the hill, slapping at their legs to brush aside whatever was scratching them. As Haley rubbed her ankles, Robin looked back to where they once stood. Gusts of wind cut across the grass and plants, and she found the source.

“Wind ants,” Robin said.

“Wind ants?” Haley repeated.

“They’re territorial insects that can fling sharp gusts of wind at their enemies. I did some reading on the subway on our way,” Robin explained. “Anyway, from the looks of it, I think I see two different groups fighting each other.”

Haley’s face lit up. “Like they’re in an endless war!”

Robin’s eyebrows squinted down. “That’s a bit of a stretch.”

“But it makes sense,” Haley said with an optimistic wink. “Come on. We’re here.”

Nature had reclaimed most of the tiny village. According to Haley’s research, the cobblestone community consisted of about 25 people living an off-grid lifestyle. A dozen dome-shaped homes surrounded a large community center building also fashioned out of brown cobblestones.

“You know, this place is kind of cute,” Robin admitted as she took in her surroundings. “Not sure if I would say that at night, though.”

Haley laughed. “We got plenty of daylight left.”

“What do you want to investigate first?” Robin asked. 

Haley took a look at the houses, inspecting them for any activity. “Let’s try some of the homes first and make sure this place is abandoned.”

Robin nodded. “Sounds good.”

Haley and Robin walked over to the nearest house, where Haley knocked on the door and called out hello. The wooden door crept open with a sharp squeal. Haley looked around and opened the door further, calling out hello again as she entered. Robin stayed behind, keeping watch.

“Anyone here?” Haley shouted.

The house was the same small size on the inside as it was on the outside. The lights did not automatically turn on, so Haley turned on her networker’s flashlight function to see. Instead of electricity, she found candles scattered around. The home was one room with furniture creating dividers for different sections. The place’s brown wood design had a warm, rustic atmosphere that Haley would have found calming if it weren’t for all of the belongings left out and covered in dust, leaving her with an ominous feeling. She returned to Robin outside.

“Anything interesting?” Robin asked.

“It’s weird.”

“Weird how?”

“It’s like someone lived there, but they left years ago without taking any of their stuff.”

“That is weird. Do you want to head back?”

No,” Haley said without hesitation. “I want to see if it’s the same story with the other homes, and then I want to check out the big building.”

The couple visited three more homes, each with the same story. Clothes, food, and keepsakes were all left to gather dust. Inside the fourth home, Haley found a crimson wooden spoon resting on the kitchen counter. The spoon reminded Haley of the one Robin used to shove a rainbow muffin into her mouth when they first met. Upon seeing Haley’s rainbow hair at the coffee bakery shop Robin worked at, Robin thought Haley would be a perfect test subject for the new recipe. Robin pocked the spoon and left the abandoned house.

“Same story,” Haley said to Robin as she closed the door.

“I’m curious. If everyone here suddenly disappeared, then how did you hear about this place?”

“I overheard this conversation at a bar, and they were talking about unexplained stuff, and this person was talking about the Babylon Sisters Village. Apparently, they came out here to deliver stuff for a wedding, and no one was around. I did some digging as I wanted to know more, but there wasn’t much to be found as it’s a small community. There were some posts about people saying they were going to explore this place for themselves, but they never did follow up.”

“Did they just not go or something?”

“No, it’s like they said they were going, and they disappeared.”

“And you’re not worried about disappearing?”

“Not when I got this,” Haley said, shaking the music player. Robin scoffed, and Haley quickly added, “And you too, of course.”

“Smooth save there, muffin. That thing tell you how this all got started?”

Haley asked the music player the reason that caused everyone to disappear and tapped the shuffle button.

“My Heart is Burning,” Haley said, confused.

“That’s—”

“Don’t finish that thought,” Haley interrupted. She held up her music player. “How does Robin feel about that news?” Haley tapped shuffle. “Okay, now finish.”

“Spooky,” Robin finished.

Haley smiled and showed Robin the exact song title.

Robin rolled her eyes. “You set me up.”

“What? No way!”

Robin turned away and faced the community center. “How about we go check out this large building now?”

“Yeah, let’s do that.”

Blocking the wide double doors rested a large wooden crate with the retailer’s name, “Journal of Ardency,” stamped in black ink across the sides. Haley peeked inside through the opening. The container was empty, save for a few bits of red fabric hairs. Despite nothing being inside, Haley requested Robin’s help after trying to push it aside as it was heavier than it appeared. With the door clear, they both went inside this time. There was no need for additional lights as the windows filled the space with warmth and light. Both girls’ jaws dropped at the simplistic charm of the wooden reception area. They slowly walked into the room, soaking in the place. Haley could see the site as a perfect venue rental for events with its open floor plan and natural lighting. 

“There’s nothing here,” Robin said, surprised. 

“Except for that big old rug,” Haley added. In the center of the room was a fluffy, red rug several times their size. “Wait. I wonder if something is under it.”

As Haley stepped off, Robin yanked on her arm and pulled her back. “Hold on. Something is off about this place.”

“What do you mean?” Haley asked.

“You said all the homes were dusty?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s not a speck of dust here.”

Haley looked for confirmation. The place was immaculate. Haley asked her music player, “What danger should we be aware of in this building?”

“Well, what did it say?”

“Quicksand,” Haley spoke with gentle reservations.

She pulled out the wooden spoon she found and tossed it at the rug. The rug snapped on the spoon, like the jaws of a giant beast. Haley and Robin both shrieked and jumped back. The carpet slithered toward them, and they both bolted out of there. They didn’t bother to look back to see if the rug was following them or not. They ran as fast as they could, slammed the door shut, and moved the wooden crate back over the door.

As they caught their breath, a tall, brown fur sasquatch yelled, “Don’t go inside there!”

“Too late,” Haley snapped back as the sasquatch came racing up toward them. “What the hell was that thing?”

The sasquatch didn’t immediately answer.

Robin repeated Haley’s question with a threatening grumble. “What was that?”

“A carnivorous carpet,” he confessed.

With a gentle tone, Haley asked, “How did this all start?”

“You could say it was because my heart was burning with pain.” The sasquatch took a seat on a rock, putting him more at eye-level. “The woman I was in love with was getting married to someone else, and I got that rug, thinking it would scare them as a bad omen. Instead, it ate everyone in the village. I’ve been sticking around for the past few years to make sure it got no one else. I was hoping it would’ve starved to death by now…”

“But it’s still kicking,” Haley said.

The sasquatch nodded.

Haley pulled out her music player and asked it, “How do I kill the carnivorous carpet?”

She tapped the shuffle button. Upon seeing the result, she nodded.

“Simple enough,” Haley said as she strolled off. “Be right back.”

“What is she doing?” the sasquatch asked Robin.

Robin shrugged. “Her thing. I’m Robin, by the way.”

“Francesco,” the sasquatch introduced.

About a minute later, Haley returned with a rag stuffed inside a glass bottle.

“Open the door and get ready to close it,” Haley said to both Robin and Francesco.

Haley struck a match, lighting the rag on fire. Without questioning her, they promptly opened the door. Haley tossed the flaming bottle at the rug. It snapped the bottle in its clutches. Robin and Francesco slammed the doors shut as the carpet howled in pain. Robin covered her ears while Francesco squinched in pain. Haley hummed and moved her fingers like she was conducting an orchestra until the cry stopped.

After a moment of silence, Haley consulted her music player.

“It’s safe to enter,” Haley announced.

“Are you sure?” the sasquatch asked.

“See for yourself.”

Robin stepped back as Francesco opened the door. In the room was a smoldering pile of ash from the burnt carpet. The sasquatch bent down and picked up some of the remains. They blew out from his hand as a tear formed.

“It’s over,” Francesco said.

Night had fallen when Haley and Robin returned to the subway station to get home in Aequus. Francesco insisted on staying in the village as he didn’t know where else to go, but he assured them he would give his future some thought. The car Haley and Robin entered only held a few other people, but they knew it would fill as they got closer to the city. They used the opportunity to spread out and relax. Robin rested her head on Haley’s legs.

“What does that thing say about how I feel about you?”

Haley asked and pressed shuffle. “Really love you.”

Robin smiled. “What about our future?”

Haley consulted the device.

“Champagne,” Haley lied as she closed the music player, hiding the answer, “Can’t Cheat Death.”


Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

Thank you for reading my February 2021 short story!

After writing about Detective Psychon last month, I knew I wanted to feature another story about Haley “The Sounds” Riot where she was solving some sort of mystery to test the music player. I got inspired by the writing prompt, “For years, people go missing in the nearby abandoned village, sparking dozens of theories about treasure, murder, and ghosts. The culprit? A carpet that traps and drowns them like quicksand.”

Like I did for Body Drop, I also solicited song suggestions from friends that I incorporated through the story in different ways. Those songs were: Journal of Ardency by Class Actress, Spooky by Classics IV, Babylon Sisters by Steely Dan, Don’t Call Me Back (feat. Francesco Yates, DJ Lux & AJ McLean), Really Love You by Paul McCartney, and Mein Herz Brennt by Rammstein. I also tossed in a few of my shuffled songs.

Story artwork brought to life by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle. Get a discount off your first month of Design Pickle via this affiliate link, which full disclosure, I earn a small commission as a discount for me as well.

I hope you enjoyed this story!

Body Drop - Kruder Hotel Courtyard Party - art by Chen Kang at Design Pickle - colored

Body Drop

A surprise date night takes a turn when a dead body falls onto the dance floor. The couple tries to solve the mystery using a music player that allegedly predicts the future using song titles.


Nervously gripped around her date’s arm, Robin Bee squinted as she walked into the Kruder Hotel courtyard decked in red neon lights. Surrounding the dance floor was a colosseum-like stage with three stories. People wore various red themed outfits on the ground level, enjoying themselves by dancing, talking with friends, and flirting with strangers. Two bars spanned the entire bottom of the stage, with seats stationed in front of them. Scattered on the second level were private red tents for more intimate activities, which Robin didn’t have access to visit. Exclusively on the third floor was DJ Red House. He used his purple tentacles to mix popular songs from around the Five Following Planets. The DJ adorned in his trademark red overcoat covered with a dozen pouches, a giant zipper track along the entire length, and a hood.

Robin considered reading more her jam, while Haley Riot was a feisty human filled with the energy of a burning star who could dance until morning. Robin wanted to do something special for Haley, and so she told her to wear a red outfit and meet up at the Crossroads Station for their date tonight. Both Robin and Haley ended up with similar casual apparel of red pants and red t-shirts that matched the event. 

A sasquatch in a puffy red dress with three rings around the waist approached Robin and Haley with a tray filled with complimentary drink shots. Robin and Haley each took one, clinked their glasses, and downed their drink. While Haley hollered with excitement, Robin’s face clinched up from the bitter taste of the alcohol. They both thanked the sasquatch as they put their empty glasses on the tray.

“So, what do you think about this party?” Robin asked Haley.

“You slayed it. I love DJ Red House!”

“This concert was a last-minute deal since he was in the city for a business deal. Were you surprised?”

“Well, I might have cheated…”

Robin resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “You still think that device predicts the future with song titles?”

“It’s been eerily accurate since I got it,” Haley explained as she pulled out the palm-size white metallic device from her red jeans.

Haley was hastily gifted the digital music player by an older woman with long gray hair. When Robin first heard about Haley’s encounter, Haley described the mysterious stranger as wearing a wrinkled purple robe and gold chains with purple jewels hanging from her neck. This stranger said the song titles would help Haley “right wrongs” before she floated into the sky on a cloud. Robin did admit she had never seen a music player like it when she first saw it, but people had hobbies making one-of-a-kind devices. Without much evidence for either side, Robin shrugged it off and let Haley enjoy her belief. 

“How does Robin feel about this party?” Haley spoke to the device and hit the shuffle button on the music playlist. “‘Comfortably Numb,’ it says.”

“I think that’s an accurate description,” Robin admitted as she played with Haley’s rainbow dyed hair. “The music is making me numb, but I’m doing okay because I’m with you.”

“Aww,” Haley teased. She kissed Robin on her blue skin neck. “Good comeback. Let’s see, what is going to happen at this party?” Haley tapped shuffle. “‘Let the bodies hit the flood.’”

Robin mauled over her opinion as the DJ tossed fog bombs onto the dance floor and cracked the volume up. “That’s rather vague. I can attribute a literal meaning to people falling on the floor, drunk.”

“Fine. I’ll ask a more specific question to prove it. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen at this party tonight?” Haley hit shuffle. “Oh.”

“What? What did it say?” Robin prodded with genuine curiosity.

“Dead Man’s Party,” worried Haley as she stuffed the music player back in her pants while attentively scanning the area for danger.

“You don’t think someone is honestly going to drop dead?” Robin questioned with sarcasm.

A scream erupted from the dance floor, causing the music to stop. Haley rushed over to the scene with Robin following behind, cursing under her breath because she had the feeling she was about to be proven wrong. In the middle of the dance floor was a dead human with his hands tied behind his back.

Haley let out a tiny joyful squee. “A mystery!”

As the hotel staff intervened and began pushing people away from the crime scene, Haley got out her music player.

“You think it can tell you who did this?” Robin asked without sarcasm.

“I’m going to give it a try. Where is the killer?” Haley hit shuffle. “’High Noon.’”

Haley and Robin looked up at the DJ booth and noticed that DJ Red House was gone but didn’t think much of it. High Noon was a vague clue. Neither of them noticed anyone else acting suspiciously on the second or third floor. 

“Perhaps I can flat out ask, ‘Who killed the person on the dance floor?’” Haley tapped the player. “It just says, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’”

“That’s helpful,” Robin commented as she crossed her arms. “Maybe ask why?”

Haley asked why and tapped the button. “‘Taking Care of Business.’”

“This isn’t going anywhere,” Robin mumbled, resorting back to her belief that the music player couldn’t predict the future.

“Wait. It has to be DJ Red House. Think about it. He was up high in the center. He is a stranger in a strange land since he isn’t from any of the Five Following Planets. He was only doing this concert because of some last-minute business.”

“Maybe,” Robin hesitated. “How are you going to prove all this?”

Haley consulted her music player. “‘Telephone Call from Istanbul.’”

“What’s a telephone, and where’s Istanbul?”

Haley shrugged. “I’m going to question him.”

Before Robin could object, Haley ran off. Robin sighed and followed. As a precaution, Robin activated her danger app on her networker strapped around her wrist. The app had the authorization to record audio and visuals and send all relevant data to her predetermined list of contacts should it detect any harm.

Robin and Haley found themselves inside the hotel building, under the stairway, based on more clues from the music player. Above them was DJ Red House communicating on his networker to another person. 

“I’ll meet you at Istanbul tomorrow,” the DJ said in a whisper. “That renegade wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Good. No trouble? No one suspects you?” the other person asked.

“The protectors will be here soon, but I made it look like his ex killed him in a drunken accident. I’ll stay here tonight so as not to arouse suspicion. May victory prevail.”

“May victory prevail.”

The DJ ended the call and walked down the stairs. Haley took a step up, confronting him.

“Hey, there, ladies,” DJ Red House flirted. “You looking for a good time?”

“I know you killed that person,” Haley accused. “Just ‘taking care of business,’ weren’t you?”

The flirty smile dropped from the DJ’s wrinkled purple face. “You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourselves into.”

He reached into four separate pockets on his overcoat, using all four of his tentacles, pulled out his fog bombs, and smashed them on the steps. The stairway filled with smoke, but that didn’t stop Haley from running upstairs after the murderer. The DJ escaped through the second-floor door with Haley not far behind.

“What can I do to stop him?” Haley shouted at her music player. The song title was, “Throw Me Hard.” Haley threw the device at the DJ, hitting him on the head, which, combined with his overcoat’s bulkiness, the DJ lost his balance and landed face-first on the granite floors.

Haley pounced on the DJ, pinning him to the floor. She screamed for help, which Robin heard and had brought two protectors. Haley explained to the protectors how they overheard the DJ talking about killing the victim. Robin collaborated with the recordings on her networker. Both Haley and Robin intentionally omitted the hints from the music player.

Haley and Robin jumped on the subway with the questioning done, leaving the Kruder Hotel mess behind. 

“I think this is the beginning of a new career,” Haley proclaimed as she took a seat on the pristine subway.

Robin chuckled. “You going to have some kind of alias for this venture?”

Haley hit shuffle. “Call me, The Sounds.”


Body Drop - Kruder Hotel Courtyard Party - art by Chen Kang at Design Pickle - black and white

For Body Drop, I had a few different sources of inspiration. I wanted to write a story to serve as an origin story for my character, The Sounds, who I have in other unpublished works. The setting was inspired by the following writing prompt: “Everything was going along quite smoothly at the hotel party seeing as everyone was enjoying themselves, that is until a man falls into the middle of the dancefloor from the roof of the building with his hands tied.”

Finally, I asked people on social media to share song titles for me to incorporate into the story. I used the following songs: High Noon by Kruder & Dorfmeister, Stranger in a Strange Land by Leon Russell, Anything from Dead Can Dance, Red House by Jimi Hendrix, Telephone Call from Istanbul by Tom Waits, Let the Bodies Hit the Floor by Drowning Pool, Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd, Renegade by Styx, Taking Care of Business by Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Staying Alive by Bee Gees, and Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo. Some of the songs I used the titles as the hints Haley got while others I wove in other ways with character names.

Story Artwork by Chen Kang at Design Pickle. Get a discount off your first month of Design Pickle via this affiliate link, which full disclosure, I earn a small commission as a discount for me as well.

Thank you for reading and thanks again to everyone for all their suggestions! This was fun and I’ll have to write another short story with The Sounds using social media to source song titles.

If you enjoyed this story, be sure to read the next installment, Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village.

The Case of Statue Trail - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

The Case of Statue Trail

A freelance private investigator is hired to figure out why a client’s wife was transformed into a statue.


Much to the detective’s displeasure, the sun was out in full song and dance without a cloud in the sky. It’s not like he couldn’t work in the sun, but he had to take precautions to ensure his safety, which slowed him down. The client insisted on a rush job and offered to pay extra to start investigating now. He protected his skin with a refined black and purple suit with a subtle gothic flare of gargoyles on the back of the jacket.

With one hand holding his enormous umbrella, Psychon glided his fingers over the face of a statue of a surprised young woman. The detective looked down the urban wilderness trail, making a note of the other sculptures decorated along the path. There were various species and genders depicted with nothing in common other than they had a scared look on their faces.

Psychon turned to his client. Her outfit was the opposite of his in every way – bright, floral patterned shorts, a matching sports bra, and running shoes. Psychon understood her blue skin wouldn’t catch fire like his under the sun.

“Are you positive this is your wife?” the detective inquired.

“Absolutely,” the client responded with firm calmness. “She’s punctual to the second, and when she didn’t return home from her morning jog, I retraced her usual route and found her here.”

Psychon pulled off his pointy black hat with an eclectic assortment of patches sew on it. He dug around inside and pulled out a black tube the size of his hand. He returned his hat to his head, pressed the device against the statue’s neck, and tapped the red button on the other end. The device emitted three, quick high-pitched beeps.

“Looks like your suspicions were correct. Your wife was turned into stone. Does she have any enemies, Karviná?”

The client scoffed. “How much time do you got? Being a corporate leader gets you a few.”

“I change by the hour, but how about you share me the short version of who can transform her into stone.”

Karviná crossed her arms and thought for a moment. “I can’t think of any.”

Psychon glanced around the trail, looking at the other statues. “Do you, by any chance, recognize any of these other statues?”

“Can’t say I do.”

The detective went up to the nearest statue and tested it with his analyzer. It emitted the same three beeps. “This person suffered the same fate.” He checked another—the same result.

“What are you thinking?” Karviná asked. 

“This may not have been a personal attack, or it could’ve been personal, and these people were bystanders. Not enough clues.” He kneed down for a close inspection of the ground, being mindful of the umbrella’s location as not to damage the statue or get himself roasted. “Interesting.”

“What’s interesting?”

The detective searched the ground for the same clue on the surrounding statues. “They were all turned to stone where they stood. There’s nothing to indicate someone moved them. Do you know when these statues first start to appear?”

“Come to think of it, she sent me a photo of one of the sculptures commenting on how it was new. My wife takes this route every day.”

“We should get the protectors out here to get everyone to a hospital to be healed. Once they’re restored, they should be able to tell us what happened.”

“But that process takes time, and whoever did this is still out there.”

“Very well. I have a theory, but I’ll need your help.”

Karviná jogged along the paved trail as it came out along a river. She hadn’t seen anyone for several minutes. She was doing her best to follow the detective’s instructions to be natural. It was challenging to resist constantly look over her shoulders, and with the upcoming stretch having no statues, she was on high alert. 

She turned her focus to the flow of the river, hoping the sight would relax her like the waterfall white-nose she listened to at night. She took a deep breath to center her mind when a woman jumped out in front of her.

“Hello, there!” the stranger greeted with an extensively cheerful smile. Paint splatter covered her long-sleeve shirt and well-worn white jeans. Only her rainbow pattern beanie cap was free of paint. “Would you like to make some art with me?”

“I’m just out here enjoying a jog,” Karviná stumbled to explain.

The artist pulled out a large knife from her belt holster. “But my project needs more volunteers.” 

The artist’s beanie flicked off her head as several gorgon snakes hissed to life. Karviná screamed, prompting Psychon to jump down from the treetops. While floating underneath his umbrella, he landed directly on the artist, knocking her down. He immediately handcuffed her, which neutralized the snakes.

“I can’t believe that worked,” Karviná said, coming down for an adrenaline rush.

“I already called the protectors to treat those transformed and to make an arrest.”

“Why?” the artist cried. “All those people with increasing terror on the faces as they got closer to the big corporate complexes. It was going to be beautiful.”

A pair of uniformed protectors spotted them and rushed their way.

Psychon gently forced the artist up. “Maybe next time, don’t build statues out of people.”


The Case of Statue Trail - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

This short story was somewhat inspired by the following writing prompt: “A man discovers that a statue in a public square has something strange. She seems way too real. He discovers that there is a corpse inside it. A detective is called to see this, and he figures out that every single statue in this square hides a corpse.”

I thought it would be fun to write a short story featuring Detective Psychon, who is a minor character in my book, The Crashing of Heaven and Hell, and from a TV series I once attempted, but still plan to do. Since I’ve originally published this story, I’ve written more about the detective. You can find all of them in chronological order on his profile page.

Thank you to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing this beautiful scene to life. For inspiration, I gave Janine a photo of the Tulsa, Oklahoma rival trails. In my mind, as I was writing this story, I even pictured those trails. If you ever find yourself in Tulsa, I recommend taking a hike or bike ride along there.

The Gifting Dog story art drawn by Tin at Design Pickle

The Gifting Dog

One of my goals for 2020 is to write more, which includes new short stories. This story is less than 900 words and was inspired by the writing prompt: “Every day when you return home from work, your dog greets you by bringing you a seemingly random item, which will turn out to be useful throughout the day. One day, after a particularly stressful day of work, your dog greets you with a sword at his feet, happily wagging his tail.”

Enjoy!


Olivia flopped down on her fluffy, purple beanbag in her living room. She let her whole body soak into the seat as she let out an exhausted sigh. The lights automatically dimmed a little to create a relaxing space. She tapped her purple star necklace, and it projected a 3D holographic sphere.

“Hey, networker, what’s on my schedule for tonight?” Olivia asked.

“You have nothing on your personal calendar,” the networker spoke in a cheerful tone based on her favorite movie actress. “However, there are several events happening tonight that may be of interest to you, including a new art exhibition at Sky View Museum.”

“Na, I think I want to stay inside tonight. I’m peopled-out.”

“Would you like me to start you a hot bath?”

“Maybe later. I want to sit here and do nothing.”

“As you wish.”

The sphere disappeared as Olivia’s dog, Shadow, rubbed his head against her beanbag and then under Olivia’s hand to be petted, which she did. She rescued Shadow a month ago at her job when a clothing rack fell him, trapping him until she freed him. It was a crazy day that day as demons, skeletons, a giant three-headed dog, and all sorts of weirdness rampaged the mall. She named the dog Shadow not only because he had black fur, but because he had a shadowy glow to him and he could blend in with the darkness to the point that one could only see his purple eyes. Olivia tried to find his owner but had no luck.

Shadow had become family to her and, in a strange way, somewhat helpful. Every morning before Olivia left for work, Shadow would bring her an item that would end up helping her out that day. She had no idea how her dog would even obtain some of the things. One time, Shadow brought her an extra lunch that she gave to her coworker, who happened to forget their lunch. Another time she was gifted a healing cut spray for when she ended up hurting herself while demonstrating a hoverboard. Some of the gifts had helped in odd ways, like a buy-one-get-one-free meal coupon for when her lame date ended up ditching her with the bill. Shadow would even sometimes bring offerings in the evening, like a bottle of wine for when her friends came over for game night that she completely forgot she was hosting. 

“I don’t suppose you got a cocktail for me tonight, buddy,” she said as she scratched Shadow’s back.

Shadow barked and then ran off around the corner, out of sight. A moment later, Shadow came back, dragging a silver sword. Shadow took his time as he avoided scratching the wall and floors with the sword. Olivia sat up. She did not own any weapons. The dog lowered the sword by her feet, wagged his tail, and barked at her. 

Olivia picked up the sword and inspected it. She could see herself with her long, curly purple hair in the blade’s reflection. She resisted the temptation to test the blade’s sharpness. It looked dangerous enough.

“You’ve never given me a weapon before, Shadow,” Olivia said as she stood up, nervous at what may happen that would cause her to use a sword. “What do you expect me to do with this?”

Shadow barked and led Olivia to his leash by the front door. Olivia grabbed the leash, and as she was about to put it on him, she realized he had her sunglasses in his mouth.

“It’s dark outside. I don’t need those.”

Shadow dropped them by Olivia’s feet. She went along with the request and put the sunglasses on after wiping them off with her t-shirt.

Olivia opened the door to be surprised by her neighbor about to knock. Her neighbor’s snake hair was on the fritz, hissing uncontrollably, biting themselves, and even herself.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re wearing sunglass,” her neighbor said in a relived panic. Gorgan snakes cannot turn a person into stone if they’re wearing sunglasses. “I must’ve eaten something I’m allergic to because my snakes are going crazy. You don’t happen to have a silver blade?”

Olivia nonchalantly raised the sword. “Will this do?”

“That’s perfect! Will you cut the snake that’s the reddest for me?”

“Isn’t that going to hurt you?”

“No, I’ll be fine, and my hair will grow back. Ow,” her neighbor explained as another snake bit her cheek.

“I don’t think I can cut off just the red one.”

“Don’t worry. Silver tends to cause the non-irritated snakes to retreat when you get it close.”

“If you said so,” Olivia said as she raised the sword, taking her word for it.

From the presence of the silver, all of the snakes retreated in defense except for red one as it stood tall. Olivia slashed the snake off in one clean cut. It hissed and withered away as husked skin. The rest of the snakes relaxed.

“Thank you so much,” her neighbor thanked with a big hug. “How about I get you a drink as a reward.”

Shadow barked. Inside his mouth were a pair of coasters. 


Story Artwork by Tin at Design Pickle. Get a discount off your first month of Design Pickle via this affiliate link, which full disclosure, I earn a small commission as a discount for me as well.

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