Nascent Magic

funny-story-egg-skull

It’s the season of growth, so we at the Squid are bringing you three well-cultivated goodies: Michael Merriam’s story about home-grown magics, Christina Sng’s octopus cartoon, and Robert Jeshonek’s tale of egg-laying canine horror.


PERSONAL NOTES ON DANGERS IN BASIC SORCERY

by Michael Merriam

This is the thing they don’t tell you when you take up sorcery. The thing they don’t tell you is summoning beings to make deals and upgrade your power isn’t as straightforward as it seems in pop culture, or on social media, or in this classroom, and definitely not in role-playing or video games.

Everyone thinks it’s all, “Oh, I’ll trade you my soul for this power,” or “I’ll serve you in the afterlife for assistance now.” Strike down my enemies. Bring me riches. Teach me unknowable knowledge, and other stupid Faustian deals.

Look, if it were that easy, everyone would be a sorcerer.

You must be sure of your intent and stay focused on your summoning, otherwise…

Otherwise, you end up with the Demon Lord of Video Games sleeping in your basement, a many-eyed celestial being in your kitchen baking brownies, and the small god of Western Chorus Frogs somewhere in your home croaking the frog version of “Hey babe, over here! Do it with me!” at all hours.

Which would be perfect if my intent was to be the greatest Call of Duty player, or learning to make perfect eclairs, or having unending sexual energy…

I guess that last wouldn’t be a bad thing to bargain for.

Maybe. Bargains are so tricky.

But back to my point.

Summon a demon to make a deal is a classic, right? It was supposed to be a crossroads demon. You know the score, lonely dirt crossroads in the middle of nowhere, desperate summoner buries an object of power in the middle of the crossroads, sigils are drawn, words are said, and boom you’re Robert Johnson playing the Delta Blues.

Or whatever your intention.

It was just a stray thought about leveling up my cleric in-game and the next thing you know I’m faced with the Demon Lord of Video Games.

And he could not fulfill my true intention.

The intention of my summoning? That’s my business, but let’s just say now I understand it is true what pop culture teaches about desiring power to do good and ending up screwing yourself over.

The thing about demons, if they can’t fulfill your real intention, they will hang around until you finally give them something they can make a deal with, which makes it hard on gaming weekend to not accidently blurt something out in the heat of the moment and there you are — demonic deal made.

I mean, I’ll admit my live-in demon lord is a hell of a raid teammate, but I did not want to find myself accidently damned while playing the Untitled Goose Game.

I decided to get rid of the demon. And how to get rid of a demon, you ask?

What you need is a higher celestial being to drive the demon from your midst. Or at least drive it off the basement futon.

When summoning a celestial being, always remember that your intent means nothing to them. When brought to this plane of existence by the proper incantation and mixes of incense, the celestial will look into your soul with its many, many eyes and give you the thing it decides you need.

Apparently, what I needed was cakes and cookies and donuts. Which are delicious and doing nothing good from my waistline or blood glucose. Not to mention my nerves every time the celestial drifts into the room carrying baked goods, regards me with its many eyes and intones “FEAR NOT MORTAL, FOR I BRING YOU GLAD TIDDINGS AND RED VELVET CUPCAKES WITH SPRINKLES.”

UPS won’t even deliver to my house anymore after the whole “FEAR NOT MORTAL, FOR I SHALL INSCRIBE MY MARK UPON YOUR DEVICE AND ACCEPT DELIVERY OF THIS PACKAGE.” I’ve never seen a UPS van burn rubber before.

The mail carriers, on the other hand, remain unfazed. They just hand over the packages and accept the mark on their tablet.

I imagine right now you are thinking, “Dude, you have a minor demon lord and a celestial being living together under your roof and how does that even work?”

Surprisingly well.

You’d think there’d be fire and brimstone and flaming swords and smiting, and when we are all playing point-of-view hack-and-slash games that is the case, but for the most part things are peaceful.

Sure, in the beginning there was some epic side-eye and arguing and the accidental destruction of the bulk of my classic console game collection, but eventually they reached a sort of détente and then…

Summoning under the influence is a bad idea.

I suppose you’ve been waiting to hear how I managed to add the small god of Western Chorus Frogs to this menagerie of metaphysical beings and the truth is it was an accident.

If you can call the Demon Lord of Video Games lacing the Many-Eyed Celestial’s macarons with a hallucinogenic an accident. It was — I’m assured — meant as a practical joke.

I don’t even really remember how I summoned this specific small god, which sucks, because my research shows no one had ever summoned him before and it would be nice to be remember for being the first to do so once I’m dead and gone. But the rules are the rules, and if you can’t replicate the summoning, it’s considered nothing more than an accident, and who takes notes about what incantations were said or power objects used while stoned on fancy-ass cookies?

Not that I would suggest summoning any amphibian small god because it turns out not only are they sexing it up with the local amphibian hotties all night long and leaving you with a backyard pond full of croaking small demi-gods, but apparently all that croaking also does things to the libidos of other powerful supernatural beings.

Which as you might guess is… disturbing.

On so many levels. So many noises. So many screams and cries and there isn’t a set of noise-cancelling headphones good enough to filter it out and honestly, I can’t even figure out how that all works.

What I’m saying to you is this. Consider carefully before you take up a life of sorcery, because here’s the thing they don’t tell you…

They don’t tell you a summoning, or a series of summonings, might go so wrong that you are awoken in the middle of the night by a Demon Lord and Celestial Being standing at the foot of your bed, the demon smiling, the celestial staring everywhere at once, and you hear words you never want to hear.

“FEAR NOT MORTAL, FOR WE BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF OUR GROWING FAMILY.”


by Christina Sng

Eggs of the Dog That Bit You

by Robert Jeschonek

funny-stories-egg-mandala

Every morning, I wake to the barking of the dogs in the coop.  All at once, they take up the call, howling and yapping their glorious dawn chorus.

Aroooo!  Arf arf arf!  Yip yip yap!  Aroooo!

Then they get back to what they do best, which is laying eggs.  I only wish it was enough to keep the farm going.  I only wish I was half the dog-egg farmer my daddy was.

I’m just glad he won’t be alive to see Banker Bancroft repossess Dog’s Ass Farm from his only daughter in a few weeks.  At least that much is a mercy.

All up and down the length of the coop, the dogs squat over nests of straw and squeeze out one egg after another.  The eggs have an amazing variety of different colors and markings, varying from breed to breed.  When you’ve been dog-egg farming as long as I have, you learn to recognize which dogs lay which ones.

As I gather the day’s first batch, I pat each pooch on the head, sometimes getting a lick in return, sometimes a nip.  Today, the bulldogs are producing well, cranking out their olive-green eggs with black and brown stippling like military camouflage.  My best poodle presents me with a clutch of bright purple eggs, each flecked with gold glitter.  Then there are the German Shepherds with their black eggs streaked with beige and the Golden Retrievers with their fiery reds peppered with yellow polka dots.

Along with the pure-bred canines, my collection of mixed-breed mutts drops eggs of unpredictable color and design, a delightful assortment of daily surprises.  Today alone, I find eggs with green and gold stripes, eggs with bright blue and orange swirls, and eggs with wild, almost psychedelic designs.

But the one that mystifies me most squeezes out of the bottom of a fluffy white Bichon Frise I call Cotton.  This egg, unlike the simple white orbs that Cotton normally drops, has actual words scrawled in black on a white background.

As I read the impossible message, I’m so stunned that I nearly drop the egg.  The words written on its shell are unlike any markings I’ve ever seen on any egg laid by a dog.

Let this egg hatch to save your farm.

I gaze at that message for a long time as the dogs pant and scratch and bay around me.  Only one thing is certain: this isn’t a trick.  The coop is secure, and no one works here but me.  I haven’t been able to afford help in months.

Is it possible?  Could there truly be some kind of miracle inside Cotton’s egg that might keep the farm alive?  If so, what do I have to lose by letting it hatch?  The sale price of one Bichon Frise egg, that’s what.

Perhaps it will be worth it.

I return the egg with the message to the nest, and Cotton immediately settles her fluffy bottom on top of it.  Rruff!  Her bark sounds satisfied to me.

Three days later, just as I’m making my morning rounds with basket in hand, the egg hatches… and again, I’m stunned.  I expected to see a white Bichon puppy among the bits of broken shell, its tail wagging.

Instead, I see something I’ve never seen before—a tiny creature covered in yellow fluff, with a hard little beak on its face.  As I watch, it scoots around the nest, making a high-pitched eep eep noise.

Whatever this thing is, I’ve never seen its like before.  A shiver leaps up my spine as I gaze into its beady black eyes.

I scoop it up in the palm of my hand, barely wresting it away from converging Dobermans licking their chops.  I shoo them off, and they retreat to their perches between the collies and dachshunds.

“What now?” I ask the fluffy yellow creature.  “How are you supposed to save my farm?”

Eep eep eep is the only answer I get, meaning what?

Who the hell knows?  All I can do is wait and see, I guess.  Pray and hope for a miracle.

And keep the dogs from eating this thing in the meantime.

I set up a pen on the sunporch of the house, using a cardboard egg crate lined with straw and spreading wire mesh fencing over the top.  Every day, I keep Fleecy (that’s the critter’s name) watered and fed, tossing in handfuls of grain for it to peck at.  Once in a while, when I’m sure no dog is on the prowl, I take it out and stroke its downy yellow fluff and talk to it.

“What kind of dog are you, anyway?  How are you going to save my farm?”

Eep eep eep.

“I guess I could make you an attraction.”  I narrow my eyes thoughtfully as I stroke the critter’s yellow down with a fingertip.  “But who would ever believe you hatched from a dog’s egg?”

Then, something else occurs to me.  If Fleecy hatched out of an egg…

“What if you can lay eggs, too?”  Maybe that’s the miracle I’ve been waiting for.  Maybe Fleecy’s eggs will be even more delicious than those of the dogs in the coop.

Now that would be enough to get folks sniffing around Dog’s Ass Farm again!

Just imagine!  Cars lined up for miles, everyone coming for a taste of Fleecy’s eggs!  Money stuffing the cashbox, people grinning, bills getting paid.

The family farm getting saved.

It’s a dream I treasure every night for weeks, even as Fleecy grows up.  Gone is the darling yellow down, replaced by a coat of black feathers.  The adorable eep eep eep becomes a guttural cluck cluck cluck and occasional b-kaw b-kaw when she (I hope it’s a she, it’s hard to tell) becomes riled.  The cute little nub of her tushie grows into a tail, tufts of fine white fur wound around it like the hair of her mama, Cotton.

And every day, my expectations grow.  If I had to guess, I’d say Fleecy’s getting closer to laying…if she’s ever going to lay.  There’s no other critter like her to complete the act, after all; I know I’m grasping at straws when I hope she’ll generate even a single egg.

Then, one morning, even that hope is gone.

As Fleecy’s gotten bigger, I’ve moved her to a pen outside, behind the barn.  But when I go out to feed her this time, she is gone.

“Fleecy!  No!”

Her pen has been torn apart.  The wire fencing lays in mangled twists on the ground, torn asunder as if it’s been put through a thresher.

The pen is empty.  Whatever took Fleecy, its bizarre, gnarled tracks disappear into the woods.

My only hope is gone.

I slump to the ground and weep, because I know what’s next.  Days from now, I will lose far more than Fleecy.

The dogs howl like fire sirens in the blazing hot morning.  It’s as if they already know I will lose them all, too.

And then the day is upon us, far faster than I ever imagined it could be.

Sheriff Gardenia parks in the dusty yard and lumbers over, his belly jiggling like the uncooked yolk of a Great Dane’s massive pink egg.  Banker Bancroft slithers behind him, his shiny gray suit like snakeskin, his blotchy, bulbous head like a cur’s testicle.

“Time’s up, Miss Janet.”  Sneering, Bancroft waves a fistful of paperwork.  “Your farm belongs to Third-Rate National Bank, now.”

The dogs bark and snarl in their coop as if they understand the gravity of the moment.  I see their teeth and claws through the gaps between the slats as they lunge, desperate to get out, desperate to do something.

“Please.”  There’s nothing left for me to do but beg.  “Just a little more time?”

“The thing is done.”  Sheriff Gardenia unsnaps the holster on his hip.  “And you better think twice before you go off half-cocked.”

Just then, a strange noise fills the air, unlike anything I’ve ever heard in my life.  It sounds like the cry of a great animal, high and piercing and staccato.

Coo coo ree coo!  Coo coo ree coo!

Then it mingles with another cry, like the keening, ferocious howl of a wolf in the wild, protecting its precious clutch of furry gray eggs.

Wooooo!  Wuh-wuh-wuhooo!

Coo coo ree coo!  Wuh-wuh-wuhoo!

Bancroft looks around nervously.  Gardenia draws his gun.

The dogs fall silent, all at once.

My blood turns cold, and the wind goes still.  For a moment, we all stand there, waiting stupidly for what is to come.  What else can we do?  What can anyone do about anything in this life?

Suddenly, there is an explosion of running footsteps from the direction of the woods.  We turn as one, just in time to see the great beast charge toward us, black wings thrashing, giant beak clacking as it bellows out its war cry.

Coo coo ree coo!  Wuh-wuh-wuhoo!

Gardenia squeezes off an errant, panicked shot, and he and Bancroft break for the squad car.  Only then, as the creature hurtles after them, do I notice the white-flocked tail switching behind it.

Just like Cotton’s.

“Fleecy!”  The word rushes forth from my lips, drowned out by the screams of the disemboweled men.  My heart hammers as their blood sprays everywhere, spattering black feathers and dusty ground alike in scriptlike streams.

This message, abstract as it is, I understand instantly.

Dog’s Ass Farm is saved!

Fleecy’s own cries confirm it, bless her soul.

Coo coo ree coo!  Wuh-wuh-wuhoo!

As if on cue, the dogs finally break through the walls of the coop, barking and howling up a storm as they race to get in on the act… if she’ll let them.

That’s when I realize the tables have turned.  The future isn’t so much about how Fleecy’s eggs, if she lays them, might taste to us.

It’s about how we might taste to whatever hatches out of them.


About the Creators

Michael Merriam‘s essays and stories have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Cast of Wonders, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. His latest novel from Queen of Swords Press is Last Car to Annwn Station. Like most artists, he has worked a variety of odd jobs over the years, including short order cook, late night radio disc jockey, international freight specialist, and manager of a puppet troupe. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his wife, housemate, and two exuberant cats.

Frankenstein monsters don’t get enough genre love. How would you revive the Frankenstein trope in the 21st century?

Frankenstein’s monster needs more love! Let’s reboot him in a romcom, paranormal romance, or perhaps in a Jane Austin mashup!

If you had a hammer, would you hammer in the morning, and all goddamned day, or just idly as a novelty? What would you hammer?

I would not hammer in the morning or in the evening, because I am entirely too busy rowing this stupid boat to shore all the time, but if I did have a hammer, I’d hammer a hole in the bottom of the boat and sink it! because my arms and shoulders are killing me from all this rowing and rowing.

Robert Jeschonek is an envelope-pushing, USA Today-bestselling author whose fiction, comics, and non-fiction have been published around the world. His stories have appeared in CLARKESWORLD, PULPHOUSE, ESCAPE POD, and many other publications. He has written official STAR TREK and DOCTOR WHO fiction and scripted comics for DC, AHOY, and other publishers.

His story originally appeared in Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror, Season Two, Issue 4, from Ahoy Comics (2020).

What’s your favorite imaginary sound, and why?

My favorite imaginary wound is the seeping necktie, with extra points for colorful effluvia, truculence, and heraldry. My favorite imaginary sow is Gladys Flopsy from the imaginary children’s book series This Little Long Pig. My favorite imaginary clown is Hissy-Fit McGlee, who is also — not so coincidentally — my all-time favorite host of the imaginary 1950s BBC Radio Shipping Forecast spinoff, Tee Hee Chuckle and the Giggle Brigade.

If you could rename any person, living or dead, in all record and memory, who would it be, and what would their new name be?

I have always believed in the sanctity of idiocy, and in this, I continue to be undisappointed. Give a man a finch, and you will feed him a mouthful of feathers. The over-under on tonight’s safety scissor/soft cheeses competition is hardly worth mentioning. In regard to your actual question, the answer is such a no-brainer, I nearly refused to respond to it… but here goes: If I could rename any person, I would rename EVERY person, living, dead, and otherwise… and the name I would give them all is SQUISHY. [Eds: We would too, Robert. We would too.]

Christina Sng draws, writes, and dreams. Her art has exhibited in the Fox Poetry Box and appears on American book covers and magazines.

Images ethically generated using Adobe’s kindler, gentler AI, Firefly, based on a prompt from editor D.R.R. Chang, a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and he cowrote a free retro JRPG some people raved about.


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