Our New Online Store

UFO Publishing finally joined the 21st century by having an online store!

Up until now, we used a PayPal button to accept orders and had to fulfill them by manually e-mailing the e-book files to the reader. No more! The new store will automatically fill e-book orders. We still have to manually ship the physical books, but we’re working on that problem next.

Click here to visit our shiny new store!

 

 

Coffee Table of Contents & 2013 Holiday Bundle Sale

Coffee_Cover_v1r2

UFO Publishing is thrilled to present our next anthology, Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic.

Coffee plays a major role in each of the stories collected in this book. Brewed from such fine ingredients as magic, wonder, humor, and romance, Coffee serves up a unique blend of the fantastic you won’t be able to put down.

Release date: December 9, 2013
MSRP $9.99 (trade paperback), $2.99 (e-book).Buy it now.

Table of contents:

Coffee_Cover_v1r2Foreword by Alex Shvartsman
At the Everywhere Cafe by A.C. Wise
The Perfect Book by Ken Liu
Toilet Gnomes at War by Beth Cato
The Seven Samovars by Peter Sursi
The Civet Whisperer by James Beamon
From the Shores of Tripoli by Jonathan Shipley
A Darker Brew by Teri Babcock
The Cup of Truth by Matt Mikalatos
Dungeons and Dental Plans by Tim McDaniel
The Man Who Heard Doughnuts by Oliver Buckram
The Coffeemaker’s Passion by Cat Rambo
Caution: Contents Hot by E.C. Myers
Sexiest Fun Time Drug by Katherine Sparrow
Ghost in the Coffee Machine by Charity Tahmaseb

2013 Holiday Bundle Sale

We’re offering a holiday sale through December 9 for the bundle of all three UFO Publishing titles.

Buy trade paperbacks of Unidentified Funny Objects, Unidentified Funny Objects 2, and Coffee for only $29.99 including shipping ($41.97 MSRP) or $49.99 shipped outside of the United States. Or get the e-book bundle for only $11.99 (14.97 MSRP).

Click here to take advantage of this offer. All physical bundles will ship on or before December 10. E-book bundles will be delivered by Dec 9 (the release date for Coffee).

 

UFO2 cover and table of contents

Unidentified Funny Objects 2 table of contents:

Foreword by Alex Shvartsman
The MSG Golem by Ken Liu
Service Charge by Esther Friesner
Item Not as Described by J.W. Alden
Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy by JIm C. Hines
How to Feed Your Pyrokinetic Toddler by Fran Wilde
A Stiff Bargain by Matt Mikalatos
The Girl with the Dagon Tattoo by Josh Vogt
Improved Cubicle Door by M.C.A. Hogarth
On Safari by Mike Resnick
How You Ruined Everything by Konstantine Paradias
Insider Information by Jody Lynn Nye
The Haunted Blender by K.G. Jewell
The Retgun by Tim Pratt
The Diplomat’s Holiday by Heather Lindsley
Congratulations on Your Apotheosis by Michelle Ann King
One Thing Leads to Your Mother by Desmond Warzel
Class Action Orc by James Beamon
The Wiggy Turpin Affair by Wade Albert White
Hannibal’s Elephants by Robert Silverberg
You can order UFO2 here:

 

UFO2 Kickstarter Launched

Unidentified Funny Objects 2 is being put together over the next few months with a target launch date of September 2013.

We’re excited to announce the headliners for volume 2: Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Ken Liu, Esther Friesner, Jody Lynn Nye, and Tim Pratt.

In the month of April we are going to be running a crowdfunding campaign to help fund this volume. Please check it out and consider pre-ordering via Kickstarter:

 

Morte Cuisine by Kara Dalkey

“No! No! No!” Chef Galbadon Fleece beat back the aproned, toqued, zombified brigade-de-cuisine with a rolling pin. “The brains are not ready!”

“Braaaains!” intoned the apprentice kitchen staff gathered round the counter. They were drooling appreciatively at the glistening, gray hemisphere Chef Galbadon had just pulled from the oven.

“The honey glaze, you’ll notice, has just begun to settle and form a nice crust,” Chef Galbadon instructed them, “and only now is it ready for the cranberry compote, thusly.” From the stovetop behind him, Galbadon took a saucepan holding a reduction of cranberries mixed with sugar and a dash of Tokay wine. He poured this liberally over the brains and the result was, well, he would have thought it visually revolting back in his living days but now the presentation was absolutely perfect.

There had been many changes since the plague ravaged the world, changing eighty percent of its people into post-thanatotic humanity. Chef Galbadon was once a famous pop-culture gourmet followed around by television cameras as he harangued hapless would-be restaurateurs. Chef Galbadon, too, had died and was resurrected into rotting, ichorous flesh, but somehow his mind had stayed intact, more or less. He sometimes wondered if it was due to those rare herbs he’d sampled in Madagascar. Or perhaps it was his signature stubbornness that refused to succumb to undead stupor. So he continued to focus on his vocation of bringing good food to the masses. Even if the dishes were now almost entirely protein-based and he was preparing it for drooling, brain-dead cretins. Which, now that he thought on it, wasn’t so different from his living days.

But Chef Galbadon despaired of getting anything useful out of this crew. His sous-chef, Charles, reached a grasping hand toward the brain and Chef Galbadon had to slap it away. “Not yet! Our lesson is not over! Now, who can think of anything to add, an appropriate garnish to complete the dish?”

“Uhhh, eyes?” suggested the junior cook, Henrico.

“Eyes? Eyes? Have you lost your bloody mind?”

Henrico felt around his somewhat exposed skull and then blankly shook his head.

“Eyes would be entirely too garish a garnish,” Chef Galbadon explained, “not to mention their difficulty of procurement. They would have to be absolutely fresh. Which would drive up the price of the dish prohibitively.”

Indeed, just getting ingredients was becoming harder and harder, not least because his kind were in competition with the remaining livelies. To his chagrin, Chef Galbadon now wished more people had listened to his annoying TV competitor, Chef Jessica Greenleaf, and become vegetarians. “All right, anyone else?”

Clarissa, the soup cook, tentatively raised a hand. “Uhhh, bone meal?”

“Bone meal?” cried Chef Galbadon in dismay. “Dry, dusty, musty bone meal? Have you lost all sense of taste?”

Clarissa obligingly plucked her black and purple tongue out of her mouth and examined it. She shook her head attempted to put her tongue back in her mouth, but it wouldn’t stay and instead flopped onto the counter, dangerously close to the platter of brains. The tongue began to wriggle toward the dish like a fat worm.

“Get that off of there!” Chef Galbadon shrieked. He batted it off the counter with a spatula, which he then flung into the sink. “Do you want a visit from the health inspectors? I keep telling you and telling you, cleanliness is key, people!”

Clarissa looked down, ashamed, as Jimmy, the kitchen boy, dutifully swept up her tongue.

Knowing he could only push his people so far, especially given their current debased condition, Chef Galbadon threw his soup cook a bone. Literally. As she gnawed on it, he said, “Well, all right, a light dusting of bone meal mixed with powdered sugar over the top might have a place. But we don’t want too much sucrose in the dish and we already have the honey glaze. Modern cuisine must be healthy cuisine.” He realized the ridiculousness of that statement as he stared at the sagging, decaying faces before him, but why mess with a good motto.

There was a boom out in the dining room.

“We’re closed!” Chef Galbadon yelled. “Come back this evening! Henri, will you go send the customers away? Politely?”

Henri nodded and turned. The kitchen door banged open and two livelies stood there, one man aiming a shotgun, the other holding a fire axe at the ready.

“Ohmigod, Fred, we found a whole nest of ‘em!”

“This is not a nest!” Chef Galbadon shouted. “This is a cooking class, which you are rudely interrupting!”

“Who’s the mouthy one?” said axe-man.

“Dunno but you better get out of here, Mister, ’cause we’re about to clear this place out,” said the shotgun lively, waving his weapon around to prove his point.

“You will do no such thing!” protested Chef Galbadon. “Charles, will you please escort these gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, to the door!”

“Uurrrgh,” agreed Charles, and he turned, arms outstretched, toward the intruders.

The man with the shotgun fired, blowing Charles’s head off, spattering green and purple ichor all over the kitchen.

“You idiot, that was my sous-chef!” Chef Galbadon shrieked. “Do you know how hard it is to find a good sous-chef? You have to train them for years!”

“The talker must be one of them,” said axe-man. “Get him too.”

Chef Galbadon was hot-tempered but no fool. As Mr. Shotgun reloaded, he grabbed the enormous iron wok from the wall (thanking his undead condition for the required strength) and held it before him like a shield. “In no uncertain terms I demand that you leave or I shall direct my staff to be less than gentle with you!”

“Shut up,” said Mr. Shotgun as he fired. Not at the wok but at Chef Galbadon’s exposed legs. The chef and the wok dropped to the floor.

There was no pain. That was another gift of his undead existence. The only discomfort he felt as a zombie was a continuous, insatiable hunger, as though jagged rocks rolled around in his stomach. But frustration Chef Galbadon felt in abundance. He wailed, “You bastards! You shot off my legs! How am I supposed to reach the cupboards and countertops now?”

The kitchen staff stared wide-eyed at their chef-de-cuisine brought low.

“We told you to shut up,” said axe-man, raising his blade. But Mr. Shotgun still hadn’t gone past the doorway and the axe gouged his upper arm.

“Hey! Watch where you’re swinging that thing, Fred!”

The bright scent of fresh blood was as enticing as the nose of a fine port wine, and like the best of them, captured attention. It caused somnolent neurons to fire in the normally torpid kitchen staff, and they whirled into action. They grabbed kitchen knives and tenderizing mallets and descended on the intruders with a vengeance. Before Mr. Shotgun could get off another blast, he was surrounded by what amounted to an undead Cuisinart. Mr. Axe got no further than lopping off the pastry cook’s hand before he, too, was sucked into the vortex of cleavers and graters and tongs.

Chef Galbadon sighed at the opportunities lost, wallowing in self-pity to the soundtrack of the livelies screaming. He wondered what he would do now, with his movement so constrained. How could he keep up with his busy schedule? What matter, why bother anymore teaching those who couldn’t possibly learn?

But it was damned hard to off oneself once one had become zombified. Even now, the mostly headless remains of his sous-chef, empowered by some notochordal instinct, was crawling to join in the fray.

From habit, Chef Galbadon looked around for the cameraman, hoping he was catching the drama for the week’s show. But of course the cameraman was gone. They’d eaten him months ago.

Chef Galbadon was shaken out of his miasma of melancholy by the sudden silence and purposeful movement of his staff. To his amazement, before his eyes, a miracle unfolded. Over the next couple of hours, the apprentices worked in smooth, competent cooperation at the stoves and the grill and the mixing station. They picked up Chef Galbadon and reverently set him on a bar stool placed beside the central kitchen island counter. One by one, as if placing offerings before an idol, the cooks presented their chef with dishes carefully made from their would-be destroyers.

There was blood-marrow pudding with spiced rum icing; ligament linguine in a marinara sauce; bone chips with cheddar-cheese artichoke dip; brain chowder with potatoes and sweet corn; chargrilled flank steak with a sage-maple spice rub; fingers and toes in a light tempura batter stir-fried with onions and bell peppers; and even barbecued “urban oysters” with a kiwi fruit garnish. And, yes, Henrico had added their eyes to the top of the freshly baked, cranberry-glazed brains. It was perfect. Galbadon would have wept if his tear ducts still functioned. “Oh, well done, ladies and gents, well done. You see, fine cuisine is not dead, even if we are. I am so very proud of you all. You are all head of class. No offense, Charles. Now, let’s not let your excellent work go to waste. Everyone, please, dig in.”

The feeding frenzy that followed was magnificent.

Kara Dalkey is the author of sixteen historical and urban fantasy novels, and at least as many short-stories, both science fiction and fantasy.  Her most recent published novels were the Water Triology books, Ascension, Transformation and Reunion.  She has also published short stories in the Firebirds young adult anthologies.  She loves humorous writing and has fond childhood memories of bringing huge stacks of funny books home from the library to chuckle over.  

Although she was born and raised in Los Angeles, and honed her writing skills in Minneapolis, Kara now lives in the Pacific Northwest, along with a man, a boat and a very large pixie-bob cat.

Photo (c) Helen Meier

UFO Publishing brings you a free humorous story every month. Click here to read more.

If you enjoy our web content and wish to read 29 more such stories, please order Unidentified Funny Objects today!

A Midnight Carnival at Sunset by Terra LeMay

By Photo by Heather Abounader (www.abounaderphoto.com abounaderphoto.blogspot.com Heather Moreton from Louisville, KY, USA) (12/28/08 Sunset  Uploaded by Princess Mérida) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So, you’re on your way home from work, and traffic is awful. You try an alternate route but it doesn’t help, and you’re not a confident driver. Or maybe you’ve been having car trouble and you’re afraid your car’s going to overheat. Hell, maybe you just had a bad day at work and are wondering if you should pull the car over and wait for traffic to die down before you experience some kind of freakish road rage and kill someone. Who knows.

In any case, just ahead, off to your right, you see a time-worn, hand-painted sign for a place called Kurious Kreatures. You’ve heard of the place, of course. It’s a zoo for fairy-tale creatures. Really, a kind of sideshow. You’ve even passed it before, though you’ve never stopped because you don’t want to be seen as supporting that kind of exploitation. A regular zoo full of regular animals is bad enough, but most creatures of legend are sentient and self-aware in a way that regular animals aren’t. Some of them can even talk. At least, that’s what you’re given to understand. You’ve never actually met one.

At any rate, it doesn’t seem right to you that someone should lock talking animals up in cages so that gawkers can point and laugh. But you have to admit you’ve often wondered about the place. You’ve never seen a unicorn before, not even on television. As traffic creeps forward and the setting sun burns your retinas, the park begins to seem like a good place to take a load off. If nothing else, it looks quiet. The parking lot is empty. You decide to stop and check it out.

You park your car, get out, approach the entrance. The first sign you pass reads:

“Caution – Kurious Kreatures is not a petting zoo. The Kreatures are free to move about their individual enclosures and free to leave them at any time. Please do not enter the enclosures or try to touch the Kreatures. If a Kreature approaches you or speaks to you, please treat him or her with the same respect and consideration you’d offer toward your fellow humans. Thank you and God Bless.”

This isn’t what you expected.

There’s no gate at the entrance, only an honor box style parking meter that’s been retrofitted to take the admission fee. A laminated sign duct-taped to the bottom of it says, “Please help us feed the Kreatures so they will consent to remain at our facility. Suggested donation: $5.00. Thank you and God Bless.”

At this point, you may choose to make a donation, or you may decide to wait until you see the sights. It won’t take long. There’s an illustrated map of the park on another sign above the donation box, and it shows the habitats running along both sides of a single lane, circling a cul-de-sac at the lane’s end. When you glance ahead, you can see the end of the cul-de-sac from the entrance. You’ll be in and out in fifteen minutes. Thirty, tops.

There are ten habitats, each containing a shed-style stall inside a yard bound by a waist-high picket fence. The grass inside all the habitats needs cutting and weeds are growing along the picket fences even on the visitor side of the fence, which is paved. Every painted surface is peeling. There are speakers mounted to telephone poles at the corner of every habitat playing, faintly, a poor approximation of “Sobre las Olas.”

The front of the first shed in the first enclosure on the left is covered with a large blue tarp, and the shed in the enclosure beyond it is stuffed full of hay bales. Because the enclosures on the left are clearly being used for storage, you move to the right to begin your tour.

Placards are mounted to the front of each enclosure. The first placard says, “The Imperial Basilisk,” and below, hand-painted letters explain, “Please do not fear our basilisk. He is harmless, having been blinded in his youth by the urine of a weasel. He is content to remain on display in our park, but do not attempt to touch him as his touch remains deadly as ever, and he may bite. Thank you and God Bless.”

An overlarge lump covered in scaly lizard skin rests on a bare patch of ground near the shed stall. It’s nearly impossible to tell if the thing is really a basilisk or just some kind of fat alligator, and no matter how long you stand at the fence and watch, you never see it move, not so much as the rise and fall of its sides as it inhales and exhales. Perhaps it has died. Or perhaps it’s just a painted rock.

And yet, although the weeds grow thick along the picket fence, all vegetation within a fifteen-foot diameter of the thing is burnt or brown or dying. Fake or real, dead or alive, you are afraid to risk investigating. You move on.

The next placard is blank, the enclosure overgrown, and just beyond it, the lane opens up. Counterclockwise around the cul-de-sac–widdershins, if you prefer–you make your way past a second empty enclosure, and then a third. You assume the three are empty, anyway. The placards are blank and the grass is taller than the picket fence.

The fifth enclosure you come to, deep at the end of the lane near the top of the cul-de-sac, appears to be well tended. You are relieved. It must be inhabited.

The grass is cropped short and a bucket near the enclosure’s closed gate contains fresh, clean water. There are flakes of hay stacked beside the fence, pulled apart and scattered a little as if something has been eating at them.

The placard on the front of the enclosure says, “The Unicorn of Legend,” and, “We are very sorry. The unicorn is invisible to most of our adult patrons. This comes as a disappointment to many but is unfortunately beyond our control. Please accept our apologies and God Bless.”

You shake your head and move on.

Beyond the “unicorn” is another “inhabited” enclosure. The placard says, “The Cursed Werewolf: Contrary to popular belief, a lycanthrope spends most of its time in four-legged form and is only free of its curse during the full moon. Thank you and God Bless.”

There’s a smaller sign below the placard with spaces in which someone has failed to fill in a date and time.

“See the next transformation at __:__ on _______ ___, 20__.

“(Not recommended for those with heart problems or weak stomachs.)”

You see no sign of any creature whether in the shape of man or beast. You move on.

You’re more than half-finished with the tour by this point, already around the deepest curve of the cul-de-sac and back on your way out of the park now. Perhaps you are annoyed. Perhaps you are baffled. Perhaps you are weary and wonder if you’ve wasted your time.

But the next enclosure is different than all the others. Its yard is paved and contains a shallow, concrete depression in the center. A swimming pool. It even contains water, tinted slightly green by algae. There’s a brownish lump resting at one end of the pool, and beside it, dry on the cement, a second lump. Both lumps raise their heads at your approach.

Is this life? Live animals, praise be!

The lump on the cement springs to its feet–it is a dog, you see–and then as if it you’ve caught it piddling on the rug or chewing the newspaper, it skedaddles toward the enclosure you just passed, squeezing through a hole in the fence between them. It trots to the center of the other enclosure, sits as perfectly as a trained obedience champion, and raises a paw, as if to wave.

Is it a dog? Surely it’s not a werewolf.

The lump in the cement swimming pool–it’s a seal–looks at you as if annoyed that you’ve caused the loss of its companion. The sign on the post says, “A Selkie of the Faroe Islands,” and, “Please do not ask our Selkie friend to remove his pelt for he is nude beneath it and very modest. You would not appreciate it if someone demanded you to remove your own clothing in front of strangers, would you? Thank you for your understanding, and God Bless.”

The “selkie” lifts a flipper, but you’d swear if it had hands that it was flipping you the middle finger.

The next enclosure contains a bird perch, and a bird on the ground beside it, pecking at the grass. It could be an ugly peacock or maybe some kind of lyrebird, but the sign tells you it’s The Sacred Phoenix:

“Also known as the firebird, this Kreature has a lifespan of five hundred years, at the end of which it spontaneously combusts and is reborn out of its own ashes. Our firebird has consented to allowing us to observe this amazing phenomenon. Thank you and God Bless.”

The sign to indicate the date and time of the phoenix’s rebirth is mounted below, but the pertinent information describes a date so far in the future as to be irrelevant. “Next show: December 28th, 2317. 2:00 pm.”

By this point you’re leaving the cul-de-sac and pointed toward the exit. The enclosure on your right is the one which contains the shed full of hay. Your tour is over. How boring.

You stalk toward the exit, muttering beneath your breath. If you haven’t yet put any money in the admission box, you resolve not to do so, and if you paid on your way in, you’re wondering if you could break the box open and get your money back without getting caught.

The only exhibit even remotely convincing was the basilisk, and only because someone took the time to liberally douse the enclosure with weed killer.

As you near its habitat, you can’t stop looking at the so-called basilisk, which you’re now sure is just a painted-up rock.

Admit it, you’re thinking of vandalizing the rock so other visitors won’t waste their time as you did. You’re remembering the can of spray paint that’s been rolling around in the trunk of your car for the last three weeks. You’re wondering if painting “God Bless” on the rock would be ironic or too subtle.

But you were on your way home from work when you stopped, and it’s getting dark. You’re annoyed, but are you really a vandal? Maybe you’ll just go home instead and laugh about it with your spouse.

You pass under the sun-bleached welcome banner stretching between the two frontmost enclosures (“Please come again, and God Bless!” it says on the reverse side), and the halogens all over the park come on at once. There are several atop each telephone pole and they illuminate the lane and each of the enclosures very well. Under the light of the halogen, the lizard-rock looks even more convincing. There is even the trompe l’oeil suggestion of a head.

You pause, admire the attention to detail, the creative way the artist has taken advantage of the shape of the rock, and you’re just giving up your last instincts to vandalize the thing when a voice from behind you startles you so much you almost jump out of your skin.

“He’s nocturnal, you know. Like me. But if you wanna hang around another twenty minutes, he’ll prolly give you a show.”

Standing in front of the tarp-covered shed-stall in the habitat across from the basilisk enclosure is a pale-skinned man. He turns away and drags down the tarp. Inside the shed, on a couple of pallets, is a glossy black sarcophagus, and near it, arranged on a Persian rug: an armchair and footstool, a bookshelf, a small table and an antique Victorian lamp.

The placard on the fence says, “A Damned Vampire: On exhibit only from dusk to dawn. Please cover all crosses and religious paraphernalia while viewing. Thank you.”

The “vampire” folds the tarp from the front of his shed and sets it behind the sarcophagus, out of sight. He goes to the armchair, makes himself comfortable in it, and turns on the lamp. “Is that better?” he asks. “Sometimes people complain they cannot make me out in the dark.”

You exhale sharply through your nose. You don’t believe for a minute that this guy’s the real thing. But before you’re able to come up with an appropriately stinging retort, your cell phone demands your attention with whatever familiar ring tone you’ve assigned to your spouse.

Your stomach drops. You suddenly remember you were supposed to meet your spouse for dinner at that little place where you two always go for birthdays and anniversaries. Which happens to be a few blocks away from your workplace, back in town.

You’re in serious trouble. You don’t even glance at the so-called vampire. You just hurry toward the exit while you dig in your pocket for your phone.

“Shoot! I’m so sorry, honey.”

“I’ve been waiting for you for forty minutes!”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” you say again. “I’m on my way.”

You drive against traffic, back into town the way you’d come, leaving the not-quite-a-zoo/not-quite-a-sideshow place behind you without a second thought.

Later, when you’ve soothed the ruffled feathers of your spouse, you recount your visit to Kurious Kreatures, tell all about the supposedly magical monsters and the guy at the end pretending to be a vampire. And you laugh over your plot to vandalize the basilisk rock with the words “God Bless,” but your spouse doesn’t seem to get the joke.

“Well, all the signs,” you say, “they all ended in ‘God Bless’ and I just thought–” but it doesn’t sound as entertaining out of context. Your spouse is merely puzzled.

That’s when you realize not every single sign had ended in “God Bless.” You wonder at the significance of that very last sign. It seems awfully subtle.

Perhaps you ought to go back. After dark, on a full moon. Check it out again.

And, you know, you’re pretty sure that guy in accounting is still a virgin. Maybe you ought to mention the place to him. Maybe he could tell you if there was really a unicorn.

Terra was born on top of a volcano. She’s fond of anagrams, hyperbole, and using extended metaphors to make a point. She writes every day, and a list of her published works is available on the ‘Fiction‘ page on her web site.

Terra has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and likes to paint, draw, and make handmade books. She’s also trying to teach herself how to knit and spin yarn. You can find her art on the ‘Fine Art‘ page.

When Terra’s not writing or making art, she can often be found on the back of a horse or reading a good book—or, sometimes, reading a good book from the back of a good horse. She also reads short story submissions for Clarkesworld Magazine.

She has a day job working in a tattoo studio where, for a small fee, she’ll happily poke a hole in you.

UFO Publishing brings you a free humorous story every month. Click here to read more.

If you enjoy our web content and wish to read 29 more such stories, please order Unidentified Funny Objects today!

Demonology for Nerds by Andrew F. Rey

“No!” Irwin Ingrams lunged for the power strip, but too late. A flash of heat and the stench of sulfur told him so.

He groaned and slowly swiveled around in his chair. Looming behind him was a seven-foot-tall creature with eagle talons and huge bat wings. Coal-red cat’s eyes glared down from a noseless face, as saliva dripped from vicious fangs.

“I am Gaap,” the demon said, his deep voice reverberating in Irwin’s tiny home office, “prince of Hell, commander of sixty-six legions of demons. You have summoned me —”

“It wasn’t me,” Irwin shouted. “It was some spell spam, a program in my email!”

“— with the sacred glyph —”

“Displayed on the computer monitor!”

” — and by invoking my name ten thousand times.”

“Which the computer played in one second. Didn’t you notice the high-pitched voice?”

“So now I shall claim my bounty and devour your soul!” Gaap took an enormous stride toward Irwin. Then he suddenly stopped, his nose and mouth twisting to one side as if he’d slammed into a huge pane of glass.

Irwin sighed in relief and slumped back in his chair. “Salt Pentacle Office Chair Mat,” Irwin said, smiling and pointing down. “Only twenty-nine ninety-five, on sale. Guaranteed to stop demons flat.”

He pushed his black-rimmed glasses back up and brushed his dark, greasy hair off his forehead. “I knew I should have updated that anti-curse software,” he muttered to himself, nervously scratching a pimple. “Now what do I do?”

He rummaged through his pile of computer manuals, second-hand sci-fi novels and World of Warcraft strategy books, as the demon felt along the barrier. “Ah, here it is,” Irwin said, tossing aside an old issue of Playboy and grabbing his copy of Demonology for Computer Nerds. He quickly flipped through the pages until he found the entry on Gaap. Let’s see…Prince of seventh circle…can instantly teleport people…married seven times, divorced once…captain of the lava polo team…ah ha, ‘How to Dispel.’ “You’re outta here, Gaap.”

He suddenly felt a gust of hot breath on his head. Glancing up, he saw Gaap standing behind his chair.

Irwin gulped. “There’s a tiny gap in the salt circle, isn’t there?”

“Uh-huh.” Gaap seized Irwin by the neck and lifted him to the ceiling. “Foolish mortal, never buy salt circles on sale. Now pay the price!”

“Wait!” Irwin choked out, remembering the chapter on Emergency Measures. “I invoke a Wager.”

Gaap smiled. “A Wager? What do you have to bet? I already have your soul.”

“Uh…” Irwin said, thinking fast, “my first born?”

“Pfft. As often as you date, I’d never collect.”

“You’re probably right,” Irwin muttered. “My collection of classic Jimi Hendrix albums?”

“He plays every month at the Asbestosdome.” Gaap grinned, then opened his mouth, wider and wider until it loomed beneath him like a great white shark.

“All right! All right!” Irwin croaked, grabbing hold of Gaap’s horns and bracing his feet against his lower fangs. He could feel the demon’s upper fangs digging into his ample stomach. “I didn’t want to mention this but — I have an advanced copy of Warcraft DCLXVI.”

Gaap’s mouth snapped shut. “That’s impossible. Even we can’t get a copy of that, and we can do anything.”

“Anything? Can you get lost?” Irwin said hopefully.

“Better guys than you have tried that trick, Tom Swift,” Gaap growled, “and it doesn’t work anymore. Neither does declaring your soul previously pledged to another or getting some fancy-talking lawyer to speak for you. And don’t even think about playing a fiddle. We’ve been practicing. Now, how did you get that game?”

“My old college roommate Loren is on the development team, and passed me a beta version, uh, under the table.”

“Blast. I’ve been working on them for months on my off-time with no luck,” Gaap said. He frowned for a moment, his eyes flicking back and forth. “All right, agreed. But you’d better have that software, or else you’re in big trouble!”

“Worse than now?” Irwin muttered.

“WHAT?” Gaap roared.

“Nothing,” Irwin squeaked.

Gaap snapped his claws, and suddenly Irwin was in a great cavern. A river of lava flowed through the middle, making the rocks on each side glow red hot. A stream of water flowed into the lava, issuing billows of steam. And on each side of the river were two lines of the damned, chained to fourteen-inch computer monitors, their eyes held open with hooks, their wrists the size of overstuffed sausages. The sound of typing echoed in the chamber.

“Oh God, it’s Computer Limbo,” Irwin said.

“Yeah,” Gaap said, gazing appreciatively. “I thought you might want to see your new home before we started.”

Gapp snapped his claws again, and next to him appeared a huge balance scale, like the scales of justice, only the size of a Mac truck.

“Here’s the game. On your side of the scales, I’ll put any quantity of anything you want. I’ll put the same thing on my side of the scale, but twice the amount. Whosever side tips the scales wins.”

“Hey! That’s not fair!”

Gaap grinned. “Fair? Where do you think you are, the other place? Oh, your software is fully compatible with previous versions of Warcraft, right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Irwin said, biting his lip and fiddling with a button on his flannel shirt. Demonology said nothing about this situation. “What if it’s a tie?”

“Eh, I’ll give it to you,” Gaap said.

“And I have to put something on the scale?”

“Yep. And it’s very precise.” Gaap held his thumb and finger together, reached out and opened them over the scales. The scale on the right slammed down. “That was an electron,” he said, smiling.

Irwin’s collar began to swell with sweat, and not just from the heat. Aw, man, what am I going to do? It’s going to be like working for a temp agency again, only at triple full time and with no vacation, weekends or coffee breaks. And without even Solitaire to break the monotony. I’m sunk.

Unless…

“OK, then,” Irwin said, taking a deep breath and hoping he had not dreamed that particular day in math class. “I choose feathers.”

“Fine.” Gaap blew the electron off the scales, and watched them balance out. Then three white chicken feathers suddenly appeared in the demon’s claws. One he put one the left side and two on right. The scales dropped to the right.

“Hold it, I didn’t say how many.” Irwin licked his lips. “I choose an infinite amount.”

“Trying to postpone the inevitable, eh? Watch this.” Three more feathers appeared in Gaap’s claws. He waited half a minute, then dropped them onto the scales. Fifteen seconds later he dropped three more, then seven seconds later three more, then three seconds later. He kept halving the time until he was a blur, then not even that as the columns of feathers raced up through the cavern’s roof.

“Zeno would be proud,” Irwin muttered as he watched the right side shoot up twice as fast as the left.

In a minute it was done and Gaap came sliding down his column of feathers. “So, where is the game?” Gaap asked, rubbing his talons.

“Check the scales first,” Irwin said, pointing.

Gaap turned to see the right scale slowly rise until it was level with the left side. “What?”

“That’s one of the weird things about infinity. An infinite amount is an infinite amount. One pile of everything is the same as twice a pile of everything. It’s still everything.”

Gaap frowned, thinking. “Blast. Math always was my worst subject.”

“Uh, how about physics?” Irwin asked as he watched the columns tremble. “What happens when two infinite masses are balanced on an infinitely strong scale?”

Suddenly the columns tipped over, sending a blizzard of feathers pouring down. In moments, the cavern was blanketed in white. Flames leaped from the river of lava. Smoke issued from the cavern walls. And the damned stopped typing for the first time in years as feathers covered their monitors.

“GAAP!” a menacing voice boomed.

“The boss!” Gaap raised a claw at Irwin. “This is not over, mortal! So don’t do anything with that game.” Gaap waved his arm, and Irwin was suddenly back in his office as if nothing had happened.

He looked around incredulous for a moment, then slumped back in his chair. “I hate starting out weekends like this,” he muttered.

He reached for his mouse to shut down his computer, but as he maneuvered it toward the START button, his shaking hand accidentally touched the left mouse button — opening another email.

“NO!” Irwin cried as he dove for the power strip, but the flash of light and the smell of brimstone told him again it was too late. He picked up his Demonology book and slowly turned.

A gorgeous woman in a skimpy negligee stood behind him. Voluptuous hips balanced out her large breasts, and thick, curly blonde hair nicely topped out the package. She smiled, pulling back luscious lips to reveal sparkling-white teeth, and winked at him with a sky-blue eye.

Wow. She’d win every beauty contest there ever was, Irwin thought, if she could just get rid of those goat’s horns and that spiked tail.

“Why, hello there, cutie,” the succubus purred. “Whatcha doing tonight?”

He glanced one last time at Demonology for Computer Nerds. “Now this one I can handle myself,” Irwin said, tossing the book aside.

Andrew F. Rey is a technical writer originally from Pomona, CA, now residing in San Diego with his wife Deborah, son Josh, and way too many pets.  Some of his other short stories can be found in the anthologies “Renunciates of Darkover” and “Empire of Dreams and Miracles,” and at ComputorEdge magazine.

UFO Publishing brings you a free humorous story every month. Click here to read more.

If you enjoy our web content and wish to read 29 more such stories, please order Unidentified Funny Objects today!

Mr. Terwilliger Confesses by Amanda C. Davis

Mr. Terwilliger had been most jovial with us for the entire evening, as gentlemen of the Codswallop Social Club always are, but when the snuff-box came his way, he put up a hand and declined.

“Forgive me,” he said, “I come from the future, when we have learned the terrible effects of tobacco upon the tissues.”

Of course we enquired further, but he would not elaborate. Soon our attention was drawn to Mr. Darven discovering, tragically, the club’s out-of-tune piano, and our curiosity was muted by his musical crimes and a few more rounds of port.

The next time we met, however, the occasion revisited my memory, and I mentioned to Mr. T that I seemed to recall him stating clearly that he had “come from the future.”

He laughed. “Did I say that! Ah, what a dreadful lapse. I must have been deep in my cups. Dear friend, you must not let me make such a fool of myself again. This is the very reason I do all of my drinking in private homes!”

I sensed an opportunity, and swore I would do what I could to help him. So I invited him round that evening and went about making him as drunk as possible.

“I really should abstain,” he said, then, “Do top this off, if you will,” then, “I did not imagine I should develop such a taste for port, it’s so damned sweet,” then, “We ought to play a game. A beer-pong game,” then he said, in a slurring drawl, “I love you, maaaan,” and passed out in my armchair.

When he awoke that morning he wandered into the breakfast room, wearing chagrin like a wet hat. “I must thank you,” he said. “Where I’m from they would have drawn upon my face by now with a sharply.” Or perhaps I misheard.

“In the future?” I said pointedly.

He sighed. “Oh, well, hmm. I’ve already trusted you with my person in a state of vulnerability, haven’t I? You seem decent. Not at all dangerous.”

“I beg your pardon,” I said.

“Rational, is what I mean. And loyal, I’d like to think. What I mean to say is, I think if I swore you to a secret, you might keep it.”

“Thank you,” I said, straightening my cravat with a grudging kind of tug. “I rather think I might.”

“I’m from the future,” he said.

I waited eagerly, but that was all.

He fidgeted. “Er, did you hear me? I said I have arrived here from the future.”

“I heard you,” I said. “I heard you two nights ago when you said it originally. I confess I was hoping for details.”

He drew a deep, bracing breath, as if preparing to take exercise — ludicrous as that seemed. “I was born nearly one hundred years from now,” said Mr. T. “I don’t know how I came to be here, only that I have. I’ve taken such pains to build a life here. You can’t imagine. I’m not even British. I’m an American. I’ve only watched a great deal of Torchwood, you see. And Sean of the dead. I can’t tell you. Hundreds of times. Downton Abbey. And all the Harry Potters! I was mad about Harry Potter.”

I arched my eyebrows. “Mad, you say.”

“Forgive me,” he said, beaming like a schoolboy. “It’s incredible to be able to speak words I haven’t in years. Angry birds! Avatar! Come at me, bro! Longcat is lo-o-o-o-ong!”

He raved thus for a few minutes. Every word delighted him. He laughed often. I took the opportunity to call for more tea and another few eggs.

The arrival of the eggs distracted him from his declamations, which had settled into a litany of proper names of all nationalities with occasional commentary. He sat with me and ate. His composure and energy had returned. He remembered an anecdote involving Mr. Darven, a laundress, a side of pork, and three stray cats, and we shared a splendid laugh at their expense. When we had finished, he said:

“I don’t know why I kept my secret so dearly. It’s so liberating. If I’d known what having just one confidante could do for my entire outlook! Instead I’ve spent these years skulking and lying and being simply terrified that someone would discern my secret….”

“You’re lucky to have drunkenly blurted it among friends,” I said kindly. He nodded.

“My name isn’t even Terwilliger. It’s Blotch. What delight I’ve drawn from being referred to familiarly as ‘Mr. T.’”

I said, “I don’t see the humor.”

“You wouldn’t understand. May I describe to you how I came to slip, I may say, through the careless fingers of Father Time?”

I made myself comfortable, gave my breakfast space to stretch its legs. “Please!”

“It was an idle Thursday morning,” he said. “I being without work at the time, and having tired of double-tapping imaginary enemies, I took to the park, where if nothing else I could loiter and watch the college girls.”

“College girls,” I said, and we shared a smile.

“I strolled into a wooded area well past the parking lots when the ground beneath me shook gently. A fog surrounded me, followed by brief darkness: when it stopped, I found myself quite lost. I had no signal. My surroundings and my technology had fled like…like college girls. You know. I wept like a frustrated child.”

I nodded in sympathy.

“Presently I came to a hamlet in the countryside, where my situation showed its face: I had traversed space, if not time, and my immediate priority must be to blend in. I always thought that was a failing of doctor who…” I waited, but he did not finish his sentence. “I stole a suit of clothing and, realizing it would likely be recognized, walked on until I could hail a ride to the next town. Then the next. I became adept at playing the part of a bedraggled fop who had been robbed, been upset in the river, used his map as a raincoat, and so forth; I learned the details of my situation, vis-à-vis time and place, and exercised all my skills at the dine-and-dash.”

“Dine-and-dash!” I chortled. “I shall have to teach that term to Mr. Darven. He’s already a master of the concept.”

“Soon I came to London. What a mad city this is. Still utterly penniless, I located a middle-aged man in what I perceived to be a well-cut suit — but not too well-cut — and remarked that in prior visits I had been to a gentlemen’s club that was dimly lit and fairly large, but not so terrifically posh, just a small bit on the down-and-out side, but dash me, I had forgotten the name — did he know the one I meant? And bless him, he did!”

“The Codswallop!” I cried, snapping my fingers.

“Yes!” he said. “I climbed in through a window. There I could eat, sleep, tend to my person, and steal — and claim to borrow when I was caught. I took the identity of a member who had not visited in years, one Mr. Terwilliger, and for a month I never left. I became very friendly with the staff, or I should never have succeeded. Then, of course, I began making true friends. Friends with estates and money and other friends with the same. Now, thus established, I consider this temporal era my true home, and my birthplace — the future — a strange, distant dream.”

I sat back in my chair, full of egg and wonder. Oh, I had heard plenty of good-natured fibs from the Codswallop type — tall tales out of Africa and the American frontier and the far, frozen poles — but this dwarfed them all. And he seemed so sincere! I was no scientist, but I felt compelled to probe his story for weaknesses. And advantages.

“Very well,” I said. “If you’re from the future you must be dripping with foreknowledge. Who is to be the next mayor of London?”

He said promptly, “I have no idea.”

I frowned. “The Prime Minister.”

“Couldn’t say.”

Monarch?

“Dear boy, I couldn’t reliably name the next war.”

“Devil take you!” I cried. “And to think I almost swallowed your time-travel tripe.”

“One moment,” he said, sounding hurt. “Can you name the mayor of Boston from seventeen-humpity-humpity? Or even our first half-dozen American presidents? My knowledge of history is like everyone’s: broad and shallow, with rare pinpoints of specificity. I never realized what vast minutiae are required for daily living, until they were stripped from me. The details you ask for — useful as they would be today — are such footnotes of history that by the time I was dragged through my schooling, they never touched me.”

I said, “Those names you recited?”

“Bread and circuses.”

Daydreams of betting-parlors and stock exchanges fled. I gazed at Mr. T in frank disappointment. “Not a liar, then, but a fool,” I sniffed. “I dare say that isn’t better.”

He nodded glumly.

I twiddled my fork on the empty plate, thinking of opportunities lost, imagining Mr. T as a book with a wonderfully promising title, and blank pages within. What a waste of a time-traveler! I thought, uncharitably. If only Father Time had dropped in a historian instead. Or a scholar of champion race-horses.

But then, time travel was only one sort of accomplishment. There existed many more.

“Perhaps,” I said, “perhaps we’ve been thinking of this all wrong.”

He raised his head. “Hmm?”

I sat up. “You came here on accident. You know nothing of value.”

“I confess.”

“You have no worthwhile skills.”

“It’s true.”

“You might say that all those incensed women over the years were exactly correct: you’re just no use.”

“Now –” he said, “now one moment, you needn’t belabor the point.”

“But they’re wrong,” I cried. “Think what you’ve done. You woke up with nothing and simply inserted yourself into parts of society you had nothing to do with! You became Mr. Terwilliger. You’re an Alger story, Mr. T, a genuine self-made man!”

He considered. “I suppose I am a terrifically successful fraud.”

“The cleverest fraud in the world!” I stood, propelled by excitement, and he followed me. “Oh, perhaps time may be traveled like a country road — our Wells has written as much, as has your Twain — but upward social mobility through nerve alone! It’s madness! Impossible! I feel that all my fondest fictions have been proven true!”

“I say.”

“You should say! Do not be content with the Codswallop, dear boy. There are clubs and vacation homes and — and heiresses’ bedchambers all ready to be strolled into. With my experience in the here-and-now and your astonishing skills, we could be heads of state by next year.”

He contemplated. A slow, mischievous smile spread across his portly face.

“You know, I have been wondering what all those blue-bloods get up to.”

“So have I,” I said, beaming. “So have I.” I stood back. “One thing I don’t understand. How is it you’ve kept your secret so long, only to blurt it twice in a week?”

“Oh,” he said, “it’s only that the incident has been on my mind recently. I’m approaching five years in this era. In fact, I believe the anniversary is today.”

I stuck out my hand. “Then let me congratulate you on five astonishing years — and a brilliant future — for both of us — yet to come!”

He had no sooner grasped my hand in joyous brotherhood than the house began to shake.

Bad eggs, I thought, as a fog fell upon us like the curtain on a failing play. I lost all feeling in my extremities, except for Mr. T’s hand in mine, and my vision darkened. Very bad eggs, I thought, I shall fire that cook if she has murdered me — but my vision cleared, to see Mr. Terwilliger just where he had been, still shaking my hand.

Only everything else around us was gone.

The walls: towering trees. The ceiling: blue sky. I dropped his hand and turned in my spot. All was primeval forest, untouched land, and an atmosphere startlingly free of factory smoke.

“Mr. T,” I said, “this alarms me.”

“Not again,” he said. “Not again!” And he sat on the ground and put his head in his hands.

I stared at him. “Do you believe –”

“Isn’t it clear?”

“It can’t be –”

“It is.”

I forced down my fear. “Mr. Terwilliger, find your nerve. Where, and when, do you believe we are?”

He drew a bracing breath. “If it happened the same as before, we must be in the American colonies, some short time before the Revolution.”

He looked at me. I looked at him.

“I am deeply read of James Fennimore Cooper,” I said. “And Washington Irving. And Nathaniel Hawthorne.”

He said, “I am as adept as ever at the dine-and-dash.”

He stood. “Shall we see,” said Mr. Terwilliger, “just what quality of frauds we can truly be, for the next five years?”

“We will require wigs,” I said. “And Bibles.”

“And newspapers. And suits, you know, with the short pants and the tight socks.”

“Buckled shoes. History books.”

“And perhaps a preventative dose of revolutionary fervor.”

And a poke in the eye for that sausage-fingered fumbler, Father Time!

Amanda C. Davis writes short stories in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her work has appeared in Shock Totem, IGMS, two Triangulation anthologies, and others; you can see her full bibliography here. She works in the combustion industry by day and spends her nights baking, live-Tweeting horror movies, and embarking on the occasional harebrained scheme (with varying results, but at least her failures make entertaining blog posts).

UFO Publishing brings you a free humorous story every month. Click here to read more.

If you enjoy our web content and wish to read 29 more such stories, please pre-order Unidentified Funny Objects today!

You Bet by Alex Shvartsman

Joe stepped through the door and found himself in a cramped, smoke-filled card room. The players paused their game and turned toward him, five and a half pairs of eyes studying the newcomer.

Seated around the green felt table were a robot, a witch, a vampire, an alien Grey, and a fairy. And looming behind them was a pink mass of scales and tentacles topped off with a bowler hat. It regarded Joe thoughtfully with a single bulging eye the size of a dinner plate.

“Hey there, new guy,” said the fairy. Despite her two-foot frame her voice was sultry rather than tinny. “And what are you supposed to be?”

Joe tried to answer and realized that he couldn’t. He remembered nothing of who – or what – he was, except his first name. He felt strange, empty, as if someone had sucked everything out of his head through a straw.

“I know that look,” said the witch. “Everyone has trouble with their memory in the first few hours. It’ll go away. Unless you’re an amnesiac spy, that is. But we already had one of those.”

His memory problems were selective, Joe discovered. He recognized the sounds of a Frank Sinatra recording crooning in the background, yet couldn’t recall a reason for arriving at this place.

“You aren’t anything obvious,” said the fairy. “If you figure it out quickly, don’t say! I’d rather guess.”

“Well I’d rather play poker,” said the Grey, the kind they usually depict abducting cattle and probing things indiscriminately. This one was dressed in a three-piece suit, and his almond-shaped head was topped off with a cowboy hat. He caressed a large stack of chips with his three long fingers. “It’s your turn to deal,” the alien said to the fairy.

The fairy pouted.

“We do nothing but play cards,” said the witch. “Let her have her fun.”

The fairy fluttered her wings and displayed a huge grin. Her mood changed so quickly, Joe couldn’t help but wonder if Little Folk were susceptible to bipolar disorder.

“Are you a superhero out of costume? A serial killer? A werewolf, perhaps?”

“Mangy curs,” the tall, striking brunette with fangs sniffed the air. “I can smell those a mile away. He isn’t lupine.” She looked Joe up and down. “This one may be a tasty morsel, even if he’s a bit ordinary looking.”

“Watch out, friend,” announced the robot in a stage whisper. “She means that literally.”

“Your guesses are as good as mine,” said Joe to the fairy. “My name’s Joe. Beyond that I can’t remember… well… anything.”

“I don’t need to learn your name,” said the alien. “You won’t be here long enough.”

“Grey makes a terrible first impression,” said the witch, with a sideways glance at the alien. “And it doesn’t improve much once you get to know him, either.”

“I’m sure that underneath the fifty shades of his cranky gray exterior beats a heart of gold,” said Joe. “Or hearts. However his physiology works.”

The alien stared at Joe down his pair of flat holes that passed for a nose and went back to counting his chips.

“Don’t you pay any mind to that meanie,” said the fairy. “Have you got any super powers? I hope you aren’t a mind reader, because we couldn’t let you play then. Telepaths only get to watch, like Howie over there.”

The pink monstrosity bobbed its head and made an assenting noise which sounded like the mewl of a tipped-over cow.

“Who are you lot? What exactly is this place?” Joe turned around, but the door he had entered through was gone. There was nothing but solid wall covered in pastel wallpaper, peeling with age. “How do I get out of here?”

“Oh, sweetie, you’re here to stay,” said the fairy. “We all are.”

They watched with varying degrees of amusement while Joe searched frantically for a way out. He circumnavigated the room, studying the ceiling, floor, and walls. There was no sign of an exit.

“This is impossible,” Joe said.

“Enough already,” said the witch. “Let’s bring the new guy up to speed and get back to the game.”

“Hard-boiled private eye? Secret agent? Mercenary?” The fairy chimed in with another flurry of wild guesses.

“What you need to understand first,” said the robot, “is that we aren’t people.” “That’s kind of obvious,” said Joe. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t discriminate against metal-based life forms.”

“By we – I mean you too, genius,” said the robot. “We’re figments of people’s imaginations. Zeitgeists of popular culture. Tropes. Avatars, brought to life by a hundred thousand dreamers reading the same novel or watching the same film. Whatever’s the flavor of the day finds its way into this room, at least temporarily.”

“Computer hacker? Terrorist? Ninja pirate?”

Joe shook his head. The fairy pouted again.

“At least he isn’t a prepubescent wizard or an emo glittering vampire,” said the witch. “We suffered a plague of those recently.”

“A terrible embarrassment to my kin,” declared the vampire. “I would have liked to kill them all and drink their blood, if it weren’t so diluted with Prozac and Cosmopolitans.”

“They were rotten card players,” said the robot.

“Their one redeeming quality,” added the alien.

“What happened to them?” Joe asked. “If there’s no exit, then where did they go?”

“They faded away,” said the vampire. “Some tropes are much longer-lasting than others. Broomhilda there,” she pointed a razor-sharp red nail at the witch, “has been around since the Roosevelt administration. And she isn’t saying which Roosevelt. Those self-pitying pretenders? Not so much.”

“I don’t much like the idea of fading away,” said Joe.

“Can’t blame you one bit,” said the witch. “But people’s fancies are beyond our control. Be content with the fact that enough of them thought you up, and that you exist at all. Even if existence around these parts is nothing but a never-ending card game.”

“Toreador? Clown? Astronaut?”

Joe shook his head again.

“Whoever you turn out to be, the important question is: do you know how to play Texas Hold’Em?” asked the alien.

“Yes,” said Joe. “I think so.” “Pity,” said the alien. “I prefer easy opponents. It’s your turn to deal,” he reminded the fairy. “Scoot over and pass the new guy his chips.”

 

“Ghost whisperer? Colombian drug lord? Pet detective?”

The fairy made increasingly unlikely guesses but, in truth, Joe was no closer to figuring out his own identity than she was. So he played cards and studied the room and its inhabitants.

They played for several hours straight. Joe surprised himself and his companions by being rather good at the game. He quickly learned that the robot never bluffed, the witch fingered a large wart on her nose whenever she had a strong hand, and the vampire always over-bet low pairs pre-flop. The fairy played badly, but made up for it with copious amounts of luck – she often caught just the right card on the river. The alien was the shark of the group – his playing style was tight but aggressive, he changed his strategy all the time, and his gray, emotionless features made for a perfect poker face.

Very slowly, Joe built the modest pile of chips he started out with into an impressive stack that was second only to the alien’s. He searched for an opportunity to take the lead, but the wily extraterrestrial kept eluding his traps.

“Why is this place so run down?” he asked, noting the dilapidated carpet and patches of the green felt on the table worn so threadbare that they were practically bald spots.

“It is the nature of tropes to be well-worn,” said the robot, looking up briefly from his hand of cards.

Not long after that there was a lively round of betting which resulted in a large pile of chips building up at the center of the table. The alien placed his bet after the flop and Joe raised the stakes, sensing an opportunity. The other players groaned and folded their cards one by one.

The Grey studied Joe intently, looking for any kind of a tell.

“Take your time, ET,” said Joe, staring right back at the alien, “and while you consider your move let me compliment you about the crop circles. If I traveled to some faraway planet a gazillion light years away from Earth, I would totally mess with the natives’ minds that way, too. Oh, and what’s up with the cowboy hat?” Joe grinned. He was trying his best to throw the alien off his game, but the Grey didn’t appear to be fazed.

“That was an aggressive bet,” said the alien. “But you’re being bold out of ignorance rather than skill. Your new so-called friends conveniently left out a crucial detail. The game we play is more than a mere diversion.” He leaned in toward Joe. “These chips represent your influence and relevance in the outside world. Win some, and you might stick around a lot longer. Lose it all, and…” the alien snapped his fingers. “Poof.”

“You asked about the cowboy hat earlier. Its previous owner liked to bet aggressively, too. Nice enough chap, if a bit unrefined.” The alien pushed a large stack of chips into the center of the table, almost doubling the pot. “Raise.”

Joe pursed his lips and fondled the clay chips as he processed the new information.

“Well,” he finally said. “Isn’t that an interesting tidbit? Thanks very much for omitting that factoid when you invited me to play.” He looked around the table. The other players wouldn’t meet his gaze. “The fairy has been trying to guess what trope I represent this whole time, and I’ve been mulling it over, too, and I’ve finally figured it out. I’m everyman.”

The players stared at Joe, waiting for an explanation. Even the fairy kept quiet.

“There’s a thin line between a trope and a cliché. I believe all of you have crossed that line, on occasion. I think enough people out there are tired of that. They’re interested in stories about a regular guy. No super powers. No martial arts training. No preconceived notions. A regular Joe who thinks and acts like a person, who can be cautious or reckless, malicious or kind, unpredictable, yet realistic. They want a sort of character who won’t fade away, but always remain fresh by reinventing himself.

“Cowboys and Indians make room for little green men, who get replaced by gumshoe investigators… the tropes come and go. But everyman is always going to be around, for as long as people tell stories, no matter how the cards are dealt.”

Joe shoved his entire remaining stack of chips forward, doubling the pot again. “All in,” he said.

The players reflected on his words in silence. Only Howie the Lovecraftian horror hummed along to the Sinatra tune.

“Fold,” the alien declared after a long pause. He regarded his much-diminished horde of influence chips, then got up and stomped away from the table in frustration.

Joe smiled and collected his winnings.

“What did you have,” the robot asked.

“I’m sorry,” Joe said. “I don’t remember.”

Joe discarded the two of clubs and the seven of hearts he was holding face down and shuffled them into the deck. He decided that he was going to like it here. He had finally figured out what trope he represented and was confident it would take the others a while to get up to speed. Which was just as well, because he could use all the chips he could get out of them. Card sharp was not, on its own, a very powerful trope.

About the author:

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. He’s a member of SFWA, Codex Writers, and a graduate of Viable Paradise workshop. His short stories appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction and many other venues.

“You Bet” was written based on the cover of Unidentified Funny Objects, which Alex edited. Although the story isn’t included in the book, Alex promised to write it if the UFO Kickstarter campaign succeeded. Which it did.

UFO Publishing brings you a free humorous story every month. Click here to read more.

If you enjoy our web content and wish to read 29 more such stories, please pre-order Unidentified Funny Objects today!