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Today's Story by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Atkins’ ray gun’s only other use was as a unsatisfactory substitute for a Zippo lighter.

Higher-than-Normal-Intensity Laser Canons

Jim-Jam would have been content to remain entertained by others’ attempts to control his atomic spin centers had he not been otherwise occupied with his Komodo hatchlings’ appetites. J.J. could not: fold enough origami critters, develop enough proofs for the problems found in the third section of standard Algebra II workbooks, or synthesize, fast enough, his hard hitting, alcohol-free, brew to pay down his debt to the area’s 4H farmers. Having to barter for six piglets or eighteen fat hens, each month, was impoverishing him of time and money.

The boy genius had problems at school, too. Mr. Emanuel Atkins, Raymond Charles High’s exceptional history instructor, had ordered a week of detentions for Jim-Jam, The One and Only, Ariel O’Neily. In Atkins’s esteem, Master O’Neily’s listserve comments had mucked up the flow of Atkins’s critiques of commercials broadcast on radio Station WHYU. In addition, that boy’s experiments with transistors, the teacher was sure, had been responsible for the electromagnetic foul-ups in the teacher’s main saboteur plans.

Two decades of responding to the papers of thousands of adolescent students had lent Emanuel Atkins whispered knowledge about the correct temperature at which to grill wild bore meat, about methods for converting surfboards to snowboards, and about why the mass media meant to retain social dominance. Only a pedagogical auteur could enact the sort of defusal that would remove all traces of Station WHYU’s traitorous tools. Only a sagacious sort would think of forcing labor from O’Neily as payment for his contribution to Atkins’ snafus.

Atkins was tasking that young cretin, was binding him to service, making that child submissive, at least surreptitiously, to the Greater Republic. A week of detentions ought to be enough, for instance, for O’Neily to solve the mystery of the anchovy pizzas that had, as of late, been delivered to the playground space beneath Atkins’ classroom window. That laggard should be honored to receive such a work assignment considering that that gangly MENSA hooligan had thwarted Atkins, had tweaked the current of the induction coils, in his audio transformers, in a way that confused the signals being emitted from the output coupler and state selector of Atkins’ killing machine.

Jim-Jam’s amplified signal had cut off Atkins’ communication, preventing Atkins’ from firing after aiming, through the window of an apartment opposite the WHYU studio, at the heads of two perfectly good sound engineers, a producer, a broadcaster, and an intern whose nose rings diminished her otherwise exemplary panache. WHYU was housed in a brick bunker four stories above the ground. Atkins’ best wits, and, unbeknownst to Atkins’ wife, Atkins’ second mortgage, had been employed to help select government officials become instantly friendly towards Atkins obtaining the license for and then the actual import of a war-caliber maser, made in New Zealand and fenced through Ukraine. Atkins had intended to blow to Kingdom Come those media turncoats, when their heads became visible through an aperture in their building left open to let in some spring air, Atkins’ ray gun’s only other use was as a unsatisfactory substitute for a Zippo lighter.

Having studied the deeds of Edmund Kalikst Eugeniusz Charaszkiewicz, for his yet incomplete master’s thesis, Atkins knew that acts of subversion required laser-carrying actors to stay clear of juvenile delinquents hoisting TR-1s. Instead of nullifying the enemy, Atkins’ laser canon had compressed its energy, dampened, and attenuated beyond any useful or recognizable oscillation. The weapon’s beam leaked such that Atkins was left with a permanent sunburn across the bridge of his nose. In short, Master O’Neily’s tinkering with a transistor radio, at an inauspicious time, had ruined Atkins beautiful, directed-energy instrument.

Being incarceration in Atkins’ classroom, after school, alarmed Jim-Jam less than did his dwindling options for feeding his fauna. He weighted the functional worth of taking advantage of the local kindergarten’s spillage against seeking the aid of a homeless man, whom he had met at the community library. The idea of culling the preschoolers for lizard food did not disquiet J.J. After all, his paternal grandmother had enforced, in his narrow psyche, the idea that getting comfortable with necessity’s demands leads to survival. That tobacco-spitting, rye drinking, drawn threadwork creating, gal was gangbusters about any modality that kept her Adirondack cabin filled with firewood, dead moose, and the occasional muskrat pelt. She would, her descend imagined, champion J.J.’s more creative attempts to rise above his fiduciary red line. Then again, she had sided with J.J.’s dad when J.J.’s dad divorce J.J.’s mom. What’s more, Gran would be hard to reach; she had no phone, no computer, and no mailbox at the closest post office, which was three hours’ walk from her home. She relied on carrier pigeons.

That left Jim-Jam, the man-child known for bricolage kitchen products, for programs capable of generating papers about Shakespeare’s sonnets or about the social contentions of Thoreau, and for wacky, yet efficient crystallization techniques, only option of conniving with his acquaintance of no permanent address (murder of little misters and misses still seemed barbaric). That one-eared, blue-eyed, chronically unemployed flyboy of a displaced person, wore his goggles perched atop of his noggin, sat for long hours pouring over spools of microreproductions about the Mid-Nineteenth Century goings on of Morgantown’s Ordinance Works, of Uravan’s Vanadium Corporation, and of Trail’s Cominco. When not fuddling with the library’s lone microfilm reader, that transient immersed himself in materials engineering books which described, respectively, Malawi’s, Brazil’s and Canada’s methods for extracting triuranium oxide ore from tin, tungsten and molybdenum. Jim-Jam guessed that the man intended to obtain ricin and lewisite.

Jim-Jam had yet to corroborate his suspicions, though, for his mom had drafted him for babysitting. That smart legal potato of a parent had deduced that her son, the one responsible for crashing her computer when attempting, concurrently, to translate into Sanskrit and Russian, web pages on low-temperature spin relaxation in nanomagnets and on the dental hygiene of large, Indonesian lizards; the one who had transformed her dishwasher into a latter day Cuisinart for poaching salmon and eggs; and the one who videotaped all of his interpersonal negotiations, was broke.

Although J.J.’s mom had not yet become acquainted with the reptiles responsible for the disappearance of Mrs. Preenberry’s dog, for her own suddenly tidy garbage bins, or for the decrease in the population of alley cats roaming their neighborhood, Solicitor O’Neily had noticed that her child was once more routing his underwear through the washing machine and that, recently, he had been vetting his sandwich crusts through the family’s dehydrator in order to sell them at pigeon-infested parks as nouveau breadcrumbs. Also, Mom was not so obtuse as to have missed Jim-Jam’s eagerness to sherpa their family’s recyclables to the town center, to have overlooked his newfound willingness to mow their neighbors’ lawns, or to have failed to detect his unexpected interest in the requirements for becoming a paid donor for the municipal hospital’s blood bank. Believing her child was ordering more chemicals for his bench and more paper for origami, the arbiter, that woman who endured court paperwork in triplicate, at least twice weekly, sent Jim-Jam, along with five of his smaller cousins, to Lake Mercurial Amusement Park so that Jim-Jam could earn some money.

As he shepherded his charges onto the city bus, Jim-Jam imagined the profit that could be made in contacting his internet pal, the professor from Montana Great Falls College of Technology, was in cahoots with the avaricious management of that entertainment venue. For twenty dollars per child, Jim-Jam could sell his cousins’ time at the amusement park to researchers studying the fundamental dangers of the center’s new gigacoster.

Lake Mercurial’s public relations department had determined that their new thrill ride was bringing bad press because its highest hill top was curved more narrowly than a parabola, thus forcing its patrons to experience so many negative G’s that their lap bars could barely contain them. Those harnesses seemed entirely ineffective for children under five feet tall. Given that two of Jim-Jam’s cousin barely stood four feet high, Mercurial’s staff would have been happy to induct his coterie of young relatives into their study.

Had he accordingly enslaved them, while members of his extended family screamed and puke, that high school investigator, who was concerned with the molecular magnetic microstructure of communication devices, could have idled at a park picnic table and have contemplated how to make tiny atomic current loops out of neodymium and samarium flakes and could have evaluated the proportional merit of raiding a local turkey farm. Such a maneuver, if successful, might sate his pets for another week. Jim-Jam did not dream of robbing the farm himself, but directed his ambitions toward visions of Mr. Atkins acting in his stead.

As his mother’s brother’s children played musical chairs in four rows of bus seats, Jim-Jam computed that he had three days left to come up with more meat. Thereafter, his Komodos would be too hungry for him to handle. Also, at that juncture, it was likely that J.J.’s mom would begin fussing, with consequences, over missing neighborhood basset hounds, and about the rapidly decreasing contents of the O’Neily Family fridge.

Providentially, what prostitutes, trashout teams, and rhetoric professors have in common are philandering husbands. Mr. Atkins’ wife, who taught public speaking at Charles Raymond Community College, had no idea, yet, that her husband’s extracurricular activities would make good coffee table book fodder or would make a great topic for one of WHYU’s talk shows. Mr. Atkins, it turned out, had felt that his campaign against the media would necessitate his integrating another warm body into his designs. In seeking coconspirators, Atkins had bought a small ad, which was placed at the bottom of an electronic newsletter for compost enthusiasts. Atkins had received four hundred and twenty- three replies.

Among those who responded were an eighty year-old baroness, who had offered her fortune for a chance at his bed, a twenty-some, who had jingled about mingling her juices with his as long as she could post the resulting pictures on Facebook and thus forward her campaign to be an actress, and a dress-wearing fellow, from Cincinnati, who had insisted that his twin sister, whom he claimed was better looking that he, be chosen for Atkins’ intimate honors. Consequently, it was not the history teacher’s strobing death ray that received hands on assistance, but another of his higher-than-normal-intensity laser canons.

Granted, Atkins had used a pseudonym online and had forced himself to write as though he were capable of only droll witticisms as barely enhanced with sarcasm. Yet, he had neglected to hide his identity when he rented out the tenement space across from the radio station and when he had invested the remnants of his second mortgage in gift cards to All Things Shiny Boutique and Love, Love, Love Saloon. Jim-Jam, who was surfing the web in his quest to pay back Atkins for J.J.’s ill-timed captivity, had found the electronic trails that lead to explicit accounts of Atkins’ goings on.

No immature script kiddie, but a young man with prowess equal to that of Jeffrey Lee Parson or Michael Calce, Jim-Jam Ariel O’Neily threatened Atkins that unless the history teacher deliver, in thirty-six hours, a truckload of live turkeys, feathers and beaks attached, Jim-Jam would post, on Mrs. Atkins’ Facebook page, information about the liberties Mr. Atkins had taken with other men’s wives.

Disguised as a poultry vent sexing specialist, Atkins gained access to the Swills and Bales Farm of Mac and Doris Diskin’s uncle, Billy Lou Diskin. Billy Lou presided over forty acres of grow-out farm, where Billy Lou raised nearly ten thousand fowl each seasons. Billy Lou also husbanded a small herd of goats, a large, lame horse and a pack of dogs that regularly interbred with “friendly” wolves.

After an unfortunate encounter with that pack, Atkins had sought shelter in a brooder coop. There, he suffered additional losses, namely to his manliness, via the occupant hens who thought he was there to force artificial insemination upon them. Each of those girls, all of whom weighed between six and seven kilograms, were in a heightened state of excitement. Their regiment of bits of onion and neem leaves, pressed together with yolk taken from their less promising eggs, compromised what little tranquility would ordinarily fill their bird brains.

Furthermore, those turkeys, when penned, were awarded just four square feet of space apiece. They stampeded and fought. Their mortality rate was upwards of ten per cent. As such, Billy Lou felt that desnooding, debeaking and toe clipping them was justified. He didn’t care if he made his brooders into an angry flock.

It was into the domain of those “temperamental” avians that Atkins had escaped. For their part, the hens mistook him for yet another human being bent on torture.

Had Atkins tried to defend himself with a simple stick, rather than with his maser, he could have driven those not-entirely-stupid birds to his pickup truck. Had he grasped that abducting large fowls was an activity best performed at night, a time when only Billy Lou’s dogs, electric fences, and membership in the county bikers’ association, stood between those rotund, grounded critters and would-be poachers, Atkins might have accomplished his mission and might have even done so unscathed.

Instead, beyond his injuries, Atkins suffered being routed by the local police chief, a fellow who had married the second cousin of Billy Lou’s wife, a woman simultaneously Billy Lou’s first cousin. Given his dual relationship to the farmer and the farmer’s misses, that man of law was twice Diskin.

Atkins was arraigned for larceny, looting, and miscellaneous acts of theft, as well as for bad taste in weapons, an ordinance that the chief had passed into law through his brother-in-law, the district judge. Trespassing and the assault and battery of helpless animals were added to the grievances against Atkins.

Back in his workshop, Jim-Jam twiddled the IF-transformer that he had so gingerly placed within the cavity of his most recently gutted pocket radio. He needed to find a way to fit a few more longwave-mediumwave switches into his contraption if he were to be able to amplify the light that Raymond Charles’ scoreboard produced. Lynnie Lola meant to reign as Pumpkin Queen and Jim-Jam meant for her to enjoy all of the glory that could be afforded from modern technology. He did not know that he would get no turkey meat for his lizards or that his blackmail of his rancorous teacher had failed.

Later, while Atkins languished in the county jail, Jim-Jam found other means with which to feed his critters. His closet had been restocked with cases of pemmican, care of Mrs. Atkins. That woman of words, who had been waiting long decades to divorce her husband, had lacked grounds that would enable her, uncontested, to claim their mutual holdings. She happily rewarded Jim-Jam for his part in her fiduciary emancipation. She had yet to learn that the Atkins’ joint properties had been mortgaged.

His feet on his desk, the ferocious snuffle of his growing lizards the music in his background, Jim-Jam imagined what would have been had he gotten to the amusement park and sold his young relatives, instead of having made a roundtrip, entertainment-free ride with them back to his house; two of them had puked up the candy with which he meant to stifle them during the bus ride. Maybe his mom would have sued Lake Mercurial Amusement Park’s administration for a few million dollars, enabling his uncle to retire at age thirty-nine, his mother to buy herself a boy toy, and himself to dedicate a breeding ground for Komodos. Maybe he would have been hung from the high school flagpole by his aunt.

The King of Quintessential Strictures wedged a jeweler’s tool into the ball grid array splayed before him. Alas, there had been no trip to the roller coasters, no sale of family members, and no successful law suit. In balance, had J.J.’s clutch of reptilian innocents been allowed to go hungry for even a greater span then they already had, perhaps O’Neily, like Atkins, too, would have been imprisoned.


KJ Hannah Greenberg and her hibernaculum of sometimes rabid imaginary hedgehogs roam the verbal hinterlands. Some of the homes for their writing have included: AlienSkin Magazine, AntipodeanSF, Bards and Sages, Big Pulp, Morpheus Tales, Strange, Weird and Wonderful, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and The New Absurdist. When not disciplining her imaginary friends, Hannah serves as an associate editor for Bewildering Stories. She has also worked for Tangent Online as a literary critic.

Read more stories (including other adventures of Jim-Jam O’Neily) by KJ Hannah Greenberg


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