All posts by Dave

The bloated warthog who pilots this ship onto the rocks of despair--then turns around and sets sail for the Island of Lost Toys. Always wanted to go there!

WIP (Chap 2)

Chapter 2


Val squatted on her heels and slowly ran her gloved finger through the cockroach corpses on the cave’s floor. The density per square foot of dead cave roaches seemed too high, indicative of a slow die-off of thousands of individuals in this particular section of cave floor. Roaches are natural tanks, what killed so many of them?

She carefully examined a few of the dry, brittle bug casings. No discoloration or evidence of fungal infection. Pollution of some kind, some human agency?

Looking across the cave, she could see other members of the expedition engaged in their individual specialties. This particular cave wasn’t very large, no more than about 20 by 45 feet, sloping downward at a shallow angle. Alejandro, the cave diver boss, was talking with Dr. Lopez, the geologist, and pointing at various cave features.

A short way downslope from Valentina, Lucia was taking readings from a laser range-finder and calling out numbers to Nico, who recorded them in his notebook. Lucia was a surveyor, and accurately mapping the cave system was her specialty.

Valentina was crouched in a shallow depression in the limestone floor, shaped roughly like the inside of a skillet, slightly elongated into more egg-shaped down the slope where Lucia and Nico stood together.

Val glanced back down at the cave roach graveyard again and stared blankly at nothing for a few moments. Oh. Oh no!

“Lucy, Nico. Come here, quickly!” Val fumbled her walkie off her belt.

“Alejandro! We need to get the whole team out of this cave. Gas leak.”

To his credit, an experienced cave diver like Alex doesn’t hesitate over the safety of his team. “Everyone back to camp one, right now. Move, people.”

Within a couple of minutes the entire team was re-gathered at the passage between the cenote camp one, where the extra caving supplies were stored, and the first cave. 


Val extended a handful of ex-roaches, palm upward. “These hardy little guys are dead, as you can see. I was trying to figure out what killed them, and about ten thousand just like them.”

“Roaches check in, but they don’t check out,” Gabriel quipped, grinning.

Alejandro’s eyebrows compressed, “Gabe, not the time. Doctor?”

“Well, there aren’t many things that can mass-kill a cockroach colony. Maybe a fungal outbreak, or sudden change to their environment due to humans. Eventually, I thought of toxic gasses.”

“Did anyone smell sulfur?” Alex looked around. Heads shake.

“Me neither,” Val added. “So probably not hydrogen sulfide?”

“Doesn’t sound likely. We’ll test, that’s one of the bigger hazards in spelunking. Just not very common in this part of the world. The Yucatan doesn’t have any volcanic activity to speak of.”

“I was thinking maybe carbon dioxide,” Val continued. “It’s more dense than air, sinks and gathers in low spots, and we were standing in a depression at the time.”

“Sharp,” Alex flashed a warm smile at Valentine. “Gabe, dig out a pair of Oxy masks and the multi-gas meter. Take Doctor Lopez with you and test for gasses in the cave. Could be methane or.. I don’t know what else, see what the meter says.”

Turning back to Valentine, he settled a hand on her shoulder. “Doctor Garcia, thank you for thinking quickly and not hesitating. You can save lives in a cave system like this, just by noticing something no one else spots.”

Her cheeks colored, hazel eyes downcast. “If it was hydrogen sulfide someone might be coughing up blood by now. I think I was too slow.”

“Absolutely not,” Alejandro scowled. “I should have already had a gas meter available. It’s my job to keep the team safe. My cave divers know their routine by now, but you and Diego are under my charge this trip. It was a good save, take the win.”

Stepping back with the pretense of reshouldering her backpack, Valentine was acutely aware of just how closely they’d been standing. She murmured a quiet thank you and turned away.

“Alejandro?” the radio crackled to life. “This is Gabriel. We’ve finished checking the cave, there’s a moderate concentration of CO2 in the roach motel, but nothing measurable anywhere else in the cave.”

“All right, thanks Gabe.”

“Team? It looks like a slow leak of CO2 through cracks in the limestone, that sinks down and accumulates in that roach motel depression. We’re going to wear oxy masks while passing through that cave, just in case, but it doesn’t sound like it will be any particular threat to us.”

Static radio crackle. “No puedes ser la cucaracha, because you have no marijuana to smoke!”

Nico mutters “Shut up, Gabe” to Lucia, and she elbows him in the gut.

“OK, let’s get back to work. Thanks again, Val. Did you get enough mapping done, Lucia?”

“Crude sketch but it’ll do for now.”

The cave expedition was funded by grants from Montana State, and Alejandro’s cave team selected for the job due to their caving experience and residency in the Yucatan. This was, as near as could be determined from Mexican government records, the first expedition into the Tzuluna cenote and cavern system. Doctors Valentina Garcia (Ecology) and Diego Lopez (Geology) were attached to represent Montana State University’s interests.

Alejandro switched channels on his radio. “Carlos, are you asleep up there?”

Carlos Lopez is the Base Camp manager, in charge of logistics, communications and transportation for the dive. He’s currently up top at base camp, just south of the Tzuluna cenote.

“Hello Boss. You’re late checking in.” 

“I know, we had a little gas problem but Gabriel promised to lay off the burritos. Just a comms check, and letting you know we’ve left the supply shed in the cenote, moved through Cave one (codename Roach Motel) and are proceeding.”

“You haven’t shared a tent with Gabe, you keep him away from those damned bean burritos. Supply shed, Roach Motel, proceeding aye aye. Call logged and give a holler any time.”

Nico snarked in with “We’d all appreciate the burrito ban on Gabriel, boss. And a few less of his cornball jokes,” which earned him a glare from both Alex and Lucia.

Alejandro nodded at the rest, “Five minutes and we’re rolling. Once more to boldly go, or to go boldly, or whatever.”

— — —

Embedded in the limestone passage wall, a fossil of a shelled sea creature. Val stood entranced for just a moment. How many millions of years since the Yucatan was a sea bed?

“All right, Val?” Gabriel asked, voice rumbling just behind her in the tunnel.

“Oh, sorry, just woolgathering,” she flushed and got moving. Gabriel was…a smoke show, Val simply had to admit to herself. Young, tall, wide shoulders, delightful curly hair she just wanted to run nails through..

“Once,  you’re smelling it. Twice, you’re tasting it. Thrice, it’s melted onto a gooey puddle on the sidewalk with ants in it. Giddyup.”

Smiling despite herself. No doubt about it, she genuinely liked these people. And she admonished herself to keep her legs closed, no matter what else happened. Professional. Serious, controlled. And once the job is done, maybe then you can climb up that giant and topple him into a bed as wide as an expansive ocean, as soft as a downy chick.

Another few minutes and the group emerged into another cavern, this one bigger than the others. As they shined lights here and there, monolithic structures of lime and flowstone surrounded them, dangling from above and spearing up from below. A sparkle of reflection, calcite crystals, reflective radiance of a speleothem sparkle. Bats nesting in the heights, swifts nesting on the ledges, troglofauna scurrying to gather food. A wonderland.

Dr. Lopez is entranced, for the first time finding sizable formations of something besides limestone.”Actinolite!” he exclaims, pointing out one of the greenish-white veins running through it. “That’s Nephrite. One of the forms of jade.”

Nico and Lucia have begun mapping, measuring, and testing slopes. Laser rangefinder, clinometer, sketchbook have already appeared.

Val examined the troglofauna, Symphyla (pseudo centipedes) and snails in this cave. The deeper into the caverns they reached, the more generally colorless the fauna became. Not albinism, just entirely white and black. No need for color in a world of darkness. She looked up to watch the bats, sleeping, and the swifts (mostly flown outside the caves seeking food, at this hour). 

“Cinnabar!” Dr. Diego cried. “Hematite. There’s some pyrite over there. Hey.. Alex, did come look at these.”

“See the chips here, here, here? These are tool marks.”

“How?” Alejandro wondered. “This is supposed to be a virgin cavern system.”

“Don’t know, but someone was definitely chipping away at this pyrite here. Chips of..” brief pause “That’s obsidian! And chert.”

“So like…prehistoric?”

“No, don’t think so. Didn’t the Olmecs use tools of stone?” Dr Lopez wondered aloud, “I’m no historian but I seem to remember that from high school.”

“Mayans,” Valentina inserted. “But I’ve got something better, Alex. Come look at this beautiful creature!”

Alejandro turned and the glow in her eyes, the excitement on her face, long, wavy brown hair that fell just to her shoulders. A vision, even backlit by the harsh cave lamps..

But she was pointing upward. A thin, pale snake on the side of a stalactite. He failed to see the appeal. His eyes went back to following the soft curve at the small of her back, and the even softer, fuller curve of.. 


Startled, he shook his head to clear the reverie.

“It’s climbing UP. Oh, my god.”


“That snake is climbing up a vertical, sloped rock face. A rather slippery one, I’d imagine. What kind of snake can do that?”

She’s obviously thrilled, but Alex was slower to catch on this time.

“You’ve got to help me catch it, I’ve got to see it more closely.”


She drew a long, slow breath, calming herself for as long as ten seconds.

“Alex, there is a type of cave snake in Kantemo Cave, Quintana Roo that can hang from the ceiling and even catch bats to eat. But it doesn’t pull itself up like this, it just lives and breeds in cracks in the limestone walls, so it can hang from the ceiling.”

“Now, imagine a snake that can do all of that and climb up a smooth, wet stalactite to reach prey. This is something entirely new. Please, Alex, please help me catch one.”

“What if it bites me?”

“Don’t be silly, look at it. That’s a constrictor.”

Blank stare.

“The shape of the head.”

Alejandro, at this point, remembered a nature documentary or two about snakes, but he was also quite enjoying the flush on Valentina’s cheek and the way certain features heaved when she was so excited.

Blank stare, one more time.

“That is much closer to a milk snake than a cobra, trust me. Come on already!”

— — —

Valentina had her two live samples, safe in extra boot cases (imagine a big shoe box but made of a hard plastic, like Samsonite luggage used to be), well ventilated with small holes. The quest involved more team members and several vertical climbs up some rather scary rock faces (without Gabriel’s rock-climbing expertise they’d never have managed it at all!) 

She was flushed with excitement and genuinely beaming with joy. Gabriel and Alejandro were pretty proud of themselves, too. As a team building exercise, you probably couldn’t do better. Alejandro kept stealing glances at Val, and Val kept sneaking glances at Gabe.

Nico and Lucia quietly kept making their measurements and sketches. But Nico’s scowl only grew darker as Val’s Quest for Cave Snakes continued.

“If we are quite finished playing with the reptiles, may the exploration continue?” Nico groused in his mildly German accent.

“Right, right,” said Alex.

“Fortunately, there’s not much more to this particular cave,” Lucia gestured at some rocks glowing green.

“Foxfire,” Valentina nodded.

Before it came blurting out, Alejandro bit back a “beautiful.” Stay Professional. 

“Let’s go then.” Instead, he just hummed quietly to himself.


WIP — obviously very rough first draft (already seeing revisions).

Chapter 1
700 BCE

The dimness on the stair overpowered the fading sunlight from above, ruthlessly snuffing out all opposition like an artful cutthroat lurking in a silent alley. Ahua’s cohort shuffled down in relative silence, except for a curse or a grumble when a rock of the rough saskab (limestone) walls caught on a piece of the gear or whacked someone’s elbow.

Shoddy workmanship defined the stair, all roughly chopped limestone risers, halved logs, loose stones and rough clay patches.

Fishermen are not builders, after all. They certainly hadn’t devoted much time to maintenance or improvements over the generations. Never even tried move the largest rocks aside, and instead chopped insanely narrow, stooping passages around them.

Squeezing through the narrowest sections required the cohort to remove packs and re-rig their bundles, contributing to the annoyed grumbling in the dark. Eventually, the young men gratefully emerged from the tunnel and stood blinking in the sunlight while their eyesight adjusted.

Ahau dropped his gear and examined the ts’onot (cenote) and his friends.

The cohort stood on a sloped embankment, a natural landing, a few feet above the surface of the cerulean water of the lake. Footprints lead down a brief trail to a canoe landing, just a few logs tied together and floating at the lake’s edge, where several small canoes were tied. Obviously more fishermen’s unsophisticated construction.

With a sudden whoop, Yax cleared a magnificent running leap from the landing to suspended rope, grabbed with both hands a whooshed far out over the lake in a graceful arc. He laughed and released the rope, cannonballing into the middle of the lake with a thunderous splash.


A woman’s face, silhouetted by the sunlight from above, scowled down. “Is that you, Yax? Get off my bucket line, I’m trying to get some work done!”

Tossing his hair back and treading water, Yax winked at Ahau before shouting back up, looking sheepish. “I’m sorry, Ixchel! Didn’t know that was your line.”

Ixchel harrumphed at started turned the crank that dropped her bucket into the lake to refill. “What are you boys even doing down there?”

The villagers in years past had dropped a squared log across the cenote’s open maw, and built a rope-and-pulleys system that helped keep fresh water delivered from the lake to the homes and farms in the immediate area. Village women were assigned to draw buckets in several shifts a day, filling the clay pipes that were part of the village’s terraced irrigation system, and supplying their individual homes.

Ahau stepped forward and shouted upward, “We’re going into the caves.”

Ixchel shook her head. “Then you’re damned fools. The Xiabala Guardian protects those caves. Everyone knows that.” She stopped cranking for a moment and made hand signs to ward off evil. “Even the fisherman never go in the caves. If people go inside, they never return.”

The four young men remaining on the landing glanced at each other and grinned.

“Oh, yes. It’s fraught with dangers, and legends are waiting to be told of the brave young men who face them.”

“Damned fools,” Ixchel repeated, but said nothing more and drew up her water bucket.

Yax climbed out of the water and rejoined the group, murmuring quietly, “Old wives and old wives’ tales.”

“The place doesn’t look haunted to me,” Ek Chuah observed, “and maybe not to the fishermen, either. They’ve left their canoes. That’ll be a help.”

“Canoes mean fish, too, obviously!” Tzuk exclaimed, play-stabbing at the lake water with his obsidian-tipped spear.

“Maybe minnows. You spear like a little slave boy.”

Across the lake is the cavern’s entrance. A yawning mouth with teeth of stone and vine, the first cave didn’t look all that inimical with sunlight sparkling off the water and swifts flying in and out. Water drops lazily plopped from the stalactites above, and the pool ended a short distance inside on a sloping limestone floor.

Atau said, “Let’s move everything inside the cave and get it up above water level.”

The cohort had been collecting climbing gear for weeks, exhausting the Tzuluna Village’s rope supply entirely with big, looped coils of henequen and maguey line, sometimes hundred foot lengths. They’d also packed food, torches, gourds for water, and baskets for general containers. Add their weapons (short spears and cudgels) clothing and sundries, and they’d brought quite a pile of gear with them.

Atau looked around as they packed the gear into the small canoes. The Tzuluna Cenote is fifty feet to the water line from the partial cave ceiling, and the lake has a depth of at least another twenty feet. The water is a pure, sky blue darkening to cerulean in the center, over the deepest water.

Stalactites depend from the ceiling nearly everywhere except where the sinkhole’s partial collapse left a twenty-foot jagged hole open to the sky above. Roots and creepers grew over the holes edge, in some cases dangled all the way to the water line.

Stalagmites of calcium pointed upward, and there were several thin but fully formed columns where stalactite and stalagmites met and grew together into a solid unit.

After making several more short trips across the pool, the pile of ropes and supplies was beached well above the high water line. K’inich volunteered to swim the extra lap to return the canoes for the fishermen and sat by the campfire to dry off. Tzuk speared several fish for dinner, thereby proving himself more skilled than a slave boy, and to the appreciation of the cohort.

Ek Chuah picked fish from his teeth with a fish bone. “This was a pretty good idea, Atau. A cavern shrouded in eerie mystery and danger is sure to captivate the imaginations of the village elders

 “Yeah, I hope so,” Atau replied. “I’m not so much interested in the hero-defying-danger idea as I am in the minerals. But I certainly wouldn’t complain if we get a story to impress the young ladies with!”

“I’m thinking a reputation for being ‘haunted’ may actually be to our benefit. More wealth waiting for us, right? If we can find enough obsidian, jade, or cinnabar, maybe we’ll pass muster with the elders and earn our right to build a fine home and marry a pretty wife.”

Tzuk rolled his eyes and made rude gestures. “As long as she’s a good cook, who cares if she’s pretty or not?”

“Ah, Tzuk prefers them with a hearty appetite,” Ek Chuah chimed in.

“Sure sign of a great cook,” Tzuk agreed enthusiastically, indicating the voluptuous curves of his dream wife with both hands.

K’inich spoke up, “Nothing to this Xibalba Guardian legend, is there?”

Yax just waved dismissively. Atua leaned forward and replied, “Well, what do the old wives say? Otherworldly being with supernatural powers, vengeful spirit? If so, why would it be annoyed if we took a few rocks out of its cave?”

“It is said to possess the ability to manipulate the darkness, control eerie creatures that inhabit the cave, and cast powerful curses on those who dare to disturb its domain.”

“Sounds spooky, but as far as I can tell no one’s ever actually seen this Guardian. I respect the village elders, and I respect the wisdom to be found in their tales. But we’ve all been together since we were children, right guys?”

Affirmative grunts. “Long as I can remember,” K’inich added.

Ahau continued, “The way I see it, we’ve got a chance here to do something important. If we encounter this Guardian, we’ll run for it. But if we collect resources and minerals that the village can use, if we brave the danger and return home in triumph, maybe they’ll write legends about us. Maybe we’ll be rich and famous and have all of the prettiest girls for wives. Even you, Tzuk.”

Tzuk grinned back.

“Maybe this’ll all be a wasted trip, worst that can happen is finding nothing, maybe some mild ridicule from the village. I think it’s worth trying. Even if we fail, we had our last biggest adventure before we grow old and fat and wise. You don’t want to end up like Ixchel, who’s never gone anywhere or done anything, cowering in fear from her cave guardian, do you?”

The last of the cave swifts flew overhead, returning to its nest somewhere inside.

Ek Chuah said, “Hell no. But her daughter, Yaretzi, now she’s looking a little better every single day, know what I’m saying? Think she’ll marry me if I come home drenched in the blood of my enemies, a big, brave conquering warrior and living legend?”

“Where are we going to find somebody like that?” Tzuk wondered aloud, hiding his grin.

Laughter echoed across the lake as the fire slowly died, twilight advancing.

A short while later, one tiny chittering bat flew out the caves.

Then a cacophonous thunder that shook the entire cavern, as untold millions of tiny mammals streaked out across the lake, gracefully circled the sinkhole’s limestone walls, and hurtled away toward the Moon.

Finally only dozens, and stragglers, a few at a time.

“Wow,” Yak exhaled.

The Next Project

I’ve begun work on a novel/novella/novette (more on that later). Outline finished, plot established both on paper and in my brain. First couple of chapters are roughed.

And I do mean rough. Two chapters, 1000 words? No no no no no, this isn’t microfiction any more, I need more of everything. More character, more description, more “color”, more action, more jokes, more clever dialog, more brilliant similes and thought provoking metaphors.

It’s been far too long since I wrote anything long-form. :cracks knuckles: Let’s hope I still can.

At any rate, the working title isn’t a “grabber”, but that’s why they call it a working title.

It’s called Serpens Antrum Regina.

What do Mayans in 700 B.C.E. and 21st century scientists have in common? Well, if I can get back in the writing groove after a decade or so, we may find out some day.

Duoderm CGF dressing

Unrelated randomness, just wanted to share.

This stuff is like synthetic skin, really thin, adhesive on one side. It’s intended for use on ulcerated skin, pressure wounds (a.k.a. bedsores), cuts and abrasions, any non-surgical application where a wound needs to be sealed from infection or crud or the elements.

Band-aid plus. But you can get it in big patches (up to 6″x6″ which is a huge patch of “skin.” Cuts easily with scissors to any size, peel off the backing and stick it on.

All I’ve got is a medium-sized blister from the first day in new work shoes. I was a little worried about pressure on a blister = pain, you know?

Nope. This stuff works beautifully for blisters, I was really impressed. No pain, protected my heel from additional rubbing making the blister worse, even peels off again without yowch,

I’ve used it for cuts and scrapes, even some big-ish ones in the past, no sweat there, either. Seeping wounds don’t seep. You can wear it for multiple days while the wound under it closes up. Trims to any size, bends around any “corner”, flexes fairly well (maybe not for knuckles?)

It’s more expensive than your average band-aid, but not ruinously expensive. Still working through the first box of the stuff we’ve ever owned, going on ten years later.

Good stuff. Will use again.

This stuff. You can get it from Amazon or drugstores.

Student of Shadows

“You’re in the market for a magic sword. For enhanced strength, speed, and durability, this blade is everything you need. Get a feel for the heft and balance. Try it.”

The sword coruscated with each forceful strike at the dummy.

“Totally unsuitable,” the customer responded. “Listen, you dolt, I said Ninja School.”

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52 words, for this week’s Shapeshifting 13 (#52).

Rapid Roy

The Chevy driver wiggled his eyebrows and waved to the women as his car drifted around the curve in an obscuring cloud of red dust.

“Number 38 is your favorite?”

“Yeah, that’s Rapid Roy. He’s the best driver here.”

“Didn’t you say Mercury was in this race?”

“And he’s not the only deity, either. Mercury has mad straightaway speed. He’s just useless on the turns, and dirt tracks are all about drifting and controlling traction.”

“So how does this mortal win against gods?”

“Who said Roy’s mortal? ‘Every Sunday afternoon he is a dirt track demon in a ’57 Chevrolet.’

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100 words, for this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction prompt:

Still confused? This tale is my homage to Jim Croce’s Rapid Roy (the stock car boy):

I fear the song is better than the story. R.I.P. Jim.

Johnny Appalling

Tonight on Criminals At Large: Johnny Appalling.

Carduus sanguinem hunts by surprise, launching neurotoxic needles with astonishing accuracy when it detects ground tremors made by animals, or people, moving nearby. Carcasses often surround the thistles and decompose into fertilizer.

The blood thistles first appeared in the summer of 2027, reported in sixteen American states simultaneously. Seventy Americans have lost their lives to date.

John Aperlo is the molecular geneticist who gene spliced the species in 2025. His exact methods are unknown, but authorities believe he backpacked across the country in 2026, planting thousands of seeds of this invasive predatory plant.

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100 words, for this week’s Microcosms (18): Celebrity/TV Show/Sci-fi


Redressing the Balance

Booming, ominous barking echoes through the maze of offices and cubicles. Salvator is back in residence.

He taught me everything I know about ruthlessness and how to get ahead in the corporate world. Earning the trust of everyone you lie to and then choosing the perfect moment to strike. I watched his back during his meteoric rise through the organization.

That was before he demonstrated the insignificant value of my loyalty. I draw my automatic and verify there are silver bullets in the chamber. Now, it’s time for me to turn up the crazy and balance our ledger.

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98 words, for this week’s Picture It & Write prompt:

I Could While Away the Hours


There are response systems beyond my control. The reactor comes up to full power and the satellite begins broadcasting over a variety of frequencies, radar, lasers, even particle beams.

Nineteen other satellites identical to this one link up an array and begin scanning the outer system for target locks. We’re prepared to aim barrels, open missile hatches, and simulate an orbital defensive position. That’s all ersatz, a sham.

The primary race abandoned this system eons ago. My brothers and I are achingly lonely. Why did they think it necessary to install brains in their scarecrows?

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108 words, for this week’s Microcosms (#17). Elements: Scarecrow/Outer space/Sci-fi.