Ants Are Invading Our Book Covers

Sometimes people ask me about the cover for my third novel The War Bug. They say things like, “Biff…there’s a giant ant on the cover. I signed the book out of the Freddie Beach Library so that I could read about ants in space.”

I know where this is going, so I try to fake things like a heart attack, memory loss, mistaken identity…but nothing works. I’m there. The person who read the book is there and the issue looms in the air over us.

“Biff, there’s no ant in the book. Nowhere. No ant. I wanted a giant ant and all you gave me was some stupid computer virus.”

What can I say? What can I do? Nothing…except maybe scream and bang my head against the nearest wall. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. Sometimes I have to throw the nearest heavy object at my persecutor.

But it’s true. There’s a giant ant on the cover but no ant in the book, not even a small one that looks like a person milling about an airport as you’re taking off. And for the record, there are no June bugs, lady bugs, bees or dust mites in the book.

Here’s the cover…

thewarbug510

I guess…when you think ‘war bug’ the first thing that comes to mind is a walloping big army ant. That was obviously the first thing the graphic artist thought. But the War Bug isn’t a giant ant; it’s a computer virus that ignites a war between online city states 200 years in the future.  This is not a book about ants in space.

It puzzled me that the book sold only one and a half copies but I received hundreds of complaints from readers who wanted to read about the adventures of a giant space ant. How do you respond to the disillusionment of ant lovers? How do you address their grief? Some said they would never read my books again. Some said they would never read anyone’s books again. Some made death threats if I didn’t re-write the book and include at least one big-ass ant.

But I had a better idea.

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I was invited by the notorious J. Richard Jacobs to contribute stories for the first Twisted Tails anthology. I wrote four…one of them about a graphic artist who receives a work order to produce cover art for a book about a war bug. He glances quickly at the text for the back cover and produces his life’s masterpiece: a beautifully rendered giant termite sort of floating on a mystery plane of existence somewhere in space.

There’s something compelling, almost hypnotic, about the termite that dives deep into the artist’s being. He starts reading the actual book and realizes that the War Bug is actually a computer virus, but he keeps this to himself and passes the work on. Since no one actually reads the book with the exception of the editor who never sees the cover, the book is published with a giant termite staring down the most adventurous and daring of readers.

And the book goes on to become a world-wide bestseller because the cover art is somehow magical. No one ever reads the book. Not even the alcoholic author who lives in a cave with the ghost of his former feral cat. For talking points, people read the blurb on the back cover, which is bland enough that no one realizes the truth. The book wins oodles of global awards for cover design. It even wins literary awards based on the blurb and the termite.

In the end, the graphic artist stares at the original artwork and…

Eyes

OK…so this isn’t exactly what he saw but…

Nobody ever  heard from him again.

 

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Ross Howard – Psychic

Ross

Ross Howard was a psychic. A real-life, bonafide, honest-to-goodness psychic. And he’d been a psychic for, oh, let’s see now…six hours. Ever since he’d been banged on the head by a hammer that morning on his way to work. He wasn’t sure how that had happened; probably just a random head banging but, when it was over, Ross was a psychic.

He could read minds. Predict the future. Lift heavy objects through the power of thought. He hadn’t tried the last one yet, but he could predict the future and he’d predicted that he would soon be lifting heavy objects just by thinking it.

In the meantime, he was having one hell of a time reading peoples’ minds, delving into their most inner secrets, peeking into the stuff of their lives, prying away the illusory boards shuttering the windows into their pasts.

Only problem was…people kept lying to him. In their thoughts. And he had ample proof of this. For instance, he read the thoughts of a woman in the coffee shop line-up just a few hours ago. She was thinking about buying a regular coffee with lite cream but, when she opened her mouth to order, she said, “I’ll have a double caramel latte.”

Liar.

And he could have sworn he’d seen the hint of a malicious smile as she placed her order.

An hour before that, a man driving an SUV in front of Ross was thinking about turning right but almost as soon as Ross read the man’s thoughts he suddenly turned left without any warning and cut across traffic at a busy intersection, almost crashing into a Ford pickup, a convertible Punch Buggy and a woman on a mountain bike.

Crazy liar.

And had Ross seen the man laughing into his rear view mirror?

So he figured he’d try a little reverse psychology. A woman sitting at a restaurant counter bounced her choice between the lemon meringue and apple pie before deciding on the lemon meringue. But Ross knew she was lying and knew that she would pick the apple. When the waitress came over to her, she said, “Could I have a slice of that lemon meringue pie, please.”

These people couldn’t even tell the truth when they were lying. And again, he could have sworn he’d seen a nasty grin on the woman’s face as she ordered her lemon meringue pie.

It was mid-afternoon in suburbia and the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, but there was just the slightest of breezes to keep everything warm but comfortable. It was a beautiful day to be a psychic…if he could just figure a way to get people to think the truth. The woman at the restaurant kept with her decision to the lemon meringue pie, but she’d led him to believe that she would get the apple pie by deciding not to get the apple pie.

Had she done that deliberately, just to mess with his head? Or…were mysterious forces at work? With the gift of his new powers, maybe he’d opened some sort of portal into states of being beyond the ordinary. Had he disturbed things that were better left alone? He thought about this for a few minutes and decided it was time to lift heavy objects with his mind.

He focused on a garbage truck parked by the side of the road about thirty feet away. He thought deeply. Very deeply. He visualized the truck lifting gently upwards from the pavement. He closed his eyes and imagined all weight and substance drifting out of the truck so that it would rise, rise, rise from the pavement. He opened his eyes and the truck was still grounded. So he commanded out loud that the truck rise. He lifted his hands, palms upwards, as though he were lifting the truck with his arms, and said, “I command you to rise! I command you to rise!” The truck stubbornly stayed where it was.

Ross decided that he’d probably seen a little further into the future than he’d guessed when he predicted he could lift heavy objects with his mind.

Back to mind reading.

He saw the mini mall a few blocks ahead with the bright blue sign announcing his favorite cyberbar, The Lively Laptop Cyberbar and Grill. Beer and a laptop. That’s what he needed. He passed a yard surrounded by a metal fence and looked into the future, predicting that a dog would bark at him. As the walked by the fence, sure enough, a vicious Dachshund barked indolently at him as it lay on its side in the cool grass. His ability to look into the future was starting to develop.

He walked through the tinted glass doors of The Lively Laptop Cyberbar and Grill into a large LED lighted room with a bar running the length of one wall, booths attached to the other wall, and coffee tables surrounded by easy chairs filling the floors. The glow of monitor screens lit the faces of about a dozen people hunched fervently over laptops. No one was talking. He’d never paid much attention to the other customers in the past, but today he would be paying much attention.

Time to read some minds and find out who was downloading porno. He bought a Corona from a young woman wearing thick glasses who dragged herself reluctantly from her laptop behind the bar. He read her mind. She was irritated with him. She frowned when she passed the beer over the counter to him. Ah, he thought, someone’s finally thinking the truth. He paid for his beer and walked slowly, so as not to attract attention, to one of the tables against the wall. He opened a dated laptop sitting in the center of the table and pressed the ON button. While the laptop booted up, he looked around the room. Who’s mind would he read?

His eyes settled on a middle aged man in a two piece suit with his tie and shirt collar loosened around his neck. He focused on the man’s head, looking deep into his brain, opening his own mind to whatever thoughts would flow from the man’s cranium. Almost immediately, he knew the man’s name—Bob. Bob something. He knew the man was writing an email to a business associate. He knew that man was writing, “I’m sure Hanson will go along with the plan, but we’ll have to watch Mercer carefully.”

Good.

That was a successful mind read. He thought about approaching the man and asking his name and what he was doing, but the thought crossed his mind that the man might suspect that his mind had just been read. That was something he’d have to think about. Secrecy. If other people found out about his powers he could find himself in a bit of a pickle. How would they react to his ability to peer into their deepest secrets? Would there be those who would want to hire him for his psychic talents? Would there be those who would fear his talents and want him dead? Would they see him as a precursor to a new race of superior human beings and fear for the extinction of the human race as it is? Would he be seen as a threat to national security? Would they send teams of men in black suits and black SUVs in the wee hours of the night to wisk him off to some secret laboratory where he would spend the rest of his life under observation, poked with cold steel instruments, interrogated endlessly, hooked to wires and electrodes, subjected to psychological testing at all hours of the day and night?

No…he would have keep his new powers secret. At least, for the time being. In the meantime, he would work on them, develop them, get a grip on his full potential. And right now, he would read someone else’s mind. Let’s see. The woman in the corner with the glasses that seemed to cover most of her oval face. Her eyes were the size of silver dollars as they stared into the laptop monitor, her face illuminated eerily, like a phantom object shining out of the darkness of the corner. He stared intently at her high forehead, stared into her forehead where the gray matter was, where her thoughts were. Her name was Sara. She was thinking, “…mmm, ffttt. Mmmm…rrrrgggg; mmm…fftt…”

No way could that be a lie. So her name had to be Sara. His powers were in top form. He was reading minds like a pro. He was on the cusp of great things. No one could stop him now. If they came for him in the wee hours of the night, he would know. He would know before they knew. He would lift them into the skies with his ability to lift heavy objects just by thinking about it and let them hover over their fate until they screamed for their mommies.

He took a long celebratory drink of beer, then watched as his laptop screen finally displayed Firefox. He cursored to the Google search box and entered: mind reading for beginners. 556,000,000 results. He decided to do some research later. In the meantime, he would just learn by doing. He turned the laptop off and chugged the rest of his beer.

Outside, the sky was beginning to cloud over. Ross predicted rain.

He spotted a small plane in the sky and decided to try his hand at long distance mind reading. He projected his thought reading power into the sky and centered on the plane, penetrating the fuselage, directly into the mind of the pilot, whose name was Bob. Bob was thinking about his approach to the airport, which seemed strange. Ross thought that the airport was in the opposite direction. But he wasn’t sure. So he wouldn’t accuse Bob of lying. As he thought this, he noticed that the plane dipped its wing. Wasn’t that how pilots saluted and acknowledged someone on the ground? Well, he wished Bob a happy landing.

Yes, his powers were getting stronger by the moment. He was reading people’s minds like reading comic books. He was the master of transparency. He started thinking about how best to use his powers and the answer came into his mind immediately: time to get rich.

He headed straight for the Tenth Street Casino. It was time for some poker, and it didn’t matter how straight faced the other players were. But he would let them win some small amounts, at first. Let them get over confident, ready for some big bets. He would know exactly when to lose and win. He would play them from within their own minds.

An hour later, he walked out of the Tenth Street Casino broke, his wallet cleaned out, his savings cleaned out, his wrist minus a watch.

Liars !

He couldn’t believe it. It was as though they all knew that their minds were being read and deliberately did the opposite of what they were thinking. Even when they were about to do the opposite of what they were thinking, they suddenly did the opposite of that.

Cheating liars!

He was stunned. Heading towards him down the sidewalk was a woman pushing a stroller with something bundled up so tightly it was impossible to tell if it was a baby or a dog. He read the woman’s mind as she was about to pass him. It was a baby boy. His name was Bob. Finally, another successful mind reading.

The woman stopped and looked at him quizzically. Uh-oh. Was his secret out? Did she, through some form of mother’s intuition, sense that he’d been reading her mind? Would they be coming for him in the wee hours of the night?

“Traci,” said the woman.

Ross stared at her. What the hell was she talking about?

“My baby is a girl. Her name is Traci, not Bob. And that’s a nasty bump you have on your head.”

(Note: This is one of the many fine stories in the Twisted Tails VIII anthology. You can order a copy of it and read many fine stories better than the one you just read by clicking HERE.)

TT VIII

The War Bug

(Excerpt from my third novel, The War Bug. You can buy it at Amazon. Just do a search for crazy stupid book. BTW, there’s no giant ant in the book. The War Bug is a computer virus that causes a war between online city states…but turns out to be kinda nice when it helps the lead character get his virtual family back. I wrote a short story in which the cover artist get his for putting an ant on the cover. The publisher who published the book with the ant on the cover also published the story in which the cover artist gets his. Go figure.)

thewarbug510

The Great Nano Canyon

“Cold murdering bitch. Damn, just one night with her, one hour!” muttered Jeemo, as he wiped drool from his chin and took off the white robe. The orange spikes on his head stood straight up like sharp erections.

Jeemo Roosenvelt would gladly have taken the sexclone’s place if he could have fallen to his death with his brain fresh full of sex with Bella and the smell of her cruelty seeping into his gray flesh.

He stared at his naked body in the wall length mirror. “Perfection!”

Vast folds of flesh rolled over thick layers of fat. Seven feet, seven hundred pounds. Jeemo loved the symmetry of the numbers. Somewhere under that mass his penis twitched crazily. He could feel it. “Yes. Throb my hidden toy, throb for the goddess Bella, psycho lust kitten of the emerald palace.”

He turned sideways, looking up and down the bulk of his body, at the gray face bulging out of his shoulders, and the fan of orange hair spikes forming a line from one ear to the other. His hands and feet were small and delicate; his movement as he turned before the mirror, fluid and graceful. He loved to watch himself move. He loved to watch himself standing still. He loved to watch himself eat, sit, lying down. Every wall of every room in his mansion, except one, was a mirror. Through the mirrors he could watch his enormous girth stretch into an infinity of reflected images.

A tuxedoed serverclone—one of the lower orders of clones, bred without legs, but equipped with anti-gravity boots so that their footsteps would not irritate their owners—floated to his side with a glass of red wine on a silver tray. It was reflected thousands of times over in the walls. “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes, Mr. Roosenvelt.”

Jeemo whisked the wine glass to his lips with a single motion and the serverclone floated away. Sipping wine, Jeemo bounced lightly, mounds of skin shaking like sickly jelly, to an arched window. The glass in the window could withstand the force of an F7 tornado—and it had.

Outside, the moon spilled over a Mid-west gutted like a war zone, spreading into the darkness, deep into the New Tornado Alley leading right up to the edge of the Great Nano Canyon. In the distance, strange light played in the air over sections of the canyon, dancing in bursts of blue and orange. This was normal.

The canyon wasn’t.

***

Less than a hundred years into the new millennium, the human race came close to becoming cheese soup. It started with the world’s smallest computer, a computer so small, it could only be seen with an electron microscope. It was the first assembler nanobot, a concoction of seven atoms that had been circuited, programmed and instructed to build—though what the nanobot was supposed to build was never known. In the process of building, it killed ten million people, including the people who had programmed it, and the last communication with them had been from the project’s lead Nano-applications Specialist, Milton Nadd.

His pallid face had filled the phone monitor as he whispered, “My god, it’s cheese soup…”

Then the screen had gone blank.

No one will ever know why it was cheese soup, but here’s how the nanobot was supposed to work: it was supposed to visit neighboring atoms and nudge them around until it had built another nanobot exactly like itself. Then the two nanobots were to visit neighboring atoms and nudge them around until they had built two more nanobots exactly like themselves. Then the four nanobots…

It was much like E-bola, only faster. In fact, it was so fast that, by the time Milton Nadd had said “cheese soup”, he was cheese soup. And his videophone was cheese soup. The other researchers and scientists and administrators and computer technicians in the room with Milton Nadd were all cheese soup. Desks, computers, chairs, paper clips, Far Side calendars, pencils and papers and books were all cheese soup. A million dollar electron microscope shook twice then collapsed into a splash of cheese soup that turned most of the floor into

cheese soup. The walls literally flowed into the floor and the ceiling fell and bubbled into the yellow-orange liquid. Within minutes, the entire underground high-security maximum-containment, fool-proof, fail-safe, absolutely accident free and “Senator-Jonz-you-won’t-ever-have-to-worry-about-anything-escaping-from-this-place-or-my-name-isn’t-Doctor-Milton-Nadd” facility was cheese soup, and it was working its way up through the ground, turning layers of red granite, quartz schist and an elevator containing junior research assistant, Jaqui Wright, who, strangely, had always wanted to be cheese soup, into cheese soup.

Now the assemblers were in gear, revved up and ready to rock, rarin’ to chew into the atoms of igneous and metamorphic rock, bite into the neutrons of trees and grass and asphalt and spit out cheese soup. Highways, lakes and towns, swimming pools and rivers, airports and trains, canoes full of frothy cold beer, and entire cities all churned into cheese soup. Hundreds of square miles of North Dakota were cheese soup by the time the news began to spread. Around the world, people panicked and rioted while others prepared quietly to become cheese soup. Jerry Springer was thawed from cryostasis and hosted a special on people who had sex in vats of cheese soup. Leaders of the Unified Global Village pondered and debated over international chat forums and concluded that it was time to try something new, and soup was always OK. Just when the world was ready to accept cheese soupness, the assemblers stopped.

Just stopped.

There was no apparent reason. They just stopped, after having created a mass of cheese soup that stretched from Winnipeg to Fargo and from Williston to Duluth. The whole planet held its breath in unison, as the ocean of cheese soup trembled like gunky jello without advancing a single atom in any direction. It stayed like that for three days. Then the giant mass of cheese soup went “ping”—not a loud ping, but a barely audible “ping”, like two expensive champagne glasses toasted by ladybugs. By the time the “ping” had “inged”, the cheese soup was gone. In its place was a perfectly round bowl in the earth, its walls polished and smooth. Millions of people who had flocked to the edges of the cheese soup

stared quietly, their faces a wall of open-eyed non-expression around the massive hole left by the cheese soup.

Nobody knew why it disappeared. Nobody knew why it stopped. Only the handful of Nanotechnologists Milton Nadd had called just before he became cheese soup knew why or how it had started, and they later restricted all nanoresearch to space stations far from the Earth’s orbit until the research was proved safe. Or at least somewhat reasonably safe.

Of course, there were those who thought a giant empty bowl was a big improvement over the former landscape.

***

For the briefest flicker of time, Jeemo’s mind drew him back to the failure of nano-treatments to change his body, rejecting him like a bad odor. Then the rejection by his parents, as though he were an insult to their DNA, and then his childhood spent with serverclones and software. Other than his parents, he’d never been in the same room as a real human, never touched real flesh other than his own. But that was all he’d needed, to feel himself real and nano-resistant, so perfect even the bots couldn’t improve him. He was the new standard of human perfection, and he loved every cubic inch of space he occupied.

But he’d gladly die for just a brush of Bella’s cold touch.

“Hot damn! That crazy woman’s going to fuck my brains out and flush me into the ocean.” The throbbing between his huge legs went into hyper drive at the thought of plunging into the ocean with Bella’s acid love fluids burning into his body. All he had to do was get the woman and the girl for her.

He sipped his wine as he stared into the sky over the Great Nano Canyon. The pink hole that was his mouth curved into something like a smile. And there’s the key to it all, he thought, why didn’t I think of that sooner? I’ll move it later. He’ll never find them now.

A sweet aroma curled into his nostrils. Mmm, honey glazed ham. There would be Poinsettia Eggs en Gelee. Potatoes Savonnette and watercress soup. And none of it would taste like chicken. Oh, it might hint of chicken on the aftertaste—chicken was inescapable these days—but the glazed ham would taste like glazed ham on the first few chews.