Saturday, September 4, 2021

Peyton Drake's Omni Tale - Kapta Jai

Chapter Five – The Ocademy

Unclear as to what was going on, but feeling surprisingly comfortable in the presence of a woman who talked to her mop, Pete followed her to the end of the hall. 

Etta gestured toward a row of terra-cotta-colored metal chairs lined against a bone-colored wall, again smiling brightly. Pete’s knees bent automatically, obliging him to sit.

“How did you know my name was Peyton?” he asked, his heart rate and curiosity building. 

“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you prefer Pete? Or perhaps P.J., as your mother calls you? I’m guessing you don’t much care for being called Junior. Makes no sense, your father calling you Junior when his name’s Peter and yours is Peyton.”

“Mix-up on my birth certificate,” he recited by rote, searching her face for a hint as to who she was and how she knew so much about him.

She chortled. “I’d call that more than just a mix-up. More of a clusterfail, if you ask me … But you’re here now. That’s what matters. Deora knows how long we’ve waited for you.” 

“Who are you?” he whispered.

“I’m Etta,” she said, extending her hand in introduction.

He seesawed her pillowy fingers, regarding her in confounded silence as he waited for further explanation. 

Pulling her hand back, she fanned herself. “Whewf, warm in here. Always is during the dog days.” Bowing her head, she removed her turban-tied bandana, igniting an explosion of orange curls that sprang out in all directions. “Sweaty business, being a custodian,” she said, blotting the perspiration from her face with the bandana.

“You’re like no custodian I’ve ever met before.” 

“Why, thank you! I take that as a compliment. But you see, I’m not a custodian for this school.”

“Oh? Is there another one in town?”

She let out a long hearty laugh before answering. “Noooo. I’m from Omni.”

He stared at her blankly.

“As in the Academy of Omniosophical Arts and Sciences.” 

His eyes glazed over. 

“Don’t tell me your parents never mentioned the ocademy to you.”

“My parents?”

“You are aware you have parents, yes?”

He nodded, the conversation getting away from him.

“I can understand why your father wouldn’t talk about the ocademy. Still sticks in his craw, I imagine, his application being denied. But surely Cassiopeia has told you stories.”

“Who?”

“Your mother, silly mongoose.”

“My mom’s name is Cassie, not—”

“Short for Cassiopeia,” she said, her smile fading. “Were you not put to bed at night hearing tales of the heroic Cassiopeia?”

Pete shook his head. “My parents used to read to me about the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and stuff, but nobody named Cassi-however-you-say it.”

Etta slapped her thighs and stood, her angelic face having morphed into the sourmug of a bulldog. “Young man, I don’t find your joking behavior at all amusing.”

“Joking? I’m not joking … about anything. I swear, Miss, umm, Etta, I have no idea what you’re talking about. As for joking, I’m not all that good at telling jokes.” 

She cocked her head and looked at him hard. “You’re telling the truth.”

“I know I am!”

“You’d make a lousy stand-up comic.”

“Hey!”

“But this still doesn’t explain how you know nothing about your legendary mother – how she came to the aid of that ravaged village.”

“Legendary? Ma’am, I love my mom … a lot … but I think you got the wrong grownup. My mom is … well … she’s just a mom. And she’s a great mom—the best mom a kid could ask for. She makes all of my meals and washes my clothes—”

“Hmpph, you make her sound like a housemaid!” Etta jerked her chin and crossed her arms, jutting one leg out to the side for added indignation. 

“She also makes really good milkshakes,” Pete offered feebly.

Etta put her hands on her hips, pacing and grumbling.

This is why I dread meeting new people! 

“I’m really sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just think you’ve got my mom confused with someone else.”

“Ha! I’d be more likely to confuse my own mother than to confuse yours. Every girl at the academy wished they were her—every boy too, for that matter. We all idolized her.”

Pete shrugged, at a loss for how to reply.

Etta dabbed her neck with the kerchief again then wrapped her rebellious hair inside it once more. Her eyes darted in thought. “This is your father’s doing … How did I not see it before? Of course he wouldn’t want you to know. If he couldn’t attend the academy, why should you get to? That good-for-nothin’ snake in the grass.”

“That’s what my dad calls me.”

“A snake in the grass?”

“No, good-for-nothing. He says nothing is all I’m good for.”

The mercurial little woman sat next to him again, taking his hands in hers. “Peyton Drake, you are not good for nothing. You hear me? Why, you’re good for … well … for everything! It’s time we got you out of this place … before you’re too far gone.”

“What? Leave? I can’t leave. We just got into town. And I start school here in three days.”

“You start school in two days and certainly not here! Now then, Leon and I will meet you at the portal at six a.m. the day after tomorrow.”

“Portal. Wait, what?”

“Yes, at six a.m. day after next.”

“But I can’t—”

“You can as long as you have authorization from a parent. Here’s a copy of your induction letter,” she said, raising one hip to retrieve a flattened scroll from her back pocket. “I’m sure Cassiopeia will be thrilled to inscribe it.”

His hand hesitating at first, Pete accepted the onionskin sheet and unrolled it. 

“What is all this? Are you the one trying to pull some sort of weird joke on me?”

“Certainly not! And if you’ll settle down, I can explain it all.”

Pete remained in his seat while his eyes searched for the nearest exit sign. Clearly, the lady was bonkers.

“You see, well, first off, Omni, since you don’t know, is the only interdimensional school in the Omniverse at this time. It was founded—” She gasped, her face stretching in worry, her voice dropping to a hush. “Good Gobfinkle, they’re looking for you.”

“Who? … That girl from the diner yesterday? I knew there was something fishy about her! I tried to tell—”

“No, your parents, or rather your father.” Etta looked frenetically in every direction then grabbed Pete’s shoulders and lifted him as effortlessly as if he were a package of marshmallows.

“Where is he? How do you know?” Pete asked in a nervous yodel.

“Because I know! Now take this.” She folded the academy letter and stuffed it in Pete’s shirt pocket, glancing right and left down the hallways like a spectator at a tennis match. “Remember, you need to discuss this with your parents—correction, your mother, since you need parental approval. But for Deora’s sake do not tell your brother … or anyone else for that matter! Now go, before your father comes here searching for you.”

Pete nodded and raced out the door. When he got to the street, he looked back over his shoulder. The school doors were shut, and all the lights were off. He kept running, his pace marking time with the bewildering thoughts that bounced through his mind. Reluctant as he was to admit it, he knew his days of anonymity were over.


Friday, September 3, 2021

Peyton Drake's Omni Tale - Kapta Ud

 Chapter Four – A Custodian’s Work Is Never Done


Pete’s eyes burned and itched. He’d hardly slept throughout the journey, having forced himself to stay awake and alert to signs of aberrant activity. To his relief, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred since the diner episode, and the ominous hawk was nowhere in sight. 

The new town’s streets appeared idyllically uneventful and conventional—the perfect match for Pete’s milquetoast public persona. Maybe his mother was right. Maybe this latest move would present a grand adventure. In his book, that would amount to unlimited time alone to create spectacular inventions in a household free of turmoil or strife.

“Oh look, P.J., the city swimming pool,” Cassie remarked, pointing down the street. “Perhaps you can take lessons.” 

The very mention of swimming caused Pete’s throat to constrict, not in a nervous sort of way—more in an I-can’t-breathe-because-I’m-drowning sort of way. 

His experiences with water that could not be controlled by a faucet had been uniformly disastrous. From being pantsed at the pool to belly-flopping in front of cheerleader Stacey Larkspur, to ear infections, to his inability to master any stroke beyond the dog paddle, one thing was clear—Pete would never swim for Olympic gold. 

His general lack of athletic prowess failed to give him pause. He had no interest in sports, and by all accounts, the feeling was mutual. 

Maybe if I pretend I wanna join some club or start a paper route or something, Mom will forget about swimming.    

A siren and flashing lights pursued the car. Pete instinctively held his backpack over his head for protection.

“What now?” the lieutenant groused, pulling over to let an ambulance pass. 

The emergency vehicle came to an abrupt stop in front of the pool—siren off, lights still flashing. A pair of fit paramedics burst out of the back doors, snapping open a gurney before charging through the gates where a crowd wearing bathing suits hovered over a quiescent body.

No swimming. Case closed!  

Aside from the aquatic crisis, the paramedic interlude proved beneficial to Pete. Ever since his mother’s last birthday, he’d unsuccessfully endeavored to fabricate a pop-up bed tray as a gift for her. Observing the functionality of the medical gurney inspired him with the streamlined design solution that had eluded him for months.

At least one good thing came out of this road trip.


The lieutenant clenched both his jaw and the steering wheel as they drove up to their empty new home twelve minutes ahead of schedule. “Where are they? They should have been finished unloading by now,” he said through gritted teeth.

With maternal diplomacy, Cassie suggested the family have dinner in the base’s mess hall while waiting for the wayward movers. The lieutenant initially balked at the idea of dining during the time scheduled for unpacking, but admitted he was too hungry to argue and that Cassie’s plan was an efficient use of time. 

The moment the lieutenant’s hot entrée arrived, so did the moving truck. 

Two of the movers schlepped into the mess hall, taking their time as though they hadn’t a care in the world. The man with the tri-colored arm was not with them. “We saw your note on the door saying you’d be here,” the head mover drawled, note in hand.

“Is the other man unloading?”

“Other man’s gone.”

“Gone! I hired three of you. Where did he go?”

“Couldn’t tell ya. Got attacked at a rest stop by a giant bird. Ran off and never came back.”

“Damn!” Lt. Drake threw his napkin down like a gauntlet with a mumbled vow to vent his hunger and vexation on the labor force. After pressing a noisy series of watch buttons, he goose-stepped toward the exit and out of sight. 

The two men followed, albeit at a much more leisurely pace. The remaining Drakes dined in fretful silence.

“Could we please get that to go?” Cassie asked a busboy, pointing at the lieutenant’s congealing entrée.

While Billy constructed a moat out of his mashed potatoes, Cassie swallowed the last bite of her beef dip sandwich along with a trio of pills. Pete’s eyes boggled at the sight—his mother rarely took more than one pill at a time. Getting up from the table, she wrung her hands as she informed the boys she would be heading to the bungalow. They were to stay out of the line of fire. She’d fetch them when the coast was clear. 

Billy, a bloodhound when it came to sniffing out trouble and troublemakers, rounded up some kids in the dining hall and recommended they throw rocks at glass bottles. His new compatriots considered the plan inspired.

Pete left them to their hooliganism and ventured into the adjoining lounge. There he found a large unoccupied armchair and settled in for some serious gadget brainstorming. As he’d come to expect, the space was similar to the rec room at the last base. The people looked the same. The furnishings looked the same. The place even smelled the same. Everything was the same, except everything was new—that is, new to him—and all too soon he’d be forced to brave a new school, new teachers, and most egregious of all, new kids. 

He loathed getting to know new people. The practice always involved some sort of awkwardness on his part and usually at least one misstep. He disliked change as a rule and disliked conflict even more. Change brought the potential for conflict. With new people, that potentiality turned to probability. 

Thankfully, he wouldn’t have to put up with any such socializing twaddle this time around. He’d already made up his mind to avoid all fraternizing at the impending school, viewing his new-kid-in-town status as a fresh opportunity to pump up his powers of social invisibility and dodge bullies. Not only would his deliberate lack of friends appease his overprotective father; it would afford more time for inventing and tinkering. Yes, something good could come out of this move yet. 

By bedtime, the Drakes had unpacked and put away their essentials per the lieutenant’s detailed instructions. Pete needed no direction to be in compliance with his father’s organizational regulations. Each of the six housing units Pete remembered inhabiting was laid out the exact same way. With eyes closed, he could easily locate his toothbrush or find the refrigerator to sneak a forbidden midnight snack. That night, he couldn’t wait to close his eyes—simply to catch up on sleep.

* * *

Pete’s wake-up alarm went off the first morning in the new house just as it always did, and he started the day just as he always did—he put on his slippers, slid into his robe, and traipsed out to the breakfast bar. During his trek, he questioned the relevance of the robe. Weren’t pajamas sufficient apparel for breakfast at home with the family? And what about slippers? Were they really necessary given he wore socks to bed? These were the questions with which he greeted each day—questions he kept to himself so as not to have to endure his father’s homiletic answers.

As usual, his parents were already seated, or rather, his father was seated, reading the newspaper and nursing a mug of black coffee. His mother was standing in the kitchen, humming as she prepared the meal outlined on the monthly menu posted on the refrigerator door. Mom’s famous orange-vanilla French toast made the morning’s list, garnished with a powdered sugar snowflake and served with blackberry syrup, a sausage patty, and orange sections. 

“Billyyyy,” the lieutenant called in the direction of the boys’ rooms. 

As the walls shook with the thunder of a runaway bison charging through the hallway, Pete took the precaution of shielding his plate with one arm and scooting his chair away from Billy’s. Billy had a way with food—a way that resulted in more of it ending up on and around him than in him. Before the Tasmanian devil had taken his first bite, Cassie was at the broom closet, selecting a hand-held whisker and dustpan as her weapons in the battle of the Billy.

Pete kept his eyes on his own plate, attempting to disregard the fact his father had been peering at him over the top of the half-read newspaper for several discomfiting seconds. 

“You all done with breakfast?” the lieutenant asked. 

Pete nodded, chewing the last of his sausage patty quickly to get back to his room to work on the pop-up bed tray idea for his mother.

“Good! Then wash your breakfast things and put them in the drying rack. And don’t forget the pots and pans. Lord knows your mother does enough cleaning up after you two.” 

Says the man who’s never cleaned a dish in his life. 

“When you’re through, I want you to do some recon and get the lay of the land. School starts in just three days, and I expect you sharp and ready come Tuesday, Junior. Last thing we need is a repeat of the last town’s first day at school. Take Billy and scout out the new school … That’s an order.” 

“Yes, sir,” the siblings said in unison, each with differing levels of enthusiasm.  

Pete collected all the dirty dishes and filled the kitchen sink with soapy water. He was just lowering the stack of dishes into the sink when Billy bumped him out of the way and turned the tap on full blast. Billy waved his plate under the torrent, splashing Pete before leaving his still-dirty and now dripping dishware on the kitchen counter. 

Pete took a zen breath, dunked a sponge in the sudsy water, and scrubbed. 

He was painfully aware that the compulsory recon mission would put the kibosh on his plans for a morning design session. Add to that, he was stuck on KP duty and was about to be saddled with Billy. To assuage his frustration, he pictured his father reading the paper wearing nothing but skivvies. The mental picture backfired and made Pete feel worse. 


Pete slung his tan canvas backpack over one shoulder and exited the bungalow’s front door, dressed in his usual tan corduroy jeans, tan suede Wallabees shoes, and a plain tan tee—a shirt without a logo or design so as not to draw attention. This was his signature ensemble, one he’d crafted to help him go unnoticed. Even his hair was tan in color. 

He shambled to the end of the walkway, pausing to look for a directional signpost that would point them toward the school. As expected, there was one on each corner of the lane—just as there was at all the bases they’d lived on. Billy paid no heed to his big brother or the signs and ran pell-mell down the road, presumably to find or cause mischief. 

Pete watched in satisfaction as Billy rounded a corner and disappeared. 

This morning’s looking up already.  

Ambling toward the small community’s sixth- through twelfth-grade school, Pete was struck by the intense colors of the scenery. The blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, the green of the trees, and the lush hues of the flowers had never looked so vibrant. Had the natural world always been so colorful, or was he experiencing something extraordinary? He concluded it was the former and vowed to be more appreciative of nature going forward.  

When he arrived at the campus, he found it blessedly deserted. The buildings were nondescript and the grounds bereft of foliage—a stark contrast to the splendor of the neighboring area’s vivid palette. A pair of side doors labeled ADMINISTRATION OFFICE stood open, revealing nothing but a hallway even drabber than the building’s exterior. 

Pete ventured inside, planning to stay just long enough to get a basic idea of the school’s layout before zipping home to enjoy his last homework-free weekend at the drafting table.

“Hello … Hello,” he called, hoping no one would reply.

Please let there be no people. Please let there be no people.

One of the entry doors banged closed, causing him to jump, nearly swallowing his tongue. Continuing down the main corridor, he perused the myriad hand-painted banners announcing this, requesting that. 

So many smiling faces I hope never to meet.

Lost in contemplation of display cases crowded with school medals and memorabilia, he rounded a corner and walked right into the backside of a woman bending over a mop bucket. 

The chubby worker’s bum let out a toot. She straightened up like a spring. 

Pete’s face twisted in mortification as he struggled to find words to offer in apology. “Are you … okay?” was all he managed. 

“Right as rain,” she said, facing him and flashing a cheerful smile accented by cherubic dimples. “And all the better for seeing you.” 

“Me?”

Still smiling, she rolled up the sleeves of her khaki work shirt, then pulled hard on a lever extending from the bucket to squeeze the water from her mop. Working vigorously, she swabbed her way toward him. “Couldn’t wait for school to start, eh?” 

He backed up to evade the mop’s advances, unsure how to respond. “Oh, well, I don’t know yet. I just—”

“That was a joke, Peyton. What teenage boy wants to start school any earlier than he has to?”

“Oh, heh heh. Yeah, I’ve never much looked forward to the first day of school.” After backing into a glass case, he turned around to walk beside the chipper janitor as she mopped in the direction of the entrance doors—the sunlight that filled the single open door serving as a beacon of hope, offering the promise of escape back home.

“No one ever looks forward to summer ending … except for high school girls eager to show off their new wardrobes, of course.”

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been a high school student … or a girl.”

“True,” she said with a flourish of her mop. “Besides, your school has a uniform dress code. A rather stylish one, if you ask me.”

Pete froze. “My dad didn’t tell me anything about this school having uniforms. I don’t have one. He’s gonna kill me!” He tore into his thumbnail cuticles, his throat contracting as he spoke. “Somehow he’ll find a way to make it like it’s all my fault.” 

“Calm yourself, Peyton. Who said anything about this school?” 

“Well … I mean …” 

“I’m here with him now, syr.” 

Pete looked around in search of whomever she was addressing, but saw no one.

“I will, syr, the moment we’re done. I understand, syr.” The woman placed her mop in the bucket and turned to face Pete squarely. “I think you better take a seat, Peyton. Life as you know it is about to turn upside down.”


© JSD Johnston


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Peyton Drake's Omni Tale - Kapta Fui

Chapter Three – The Dubious Diner

The car engine went silent, waking Pete. 

“Are we here?” he mumbled, trying to figure out when he dozed off. 

“If by here you mean Uncle Dabney’s Famous Pigs in a Blanket Family-Style Restaurant, yes. If you mean the new base, you’re about seventy-three hours short,” his father said.

“Yeah, dummy,” Billy added, socking Pete’s still-sore shoulder.

Yep, electrocution … definitely.

For the Drakes, the meal was business as usual. For the diner staff, it was a living nightmare. The lieutenant insisted on switching tables more than once, complaining how smudged the tabletops were and griping about the condition of the booth upholstery. He demanded all of the hermetically sealed utensils be replaced with clean ones, and he sent back his wife’s order because it wasn’t exactly the way he would’ve liked it. 

Pete tuned out the commotion by his usual means, retreating into his head to design a doodad, the term he used to describe his favorite inventions—machines that involved complicated actions conducted by various mechanical parts all intended to perform a simple task. His original term for his proposed line of wunder-widgets was doohickeys, but he changed it to Doodads as a pun in honor of his own dad, hoping to make him proud. (The fact Billy made fun of the word hickey may have weighed into the decision as well.)

At six years of age, Pete had entered a science fair with The Scrammer, a contrivance he put together to scramble eggs at the flip of a switch. He’d meant the name to be The Scrambler, but couldn’t fully enunciate the word, and his mother found his childlike pronunciation endearing, so the Scrammer moniker stuck. Employing a turntable, reflex hammer, flare, pie tin, and paint-can shaker, his creation was a cinch to win the fair’s coveted Gold Volcano trophy along with a two-year subscription to Safety First—a moralistic science-themed comic book series for kids. 

His father had insisted on tying The Scrammer to the car’s roof rack, disregarding Pete’s and Cassie’s pleas to stow it in the back of the station wagon. 

The contraption made the trip intact. But in removing it from the car, the lieutenant was foiled by one of his own masterfully executed no-slip knots, and he inadvertently broke a large piece off the Scrammer. 

Pete burst out weeping.

“Just tape it back on. You brought duck tape, didn’t you?” his father said.

The little lad’s tears flew in a semi-circle as he shook his head.

“For cryin’ out loud, what sort of cockamamie builder doesn’t carry duck tape with him?”

Tech lesson learned.

When showtime came, Pete’s pride and joy was disqualified for failure to operate. No trophy for Team Drake. 

Life lesson learned.

That was the last such competition the lieutenant allowed Pete to enter, for reasons the young inventor had yet to discover.

His current doodad was designed to make his existence as a teenage vassal substantially easier. He dubbed it the Auto-Scrub, a sort of do-it-yourself mechanized device for washing the exterior of an automobile—a Lilliputian-sized automobile, mind you.

* * *

“P.J. … Pete … Peyton,” Cassie said, lightly touching his arm.

“Aaagghhh!” 

“Didn’t mean to startle you, but we have to go. Your brother and dad are already out the door. You can resume your inventing when we get to the car.”

Pete grabbed the shoulder strap of his backpack and grudgingly scooted out of the booth, convinced the family would never make it through the remainder of the trip without some sort of catastrophic blow-up or calamity. Taking halting steps, he moved toward the door, fiddling with the controls on his music player, his mother prodding him forward.

“Wazzak!” cried a bubbly teenage girl sporting vintage sunglasses and a swinging ponytail, jumping to the side to avoid a head-on collision with Pete as they passed each another in the doorway. 

“Oh, sorry,” Pete said, still toying with his music player as his feet continued in the general direction of the car where Billy sat leaning on the horn.

“Just some barmpot I almost knocked into,” the girl said, seemingly to no one. “No worries, no one suspects anything. These clueless Q-zers won’t know what hit ’em, or should I say who hit ’em.” 

Pete stopped short, his mouth agape.  

“What’s wrong, P.J.? Another spider?”

“No, were you listening to that girl?” he whispered, hunching to be less visible, his eyes darting in search of whoever she was talking to.

“What girl?” Cassie asked, nudging Pete along. “Walk and talk at the same time, P.J. And if you’re referring to the young lady at the entrance, the answer is no. I was not eavesdropping on her conversation, and you shouldn’t have been either!”

“I didn’t mean to, but that’s not the point. She sounded like she was plotting something—”

Another blare of the car horn put Pete’s conspiracy theories to rest.

“On the double!” the lieutenant called, standing beside the open car door and giving a few quick taps to his watch buttons. “You’ve put us six minutes behind schedule, Junior.” 

“Sorry, sir,” Pete called back, jogging as he pictured both his father and brother in circus clown regalia, crammed into a VW Bug with dozens of their clown-car crewmates. 

After returning to his designated seat, Pete stowed his backpack out of his brother’s reach, then buckled his seatbelt with one hand while holding his shoulder with the other hand in case of another punch from Billy—a wise move as it turned out. 

* * *

Less than five minutes into the next leg of their trip, Pete reached the point he could take his brother’s juvenility and his father’s sermonizing no longer. His earphones did little to mute the lieutenant’s droning litany of upcoming entries on the travel timetable, and every time Pete tried to make a design notation on his notepad, he found himself transcribing his father’s words. The lieutenant had just gotten to the part where at 0800 hours they would check out of their motel room and go to the onsite coffee shop for eggs, bacon, and two slices of toast, when the car hopped and veered sharply. 

“Careful, Peter,” Cassie cautioned.

“That wasn’t me. It was the road!” The lieutenant said, pulling over to the shoulder to turn on the radio.

“But Dad, you’re gonna make us later,” Billy remarked from his half of the backseat where he’d already amassed a small mountain of debris and refuse. 

“Not now, Billy,” his father scolded, spinning the radio knob in search of a voice. “Why can’t I get a damn signal? We’re not that far from the city … Ah, yahtzee!”

“… still searching for an explanation. Experts are stymied as to the cause of this unusual phenomenon, but they assure the public there is no reason to panic. You can all go about your day as normal …”

The lieutenant put the car back in gear and pulled into traffic as if nothing unnatural or disturbing had happened. 

Pete stared out the back window in the direction of the diner and the dubious girl he encountered there, positive something was amiss and she was part of it. 

“Eight minutes behind schedule,” his father complained, swerving as he tried to program his watch while steering.

Cassie turned around to face her sons with a reassuring smile. “See, boys, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Pete’s view out the back window suggested otherwise. Storm clouds converged over the area, swirling menacingly and pummeling the car with hail as a fissure split the highway open, trailing them. Overhead, the hawk from home followed, its wings battered by the hail, the mangled onionskin letter in its beak.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Peyton Drake's Omni Tale - Kapta Be

[continued from Kapta An]

Chapter Two – Watching Like a Hawk

“Peter, can you hear me, Peter?” Cassie said, kneeling next to her husband. 

Lt. Drake jumped out of the chair and away from her, regarding her as if she were a wraith.

“Peter, what’s going on?! Is everything all right?”

He re-tucked in his shirt and cleared his throat, his composure restored. “It will be all right, once we get of out of this damn God-forsaken town!” 

Pete rolled his eyes.

That’s what you said about the last town, and the town before!

The lieutenant strode across the hall into the bathroom, mumbling and wadding the letter and envelope into a tight ball before flushing them down the toilet.

“What was it, hon?” Cassie called, pressing the heels of her palms against her eyes. 

“Nothing important, that’s for damn sure,” he said, returning to Pete’s room and assuming a casual military posture. “Just a sales pitch … misaddressed … wrong house … Happens all the time.”

“Then shouldn’t we deliver it to the correct addressee, hon?” 

The lieutenant scowled. “It was meant for me, actually.” 

Pete debated pointing out that his father’s answer made no sense, but decided instead to envision the lieutenant doing the hula in a grass skirt and coconut bra. 

Cassie rubbed her temples. “Pity. I was hoping it meant some sort of good news for P.J. And the seal really did look familiar.” 

“Nothing for you to trouble yourself over, cupcake. Now, go on and take your medication.”

“That time already? Where did the morning go?” She pulled a small pillbox from her pocket, popped a tablet into her mouth, tipped her head back, and swallowed hard, her years of practice obviating the need for water.

Pete looked away. He hated watching his mother dose. It always made her slightly groggy, slightly simple, and entirely docile. Nevertheless, it was better than the seizures his mother had suffered after a turbulent quarrel with the lieutenant half a decade ago. The friction that had erupted that night still simmered just below the surface of an opiated truce.

Pete’s gaze bypassed his parents to the pool of water collecting on the bathroom floor.

“Dad?”

“The answer is no!” 

“Huh? I was just gonna tell you the toilet’s overflowing.”

“It’s that damn letter,” the lieutenant snarled, stomping back into the bathroom. 

With the bluster of an undefeated medieval knight, he cast a bath towel on the floor and unsheathed a plunger from its decorative encasement, prepared to do battle with the sewer system.

Pete hung back to observe the proceedings from the safety of his room. 

“Good thing P.J. didn’t pack up the bathroom yet, eh, hon?” Cassie remarked.

The lieutenant grimaced and braced a boot against the commode, sputtering every expletive he’d learned since joining the Marines.

With his father engrossed in the plumbing debacle, Pete inched over to the trashcan to retrieve the design his father had chucked.

“Don’t even think about it,” the lieutenant grunted. 

Is he talking to me or the toilet?

The can-do patriarch gave two last vigorous plunges, smirking in triumph as the conquered water gurgled and retreated down the commode. He then snapped his fingers and pointed to the floor. “That’s for trying to sneak that paper out of the trash.”

Question answered. 

Pete moaned inwardly and dropped to the ground to complete the obligatory ten push-ups. 

You’d think my muscles would be bigger by now. 

The lieutenant stepped over Pete’s prone form, carting off the waste bin and Pete’s drawing with it. “And five more for that look on your face.” 

Pete’s negligible biceps quivered as he pictured his father decked out like Carmen Miranda wielding a pair of maracas and a bongo drum in lieu of a plunger and a dustbin. 

While Pete did corporal penance, Cassie picked up the wet towel off the bathroom floor, wrung it out over the tub, and hung it to dry. She then fetched an empty tote bag from under the sink and stuffed her sons’ toiletries into it. “I’ll carry these for you and Billy. Don’t want your toothbrush buried in some box.” 

“Thanks, Mom.”

Her expression stoic, she surveyed Pete’s barren bedroom, again massaging her temples. “Anything else I can do to help you finish?”

“Nah, that’s okay. I’m pretty much done.”

“Come sit by me, P.J.,” she said, setting the bag down and perching on the edge of the stripped bed. 

Pete parked himself on the thin mattress, pouting in skepticism. “So what’s Dad’s excuse for moving us this time? If it’s because of Stacey Larkspur, I swear, it’s just a harmless crush. She doesn’t even know I exist! And it’s not my fault I got an A on my science test. I didn’t even study!”

“Calm down, PJ. This move has nothing to do with you. Your father got a promotion is all. That said, you know everything he does is for the good of this family.” She cocked her head and glanced down at the spiral pattern her finger was lazily drawing on her thigh—something she tended to do when lost in thought. 

One of these days I should ask her to draw that symbol on paper. 

“You know, PJ, you may very well be in for a grand adventure at the new place. Who knows what wonders await just around the corner.”

“Pfpfpft. You say that every time. And it’s not just around the corner. It’s in another time zone!” 

She gently brushed the hair off his forehead. “Being the son of a serviceman can’t be easy, I imagine. All the relocating, the new schools, starting over again just when you’ve settled in.” 

“No wonder they call us Army brats. This lifestyle turns you into a brat!”

“Your father’s in the Marines, not the army.”

“You know what I mean. I hate all the moving.”

Cassie gazed out the window, a melancholy smile resting on her face, aging her for an instant. “I know how you feel. It’s so hard to leave your school friends.” 

“Friends? What friends?! I don’t have any friends here. I haven’t had any real friends in years. Dad never lets me.”

“What about Billy?”

“Little brothers don’t count. Besides, I wouldn’t call us friends at this point. He’s pretty much turned into a bully. He gets more obnoxious with every birthday.”

“Well, I’m sure he’ll straighten up soon enough. Your father will see to it.”

But Dad’s a bully too. 

The sunlight streaming through his window turned to shadow as the moving truck made its way up the drive, rolling to a stop as though it were a death cart come to deliver him to the gallows.

“They’re here,” Pete said flatly, picking at the raw skin around his thumbnail until dots of blood seeped through. 

“Finally!” the lieutenant blared from his lookout in the living room, double-timing it out to the front walkway to disseminate orders to the moving crew. 

Cassie got up and kissed Pete’s forehead. “Don’t lose hope, P.J. As one of my closest school friends used to say, ‘Where there’s hope, there’s magic.’ I’ll see you outside.” She slid the tote bag handle over her wrist, rescued the towel from the bathroom, and exited the house, bringing to a close yet another short chapter in her life as a military wife. 

Pete stood to regard his soldiers one last time before taping their box shut and trapping them inside. Giving his room the traditional farewell scan, he worked to conjure memories of the place he could one day look back on with a nostalgic smile. None came. 

The familiar shrill of his father’s whistle bade the family to line up, close ranks, and stand at attention. 

Pete picked up his backpack and slogged toward the front door. His chunky younger brother slammed past him down the narrow hallway, knocking Pete’s backpack from his shoulder.

Watch it, Billy … Bully!

His mother and brother were already in position before Pete made it out to the front yard. Cassie stood posed like a political candidate’s wife. Billy puffed out his chest, his chin up and attitude smug.

“On the double, Junior! You’ll make us late,” his father barked.

But the movers got here early! 

“Yes, sir,” he murmured, quickening his pace and taking his place in line.

The movers took their time climbing out of the truck. Pete couldn’t help but stare at one of the men whose skin was tri-colored. The skin on the bulk of his frame was obsidian, while one of his arms was the color of pale sand. That arm was freckled, hairier, and shorter than its dark counterpart, with a hand covered in smooth pliant skin the color of red clay.

“What’s wrong with his arm?” Billy blurted out.

“Billy. It’s not nice to say things like that!” Cassie whispered curtly.

“Skin pigment anomaly,” the man mumbled, putting his incongruous arm behind his back.

Disregarding the conversation, the lieutenant paced before his family like a general commanding his troops. “By my calculations, we will arrive at the new barracks in just over seventy-six hours. If the men take turns at the wheel, they should arrive a good five hours ahead of us, giving them ample time to unload everything into the proper sectors before we reach the base.” Clapping cupped hands to the outsides of his thighs, he performed a tidy about-face to address the movers, causing them to jump. “You men clear on your instructions? You all have your charts?”

The three day-laborers, each looking more dazed than the next, nodded and held up the diagrams. One of the men groaned and shifted from foot to foot. Another responded by sucking on his teeth. The tri-colored man cursed under his breath in an unintelligible tongue.

“Good, then that does it. Time for the Drakes to shove off. Oorah!” the lieutenant cheered, the only person smiling other than Billy who let out an oorah of his own.

The movers plodded into the bungalow and grappled with the boxes in the living room, accidentally losing the diagrams.

“Last call for the head!” The lieutenant hollered, giving the car keys a clamorous jangle. 

Billy ran into the house, bumping into Pete again despite the wide-open space. 

Pete’s backpack slid off his shoulder and onto the grass as he kneaded his rammed arm. 

My next invention’s gonna be something that electrocutes him every time he does that. 

The insistent kaah of the circling hawk pulled Pete’s mind off creative modes of retaliation. Shielding his eyes from the unusually bright sun, he looked up to view the broad-winged bird that carried something dripping in its beak.

It’s that bird again! And now it’s hovering overhead like a vulture waiting for me to die or something. Jeez, I hate that bird. … Hey, that looks like the envelope Mom tried to give me. I wonder if—

“You want this packed?” the man with the tri-color skin asked, holding up Pete’s backpack.

“How many times have I told you not to leave your things lying around, Junior?” the lieutenant scolded.

“Sorry, sir.” Pete took the bag from the man, willing his feet to move toward the car. He’d been dreading the long drive, especially the idea of being stuck in the back seat with his increasingly insufferable brother who had a penchant for putting Pete in headlocks, inserting spit-laden fingers in Pete’s ears, and wiping off his own dirty hands on Pete’s otherwise clean clothing. 

Within seconds, all were buckled in and motoring toward the highway, the vehicle’s trunk fastidiously pre-packed and gas tank filled. 

“Damn bird’s following us again,” the lieutenant muttered, eying the hawk overhead through the windshield. “Probably looking for a handout. You boys didn’t feed it, did you?” 

“No way! I wouldn’t get near that thing if you paid me!” Pete said.

Billy extracted the slingshot from his back pocket while feeling around the floor for something to use as ammunition. “Bet I can knock it out of the sky in one shot.”

“You’ll do no such thing, young man!” Cassie admonished. “Oh look, it has something in its beak.” 

“Trash, no doubt. Damn nuisance,” the lieutenant grumbled.

The hawk dropped Pete’s waterlogged letter onto the windshield, changed course, and flapped away. 

With the dexterity of a fly fisherman, the lieutenant worked the wipers until he was able to maneuver the dripping mass to the driver’s side of the glass. He then rolled down the window, grabbed the letter, squeezed the water out of it, and flung the onionskin onto the highway, all the while maintaining the speed limit. 

Pete peered out the back window and watched as the family car pulled away from the soggy missive that looked like nothing more than a splat of oatmeal marked by a single tire track. 

I sure would’ve liked to see what was in that letter.

He slumped in his seat and opened his backpack seeking solace. Therein, he espied a pad of half-used graph paper, a 0.9 mechanical pencil, a T-square, a portable cassette player with earphones, Fritos, chocolate covered raisins, and Butter Rum Lifesavers—all the things he deemed vital for surviving a road trip with his family sans homicide.

Working to extract a Lifesaver without ripping the wrapping, he failed to notice the black widow spider crawling out of his backpack and onto his arm.

“Isn’t that one of those poisonous spiders,” Billy remarked, tossing jellybeans at the arachnid.

“Black widows are venomous, not poisonous, Billy,” the lieutenant corrected.

“Aagh!” Pete screeched, leaning away from the spider. “Get it off me! Get it off me!”

“Don’t act so dramatic, Junior. It’s only a tiny bug. Just roll down your window and flick it off.”

Pete furiously cranked down his window and using his T-square, swatted the spider out onto the highway, manically rolling the window back up thereafter, lest the creature somehow return, seeking vengeance.

“I didn’t know this region had black widows,” Cassie said.

“It doesn’t,” the lieutenant said. 

“Why does this stuff always happen to me?” Pete lamented, zipping his backpack closed.

“It’s like that weird lady outside the store told you the day of the eclipse,” Billy said. “She said the sun would shatter and that it would be your fault, and that you’re cursed to see things beyond your worst nightmares heh heh heh.”

“Now, Billy, you know better than to say such things,” Cassie said. 

The lieutenant glanced at Pete in the rearview mirror and cleared his throat. “That woman was mentally deranged. There’s no such thing as being cursed.”

Pete pouted as he stowed his backpack under the backseat. 

Easy for you to say, you’re not the one who’s cursed!

 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Peyton Drake's Omni Tale - Kapta An

On this day in 1974, the story of Peyton Drake's introduction to the Omniverse began. To commemorate it, this site will post the entirety of his 49-novella saga chapter by chapter. Let the Omni Tale begin!

* * *

“Never heard of him, sorry.”

“He’s in my math class … I think … maybe.”

“Isn’t he that guy from that old rock band?”

“Who?”

 

{Kapta An}

Chapter One – The Red X


Pete Drake was as memorable as parsley garnish.  

That was just the way his father liked it. Lt. Drake had gone to great lengths to ensure his son didn’t stand out or excel in any way. He belittled Pete’s dreams. He ridiculed his ideas and inventions. He even uprooted the family and moved across the country when Pete became overly chummy with a classmate. 

The conflict-shy fourteen-year-old considered all the fuss unnecessary. It wasn’t as though he resisted being ordinary—just the opposite. He’d spent years cultivating a bland façade and hiding his talents. The tactic enabled him to float through life unnoticed and without incident, rarely attracting the attention of the bullies at school. More important, it helped maintain harmony at home. Today would be no different—or so he assumed.

The sky cracked open with a roar of thunder, more akin to an anguished scream than an atmospheric boom. As if the switch on the sun had been flipped off, the bright morning turned charcoal grey. The neighborhood birds left off chattering mid-chirp. Sheets of rain poured off the house’s eaves, obscuring the view of anything but water. A noise like the turning of a giant metal gear groaned. The entire house jolted. 

The pelting of agitated water beads ceased. His half-open bedroom window rattled as a luminous sunbeam pierced the glass to cast a rainbow on the opposing Navajo White wall. The warming beam of spectral light dissolved his apprehension, thus sparing his thumbnail from further attack.

“Omnigram for Drake,” called a delivery boy outside, raising his voice above the shrill squawking of the ferruginous hawk perched in the tree that was the focal point of the front yard. 

Pete scrambled out of the blanket fort he’d constructed on the floor of his room, doing his best not to disrupt the military diorama he’d set up. The delivery of any sort of gram was a big occasion at the Drake home. The last messengered communiqué the family received had been a risqué strip-o-gram that arrived at the wrong address—as his father avowed more than once.

Cassie, Pete’s mother, answered the courier from her regular spot on the front porch swing. “That’s us! Thank you. I … Where’d he go?”

The sunbeam dimmed. The rain-streaked glass rattled again. By the time Pete got to the window to investigate, the messenger was gone, taking with him the promise of excitement. Cassie pressed a thumb to her temple and looked around as if she didn’t understand what was happening or where she was—a common occurrence for her in recent years.

As Pete turned away, he did a double take at the hawk that was now perched on a branch near the window, staring straight at him.

That bird gives me the creeps. It’s always looking at me like … Hawks don’t eat people, do they? 

He shuddered and returned to the center of his room to hunker down inside his threadbare shelter. As he untied the keep’s privacy flap, his gaze caught on the only adornment that remained in his room, a marked-up calendar blazoned with a definitive red X. There was no getting around it. It was moving day—again. 

The sight of the red X always tied Pete in knots. Unconsciously, he grabbed his side to massage his pancreas. Logic dictated it was his pancreas that was affected by the offending X. Given he couldn’t pinpoint where in his torso the discomfort lay, coupled with the fact he wasn’t sure what a pancreas did or where it was located, he felt confident in his diagnosis.

The bulk of his boxes already packed, he reasoned he’d earned a respite and some time alone—alone aside from the two armies assembled in the fort. With greater care than usual he arranged the little green soldiers passed down to him from his father. Their impending battle was to be the last waged at the current coordinates. As such, he intended to make it one for the annals. 

He’d outdone himself with the latest addition to his arsenal of custom-built war machinery—a sophisticated, self-arming and repeating catapult. His boyhood collection of marbles sat lined up beside it, positioned at just the right angle for automatic loading and firing. Surveying his well-ordered combat zone and innovative armaments, he let out a gratified sigh. “Peace at last … Let the carnage begin.”

As he picked up a box of matches to ignite a fuse, the steady beat of boots parading through the house stamped to an emphatic halt. Pete knew from experience the silhouetted figure looming in the doorway would brook no procrastination. He held his breath, as if doing so would help him to go unobserved. 

Maybe if I just stay quiet and ignore him, he’ll eventually just go away.

“Junior, for cryin’ out loud. I already asked you to pack up your room and the head. You’re not going to make me ask again, are you?” 

“No, sir,” Pete muttered, emerging from the security of his quilted war bunker. 

“Shoulders back … and no sulking. You know this move is for your own good, son.”

So you keep telling me.

Pete stared silently at the floor, trying to shake off the battlefield barbwire that had attached itself to his sock. 

“Just what have you got going on in there?” His father stomped over to the fort and pulled back one of its blankets, exposing the upright broom that served as the structure's primary support. “I’ve been looking for that broom all morning, Junior!”

“Sorry, Dad.”

Lt. Drake grabbed the broom handle and yanked. Pete gawped as his field headquarters collapsed into a pile of laundry and the rows of artillery scattered across the linoleum floor. When the sound of rolling marbles ceased, the lieutenant tramped across the heap of mismatched covers and shoved the broom into Pete’s hands. “Looks like you’ll be needing this after all.”

And just like that, before Pete could wipe out so much as a single squadron, his war was preempted. A lump rose in his throat as he examined the remnants of what should have been his greatest victory, and he imagined he heard the strains of a requiem swelling beneath the mound of blankets. 

“Now, are you going to pack this mess up, Junior? Or do I have to do it for you?”

Pete shuddered at the thought of his newly constructed catapult’s fate should his father make good on his threat to pack the fort. He dropped down on his hands and knees to initiate the hunt for strewn marbles, counting in his head how many he collected and how many he had yet to find. 

The uncommonly kempt lieutenant busied himself by consulting his coaster-sized wristwatch and activating a variety of its functions, each of which emitted its own distinct cheep—each cheep causing Pete to lose count of his marbles. “The moving men will be here at fourteen-hundred hours, Junior. That gives us just under thirty minutes.” 

Thirty-seven marbles down. Sixty-eight to go.

“Where’s the packing chart I gave you?” 

Forty-one down. Sixty-four to go.

Without waiting for an answer, the lieutenant rummaged through the few remaining papers on his son’s desk, wrinkling the detailed design of the latest creation Pete intended to build—someday.

Careful, Dad! 

Pete knew better than to say the words aloud, lest he send the lieutenant into yet another harangue about the younger generation’s lack of respect. Instead, he stayed silent, imagining his father dressed in a Little Bo Peep get-up. Picturing his father looking ridiculous always made tongue-biting easier, not to mention far more entertaining. 

Thirty-five down … or did I already do the thirties … Dang it!

The lieutenant viewed Pete’s drawing from several angles, ultimately crumpling it into rubbish.

Pete bit down on the inside of his lip at seeing weeks of work so insouciantly dismissed. His mind flashed to the family’s recent nature walk where he witnessed a painstakingly crafted anthill get blithely leveled by a recreational hiker going off trail, coffee mug in hand.

That’s exactly how he treats me—like an ant. I will never step on an anthill again.

His father shook the ill-fated sketch in his fist as a warning. “How many times have I told you to drop this inventor nonsense? No good will ever come of it, Junior. I raised you to follow orders, not waste time on useless widgets! If you buckle down and continue on the path your mother and I have outlined for you, you’ll be a shoo-in at the Naval Academy and follow in your old man’s footsteps. How would you like that?” 

Pete forced a wan smile and considered his father’s footsteps, or rather, his footwear. Certainly, the military man’s shoes were paragons of proper care, being put to bed each night after a systematic polish once the shoe trees had been locked into place. At the moment, Pete pictured his father in ballet pointe shoes, their pink satin ribbons tied daintily around the lieutenant’s hairy calves. 

“Now get to work. That’s an order!” Lt. Drake lobbed Pete’s drawing in the trash, turned about-face, and marched from the room in four-four time. 

Get to work?! Every time I do you just throw it in the trash!

Pete collected the last of the errant marbles and deposited them in the fabric bag his mother had sewn for the purpose. With a peevish huff, he folded his raggedy fort blankets and placed them in the box marked OLD LINENS, moving at a pace a tortoise would mock. He was in no hurry to face the inevitable. In an attempt to drown out both the silence and his depressing thoughts, he turned on the television.

“… Another spate of unexplainable wildfires has broken out in the Midland Valley, and while crews race to put out the flames, a water main has ruptured caused by the latest in a series of earthquakes. That’s the fourth one this week, isn’t it, Stu? I can’t keep track.”

With quiet solemnity, he scooped up the army men and let them fall atop the cushy blankets. “You’ll be safe in here for now. I have no idea what the terrain will be like at the new place.”

“Me neither.” 

He zeroed in on the television. 

Did the TV guy just answer me?

“Gina, seismologists are still scratching their heads over the recent quakes, stating there’s no scientific reason they should be occurring and no pattern as to their locations.”

“On a brighter note, the eleven-year-old boy who’d gone missing last week has been found and is home safe with his family. Randy Floyd was unable to describe where he’d been taken or by whom, but said his captors ‘were friendly’ and that they let him jump on a cloud. Police have no leads at this time and …”

The lieutenant stormed back in, glowering as his eyes scoured the room, his fists on his hips. 

Pete picked at his thumbnail cuticle, weighing the potential ramifications of addressing his father. “Looking for something, Dad?” 

“For the damn clicker, of course,” he said, upending Pete’s boxes in his single-minded quest for the television remote control. “You should be packing, not watching that damn drama box!” 

A crisp cracking noise from inside one of the overturned cartons echoed through the empty room, followed by an indistinct crumbling. Pete winced. 

He then crossed the room to turn the television off manually. “I packed it, sir.” 

“Oh … You’re damn right you packed it. That’s what I told you to do, isn’t it?”

No, actually.

“Now where are those damn moving men? I’m docking their pay if they’re late!” Once again, the lieutenant was on the march.

Cassie sashayed into the room past her exiting husband, fanning herself with a wax-sealed onionskin envelope and inhaling its fruity fragrance. “Look who received a messengered letter,” she said in a cheery singsong. She faced the calligraphic envelope toward Pete, running her forefinger under his name in game-show-hostess fashion, then turned the envelope around to display its wax insignia and tassel closure.

“Whoa! I’ve never seen a letter like that before!” He reached toward her outstretched hand in reverence, paying no attention to the rhythmic footfalls approaching.

“Cassie, where did you pack my—” The lieutenant broke off speaking and snatched the correspondence from his wife’s hand before Pete could touch it. His voice dropped to a controlled growl. His nostrils flared. “Where did you get this?” 

“A courier just delivered it for P.J. Isn’t it exciting, Peter?” Cassie squinted, her eyes struggling to focus. “I’m sure I’ve seen that seal somewhere before. Do you recognize it, hon?”

The lieutenant turned away, pulled the Swiss Army knife from his pocket, and sliced open the top of the envelope. As soon as he glanced at the contents, he stumbled. 

Cassie barely managed to catch him. “Get a chair, P.J., quick!”

Pete dove for his desk chair. 

The old wooden seat groaned as the lieutenant collapsed into it, his world collapsing with him.




Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Living la Vie Sirene!

Our 6-years dormant magazine has been resurrected, our new Maecenas patron site is up and running, next week we'll open up reservations to our Spirits of San Diego weekend, we're jockeying to be the test group for a Somewhere in Time tour at the Hotel Del ... Yep 2021 looks to be going out on a high note!


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Sunday, July 25, 2021

It's moving day!

We're pulling up stakes and making a mass migration, though probably not in the way you think. Click the link to see our new base of patron operations  

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Sunday, July 11, 2021

Full Steam Ahead

So fun getting to see folks in their Steampunk finery at yesterday's first full-capacity event of 2021!

Lotsa fun stuff to come, and I'm looking forward to it all

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Saturday, June 26, 2021

Halfway through 2021 already. Whoosh!

I don't know about you, but I'm making up for lost time with all manner of fun diversions planned through the remainder of the year. Here's to healthy days and magical nights!

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Cutting through the confusion

Omni? ... Whimsicalidocious? ... Tea Travellers? ... Patreon? ... HUH? Find out how it all fits together in today's fairly brief podcast

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