Archive | Fiction

Short stories, flash fiction and other free scribblings from Mark’s work.

At the GruntWerx Board of Directors Meeting


As you know, GruntWerx is the premier human relations solution provider to the world. Our products and services help the globe’s most influential companies maintain, improve and oversee their workforces.

As CEO, my personal mission has been to bring ridiculous value to the shareholders. And I have.

Before I reveal our latest plans, let’s step back, and see how I’ve accomplished this wonderful increase in the worth of our shares.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen a general decline in the privacy protections of the average consumer and worker: This has been helpful to our corporate mission. Concurrently, GruntWerx scientists and developers have created new technologies that have earned GruntWerxgeometric share value growth since we went public three years ago.

Share value doubled when we unveiled our patented SocialWerx software. For those of you too busy to read the executive summary, let me explain. SocialWerx enables our corporate clients to crawl through every bit of personal data on the Internet and social networks, regardless of TOS contracts, to identify hiring risks, and problem employees.

Share value doubled again when we implemented our FaceWerx technology – a patented system that combines facial recognition software with the SocialWerx engine, enabling corporations to use imaging from any photographs or video posted online to identify hiring risks, difficult employees, and importantly, worker behaviors that are deemed problematic. We have the computing power to spider the Net in almost real time.

The best thing about FaceWerx? It does not rely on the vagaries of social media and virality. FaceWerx catches all behaviours deemed undesirable by our corporate clients.

It’s not up to us to decide what behaviours our corporate clients target. It’s up to them. It’s theirright to decide. If they want to fire someone for behaving like a sexist idiot, they can. Same goes if they don’t like someone’s politics, or religion, or the weird flash fictions they write online. We just provide the tools.

Last year, we introduced the OptionWerx system, which allows wealthy individuals the opportunity to be omitted from our searches. We have set this premium so high that only the wealthiest of executives can afford to pay, and so, our overall products are unaffected. (And I hope you enjoy your complimentary membership in OptionWerx, you scamps.)

But onto the future of GruntWerx. Our R&D has yielded results again.

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you, for the first time, our new ThoughtWerx line of products. Yes, now we can read the thoughts and intentions of consumers and workers everywhere. Can you imagine how much our clients will be willing to pay for that? And the share value?

Investors are going to lose their minds.

The End

Note: This was a commissioned flash fiction. I was asked to write something about the cases of the two sexist boneheads who recently got fired and disciplined in Ontario. One was fired for yelling really offensive things at a female reporter, and the other disciplined for being equally douchy to a comedian at an industry awards banquet. I had no desire to write a commentary about this, but Jason Winders, the editor of the Western News, was open to a fiction piece.

You can find the original At the GruntWerx Board of Directors Meeting here.

Alltop enjoys a good grunt.

How Landon, Ontario got its name

The Thames River, London, ON

Here’s a little snippet that didn’t make it into The Fridgularity. I cut the description of Landon, Ontario’s founding because it doesn’t really add much to the story, though it’s fun for anyone who lives in the real place, London, Ontario. Folks who have lived in London, Ontario (known to some as the Forest City, and others as the “For Rest” City), or even anyone who’s spent a bit of time visiting will probably enjoy trying to spot the various locations in the city. Most of the places are fictionalized — like the founder of Landon — but they’re based on reality.

Maltley Village in Landon, Ontario
The neighborhood wasn’t as architecturally interesting as Old North Landon, but Maltley had been consistently ranked in the top ten neighborhoods to live in Canada. Of course, only residents of Maltley were aware of this fact. Blake … arrived at the village itself, two blocks of storefronts, most of which he had never been in as they were either hair salons or little knick-knacky gift shoppes. (Definitely shoppes, not shops.) … Past the village, Blake walked down a steep cobblestone pathway to a park that ran along the river. Native Ojibwa called it the Askunessippi, or ‘antlered river’, but Blake thought the early French explorers had captured its essence a bit better in naming it La Tranche, or The Ditch — the river was barely navigable by canoe, being so shallow.

The discoverer of Landon, Jeremy Tombes Landon, dubbed the river the Medway, after the river that ran through his home town of Rochester, England. Landon actually wanted to name the town Rochester, but that had already been used in New York State, and Landon still had hard feelings about the American revolution, so he’d graciously agreed to name it after himself instead. Blake always thought that was real big of Landon. The park was one of many that wound itself through the city along the Medway River, and even if it was a bit muddy, it was pretty in the morning sunshine, lined with bright red and gold maples, amber ash, and rusty oak. It would have been perfect if not for the raven that stalked him.


You can get The Fridgularity on Amazon, on Kindle, and now on all other ebook formats via Smashwords.

Alltop stalks humor. Photo by Chen Vision via Flickr. Originally published November, 2012.

Chthonic Monsters — Theseus Becomes King

This is the final part of Chthonic Monsters. Part one, Theseus Goes to Crete, is here, and part two, Theseus Meets the Minotaur, is here. This is from a novel-in-progress, in which the characters tell one another many different stories.

sunset sea
Knossos sat on a low hill, with its high walls facing the sea. Theseus got out of bed, and firmly barricaded the doors. After, he went to the balcony, to listen to the crickets in the gardens below the palace, and watch the moon rise. The quiet of the perfect Cretan evening was interrupted by screams, and a long, sustained bellow of rage.

The Minotaur had escaped, and was making good on his promise of revenge. Ariadne woke with a start, and Theseus calmly collected his arms. He asked Ariadne to help in strap on his armor, and then he grabbed his long Athenian spear. Her hands were shaking, but she was silent. The screams were horrific. It sounded as though the Minotaur was ripping people apart, not merely killing them.

“He’s coming here too, you know,” Theseus said. He knew that the Minotaur desired his half-sister. He’d seen it in the beast’s eyes.

“I understand,” Ariadne said, though she didn’t. “You will protect us.”

“If I can,” Theseus said. “I’m not Hercules, you know.”

“You can protect us. I do not wish to die.”

They heard the King’s personal guard outside the door, begging them to open the door. “Let us in!” they cried. “The beast has killed King Minos, and chases us still.”

“Leave them be,” Theseus said. “Now get on the balcony, and if I fall, you must jump.”

“But I would be killed,” Ariadne said.

“Much worse will happen if your half-brother gets in here without me to protect you. Did you not see the way he looked at you?”

“You’re ridiculous! He had many opportunities to attack me, alone in the Labyrinth, and he never did. He was always gentle and good with me!”

“You were his only chance of escaping, my Ariadne. He needed you for his revenge more than his lusts.”
Ariadne was silent, and moved the balcony.

The guardsmen outside their door screamed, and Theseus and Ariadne listened in horror as they all died at the hands of the Minotaur. It kicked open their doors like they were kindling.

The Minotaur was covered with blood — most of it from its victims, but it had suffered many wounds and Theseus could see that its strength was waning. “Give me the woman Athenian, and you may live!”

Theseus smiled and said, “the girl is mine, but I will let you live if you promise never to return.”

The Minotaur laughed at Theseus’s bravado. It was a harsh sound, alien and strange, but infectious nonetheless. “I have dreamed of this day for my whole life,” the Minotaur said, “and I never imagined that I would die, unless I chose it. But I would have Ariadne first.”

“Never,” Theseus said. His spear stabbed forward with the swiftness of a stag, and the Minotaur just barely dodge do the side in time, taking the razor-honed bronze edge in the flank, instead of its heart. More blood gushed from its side. It bellowed in rage and pain, and leaped towards Theseus, who batted at its head with his bronze shield, and slid to the side, slipping around behind the Minotaur with a twirl. As he did, he whipped the spear around him, like he was dancing with it, and the head caught the Minotaur flat-footed, slicing through the top of its thighs. More blood.

The Minotaur now had nobody between it and Ariadne, but it was clear that it couldn’t turn its back on Theseus and survive. It reached over to its side and grabbed a chair with one hand, which it flung with casual ease at Theseus. The Athenian dodged the projectile, barely, and the beast was on him, its massive fist about to crush Theseus’s skull. Only the shield saved him, as he brought it up just in time. Even so, the power of the Minotaur’s blow shattered it, broke Theseus’s arm, and threw him back ten feet.

Theseus stayed upright, and lifted the spear in time to prevent the Minotaur from leaping in and finishing the job. In the melee, the creature did not hear Ariadne come in from the balcony, and slide her dagger between its ribs. She missed its heart, but it was a fatal blow, as the bull-headed half-brother turned to face its half-sister, Theseus leaped forward, putting all his weight behind the point of his spear. The bright bronze tip entered the Minotaur’s chest, and this strike did not miss, piercing the heart.

You could say the Minotaur died for love. Once it had killed Minos, there was nothing to stop it from escaping the Palace of Knossos, and living the rest of its life as many other monsters did — it could find a nice cave to live in, and only come out for the occasional bit of marauding, like the Cyclops, or one of the other chthonic monsters that seemed to be plaguing Ancient Greece.

But no, the Minotaur had twisted the love and care, and dare I say, guilt, his sister had for him, and turned that into some kind of sick sexual fantasy.

Theseus even kind of understood the dead beast. Ariadne was undeniably attractive, kind, and even if she was incredibly intelligent (Theseus never would have thought of the string idea, and later even Daedelus said, “well bugger me,” when he heard about out it) she was quite gullible.

This is what made it so easy for him to help him with the next phase of his plan.

Oh yes, this was all part of his plan — did you not realize that he wasn’t just going along here? As soon as he saw that Minos was not going to kill him outright, he knew he would be able to turn this whole thing to his advantage. The fate of the Minos family was a classic Greek tragedy. It all stemmed from the pride of King Minos, and not wanting to sacrifice the bull that earned him the crown in the first place. Theseus was just going to tie up all the loose ends.

And so, there was a magnificent funeral, and the traditional games the Greeks so loved, to celebrate the life of King Minos. Theseus himself participated, and won all but the wrestling match, which he lost to a cousin of Ariadne’s, whom Theseus suspected of being part bull himself. After a decent period of mourning, Theseus and Ariadne were crowned king and queen, and a lavish ceremony (and more games) were held in their honor.

They ruled for a year and a day, and then Theseus announced that he and Ariadne would be leaving, so the rest of the world could appreciate Ariadne’s beauty. She was thrilled, because she had always felt Crete was too small a kingdom for her quality to be properly worshiped. And so, their ship left, crewed by men completely loyal to Theseus, and they crossed Homer’s wine-dark sea, presumably headed for Athens. They stopped at a remote island on the way, refilled their water barrels, and while they did, Theseus and Ariadne had a picnic on a beach, facing the open expanse of the western sea. It was a fine day, the wind and Ariadne’s spirits were high, and she drank too much wine; she fell asleep, and Theseus returned to the ship without her.

They left the island with the tide, and the setting sun.

When the crew asked where the Queen was, Theseus said, “I promised that I would take her away from Crete. I am a man of my word.” Theseus would have to wed an Athenian noblewoman, if he was going to secure the throne of Athens as well as the throne of Knossos.

When the crew asked if he wanted to put up the white sail, so his father knew that he still lived, Theseus told them to continue with the black. He was not sure the news would kill his father. He suspected it would.

And that is how Theseus became the King of Athens and Crete.

The End

Read part one: Theseus Goes To Crete. Read part two: Theseus Meets the Minotaur.

Chthonic Monsters — Theseus Meets the Minotaur

This is from a novel-in-progress, in which the characters tell one another many different stories, but I thought I would share here it here the blog. Alas, it it too long to put up in one post, so I’ll put up the last part tomorrow. The first part, Theseus Goes to Crete, is here.

The Labyrinth

Once they were married, Ariadne wanted Theseus to come with her and visit her brother, the Minotaur.

“You visit him?” Theseus said. “How is that possible?”

“It is simple. When I enter the Labyrinth tie one end of a ball of yarn to the door handle, and then I search through the maze until I find my brother. When it is time for me to leave, I use the string to find the way out.”

“But why hasn’t the Minotaur attacked you?”

“Because he is my brother, and a kindly person. He only hates Minos, and those who come down to the Labyrinth to kill him. You didn’t know that did you? The Oracle said that Minos could not have my brother killed, but he makes no secret of the fact that he would like him dead. Every once in a while some fool who considers himself a great hero tries to kill him. Most of them die when they face him, because my brother is stronger than any man alive. And those who do not find him die, forever lost in the maze.

“It is dark down there, and the darkness has a way of playing with your mind. You forget things. You forget yourself. And that is when my brother finds you, usually. Nobody stands a chance down there.”

“But you survive.”

“Because I bring him food, usually enough to get him through to my next visit. And he knows, in his fashion, that I am his sister. He loves me, I am sure of it.”

“I would like to come with you to meet him,” Theseus said, for as Ariadne told this story, he had an idea for how he could achieve Athenian vengeance on Minos.

“I don’t know,” Ariadne said.

“Please. Let us do this together. I want to know everything about your life here, if I am to rule after your father is gone.”

“Okay, but you must promise not to hurt him.”

“I will take no weapons,” Theseus promised, “if you can assure me he will not attack me when I appear.”

“No, he will listen to me.”

They went down to the Labyrinth the next day. There was only one entrance, and it was deep below the palace grounds. Daedelus had dug deep on the acropolis of Knossos, which was the capital of Crete. And then when he knew it was deep enough, he constructed the maze; a tangle of hallways and chambers so convoluted and cunning, that even he would be unable to find his way through it. To make it thoroughly impenetrable, he then reconstructed the magnificent palace of Knossos overtop the Labyrinth itself.

When the door opened, it creaked, and a puff of stale, rank air met them. Theseus thought how horrible it would be to spend your life in such a place, forever in darkness, lost. It would make anyone murderous.

Perhaps sensing his thoughts, Ariadne made sure that Theseus had no weapons, and asked him to hold the torch while she tied the end of her yarn to the handle of the portal. She unwound it as they walked, their steps echoing in the deepness of the Labyrinth. The sound was hollow, and bereft of hope. It seemed as though they were walking for hours, winding through short hallways, long passages, weaving passages, blind alleys, and the occasional open room. It was completely disorienting, and Theseus began to worry. The narrow bit of yarn could easily break anywhere along way, and they would be trapped there forever. But then they heard the beast approach.

Theseus had noted that Minos and Ariadne never named it “Minotaur”, the former calling it a “beast” or “creature”, while the latter always called it her “brother”, even though it was her half-brother at best. They were both wrong to do so. The Minotaur was not something to be denied, minimized, or rendered powerless by giving it lesser names. Despite its years of captivity in the dark hopelessness of its prison, it did not seem cowed or broken.

The Minotaur stepped into the pool of light given off by the torch. The beast was at least seven feet tall, more muscular and powerful than any man Theseus had ever seen, and that included Hercules. Its head was overly large for a human being, with thick, sharp, forward-pointing horns and a flat face that almost looked bovine. Instead of a nose, it had large nostrils in the middle of its face, and its eyes glistened blackly in the firelight.

“Sister,” it rumbled.

“Brother,” Ariadne said. “I have brought my new husband to meet you.”

“I have no wedding gift to give you, sister, except my forbearance. If it is your wish this puny man should live, I will not kill him.”

“Thank you, that is a wonderful gift,” Ariadne breathed, obviously relieved. Theseus realized that she had promised his safety, even though she could not guarantee it. “I do bring gifts. Some new clothes, and food. More food and drink than I usually can bring, because Theseus is with me.”

“That is good. Let us eat and toast your wedding.”

So they had an impromptu picnic in the inky depths of the Labyrinth, and Theseus was surprised by the intelligence of the Minotaur.

“You know I can sometimes hear people singing and playing music up above,” the Minotaur said as they drank wine and ate olives. “I imagine that was your wedding I heard not long ago.”

“It was,” Ariadne said. “I wish you could have been there.”

The Minotaur did not say anything, but arched an eyebrow. “Then why did you not come and fetch me?”

“You know that I cannot do that, silly.”

The Minotaur’s nostrils flared, and he snorted. Theseus knew this was dangerous territory, but this was precisely why he came.

“Why couldn’t we help him escape, my love?”

“Because he would surely kill my father.”

“I would,” the Minotaur said. “I would destroy all who had a hand in keeping me here these long years.”

“How have you stayed sane?” Theseus asked.

“I dream of my revenge,” the Minotaur said, stretching its enormous arms out, as if to show how wide its imagination ranged when it came to revenge. “I search the tunnels, hoping to find the way out of this nightmare. I think of Ariadne and my mother. I hunt rats and other vermin, so that I can eat and stay strong enough to have my revenge when I get my chance.”

“How do you know you’ll get a chance?” Theseus said.

The Minotaur looked at Theseus, as if to say, “who are we kidding?” It snorted, it’s hot breath washing over the newlyweds like a gust of wind in the Underworld. “I can’t think that way. That way lays madness. I’ve thought like that. I tried to imagine a world without this thing, this revenge. I tried to imagine a world in which I was a normal person, not trapped in this darkness, but it did not help me. I’m not normal. I’m trapped in this darkness. To state the facts does not weaken me. It does not make it true. The truth exists, even if I think otherwise. I know, I’ve tried. And that is madness. My choice is simple. I can live with the hope of revenge, or end the misery myself, somehow.”

Ariadne was quiet during this conversation, chewing on a curl of her hair. Theseus had noticed her doing it before, and he realized now that it was not because she was thinking, but because she was thinking that she did not like what she was hearing.

“Well, we have to get going, my dear brother. I’ll return again soon, and bring you more food. I thought I was coming often enough that you didn’t need anything else. I am sorry you’ve had to eat, uh . . .”


“Yes.” Ariadne leaned up and kissed the Minotaur on the cheek of its massive bull’s head. It was a tender gesture, and Theseus couldn’t be sure, but it looked like tears were forming in the black eyes of the beast. Underlying the sadness, though, was a baser emotion that Theseus knew well.

Ariadne turned to go, her hand cupped around yarn, as Theseus still held what was left of the ball of it.
Theseus held it up in front of the Minotaur’s face, and said, “you understand?”

“So that’s how she’s been doing it.”

“Yes,” Theseus whispered. “And when she left, she probably took the ball with her, wrapping the yarn as she went. But you’ve upset her, and she’s forgotten. And I will too, of course, because I’ve never done this before.”
Theseus held out the ball of yarn, and the Minotaur took it from him, his massive hands overlapping Theseus’s own. This close, Theseus realized that even if he had a spear and a shield, and the Minotaur was unarmed, he would have a hard time killing the beast. “I’ll make sure it remains tied to the door.”

And so Theseus caught up to Ariadne, who was quietly sobbing as she wound her way back to the surface of the maze, her right hand cupped around the lifegiving string. Theseus was content to follow behind her, holding the torch aloft. At the doorway to the Labyrinth, he made sure the sting was securely tied, and left it ajar.

He took Ariadne back to their chambers, where he comforted her, and made love to her, and then listened to the sounds of the night.

Continue reading…> Chthonic Monsters — Theseus Becomes King