Royal Aademy of Bards Halloween Invitational 2007.

Disclaimer: "XENA: Warrior Princess" is owned and copyrighted by Pacific Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA Television Distribution LLC, and licensed by Universal Studios Licensing, LLLP. All rights are reserved by them. The following story is strictly nonprofit fan-fiction, and absolutely no copyright infringement is intended.

The following story contains adult language.

Poor Brie. With a Halloween deadline looming before her, she’s afflicted with that bane of the writing profession known as writer’s block. What to do, what to do...

“The New Adventures of XENA: Warrior Princess”

“Writer’s Block”

by Ernie Whiting

mailto:bloodyvisigoths@netzero.net

  “Shit.”

  Brie Duncan sat in near darkness at her ornate, mahogany desk, dressed in a pair of bunny slippers that were about due for replacement, a pair of flannel, brown-and-black plaid lounge pants, and a black, pullover sweatshirt. Staring at the blank page on her laptop computer’s monitor, and with her palms under her chin, she sighed heavily, making a long, flatulent sound as the air passed between her lips. “Shit,” she said again. “God damn it. Shit!”

  On her way to the upstairs bathroom, Gina Ryan paused for a moment as she passed by the Navy doctor’s office, and stood in the doorway. “What are you shittin’ and goddamnin’ about?” the puzzled Marine softly asked.

  Brie looked up at her from behind her gold-rimmed reading glasses. “I got an invitation from this on-line writer’s group to send them a Halloween story,” she replied as she brushed the golden bangs from her forehead with both hands, “and I can’t think of a goddamn thing to write about.” She sighed again, despondently. “I feel really bad about disappointing them, too, since they’ve been nice enough to post my stuff before; and it isn’t everyone who actually gets an invite to submit stories.” She wearily rested her forehead in her hands, with her golden bangs between her fingers. “I’ve only got a couple of days for this, and...” She sighed again. “...shit, I’m screwed.”

  “Writer’s block, huh?” Gina asked with a sympathetic little smile as she slowly entered the room. “How long you been at this?”

  “Well, they originally contacted me back in September...”

  Gina winced slightly; it was now only a couple of days from Halloween. “And what have you got so far?”

  She straightened once more, and leaned back into her expensive, swiveling office chair with a soft creak of leather and springs. Slowly, she spun the laptop around to show her partner the results of her efforts.

  Dressed in black sweat pants, heavy, black cotton socks and a gray pullover sweatshirt with the Marine Corps logo emblazoned across the front, Gina settled one haunch onto a corner of the desk, turned slightly to see more easily, and glanced at the blank screen. Her wince sharpened. “Ouch,” she said softly. Her sympathetic, sapphire eyes darted back to her partner. “That bad, huh?”

  “Feels like I’m sufferin’ from mental constipation,” the doctor groaned as she leaned forward once again, to rest her elbows on her desk and her head in her hands. Slowly, she shook her head. “I’m screwed, I’m screwed, I’m screwed...” she muttered.

  “I think I know what you need,” Gina said after a moment’s reflection.

  Without moving, Brie gazed up at her with sour, green eyes, and with an ominous tone in her voice the irascible Navy doctor said, “If you’re gonna tell me I need a laxative, I’m gonna–”

  “A short diversion,” Ryan gently suggested. “You need to get out from behind your desk, and to get out of the house for a while. Why don’t we go into town, and see what kind of trouble we can cause?”

  “I don’t wanna go out,” the doctor replied, her voice soft and defeated. “It’s late, it’s cold, it’s dark, it’s foggy...”

  “Yeah,” Gina replied softly, and with a sly little grin. “Yeah, it’s a perfect night for a murder. Let’s go see if Jack the Ripper is stalking the streets of Nevada City.”

  She slowly straightened once more, then took off her glasses and folded them carefully, laid them aside, and rubbed at her tired eyes. “I really don’t feel like going out,” she groaned softly.

  “Aww, c’mon,” Gina said, her voice soft and silky, “it’ll be fun. You need to get into the Halloween spirit. Restaurants and bars are all getting into it...”

  She stared thoughtfully at her computer’s screen. It wasn’t like there was anything else she could do right now...

  She sighed once again. “What the hell,” she said at last, as she pushed herself away from the desk, “why not?”

***

  “Man, this is some thick fog,” Gina said as she slowly guided the forest green Jeep Cherokee toward the center of town. Dressed in black jeans, cowboy boots, a heavy black sweatshirt and her Marine Corps leather jacket with the large eagle-globe-and-anchor logo on the back, she gazed with narrowed eyes at the glowing white, swirling mist before them that was illuminated by the Cherokee’s headlights. “I never saw it this bad before...”

  “You sure you know where we’re goin’?” Brie asked. Dressed warmly in black denim and dark brown corduroy–and sporting her dark-brown, Wrangler Riata cowboy hat–she suddenly recalled Gina’s mention of Jack the Ripper. She turned to her and asked, “You didn’t take a wrong turn somewhere and wind us up in Whitechapel, did you?”

  “I don’t think so,” Ryan replied, with a playful little lilt in her voice. “Of course, it’s been a long time since I’ve driven across the Atlantic, so I suppose anything is possible.”

  Brie smiled. “Yeah, well... As you said, it’s the Halloween seas–Holy shit!”

  “What?” Gina wanted to know. “What is it?”

  “Stop the car!” she said, her green eyes wide with apprehension. “Stop the car!”

  Gina braked, and turned to regard her with concerned eyes. “What is it? What’s–”

  “Back the car up!” she said as she continued to gaze backward. “Back it up! There’s a body back there!”

  “A body?”

  She turned her worried eyes on Gina. “My God, Gina, I think somebody got lynched!”

  She quickly shifted into reverse, turned in her seat to rest her right arm across the back of her seat and to see out the back window, and slowly backed the Cherokee. “You tellin’ me somebody got murdered?”

  “I’ll tell you after I’ve had a better look. Oh, my God...” she added anxiously. “Hold it! Right here!” She pushed open her door as the SUV jolted to a sudden stop, and bolted outside.

  Gina set the gearshift to park, and quickly joined her partner. Standing next to her at the back of the car, she followed the bard’s eyes with her own...

  In the darkness and the swirling mist, it was difficult to tell how old the man was. With a hangman’s noose cinched tightly around his neck, he was hanging some five feet above the ground, gently twisting in the absolute, total silence. His hands had been tied behind his back, as though this had been an execution.

  “Oh, my God,” Gina said.

  Brie already had her cell phone out to dial 9-1-1; but all she got was dead air and a “Low Battery” readout on the tiny screen. “Shit,” she muttered. “What a time for the phone to crap out...”

  Gina reached into her pocket for her Cold Steel Voyager knife, and handed it  to Brie. “Here,” she said. “You climb and cut; I’ll catch him.”

  Brie turned her wide, incredulous eyes on her. “The hell with that!” she said. “I ain’t climbin’ up there!”

  “Okay, all right,” Gina said calmly. She folded her arms beneath her breasts as she gazed down at her partner. “I’ll climb up there and cut him down, and you catch ‘im.”

  She stared at her in mild horror. “You call that a rational alternative?” she asked. “You got your cell; call the cops!”

  Gina cringed slightly beneath her partner’s scowl. “I didn’t bring it,” she said, her voice almost sheepish.

  Her glare deepened into a scowl. “Oh, shit,” she said. “That’s just fuckin’ great. Whatever happened to Marines bein’ prepared for anything?”

  Gina shrugged apologetically. “Hey, sorry... I mean, you had yours, so I...I figured I didn’t...need...” She let the rest of the thought trail off as she mentally smacked herself across the back of her head.

  After another moment’s thought, and then with a sigh of defeat and a growl of aggravation, she finally accepted Ryan’s knife, and laboriously climbed up the tree, with a crackling of small branches and small grunts of effort, and muttered oaths. Once she was securely in position, she flipped out the knife’s razor-sharp blade with a flick of her wrist, and placed its edge against the rope.

  “Wait.”

  Brie stopped. She looked down at her partner, who was just barely discernable in the darkness and the fog. “Now what?”

  “It just occurred to me that we’re disturbing a crime scene. You’d better come back down.”

  She glared at her. “What, now you think of this? Goddamnit! Why didn’t you think of it before I climbed way the fuck up here?”

  She’d just about had it with her kvetching and complaining. “Well goddamnit, why the hell didn’t you think of it?” she countered. “You think maybe I’m gettin’ off watching you climb around in trees in the dark? Gimme a fuckin’ break!”

  “All right, all right,” Brie called down. “There’s no sense in drivin’ each other batshit.” She sighed heavily, and forced herself to be calm. “Let’s just drive into town and report this to the cops.” She folded the blade back into its hilt, stuffed Gina’s knife into a pocket, and then she slowly and cautiously made her way back down.

***

  The Cherokee emerged from the fog at the edge of town, and came to a stop. Gazing ahead, Gina’s eyes were narrowed in suspicion. “What the hell...”

  Brie gazed ahead of them with an identical expression in her green eyes. “Where the hell did all these damn horses come from?” There was something odd about the scene before them; in the darkness and the fog–perhaps it was just a trick of the lack of light–the horses looked almost translucent. For a second, Brie thought she could actually see right through one of them. “Where are all the cars?”

  “I don’t know,” Gina replied as she surveyed the lay of the land. “I know places can look different at night, but this place doesn’t look familiar at... Is that the sheriff’s office?” she suddenly asked.

  Brie gazed at it in disbelief. “What the hell happened to it?”

  What had once been a modern sheriff’s station of sturdy construction, with concrete and steel, was now an obsolete edifice built of raw wooden planks, and with rusted iron bars in the warped, shattered windows.

  “What the f...” the puzzled Marine began. She got out of the Jeep, and slowly approached the wooden door, with Brie following closely behind.

  The inside of the office was lit by only two kerosene lamps, and decorated with a simple desk, a chair, and wooden walls and a raw, wooden floor. Across from the desk was the jail itself, which consisted of more rusted, iron bars. There was no one inside of it, but there was a man sitting behind the desk, motionless and staring off into space. He was dressed in the garb of an 1850s gold miner, with an ancient Colt six-shooter strapped to his hip.

  “Excuse me,” Gina said as she and Brie slowly approached, the heels of their cowboy boots thudding hollowly against the wooden floor. “Excuse me,” she said again, “we need to report a crime. Are you the sheriff?”

  He slowly turned his head to face her...and that was when they noticed how deathly pale his face was, with hollow, sunken cheeks and with dark circles around his eyes. He stretched back his lips to speak, and exposed blackened, rotted teeth with no gums. “Sheriff’s at the saloon,” he said, his voice echoing from the depths of the grave.

  Brie stared at him for a long moment with troubled and wary eyes. “Ooohhh-kay,” she finally said, her voice a soft whisper. And then, more loudly, she added, “And where’s that?”

  “Other end of town,” he replied as he raised a skeletal hand and indicated with his thumb.

  “Right,” Gina said softly, not feeling terribly reassured herself. Moving in perfect unison with Brie, she backed away slowly, turned, and then they quickened their pace as they headed out the door.

  “This is too fuckin’ weird,” Brie said as they made their way down the wooden sidewalk, their boot heels thudding hollowly beneath them. “This is just too fuckin’ weird...”

  “And I get the feelin’ it ain’t over yet.”

  They reached the end of the sidewalk, where they had to step down into the dirt road. Off to their left was the darkened mouth of an alley, from which more creeping white tendrils of mist emerged. And as they began to pass by it, there suddenly came the figure of a woman, running past them in terror. Well, it appeared at first glance that she was running; with a deathly pallor like the deputy they’d just spoken with, and with the same cadaverous, dark eyes and cheeks and lips, she was dressed as a saloon/dance hall dancer as she dashed before them–

  –but she was floating across the ground, her legs dissolving into nothingness from the knees on down. She was looking back over her shoulder in sheer terror.

  “Whoa!” Brie cried out as she stopped short, while clutching at Gina’s arm.

  And then the man came out of the alley a moment later, with a mad look in his eyes and the same ghastly complexion, and with a bloody knife raised high above his head as he chased after the dance hall girl.

  For a moment, the two women stood as immobile and as silently as statues. Then they turned their heads to stare at each other, but still they said nothing.

  Hell, what could they say?

  Without comment, they continued on down the sidewalk until they reached the saloon. At least it was better lit than the jail, and more full of life. Well, maybe not full of life, exactly; perhaps it would be more accurate to state that it was certainly more populated. Spectral and cadaverous forms stood at the bar, drinking and talking, while others sat at tables, drinking and talking, and playing poker, and occasionally copping a feel of a barmaid’s bottom–and getting slapped by said barmaid.

  “I’m thinkin’ we oughtta get out of here,” Brie said.

  Gina gave her a playful little smile. “Why?” she asked. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

  “I left it at home.”

  “Don’t you think we’re obligated to report that body hanging in that tree?” Gina asked.

  “Is there really any point?” Brie countered as they slowly continued toward the bar.

  A skeletal bartender, who looked more like the Crypt Keeper from the old “Tales From The Crypt” television series, was wiping the inside of a shot glass with a bloodstained rag. He hawked a wad of phlegm from the back of his decomposing throat and spat it into the glass, and continued polishing. “What’ll it be, ladies?” he asked, his voice rasping like dead leaves on dry, bare bone.

  If they were going to get any cooperation from him, Gina thought, then they had better treat him nicely, and be polite, paying customers.

  “Whiskey for my friend,” she quickly replied.

  Brie turned and glared at her.

  Gina gazed at her innocently. “Hey, I’m driving; I can’t drink...”

  The bartender put the shot glass on the bar before Brie, pulled a cork from a whiskey bottle with his teeth (and left one of them stuck in the cork when it popped out of the bottle’s neck), and began to pour.

  Brie regarded the drink before her with a sick grimace.

  “Bartender,” Gina said, “we need to find the sheriff to report a crime. Can you point him out?”

  He slowly scanned the room, and then nodded his head to indicate the decaying, heavyset man in the decaying black hat at one of the poker tables.

  Gina nodded her thanks, and then slowly–and a little reluctantly–headed over to him. “‘Scuse me... Sheriff?”

  He slowly turned to regard her.

  “I need to report a–” she stopped abruptly, for just a quick moment, when she came face to face with the black and empty eye sockets. “–lynching,” she finished. “There’s a man hanging at the edge of town–”

  “That’ll be that worthless horse thief Cal Jenkins,” the sheriff said. He returned his sightless gaze to his cards. “He ought to be comin’ in through that door any minute now. Reg’lar as clockwork.” Then he returned his attention to the dealer. “I’ll see your fifty, and raise you fifty.”

  How can he see anything? Gina asked herself. She couldn’t help taking a look at the hand he held in his own rotted hands. “He’s blind, all right,” she whispered to Brie as she leaned toward her. “He hasn’t got a damned thing.”

  The swinging doors suddenly burst open, and there stood the corpse of Cal Jenkins, with the noose still around his neck. “Sheriff Shyitstin!” he called out. “You no-good, dirty rotten sumbitch, you done hanged me! Ah’ll kill yew fer that!” He blundered toward him, shoving aside a spectral old man sitting with a barmaid in his lap at a nearby table. He picked up the knife he had found there, and started forward.

  “Oh, shit,” Brie said. “I’m still thinkin’ we’d better get the hell out of here.”

  “I think I’m with you on that,” Gina agreed as the two of them quickly backed away to let these two go at each other.

  The sheriff floated to his feet, and drew his Colt. “Goddamned horse thief! Yew stay dead, goddamnit!” He cocked back the hammer and fired. The shot was sharp and loud, and the bullet hit Jenkins square in the face. The bullet entered right between his eyes, and exited through the back of his head, spraying blood and bone and brain matter behind him. “I done hanged yew ten times this month; now, yew stay dead, goddamnit!”

  With gun smoke hanging in the air, the horse thief’s head snapped backward from the impact of the bullet, and then it slowly tilted forward again. He raised one hand and pointed at him. “Yew sumbitch!” he cried, his voice truly surprised. “Yew sumbitch! Yew done shot me! Ah’ll kill yew fer that!”

  In her effort to make her way for the exit, Brie accidentally backed into another patron, causing him to spill his drink all over his lap. The dead patron slowly rose with blood in his eye–literally, there was blood in his eyes, and running down his pallid, bristly cheeks like crimson tears–and focused his attention on the doctor. “Yew made me spill mah drink!” he roared. “Ah’ll kill yew fer that!”

  “Like hell you will!” Gina suddenly roared. In instinctive defense of her partner, she yanked the chair out from under him and belted him across the face with it. He went flying backward, and landed on top of a tall spectral black man dressed in a blue cavalry uniform.

  “Yew made me spill mah drink!” the uniformed black ghost roared at the white ghost with the blood-filled eyes. “Yew sumbitch! Ah’ll kill yew!”

  The ghost with the blood-filled eyes rose to his feet and faced the black ghost. “Oh, yeah? Well, bring it on, sonny!”

  The next thing Brie and Gina knew, a small-scale bar brawl had broken out. But with each swing of a fist or a chair or a bottle, the more the fight expanded. Soon, everyone was fighting with everyone else, slinging chairs and bottles, and even firing off a few shots.

  Brie and Gina quickly edged their way through the brawling mass of ectoplasm as they made their way toward the swinging doors. They almost made it, unnoticed, until one of the walking dead spotted them.

  “There they go!” he called out. “Them’s the ones that started it; git ‘em!”

  “Oh, shit!” Gina shouted. She grabbed Brie by the front of her jacket and hauled her out the door, and together they dashed down the street and toward the Cherokee. A moment later, they were followed by about thirty ghosts and walking dead, armed with chairs and bottles and ancient firearms. Roaring and cursing, they chased the two women all the way down the street.

  They made it to the Jeep just in time. The engine roared to life, and Gina cranked the wheel hard around, and hit the gas. Tires spat mud and gravel, then dug in as the SUV took off like a rocket. Gunshots sounded behind them, and bullets whizzed past them.

  “Faster!” Brie shouted. “Faster! Must go faster!”

  “The pedal is on the fuckin’ floor!” Gina shouted back.

  Brie watched as the glowing, spectral figures behind them shrank in the increasing distance, and then the Jeep was swallowed by the fog. She sighed in relief, and turned in her seat to face forward. “Oh, man,” she said. “Holy shit...”

  “Yeah, no kiddin’,” Gina agreed as she finally let the Cherokee slow down to a safe speed. “God damn, that’s the weirdest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever seen...”

  “Same here...” She sat in silence for a moment or two as she forced herself to relax.

  Finally, she said, “Well, you said you wanted to go out and cause some trouble. You happy now?”

  Gina’s gaze was sour at first...but suddenly, from out of the blue, they both erupted into laughter. “I’ve never seen so many pissed off ghosts in all my life,” Gina said at last.

  “No kiddin’,” Brie chortled in agreement. “Did you see the look in what was left of that guy’s face?” Imitating the hanged man’s voice, she said with an exaggerated drawl, “‘Yew done shot me! Ah’ll kill yew fer that!’”

  “Oh, man,” Gina said with a final, soft laugh. She was silent for a moment as she continued to guide the Cherokee along the road. “Hey,” she said, “the fog’s lifting.” Leaning forward over the steering wheel and gazing up at the night sky, she could actually see a few stars.

  “Good thing, too,” Brie said. “I can actually see some streetlights ahead.”

  “We’re back,” Gina said as she leaned back in her seat. “We’re back in our own world. Thank God...”

***

  Gina shut the front door and locked it, and set the alarm as Brie took off her hat and coat, and hung them on the rack next to the door. “Oh-three hundred,” the latter said as she headed for the living room. “Three in the morning, and I’m wide awake.” She started for her office.

  “Me too,” Gina said. “I don’t think either of us stands a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any sleep tonight.” She pulled off her boots and tossed them into the closet. “You up for a movie? How ‘bout a nice little western?” she added with a wry grin.

  “No thanks,” Brie said as she approached her desk, “I’ve got some writing to do.”

  “Oh, yeah?” Gina asked. “I take it you’ve gotten over your case of writer’s block.”

  “Not only that,” the bard said as she settled into her chair, “but I don’t think I’ll ever bitch about it again.”

  Gina stepped around the desk, and crouched next to Brie. “You got a title for this story?” she asked as she draped an arm around her shoulders.

  “I was gonna call it ‘Writer’s Block,’” Brie said, “but I think I’m gonna change it to ‘Pissin’ Off the Dead With Gina Ryan.’”

  “Okay,” Gina said with a grin, before giving her a smacking kiss on one temple. “I’ll leave you to your literary labors. Can I get you anything?”

  “Yeah,” Brie said as she rubbed her hands briskly together as she prepared to start writing. “Bring me wine and popcorn; it’s gonna be a long night.”

  Gina chuckled softly. “You got it. If there’s anything else, gimme a holler; I’m gonna be watching ‘High Noon.’”

  “Roger that,” Brie said as she slipped on her glasses, and began to write. Softly, she said to herself, “Nope. Never gonna bitch about writer’s block again...”

The End

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