This was a fun story I wanted to develop as a comic book to sell at conventions. It was published locally in November 2018 in Tucson, AZ for a used book stored, Bookmans Entertainment Exchange.
Who maintains order at conventions around the world? Who keeps celebrities on topic during Q&A sessions? Who fights menacing villains to protect the safety of convention goers everywhere? That’s right, it’s The Panel Moderator! The Panel Moderator travels the globe attending every convention to uphold Truth, Justice, and Nerd Way of Life.
The Panel Moderator basks in the glory of yet another successful convention.
“Ah, the Exhibitor Hall is lively and energetic this morning.”
“Panel Moderator! Panel Moderator!” A young boy called from far off.
“Hello Billy! How are you?”
“Panel Moderator, he’s back and he’s doing mean things again.”
“Who’s back, Billy?”
“The Photo Bomber! He jumped in my picture with the guy dressed like Batman.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Exhibitor Hall, a man in a dark cloak lurks behind a crowd of onlookers as photos are being taken of Storm Troopers. The man in the cloak runs, jumps, and flies through the air covering many of the troopers as several photos are taken.
“The Photo Bomber strikes again! MWAHAHAHAHA!”
“Stop there you Pathetic Plague on Picture Takers!”
“The Panel Moderator! I hoped I had gotten your attention when I bombed little Billy’s photo with that pointy eared dork. Now come and get moderated by the Photo Bomber. MWAHAHAHAHA!”
As the Panel Moderator charged at his enemy, the Photo Bomber opened his cloak to reveal several flashbulbs that ignited simultaneously. With his nemesis discombobulated, the Photo Bomber escaped.
“That Flashing Photogenic Fiend! I must find him before he ruins another innocent child’s photo!”
Will the Panel Moderator find the Photo Bomber before he claims another victim? Will the Storm Troopers be able to Photoshop the villain out of their pictures? Will Billy have another chance to pose with Batman? Keep an eye out for the next installment of The Panel Moderator!
I kept training and searching for you. I figured out how to buy things off the grid; mostly stealing from drug dealers and gangs. If I bought anything, I used cash, to avoid a digital paper trail. Fighting criminals provided great experience, but it didn’t aid me finding you. The new administration pushed their anti-immigrant and anti-homosexual agenda. Despite all the efforts to prevent it, the government deported people back to their homeland, or at least neighboring countries. After a few months, the administration decided their efforts needed to be more extreme, so they built camps to hold anyone they deemed a criminal. And who thought up this dehumanizing scheme? The politician turned dictator. Ronald Teagun. The Tommy Gun. By this point, the government silenced or eliminated any agencies that challenged them. The government discredited the honest news sources, so only the ones supporting the administration still circulated their version of the news. The Arabic citizens got thrown into the internment camps first. Homosexuals soon followed. I worried they sent you to one of these camps and several popped up all over the country. Searching for you became a huge task to undertake. I spent months getting in shape and learning at least enough to defend myself without fighting someone. I familiarized myself with restraining people until the police arrived, but with the things I planned, the police wouldn’t help me. The team of lawyers continued trying to get any information about you or the other airline passengers. I sent them the information I got from Peterson anonymously, but they hit another wall at the county prison. They claimed to have no records of any airline detainees and they didn’t have enough information to get a judge to sign off on a warrant. I believe the lawyers exhausted their best efforts, but the system kept working against them. I thought the county Sheriff would know of any special prisoners at the county prison. I knew I would need to get information the way I did before; the illegal method. For a moment, I considered what you would think of my illegal activities. I decided the ends justified the means. I felt I needed more protection to question the county sheriff; like Kevlar protection. I had to get it without it being traced back; off the grid. I asked around some firing ranges. Many required shooters to wear Kevlar, so I said I wanted to buy my own. They offered to sell me a used Kevlar. I wanted a new vest. This felt easier, but I couldn’t purchase one without using my name, so I took the firing range’s offer. They happily accepted and didn’t keep records. They wanted an excuse to buy new vests. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to interrogate the sheriff. I spent a little more time getting information. One can learn a lot about people on the internet. To the public, Joe Kennedy acted like a good man and got re-elected several times. His children had grown and lived out of state, so I only had to worry about his wife. Dealing with Sheriff Kennedy proved easier than expected. By the second day of following him learning his habits, I saw an opportunity to gain leverage. He drove to a motel. He knocked on a door and a woman greeted him with a big hug. I took pictures of everything. He stayed there for two hours. When he finally walked out, the woman wore a bathrobe as he buttoned his shirt with a loose tie around his neck. I took more pictures. He drove home and ate dinner with his wife. I sent a letter with one photo telling him to meet me at an old warehouse to get the other pictures. I wore my vest and mask. “What do you want?” Kennedy said. “Information. The airline detainees. Where were they taken?” “They stayed at the county jail for a couple days and then some feds picked them up.” “Where did they take them?” “They only told me they were being taken to a classified holding facility. They didn’t say where and I didn’t ask.” “Anything else?” “No one said, but I got the impression they weren’t getting due process.” “You figure that out all by yourself?” I said. “I cooperated so I wouldn’t lose my job. That’s why I’m here.” “You should worry about losing your wife, but your secret is safe with me.” “How do I know you won’t go public?” “I’d lose my leverage if I did. I may have use for you later.” Kennedy stormed off. The meeting went easier than I expected. The camps were running for a few months by the time the public heard about them. I hoped they hadn’t put you in one of these camps. They had only one camp in our state so that felt like the logical place they would take you. Only one road lead to the camp with several checkpoints along the way. I’d have to climb the fence to get in and I didn’t know how to tell the buildings apart. I assumed the worst. I thought they would have cameras, motion sensors, or even an electrified fence. I prepared myself for everything. I planned to set explosives on a timer to use as a distraction. If I couldn’t go in quietly, I’d make twice as much noise to keep the guards away from me. I expected the worst. I walked almost a mile in the dark to avoid the road to the camp. A sign said they monitor the area with aircraft, but I saw nothing in the sky. They didn’t have electrified fences or motion sensors. They had pivoting cameras attached to the fences. These were easy to avoid. Bolt cutters helped me get through the fence. I had to observe the place for a couple days to learn what the buildings might be and the guard schedule. I got the information I needed, but I had to lie on the ground and not move for several hours. When I tried to leave, I could barely move. I returned the next night to observe the camp from another angle and to confirm information. They split the prisoners into two groups and put them into two different buildings. I couldn’t see any reason for the separation other than lack of space. The buildings sat next to each other, but I needed time to get into each one. I couldn’t see what kind of locks the buildings had because of the distance, but I planned to have small explosives and bolt cutters anyway, so I didn’t think I would have trouble. I didn’t know how to distract the guards, so I could get all the people out. A simple plan; sneak in, take out the couple roaming guards, take out the guards by the prisoner buildings, get the prisoners out, and then run like Hell. Too easy. I expected everything to go wrong. I arrived later than planned. Not really an issue, but it put me in a bad mood. I hid underneath one of the rotating cameras giving me time to cut the fence. If something went wrong, I planned to leave this way too. The camp had many lights. This made it difficult to stay in the shadows. I took down one guard, but I had few options to hide the body. If I could get to the other roaming guard before he noticed the body, I’d be okay. The other guard turned the corner and never saw me coming. I had two guards down and only two more to go. I waited to take down the two guards at the prison buildings when I saw another roaming guard. They didn’t have three guards before. I ran to take him out before he noticed the unconscious guards. Before I could, the alarm sounded. Stealth didn’t matter anymore. I ran back to the prisoners and knocked out the guards. The doors on the building had a keypad on the handle. I had no time to play with numbers. I knocked the door knob loose with my bolt cutters. This took longer than I expected. The prisoners looked surprised someone broke open the door. They didn’t think to leave. “RUN!” The guards came towards us as I lead everyone to the nearest fence. The explosives made a nice hole for everyone to run through, but there were too many people. The guards would catch some of them. I took a chance and set my last explosive on one building. When the guards got close, pieces of building fell on them. I hoped it would give everyone enough time to escape, but I’d never know if I killed anyone. The prisoners scattered and ran to the nearest road. I never saw you among them. Where are you, Sasha? If you were there and escaped, I would have heard from you after a couple days. Word never came, and I learned the camp reopened after only a week. This disappointed me, but they never caught the escaped prisoners. I did something good, but I never found you. I knew I’d have to break into another camp, but not the same one. Not soon at least. I planned to always destroy the entire camp, so they couldn’t reopen. That required more money and more information; definitely more explosives. I had to travel out of state to get to the next internment camp. This alone made the task more difficult. Despite the dictatorship regulating information, everyone knew the location of the camps. The government wanted people to turn in their friends and relatives. I had no trouble finding the camp but getting there undetected wouldn’t be easy. Any kind of travel got regulated and monitored. The government had checkpoints on state border lines of every major interstate and most highways. This required a lot of armed guards and there were too many roads. They installed cameras on some roads, but the process took several months. Several of the highways were still unmonitored. I knew this would change within six months, so I used the opportunity. I drove where I needed to go, but I had to make sure I didn’t leave a paper trail. I made cash purchases, stayed on the poorer side of town, and no vigilantism before getting to the camp. The second camp rested near the city. I could stand on top of buildings and survey the camp with binoculars. I knew no one in the city and didn’t know where I could hide if I needed to. Everyone in the city acted paranoid. They suspected anyone and everyone. The clerk at the hotel I checked into never stopped asking questions. I planned for this and had a fake ID prepared. “What are you in town for?” The clerk said. “Business.” “What kind of business?” “Circuit board manufacturing.” “Circuit boards?” “For computers.” “Oh, yeah, yeah. You travel a lot? I bet your wife hates that.” “Not too often. Just once a month. I make sure I’m never home long enough for her to get sick of me.” The clerk laughed. He relaxed. He noticed the ring on my finger. I wore it as part of my cover. I had no trouble with the clerk for the rest of my time there. I saw the camp from the hotel roof. I had a thousand-millimeter camera lens. I set this up to look like I took pictures of the moon. Before the country lost its mind, you might remember my early photography and since art remained legal, and I thought it would become illegal, I used this to my advantage. I heard someone open the door to the roof. I hid my notebook and binoculars in my bag. “You can’t be up here.” The hotel security guard said. He wore a red shirt and his keys jingled. “Sorry about that. I’ll pack my stuff up. The door was open, so I thought it was okay.” I said. “Yeah, the A/C guy probably left it open. Is that a camera?” “Yeah, I got some nice shots of the moon. There’s a few of the sunset too.” I showed him the pictures which put him at ease. He appreciated them. “My sister has that same camera, but she mostly does portraits.” He said. “That’s how I started but then I got other lenses and tried different things.” “Well, look, I gotta have you go down tonight but if you want to come up here tomorrow, just let me know. I’m Robert.” “I appreciate that. Let me see how these pictures turned out and I’ll let you know if I need more.” Sometimes just being friendly gets you more than you ever hoped. After reviewing my notes, I felt I had enough to get started. I needed to look at the camp up close. I had to differentiate the buildings. I thought I could drive over, but there wouldn’t be much for me to do. With it being close to the city, someone would see me. I wanted to keep a solid relationship with the security guard, so I got two photos printed for him. And then lady luck blessed me with the best news. I phished for information and got so much more. “Hey Robert, what’s that big place with the lights outside the city? It looks like an airport or something.” “Oh, that’s the criminal internment camp. The city’s very proud because the crime rate dropped after it opened. They give tours every Thursday.” “Really? Have you gone on the tour?” “No, but I heard it’s a whole new way to rehabilitate people. It’s really organized.” “That sounds interesting. I should check that out. Today’s Tuesday, right?” “Yep. Next tour is in two days.” “Thanks Robert. I’ll bring you another photo tomorrow.” Who knew they gave tours? I could get all the information I needed in just one visit. I felt confident this would be a more successful operation than the first one. I wondered if you were there; if I’d see you. The tour went better than expected. I saw all the things I needed to and all the other people asked questions I wanted to ask. We didn’t go near the prisoner buildings, but the guards told us where they were. I spent a couple more days planning and gaining any gear I needed. I checked out of the hotel, so I could go straight home after I completed the mission. I’d be across the state line before they blocked off the roads. The guard shift changes started at ten in the evening. There were fewer cameras and the shift change had fewer roaming guards by the fences. I got in quickly and I put explosive charges on some buildings as I moved quietly to the prisoner buildings. I didn’t have enough explosives for every building, so I had to choose carefully. I easily picked the door locks, and I saw people in individual cells. Most of them slept. I heard a voice to my right. “You finally get my coffee, Mick? I’m falling asleep over here.” The guard said. He watched a small television with his feet propped on the table. He faced away from me. I knocked him out and took his keys. I opened each cell one at a time and they each required a different key. Thankfully, they labeled the keys. I went back to the door after I had one prisoner open the rest when another guard entered the building. “Mick said you needed coffee, Steve, so I brought… What the hell!?” I hit him before he could get his firearm then I threw his head against the wall and knocked him out. Once all the prisoners were ready to run, I hit the alarm and told them which part of the fence to run towards. The alarm got everyone out of the buildings, even the guards. I blew the charges on the buildings when the prisoners got to the fence. This disoriented the guards and gave us more time to escape. I ran back to my car as the prisoners’ scattered. I heard the news on the radio say terrorists infiltrated the camp. “The terrorists damaged the facility so heavily, it will be several months before they can reopen the prison.” I never understood why they needed such a huge place for a few prisoners. Sadly, you weren’t among them. It took several hours to get to the next camp. That one didn’t have a tour, but I planned things without too much trouble. I hoped the mission would go smoothly. Long story short… I got caught. Someone knocked me out after I snuck into the prisoner building. I never saw who hit me and everything went black.
The latest installment of the Dollar Tales series was released today and is available for download on Amazon Kindle. Purchase eBook Here. This eBook will be available for free download at the end of May as part of the Free eBook Fridays. Creatures features 4 short stories, one of which is previously unpublished. Tales of aliens, urban legends, science experiments, and giant turtles skilled in marital arts. These stories among others are to be featured in the full collection of short stories titled “The Morbid Museum.” The release date is pending. Be sure to check out the other books in the Dollar Tales series, “The Ghosts Inside” and “Flash Fiction.”
Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen are curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide and displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to purchase a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?