lost time incident 37 – skeleton war photojournalist


lost time incident 37
Halloween is just around the corner so this week we have a spooky story about responsible parenting. If you are pregnant, or prone to seizures, or are “spook-averse”, please consider coming back next week, unless you have consulted your doctor and asked your doctor to subscribe to this newsletter as well. (We don’t have much representation in the medical field in our subscriber base and this is the perfect chance to address it.)

For the rest of you: Are you ready? Braced?

Okay, let’s go!


100 children
Their parents were part of the quiverfull movement, which meant they made a full time job out of making babies, plus there were some adoptions, and honestly some of them might be kids from the neighborhood or from the hobo camp down by the river. But the last time anyone counted, there were about 100 of them.

And when the parents went missing, they had to go somewhere.

Rumors of where the parents went, ranked by popularity among the children:

  • Got locked inside tanning beds, turned into human jerky, bodies hidden by the salon owners who are also now missing
  • Now living somewhere in Europe, starting their second 100 child family in a country with a social safety net
  • Car accident, probably
  • Bringing 100 souls into the world (directly or indirectly) was a task set upon them by a malevolent spirit and now their curse is lifted and they’re in Heaven
  • They’re still around, but they walk on their knees and wear kids clothes and have blended in with the 100 children, always standing in the back, keeping quiet
  • Mexico

Luckily, they had a rich uncle they knew as Uncle Earwort. Unbeknownst to him, he was listed as next of kin and on October 1st, all 100 children dismounted county buses that had transported them and their worldly possessions to his clifftop mansion. Three of the children were lost somewhere in the garden maze on the way to the front door. Eight of them remembered, rather abruptly, that they were old enough to manage their own finances, and they left to find an apartment to rent on their own.

A social worker knocked on Earwort’s front door, on behalf of the remaining 89 children. After a clipboard exchange, some signing and initialling, the social worker re-entered the garden maze and probably made it home. Who can say.

The 89 children explored the mansion, claiming rooms and cupboards, corners and cabinets for their new sleeping space. Four of them found the secret second basement beneath the first basement, but unfortunately it was never completed and was without an exit.

After a family meeting and a speech about the importance of education, 23 children were told to pack up again as they were off to an exclusive boarding school in Bestonia (tourist slogan: The BEST of the -Onias!) where they would learn diplomacy, fencing, bird mastery, and forest-dwelling.

Soon, it was Halloween. 28 children didn’t come back from Trick-or-Treating. They may have eaten so much sugar that they’d gone feral, living in the town’s central park, their costumes patched up as they fell into disrepair with leaves, feathers and mud layered over rubber masks. That was Uncle Earwort’s theory, but as he never visited the central park, but this theory is not regarded as terribly likely by those investigating the absence.

“I find it more interesting that 34 made it back,” Earwort has been known to say. “Obviously, as that’s a majority, I must be doing something right.”

Two of them ran away from home. Two of them went to find the two that ran away from home. Eight were seduced by strangers in online chat rooms, but it worked out, and they’re all married now and living in Kansas.

“True love wins,” Uncle Earwort was quoted as saying. “How many of you are left?” he was often known to ask. “And do you all still have separate names?”

Thirteen of the remaining children got into politics, which lead to seven of them getting deported. (Turns out their original adoption lacked some important paperwork.) Of the remaining 15, 14 went on to endure lives of quiet desperation.


Oh man, Halloween season, am I right?

Seriously, though. Please take good care of this orphan.


twitter stuff




hand o’ glory courtesy of Amanda Summers


ending theme song

Thanks for joining us again this week, or for failing to notice the unsubscribe button at the bottom of this email. Or reading it as part of the Facebook page I set up to provide a forum for feedback, or to share behind the scenes info.

Whatever got you here, thanks for being the reason I’ve stuck to giving up swathes of Sundays to knock this project out.

—Michael Van Vleet

The Signal: EP128


The Signal: EP128 – 45 minutes of music from around the world, put together for bird-brains and the avian-adjacent. This time out, we’ve got sounds from the Middle East, cough syrup music from Spain, vocals and single string magic from Africa, the sounds of tennis rackets, rockabilly from Denmark, dub from Hungary, the saddest blues beyond words, and an industrial song reworked into Dylan-esque melancholy. Let’s get those wings flapping!

As with all of our previous 127 mixes, the file is going to be available only for a limited time, so if you want it, grab  yourself a copy. The track list is embedded in the file itself, if you want to go hunt down the original artists— and I hope you do— but if you want the best experience, you should sign up to join The Tuned In. Members of that mailing list are the first people on the planet to know there’s a new mix. Plus, they get the playlist, a permanent archive link, and secret behind-the-scenes knowledge.



lost time incident 36 – super radical gag family


lost time incident 36
This week: Musing on the naming of clown-faced murder boys, a haunted podcast, and some other words all in a row.

Hey everyone! Welcome back, welcome back. It is hot as heck where I am, because summer comes late in these parts. But somehow I’m keeping my water-filled limbs moving to put this newsletter together. My shoes are full of sand. Sand that used to be my feet. This is climate change. It’s here already.

My eyeballs are like 3 week old grapes. Like a deflated soccer ball floating in an almost empty swimming pool. The sun outside has removed its cool guy sunglasses and is just muttering.

Just muttering.

Muttering’s not cool.

black birds and face-painted clown revenge
A subscriber to this very newsletter was complaining on social media last week about THE CROW. Do you remember that beloved entertainment franchise? Goth-zombie revenge fantasy? Cure lyrics and Brandon Lee? I saw that film opening night, as it fulfilled both “sad teen” and “superhero” entertainment requirements in one neat little package. Like all young men, I demanded brutal efficiency to maximise my idle time.

Anyway, our friend was complaining that Brandon Lee’s character, the protagonist of THE CROW, is named Eric Draven. Which is a short hop from Eric D. Raven. And ravens are a different species from crows.

I’m sure we’re all thinking: Well, it’s not like Eric chose for a supernatural crow to lead him back from death to avenge his own murder. He may not even have noticed how ridiculous his own name was in juxtaposition, considering his path to vigilante murder.

But did you know there’ve been a number of CROW sequels? And each protagonist has a name that’s bird adjacent? We have Ashe Corven (since crows are corvids), Jimmy Cuervo (which is Spanish for crow) and Alex Corvis.

Which lead me to imagine a meeting where a film producer helps a CROW writer get started.

PRODUCER: There’s two things I know about The Crow. ONE: He’s gotta wear make-up. TWO: He’s gotta have a name what means something like “crow.”

WRITER: Well, we were going to call this next one—


WRITER: Or we could—


(hours later)


(The room is empty… a water bottle slowly rolls off the meeting room table onto the floor.)

PRODUCER: And maybe he could drink Crow-ca-Cola. Get me the Coke people on the line!

(The office lights, tied to motion sensors after hours, turn off, leaving the producer in the dark.)


Other spooky podcasts:

SOUNDS FROM OUR BASEMENT: Every week, a compilation of all the sounds the hosts heard, so you understand why they don’t go down there.

THE METAL DRAGGING ON CONCRETE POWER HOUR: Join a celebrity guest as they drag heavy tools along a concrete floor. This week: Charlie Day and a pitchfork!

I DON’T EVEN REMEMBER SUBSCRIBING TO THIS: Composed of the ambient sounds of your own home, but with some unfamiliar breathing. At first, you’re not sure you’re hearing anything, because you hear the same sounds with your headphones on or off (assuming you’re listening at home). But then there’s this weird breathing that only comes through on the podcast. What’s that about?

GOODBYE HICCUPS: Every week, at some point in this 30 minute show, someone’s going to yell BOO really loud. Should startle you and cure those hiccups.

ending theme song
It’s too hot. That’s all you get. I have to get back to letting all the water in my body return to its cloud kingdom. Please don’t miss me when I’m gone. I will be there any time it rains. If it ever rains again.

Also: You may recall that in a previous installment— and with the aid of the Facebook page I set up for this newsletter— I tried to host a giveaway for a free copy of SEXTRAP DUNGEON, a comedic choose-your-own-adventure ebook. But nobody won the thing.

So if you don’t already have a copy, and you’re quick on the draw, this ought to be the link you click on to claim the ebook for free. First come, first served. Luckily for the rest of you, just by virtue of subscribing, you’re also natural born winners! Hooray!

Okay. That’s enough of that.

—Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 35 – mallsoft aloewave plunderphonics


lost time incident 35

Hey there, everyone! Welcome back! How did you spend the last week?

I spent part of it learning a bit more about the sounds selected by Carl Sagan and his pals that they had encoded on a record made out of gold and shot into space. They launched the golden record on Voyager with the hopes that any aliens finding it could use it to learn important stuff about humans, like what we look like naked (sorta) and where to go to meet more of us (naked or not).

It also included a track by Blind Willie Johnson called “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.” How great is that song name? I had never heard of it, or him, which struck me as cultural negligence since apparently this work was regarded at as one of our alien-worthy cultural touchstones. So I looked it up.

I love it, but I’m not sure what an alien would make of it.

Pretend you’re an alien. What do you think?

No no. Don’t tell me. Send it to me on a record made of gold. You know how this works.


ailment fruit middle name
“Oh no, he wasn’t without sight,” said noted blues historian Edgar Grey. “He was given the nickname ‘Blind’ because he seemed incapable of anticipating the outcomes of his actions.”

“Oh no, he wasn’t given the nickname ‘Lemon,'” said noted blues historian Warren Peacock. “He was a literal lemon. He grew from a tree. The sorrow in his music was deep and informed by the plight of fruit-based musicians in the US at the time.”

“Oh no, there’s no such thing as blues history,” said noted blues revisionist Pants Volcanuts. “The music is too sad. No one can write down what happened, or who played what. Everyone who has tried has been found face down on the carpet, their laptops dead nearby, crying about deceitful women, or money woes, or the unfairness of the entire human condition. It’s the music that did that. We have no idea when the music started or for how long it will continue. But we have to act as if it will be around forever, because things aren’t getting any less sad.”


sky pirates
We caught up with Captain Windhammer, noted sky pirate, to ask him what separates a sky pirate from a regular pirate.

“About 20,000 feet!” he said, laughing. “But I kid. I tell that joke all the time. The truth is, there’s quite a bit we have in common with the pirates who work the seas below us. We both have to contend with moving through an unpredictable fluid medium. Nature is not always cooperative. We get similar sorts of crews. Many of the men working under me were without economic prospects, or real job skills, before I swooped down and recruited them.”

“And do you have any difficulty, once you’ve hired them on as sky pirates, with employee retention?”

Windhammer looked thoughtful. “I doubt it’s a bigger problem for us than with any similar organization. Did you know, for example, that pirate ships prefer to recruit individuals who can’t swim? The theory is that it will keep them motivated to keep their ship afloat in case of emergency. Along similar lines, I refuse to hire on anyone who can fly under their own power.”

Windhammer laughed at this joke for quite some time before we were interrupted by a senior mate whose face greatly resembled a sea bird of some sort. An albatross, or greater sea gull perhaps.

“Caw!” the mate shouted.

“One second,” Windhammer said to the mate. He turned to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You get it, right? It’s funny, right? I don’t hire anyone who can fly on their own? I tell that joke all the time.”

“Caw!” repeated the mate.

“All right, all right, show me,” said the captain, who followed the bird-faced mate.

For a second, I thought I saw a set of feathers poke out of the mate’s greatcoat. However, during the onboarding process for we journalists who were joining the sky pirates for the first time, we were provided with a pamphlet. This pamphlet warned that the thin air at higher altitudes could cloud one’s mind, both in the figurative and literal sense. The water vapor in the clouds we passed through may enter us through our mouths and nasal passages if we weren’t careful, leading to sodden thinking as our brains become suspended in a cranial sea of sky fluid. I chalked the vision of feathers up to delusion, covered my nose and mouth with a scarf, and resolved to explore some of the head de-cloud-ification techniques contained in the pamphlet.

Many of them looked to involve rum.


ending theme song
Okay, now that everyone has stopped reading, we can pass secret messages to each other. I lost my encoding book, so just… just go to the nuclear bunker inside Inverness. I left the briefcase with the microfilm in the room marked 202. It’s stenciled 202 on the door. There’s a sticker label that says 13a, but I don’t think that’s the room number. The door didn’t lock either, so the briefcase is behind a couch.

The couch feels gross. Needs cleaning.

I’m not saying you should do it, I’m just warning you. Push the couch with a stick or something. Or wear gloves.

Anyway, thanks for your continued support keeping the Shadow Council in power. They really appreciate it. See you next week!

—Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 34 – mannequin head delivery service


lost time incident 34
Hey, everybody! What’s the good word? What’s the rumpus? What’s the happs? What’s the skinny? What’s going down? What’s news? What’s … what’s… what are we doing?

Let’s start with what I’m doing. When I started this newsletter, the idea was that it would force me to sit down at least once a week and write something. At some point, the hope was that I would stumble across something I was really enjoying writing and that would lead me to my next project.

It’s taking a while, but I did see something inspirational this week: A book calledBABY HATER on Amazon that looks self-published. I haven’t read it yet, but it came along at just the right time to remind me that there’s no barrier keeping any writer from pursuing and publishing a pet project. Maybe that project is a story that opens with a baby getting punched in its dumb face! Who knows!

It’s been 2 years since THE SPIRIT LEFT ME (my previous fiction collection) came out. But it’s encouraging to remember that my next project doesn’t have to be that involved. I could be inventing short story ideas with attention-grabbing high concepts and putting them out as stand-alone projects. In theory. (See also: The works of Chuck Tingle, the Bizarro scene of Portland, OR, and the marketing geniuses atHorrible Vacuum)

That’s where we’re at today. Keeping myself from getting intimidated by how much work might be ahead of me by focusing on smaller, more attainable goals. Just need to keep typing.

typing typing typing
The two of them came through the detective’s office door: a pair of heavy-set aliens, holding translator rigs to their ear and mouth equivalents. Arm in arm. Wearing red lipstick.

“Well, don’t you two look like trouble,” muttered the detective.

“We have trouble, yes,” said the aliens. “We want to hire your services.”

“I can do that,” answered the detective. “But by law, I’m required to point out that I’m a robot.”

“That makes sense,” said one of the aliens, “as here in the future, robots are commonplace and have assumed many of the jobs that humans used to have, freeing them for leisure time activities such as designing cosmetics for my race.”

The creatures’ red lips caught the light from the dangling overhead light bulb.

“What’s the job?” asked the detective.

The aliens looked somber. Possibly. With their weird alien faces it was hard to tell. “We would like you to tell us how this short fiction piece ends.”

The detective scratched his titanium forehead carapace with the tip of an antique pistol. “You fellas are looking for a fortune-teller, not a detective.”

“No,” said the alien. “Everything in our lives, from the moment we started to exist outside the door of your office to this very moment has propelled us here, to hire you. Our instincts are true. You know how this piece will end. Look behind you.”

The detective swiveled his office chair and looked at the framed embroidered words hung behind his desk. It had been one of the first pieces of decorative art that he’d hung when he set up his practice and was such an established part of the office, he didn’t really notice it anymore. The irises in his eye units whirred to bring the needlepoint text into focus.

“Huh,” he grunted. “How about that? It was here all along.”



it works: candlewick
This fragment is set in The Beulah Candlewick School for Young Magicks. Candlewick is a dangerous institution for students, with a distressingly high rate of injury and death. Magick education comes with a high mortality rate, it turns out.

“Oh my god, I can’t breathe,” said Ms. Beak, the Candlewick Headmaster, bent over with the effort of trying to stop laughing. She held the hood of her cloak closed in front of her face so that any shell-shocked students who looked her way wouldn’t see her giant smirking grin. With her face hidden, she might get away with it, as her shaking shoulders might pass for convulsions, or nausea, or some other more sympathetic reaction to what had just happened. “This fucking school… oh my god, what are we— I can’t believe it.”

Nearby, the object of Headmaster Beak’s mirth stood in the school hallway, stock still, wand extended, in the epicenter of what had been a mystical explosion. The hallway was scorched in radial patterns centered on her, and a meaty smell in the air. Her clothing was covered in blood. The hallway walls resembled the inside of an uncleaned microwave primarily used to heat up chili.

Those students who weren’t wiping blood off themselves, or patting down flames, left a respectful but curious distance between themselves and stock still student.

Lemoyne Wills, a faculty member, pushed through the students. “All right, show’s over,” he said, wondering which student this was, underneath the blood and burn marks. With their hair slicked back and smoking, he couldn’t even be sure of the student’s gender.

As he leaned in to the student and used his thumb to brush their closed eyelids clean, he could hear them mumbling something.

“What’s that?” he said, leaning in.

“It works,” she was whispering. “It works. It works.”

Lemoyne looked around at the nearby students, kicking aside what looked to be a former student’s leg. “Anybody see what happened?”

A young man with a blue, asymmetrical haircut raised his hand. “She, uh… she was just talking to some upperclassmen who were making fun of her wand. Saying she made it herself, or something.”

Lemoyne sighed. “Why would that matter,” he said. He addressed all the students. “Everyone, listen up! Where your wand comes from is unimportant, okay? We make you buy wands from the school store if you don’t have one because, to be honest, it’s a revenue stream and it keeps the lights on.”

The Headmaster let the hood of her cloak fall open. “Lemoyne…” she said in a tone of voice clearly meant to curtail this burst of honesty with the student body.

“But magick is mostly about technique, and will power. The particular stick that you point when you cast something… it’s just something to focus with. And yes, that means that you can blow up a small crowd of bullies with a homemade wand. As has been demonstrated.” He gestured around at the gore-flecked hallway for evidence.

“So be nice to each other. Magick’s not going to be nice to you, so you have to be nice to each other.”


ending theme song
We’re going to close out this week with the usual stuff:

A reminder that there’s a Facebook page for the lost time incident where there’s still an e-book giveway for SEXTRAP DUNGEON going on. Tell your friends!

Thanks to my wife Amanda for the Candlewick illustration of a blood-spattered hallway.

And I’ll end with an informal poll:

How much have you historically paid or would pay for a work of short fiction, like a “Kindle Single” or short story or mini-novella e-book? Nuthin’? A buck? 3 bucks? A small-ish gold nugget? A velvet painting of a sad clown that has eyes that follow you?

Let me know! See you next week!

—Michael Van Vleet