The Astonishing Adventures of Jonas Crow (Jonah)
The bus driver took one look at the tee shirt, the backpack, the hat, and the goofy grin on Jonas’ face and frowned.
“Again?” he grunted.
Jonas clambered on and paid his fare. “Yep! This time I have proof!” He went for the zipper on his backpack.
The driver kept both eyes fixed on the road in front of him as he closed the door and shifted the bus into gear. “Not even interested! Just sit down, Crow.”
Jonas allowed himself a tiny sigh. “Fine.”
The Calaveras County Event Center was roughly the size of a very large warehouse. All county events were held either inside or around it. Jonas knew the layout by heart. He skirted the long line of cosplayers streaming out of the four double-door entrances, choosing instead to let himself into a single door painted to blend in with the wall. Glancing around to make sure nobody was headed his direction, Jonas slung his backpack to the floor in the corner. He could hear the hubbub of the crowd crawling through the foyer, the subtle beep of scanners as the attendees presented their tickets.
With practiced ease, he slid the pile of folded cardboard out of the backpack, along with a rolled-up poster. He spread the cardboard flat and pulled out a roll of tape, which he used to affix the B.Y.B.L. poster to the cardboard. Next came the cardboard box of Remus Hemptor buttons--painstakingly hunted down and collected from every comic-book store in the greater L.A. area--and small bookmarks printed with the address of his blog.
Jonas looked around once more; so far, so good. Now came the tricky part. Out of the front pocket of his backpack, Jonas slipped a lanyard bearing a laminated card emblazoned with the word STAFF. He had hand-drawn a doodle in the corner, more of a rough sketch of the logo used on last year’s badge. He said a quick prayer that the actual staffers would assume it was a badge from this year, or--if his luck held out--the logo hadn’t changed from previous years. Most of all, he prayed that the staffers there wouldn’t be the ones who knew him on sight.
In the forefront of his imagination, Jonas pictured himself slipping out of his “convention attendee” persona, and into the fedora and trenchcoat of Remus Hemptor, average-Joe champion of the oblivious, sheep-like masses. He pulled his hat low over his eyes, and tucked his chin into the collar of his tee shirt as he slipped into one of the many doors accessing the main exhibit hall.
Most of the convention was happening at the other side and in the middle of the hall. The only people around here were those on their way to other areas of the con. Nobody paid attention to the "staffer" leaning a poster of Remus Hemptor meeting Deus Maximus against the wall. Jonas wanted to make it look like he was just getting ready to set up another booth... Even though he had been turned down repeatedly by the organizers and facilitators of the event when he tried to register. Jonas carefully laid out the box of buttons and prepared to slither out as quickly as he had gotten in.
Too late! Jonas glanced toward the voice to see how much time he had to run away. The tall, angular woman stalked toward him, her thin, drawn face perpetually a wide-eyed state of anxiety. Beryl Markham, the chief event coordinator for the Calaveras County Event Center. She had reached his side while Jonas was still trying to figure out how to talk his way out of this one.
"What do you think you're doing here?" She seethed. "Pick that crap up right now, and leave!"
"Ms. Markham, please! I know you think I am just a crackpot, but—""I don't want to hear it, Jonas Crow. You cannot be here!" She picked up the box and shoved it into his arms. Jonas overbalanced and stumbled backwards. The buttons bounced once, and fairly jumped out of the box, clattering over the floor like tiny, clashing cymbals.
Brothers At Arms (Joseph)
The cell door creaked open, and the thick combat boots thumped on the floor.
“Sijjin! Get up!”
Joseph instinctively threw his body to the side and bounded to his feet as soon as he heard the voice. The boot swinging for his ribcage missed, but the backhand was just in time to meet his face. The guard all the prisoners called Jilmud never missed a chance to use physical confrontation to remind the wards of their place. The guard’s name meant “boulder”, and from the way the other prisoners explained the name to him, Joe gathered that it was both a descriptive reference to his size, as well as a covert slight of his intelligence. Joseph used his tongue and the shoulder of his grimy uniform to wipe the blood from the corner of his mouth. If the General saw him wounded in any way, he might dismiss the young man as useless--and there would be no chance of release whatsoever.
Jilmud clomped along, the tree-trunk legs taking long, heavy strides, forcing the handcuffed prisoner behind him to shuffle double-time in loose linen flats. Joseph skittered past rows and rows of reinforced doors like the one into his cell. They passed another hallway, this one full of actual criminals, so their cells were more like cages than secret rooms. The anguished wails and the incessant shouting never failed to make Joseph quiver all over--a reaction Jilmud relished, which was why he brought the prisoner all this way.
Nearer to the center of the prison building, just close enough to the center yard to get an occasional whiff of fresh air, there was a hallway lined with doors that led to rooms without windows. One of these had been labeled with the number matching the one on Joe’s uniform. Jilmud shoved him into this one and closed the door.
The lone lightbulb in the ceiling buzzed like a hornet’s nest. The only pieces of furniture in the room were an aluminum chair and a table. On the table lay a newspaper with an unsolved crossword puzzle, a blank sheet of paper, and a pencil. Joseph sighed and sat down to begin working.
He studied the puzzle deeply. The clues were confusing, certainly, but at least they provided him with a chance to get out of his cell once in a while. What he still did not understand was why they required this of him. He knew that it could not possibly be that they hunted down a newspaper with the hardest crossword known to man; but what other reason could the prison guards have for shutting him in a room for hours till he had solved the entire puzzle?
Joseph absently perused the text surrounding the puzzle, just to get a sense of direction, or maybe some hint into the events of the outside world. As usual, the articles themselves were jibberish, just strings of random words strung together to give the appearance of newsworthy items, when they were nothing of the sort. Why the charade?