Jean Claude Van Damsel in Distress

By: Ryan Power

This story begins at the end—the end of a 1000 year lineage of Ninjas.

Van Damsel stands, eyes ablaze under her ninja mask, knuckles bloody. Seventeen bodies litter the dusty street of the one-horse American cowboy town. She’s royally Kung Fu-cked the Hanoku Clan, terminating what was, until yesterday, the deadliest clan of ninjas on Earth. Yesterday Van Damsel stole the Clan’s sacred and all-powerful Shadow Scroll from their secret headquarters in Japan. Then they’d chased her halfway around the world on their solar powered hover bikes, finally catching her in this buckaroo boondocks. But they were too late, she’d already solved the riddle and absorbed the Scroll’s power—gaining the ability to disappear into any shadow and reappear out of any other shadow. Now she has the power of four out of five scrolls. One more and she’ll become Queen of the Ninjas.

Ryan Power
It’s been said that I look like Weird Al. Sometimes I play the sitar and the didjeridoo at the same time. When I was a kid I broke three toes in an intense game of ping pong. 33 is the number of times I’ve traveled around the sun. 3 is number of times I’ve traveled around the world. My hands have planted over one million trees into the Earth. Once upon a time I wrote a book. I live on Vancouver Island. I’m currently writing a World Bass album under the alias the Ten Finger Sound Assassin.

Thirsty, she walks towards the town’s only saloon. One of the o’s in the neon sign is out, so it reads SALOON. She steps over a detached arm. A tumbleweed tumbles. Newfound power courses through her like electricity, waking her cells, heightening her senses, and quadrupling her already Herculean strength.

The wind kicks up some dust, getting in her eye, but Van Damsel refuses to tear-up in the face of nature. Instead, she crushes the grit with her brawny eyelid and blinks it into oblivion. Still high from the adrenaline of battle, she roundhouse kicks the saloon’s door open. The force shatters it into sawdust.

The saloon smells of cut cedar and cheap booze. A taxidermied elk stands by the door, eyes lifeless and black, eternally gazing towards an impossible freedom. From its left antler, a faux-fur coat hangs like a dead rat.

The barkeep looks up from under a grimy cowboy hat. Coarse hair shadows his broad jawline. He’s annoyingly handsome, even with the facial scars, glass eye, and chipped front tooth. He grunts something about this being a ‘locals only’ watering hole. Then he bites off the end of a cigar, spits, wraps his lips around the cancer-stick, and strikes a match.

Van Damsel dagger-eyes the barkeep, then yells “KEEYAAAA”, and shoots a Qi-ball at him, knocking the cigar out of his mouth and into a half empty beer-glass. “Second hand smoke kills,” she growls, mean-mugging the barkeep.

“Strike two.” Says the barkeep. “One more and I feed you to the pigs out back.”

Van Damsel falls into a fit of laughter.

In the corner of the room, Sienna Skye, the town whore, tickles the ivories of an out-of-tune piano. “Keep your egos in check, kiddies. Or I’ll take you both out myself.” Long blonde locks cascade down the lacteal skin of her back. Her plump lips curl in smile as her voice returns to its song, her breath only mildly restrained by her corset.

Van Damsel sits atop a stool and orders a Shirley Temple, extra ice. She calls over to Sienna on the piano, “Know any Tom Waits?”

Sienna pulls up the sheet music to Chocolate Jesus on her iPad 36G. She breaks into an energetic rendition, rocking back and forth, leaning into the vocal melody as she pours her heart into the music. Her eyes burn blue, a kind of visual poetry alive with mystery. Her dress slips down her shoulder, exposing the head of a unicorn tattoo on her back.

“Stupid fuck’n unicorns,” mumbles Van Damsel. More because she hates everything, than because she hates unicorns specifically.

“Unicorns are my favourite mystical creature, Bub.” The barkeep challenges, still disgruntled over the cigar.

“Unicorns aren’t real. They’re for children and gays.”

“This morning I would have said the same about ninjas, yet here you are.” The barkeep’s good eye twinkles deliciously. It pisses off Van Damsel. And how the hell does he smell so good?— she doesn’t even like campfires.

Sienna’s voice swells, filling the saloon with song. Her fingers dance along the keys, rolling the rhythm forward—furiously sensual, heaving and roaring with emotion. Her foot stomps in time. Only her ankles are exposed under her rumpled dress. But her ankles are enough to show that her legs are smooth and taut all the way to where they meet. She smells like flowers, with an undercurrent of chemical vanilla. Believe it or not, regardless of her supreme talent, ’whore’ hadn’t been her first choice of profession. When she’d been a little girl, she’d wanted to become a Mad Scientist. She’d wanted to invent new animals. Like flying dolphins. Because riding your flying dolphin to school would fuck’n rule.

“There is more to this world than can be understood through the five senses.” The barkeep says in a holier-than-thou philosophical tone. “By embracing the mystery, we open our minds to the possibility of greater possibility. Unicorns are symbolic.” He pulls out another cigar, places it under his nostrils like a moustache, and inhales.

“If unicorns exist, somebody would have seen one. There would be pictures.” Van Damsel can’t believe she’s getting sucked into this asinine Unicorn debate. It’s so 2999.

“Unicorns are magical and secretive.” The barkeep speaks as if he’s staring into a deep light, his arm raised for emphasis, palm up, fingers curled. “Their essence can’t be captured on film. Their magnificence blinds all cameras.”

Van Damsel’s eyes roll. “Don’t make me laugh myself to death.”

The music surges upward, wild and daring, the melody rising and rising until it teeters, motionless, before descending into a primal fury. Sienna’s hands move in a blur as she massages the notes into existence. She swipes her iPad, dropping a thunderous trap beat, her fingers still jiving on the piano, making love to the sound.

The barkeep pulls out a thick book from under the counter. He shouts over the music. “Unicorns created the Earth. It says so in this book. Written by a unicorn. Have you read the Word of Unicorn?”

“Pffffffbbt, all lies,” Van Damsel blurts. “The truth is contained only in these words.” She lays the Ninja Scroll across the bar as if revealing a Royal Flush in the final hand of the ESPN Poker Championship.

Sienna’s eyes widen, but she doesn’t break song. Her voice cries out, melodious and haunting, as if from a place of total surrender, a place where the self is forgotten in the fervid rapture of music. A kind of fierce prayer. Or a raving into the void.

The barkeep guffaws. “You call that ratty old piece of fire starter a scroll?” He wraps his lips around the cigar.

The subwoofer rattles the walls. The elk topples, thudding, dead stiff.

Van Damsel strikes the stogie from the barkeep’s mouth. It lands in another beer glass. “Keep your devil smoke away from my temple of a body.”

“Now look what you did. You wasted my last cigar and ruined another half-full glass of beer.”

“It’s half-empty.”

“Half-full.” The barkeep groans, handing Van Damsel the Shirley Temple. “That’ll be $650.”

Sienna’s head is thrown back in ecstasy. She sings to the heavens. A storm rages in her eyes. The music has a life of its own, an animal, seething and breathing and charging, savagely free. It fills the saloon, thickening the air, pushing the walls outward.

Van Damsel sips through her mask. She fumbles for her money, then realizes she’s wearing her Ninja Suit without pockets. She’s moneyless. She curses out of embarrassment. Having lost face, she explodes in rage and triple-backflips into the middle of the room. She unleashes a series of punches into the air so fast that it appears she is standing still. The barkeep doesn’t react, so Van Damsel axe-kicks a table into smithereens in an immature display of dominance. Then, having demonstrated her incredible skill, she finds her recently lost face.

The barkeep pulls out a sixshooter and fires one bullet, sending Van Damsel straight to hell (proving once and for all, Cowboy beats Ninja).

The music stops.

“Strike three,” the barkeep grunts. He picks up the Scroll, pulls out a pouch of tobacco and uses the Scroll to roll a large cigar. He strikes another match.

Sienna’s fingers stab chords, chasing a melody to the edges of the keyboard then back to the middle. The music, wildly alive, takes flight like a fiery dragon. Sienna’s voice, a battle cry, pours forth, rich and consuming, rising into madness, shaking the building. A wicked wind whips through the windows, extinguishing the match. The sky darkens. The Earth quakes. Dark fog seeps from the floorboards, curling upward. Then, Sienna’s tattoo jumps to life.

The unicorn leaps out from Sienna’s flesh, landing loudly on its hooves. It charges the barkeep, spearing him through the heart.

He dangles in the air a moment, looking the unicorn in the eyes. “I knew it.” He whispers with his dying breath. “I love you.”

Sienna cackles from the corner, morphing into her true form, the 8000 year old Witch, Chick Whorris. Her skin’s cracked and old, uneven in tone, and reeks like grizzly piss. Three hairy warts besmirch her crooked nose. She has lips like varicose veins. Her mouth is tight and puckered like a cat’s asshole. One eye lazily turns inward. An orange nest of frizzled hair tangles down her back. A snake wraps itself around her turkey neck, resting its head on the lowest of her three chins. The pink, smoke-tarnished flubber of her plaque-covered tongue darts from her mouth, flicking at the dried blood in the corner of her lips. Gnarled toenails click against the hardwood floor as she walks to the Scroll. “I knew my spell would bring you to me, my sweet sweet lovely.” To her the smooth lines of calligraphy are the ultimate word-porn. She rolls the Scroll and slips it into her cavernous cleavage. Then she lets out a cackle that shatters every window in town.

Chick Whorris mounts the unicorn and rides it into the street. Her Sasquatchesque legs squeeze the sides of the beast. A Steven Seagull scavenges the dead Ninjas, pecking out the eyes. Johnny Deputy draws chalk outlines around the bodies. The unicorn gallops down the road, past the alley where Indiana Jonesin’ is shooting heroin.

Whorris rides into the desert, dismounts, and sits in full lotus. The unicorn stands by her side. Whorris unrolls the Scroll. She’s been waiting forty years for this moment. She inhales slowly, feeling the dry air fill her lungs, the breeze on her skin. The calligraphy sends an electric current up her spine. Her fingers trace the brush strokes, translating. “He who surrenders to the darkness within themselves gains mastery over—”

Before Whorris finishes, she’s hit by a blue lightning-bolt and vaporized. The Witch is gone. All that remains, a red mist, disperses in the wind. The startled unicorn rears up in panic. It knows too well what is happening.

A UFO appears above it, trapping it in a tractor beam.

Inside the UFO, Woody Alien turns to his BFF, Alien Watts. Their heads, bald and red, sparkle with glitter from last night’s galactic disco party. They’d won the dance battle, winning 1000 gallons of spaceship fuel. Enough to travel here—Earth 76.

Woody Alien shivers with giddiness. His left claw adjusts his triple-lensed glasses as he inhales through his nose-holes. “Our luck today is a well-spring of good fortune and splendour. Tonight we dine on the most delicious and exotic flesh of unicorn.”

“WeeeeHeeeeeeeeee,” squeals Alien Watts, laughing a crazed and fiendish laugh. His tentacles quiver. “And here I thought, dear friend, that we’d scoured the vastness of every dimension in this universe, hunting the last of these divine delicacies into extinction.”

The Aliens feast. They slather their catch in coconut oil and sprinkle it with rosemary, then roast it on a spit. The hooves are served with plum sauce. The horn is ground into a paste and sprinkled over everything. They eat with their hands in a hurried and barbaric manner. They eat every morsel.

Then a game of Mario Kart is enjoyed whilst digestion occurs—until the unicorn’s magic kicks in and the Aliens start to trip ballz…

The magical blood releases a powerful neural toxin in the Aliens’ brains, stopping time and space, spinning them through an inter-dimensional vortex of simultaneous realities. They dance under the sunset. They speak in tongues. They writhe naked along the desert floor, under the full moon, praying to the spirits. Visions hit, primal and consuming. They see fornicating elves and dinosaurs and robots and spirit animals and so many feathers. Mountains of bubbles. Flying dolphins.

Eyes roll back. The world shakes and morphs and melts with hallucinations. Layers of consciousness peel away, one by one, revealing layers of self. The Aliens howl and laugh. They sing and chant. They talk and talk. They beatbox and freestyle. They lie on a sand-dune. They watch stars. They watch beetles. They ponder life’s mysteries. They hold conversations with omnipotent beings, like God, the Devil, and Taylor Swift. They babel themselves into philosophical conundrums—like if the winner of the 2016 Deathmatch competition truly wrote with a broken pencil. Does it matter?—it was so long ago. And how long do we have anyway?— before the sun implodes. Do our lives even mean anything?—I mean, like, the universe existed for billions of years before we were born and will exist for billions of years after we die. We’re so small. But. At the same. Time. We’re everything. It’s all so beautiful. Like, all the love and stuff. But what’s the point of it all?—I found the point once, down south, I surfed it.

This unicorn is some strong $#!@. I can’t even remember who I am in this story anymore. I think I’m you. Who are the bad guys again?—is there such a thing? Why all the fighting?—Oh yeah, Deathmatch. He who hath the mightiest of pens hath also… carpal-tunnel? Wait. Who are you?

The Aliens hug and cry and bromance. They turn and turn and turn in circles until they fall, dizzy and spinning. They breathe the essence of life. Then their bodies drop and remain motionless for seven days while their minds vibrate at the wavelength of light.

Finally, after a brilliant sunrise, the Aliens climb aboard their ship, dry-mouthed and shaky. They program the course to their home planet. Then their long journey across the Universe begins.

And so we end our story with this beginning, for all beginnings are endings and all endings are beginnings and middles are mostly filler, and the circular nature of life waits for no man but Mightyman, but that’s another story, related, yes, in some ways to this story, for the thread of each story ties to another story, weaving the fabric of all stories into a mega-quilt of stories, and