Captain Cod & The Cosmic Drain • A Short Story

Instead of writing a novel over the month of the National Novel Writing Month, I’m writing the first draft of a short story a day. Using a random genre generator and a list of words for the month, I’ll get a bit to go on, otherwise I’ll write the story that wants to be told. Enjoy!

November 2, 2022


  • Word:“Cod”
  • Genre: Kid Lit
  • Setting: Deep space

It might be fun to listen to this music from an outfit called “Space Cod” as you read:

“Turn off that blasted alarm!”

Captain Cod took a moment to breathe as Finn, his ship’s computer, doused the alarm that had been blaring, alerting them that the Barracuda was in danger of exploding. An exploding ship is never a good thing for a captain, especially when you’re the captain of a ship exploding in deep space.

But the silence helped, and it was good to feel the fresh water on his gills as the oxygen cleared his brain.

“Think, Cod, think!”

Captain Cod had been in tight spots before, but this might just be the tightest. The Barracuda was trapped in the gravitational pull of a cosmic drain, and was in danger of being reduced to atoms if he didn’t figure out how to escape.

“Finn, what is the status of the babies?”

“As far as I can tell, they haven’t gone anywhere!” the computer sputtered. “We’re doomed! Can I turn the alarm back on?

“No!” Captain Cod shouted, regretting for the millionth time that he’d opted for the computer with emotional output. Although it was helpful when working through his issues of being abandoned as an egg. Not many therapists in deep space, and Finn was actually a good listener.

“Can I at least activate the red flashing lights?”

“No! Finn! Please! Just zip it and let me think!”

Even if he were able to escape from the cosmic drain, the babies were waiting, and the last time he’d checked his torpedoes were offline. They’d be sitting flounder.

“You do know the torpedoes are still offline, right?” Finn whispered. Captain Cod glared at the bubble that housed Finn’s camera and glared at him in a way only a fish can glare. Finn got the point and zipped it.

Captain Cod unbuckled the straps that held him in place and quickly swam back to the navigational screen. He quickly keyed in a few different equations, but they all returned a big red X on the screen.

“Blast!” he exclaimed. “Nothing works. Finn, what is the status on the Whirlpool Drive?”

“The Whirlpool Drive? Why?” the computer asked, concerned.

“Just answer the blasted question!” Captain Cod shouted, slamming his fin on the console.

“The Whirlpool Drive is online but activating it in a cosmic drain would not be recommended,” Finn replied, emphasizing the not be recommended part. “You’ll likely end up as fish paste, spread all over the cosmic drain. And there won’t be enough left of me to play a game of cherubfish checkers.”

“Never tell me the odds,” Captain Cod snapped.

“Um… I didn’t,” Finn replied. “I’m just saying…”

“I know what you’re saying!” Captain Cod said, swimming over to the controls for the Whirlpool Drive. “And we are out of time and options. When I tell you, activate the swisher and set coordinates for H2O.3928.”

Captain Cod grasped the Whirlpool Drive control with his fin and started counting down, “Five, four, three…”, when the alarm started blaring again, this time with the flashing red lights.

“What the fish, Finn!” Captain Cod exclaimed. “I told you to turn it off!”

“It wasn’t me, Captain,” Finn whined. “It’s the proximity alarm! Another ship has entered the drain near us!”

“Is it the babies?” Captain Cod asked, alarmed, looking out the porthole but seeing nothing but the squeezing of reality down into the drain. Certainly, the babies wouldn’t risk being pulverized just to get their hands on the few clams he had in storage.

“I don’t think so,” Finn answered. “But it’s hard to tell with all the reality squeezing going on out there. My sensors are useless.”

The sound of metal scraping the outside of the ship shut up both captain and computer. Captain Cod followed the sound of the scraping as it went from port to bow and when it finally made a “chunk” sound just to his right, where the mast would be, he realized what he was hearing.

“A harpoon?” Captain Cod asked. His question was answered by his ship jostling and knocking even more than before, as if they were being yanked up on the end of a fishing line.

“It seems like someone is pulling us out of the drain,” Finn said, guarded excitement evident in its voice.

“Yeah, but are they friend or shark?” Captain Cod asked. “Either way, we need to be ready. Do we at least have the fishhook?”

“Aye, Captain,” Finn answered. “But I don’t know the last time it was used. Before my time.”

“Any shell in a storm,” Captain Cook answered. “Get it ready.”

Artificial gravity immersed in water was a challenge in the best of times, but when being pulled out of a singularity, it was an extremely stinky feeling. But Captain Cod held on to the straps floating close by and rode it out.

“We’re clearing the threshold of the drain,” Finn said. “I think we’re going to make it.”

“Yeah, but make it into whose clutches?” Captain Cod asked, more to himself than the artificial intelligence that he spent the majority of his time with.

But still, it was a relief to know that time had been bought. And so he steeled himself for what might come next.

Pulling out of a cosmic drain takes time, and so Captain Cod eventually got tired of steeling himself, and instead swam laps around the bridge, hoping to keep sharp when he learned who’d pulled them out of their deep problem.

Eventually, swimming laps grew boring, and so he focused on a game on the computer where a smaller fish ate bigger fish until the smaller fish became a bigger fish.

Then, he napped.

*** This is as far as I got. My 9 year old liked it, so I’ll come back to it later and try to wrap up the story. Warning, my 9 year old wants there to be a twist at the end. So…


The Investigator • A Short Story

Instead of writing a novel over the month of the National Novel Writing Month, I’ve decided to write the first draft of a short story a day. Using a random genre generator and a list of words for the month, I’ll get a bit to go on, otherwise I’ll write the story that wants to be told. Enjoy!

November 1

The Women of Amphissa, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1817, via The Clark Art Institute; with The Priestess of Bacchus, by John Collier, 19th century •


Word: “Leaves”
Genre: Mythology Whodunit
Setting: Ancient Greece

The river sang its song, bubbling from place to place, oblivious to the lives of mortal men and women, oblivious to death and life, oblivious to desires and wants and needs and obsessions. Oblivious to life. Oblivious to death.

Oblivious to blood and wine.

Blood and wine. Spilled on the ground, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. And much had been spilled of both.

Astraea stood unmoving on the one spot on the riverbank that didn’t have splots and splashes of deep crimson covering it. She stared at the gruesome scene, at the spilt blood and wine, and the cups and the broken bottles and torn cloth and the torn flesh. More torn flesh than should have been possible to come from one person.

“Not since Procustes’ bed,” she muttered.

She glanced over at the crowd of women sitting in the tall grass, watched over by the four satyrs who assisted her in her investigations. Well, at least some of the women were sitting. Others were unconscious in various undignified poses, including one red-haired half-clothed girl of twenty-something who had passed out on her stomach with her rear end sticking up in the air.

“They’re in rough shape,” Deacon, her second, said as he stepped up beside her, gingerly navigating his goat feet around the gore and debris.

“You order the wine you have to pay the bill,” Astreaa replied. “Did you get anything useful?”

“The victim was allegedly sitting on the rock that they traditionally use for the festival, playing what they called “depressing songs”, and he refused to leave. There was an argument, but after a while they gave up and walked away. They heard screams and when they came back, he was…” he gestured at the scene in front of him.

“Where they from?” Astraea asked.

“Thrace,” he answered, snorting. “Said they are Maenads of Dionysus. Tried to use it to get immunity.”

“Your thoughts?” Astraea asked.

Deacon stomped at a spot of dirt as he considered the question, the question she often asked of those who worked with her. Astraea had been doing this for many years, but appreciated an alternate point of view.

“I think they’re lying,” he said. “I think the argument didn’t end peacefully, and they killed him because they thought they could get away with it.”


“They’re covered in blood, for one,” he replied. “The immunity thing, number two. And you’ve seen how the festivals get out of control. It’s amazing something like this hasn’t happened before.” 

Astraea nodded. His arguments made sense, but still… she needed to move. She always thought better moving than standing still, so she stepped over to the edge of the woods, doing her best to not step on the wet evidence, quietly humming a favorite tune, a song that she’d first heard years ago.

She stopped at the base of a huge oak tree and glanced up into the dark green. The leaves rustled as though a breeze was blowing through, although there was no breeze. A single broad leaf floated down. Curious, Astraea bent down to pick up the leaf and gazed at it, admiring the leaf’s veins and variety of colors.

Sort of like a person. Such variety within the one.

Just below her, in the mud, she noticed what appeared to be part of the victim’s arm partly submerged. She pulled it out using the leaf as a glove.

The ragged skin hung from the bone in an uneven way that implied tearing. Mauling. Something she doubted the women could have done, even if they’d had blades, which they’d been checked for. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” she asked.

Deacon stepped over, looked closely at the arm, and shrugged. “Too much wine can make people act uncharacteristically savage.”

“I’ve never even seen a lion do something like this,” she said, “let alone a group of drunk women.”

“Centaur?” Deacon replied calmly, exploring all options. If the sight of a torn arm bothered him, the satyr didn’t show it. But he’d seen worse, Astraea knew.

They both had.

The bed. The cut limbs, the screams of terror, the smells of days old rotting flesh, it all started to bubble back up to the surface, but she pushed it back down and turned to examine the muddy riverbank.

Stay in the present, she reminded herself.  

“Only human footprints,” she replied. “And I’m not sure how a cyclops could have gotten in and out of the area without anyone noticing.”

She handed him the arm and looked out over the river. The Evros, just steps away, gurgled and flowed, unaware or unconcerned with the affairs of mortal men and women. The reality of this was not lost on Astraea, and sometimes that reality made what the gods had called her to do seem meaningless.

But a calling imbues meaninglessness with meaning, she supposed. Just as a perfect song can imbue meaning to a life of struggle, so can the call of the gods. Sometimes, a perfect song can communicate that meaning so well…

“You need to let us go! We didn’t do anything!”

The woman’s voice broke Astraea’s reverie. She turned to see a young brunette struggling against Basil, one of her satyr investigators. The satyr was showing representative restraint, keeping the woman from leaving, but not violently.

“Basil,” she called. “Let her approach.”

The satyr stepped aside, and the young woman straightened her gown, took a breath, and stepped forward.

“Are you in charge?” she demanded.

“I am the lead investigator,” Astraea replied, pressing calm into her voice with the hopes that it would infect the other woman.

“We are Maenads of Dionysus,” the brunette said proudly. “And we didn’t do anything wrong. I demand that you release us.”

“While I appreciate your service,” Astraea said, “there has been a murder, and my job is to investigate that murder. You and your sisters were at the scene of the crime, and so you will remain here until I release you.”

“Until you release…” the brunette sputtered. “I said that we are Maenads of Dionysus. Do you have any idea how difficult we could make your life? Do you have any idea who we work for?”

Astraea laughed, feeling genuine amusement for the first time since she’d been informed of this tragic situation. She loved it when people played the “do you know who I work for” card.

“I do,” she said. “And do you notice that my associates are satyrs?”

The brunette glanced around, for the first time realizing that this was the case.

“And who do satyrs work for?” Astraea asked, not attempting to mask the sarcasm.

“Dionysus…” the brunette muttered.

“I would suggest that you join your sisters and wait for us to do our job,” Astraea said, and she turned her back. She didn’t need to see the brunette shuffle back over and sit down, she just hoped she’d take the time to push the redhead over so her ass wasn’t in the air any longer.

“Sorry about that, chief,” Deacon said.

“It’s nothing,” Astraea said. “Tell me about the victim.”

Deacon looked uncomfortable, which Astraea found disconcerting. Nothing made the satyr uncomfortable. She pressed him.

“Let’s hear it, Deacon,” Astraea said.

“It was Orpheus,” the satyr said. “We found what remained of his lyre.”

Deacon held out the gold fretboard of a lyre, and Astraea felt the earth drop from underneath her. She felt the sky press in. She heard the sound of the river now deafening, and the leaves dropping from the tree were like explosions. Everything was wrong, and all she could do was nod and turn back to the river.

“You okay, boss?” he asked.

“I just need a minute,” she muttered, turning back to the river, praying silently that her loyal second would pick up the hint and shut up. Thankfully, he did.

The water. It just flows, she thought. On and on, starting somewhere, ending up somewhere, but always the same when you stand and look at it. Centuries after she was gone, the water would still be there. Centuries after everything she knew and loved and cared about and thought about and dreamed about was gone, the water would still be there. The water wouldn’t remember any of them.

The water wouldn’t remember Orpheus.

Of all the scoundrels and murderers and liars and thieves and embezzlers and heretics, a sensitive musician had been ripped to shreds by a group of drunk whores? Of all the bloody cases in all the dark alleys and dim caves and fetid brothels she’d investigated…

Why did it have to be Orpheus?

She’d first heard him at the festival of Zeus in Athens a few years ago, before he’d met the tree nymph and become obsessed. His music had been so pure, so enchanting. Then, when she’d been called in to investigate the nymph’s death, she’d spent time him. He sang for her, even in his grief.

Now his music was gone, forever.

Yet the river continued.

And the whores were responsible.

All thoughts of mystery and torn flesh and the ability of people to inflict damage were gone. All thoughts of professionalism and justice and investigative integrity flowed away like a leaf on the river. All Astraea knew was that Orpheus was dead, that music was dead, that meaning was…

“Deacon,” she said, staring at the river. “Take the Maenads of Dionysus in. Charge them with murder.”

“Yes ma’am,” her second said.

And so Astraea watched the river, oblivious to the cries of the women behind her. Oblivious to the sound of the leaves rustling in the big oak tree, a sound that – had she been listening – might have sound like approval – like revenge achieved.

And the river sang its song, bubbling from place to place, oblivious to the lives of mortal men and women, oblivious to death and life, oblivious to desires and wants and needs and obsessions. Oblivious to life. Oblivious to death.


Tunneling, a short story

Down there, below the street, as the sun sets today. Something buried deep is going to sleep, and something different is waking. It is an ageless balance which the engineers for the new subway tunnel have disturbed. Such things should stay asleep, as Philip Rattlekin, subway line 4, will soon discover in the Twilight Zone.

[Heads up, some adult language in this one…]

Philip Rattlekin sat in a dirty puddle of mud, struggling to catch his breath while making as little noise as possible. His body felt numb, not because of the frigid temperature of the water, but because he was the only one still alive.

It had come from nowhere and everywhere and killed everyone.

And now it was coming for him.

2nd_ave_subway_feb2013_16“You have to stop the drilling!”

How many times had Philip heard this in the past two weeks? Usually, his assistant ran interference when the nuts fell off the tree, but he’d just been sent on an errand to deliver some new tunnel schematics to the city planner’s office, and the nuts had managed to corner Philip as he was heading out to get to Evan’s soccer match.

There was at least a dozen this time. More than twice as many kooks as last week. Enough that things could get messy if they got too pushy. Philip was a big guy, a head taller than the tallest kook and firmly packed with muscle that showed he was far from a pencil pushing engineer, but he’d learned in Iraq how quick things could go south and he wasn’t going to scuffle with a mob.

He turned to the main kook – a middle aged man with frizzy Einstein hair and a look nuttier than Doc Brown. “Look, we told you guys last week. We’re on a tight schedule, millions of dollars have been poured into this project, and there’s no way it’s stopping. Why don’t you get back to your university and let us do our job.”

“You don’t understand!” Doc Brown shrieked, pulling out a tablet from a leather bag he wore around his neck. “Our studies have shown that you are causing irreparable harm to the water table, and this will impact our entire city’s water supply!” He stuck the tablet in Philip’s face to show him a bunch of meaningless graphs and numbers.

Philip snorted. Last time they claimed the subway project was disturbing the habitat of some mole or groundhog or something. Now it was the water table. The city had done their own studies, and the water table was in no danger from the extension of line four. Why would he help wreck his own city’s water supply? It made no sense, and he said so.

“Yes, well, be that as it may, you must stop the drilling,” the old kook stammered, with a surprising amount of conviction.

Philip was done.

“If you got a problem with what we’re doing, take it up with the city planner. This is her ballgame.” He stepped up and stared down at the kook, just inches away. The guy smelled like garlic. “Now get out of my way.”

Doc Brown stammered incoherently but wisely stepped aside, letting Philip through so that he could get to his truck. As he pulled himself into the cab, he could hear Doc Brown mumbling something about the water table and disaster and the end of the world.

Stupid hippy environmentalist nutjobs, Philip thought as he pressed the ignition and started up his F-150. Evan was starting today and he didn’t want to be late.

Philip inhaled for four seconds and exhaled for another four while reciting the mantra he’d been taught in Basic. This too shall pass… this too shall pass… this too shall pass… It had saved his life in that back alley in Mosul, maybe it would save his life now.

Feeling his heart rate lower and his breathing come under his control, Philip opened his eyes to take stock of his situation. He still sat in a puddle of dirty tunnel water where he’d stumbled just a few moments before. Work lights flickered in the tunnel several meters away, but all was quiet. No sounds of pursuit.

No sounds of that… whatever it had been. All teeth and tentacles and blood…

Maybe this is just a bad dream, he considered, shaking his head. I’m going to wake up any minute now and have to go and pee.

Just like Evan and his bad dreams. The kid would wake him up in the middle of the night, shrieking in the darkness and claiming to have seen monsters. He’d take him to pee and the then he’d be off to sleep again in no time. Night terrors, the doctor said. Leftovers from daddy’s deployment.

So much blood…

Sitting still gets soldiers killed, Philip thought, another life-saving mantra coming back to him. He raised himself out of the puddle and leaned against the tunnel wall. Everything was darkness where he’d come from.

He took a step towards the flickering lights and nearly fell down again as a sharp pain hit his right foot. Damn it, he grunted as he went down on his left knee, his hand going to his right ankle. He froze as his grunt echoed down the tunnel.


Whatever it was, it apparently didn’t have a keen sense of hearing.

Or it wasn’t hungry any more.

Then he heard the growl.

Damn, he thought. The kooks were right.

“Shutting us down? How the hell are they shutting us down?”

Philip stood at the opening to the tunnel where he could get cell reception, and he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They’d just broken through a major wall of bedrock, and there was more than enough work to do without this kind of nonsense.

“The mayor got wind of the kook’s concerns and ordered the halt,” his assistant said on the other end. “They tweeted out some infographics about the dangers of the project – I’ll send you the screenshots. Somehow, they managed to get retweeted by Neil DeGrass Tyson or The Science Guy or someone, and now it’s gone political.”

“Politics,” Philip muttered. Every curse word he’d ever learned – before the service and during – came to mind, and it was all he could do to not kill the messenger. “Alright Lou, get back over here and we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do. Meanwhile, I’ve got to go pull out the crew and get the machinery tied down. Situation normal.”

“All fucked up.” Lou finished. “You want I should bring you a coffee?”

“Make it Irish and we’ll be moving in the right direction,” Philip chuckled, glad for some levity. “Just get back here so we can clean up this mess.”

His phone buzzed as the screenshots showed up, and so he said goodbye to Lou and stared at the images. The kooks claimed that the tunneling disturbed subterranean life and might endanger species that humanity was yet to encounter. The images were flashy and sensational and absolute bullshit.

Philip found a few extra curse words that he had been saving for a special occasion and muttered them as he headed back down into the tunnel.

It happened in flashes, like a firefight.

He’s giving orders to withdraw when they first hear the growl coming from the tunnel that they’d just finish boring.

They swing over the spotlights.

A ripple of green skin flashes and vanishes in the shadows.

The first scream as Juan, who operates the excavator, is snatched by… something… and yanked into the darkness.

Building hysteria as one by one his workers vanish. The green skin… crashing lights… wrapping tentacles… a mouth as big as a horse… sharp teeth… more screams… and he runs.

And he runs.

Like he did in Mosul, when the firefight had grown too intense, and everything had gone to hell, and he had no choice because he had a kid and a wife, and he wasn’t losing everything for this shithole…

And then… darkness.

Our writing prompt this week was a story based on a Twilight-Zone-ish setup, written by one of the members of the writing group.