About the series

Welcome to Immortality

Rafael Jones is just starting out as a private investigator after working as a detective for police forces in Buffalo and New York, NY, when...

Other Works

The Para-Earth Series: Paranormal, Parallel Earth, science fiction thrillers.

A series by Allan and Helen Krummenacker. In an infinite number of parallel universe, evolution rolls out in infinite ways. Under certain conditions, dimensions may reach conjunction and the beings of one world can cross into another. While some are benign, life forms seek to survive and many stand as strange threats to human life as they seek what they need: food, a host, a guide, or a hiding place. What may be worse are the people who would sell out their own to gain an advantage the eerie creatures offer.

Fortunately, friendship and special talents give the protagonists a framework to fight back from. In The Ship and The Bridge, psychics Alex and Cassandra, policewoman Veronica , and shaman Julie defend their loved ones and their world from bizarre monsters.

In The Vampyre Blogs sub-series, a "vampire", Nathaniel Stewart, is really a human with a symbiote that gives him special powers while needing blood. He becomes the center of attention for two teenagers with a crush, his sister's ghost, some petty criminals, an old friend, and, dangerously, a ghoulish old enemy from another dimension that wants to destroy the symbiote and Nathan with it.

The Vampyre Blogs: One Day at a Time is our first published anthology, focussing on characters from The Vampyre Blogs: Coming Home. Below is a story I wrote for it.

The Snowman

By Helen Krummenacker

   A chilly December evening was made cozy not only by the fireplace, but the scents of vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger from baking in the kitchen. Marissa turned the radio to a station playing all Christmas music. Isabella was excited even beyond the average child at Christmas time, for this was her first Christmas tree, her first time seeing fairy lights, and even the radio was a novelty for her. She would sit on the sofa, stare at the tree and get up again every few minutes to better distribute the ornaments for color balance and even presentation.
Marissa and Lisa were helping Nathan with paper chains, a decoration he remembered from his childhood. The girls were using a ladder to reach high, but Nathan took care of sites out of their reach. Otto, having recently surrendered the kitchen to Penny, who was making a couple of her own favorite treats, had started to show Richard how to wire pine and holly into swags to place around. “So ‘Boughs of holly’ are just branches done up to decorate the place?”
“Yes. Deck and decorate have the same word as a root.”
“Ain’t that something. I always wondered about that song. Especially the gay apparel.”
“That meant jolly, bright colored, festive.”
“And that makes ‘Johnny Comes Marching Home’ a lot better,” Richard laughed. The professor was  all right by him. Strange and a little weird how he treated the boss like a kid sometimes, but when he was around, you always felt a little bit smarter.
Just then, a new tune came on the radio. “Frosty the snowman, was a jolly, happy soul--”
“Turn that off!” Otto snapped. Isabella looked at him in shock a moment before heading to the radio and pushing the big circle button she’d learned made these new electric things go on or off. “I’m sorry… I just do not like that song,” he explained, suddenly aware that everyone was watching him, puzzled by his uncharacteristic change of mood. “I really do not like it. You would not like it, either, if you knew how dangerous that snowman could have actually become.”
“Wait, Frosty was *real*?” Marissa asked skeptically. 
“There are more things on heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” quoted Otto, then sighed. “Yes. Frosty was real, and he was the result of my missing an important detail and behaving carelessly.”
“Story time!” Lisa called out.
“Oh, yes, we have to hear about this,” Marissa added.
“Really?” Otto asked, as if surprised by the attention. 
“Even I haven’t heard this one,” said Nathan, “and it sounds like a doozy.”
Otto took a seat on the sofa, next to Isabella, and the others gathered around. Richard kept at it with the greenery, but still cocked an ear and moved so he could see Otto’s face and gestures. Taking a deep breath, the professor began to tell the tale in a rich, melodic voice.

     Traversing a swamp is not the way most professors prepare for finals week, but when a connection to a para-Earth opens up, I feel I must explore. The opportunity for almost any given crossing is rare indeed. I had only calculated a small chance of one appearing, but a bit of oral history had indicated that the location, if not the time, had great potential.
And so it was that one December morning, just beyond a small town in Iowa where I was living in a boarding house, back in the year 1926, I was mopping the sweat off my brow and chasing away mosquitoes while horsetails grew well overhead. Arthropods had most of my attention. There was a large flying insect, similar to a dragonfly, picking small diving beetles from just over the surface of the water. There also were millipedes that lived in a kind of colony, building a mound out of mosses. Although it was reminiscent of the Carboniferous Era, most likely some recent global difficulty had faded, leaving survivor species to develop a new ecosystem. In fact, there were a few, very furry, shrew-like mammals with scaly webbed feet running along the grassy patches interspersed around the marsh. 
Out of the corner of my eye, while watching a shrewoid, I noticed one of the flies touch the water surface as it grabbed at a beetle just as it dove. The fly dropped its prey, but one wing had dipped into the scummy water and seemed to have trouble lifting. It struggled, got entangled in strands of algae, and ended up unable to fly, dropping into the water and sinking in exhaustion. 
The small drama was enough to distract me from the seven inch long shrew, and I was startled to find it had started exploring me. It bit, suddenly, and I jumped back, only to find myself dropping into the water.  I landed on my backside, the water closing over my head briefly before I got back up. My hat had flown off my head, of course, and I grabbed it out of a mess of algae clustered around it, plopping it back on my head before hauling myself out of the water, shouting a few rough words to shoo the shrews away. I examined my hand. There was a welt around the bite area and it was throbbing in pain. Probably the creature was venomous. It didn’t seem powerful enough to cause me a real problem, but I decided it was best to be cautious and head home. 
The vector to our world hadn’t changed at all, and I decided to collapse the conjunction point behind me to minimize the chance of something else wandering through. As fascinating as the creatures of parallel evolution are, invasive species moving from one part of our globe to another cause enough trouble.  We didn’t need oversized venomous shrews running around Iowa, and since I was boarding at a house where a child lived, I particularly felt responsible to protect the boy. 

As a matter of fact, the child, Tommy, met me as I was walking briskly back home. “Dr. Snyder,” he called out-- that’s the name I used for my work on cellular biology-- and fell into step with me. “Are you gonna do another magic show for the Christmas party?”
“I suppose I could,” I said playfully.
“Pleeease!” he urged me, “Pretty please! I want to see the levitation bit again!” That had been a little trick with wire and his hamster.
“Well, I suppose I could. Now, could you please run ahead and ask your mum to light the fire early? I’m afraid I fell into a puddle and need to dry my hat and coat.”
“You bet!” he said and tore off towards his house. I picked up my own pace. The swamp had been tepid, but now there was snow on the ground and cold tolerance only did so much to counter the dampness of my clothing. 
Fortunately, when I arrived at the house, there was a hot pot of coffee to help me warm up and there was hot water in the system so I could wash off the pond scum which, as the lady of the house pointed out, smelled unseasonal. I left my things by the fire to dry and ran a bath. 

When I was done and dressed, an egg salad sandwich and roast vegetables were waiting for me. Dr. Sheldon, also from the university staff, in literature, had just gotten back from his 10-12 class and joined me with trays by the living room fire. As we chatted about our plans for the next semester, I watched out the window as Tommy played in the front yard with a couple of his friends, building a snowman. When they’d finished the structure, they used marbles for the eyes, added the traditional stick arms, carrot nose, gave it a slice of orange peel for a mouth and topped it off with an alpine hat. Yes, I noticed mine was gone from the fireside.
Dr. Sheldon pulled a book from a shelf then to show me a New England tour he was doing over break to see the homes of some of his favorite American authors. After I’d suggested a few more sites to him, I glanced up again at the children. They must have rearranged the snowman’s face, I thought, as it was now in profile, no longer face toward the window. They had stepped back from their handiwork, looking at it with a kind of awe. 
“By the way, what happened to your hand?” he asked.
The puncture marks were still there, although the inflammation had subsided already. “I caught it in one of my magic gadgets,” I said. 
He tsked. “You work too hard to be liked. Although, I suppose, after the war…”
“Indeed. It’s harder in Europe, of course. America has had a significant German population for a long time, and your people changed the course of the war quickly instead of spending so much time in the trenches. There is less to forgive and more reason to do so.” 
We got into discussing politics, and I stopped looking out the window. In the back of my mind, though, there seemed something odd about the scene. 

Later, when I was up in my room grading research papers, I found my mind drifting from a poorly handled examination of soil samples. The window of my room overlooked a birdbath,   and a cardinal had just fluttered down to get a drink. The children had built another snowman behind it, it seemed… and used my hat for it? They must’ve found another one for their first snowman and had transferred mine to this new snowman. 
Still, they hadn’t been very particular about making it. The entire head and much of the torso had a greenish cast to it, as if there were grass clippings or something swept up in the snow. It stood close and facing the birdbath. I looked back at the paper, wondering if an undergrad should be seriously penalized for mishandling the samples, or if a B would be a fair grade as long as I made a note to see me about technique. The actual testing had been done well and the paper was written with skill. However, no conclusions were actually possible due to poor storage before testing. 
There was some brief noise outside, I am not sure what, but I looked up to see the cardinal perched on the snowman’s stick arm.
It didn’t look right. The pose was not perching. I erased my preconceptions and looked again. The cardinal was skewered on the snowman’s arm. The snowman had moved, while I was reading, and had stabbed the bird. 
I drew in a troubled breath as the pieces fell into place. The children had not built another snowman, this was the same one I’d seen earlier.  The algae on my hat, it had dripped into the snow, growing through the structure and… the dragonfly that had gotten caught in the algae in the parallel Earth, it had not tangled itself, but rather, been captured. The algae was not merely alive, but mobile, aware, and predatory. 
I breathed out. But it was not widespread, and it was not unseen. I should be able to get it back to its own world. If the conjunction was gone, I could find some other way to contain it. It was far more difficult to deal with situations where an invasive species had already taken hold in a local ecosystem.
Suddenly, there was a rapping at my door. I turned my head. “Yes?”
“I’ll be right down,” I responded. The sun was setting. It would not be  good time to go out into the snow.

After dinner, the wireless was playing in the living room, while I was reading in the parlor. Tommy came in to look at me. After a while, I put the book down. “Yes?”
“I was just wondering if you are really magic.”
“Well, I suppose that would mean what you mean by magic. I certainly have some unusual abilities, but if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that eventually, science can explain everything.”
“Even…” the boy trailed off, unsure if he should say what was on his mind.
“Even a moving snowman?”
His eyes opened wide-- maybe wider than when he’d first seen it come to life. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I added. “I’ve seen it, that is all. I did not bring it to life. At least not directly and not intentionally.”
  I was going to add more, but as I paused, trying to decide what to tell him that would balance furthering his intellectual development without revealing too much, trying to keep it within the bounds of the reasonable and hopefully, not alarm him too much-- well, then my thoughts were interrupted by a thump, as of something soft, hitting the window.  
I turned my head only slightly, but Tommy’s, “Ooooh” of surprise told me he was looking, too. 
A disc of snow, like a small snowball splattered against the window, was the most visible thing. Then, it shrank. Another hit a few inches away from the first. Thump. I turned my head fully and peered,making out a form through our reflections. The snowman. The little snowballs were actually pseudopods of snow tapping on the window, feeling for an opening. Thump-it-y: a few more pseudopods tapped the glass before retreating. 
“He wants to come in!” said Tommy. He started to move toward the window, but my hand on his shoulder stopped him. 
“Yes. He’s curious. But it’s warm in here, Tommy. There’s quite a fire going, and the room is very comfortable for us. But how do you think it would be for a snowman?”
“I… I guess he’d melt.”
“He certainly would.” The algae actually probably wanted that, had come, attracted to the warmth and light of the house. It was used to a marsh, not a winter wonderland. In melting, it would lose some of the abilities it had as a snowman, but it might drip right through the floorboards and end up who knew where. It was better to keep it in a form that made it easy to find. “We shall have to leave him outside for his own good. And Tommy?”
“This is a snowman. Not a person. He does not understand that heat will destroy him and there may be other things he does not understand, either. I was thinking, I should take him away to Canada or somewhere else where he will be safe. There is a heat wave coming in a few days. So if you see him tomorrow, don’t get lost in playing with him. Come at once to tell me where he is, so I can help find a good home for him.”
“Okay. I guess. It wouldn’t hurt to play a little, though, would it?”
“A little will turn into hours sooner than you know, and then you will want lunch and we can’t talk about this in front of your mother, can we? A walking snowman does not seem like something she would believe in. Then after lunch, you will forget or he will wander off while we are eating.”
Tommy laughed at that. “I guess I might.”
“I’ve dealt with a few young men like you before!” I told him mock-sternly. “Now, isn’t it about time for The Shadow to come on?” He ran off to the living room. I drew the shade, hearing one more thump against the glass on the other side, and, after waiting a few minutes to be sure it was quieted as a result, I followed him, saying softly, “I have the power to cloud snow-men’s minds so they cannot see in.”

The next morning, I had two concerns to deal with: how and where. The question of how to move the snowman was solved by finding out who had a tricycle ice cream cart, finding his address, tracking him down and giving him a dollar for me to use it for the day. He probably thought I was crazy, but I told him I was a scientist and, since to many people those things are synonyms, he asked no further. The whole procedure had taken longer than I wanted, but since snow isn’t exactly solid, I needed a proper containment system, and the wheels meant that I would have much better speed. 
I also had to plan how to get it into the freezer compartment. At first I had thought about knocking it in, but that was stupid. The snow would splatter all over and some of the algae would likely get left behind. It all needed to go home, ideally. If not, I would have to figure out a way to destroy any that might make themselves at home in puddles as the snow thawed. Since water runs, it would by no means be sure to stay confined to a small area. 
Given that the snowman, or rather the algae in it, probably wanted to get back to its normal, water-dwelling state, I persuaded my way through operator and receptionist to reach the sound effects artist for the radio studio that did The Shadow. I told him how much I admired his work. I implied I was staging a play at the university where I worked and asked for his advice on creating the sound of water gently lapping at the edge of a small lake or pond. Making notes, I added, “And I think I should also make the sound of buzzing insects.”
“Not unless you want the audience to be getting the heebie-jeebies expecting mosquito bites.”
“I was thinking more like dragonflies.”
“No, you want something like crickets, frogs, maybe. A little bird song.”
“If I folded up paper and blew on it, I think it would sound like a dragonfly.”
“Sure,” he responded. “A dragonfly that ended up out of breath and dropped out of the sky and into the water.”
“My audience might like that.”
“You’re one crazy guy, you know that? Good thing you’re doing a school show out in the sticks because you’d get murdered on Broadway. Okay, you want dragonflies, the paper trick is good, but you clip it onto a fan. That way it buzzes as long as you want. If you know electronics--”
“I can vary the speed with a little resistance! Oh, what a good idea, that will really make it sound as if it is moving around. You have just saved the world!”
“Sure thing, pops,” he laughed. “You’re goofy, but I wish you luck. I guess if I had a teacher funny like you, maybe I’d have stayed in school longer.”
“You’re never too old to get a degree. I got my latest one in 1922.” He laughed again, then we said goodbye and hung up. 
I got all of my equipment into the cart only about half an hour later, which wasn’t bad for having to borrow things and do impromptu wiring. Happily, “I’m planning the holiday magic show,” was a good enough reason for the lady of the house to provide an old gramophone speaker, a fan, and a basin (which I filled with water and a little sand). The car battery, tarp and paper I had with me. 
Of course, with the how all settled, I still needed the where. I couldn’t pedal around randomly, because I needed to set up the trap. I had just picked up a pair of binoculars and left the house, thinking to look for high ground to search from, when Tommy came running. He was clearly upset, and almost flew past me, but I put my hands on his shoulders, stopping him. “What is wrong, my boy?” I asked.
“It’s Dr. Sheldon. He fell on some ice near the bus stop and hurt his head and his hip. He needs help.”
“I will go check on him. But have your mother send two men to help him home-- I do not think he will be up to a bicycle ride if he is injured.” I took off without asking about the snowman, but as I arrived, I scanned the area before dismounting to kneel next to where Doctor Sheldon  was still sitting on a patch of ice. A suspicious single track, as if something had dragged itself through the snow, ended only a meter or so away, but the snowman was not here. “How do you feel?” I asked.
His pupils seemed properly focused, and his answer was sharp, “Bloody sore! I hope you don’t expect me to get on that contraption.”
“No, no. There will be more appropriate help soon,” I told him. “I just wanted to be sure you have no concussion. What was the title of your dissertation?” An unusual question to throw at a patient, but I wasn’t always sure if I was remembering the year or the President of the United States correctly, and I was sure I could tell if an academic was confused or not when responding regarding their own work.
Samuel Clemens and Jonathan Swift: Satire as Politics and Art.”
“You’ll be fine. Also, I want to read this later. For now, I would offer to put some ice on your bruises, but that seems a tad redundant. How did you come to slip, anyhow?”
“I think maybe someone threw something? I felt something hit the back of my neck, and it made me lose my balance. I overcompensated and ended up falling on my back.” I looked around again nervously. It was experimenting with what it could do. There wasn’t enough of the algae for humans to be proper prey for it… but it would grow, and it was showing an interest in us.
“Can you wiggle your toes and feel them press against your shoes?” I asked. I doubted he had any severe injuries at this point, but it was best to screen before he was moved.
Dr. Sheldon frowned and tried. “Mostly? I think I’m just a bit close fitted with my woolly socks.” Thankfully, a fire wagon came up and a couple of young men came out to help. The wonders of the modern world meant phones and internal combustion engines could get medics on site faster than ever. And so, with a few words of well-wishing, I could leave in good conscience to seek the snowman.
From a few yards further on, I could see down a hill to a set of greenhouses in the distance. The glint of the sun on the glass attracted my attention to them initially, and I immediately knew my quarry would also be drawn there. The reflection of light from below was much like one would get with a pond. The warmer air, too, would be more like home. I have had less experience with the minds of plants than the minds of animals, but life is life and I was sure that was where this life was going. I steered toward a tire rut and rode downhill fast.
When I got close, I stopped in the shadow of a greenhouse in the middle of the row and listened intently. After several seconds, I realized the futility of trying to locate the snowman by ear. Snow sliding on snow could not be loud at all, certainly not compared to the other background noises, like cawing crows or the rattling of looser panes of glass shaken when a gust of stronger wind rose above the breezes. I would just have to be attentive and discreet as I set my trap. 
Even as I unloaded my props, doubt struck. With all these reflective panels, would the fake pool mean anything? There would be the dragonfly noises, but would the buzzing paper be so different from the vibrations of the glass panes in their metal frames in the wind? Of course, the “pool” would be horizontal, but how else could I make the trap better than the greenhouses. A plant had photosensors, that was how it was seeing things. It ought to be able to sense vibrations, and that is why sound would help. What other sense might it have?
Chemical receptors. Since it ate, it would need some chemical receptors to tell it what was food. It must have a sense of smell.
As I finished setting up the trap, I had one last step to take. I pulled out a pocket knife and cut my arm, dripping a few milliliters of blood onto the tarp. Stepping away, I splashed mercurochrome on my arm-- not because I was worried about infection, but because I didn’t want the snowman to come to me rather than the trap so I needed to hide the smell. I also wrapped on some cotton gauze while I waited in a recessed space near the greenhouse door. I activated the fan. It not only made the paper dragonflies buzz, but must be spreading the scent of fresh blood. 
It wasn’t long before the snowman came gliding, first the twig arms, one stained with the bird’s blood, coming into view; then the round base; the tip of the carrot. Finally, it was directly across from me and starting to glide onto the tarp. The faint green color had spread as the algae multiplied within the snow. The creature hesitated, and its head slowly turned toward me. I held my breath, and yet… it couldn’t use those coal bits to see. If anything, it would block some of the algae’s photoreceptors. Right. It had moved to unblock its view of what lay ahead of it. The fan, beside the ice cream cart, blew air over the water and blood. Tempted, it moved forward despite confusion. That was all I needed.
Once it was on the tarp, I leapt forward, took the tarp in both hands, and lifted, tipping the snowman into the open ice cream compartment. I threw the fastener shut, and jumped onto the bike. The snowman thumped around inside the compartment but wasn’t able to open the lid. As I took off pedalling, it quieted down. At the conjunction, I had trouble getting the connection again. It wasn’t warm enough on our side for the forces to align. I could manage this, though. I had an emergency flare in one of the many pockets in my jacket, and a lighter to fire it up. I waited for it to warm the air enough and then took the cart across. 
Now that we were back in the algae’s world, I was ready to release it into its habitat. I opened the ice compartment and the snowman stretched out, exposing more of itself to the sun. I pulled on the tarp to help move it out of the freeze box. The bulk of it began to slide out, but a pseudopod with one of the stick arms in it jabbed at me, scratching my face even as I dodged to the side to avoid the worst of it. “I’ve been trying to help you,” I growled through gritted teeth. “You are home again, you foolish thing.” Indeed, while the snowman looked out of place in the grass and moss and puddles, the green algae that was the real life between the ice crystals was trending toward the upper surfaces to catch more sun. It moved toward me, glistening with a sheen of meltwater. I backed away, the tarp still clutched in one hand. It lashed out at me again, but the pseudopod lost hold of the stick. It was becoming too slushy for it to use all of its abilities. And there was the answer. I threw the tarp over the creature. The dark fabric blotted out the sun for the algae underneath, and again, it became dormant. In an hour or so, the snow would all be melted, and the algae would be carried into the nearest part of the marsh by the trickle of water. I got back on the cart, and sprayed the tires of the trike and the boots I wore with a bleach solution, to make sure nothing remained. The tarp, I left behind and reimbursed my landlady for when I returned the rest of the equipment I had used. Tommy was happy to believe that the snowman was running with the caribou in the wilds of Canada, and one more threat to the natural order was averted.

A silence fell as Otto finished his story, the soft clatter of dishes in the kitchen and the crackle of the fire the only sounds in the air. Then Isabella asked what seemed to her the most important question that the tale aroused.
“So, are you going to do a magic show for us for Christmas?”
The professor gave a kind smile, much more his usual self, “I think perhaps… on two conditions.”
“What are they?”
“You must not borrow my hat without asking…”
“Of course not,” the little girl said. 
“And I will need the help of my talented assistant,” Otto turned to Nathan as he said this.
“I don’t want to be sawn in half this time.”
“Why not? You’re a natural at it.”
“Yes, but it ruins my shirts.”
“So wear a crop top,” the professor suggested. 
Marissa smiled. “I have one you can borrow. With sequins.”
“No sequins,” Nathan grumbled. 
Isabella looked disappointed. “But I want to see the whole show.”
Nathan looked at her and smiled. “I’ll find something to wear.”

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