I'll give this one a try.
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 03:35|
|# ? Jan 24, 2022 12:21|
Alright Thunderdome, I'm down for this one. I expect this to be the first step on a path of unremitting failure.
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 04:18|
Little over 30 minutes left to sign up.
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 04:22|
Edit: Whoop, missed the deadline by an entire 12 hours. Never mind and good luck to all competitors.
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 15:30|
There some reason I'm not counted in the signups, dickstain?
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 16:09|
There some reason I'm not counted in the signups, dickstain?
You didn't really say 'In' in your previous posts. And you know how the judges can't infer.
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 16:59|
There some reason I'm not counted in the signups, dickstain?
Edit: Whoop, missed the deadline by an entire 12 hours. Never mind and good luck to all competitors.
You're both added.
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 18:34|
You're both added.
|# ? Mar 1, 2013 18:39|
The Van Gogh Shoes (1,497 words)
Yeah, I went out with Jennifer Lynne a few times. She was still Jenny-Lynn Humboldt when I knew her. Fresh off the bus from Dogpatch. Working for tips at a vegan joint in Hollywood by day; elbowing her way into every open mic night between Glendale and the Pacific by night. All that Behind the Music poo poo.
And before you ask: No, I didn’t tap that. I won’t say that I didn’t want to, or didn’t try—I’m a red-blooded American guy. And this was before she had stylists and got all wrapped up in that bizarre thing where she and every other girl in the music biz tried their damndest to look like a piece of chewed bubblegum covered in feathers and glitter and unicorn jizz. She looked normal when I met her.
Well, normal-ish. She had a nose ring, wore hand-knit scarves in the middle of summer, maybe a bit too fond of obnoxious floral prints; that sort of thing. And the shoes. She had dozens of shoes. And no matter how much they cost, she’d get some dye or fabric paint and make them look like they belonged stuck to a fridge with a magnet.
Those loving shoes.
Believe it or not, out of the two of us, I was the one who looked like he was going places. I’d just done a Civil War flick for Spike TV. Woody Harrelson played General Sherman in it, and I played his aide-de-camp. Woody hooked me up with his agent at CAA, who kicked me down a few rungs, but still—CAA’s not chumpsville. I had a couple commercials lined up, was auditioning for pilots; things were looking good. And I think, when my buddy introduced us, Jenny-Lynn was a lot more interested in what I could do for her in the biz than anything else.
Which I could deal with, up to a point. I took her around town, mainly to places on the Strip where I knew the bartenders, a couple of industry parties, stuff like that.
I’m not going to say whose party it was; just that she’s richer than God, and became famous after starring in a suspiciously-well-promoted “leaked” sex tape. My agent swung the invitation—and it was a real invitation, gold embossed cardstock, with a barcode on the back that the security guard at the gate scanned before letting us through. And when we saw the mansion, Jenny-Lynn leaned over and breathed:
—On my neck. I popped wood so fast that I nearly tripped.
Then the driveway went from gravel to concrete, and I heard this “clop, clop, clop”. I looked around, thinking for a second that this rich chick had horses roaming the grounds. But I looked down and realized that Jenny-Lynn was wearing clogs. Like, actual Dutch wooden shoes. And it took me a second to get that she’d tried to copy Van Gogh’s Sunflowers onto them—albeit in a first-grade-finger-paint sort of way. They were tragic. I piloted her around the side of the house so the bitch brigade wouldn’t latch on as soon as we walked in.
Women in gowns worth more than I’d earned in my career sipped appletinis around an Olympic-sized pool with a cabana bigger than the house I grew up in. Massive speakers boomed out some bleepy house/trance/techno whatever. There was an actual DJ spinning over by—lo and behold—an open bar.
I looked over at Jenny-Lynn, and she was taking off the shoes. Thank Christ, I thought. But then she said:
“Here, hold these.”
—And took off, doing cartwheels across the lawn. People were turning to look, which was exactly what she wanted, but then they were turning to look at where she came from, which was exactly what I didn’t want. I dropped the shoes and went to the bar.
It was dark when our hostess put in an appearance. Jenny-Lynn had hosed off to commune with the sprinkler system or do blow with Armenian gangsters or something—I was four Jack’n’Cokes into not giving a poo poo. But here was the rich girl, twiggy as hell, tottering along on too-high heels, bombed out of her gourd. And that magician was with her. You know: The one with the hair? And she says to him:
“Show us some real magic!”
This guy puts on this big show of being embarrassed, like he didn’t know he’d be asked to prestidigitate for his Pernod, or whatever. He finally caves, and goes:
“I’ll need two things; handmade. Things with a little love in them. A matched pair would be best.”
“Try [Rich Girl]’s tits!” said some dude by the pool.
“I have,” said another guy. “No love there at all!”
Our hostess sneered in their direction. Then this other girl comes up, holding Jenny-Lynn’s clogs like a pair of dead trout.
“I hope it’s a disappearing trick,” she said, and thrust the shoes at him.
He held one up, then the other; sighting down each like it was a gun barrel. Then he nodded and went over to the pool. Kneeling at the cement lip of the corner, he gripped the first clog by the heel. He clapped it against the cement, then slapped the surface of the water—three times each—before setting the clog reverently on the corner, the toe barely over the edge.
He took his time walking around to the opposite corner, but when he got there he repeated the motions. Clop! Splash! Clop! Splash! Clop! Thud.
I looked around at everybody else looking around with the same unvoiced question: Since when does water go “thud”?
But the magician just set down the clog, adjusted it so that its toe was pointed directly at its mate, and stood up.
“Nobody touch the shoes, okay?” he shouted back at us.
Then he walked right out into the middle of the pool like he was Jesus.
He waved at the gawping partygoers to join him. After much looking around for Ashton Kutcher, one guy finally tapped the surface with a blue Marc Jacobs wingtip. Then he gingerly stepped out. He hopped up and down. He conspicuously failed to sink.
By ones and twos, and then in throngs, the cream of young Los Angeles walked out onto the pool.
The DJ cranked up his rig and dropped a bomb-rear end beat. Just like that, a hundred of the city’s richest and sexiest under-thirties found themselves gettin’ jiggy beneath the high-dive. I slammed back my drink—hell if I was gonna miss this.
It felt like foam rubber over a hardwood floor; a little give, ripples spreading from each step, but that was all. I don’t usually dance, but when you’re doing something impossible, you might as well go all the way. I wound my way into the clutch, and by the next song, this hot Persian girl was grinding on my jock like she wanted to break it half. I was about to invite her back to mine and let her do her best—to hell with Jenny-Lynn—when I looked down and realized we were all dancing six inches off the water. And it occurred to me that, even if this chick was the best lay in the world, you can’t just run out on a Moment like this. I clamped my hands down on her hips, and—
I touched bottom before I even realized I was trying to breathe chlorinated water. I kicked up to the surface, gagging, surrounded by the coughing, sputtering, bitching well-to-do. And the first thing I see?
Jenny-Lynn, stalking around the pool with one of her clogs, yelling:
“Has anybody seen my other shoe?”
I struck out to the edge furthest from her. She kept hollering, seemingly oblivious to what had just happened. Dragging myself out of the pool, I turned to see our hostess, now barefoot and drenched, walking up to Jenny-Lynn with the fugitive clog in her hand. Jenny-Lynn stopped, mid-screech, and smiled. Our hostess held out the shoe. When Jenny-Lynn reached out to take it, the stick-thin Rich Girl decked her and sent her sprawling into a chaise longue.
I got the hell out of Dodge.
She left an angry voicemail the next day, but I didn’t ever speak to her again.
It’s funny, though: A couple years later, I had the Grammys on in the background while I was making dinner, and I heard the red carpet fashion fascist shriek, “Can you believe she’s wearing wooden shoes with that dress?” I turned around too late to see if he was talking about Jenny-Lynn. But thinking about that night put me in a strange headspace, and I shut off the TV.
The next day, the paper ran a picture of her clutching four gold statuettes. It also mentioned that her escort to the event had been that magician; the one with the hair.
Like everything else in this town, I guess it’s all down to who you know.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 05:40|
Leaving Fog City (1,225 Words)
Liyan flicked her cup into a pile of discarded chopstick wrappers and napkins underneath the table. She looked to Jinfei and asked, “By the way, how did it go last night?”
“Not so great. We went to dinner and then karaoke.”
“But you like karaoke.”
“Yeah, but I dont think he liked me. Zhang Wei introduced us and when he saw me he seemed disappointed. He just ignored me all night and stayed with his friends, so I made Zhang Wei’s girlfriend take me home early.”
Liyan stared at the sun without squinting. Diesel and soot choked the sky. Not even her parents remembered why it was originally called Fog City. “If it helps, Xiaotang has some single friends. I’ll bring you next time we go out.”
“Yeah, okay. You know, it’s really sad...Xiaotang’s parents are going to buy him an apartment soon and then you two will probably be married before I even have a boyfriend.”
Liyan put twelve yuan on the table. “He still won’t have a car, but I guess that’s okay. I do hope he can get a promotion before we get married.”
“Does his dad know anyone?”
They walked toward the university.
A crowd formed a circle, blocking the sidewalk. Old men with hands clasped behind dusty grey jackets craned their necks forward. Young people took pictures with their phones. In the center of the crowd a man with several teeth waved his hands, ordering monkeys to throw knives at a wooden board. The girls watched for a few minutes, then continued on.
Jinfei stopped at a tea shop. “Hey, do you mind if we go in here? I want to buy something for my grandparents.”
Inside the shop, the traffic’s drone and smog were replaced by the churning of a waterfall and crisp mountain air. Liyan smelled flowers and earth--pine and dew. She lost track of Jinfei and approached the waterfall. Only now, watching the water empty into the stream below, did she feel pity for the monkeys.
The shop owner came to her side and spoke “Does the waterfall remind you of the river? Not long ago, just behind this shop, dolphins swam in the Yangzi.”
“I thought dolphins only lived in the ocean.”
“These were freshwater dolphins, but they are all gone now. Let me show you something.” The owner guided Liyan to a glass display case full of aged tea bricks, then indicated an unlabeled brick near the top of the shelf. “This tea was harvested before the Xia dynasty, before the first emperor ruled. It predates the oracle bones and our entire history. It has aged alongside and despite the many dynasties and states. This brick continues to age and increase in value. What do you think I should do with it?
Liyan failed to imagine dolphins swimming alongside rusted barges and floating all-you-can-eat buffets. “I don’t know anything about tea. You should sell it and retire. You should sell it to let your parents live well, or if they are gone to give your children a successful life.”
“This tea was a gift. The ancient tree that gave us these leaves asked for nothing. Who am I to sell them?”
Jinfei interrupted, “Hey, I got what I needed. Ready to head back? I have class in an hour.”
Liyan nodded goodbye to the owner as they left.
Outside, the two girls waited to cross the street by a gap in the guardrail. Liyan watched a group of dirt caked migrant workers sweep up discarded lottery tickets and bottle caps.
A break in traffic prompted them to cross. Liyan slowed. She saw the man with the monkeys hauling a cage behind his bike, the monkeys pressed together inside. One of them locked eyes with her. She thought back to a poem they had forced her to memorize in school and imagined herself on a small skiff floating down the Yangzi, from both sides of the riverbank monkeys’ hoots echoed off the water.
The monkeys in the cage were silent.
Jinfei grunted. Tires squealed. A black Audi swerved and crushed Liyan against the guardrail. Jinfei’s body left behind a trail of headlight shards as it slid several meters ahead. The Audi steadied itself, then accelerated away.
A crowd materialized and hesitated, eventually forming a circle around each girl.
“Why jump in front of a black Audi? You can’t sue a government official.”
“They weren’t trying to get hit. The Audi was dodging a guy on a scooter that stopped to look at the monkeys.”
Someone moved to help Liyan, who was rasping in the gutter beneath the guard rail. His wife pulled him back into the collective “Don’t help her. She could sue you.”
A bearded man in a white baseball cap stabbed his finger in the departed Audi’s direction. “It was the mayor’s son! He was eating in a nearby hotel. My friend even saw the black Audi parked outside. It had government plates.”
Liyan watched the tea shop owner pass through the circle and place a bamboo tea table onto the street next to the guard rail. A kettle bubbled in her right hand. She removed the ancient tea brick from her coat.
Scowling men emerged from an alleyway. A nondescript car pulled onto the sidewalk; more men exited.
The man in the white cap had roused the crowd, which now shouted vague accusations against the mayor, his son, various CEO’s--against anyone with a black Audi.
The shop owner used a tea knife to gently separate a few leaves from the brick. She washed the cup and table with hot water, then deposited the leaves into the pot. She poured water inside.
The men from the alleyways converged on the man in the white cap. A fist crushed his windpipe. The speed and brutality of the strike silenced the crowd. The not quite police shot warning eyes to the protesters, who quickly began blaming the man with the cage full of monkeys. Satisfied, the men dragged their bloodied example into the parked car and drove off.
The shop owner emptied the first wash into the tray beneath the table, then added more water to the pot.
“The leaves are opened up now. They are ready to give their gift to you.” The owner poured a small cup of tea. Liyan smelled a stream--smelled small frogs diverting its flow and sunlight reflecting off their glistening backs.
The shop owner lifted Liyan’s head and poured the liquid into her mouth.
The gift was fully received and experienced even if Liyan now drew her final breath. In the time needed to exhale she had lived through and found irrelevant the whole of human expression. She was the dolphins in the river and the monkeys on the banks when the poet put ink to parchment. She was the Yangzi which had fed the ancient tree and the sun that had allowed its leaves to grow. She was the Yangzi whose poisoned water had killed the last dolphin and the sun whose rays now failed to reach the city’s dying trees.
She accepted her end and no longer worried for the monkeys in the cage. Nature had run its course and now man would find his.
angel opportunity fucked around with this message at 14:17 on Mar 2, 2013
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 08:11|
A preamble, because that wikipedia article on magical realism sucks and I have my own understanding of it: in 100 Years of Solitude, almost nothing that happens is explicitly magical. If you factor in the whimsical, somewhat-unreliable narrator, all the 'magic' comes off more like real things that the characters don't understand because of, well ... their solitude. That's sort of the point. They're so cut off from the world that the extraordinary becomes ordinary. That's always been my take on the genre: it's about using language to take the ordinary and make it magical without directly using magical elements. It's about saying "here is our world with all this amazing, horrifying, wonderful poo poo in it if you're just willing to open your eyes. Step through a curtain, you're in a fantasy without leaving our world because our world is truly a fantastical place where extraordinary things happen every day."
The Bumper Book of Birds [1470 words]
My mum is a bird. She flew away when I was six years old - the same year dad taught me about thee-ving hoo-ers. “A hooer,” he said, “a hooer is like a magpie. It takes all your shiny things for its nest across town and never gave a drat- for a hooer, it was all about the shine,” he said. His eyes were red. He shook me too hard and then sent me to my room for crying. I never cried, not then and not since; hooers cry out in the night and make all sorts of racket,when reasonable goddam people are trying to sleep. My mum is a bird but I'm not.
I took up bird watching. All my books said that brave boys fight robbers and scary things instead of running away so I had to. We lived on the south side of town and I was told at school that birds fly south for summer, so I set up in the back yard with a pair of cheap binoculars to watch the sky. I saw blackbirds, fantails, plovers, tuis, big fat wood pidgeons that argued with the wind as they flew; I even saw a hawk once, though my book told me they stayed away from built-up ur-ban areas. The town was built much more sideways than up, so I made a quick note in the book: not unusural. I wrote in pencil so I could erase it if dad got mad. In three years of bird watching, I even saw a hawk but I never saw a hooer.
Dad kept a gun in his bedroom drawer. He showed me it when he had been drinking gin, which good boys don't drink. It was a cowboy gun, the sort that brave boys aren't scared of. “point thirteeee ate,” he said with a big smile, “blow the head of a bad guy clean off. It's my point thirtee ate that keeps hooers and siffs away, you'd better believe it.” I didn't cry when dad showed me the point thirtee ate but he sent me to my room anyway. Maybe dad was secretly a cowboy and needed to do cowboy business. Sometimes he looked like a cowboy and sometimes he looked like the man they dunk in the water trough.
More than hooers, I was scared of siffs. Siffs is like a disease that only affects kids- if the house is dis-or-der-ly, you get siffs and so-shell workers all over the place and then you get put in a house for other bad kids and never see your dad again. Hooers live in dis-or-der-ly places and so they've got siffs all over them. I liked living with dad because he let me watch TV and only shouted sometimes.
My bird book had pages on all kinds of bird but didn't have a page on hooers. It made looking for them hard: maybe I saw a hooer one time and thought it was a plover. Then I might write the wrong thing in my book and make it dis-or-der-ly, then I would have to leave home and never see dad again. I had a plan though: I could listen for their call. It's right there in the name! HOOers. HooooOOOOO. HooooOOOOO. If I knew they were coming, I could scare them off so they wouldn't bring siffs to my house. Every day I would sit out in the yard with my binoculars and my ears, making notes on all the birds that flew over and listening for even the slightest hooooOOOOO in the distance. Sometimes the Lumber Mill has a noise it makes when the Lum Bears get angry that sounds like awooOOOOO. The first time I heard it while bird watching, I started shouting -making a god drat racket- at the sky so the hooers would go away, then I realised I was being dis-or-der-ly, so I sat down in the yard and didn't cry.
The next day was saturday and there were no birds at all. I stayed the whole day and didn't see one. Maybe the lum bears scared them away, or maybe it was actually hooers and all the other birds caught siffs and got taken away. Is there a home for bad birds? I don't know. It's very hard to tell hooers and lum bears apart, specially if you've only ever heard one of them. The one I heard had a tin whistle stuck in its throat but the whistle was broken so it screamed like dad when he's been drinking gin and his neck goes all red.
There were no birds on Sunday either. Dad was watching TV in the lounge so I had to be out in the yard. The sheriff was off duty so it was up to Deputy Me to keep the hooers away. I starting to think the birds had been scared off for good when the world turned into noise. It came from every direction at one, the biggest god drat racket I'd ever heard. HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. A war party of hooers! I couldn't see any birds but I knew they must be somewhere, hiding behind rocks and trees; that's where war parties of bad things hide. The only thing I could see was a big mess of smoke coming from over the lumber mill. The hooers and the lum bears were at war! Dad came running out of the house with a bottle of gin in one hand and the TV remote in the other, yelling about the god drat racket. He saw the smoke and went flat-white like paper. His bathrobe fell open but he didn't notice. He stood there all silent for a whole ten seconds with his mouth and his bits flapping in the wind. “Jesus,” he said. “Jesus,” he said, one more time. It was closer to a prayer than anything he ever said in church.
I followed him back inside. He was on the phone doing cowboy business, saying “the mill the mill the loving mill Jerry.” Jerry smelled like cat food and shook when he talked to people. Jerry probably had siffs- the one time I saw his house, it was the most dis-or-der-ly place I'd ever seen. He said he had cats but I never saw them. Maybe the so-shell workers got them. Jerry wouldn't stop the hooers! He might even be their friend. There was only one thing I knew that could stop hooers and siffs. I went upstairs and to get the point thirtee ate, like a good deputy. I had to stand on a chair to get it out of the drawer, because it was in the very top one. I pulled and pulled until it came open with a whumpcrack, spilling undies, socks and cigarettes all over the place. The point thirtee ate had been at the back of the drawer but it came knocking forward into the middle. All the clothes around it had spilled out, so it sat on the bare wood. I picked it up- it was so heavy I nearly dropped it. It didn't look like a toy gun or a cowboy gun. It smelled bad like a broken old car but it didn't make me cry.
and under that, feet pounding up the stairs. Dad came in all red, his bathrobe flapping open. He still had the TV remote and I wondered if maybe he'd turned the volume up on the world. He saw me and started shouting. It must've been because I spilled his clothes and made the place dis-or-der-ly. The siffs were here at our door because I had been a bad boy. “I can fix it dad,” I said. He smiled, for the second time since mum left.
Then the world got even more loud.
Dad died on the seen. I don't know what that means because I didn't see it but the police man told me so. His car made a noise like hooHOOhooHOOhooHOOhoo so I bit him, because he was a hooer in disguise. Mum is a bird that looked like a woman and I knew the police man was only a bird that looked like a man. After that the bird-police left me alone. They called a nice lady who came in a beat up car with CYFS printed on the side. CYFS sounds like siffs like awooOOOO sounds like hoooOOOOO. She didn't look sick though. She gave me chocolate and told me it was going to be alright. The sky was perfect blue except the smoke.
My mum is a bird but I'm not. Not yet. One day I'll just say hoooOOOO and float off into the big blue. Until then, I'll be watching the sky.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 15:02|
If you take issue with my interpretation of magical realism as a genre, I would ask you to lodge a complaint with my hairy rear end in a top hat.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 15:05|
Ah yes 'lodge' a 'complaint', that's what we're calling it.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 15:32|
I had a similar take on Magical Realism to SurreptitiousMuffin. Welp.
Last Flight from Copenhagen (1404 words)
The first shudder roiled through the plane about a kilometer over the Øresund, flapping the wingtips just outside Marty’s window. The fasten-seatbelt light dinged on, buckles mated with latches in chorus and that’s when Marty realized he was going to die in that winter-chilled strait.
A speaker crackled to life. The pilot coughed something through a mouthful of potatoes, then repeated in English, “We’re hitting a bit of turbulence. If you’d keep to your seats, we’ll be back in clear skies shortly.”
Marty flicked free from his chair, popped open the overhead compartment, and rifled through his luggage. Shouldn’t’ve packed the drat thing so deep, but at least he’d put it in carry-on.
The fuselage shivered again, throwing him to the floor and dumping his bag on his head. A stewardess hauled him upright and shoved him back into his seat. He rooted through his scattered stuff, searching for the one thing he’d promised to do.
He fingers closed around a smooth metal tube. He pulled the pennywhistle free of his scattered stuff and pressed it between his lips.
They met at the bar after the concert. Marty offered her a beer and tried to talk about her performance, scheming to ask for lessons afterwards. She chugged the beer and the club’s pounding bass swallowed her name. A cloud passed over her face, she muttered something and bolted for the door. Marty plunged through the crowd after her, dropping his half-empty drink to the floor, and dove out onto Pusher Street.
In cold electric half-light, he skated on cobblestones slicked by spring rain, weaving down a street choked by tall, drunken Danes sharing hot words or spliffs, depending on mood. She turned into an alleyway, peeking over her shoulder as she retreated behind the building.
Marty turned the corner as the first convulsion tore her feet from the ground. He jumped and caught her head as she fell.
“I swear, Naekka, it’s just for work. Two weeks in Toronto. I’m back after New Year’s.” Marty sipped whiskey straight from the bottle, staring down at the girl sitting on the chunky black amp.
Naekka snorted, grabbed her Fender Jaguar, and plugged in. Her fingers massaged the dented neck, frets sagging, lacquer rubbed dark and matte. She strummed a solitary rolling chord. “I haven’t seen you practicing.” She plucked the strings, picking out a chilly dirge.
“The trip’s for my sales quota. That’s all.” He collapsed on a beanbag, and the bottle rolled away.
“You never wanted to learn to play. You just wanted to gently caress me.”
“Where’s the flute?”
In my luggage. He said nothing, but she winced nonetheless and tossed out a stormy riff, her fingers rolling down the fretboard.
“When I get back—“
“You’re not coming back.” She launched into a furious solo, hunched over the guitar, hands flying, rocking the strings like windchimes in a hurricane.
The plane bounced, dropping through the air before being caught on invisible hands. An overhead bin sprang open, vomiting luggage on the floor. Marty burped, dropped the whistle, and grabbed an airsick bag.
Cheap eggs rode his bucking stomach like a cowboy. The next jolt spattered his Terminal 2 breakfast across waxed paper.
The floor briefly became the ceiling, people screamed and yellow masks dropped from hidden compartments. Marty shoved the pennywhistle between his teeth and blew a single sonorous note. His fingers shivered up and down along the holes, trying to recall practices interrupted. She’d objected, pushed him to study, but, a few words later, they’d both found nicer things for lips to do.
The aisle pitched downwards, the plane nose-diving towards water. Marty chewed on the plastic mouthpiece, trying to dredge the tune from his whiskey-fouled bog of a memory.
Marty pushed a glove between her teeth as she lay in the alleyway, tremors snapping through her small body as though a finger were plucking her spine. She arched her back and gurgled, eyes rolling back. He checked his phone. What was the emergency number again?
He cupped his hands towards the street. “Can somebody help—“
Fingers brushed over his mouth. Through the shuddering, she grinned. “Y-you’ll do fine.”
“Huh?” Marty cradled her head in his lap, his legs absorbing her jerks and twists.
“You’ll get it, don’t w-worry. Just r-relax. Relax and r-remember how it goes.”
“Look, I’ve got my return ticket right here.” Marty waved the paper at her.
“You’re just going back to see her.” Naeka huddled over the guitar’s body, rubbing away a flake of peeling lacquer, sawing a sinking tune. She nudged the amp’s volume with her heel and musical brimstone roared through the tiny studio, its walls shuddering in sympathy. “One day, two weeks, forever, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Marty punched some cheap foam insulation. “We split up before I even came here!” He really should’ve deleted the nudes, but how could he have known she’d find them? This girl needed help operating a toaster.
“Too late. It’s done. We’re done.” She stared at him with hollow eyes, her hands churning the strings into a cloud of screeching smoke. “You’re done.”
Beyond the window, the clouds fell away, the strait rose up and Marty screwed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the inescapable. He had one job, one last thing to do before being smeared over ice-choked water.
Music rose in his mind, a fresh spring erupting from parched earth, and he played. His fingers were stiff at first, jerking too swiftly off the holes, but he warmed up and a springtime song spilled out.
The flute’s rough holes cut into his fingers and he bled the song she’d taught him, a light and lilting melody, trilling notes dancing up and down the scale like two lovers with their arms clasped around one another, waltzing amidst wildflowers in the bright far northern summer.
The plane slithered through the air, metal squealing as the fuselage shimmied and shivered, the aisles bending one way and then the other. Around him, others clenched their hands in silent or vocal prayer, but Marty played on.
Naeka tensed, arched her back and grinned up at the sky, bloodshot eyes peeled wide, and then she fell back against him. Marty picked her up, carried her into an empty cafe and spread her out on a bench. He bought a bottle of water and poured it over her lips.
She sputtered and sat up, smiling. “You did it.”
“Uh, yeah. Here.” He held out the water. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” She gulped down a few mouthfuls. “I’m Naeka.”
“Marty. Hey, uh, maybe you should have some friends with you, if that happens often. Just saying, you know.”
“I knew I’d be fine.” Naeka studied him. “You wanted to learn music.”
“Yeah— wait, how’d you guess? Did I mention it?” He flushed.
“It’s written all over your face.” She held out a tin whistle with a plastic mouthpiece. “Here. I’ll teach you.”
Marty looked at the instrument, frowning. Peddlers in Christiania liked to screw with foreigners. “I’m not six.”
“Start small.” Naeka smiled and the world lit up around her. “Don’t you want to learn? All you have to do is promise me you’ll remember my favorite song.”
Tears streamed down her face as she played. Her fingers blurred into the strings, the whole Jaguar a shivering axe of resonant fury. Naeka played thunderclouds and tornadoes, hail and lightning, clenching the guitar closer and closer with each bar until blood spotted her pants.
Marty prostrated himself, deafening himself before the amp, begging for forgiveness. She remained unmoved, wracking the guitar with blow after blow. Down the scale she crawled, deep into the bass and beyond, each pluck vibrating in his bones, rattling the world apart.
The promise, he remembered the promise. He got his bag, worried out the cheap pennywhistle, and blew a note. He pecked out a tune, forcing air through his lips, his fingers ox-nimble on the holes. He chirped what he thought she wanted to hear.
“Stop.” Her hands fell away from the guitar and she clicked off the amp. She wiped away her tears, walked to the door, and glanced over her shoulder, smiling faintly. “Fly safe.”
Marty squeaked the last notes from the flute and tucked it away into his coat pocket. Outside, the ice fell away as the plane rose back towards the clouds.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 16:12|
The Frozen Child
Elizabeth and Jonathan crowded at the frosted window, his bony shoulder digging into her pudgy one, their elbows jostling for position in an absentminded fight. Their mother had gone to visit Mrs. Hennessy. She couldn't stop them from watching the snow fall, even if she might see the flakes in their eyes later and slap their faces pink for it. Neither child really watched the snow, anyway; no novelty in that, but the figure outside in it was more than novel.
She was dancing.
The neighbor girl Gina spun around and around against the backdrop of the houses across the street. They were white, and she wore a long red coat that had been her elder brother's first. She held her arms out, palms up. Her face tilted up and smiled for whatever lay behind the clouds.
Elizabeth knew the word 'sun' and had seen the thing itself on television, but it wasn't usually a relevant concept to her since it had been snowing in her town for twenty years. She imagined the sun growing a face to smile back at Gina. She imagined it showering raisins on Gina and thought of stealing a box of Sun-Maids from the cookie jar. She wondered, not for the first time, why her mother kept raisins in a cookie jar.
But when the wind pulled Gina's coat tight across her belly, Elizabeth forgot such questions. "There's a baby in there," she hissed at her brother.
"What? In her coat?"
"No, doofus, Mama told me--"
Outside, Gina collapsed in a red heap.
Jonathan raced Elizabeth for the trap door in the kitchen, but they had to work together to haul it open; he beat her to the ladder and ran ahead of her down the tunnels and turns that led to Mrs. Hennessy's house. He banged on Mrs. Hennessy's trap, but when it opened Elizabeth shouted first, "Gina's out in the snow!"
Mrs. Hennessy grabbed Jonathan and pulled him up. Their mother grabbed Elizabeth. Both women shook the children by the shoulders until they got some semblance of a story, and then Mrs. Hennessy was gone to fetch Gina's parents. Mama poured tea; they each held a cup for warmth.
Something large thumped against the front door--the aboveground door.
Mama was at the door, twisting the seven tall bolts, before either child could move, and she pulled shivering Gina in and then slammed it shut again. A whirl of snow blew in, but Mama dodged it. She hauled Gina to the living room fireplace and lowered her onto Mrs. Hennessy's rug, which had black and white cows all over it.
"Stay there, Jonathan," their mother snapped.
Mrs. Hennessy came back. Gina's parents followed her. All the adults crowded shoulder-to-shoulder around the red pile of Gina so Elizabeth couldn't see anything. She heard her mother say, "She's pregnant."
"She wasn't," Gina's father said. "Before."
For long a while after that, there weren't many sounds besides murmurs and grunts and soft groans from the huddle of adults. Jonathan looked speculatively at Mrs. Hennessy's big-screen TV. Elizabeth slid off her chair, abandoning her cold tea. She crept into a gap between Gina's mother's shoulders and Mrs. Hennessy's legs.
A film of ice covered Gina's face and the palms of her hands; she didn't breathe. The squirming red thing Gina's mother held breathed, but it didn't cry. "A boy," Gina's mother said in a dead voice.
Elizabeth's mama took the baby from her and pried open his little fists, gently, with just one finger. His tiny palms were white with ice. When the warm air hit them, then he screamed. "It will spread. He can't live very long," Mama said.
Gina's father said, "Good."
Mama put the baby on a bookshelf, beneath a window, where the house was coldest. She didn't wrap him in a blanket or anything, and he kicked feebly; under the blood he looked very pale to Elizabeth. All the adults had forgotten her and her brother both. They were murmuring again, about Gina now, and crying like adults shouldn't cry.
Elizabeth looked for Jonathan, but he'd found the TV remote and was searching for cartoons.
She picked up a small chair and carried it to the bookcase. She climbed up and looked the baby. The ice rime marked his lips and his cheeks, his eyes were cloudy white, and he didn't seem to see her at all. She still didn't think he deserved to be put on a bookshelf to die. He was almost too heavy for her, slippery, and gross, but at least he didn't scream any louder when she picked him up.
In all the rush, Mama had forgotten to lock the seven bolts.
Snow danced in when Elizabeth got the door open. Her mother yelled, "Elizabeth, get back here!" Elizabeth ran out into the snow with the baby before the adults could stop her--before her brother could look away from Adventure Time. She kept running even though no one followed.
She found the place where Gina had fallen, the imprint of the older girl's body already erased by snowfall, and stopped to breathe. The baby's wailing trailed away. Elizabeth looked down at him: frost covered him completely now, or else he was made of it and always had been.
Elizabeth knelt and laid him on the ground, and his tiny mouth smiled at her as he sank into the snow. Within five heartbeats, he was gone.
She tilted her face up toward a hidden sun. She opened her hands to catch the snow. She held its smile in her heart now. She wasn't afraid.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 17:14|
A preamble, because that wikipedia article on magical realism sucks
Apparently, the Wikipedia article does suck, because (having never knowingly read any magical realism--100 Years of Solitude is on my to-read list, though) I came to an entirely different conclusion about what it meant.
I was hoping for a happy mutation, like what happened when U2 or Kurt Cobain tried to write "punk" songs without ever having actually heard any punk bands. Now I fear that my result is more like The Shaggs.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 17:39|
When I first read the opening page of 100 Years of Solitude I had no idea what genre it was or even what "magical realism" was. I started reading and asked myself "What the gently caress? Is this supposed to be happening in the real world or not?" That reaction is what I think of with magical realism, though I don't think it is necessarily so limited. According to my wikipedia sources, Borges is considered by some but not all to be a magical realist. I think his mini-biography of Homer is a great example of magical realism as is a lot of his writing, but apparently many disagree with that. I also think Hesse has enough elements of magical realism to be considered magical realism; Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, and Narziss and Goldmund all include fantastical elements that may or may not really be happening.
I'll be interested to see if anyone just gets straight up disqualified for not being adequately magical realist.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 17:58|
All You Ghosts (1,093)
I saw my sister in the Times Square subway station, sprawled out against the escalators, looking no older than when she’d left. A stupid kid who struck out for California only to get stuck in the trailer ghettos of Oregon, leaving me and our mother behind. Her hair all dirty and her shoes unlaced. I reached down to pull her up and my hand went right through her. Maybe she’s still there, I don’t know, I never went back. She’d gotten shot in a 7-Eleven holdup two years ago.
They show up where they like and they don’t move from that spot. They stand, sit, slouch, lean. Every age and sex and race, some in funeral suits, some sporting a more casual ensemble, quite a few of them naked. Haggard, unsmiling, their bodies all unmarked. They never speak, but their eyes seem to exist separate from the rest of them and if you happen to glance at one you can expect those eyes to snap around in the sockets and lock on with you, pleading something in words you can’t hear. You can feel their eyes on you, their stares have weight and it’s the only part of them that does. They’re not transparent but they can’t be touched. Dig up the ground beneath their feet and they’ll hold their position, floating on air. Shine a light and it’ll pass right through; they cast no shadow. They’re mute refugees from a full-up afterlife. They’re the product of a mass psychotic episode triggered by a secret government experiment gone wrong. They’re particulate memory-matter expelled from the spiritually bankrupt mass consciousness polluting mother Gaia. They’re here and they won’t leave and their numbers grow by the day.
I saw her in those eye-watering early hours when even the city’s underground, normally warm and wet from the movement of so many human bodies, was empty except for the two of us and the escalators’ hum. Now they’ve filled the trains, the tracks, standing heedless on the third rail. Above ground they stare from every window and crowd the countryside shoulder-to-shoulder. They cram the streets and make driving a daily terror, phasing in and out of moving cars. They’ve been spotted on the ocean floor, their hair and clothes heedless to the tides, and fish pass in and out of their faces because animals don’t notice them, only we can notice them, only we are noticed. Why.
War went down—don’t want to add to the dead. Suicides went up—living was hard enough already. World leaders accused each other of sabotage and psychological terrorism. Religions tried exorcisms, made excuses why they wouldn’t work, and then started talking about the end days and still they haven’t shut up. The news stations wouldn’t talk about anything else until some pretty blonde anchorwoman had a hysterical breakdown in the middle of a camera’s slow pan across the Catskill wilderness, where the dead stood scattered and straight like matchsticks, glowing phosphorescent in the night-vision lens; she cried and clawed at her face and screamed out noise that made your guts slither.
I don’t blame her. Stare long enough into those crowds and no doubt you’ll see someone familiar. People tried to make them into tourist attractions at first, cute novelties—here, stand next to this hollow-eyed woman with her plaid dress and silver cameo, put your shoulder around her, she won’t mind, photos for five dollars—then they stopped being amusing. At some point you’ll recognize one of them. Then you’ll feel like you recognize them all.
We drift in and out of their number until we feel like hallucinations. Everyone finds their own way to escape. In Grand Central station a man took out a gun and opened fire into the public, daring the bullets to hit something. Five people were hurt; no one could tell where the shots were coming from. Desperate, stupid. The suburbs are being abandoned, turned into plastic-and-stucco mausoleums, and everyone still warm and solid gathers in the same house, the same room. This is a mistake. The rich have taken boats and drift the deep seas with enough food and medicine to last five years. They have private doctors and soft beds and EEG machines. They’re ready to stick around as long as they can. Best of luck—the dead don’t swim but they wait at every port.
My home is empty.
I keep the door bolted and the windows covered. My phone is unplugged. The landlord stopped knocking. I find my way by the filthy light that gets in through the blinds and go to sleep when it gets dark, and when I wake up there’s no one at my side, living or otherwise. I’ve learned the secret.
You silly bitch, you left home when our mother was eaten up by dementia and age and thought that Hollywood would take you in. I saw Mom in her hospital bed with tubes snaking and out of her, surrounded by the metal legs of the machines, and in that moment I thought she looked like some crippled spider, mute, blind, her heartbeats counted off. I said that I would never speak to you again, even if you came home, fell to your knees, and begged me. And after you finished bleeding out on convenience-store linoleum, you tried to come back anyway. Well, you got lost. You won’t get another chance.
Their stares are hooks and if you’re caught by one then you’ll drag all of them home. I’m safe here, but outside it’s too crowded, and I can’t avoid them anymore. I ran out of food a few days ago and don’t dare go out for more. But I’m pure. There’s nothing in me that they want. Even my sister’s face is beginning to fade.
Someone will find me after I start to stink and I’ll be shoved into a furnace somewhere and spat out as a cloud of ash, formless, faceless. Then I’ll be gone, and I won’t be back. But there will come a time. When everyone has learned to seal each other against each other, and all ties are cut, and our loneliness finally swallows theirs, they’ll understand that they'll find no comfort waiting for them on this side or any other. They’ll come unbound from the earth and drift up, up, glimmering in the light like dust motes, like flecks of ice, until they at last pass out of sight, into the infinite. And we’ll watch them leave. All you ghosts, go on, get gone. No one is waiting for you.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 18:38|
How do I magic realism
The platform was vacant save for Edgar and a huddle of damp pigeons. The birds tucked their small heads down into their feathers. Edgar stared down the busway and listened for the hum of diesel-electric engines, but there was only rain and the distant sigh of rush hour on the interstate.
He checked his watch, then his phone, then the cracked and graffitied digital timetable; all agreed that the bus was late, getting later by the moment.
Rain fell in grey curtains. Rain floated back up to the sky as pillars of mist. The air was choked with rain, the rain choked with exhaust and factory fumes. The busway ran straight as a concrete ley line into the heart of the city, empty in both directions.
"You've just missed it," said one of the pigeons after some time had passed.
"Pardon?" It took Edgar a moment to realize the bird was addressing him.
"Your bus, it's just gone by," the bird said.
Edgar looked up and down the busway. "Must've passed pretty quick, then. Boy, it just figures. They hardly give you a chance to board these days."
"Just so, friend, just so. It's this modern world, there's no slowing down for anyone or anything."
"I caught the bus yesterday," Edgar grumbled. "Had to jump, barely made it. But at least the driver opened the door as he passed that time."
"Ah, that was you wasn't it? I told the lads, I did. 'That lad is a mad man, but at least he'll get where he's going,' I told 'em," said the pigeon.
"And I did," said Edgar. "But here I am, waiting to get where I'm going again. And soon these buses'll go so drat fast that they get to the end of the route before they even leave the start. I should really e-mail the Transit Authority."
The pigeon bobbed his head in agreement. Edgar eyed the bird's companions.
"Your friends don't talk much," he said.
"I'm looking after cousins from a village outside Cork while they're in the states. They speak t'old tongue," the pigeon said in an exaggeration of his own lilting accent. "And German, Welsh and a smattering of French. But somehow the bastards never got around to English, would you believe it? So I brought'm over to show them a bit of how things are done in the language of business."
His companions seemed to comprehend that they were the subject of discussion, and shuffled and cooed softly to each other in a language Edgar couldn't understand.
"Here she is! Get ready friend," the pigeon exclaimed, and fluttered to the edge of the platform. The bus sped by, so far ahead of schedule that the beams from its headlights were still back on Atlantic Avenue, the sound of its engine three stops behind that. They all jumped, man and pigeons, and tumbled onto the bus in a feathered and bescarffed heap.
"Excuse me driver," Edgar said, getting to his feet. "Does this bus go uptown?"
"I'm gonna need to see some fair or a transfer, sir," the driver said. "You've been on for two stops and I aint seen a transfer."
"Oh. I. Um," Edgar said, fumbling for his wallet. The pigeons scurried to the back of the bus, beneath notice.
"Well? You got short arms or deep pockets?"
"I'm sorry, you're just going so fast." Edgar showed the driver his bus pass. "Now, do you go uptown or not?"
The driver barely glanced at the pass. "Yeah, passed it three stops ago. And it's peak hours, your pass is only good for a dollar fifty. I need another dollar or you're off."
Edgar furrowed his brow. The city loomed grey and angular ahead, faint behind the thick curtain of rain and mist. "But we haven't even hit downtown yet," he said.
"Scenery just hasn't caught up with the windows. Anyway, last stop. Bus back the other way will be by in...well, it'll be by. Have your fair ready next time." The bus rolled to a stop at the northmost end of town, a sprawl of franchise business hotels and used car dealerships. The driver turned in his seat, shifting his impressive belly to rest on his thighs, and frowned at Edgar. "You trying to take up half my break? I said last stop."
"I'll be e-mailing the Transit Authority about this," Edgar said as he stepped off the bus and back into the thick, soupy afternoon. The doors swung closed behind him.
There was nothing to do but cross the street to the little bus shelter, a three-walled affair littered with cigarette butts and the odd syringe. A businessman sat on the one small bench, tapping his glossy black shoe, sporting a tan that placed him as a visitor from out of state. He checked his watch, then his phone, then craned his neck to peer up the road for the bus.
It's no use, Edgar thought. It's all too fast these days. You'll never see it coming. He stood beside the shelter in the rain and wished that the pigeons were still there. Pigeons were always such congenial folk. The tan businessman didn't even deign to look at Edgar, but his posture was overtly unwelcoming.
The view of the city from the north was unflattering, as if the towers and high-rises were presenting their backsides to the less savory part of town. Even the rain seemed dirtier.
A rumble from up the street; the bus turned the corner and rolled up to the bus stop at a perfectly ordinary speed. The businessman was on his feet in the flash, and cut in front of Edgar to board first. Edgar had his pass ready, plus one dollar because it was peak hours.
His knees ached after so much extra standing, but when he turned to finally sit, Edgar found the businessman in what would have been the last available seat. That shiny patent leather shoe tap-tap-tapped its impatient rhythm, and Edgar stumbled as the bus lurched away from the stop.
"Too slow, man," said a seagull with a tiny walker.
They'd get up for me if I had a walker, Edgar thought. He shuffled to the back of the crowded bus and leaned on one of the handrails. It was slick with grease and rain water. The whole bus was humid and rank with the smell of damp bodies in a warm, enclosed space.
They bounced along down neglected streets at the posted speed limit, arrow straight to the heart of the city. More and more people piled onto the bus, until there was hardly room to breath and they could only inch along at a painful crawl. It was late evening by then. Edgar stooped to look out one of the fogged windows and saw that the city was no closer than before. Too slow, he thought.
The bus pulled to a stop yet again to let more people on, an infinite stream of them, it seemed. Edgar darted out the back door, resolved to walk across town rather than wait for a bus so slow that it couldn't catch up with its destination. He made excellent time for a man on foot, but the rain was ceaseless and he arrived home sopping wet and grimy. Still, he was home, and after a hot shower and half of a cold beer, he fell into bed with no thought in his mind save for that of simply ceasing to move.
It seemed like only moments later that his alarm clock went off, and it was time to go from here to there again.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 20:16|
In true Thunderdome spirit, I finished this mere hours before the deadline, late at night, and have not edited it because I'm too tired.
Letting Go (1181 words)
“Mum... Mum, I’m sorry, but I need my space. I’m not a little boy any more. I have work to do. I mean, I love having you here, but if I don’t get this project finished on time...”
“That’s good. Carry on,” said Peter, relaxing into the leather armchair under the window.
“If I don’t get this project finished on time, my boss is gonna kill me. I’ve already taken off all my holidays, and all my sick days this year. I know you’re finding it hard to adjust, but I’ll still be there for you. I just... I need you to...”
“Need me to what?” replied Peter.
“I need you to hang around less. You always said how much freedom you’d have. You can go wherever you want! Why are you letting me hold you back? Don’t you want to see Tuscany, the Parthenon?”
Peter clapped slowly. Richard exhaled and fell back onto the sofa.
“That was decent enough,” said Peter, “Why don’t you just tell her that?”
“I dunno, man, it’s just every time I go to, something stops me.”
“Yeah, but you’ve gotta do it sooner or later, or you’ll be out of a job.”
“It just seems a bit, um, cruel,” said Richard.
“Nah, of course not. Like you said, she wants to see the world. And you can’t let her hang around for eternity. You’ve gotta have your own life.”
“I suppose so...”
“Glad that’s cleared up. Now are we gonna watch the game or not?”
The drive home from Peter’s was always hard. Peter lived in the middle of the countryside, which meant there were no streetlights anywhere. Small woodland animals, sick of their dull existences, dashed from the forest and hurled themselves under the car. Worse than that, the malevolent snickers of hobgoblins echoed from the darkness. None of this was any easier to cope with after four pints of Guinness.
When Richard got back to his apartment, the lights were all off - except the one in the living room. He could hear the sultry voice of David Attenborough explaining the mating habits of the African Dung Beetle.
“Mum,” he said, “I’m back.” There was no reply. He turned on the light in the hallway, took off his coat and shoes, and went into the living room. She was asleep on the sofa, her translucent and somewhat luminous arms dangling onto the floor. He reached out for her shoulder, but pulled away immediately. It was too cold for him to touch, and the feeling of dread that washed over him made him feel sick. Richard sighed. He’d forgotten that he couldn’t touch her any more. He got a blanket out the linen cupboard and put it over her, although he knew it wouldn’t do any good. She’d still be cold no matter what he did. Then he turned off the television and staggered off to bed.
As soon as Richard woke up the next day, he checked the clock. Ten in the morning. poo poo. In a flurry of action, he leaped out of bed and hurled himself into the shower. It wasn’t until he’d lathered lemon-scented soap all over himself that he realised it was Saturday.
He finished the rest of the shower at a more leisurely pace, groomed himself, and got dressed. As soon as he left his bedroom, the smell of fried bacon and eggs hit him. He went into the kitchen. His mother was there, wearing an apron and spreading butter on some toast. In the oven he could see a laden tray of hash browns. When she realised he was there, she turned around and smiled at him.
“I made some breakfast for you.”
Richard blinked. “Thanks, but why?”
“Because you’re so kind.” She giggled. He’d never heard his mother giggle before.
“Well. Thank you, but I don’t normally eat fried things.”
Her face dropped. Then she smiled at him again. “Oh, calm down, you.One little fry-up won’t kill you.”
Richard stared at her for a moment. There was a loud ping.
“Oh, the hash browns are done,” said his mother.
She served up and handed him the plate. He took it silently, looked at the mass of congealed fat in front of him, then went into the dining room and started eating. The greasy, stodgy texture of the food reminded him of the dinners he’d had to endure as a child. After a minute or two, she came in, sat down opposite him, and started talking about something or another. Richard feigned attention, but couldn’t concentrate on anything except his breakfast. Oil oozed from every bite, and he could swear the coagulated fat was headed straight for his heart. At last he managed to empty his plate.
“Mum,” he began, interrupting her lecture about immigration between the constituent states of the European Union and its economic impact on the working class.
“Yes?” She looked at him and smiled.
“Um. I don’t- Never mind. I’m going out in a bit. To see Joan.”
“My fiancé, mum. I introduced her to you just before your funeral, remember?”
“Oh. Her. Did you like your breakfast?”
“It was great. Thanks, mum. It was just what I needed.”
When Richard turned up at Joan’s apartment, on the opposite side of town, she was wearing nothing but a flower on each nipple. After sex and dinner, they cuddled together on the sofa, watching a show called Ultimate Home Videos, a fascinating found-footage documentary about unlikely but painful accidents. Joan nipped at his neck, then asked him: “What’s up with you and your mum?”
“Nothing. Everything’s fine.”
“Most people go travelling.”
“I don’t know.”
They watched the rest of the program in silence. As the credits rolled, Joan asked him if he wanted to stay the night.
“I can’t. I’ve got to make sure mum’s alright.”
“For God’s sake!”
“Nothing. Sorry. I’ll let you get back to her now.” And with that, she threw him out.
When Richard reached his apartment, it was dark. He could hear a newscaster’s voice. He went into the living room, turned off the television, and turned to look at the sofa. His mother wasn’t there.
He scanned the room frantically. No sign of her. Not the faintest hint of glowing, not a smatter of ectoplasm. Then he heard the sobbing. It was coming from his room.
She was curled up into a ball on the bedsheets and rocked back and forth, gasping, sobbing, choking for air.
“Mum,” he said. She didn’t respond.
“Mum!” The sobbing stopped, and was replaced by a faint moaning.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and watched her.
“Mum, are you all right?”
“Of course not!” she shouted. “Leave me alone.”
“What’s the matter?”
“What’s the matter what’s the matter what’s the matter? Why are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Why are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Oh, Christ... I’m sorry.” He leaned towards her, but by the time he reached her, there was nothing left but thin air.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 23:01|
First Time (1495 words)
Foolish as it seems now, in those days I considered myself weary and wise. I was well-schooled in mathematics, a polyglot by nature; I'd traveled through European hamlets and Turkish steppes, read my Freud and Marx and Wittgenstein, made friends and enemies of all stripes while inventing myself as connoisseur of worldly things. By twenty I felt capable and fulfilled in all areas except one: I had never been with a woman.
Like many late bloomers, I was a bit embarrassed by my inexperience. One evening, after a great many beers, I made the mistake of admitting this secret to my roommate, Sergio. He reacted with a combination of astonishment and sympathy.
“Seriously, Andy? Never? But the ladies love you!”
“Never,” I said. “I guess I could have, a few times. But it never really felt right.”
“You know what this means, don't you?”
“We've got to get you laid, son.”
I would have preferred a female guide, but as far as sexual gurus went, Sergio wasn't a bad choice. He was notorious for his conquests around campus, a Lothario of higher learning. Women could tell he meant business—he pounced upon them with silky dark hair, a lazy smile, a deep, sonorous voice. My own face wouldn't send anybody away screaming, but I lacked Sergio's magnetism, his swagger.
“I know exactly what you need,” he told me, a few hours later, at peak drunkenness. “Next Friday. Clear your schedule. If it's a warm night, you're becoming a man.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We're going to take a little drive. Up into the mountains.”
“Sergio, I like you and everything, but I think I'd prefer my first time to be with a chick.”
He laughed and clapped me on the back, a shock of hair falling into his eyes.
“Just wait and see, man. Just wait and see.”
It was clear to me we were headed toward a frat party out in the wilderness, frisky co-eds roasting marshmallows at the RV park, something along those lines. But this was a lack of imagination on my part.
Friday rolled around, and Sergio quickly went to work dismantling my preconceptions. We left our grungy college apartment in Serge's VW bus, heading down the freeway on a balmy June night. We ended up driving two hours, south, into territory unfamiliar to me.
“You want to tell me where we're going?” I asked, after the second hour had ticked by and we had wound higher up the hazy mountain on an unmarked dirt trail.
“We're almost there. Words won't do it justice. You'll have to see for yourself.”
Finally Sergio reached the terminus of the road, a sloped grove speckled with fireflies.
“I grew up in the foothills around here,” Sergio said. “This is where it happened for me.”
“I can't say.” He grinned. “Walk straight into the thicket up ahead. You'll know it when you see it.”
“You're not coming with me?”
“Nope. You've got to do this on your own.”
I stared into the thicket, but saw only darkness.
“This is a joke, right?”
Sergio didn't reply. He lit a cigarette, pulled a magazine out from beneath his seat, and said: “I'll be waiting here when you get back.”
Annoyed but curious, I left the van and started toward the grove. Moonlight afforded some visibility, but I saw nothing up ahead aside from clusters of trees and shrubbery.
“This is bullshit,” I muttered, kicking rocks as I walked. If this were some kind of practical joke, Sergio would be looking for a new roommate very soon.
Distracted by my irritation, I didn't realized I had emerged from the grove and into a clearing. Before me was a small pond, fringed with lilypads. The surface of the pond sparkled like seltzer, and more fireflies buzzed overhead, agitated.
In the middle of the pond was a woman.
I crept closer, squinting, positive this had to be some sort of Appalachian Fata-Morgana, a trick of the moonlight. I called out:
“Hello? Who's there?”
The woman turned, smiling, her eyelids lowering to slits. She was real, all right, and naked as a newborn.
The air pulsed with a singular electricity, stiffening the hairs on my arm. Some endothermic fluctuation had occurred, and steam rose from the pond, covering me in a silken, sublimate mist. I spoke again, afraid she hadn't understood.
"Ca va, mon amie? Qu'est que passe?"
No answer. It's probably superfluous to note that she was gorgeous. Dove white skin, sun-dappled golden curls belaying down her back. Round, full breasts with pink nipples.
"Hola? Que pasa contiga?"
Nope. I even threw a "salve, dulcis" in there for good measure. Finally, the woman grew tired of toying with me.
“Are you going to stand there all day, or are you going to come in?”
“You speak English?”
She rolled her eyes.
“Take off your clothes and come join me.”
This was no ordinary co-ed. How could she be, bathing in this pond a million miles from nowhere? This was some elemental creature, a spirit of the mountain. A nymph, a naiad. I shivered.
“Don't be bashful. Come on in.”
I didn't stop to contemplate existential or supernatural questions. Here was a nubile, naked young thing before me, and I was a red-blooded male. I shed my clothes, eager but apprehensive. My legs felt like reflections of legs. I stepped into the warm waters, until I was face to face with her.
“What's your name?” she asked.
“Andy,” I said, summoning some unwarranted confidence.
“Thanks,” I said, turning crimson. “You're cute. Come here often?”
Daphne wrapped her arms around me. This would not be a courtship with much conversation. Before I knew it, her lips had pressed against mine. It was no ordinary kiss. My innards swelled with an Aphroditic wind. My loins sprang to life.
I'll spare you the actual details of my deflowering. It was short-lived but passionate, I can say that much. When it was over, we stood basking in the sultry glow of the fireflies, an idiotic smile plastered on my face.
“I like you,” Daphne said, running a slender finger down to my navel. “Stay here with me.”
“I'd like to,” I said. “But I have to run.” I thought of Sergio, waiting in the van. I had to tell him what happened.
“What? You're leaving?”
“You're lovely. But I can't stay here all night, can I?”
“No,” she said, grabbing my arm. I felt an icy chill in my lungs. The fireflies were going crazy, like a swarm of bees.
“I'm sorry,” I said. “I'll return soon.”
“You can't leave,” Daphne said, and her eyes flashed with elemental fury. I clambered out of the pond, searching for my pants. “Come back here!”
The pleasant mist had evaporated. An angry hail began to rain from the heavens, pelting me with golf-ball sized chunks. I shielded my head.
“You need to stay here with me!”
I heard the churn of a fierce wind, a pitch-black funnel cloud forming in the sky. I high-tailed it back to the fan, startling a sleeping Sergio.
“Go!” I yelled, as the roiling wind chased us. Sergio hammered on the gas, and we sped down the mountain, escaping just seconds ahead of the tornado.
“What happened?” Sergio asked, once we were clear of the hysteria.
“I got laid,” I said, breathless. “Then she got crazy.”
“Hmm, yeah,” Sergio said. “I guess you left kinda quickly.”
“And you didn't?”
“Nah. I stayed there for like two days straight.”
I returned to college life, and things were normal for a while. Then, nine months later, a baby appeared on my doorstep.
There was no note attached, but the tyke was swaddled in birch bark, his basket a bundle of reeds. He had my eyes, and Daphne's golden locks. Terrified, I ordered to Sergio to drive us back to the grove, my lovechild wailing the entire way in the backseat. I trudged back out to confront the nymph, but she was gone. The pond was frozen over, a thick piece of glass.
I couldn't simply leave him there. I named him Andrew Jr., and reluctantly accepted the mantle of adult responsibility.
I never heard from Daphne again. Junior's in the other room, playing video games now. I've grown to love him, but I've noticed the torrential rains when he gets moody, the lightning flashing from nowhere when he scrapes his knee, the freak blizzards when he gets bored.
So if anyone ever tells you she can't get pregnant the first time, I've got an elemental child and a few words to say about it.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 23:28|
Of Conviction and Man
By the time Brad Pendle arrived at the beach, a large crowd had gathered.
“Come on people, move it, MAMA coming through, let me see this thing,” he said.
He shouldered his way through the gawkers and yokels, and stopped in his tracks. Mountainous grey flesh towered over Brad. The largest sperm whale Brad had ever seen lay beached in front of him, motionless. Squirming slightly on the skin of the whale were thousands of lice, fighting their open air death.
A faint whine came from the whale.
“Been doing that a few times,” a man next to Brad said.
“Well what are you people waiting for? Help this poor creature,” Brad said. Rushing to the whale, Brad used his baseball cap to knock enough lice away so he could put his hands on the whale hide. No one else moved.
“We have to get this whale back into the water, or it’ll die!”
The crowd stood silent.
“Everything has a right to live, damnit!”
Slowly the crowd moved in, one by one. They braced in the wet sand, shallow waves wetting the cuffs of their pants. More whines came from the front of the whale. Brad patted the thick hide of the beast, “just hang on a little longer.”
Sand gave way, and the whale moved, and with a mighty heave, the dozens of pushers shifted the bulk. Whines grew louder as the body moved.
“Hurry! We’re almost there!” Brad shouted.
The mob redoubled their efforts and the whale moved even further, but suddenly the weight shifted, causing the whale to roll. The mass got away from the crowd, flopping onto its side, where its jaw snapped open.
Crawling out of the mouth, a ghostly pale, naked, emaciated man clambered out. Gray hair, and wild eyes, he made an awful whining sound. Shielding his eyes, even from the overcast sky, he darted around. The crowd pulled back, leaving Brad standing there in shock.
The man’s beard hung down to his distended belly and it swished back and forth as he ran around the front of the whale. Yellowed, long fingernails scratched at the whale’s skin, and the man whined. Brad realized the man was calling to the whale. Trying to talk to it.
He slowly approached the naked, old man. Taking his jacket off, he didn’t want to spook the man any further. He held out his jacket and put it around the shoulders of the wiry man, who sank to his knees, whining furiously and interruptedly. The old man all but collapsed into Brad’s arms, startling Brad by how little he weighed.
“For god’s sake someone call 911,” Brad shouted.
“Where did you say you were from again,” a man in rubber coveralls asked Brad.
“MAMA, Marine Animal Maritime Activists,” Brad said.
“MAMA, aren’t you those fellahs that set fire to that fishin-“
“That’s absolutely untrue, an engine malfunction caused that fire, and they attempted to sue us, and I must add unsuccessfully,” Brad snapped.
“Well, not my concern, I’m just glad you’re on our side,” the man said.
“I can’t thank you enough for asking me to be here, Dr. Maynard,” Brad said. “This man has helped our cause immensely.”
“He keeps asking for you, hopefully this will put him at ease.”
On the dock Dr. Maynard and Brad stood, watching porters load up the research vessel with equipment and supplies. Three months had passed since Brad found the man, now dubbed Jonah by the researchers, inside the whale.
“We’ll really be able to prove the sentience of these majestic creatures,” Brad said. “An end to barbarism as we know it.”
“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” Dr. Maynard said.
A white van glided slowly up to the loading zone. Other researchers poured of the van, covered in thick shirts and jackets. Helped gingerly, Jonah emerged from the back of the van, wide eyed and open mouthed.
Laying eyes on Brad, Jonah began making high pitched whining sounds. Jonah rushed over, his hair had been groomed and trimmed, his nails pruned. Still pale, but the sunken face was gone, replaced with healthier, fuller skin. Jonah patted Brad on arms and shoulders excitedly.
“Now Jonah, remember, use your words,” Dr. Maynard said. Jonah looked at Dr. Maynard and nodded his head.
“H-hello, Brad! Brad! Friend!”
“Hello, Jonah!” Brad said.
“Come, Jonah, we have to get you ready for the boat,” a researcher said. Jonah began to protest.
”He’s coming with us,” Dr. Maynard said. “You will see Brad soon.”
“Soon!” Jonah said, smiling once again. The other scientists escorted Jonah to the boat, where they disappeared over the gangway.
“I just can’t believe it,” Brad said, watching them go.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? We haven’t had much time to teach him to fully grasp English, but he’s made remarkable progress.”
“How did he live in there?” Brad asked.
“From the looks of it, he scavenged whatever the whale ate, raw squid, various plant material and detritus, sea lice. But really, we have no idea. It’s baffling. It should be impossible,” Dr. Maynard said shaking his head. “As far as we can tell, he’s been in that whale since he was a child. He remembers his parents, in vague terms, but they existed at one point.”
“Phenomenal. A bridge between two worlds,” Brad said staring out into the ocean.
“That’s the hope, anyway.”
“Proof that all mammals can feel, experience joy, and suffering. This poor soul will be able to end the suffering of all creatures,” Brad said. “Just remarkable.”
“This is a process, Mr. Pendle. We can’t hinge our dreams on speculation,” Dr. Maynard said.
Jonah stood on the prow of the vessel, staring into the night. High pitched whines came from deep in his throat.
”Are you homesick?” Brad asked.
The bearded man turned to Brad with a puzzled look on his face. Jonah shook his head.
“Right. I mean, did you have friends?”
“Ah,” Jonah said. He pointed to Brad, and pointed back at himself. “Friends. You. I. Before, no friends.”
“No whale friends?”
“No. No. Whale not friend. No whale has friend.”
“But your songs,” Brad said. Brad tried to imitate Jonah’s calls.
Jonah smiled. “It is not thing. Whale understand eat, hurt, danger. No understand friend.” Jonah balled his fist, “No hate. No bad.” He loosened his hand, and touched his arm tenderly, “No love. No good.”
“I don’t understand, what about their families?”
Jonah screwed up his face and sneered. “I had family. I had family! Whale not family.”
He turned back to the empty night and sang to the ocean. Brad watched him, goosebumps rolling down his arms; tingling and sending waves of nervousness across his skin. Pulses came from Brad’s chest, thumping, sending each wave of sensation crashing and rebounding. Jonah sang, a whine with a spike in the middle, and trailing off in the end. Repeating over and over.
“What are you saying?” Brad asked.
“Do whales think?” Brad said, pointing to his head.
Jonah turned back to him. Pointing to his head, “I think. You think,” he said, pointing to Brad’s head. “Whale no think. Whale animal. I person. You person. Whale animal.”
“That can’t be,” Brad said. “They have to-“
“Whale no think!” Jonah shouted. “Whale do! No hate. No love. No regret. No heart!” Jonah shouted, pounding himself on the chest. “I person! I hate! I hate!” Spittle formed at the sides of Jonah’s mouth, getting trapped in his beard.
Jonah turned back to the ocean, his shouting turning into sobs. Sobs, shouts and whines mixing into one pitiful bleat. A whale spout came up nearby, causing Jonah to lean over the rail and shout. Only anger now. His hands gripped the rails so he could lean further. Jonah screamed until he was hoarse and the shouts became swallowed by the splashing wake and wind.
Sea spray and tears stung Brad’s face. He drew closer to Jonah, who was still leaning over the edge of the boat. Pulling his hands out of his jacket pockets, he took his hands out of his mittens. His stomach wrenched, twisting like licorice.
Brad didn’t breath, just kept it in his throat. Hands outstretched, he drew closer to Jonah. One slow step, hoping silently Jonah wouldn’t turn. Right behind the Whale-Man, Brad bent at the knees and braced himself.
Throwing his weight against Jonah, Brad grabbed low, around the waist and leg. In one smooth motion, he sent Jonah up and over the rail. It was over an instant. Jonah thrashed in the air like a ragdoll before splashing into the blackness of the ocean. Brad never saw his face, but heard the faintest whine for the briefest moment, before the wake and engine covered up everything.
|# ? Mar 2, 2013 23:36|
Here goes nothing.
A Curious Tree (1334 Words)
Let me ask you this, friends: how many people do you think have died since, oh, Don Quixote was first put to paper?
Or another one: how many years do you think are left before the angels return?
Oh, or my favorite--you know why: do you imagine we'll ever see the stars?
These are the questions that filled my head all day--Mama used to say I needed something to fill it! But it was good to have something to think about. Questions that, if not exactly in need of an answer, might still have one that could be puzzled out. I don't need to tell you that farm work is boring, friends, and it was good to have something to think about besides straight furrows, bumper crops and keeping Maria happy--that'd be my donkey, ladies.
Distractions came and went, of course. Deaths, most obviously. Neither my Mama nor my Father are still with us. My little brother, he left one day for the city. Happy marriages a few miles up and down the road, and then of course I could tell you all about the unhappy ones too.
But you came to hear about my apple tree, didn't you?
No, of course not! But that's where it started: when my old apple tree, that I'd grown up with, climbed too many times to count, eaten from and played beneath, died. Struck by lightning, a bolt from the heavens! (Although I suppose I shouldn't complain, I know many who suffered worse in that same storm.)
Well, when the rubble was cleared I was obviously still in want of an apple tree. Now of course you say, quite rightly I might add, that I could have just replanted one of the fruit from the tree. That's what they're there for, no?
But my Father was a traveller in his youth. And when he settled down he brought many seeds, from many parts of the world, and usually once a season he would try to grow one of them in a little patch by our house. Many times they died, but when they didn't--I wish you could have seen them my friends! Ah, how strange and wonderful. So it was down to the cellar I went, to see if he had collected any special apple seeds. And it was just minutes later I returned, holding one between my fingers. "Look at it!" I said to myself. "It's as big as my fingertip! And see how healthy it is, it seems to radiate from within!"
This would be the moment to laugh, friends.
So yes, I planted the seed not far from where the old apple tree had fallen. And I forgot about it, for the most part. Made sure it was tended to, yes, but otherwise did not dwell on it--after all, I had so many more fascinating questions to ask myself.
So a season passed in relative peace, then another, and before I knew it spring had come again. And one night I noticed my big seed had sprouted into a little sapling. Except something was--odd, shall we say. At the very least.
The sapling itself was all black, almost charred like it, too had been struck by lightning, and indeed I had heard thunder the night before though no rain. Its surface felt cool to the touch, even under the noon sun, and was full of knots and cracks like a much older tree. And its fruit, if it could be called that--tiny things like pinheads, which were to be expected, I suppose. But at night! Flickering and pulsing--they glowed like old fireflies.
For weeks and months I let it be, a strange curiosity but not an alarming one. Eventually it became the three of us--Maria, the tree and I. For a quiet year we worked our little farm, and then one summer day I offered Maria one of its fruit. She looked at it cockeyed, simple eyes following the glow underneath its flesh like she would a wolf prowling just inside the forest.
But eventually she stretched her neck and turned up her lip and took a bite.
Then she brayed and spat out a broken tooth.
I tried one of them myself, and while I certainly wasn't going to lose a tooth to them, I can confirm for poor Maria that yes, those fruit were quiet inedible.
I hardly knew what to do. I confess, my friends, I am a sentimental creature and was quite fond of that little tree. And I was leery to cut it down regardless. After a few days of thought I finally decided n I would call my brother.
He had left in a huff for the city to become a man of science. Because of my little oddity it was not so hard to pull him back. After a week he returned, bringing with him all sorts of strange instruments and devices. After investigating my tree he came and told me that my tree was, apparently, "completely unknown to science."
It was while we were discussing this that I recalled the seedks origin in Father's cache. Though he tried to impress on us the importance of staying out of his things, usually at the end of a belt, he was not quite successful, and before long we found his journal.
That is where we come to the interesting part of our story, my friends.
His journal contained recounts of many fantastic journeys and voyages, but most pertinent to us we found a sketch and description of our mysterious seed, along with directions to its point of origin and latter scribblings wondering why he had ever went there and how he had ever returned.
Needless to say we set off immediately.
For days and nights we followed Father's trail through the forest and up into mountains where no roads have ever been built. We survived cold nights and wild creatures together. And it was nothing compared to what we found when we descended into the valley my father described.
From it sprouted a vast tree, huge enough to make mountains into pebbles. Each root was like a highway, each branch more marvelous than a skyscraper. And when we made camp beneath it and looked up into its shade, we saw the night sky, each fruit a star in its boughs.
I knew I had to climb it.
My brother was not so enthused.
I did not care.
Its roots led no small distance up the treeks height, so from there I had a decent start. surface was not unlike my little tree, with many small cracks and knots for handholds. Foot by foot, yard by yard, I climbed, up and up and up. Before long I lost sight of my brother's fire, then the ground itself, somewhere in the tree's shadows.
Instead I had the boughs themselves for company. I could look down any of them, as broad as a boulevard, and see stars hanging from them, swaying gently in the wind. Sometimes I'd look down and wonder if the world was spinning beneath me, all the continents and oceans, but instead all I saw were more stars.
But those were not all I saw, my friends. Falling stars that streaked through the dark, screaming like hellions. Floating clouds of strange gas, all colors of the rainbow. Will-o-wisps, wandering heedless, feeling over stars, plucking them up and sucking their cores out in moments.
Even still I climbed. Miles and miles it must have been. No light above and only starlight below. I think it was the third day I consigned myself to death there, fell on my knees and begged to go home.
Then I saw a light from above. Distant, like a torchlight down a well, but I saw it nonetheless. Somehow I climbed to my feet, and then up toward the open sky.
I don't know what I expected to see up there. I don't know what you expect either.
But I'm here now, aren't I?
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 00:44|
But you, brothers, are not in darkness - Word Count: 1496
Pavel was deep, deeper than he had ever dared go before. There was a running competition as to who could go the deepest in the caves. Last week Ilya had gone and broken his record, or claimed she had. He secretly thought she might be a liar but he didn't say so. That was no fun. So he had snuck out after school to regain his glory.
Lights were against the rules. 542 paces in, it was pitch black and very cold. They measured the game in footsteps, as if there was no difference in stride length. It was a rule adults couldn't understand. One parent had offered them a coiled rope measure once, to see exactly how deep they had gone. Childish insight sees often clearer into human matters than an adult's. The long-strided man after ten paces with his eyes closed is as uneasy as the short-strided man. It was a test of bravery, not of strength.
Ilya said she had gone for 484, so Pavel could have stopped already. But he wanted to cement his place at the top of the pile for weeks to come. So he went deeper.
He was on the cusp of breaking the six hundred barrier when it happened. A voice had boomed out and stopped him mid-step.
His foot hovered above the ground, frozen in terror. A floating lantern of light stepped out in his path, and behind it an old woman. The woman growled at him in a guttural tongue he didn't understand and stepped towards him. Pavel burst into tears. He had found a witch, and now she was going to eat him. His mother had told him it wasn't safe to go into the old mines but he hadn't listened.
The witch kept talking at him, voice changing all the time, no doubt casting some evil spell that would cover him in butter and salt. Then real words came out of her mouth, crooked and hoarse:
“What are you doing here, boy?” the witch asked.
“Please don't eat me!” he squeaked plaintively.
At that, the witch released a cruel cackle and he knew that she was definitely a witch and was definitely going to eat him.
“Idiot child. I am not going to eat you.”
But as she said it, one of her bony hands shot out like a viper and grabbed his.
“Come, what are you doing playing down these mines? It is dangerous without a light. Does anybody know you are here?”
Pavel shook his head. She tsked and began to pull him against his will. Her strength was irresistible. She was pulling him to her cauldron, he was sure of it. He had read books about it and witches were always like that. Pretending to be nice first to get him to trust her. Though she was quite rude for a witch. She wouldn't fool anyone as a sweet old lady.
Her lair was disappointing. Bare stone walls and exposed light-bulbs replaced gingerbread walls, giant ovens and cauldrons. She didn't even seem to have a cat. He was about to give her the benefit of the doubt, but there was a broomstick in the corner. His suspicions were renewed. There were also piles of books and lots of candles lying around. Very witch-y.
“If you aren't a witch,” he baited the trap carefully “then why do you live in a cave?”
“I never said I wasn't a witch, boy. I said I wasn't going to eat you.”
This answer sent him into a shocked silence. He was already undergoing something of epiphany, being at the age where he was beginning to knowingly enjoy the fiction of dragons and goblins, rather than see them as real. But now, the sands had shifted.
However, the seeds of cunning were planted deep in him.
“If you are a real witch,” he narrowed his eyes “then show me a spell.”
The challenge was set. The hag grinned with a set of dirty, yellow teeth.
She went over to a bookshelf and pulled out a spellbook. She wet her thumb and flicked through it. She settled on a page and passed the book over to Pavel.
“Pick any word and I shall know. I can read your mind.”
Pavel goggled at the pages. There were a great many words he didn't recognise. He turned away secretively and hid the pages from her view. He chose a complicated looking one he didn't know and turned back.
“Done!” he beamed.
She took the book away from him, closed her eyes and began to mutter some incantation. He was mesmerised. Her finger traced down the pages, then settled on a word. She knelt down and showed him the word she was pointing to.
Pavel's jaw dropped in a show of raw honesty.
“I told you so.”
Then she smiled.
Boy, I have an offer for you. I live in a cave because I wish to be alone. So you mustn't tell anyone you found me. In exchange I'll give you a spellbook. How does that sound?”
Pavel nodded vigorously. She left and returned with a great hidebound tome. Exactly like a spellbook should look like. She handed it over with great gravitas. Excitedly, he opened it the moment it left her fingers.
But it was all in gobbledygook. He couldn't read it a bit. He was crestfallen and looked at her with betrayal in his eyes.
She wagged her finger at him. “It is written in a magic tongue. It will only make sense gradually, so long as you keep your promise. If you break your promise, you will never be able to read it.”
His excitement was rekindled. She bade him goodbye and he ran off back up the mineshaft, game forgotten. He hid the book in his satchel. It was late when he got back and his parents asked him where he had been. He lied easily.
He never spoke a word of the witch. Pavel spent hours studying the book in libraries and under the sheets. It was written in codes, in jumbles of glyphs, symbols and diagrams. Yet, as he uncovered at painstaking length, it was no spellbook. It was a diary, containing the life of a witch., He became obsessed with discovering the truth.. Twelve years and seven days after he had met her, he completed his work. The book lay open; his final translation scribbled on a single sheet.
This shall be my final entry. It is the evening of 5th April 1971, and tomorrow I shall be leaving society. I doubt I shall ever return, the risks are too great. Dear reader, you have already heard much of my trials. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing in my sadness. No doubt you have many questions. I cannot hope to answer them all, but I hope that this will suffice.
I am one for whom life was an endless plateau. For whom everything was of dwindling insignificance. I possessed a Midas' touch that turned all trivial. The greatest questions of physics, mathematics, philosophy were as clear to me as the sun in the sky. There existed nothing I ever found that was more than a mere diversion. I could have dedicated myself to the betterment of humankind, but I did not. You may find that decision unforgivable. You may think me cold and distant, looking upon my fellow kind as I would ants or termites.
There may be an element or truth in that, as there is in all things, but believe me when I say it was for the best. People are not ready for my counsel, but more than that, it is not my place to give it. It is not the lot of the one to replace the many. It would be the robbery of the valiant exertions that make up our finest moments. I would become a thief of the greater part of your future, and that I cannot do.
So I am leaving now, not for my good but for yours. Take heart that, barring the unforeseeable, things will turn out for the best. The human heart is a fickle thing, but it always tends to the correct course, in time.
Pavel left Moscow in haste and returned to the quarry. Down again the mine where he had once counted footsteps in the dark. But the old woman was gone, and all that she owned; all save a single candle that burned in the middle of the cave. All around, his shadow waltzed across the walls to the whims of the flame. Pavel picked the candle up. It was dangerous without a light.
He pinched the wick. It was a test of bravery, not of strength. The shaft went deeper still, even for a short-strided man such as himself.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 03:03|
Here is a story from 'Man Holding Goat.' 731 words.
Acting Goat in Charge of HR
Gonna taste that guy’s jacket.
“Maybe not the best time right now, Cuthbert,” said Archie.
“What’d he say?”
“He was just commenting on your jacket.”
“Ah, good eye on that goat. It’s a one of a kind, this jacket.” Robert took the jacket off and draped it over his seat back.
Ugliest jacket I’ve ever seen.
“It’s, uh, it’s certainly unique.”
“It’s a power jacket, that’s what it is. For people who want to be power players.” Robert paused and looked pointedly at Archie’s plain black jacket. “I guess your jacket’s fine if you’re happy projecting an aura of mediocrity.”
This guy’s a power tool, is what he is. Never mind taste, think I might eat his jacket.
“Uh, how about we see your presentation?”
“Right, so as you can see from this graph, our productivity is way up this quarter.”
I can’t see a drat thing from that graph.
“Cuthbert has raised an interesting point,” said Archie, “in that you don’t seem to have any labels on that graph.”
Robert glanced down at his presentation. “Oh! Ha ha, I’m so used to these things that I forget that not everyone is as experienced at reading them as I am. I’ll have an idiot’s guide sent over when I’m done. No offence of course, that’s just what we call them in house.”
Definitely eating the jacket. Don’t care how bad it tastes, it’s getting eaten.
“All right, so would I be right in inferring that the rest of the presentation is similarly unlabelled?”
Robert shrugged. “There’s one or two graphs that might not go over your head, I suppose. Let me see… ah yes, this one.”
That graph’s even more useless.
“There’s still no labels, I see.”
Robert looked down at the graph. “Yes, but I assumed that this one was so simple that even you… well, never mind.”
Can we skip to where I eat his jacket?
“Ah, we might skip to Cuthbert’s analysis, Rob, if that’s all right.”
“Sure, remind me again why this mangy goat is in this meeting.”
I don’t have mange. I do have a sudden hankering for ugly jacket.
“I can assure you, Rob, that Cuthbert is one hundred percent mange free. Cuthbert is in charge of human resources.”
And disposing of hideous articles of clothing.
“And dis- and that’s it actually. Cuthbert, which taste sheet will we go with today?”
“Taste sheet?” Robert looked puzzled.
“Helps him concentrate.” Archie took the fruit sheet out of his top drawer and passed it to Cuthbert, who started nibbling the edges.
Hmm. Apple. Nice. Bit of plum there.
“Is this gonna take long?” Robert asked.
Tomato. What the heck is that doing on a fruit sheet? Wait. I’m smelling desperation sweat. Also cigarettes.
“Are you a smoker, Rob?”
“Yeah, actually, mind if I have a smoke?” He pulled a cigarette out and put it to his lips.
Gross. But yeah, get rid of him.
“You’ll have to take that outside,” said Archie. “I think Cuthbert and I have some things to discuss.”
Robert wandered out the door, although Archie noticed he’d lit up before he got all the way out of the building.
“So what’s the deal, Cuthbert?”
He’s worried about something. I think there’s a reason he made his graphs hard to read. We need to run an internal audit on his project.
“You got all that from desperation sweat?”
Don’t doubt the nose.
“All right, I’ll get on it.”
Hmmm, he left his jacket here.
“Try to restrain yourself.”
Just get that audit done.
Archie nodded and wandered off to the audit team.
Robert didn’t even finish his cigarette before the audit turned up sufficient evidence for his dismissal. Archie didn’t tell him this; just thanked him for his presentation and nodded when Robert said he’d try to get around to sending out the ‘idiot’s guide’.
“Thanks,” said Archie, “no hurry.”
Robert took his jacket and his graphs and left.
“Glad to see you managed to hold back,” said Archie.
Yeah, his jacket smelled bad.
Do you want to know what it smelled like?
“Sure, why not.”
It smelled a little bit like someone had done a poo in all of the jacket’s pockets. Including the hidden pocket on the inside.
“That’s gross, dude.”
We can consider it his severance pay.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 03:15|
I'd just gotten off the train when I stumbled into the quest. On my way to work, merging seamlessly into the mass of humanity heading towards their various places of employment, when a homeless guy leaps out in front of me and starts ranting about something or other. Honestly I barely even noticed it the first time, just ducked my head and kept walking, but then he popped up in front of me again. I got a snatch of what he was saying this time.
“Doom! Doom is befalling this city!” Okay, I think, standard homeless guy rant. Motor on past him, wait for the light, cross the street, and he pops up again, waving his arms, spit flying everywhere. “Dire portents abound! The binding seals deep within” Jesus Christ this guy just will not shut up. I try to ignore him extra hard as I move past, really let him know how much I'm not paying attention to him. But here he is again! “Forces are even now being set into motion that will remake this entire world!” Then he dropped the bomb. “You have been chosen to right this!” he screamed, pointing directly at me.
I stopped dead, people flowing around me. “Ohhhhhh no. You're a Merlin? Is this a loving quest?”
He started jumping from one foot to the other in excitement now that he'd gotten my attention. Around us, everyone looked up sharply at the q-word and then gave us more space. No one wanted to get sucked in.
“Yes!” he cried, “Yes! You will go on a journey to distant wilds and the bowels of the earth! You...”
“God-dammit,” I said, cutting him off in mid rant. “Hold on.” I pulled out my phone and started punching in the number to work. “Because of course this had to happen, I'm just so naturally lucky....Brian? Hey, it's Jess. Look, I just got a quest. Yeah. How important?” I covered the speaker. “Hey, one to ten, how, uh, doom-y is this?”
“Woe! Woe upon us all if the balance is not restored, woe upon this miserable..”
“Yeah, yeah, Brian? Sounds pretty important, don't think I can ditch it. Yes. Yes I know I'm out of vacation days, can I just take a sick day to cover this? Well yes I know HR doesn't like that but I don't have much of a choice. Look, it's not as if I scheduled this, just caught it on the street. Okay. Well go ahead and make the note but please put that it was due to circumstances outside my control. Okay. Thank you.” I hung up and stared at the sky for a second, then shook my head. “Christ, what an rear end in a top hat.”
I turned toward the Merlin. “Aright, let's get this over with.”
* * *
He led me to a park, people avoiding us the whole way since I basically had a giant neon sign over me saying QUESTING, INTERACT WITH ME TO BECOME INVOLVED.
“You must complete three tasks!” he said, walking down the path quickly enough that I had to jog a bit to keep up with him. “First, you must aid the Pigeon King! Second, you must slay the dread Squamous! Thirdly, you must reinvigorate the tree at the heart of the city!”
“I don't suppose you're going to tell me how I'm supposed to do any of that, right?”
“No I will not!” he said triumphantly. “Because I have no idea!”
“Can you tell me where to go, at least?
“Yes! There!” he said, pointing shakily at a large flock of pigeons just to our right.
I was ready to get this over with so I just walked over and stood nearby. None of them looked particularly regal so I just cleared my throat and addressed them all.
“Hello, I'm here to help the Pigeon King?”
They all swiveled their heads to stare at me simultaneously, giving me some serious heebie-jeebies in the process. Then one especially large one strutted forward and gave me the most arrogant look I've seen on a pigeon before or since.
“Greetings, your majesty,” I said, unsure of how to address the lord of flying rats and trying to keep it simple.
The bird eyed me for a second, then cooed imperiously and fluttered over towards a park bench with an old woman on it. It landed on top of her and cooed a few more times.
Okay, so it wanted me to help her or something? I walked over and tapped her on the shoulder. “Miss? Hi, the pigeon that landed on you is...Miss?” She wasn't responding so I leaned a bit closer. “Miss....oh my god she's dead.” I jumped back. “Oh my god.” I whipped out my phone and was about to dial 911 when I noticed that his highness had flapped onto her lap and was pecking at something in her hands.
“Hey, stop that,” I said, then had a horrible realization when I saw that she was holding a jar of seeds.
“You want me to pry that from her hands, don't you.” I said.
The pigeon cooed.
* * *
One necrotic grappling session later, I was re-evaluating my stance that I was basically a nice person. Thankfully my Merlin was already moving on to my next task.
“Climb down into this sewer!” he yelled.
“I hate this quest.”
* * *
“TREMBLE, puny mortal!” bellowed the creature rearing up in front of me. “Tremble at the sight of the Squamous! Long have I lain coiled in the noisome depths beneath your city, and now I seek to journey to the other side of existence! Therefore you must, hang on,” it said, bending down an eye stalk. “You're not wearing heels.”
“Why does that matter?” I demanded.
“Because that was how you were supposed to kill me. It was why I specifically requested a female,” he said, a bit petulantly I thought.
“I'm a bank teller, I'm on my feet all day.”
“Look, do you have anything at all that you could use to kill me? ”
“Uhhh. Hold on, think I've got a nail file in here somewhere,” I said, rummaging through my purse.
“A nail file? Is it sharp?”
I waggled my hand. “Ish.”
“Fantastic. I'm about to be killed by a sharp-ish object. Well, might as well get this over with,” it said, bending down. “There's a soft spot right behind my third head.”
* * *
I don't know if you've ever wanted to kill a netherbeast with a nail clipper but I can assure you it's horrifying. It was a hemophilliac, for one thing. So when I climbed out of the sewer I was not feeling my freshest. I was scrubbing my hands on my jeans as hard as possible and wishing I'd remembered to pick up more hand sanitizer. Some paramedics had finally arrived and were wheeling the corpse away.
“So what's next?” I asked grimly. “Where's this tree?”
The Merlin let out a crazed laugh. “The tree is already saved! By generously helping your fellow inhabitants, you have preserved this city from a moral decay that would have destroyed its proverbial heart! The moral was empathy the entire time!”
I stared for a second, then kicked him in the balls as hard as I could. Spent the rest of the day dealing with the cops after he pressed assault charges.
I hate quests.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 03:35|
Urania (976 words)
She was a brilliant teacher. Beautiful, too. Tall, slender and pale, with her golden long golden hair hanging to her sides. She also didn’t spoke out loud, preferring to have her students sat on the floor next to her.
Her usual method of teaching was through drawing. She always arrived at school few seconds after the security. She would then spend from 5 in the morning to the first bell at 9 am drawing something on the blackboard. It was always related to space. Sometimes it would be the solar system with 9 planets, sometimes it would be the surface of astronomical objects, with the grooves and bumps of Europa being her favourite. When she was drawing she’d ignore everything else. We would put our homework on her table, sat on our desk and stayed silent until she finished drawing.
When her session started, she would begin by telling recent news about space. She would talk about new planets sighted in far-flung galaxies, possible sightings or unlikely objects in the universe, like a planet made out of diamonds or a humongous floating pool of liquid water, just like tap water. We then would ask her about her astronaut husband. When we ask if astronauts use big trampolines to practice walking on the moon, she nodded and smiled. She would spoke at length about the cool ‘games’ astronauts play on the rocket to stave off their boredom.
After half an hour, her entire body would turn incorporeal. First her skin would turn paler, and then she would hop in place, before her weight would disappear as she floated in the air. To anyone watching from the outside, the classroom would be empty. For each of the student, however, they were floating in the dark, accompanied only by her and her shining golden hair.
She grabbed my hand and both of us flew faster than I could ever imagine. In a minute I could see the cracking rings of Neptune. Back then I thought I could hear the sounds of metallic cogs clanging and banging in the atmosphere of Neptune, seemingly in rhythm. In the next minute, we came across Uranus and its shadowy rings, filled with small eyes. She seemed to notice my fear and we quickly moved on to Saturn and its giant concentric circles of candy, surrounded by its tasty moons. I would drool as the aroma of freshly-roasted peanuts, coming especially from Iapetus, whiffed past me.
Here I begged for her to let me stay just a while longer, to let me take in all the flavours of Saturn. She removed her hand and I swam to the candy rings, opening my mouth wide just to have a bite at the scrumptious looking chocolate band. It tasted good. Even after 32 years I hadn’t found anything like it. Back then I thought it tasted a bit like the chocolate cake I have for my eighth birthday on top of the homemade chocovanilla ice cream my grandma made. I would then explore the rest of the rings, tasting from the sweet coffee and milk of the B ring to the supersweet sprinkles beyond the Colombo Gap. As I ate parts of Saturn’s ring, I watched the pulses, the heartbeats of the planet. I felt Saturn’s hexagonal’s eyes on me. I waved at it and it winked. I was barely to the moons when everything faded away into the dull brown of the classroom walls.
That’s it for today, she would whisper to us.
One day I stayed after school to ask her why she didn’t show me Pluto. She smiled and blamed it on me not believing Pluto’s a planet. I said I did, but she claimed that if I did I would’ve seen Pluto anyway. Still being the obnoxious selfish kid, I begged and pleaded with her, until she grabbed my hand, almost too tight for my liking, and sent me to Pluto.
Pluto’s arid dust choked my throat. There were whispers from the dark, stabbing my ears. I moved closer to the ground, just to see that I could see through Pluto. In an instant she moved me back to the teacher’s room and patted me in the head, saying that I should go home.
Later I learned that I wasn’t the only one who noticed the lack of Pluto in her class. I wasn’t the only one Pluto scarred. However, some other student’s parents were far more protective than mine. Within two months, she disappeared from our school forever. I tried to contact her through e-mail, but she never replied. I’d asked other teachers to pass along a message, but none of them could contact her either. The new astronomy teachers came and although there were just as enthusiastic as her, none of them could carry us away to the Space of our imaginations.
It took me a long time just to meet her again. Most of that time was spent being the perfect student and trainee with a perfect memory and physique. I learned there were no trampolines or games or candies in Saturn. After years of tests, trainings and try-outs, I finally landed on the surface of the Moon. I don’t even have to get out to notice her, swinging the flag of the United States. As I landed on the grey dust and shook her naked hand. She asked me if I would like to see Pluto again.
The cold, arid, whispering, dark dust was still there, but Pluto was no longer glass. I could see several black things underneath the surface, but I couldn’t make it out. I didn’t care, anyway. I returned to the surface of the Moon. I hopped around the place while she was greeting the other astronauts. I shook my head, forcing myself to never ask her to invite me to Saturn again.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 04:17|
Not a great week irl; here's what I've got.
It's dark when Hermann makes his way out from the bunker, and though the air no longer rings with shellfire, the night sky is still clouded with dust.
“I can't hear them,” he says to no-one in particular, “are they close?”
An MG-42 rattles as the serpent unfurls within its nest. “No sign.” Its hiss cuts through the air like molten steel, and Hermann clutches at the weals upon his arm, remembering.
“They'd better not be.” He picks his way down the rough steps, very carefully, mindful of the torn meat obstacles that litter his path. There are dead men all along the sandbags. Some of them will still have rations; he should find horsemeat, at the very least.
The serpent has slithered down to join him.
“You've left your post,” he tells it.
“I know,” it says. “As have you. As have they,” and it gestures round the valley with a broad sweep of its tail. In the end-coils it brandishes a bottle of schnapps; Hermann stares at it, meaningfully, but it is not offered.
“I'm hungry,” he says.
“Then eat,” says the serpent, “as I do.”
The serpent pours its mass across the trenches, winding back and forth before him, and where it passes Hermann sees the bodies blanch and wither.
Jasmine-petals wilt on the terrace at Biarritz; Sophia smirks over her cognac, her toes twinkling on the edge of his desk. How long has it been, now? He's lost count. All hope of leave has long since disappeared; there is no transport anymore.
The serpent leers at him, a mocking grin half-masked beneath its pelt. Was that a wink? He cannot tell.
“As I do,” it repeats, and sloughs away its uniform, its lustrous scales all flashing at the hidden moon. “Follow me.”
Hermann peels away his greatcoat. There's a chill to the air tonight, and already his undershirt turns to ice; his backflesh crawls at the touch of freezing sweat.
“Hurry,” the serpent hisses. Its great broad bison-head begins to turn; the fear of loneliness stirs in Hermann's heart, and he tears at his boots, anxious to keep pace, terrified of falling behind. They peel away, too easily, and as his toes sink deep into the trench-muck Hermann feels them fusing, closing up around themselves like day-flowers.
“I'm ready,” he says, writhing through the collar of his shirt.
They forge a path eastward, through the pines.
“We're past the front!” says Hermann, his lizard-jaws gleaming under naked stars. “We're the advance! We'll take Smolensk!”
“No need,” the serpent chastens, gliding just ahead. “You'll see.”
A caravan advances through the forest. Hermann scents it coming; soiled clothing, unwashed skin, the unmistakeable warmth of tired diesel motors.
“The victory brigade.” The serpent turns its placid features, smiles at him; he doesn't know how, but it knows. “Let it pass, and Europa falls.”
“Or,” says Hermann, his tone suggesting everything; the serpent nods.
* * *
The convoy draws near. Hermann is waiting; his grubby K98 lies propped between two roots, the narrow roadway in his sights for miles. He's a little rusty – too many months spent barking into the radio – but as the first vehicle crawls into his firing line, Hermann knows he's got them. It's a two-man GAZ – unarmed, as far as he can tell – and if he can cripple it, the whole line will be forced to stop, sitting targets for him to pick off at leisure.
“Now,” hisses the serpent.
Hermann fires, and in the scope he sees a short puff of grey atop the bonnet of the jeep. It lurches forward – the driver, clearly, is unnerved – and the column accelerates.
“Stop them,” the serpent cautions, “before they get too close.”
They haven't seen him – not yet, at least – and now, as the convoy's rearguard rattles into sight, Hermann fires again, straight into the driver's side windshield, and the GAZ swerves to a stop between two trees.
“Perfect,” he whispers, retracting the bolt of his Mauser, bringing the scope back to bear.
They're disembarking, scattering for the trees, and in their confusion he brings two of them down, direct hits to the neck and shoulder. Now the rest are covered; now, the real work begins. Motionless but for the barrel of his rifle, Hermann scans across the forest road, back and forth, waiting.
A truck door opens, swinging back against the cab; the sound carries all the way to Hermann's roost, a flat metallic slap, and he fires. A shadow slumps onto the ground.
“Good,” the serpent says; he hisses back, “Shut up!”
They're firing back, now – they've tracked him, and now he sees their muzzles flare, pinpoints in the shadows, stars upon the lake at Moûtiers. It makes it easier for him to spot them; on the other hand, there's little cover here beyond the pine-needles and gorse.
“We'll have to move,” he says – but already, a white-hot pain shears through his shoulder, and his rifle discharges in his hand.
He scampers upright, ready to retreat, but a flurry of bullets tears him down again. He's hit, badly, his chest perforated, pine-sap burning where his raw wounds lie against the ground.
“Too bad,” the serpent murmurs. It doesn't seem particularly bothered; it slides over towards him, coils poised to wrap around his body.
* * *
“You're home,” Sophia whispers. Still, she holds the brandy-glass; still, her dark eyes linger in the dusk. Her fingers stretch out to brush his face.
“I am.” He leans across the balustrade, sucking the sea-air into his lungs. He's filthy, still; his clothes are stiff with grime.
“Touch me,” she says, clasping his fingers within her own, threading them into her starlit-silver hair. He feels the blood and dirt scraped from them; she doesn't seem to mind.
“Touch her,” the serpent whispers, and behind him Hermann feels a great weight rushing forward, as if a gravity is born within him; an impact, the great coils slamming down, and all is turned to dust.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 04:20|
Argh, how could I have repeated a word in the first line of my story
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 04:20|
The Maybe Machine
Word Count: 1496
It was still more night than day, the world illuminated by half-light, like it was given off by glow-in-the-dark paint, when Craig found a box that told him the future. As far as he knew, he was the only person who walked here, following the cat's cradle of steel towers strung together by electrical wires, along their zipper-path cut through the surrounding woodlands straight up the hill. It had to have recently been left there, the cardboard wasn't even soggy yet. His name was written in capital sharpie letters across the top, like a box of Christmas decorations you stick in the garage until next year.
He didn't know how whoever left this box here knew about his resolution. Months ago, Craig realized he'd somehow negotiated his life without ever seeing a sunrise. It was part of his feverishly hoarding experiences since he decided to not go to college after graduation. While his friends were scattered across the country learning about their passions, honing their arts and partying and screwing, he got a graveyard shift at Walmart because all the daytime shifts were filled with lifers – people who'd be there forever. As it turned out, he'd only followed through on the sunrise thing twice, the first day it occurred to him, and today. Craig knelt in the damp grass to examine the box.
It wasn't even taped shut, the top was just folded in on itself. Craig wasn't sure what he expected to find as he grabbed a flap and pulled – it was a bunch of old printer paper covered almost completely with a multitude of colors and many rows of miniscule text. It was really old printer paper, the kind where huge reams of it are connected by perforation and pulled through the printer on a track. The only printer he'd ever seen that used it was the one his mom had when he was little.
The box was big enough to hold three stacks of paper sitting side by side. The left most stack had a header that was written in larger text.
USER ID: CRAIG
IMPACT: MED-HIGH (GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO GREEN, BLUE, INDIGO, VIOLET)
After that, the text shrunk and crawled down the rest of the sheet, and every other sheet from what Craig could see. The first line read:
4:47 AM (99%): Finds box. Opens box. Reads to first line.
It was highlighted deep violet. Craig looked at his watch – 4:47 AM. He looked into the forest to his left and then to his right, but it was still so dark out that he could only make out the vague shapes of the ferns and branches at the very edge of the woods. Straining and holding his breath, he listened to see if he could hear anything out of place, someone walking off or rustling around in the distance – nothing, just the buzzing overhead.
He almost left it there and, looking back, maybe he should have. Instead, Craig dragged the box to the edge of the forest. He managed to pull it behind some ferns, grabbing a handful of the pages off the top stack and stuffed them in his backpack. He'd rush home, look them over and maybe he'd come back for the rest later.
Craig had the furniture in his tiny studio apartment pushed up against the off-white walls making room for the pages spread all across the floor in columns corresponding to the day. After reviewing them, walking up and down the rows eating chips and peering at them with his magnifying glass, he'd made a few observations. First, they were almost completely accurate. In places, multiple events were listed for the same time. It seemed to have something to do with the percentage after that time. He guessed it was the likelihood of it happening. His trip to Walgreens was there.
5:33 AM (86%): Purchases 1 magnifying glass and 1 bag of chips.
It was right on both counts, he was munching on the Doritos as he combed the papers. There were a few cross-streets mentioned that he often used to get home, but he hadn't actually taken some of those paths since he detoured to go to Walgreens. A comprehensive list of what could and would happen. At first, he was overwhelmed with excitement. Craig couldn't wait to see what he could do by using these papers as a guide. His excitement turned cold and left a sick feeling in his stomach by the time he reached the next day's notes. Highlighted in violet, the only thing he'd seen in that color since the very first line, was this:
3:12 PM (91%): Struck by car crossing 53rd and Jackson. Deceased.
Fine, he just wouldn't take that way to work tomorrow. No problem. The sick feeling in his stomach grew the further forward in time he read though. After that first time he was scheduled to die, it came up more and more. He'd grabbed roughly two weeks worth of papers and in those two weeks he was scheduled to die a total of twelve times. He had to get the rest.
Weeks passed and Craig held onto the papers like a life jacket. Sure enough, he could survive as long as he avoided the exact circumstances of his death. He had to stay close to these events though. What if he went to the other side of town and changed the future so completely that the rest of the papers were no good? His paranoia grew along with a suspicion that after he avoided death the first time at 53rd and Jackson, he'd become something like a virus in a human body, swarmed by white blood cells. Some days were almost entirely filled with his deaths – the record was thirteen in a day. That day, he'd seen three cars blow through red lights, a toolbox fall off a maintenance worker's scaffold and had opted to cook at home after reading about his gruesome death from food poisoning.
Craig found he could win contests and state lotteries if he entered under the right circumstances. He sat down with a calendar and a pen nightly, searching years worth of records, writing down dates and lottery numbers so that he'd have enough money to last if he was conservative with his winnings. Great, his problems were over! It occurred to him that he hadn't consciously come up with this idea, but formed it without realizing as he read into the future. After a certain point, there was no mention of him working at Walmart anywhere. It was like the papers, or whatever generated them in the first place, knew that he would come up with this plan and plotted the future surrounding it accordingly.
Craig saved his winnings and purchased a small plot of land out in the hills several miles from his home town and had a cabin built there. Without a job, Craig was amazed at the amount of free time he had to fill. He avoided people whenever possible. He gave up and filled his day writing journals and reading.
He didn't think his writing was anything special, but he started to see mentions of it pop up in his records. A few times, the papers mentioned him publishing an essay he'd written, but never anything mentioning it afterward – whatever created these papers knew he wouldn't do it. For years, Craig thought he was seeing every possible future laid out for him, allowing him to pick the best parts, avoid death and live how he wanted, but he realized that it didn't work that way. Recently, he noticed longer amounts of time took up less and less space in his records. Sometimes, he'd do so little that a whole month fit on a single page. There wasn't much to say about his life.
Twenty years, had passed and he was almost out of paper but, with only a few months remaining, Craig knew how to protect himself without them. Only five times had Craig been killed by animals, but people had killed him thousands of times – they were the problem. To continue to live, Craig just had to live in his cottage, surrounded by evergreen trees in a room that smelled strongly of the inside of his old, yellowed, paperback books.
Craig looked around the living room at his chair, his simple desk and his table by the window. He had no photographs, no telephone and no television. The guilt he felt avoiding his family ate dully at him when he looked at it square. What had happened to his friends he used to have? Did they have families? Were they doing great things somewhere? Craig walked outside, his footsteps were muffled by a deep bed of pine needles. It felt like he had died that day after he found the box all those years ago. It was like he was never here at all.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 04:30|
Still rough, but eh:
Jude is wearing the thing. She's angry and she doesn't understand, but she's wearing the thing so it can't be all bad. I've explained the thing a dozen times since I gave it to her — it's an FM08-T fuse from a decommissioned Space Shuttle. It's an intricate miracle of commonplace engineering, tied to a length of silver chain. Regardless, she just calls it the thing. Regardless, she's wearing it.
The technology that made up the Apollo missions, Sputnik, the Space Shuttle – all of it ended up in a thousand household items, I say again. I've explained this to her before, but she's not seeing the bigger picture. She wants to know why I've borrowed her air conditioner. I don't need the air conditioner, just part of the air conditioner. The induction coil is a Chinese knockoff of an old NASA design used in the Mercury program, and I need it. Without that coil, it's not much of an air conditioner. This does not exactly appease her, but eventually she leaves, the thing swaying in an eccentric orbit around her neck.
They landed two men on the moon in a time before personal computers or mobile phones. It should only have gotten easier.
I've been making the calculations from my bedroom window, squinting at the stars, doing the maths on my fingers. My optimal launch angle is exactly two thumbs below the middle sill. My methods are modest but my reasoning is sound. I've modelled the mission down to the last detail in Lego and toilet rolls. My calculations are perfect — they run down beneath the windowsill in Texta, swerving around the places where my knees knock the wall as I sit on the edge of the bed scrawling. The only difference is scale.
I wasn't always so focused on these things. Back around the time I gave Jude the thing, my study of space was limited to the level of knowledge one acquires from those weekly magazines you beg your father to buy, the ones that are ridiculously expensive and come with one precious piece of a model spacecraft (mine was missing key parts of its outer fuselage due to clerical oversight: my father missed a few weeks). But mistakes are made — NASA shuts down its space program, Jude moves out and shacks up with another guy, one with gravitas and regular superannuation payments, and suddenly you're staring at a pile of discarded parts from the pinnacle of human endeavour and the chill vacuum of deep space seems appealing. The guy doesn't last but the damage is done, like a chipped panel on the Columbia letting hot atmospheric gases into the wing manifold and eventually spreading seven crewmembers in a thin layer over three US states. Exactly like that. So I studied, and I started thinking about the easiest way to hit escape velocity.
I'm not expecting much from my rocket, no complicated extra-vehicular activity. Just something big and thumping enough to, as it were, slip the surly bonds of earth. It doesn't need finesse, just to burn longer and hotter. My rocket is a Greatest Hits mixtape of sixty years of throwing money at science: a nosecone from Apollo, some fuselage panels from Mir. Even some inflight avionics equipment from Shenzhou (I’ve had to learn to read Chinese just to navigate). They sell this stuff on eBay, disjointed little collectors’ items with no sense of the whole. What I can't get (federal regulations on rocket engines being unfair to the backyard hobbyist), I cobble together – the induction coil, my alarm clock, the door off a Holden Ute someone foolishly parked outside my house. The gaps get filled with memories, and nostalgia, and bitterness. My rocket will be perfect. Friends are getting to be a rare commodity, citing missing power tools and stolen letterboxes, but I don't need people. Just the parts of people. Jude always complained that I lacked direction, momentum. Now I'm sitting on a hundred liquid tons of rocket propellant, pointed straight up. I am pure velocity.
I'm doing a night requisition when Jude finds me next. I'm elbow deep under the hood of some guy's BMW and she taps me on the shoulder, which leads to a few moments of panicked extraction before I realise I'm not busted. She asks me what I've got there, and I say 'Starter Relay', but since it’s sitting in my teeth with the wires hanging down my chest, I don't think she quite understands my mumble. I look like I'm eating a live squid, apparently. I spit it out. She's a little drunk. I hold back from explaining that BMW used to make rocket engines, since I've probably told her it all before.
And of course she says she's been trying to call, and I don't ever pick up, and of course I don't say that that's the point. Laura, do I remember Laura, was asking tonight about how I was doing, and Jude said she'd find out. She totters a little on her heels. Laura's birthday is in a few weeks, was I thinking about going? She pauses to wipe a streak of grease from my cheekbone. I get it, I do. I can feel the steady orbital decay that will end up with Juse and I closer together, along with the satellite remnants of our life together – the Asteroid Lauras of our mutual acquaintance. All the more reason to finish the rocket sooner and not later. I need to escape.
But we can’t escape our gravitation, and I sweep away enough fuselage bolts and wiring to let her stay in the bed we used to share, telling her I’ll take the couch. I stay up, carefully checklisting the launch supplies – two pairs socks, two pairs underwear. A paperback for in-flight reading. A box of Space Food Sticks from the supermarket. Preparation is important.
Jude wakes up late in the morning, wearing an old shirt of mine and poking around the discarded rocket parts that litter our living room. My living room. She's talking while I stare at the calculations, trying to work out how to get more force, more acceleration. She says it’s good that I have a hobby, something to keep me focused. She touches the thing, absently, while I stare past the maths without speaking. I'd always looked forward to having an ex, when I was a kid. It seemed like something mature and complicated that older people had, that spectre of weary experience. Maybe I'd treated our relationship, treated her, as something disposable all along — a discarded Stage 1 to fall back to earth, while I carried on into the sky.
So I take her hand and show her, tracing her finger across the line of apogee penned against the glass of my bedroom window. I show her the workshop in my garage, with the gantry built out of milk crates and the heatshield built out of coldest regret. Sometimes you swap butter for eggs. She asks me what I do once I'm up there, and for once I'm stumped. Escaping the deepening gravity well that is my life was the whole idea.
There will come a time when I climb into the cockpit, my spacesuit made of tinfoil and Tupperware. I’ll bravely wave to those standing on the launchpad, before sealing the makeshift hatch. One day soon I'll feel the floating freedom of space. But in the moment when Jude and I kiss again, surrounded by the detritus of a thousand discarded space launches, I think that I may need someone to keep the bedroom light on at Mission Control.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 04:45|
Na'Awlans (1128 words)
Sam squeezed her eyes shut and held up her hands in a bowl shape. Something cool and furry dropped into them.
"Okay, open em." Her big brother Don sat on the ottoman at her level.
In her hands there was a small lump of brown fur attached to a leather strap by a tightly-wrapped brass wire cuff.
"It's a lucky rabbit foot." He looked up at their parents. "Got it from some guy in a bayou hoodoo shop with eyes that went in two directions. He swore it's legit."
Sam held it up by the thin leather cord and studied the dirty tips of the four nails twisted into the end of the fur. "Is it real?"
He nodded. "The real thing kiddo. Straight from New Orleans."
Don died the next day.
They called it a "freak accident."
"Bus just pushed his car right off the bridge."
"Knocked-out when he hit the water," they said.
First came the police, followed by the family. Two aunts and three uncles, one cousin, one grandmother, and even her sister Mollie flew back from college. Father Walsh lingered on the periphery for a few days, but after the funeral everyone trickled away. The doctor brought pills. Her mother wouldn't leave the bedroom. Her father stopped coming home after work until very late and very drunk. He smelled awful.
A neighbor's girl, Betty, came every morning and took Sam to fourth grade. She would wait in the carpool line at two-thirty and drive Sam home. After a snack she would leave Sam with TV and homework until seven, when she returned to make dinner and tuck Sam into bed at nine.
Sam rediscovered the rabbit's foot in the small drawer of her nightstand a couple weeks later, and sobbed when she realized it was the last thing from Don. She had Betty tie it around her neck. The salty, dry toes smelled funny, but she didn't care. She squeezed it and made a wish that her dad would come home that night and make mac-n-cheese and take care of her.
That evening, just as Sam had hoped, he arrived early and made dinner. He held her and kissed her and told her he was sorry about everything that happened; that things would be better from then on. He went into the bedroom and roused her mom. They ate mac-n-cheese together and laughed for the first time in weeks.
Sam clutched the foot all the time and felt it begin to soften. At first she thought she was wearing it out, but as the flesh became pliable and the toes flexed once more, she forgot her concern and found comfort in moving the little nails around. She decided to try another wish.
Sam stood in the stirrups and leaned over the neck of her mare. "Iz, like this so they can get over the rocks," she called back to her friend Isabel who followed on a young, black horse Sam had raised. Isabel imitated Sam as best she could.
The narrow trail led up the cliff at the head of the valley. In the distance, from where they stopped, the ranch house perched on a short bluff over the river. The girls let the horses graze on the Spring grasses around the enormous oak tree under which they sat.
Sam leaned back on a large, flat boulder and watched the wispy cirrus glide by.
"It's unbelievable that you live here." Isabel turned in place taking in the view for a moment, then sat down by Sam's feet. "I still can't get over how lucky you are."
"My dad works hard, really. He's away a lot with the band--it wasn't all luck." She squeezed the rabbit's foot through her shirt. The toes kneaded her finger in response.
"You know what I mean." Isabel rotated in place and rested her head on Sam's stomach.
"There is something," Sam admitted. She considered her words for a moment. "Iz, what if I told you I could grant one of your wishes? Anything you want. What would you ask for?"
Isabel wrinkled her nose. "Could I wish that we were graduating this year and not next year?" She tilted her head back to see Sam's expression. No. "I feel like I should wish for world peace or that everyone took care of the environment or something."
"You wouldn't know if those wishes came true. Pick something you want. Something you would know if it changed." Sam pressed the foot against her chest. "Everyone wants something, right?"
"I guess I would wish that we could live up here closer to you. That my family could afford it."
Sam squeezed the little toes and made a wish she knew would come true.
The humidity hit Sam with a blast as she stepped from the terminal. Her driver waited by the door without a sign, as instructed. He fell in place and offered to take her small bag.
She shook her head. "It's not necessary. You're Geoff?"
"Yes Miss. Got a reg'lar car, jus' like ya asked for."
"Sam is fine. I'll sit up front."
As they drove she told Geoff what little she knew about Don's trip ten years earlier. Her wish that he would know where she needed to go, not surprisingly, came true.
"I know dat place." The driver remarked when she mentioned the hoodoo bayou shop. "Ya wanna go out dere now?"
Sam nodded and squeezed the warm little toes through her shirt.
The old man sat beside the antique register, looking just as rusted and dust-covered as everything else in the little ramshackle store. A long, thin-bladed fan spiraled around trailing dustcicles above; the nicknacks on the shelves undisturbed for years.
He studied Sam's lack of interest in the merchandise. "It's a funny thang ta want sumptin, dont'cha say?" His gravely voice resonated off the corrugated walls. "Bettah ta jus' want nuthin."
Sam nodded and untied the cord around her neck. When she produced the rabbit's foot, the old man smiled and held out a large, worn palm. "Thank you," Sam said as she dropped it onto his hand. The little foot twisted once before he slipped it into his pocket.
"Ain't no thang young lady." His lazy eye studied something she couldn't see, but in the other eye stared straight into her soul. "Jus' doin' mah part."
Tears lined her cheeks when Sam stepped from the shop. Geoff waited for her against the car. "C'mon Miss Sam. Let me show ya Na'Awlans."
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 04:59|
This one didn't turn out how I wanted but what are you gonna do.
What to do When Eaten Alive (495 words)
I was thirteen years old when my grandfather first taught me to eat octopus. A small Korean restaurant near our tenements served them, ropey and raw and very much alive. It was alive that we ate them, grandfather insisted. It was the most important thing. The second important thing he told me was to bite out their beaks before starting on the rest; an amateur mistake many made was to miss it.
The most important thing he told me when I asked.
“My child it is the secret to immortality.”
A single octopus served alive every year. That was the secret to the old man’s longevity. But it had to be alive and just once a year, and every year or you’d die. If you ever ate two you would die. If you ever missed one you would die. You could start whenever – whenever you wanted – and at that age you’d be stuck.
“This truth I uncovered in the autumn of my life, so to you I share it in your spring.”
At the time it seemed like a logical thing. I certainly did not mind the taste as much as I thought I would. My sisters felt differently, refused to even touch them. I pleaded and I wept as I knew they would die. I hugged grandfather tight as we knew they would die.
The years stretched on, and with every octopus I felt myself change less and less. But of course, for I was the only one who listened to grandfather.
My first sister found love and lost it again. Again and again. She grew old and bitter and distasteful of others, distrustful of others. And when she died she withered away, to skin and bones and ash and grey. There was not even enough left to bury, so we planted her remains amongst the tulips in the garden.
My second octopus was better than the first. I think by then I’d acquired the taste.
My second sister found fame and fortune, and kept them both. A thousand nights and a thousand lovers, and when they were over she died with a smile. Her blood was so pure we distilled her remains and kept them in a wine cask alone in the cellar.
My third octopus was definitely the worst. Still I kept at it, grandfather’s words in my ears.
My third sister traveled the world, and we did not see her for some time. On returning she announced she had drunk her fill, and passed in her sleep in satisfaction. We buried her down in the Earth she loved so much.
My fourth octopus was unquestionably the best. They all felt downhill after that one, if only comparably.
And so I stood with my hat in my hands, the last of all of us on the hill where we lay. My ninety-fifth octopus tasted like nothing. I suppose I’m used to the flavor by now.
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 04:59|
(819 words, mostly on a phone)
Maurice dipped a wide brush into a despairing can of red paint up to the wood of the handle. Drawing it out carefully, and shifting his weight from his free hand to his knees, he reared back and ground the brush back and forth in overlapping rows on the sidewalk. With this square of the concrete complete, he walked backwards on hands and knees with his brush and can until he was staring down a new, bare slab. Looking past the speckled face of his wristwatch, he saw it was less than one hour until the town council meeting. He would have enough time to go home, shower, change out of his work clothes and get to the town hall if he left now. Maurice dipped the fraying brush into the can up to the wood of the handle, and drew it out carefully.
The town of Rainbow Hollow had a problem lurking the corners of its four streets. One would glide past a sign stating the town's name when coming down Main Street, and within moments, would similarly glide past signs indicating Main's intersections with Red Street, Blue Street, and Green Street. The town prided itself on its simple theme of color, never quite seeing what could make someone like Maurice so disappointed. Having been a dilettante of the arts, Maurice had dabbled in song, sculpture, sketches, and his favored watercolor paints. To him, the town was in a state of grave error, brought on by some awful blending of shortsightedness and ignorance. He would voice himself at town meetings.
"Would it be right to have a Scale Town, named for a generous love of music, and only have E, G, and B street? We are surely the laughing stock of the county." he would say.
"We can't be a town so calcified and decrepit as to do nothing about this issue once we are made aware of it. We must restore our town's virtue."
The town hall was swept like wind across the prairie. Many saw the problem as Maurice did, now that so clear a portrait was presented. Others were unconcerned, or saw problems in fixing the problem. The bricklayer suggested that more cross-streets should be built. The town's banker argued that such an expenditure would put the town's funding into the red. A schoolteacher put forth the idea of splitting each of the cross-streets that existed already into two, thereby increasing the number of streets to the required seven, thus completing the spectrum. This simple act of division was shot down by the postman, who was adamant that such a disruption of the town geography would lead to chaos.
Taking the podium again, Maurice himself suggested simply changing the town's name to something less misleading. The oldest member of the town council, a revered historian of the area, shuffled up to the podium to voice his concerns, leaning very close to the microphone to be heard.
"The founder of our fine town, may his grave be dry and warm, is said to have settled the area after running his ship aground and following the colors in the sea's mists inland. Any scholar can simply dismiss such a fantasy as false, given the records stating him to be a less than adventurous man merely seeking a valley to raise livestock and ship their produce to the neighboring counties. Laurence Rainbow, the hero of our tale, was a man of pragmatism and business sense, and we would do him dishonor to desecrate the signs bearing his name. I won't allow it."
Though he had no authority without a vote, he punctuated his final words with such force that his nose banged the microphone, imitating the decree of the gavel, as the town council had used in more rowdy times. With no other rebuttals to follow, and the water glasses of the council members being drained, the meeting was adjourned.
In the week that followed, Maurice had labored on bent knee and calloused hand to perform his almost prayer-like ritual. He had ruined his brushes with coarse pigments and even those he paid for with money drawn from his starving artist pension. He had, in that week, succeeded in painting the sidewalks of each street one of the colors that were emblazoned on the signs about town. He had painted Red Street green, Blue Street red, and Green Street blue. His work done, Maurice swore to never attend another town meeting.
In the years that followed, as cognitive dissonance spread and the town of Rainbow began to fear its reputation as being either dishonest, ignorant, or cheapskates, a simple change in thought occurred. The pronunciations of the street names shifted gradually towards the titles of the hues their sidewalks bore. Even better, within a year, even tourists had started to correctly pronounce the town's name in the proper way, so that it sounded something like "Primary".
EDIT: FORMATTING PHONE gently caress UP FIXED
Capntastic fucked around with this message at 05:11 on Mar 3, 2013
|# ? Mar 3, 2013 05:06|
Another note for anyone thinking "MUFFIN SUCKS HE DIDN'T WRITE MAGICAL REALISM": the thing that got described and most people wrote is actually closer to urban fantasy. Buffy, Hellboy and Supernatural are not magical realism, duders. "but the townsfolk know" is a really lovely point of genre distinction. Wouldn't that make Shadowrun magical realism?
edit: apparently wikipedia says urban fantasy is "STRONG WOMEN
(if they have sex it's paranormal romance holy poo poo the train is about to go off the loving tracks)
SurreptitiousMuffin fucked around with this message at 06:16 on Mar 4, 2013
|# ? Mar 4, 2013 06:02|
Another note for anyone thinking "MUFFIN SUCKS HE DIDN'T WRITE MAGICAL REALISM": the thing that got described and most people wrote is actually closer to urban fantasy. Buffy, Hellboy and Supernatural are not magical realism, duders. "but the townsfolk know" is a really lovely point of genre distinction. Wouldn't that make Shadowrun magical realism?
A magical realist world works on the physics of emotion.
Nearly everyone hosed it up.
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 06:58 on Mar 4, 2013
|# ? Mar 4, 2013 06:54|
A magical realist world works on the physics of emotion.
What does this mean in terms of storytelling? Love nests bursting into flame? Depressed people causing black holes? Everything within twenty yards of Keanu Reeves turning taupe?
|# ? Mar 4, 2013 07:20|
Another note for anyone thinking "MUFFIN SUCKS HE DIDN'T WRITE MAGICAL REALISM": the thing that got described and most people wrote is actually closer to urban fantasy. Buffy, Hellboy and Supernatural are not magical realism, duders. "but the townsfolk know" is a really lovely point of genre distinction. Wouldn't that make Shadowrun magical realism?
Man you keep making me second-guess myself. When I saw your first post I ended up writing a whole new submission and now I'm wondering if I would have been better off just posting that one instead
|# ? Mar 4, 2013 08:10|
A magical realist world works on the physics of emotion.
Magical realism is hard, and that's why I pussied out this week (also I was busy with like, my actual life and poo poo). NEVERTHELESS, I think I'm going to read everyone's submissions and any critiques, figure out what not to do, and then give this prompt a shot on my own time. Or maybe I'll just finally finish reading 100 Years of Solitude and continue to be lazy, who knows.
|# ? Mar 4, 2013 15:56|
|# ? Jan 24, 2022 12:21|
What does this mean in terms of storytelling? Love nests bursting into flame? Depressed people causing black holes? Everything within twenty yards of Keanu Reeves turning taupe?
Basically yes, it usually means that the metaphors are IN YOUR FACE, so you have to work hard to come up with a good one. For example, in Will Self's The Rock of Crack as big as the Ritz two young black guys in London find a giant source of crack and sell of parts of it to get rich, even though at least one of them knows that it is going to come back to bite him on the rear end. You're so distracted and entertained by the giant rock of crack and the dealing of it that you don't realize the how obvious the point is until later.
Or consider Lethem's Fortress of Solitude where the main characters have a magic ring that works differently for each one of them based on their personalities.
|# ? Mar 4, 2013 17:25|