Medicines and Poisons
1165 words, element: Antimony
Lao Qiu wiped another trail of pink vomit from his mouth and cupped a handful of tap water to his mouth. He spat and drank deeply. Selling traditional medicines back in Changsha had been rewarding; had promised a long life of happiness. Lao Qiu cursed the gangsters who burned his store. Mining was never a passion; never a family tradition… but then, neither was gambling, Lao Qiu reminded himself, and he’d made that work for a while. Mining antimony at Xikuangshan would help earn enough to pay off some debts, to get his life back. He hurried back to the comminution mill and pressed resume on the conveyor.
“Lao Qiu! Where’s your mask?” Zhou Chongkun, the foreman, clapped Lao Qiu over the back of the head. “I’m not losing another worker.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Zhou. I must have left it in the bathroom. What do you mean, lose?”
“People are constantly running away from their work. Or dying. You remember training?” Zhou put a gloved hand into the dust filling up a container at the base of the mill and held it out to Lao. “Liver damage. Kidney damage. Dermatitis. You breathe this in, you drink this in water…” Zhou flicked the handful of dust back into the container. “Dead. Makes arsenic look like beer.”
Lao felt his stomach drop. He’d been throwing up a lot lately, but assumed it was because of stress. He excused himself to go collect his mask. As he entered the bathroom another wave of nausea swept his body and he barely made it to the toilet before doubling over, another torrent of pink foam launching from his lips into the toilet.
Lao Qiu’s mind raced as he returned to the mill, thoughts running through medicine after medicine. Liver, kidney, skin? Arsenic? Arsenic also means headaches, means dizziness… and hadn’t he felt more depressed since he started? Lao scratched at the back of his hand, feeling his skin prickle heat underneath his gloves. If he had some moon bear bile he might be able to work on cleaning his liver, but where would he get that in a mine? He was distracted thinking of an improvised way of creating a long dan xie gan pian, a liver fire purge, when a small green disk on the side of a rock falling into the mill caught his eye.
Lao Qiu grabbed hold of the side of the conveyor belt, steadying himself as he inspected the rocks coming up from the entrance of the mine. His eyes darted back and forth until – could it be? – he saw another of the shapes. He reached out and grabbed the rock attached, not believing his eyes. In his hand was a green lingzhi, a small, disk-shaped fungus used for cleansing livers, growing straight out of a chunk of rock. He pinched the fungus and pulled, feeling a small amount of tension before it popped away. Lao Qiu found himself laughing; the lingzhi was normally a simple bracket fungus you could find in most forests. He looked around, smiling beneath his mask, before ducking down and putting the whole thing in his mouth. A regular lingzhi was something he’d sell to tourists, but a normal lingzhi would never grow out of rock. This, though, was a qingzhi, a spiritual mushroom for the liver, from a song his grandmother would sing when she would take him out foraging as a child. He chewed the hard, bitter mushroom and swallowed, feeling his nausea soak away.
Lao Qiu laughed out loud when a rock appeared carrying a black fungus a few minutes later. The black fungus was the heizhi, or kidney mushroom, from the same song. Could miners below have found a cave of spiritual zhi of all colors? If they had, Lao mused, this could change his luck right around. There were six lingzhi of different colors; green, yellow, white, black, and red were all for healing parts of the body, but it was told that the purple, the zizhi, was a mushroom of essence. It could make Lao Qiu live forever. Why pay back a debt when he could merely outlive his debtors? Why work in a mine when he could meditate to the Buddha for fifty years and begin anew? A red chizhi rolled past on the conveyor, as if the Buddha was sending Lao a sign. He checked to make sure his supervisor Zhou Chongkun was busy before turning and running into the mine entrance.
At least four hours passed before the steady lights along the series of conveyors in the mine ended and a fresh work tunnel opened up. Lao pulled out his ancient flip-phone to use as a torch and proceeded down the fresh path more slowly, practicing a lie about technical problems on the surface in case he bumped into any miners with questions. The glow from the screen lit his path and almost instantly revealed a small fungus growing out of a fairly narrow crack in the side of the freshly-worked stone. Lao squeezed himself sideways and moved into the small fungal chamber.
The air blurred with spores. Lao spun, staring at all the colors of the mystical zhi around him. There was enough medicine growing freely around to cure an army. Lao pulled fungus from the walls and stuffed it into his pockets with glee. His find wouldn’t just heal his cures, but could kick-start an entirely new medicine store. He followed a small trickle of water further into the cave and stopped with a gasp. In front of Lao, growing straight out of a rock laced with sparkling silver veins, was a purple zizhi, a zhi of immortality, the size of a bison. Lao gasped and checked the chamber to make sure he was alone before biting directly into the side of the fungus.
Sweet earthy tones washed through Lao’s mouth; juices of the spiritual mushroom swelled into his cheeks. Lao felt drunk as he chewed the rubbery fungus, only to reach newer heights of sobriety as he swallowed the mess into his stomach. He bit again and again, the itch on his hand going away, the nausea in his stomach disappearing. He was so engrossed in chewing the mushroom of life that Lao failed to notice the miners pushing a cart rush past the crack of his fungal cave; so wrapped up in his own burgeoning immortality that he barely noticed when an explosion from further down the shaft caused a cave-in, locking him in the chamber. Lao only realized he was trapped as he patted his stuffed stomach, satisfaction bringing him back to the world. He called for help, but heard no response. He looked at the no signal warning on his phone and laughed until he cried. He’d taken steps to make sure nobody knew where he’d run. Lao collapsed, resting his head on the giant zizhi. He was likely going to be trapped in the stomach of the earth for a very, very long time.
|# ? Feb 8, 2014 17:18|
|# ? Oct 4, 2022 04:12|
I left the original alone. The problem is I have like six drafts open at once and when I read through it the two words were not noticed whatsoever. If you mean I shouldn't have brought attention to my own mistake then meh my bad.
He means take your time to close all your other drafts and sit on it for a day, then give it one final read through so you don't have mistakes. Then submit it. There was no reason for you to submit it 2 days early with mistakes when you're obviously still able to post today. There are no bonus points for getting it in early (and in fact most of the losers/dms are stories people rushed to submit).
|# ? Feb 8, 2014 18:31|
Boy is this rushed work.
Element: Polonium. 767 words.
Clouds of poison.
Chicago 1969. Franklin`s Jazz Bars.
The tiny table in the corner was set for two. Only one man sat there. Jack emptied his third scotch for the day and looked out across the smoke filled room; it was like sitting in a stinking cloud. The bad lightning gave the place an almost cavernous feel. Guests were starting to fill up the place. Their black skin made Jack uncomfortable –-- -Why had Alan chosen a Negro Club to meet? Not that he minded them or anything, but you know. Certain things you just shouldn`t mix, that had always been Jack`s opinion. Besides two pasty white guys meeting in a place like this was hardly stealthy.
A man in a shiny white suit suddenly appeared from out of the noxious haze. “Hello Jack, what do think of this club, it`s groovy right?”
“Alan, you know this is not my kind of place. I prefer more…civilized surroundings.”
Alan sat down and unbuttoned his suit.
“ I figured you`d say that. Now what was it you wanted to tell me?”
Jack smiled and picked from his front pocket a small metal cylinder shaped like a fat bullet. He put it down on to the table “Inside this cylinder there is a gram of Polonium”.
Alan took out a cigarette, lit it and started puffing “Sounds radioactive”
“That`s because it is. Polonium is highly radioactive with a half-life of 6 months. Discovered by Marie Curie and named after her homeland Poland. It is likely that this stuff killed her “. Jack pointed to the cylinder” Today we use this stuff to start nuclear reactors. That is how potent it is. It is known that radiation from Polonium can cause cancer ”.
Alan inhaled deeply and leaned back into his seat” So? That`s not a story. Also, why did you bring that thing here?”
Jack leaned forward and picked up the cylinder again” This useful visual aid, that is all. Don`t worry the lead casing should keep us safe. However, here is the scandal: There are trace amounts of Polonium in all American grown Tobacco. The plants absorb it from the soil. You are inhaling it right now."
Alan opened his mouth but said nothing. He squashed his cigarette into the ashtray.
Jack put the cylinder back into his pocket and licked up the last remaining droplets in his glass.
“ It`s pretty shocking right? We are sitting right now in a cloud of waste products containing infinitesimally tiny amounts of Polonium. Everyone here are poisoning themselves and their surroundings with radioactivity. That`s why Marlboro hired me last year, to help them find a way to filter this stuff out. But trust me there isn’t. We tried ever loving thing there was to try. When I told them that it was a unfixable problem they made me sign a confidentiality agreement. They really wanted me keep quiet about this.”
Alan seemed to recover for his shock. Suddenly his eyes glistened. ”How long have Marlboro known about this?”
“ I have dug up reports in their archives about this problem going back to 1959.”
Alan smiled “This is Pulitzer grade material man. I have to get an exclusive. The Chicago Mail won`t turn this story down!”
Jack slid a small paper note over to Alan “This is my motel room. Come there tomorrow 20 pm. I can give you everything you need to make this story stick. All the reports, all the data, absolutely everything”
Alan shook his hand” Wonderful, let`s nail those assholes!”. Jack got up to leave “Wait 15 minutes before you all right?”
The light was off inside the motel room. Two men dressed in black rolled Jack`s corpse into a body bag . Alan stood before them, holding a brown suitcase. 100.000 dollars is a lot of money Alan thought. The suitcase certainly felt like it. But looking down on Jack`s crushed face he wondered if it was really worth it.
One of the men spoke to him ” We can take it from here. You have your money and we have what we came here for “. Alan did not move
The two men turned to face him” Look, Alan if we want anything else from you we will call. However, right now the company needs you to leave quietly. Trust me you don`t want to see how we…recycle waste products.” The two men laughed heartily.
Alan walked out. He slipped unnoticed down to the lobby, walked out the door and into his car. -gently caress, I need a cigarette. He lit one and drove off.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 01:00|
Jude Sherman’s Squeeze
Aphrodite Studios, Soundstage A
Los Angeles, CA
As Sarah Milkweed gazed at the set, she had a moment of religious epiphany. Suddenly it was all so clear. There was indeed a God, one who so loved his creations that he gave them two profound gifts: the chiseled, transcendent face of Jude Sherman and the tungsten-filament bulb so it could be properly lit.
Even in this scene, as he shook his female costar by the shoulders in a spitting fury, the light cradled his Adonis brow, caressed his jaw and gave his slicked-back hair a fierce sheen. The director yelled “Cut!” and Sarah hated him for breaking the sweet spell of the moment. That grudge died in an instant, though, as she noticed Jude shuffling away from the set, heading right in her direction.
She clutched her notebook and pen tight, reached an arm out and caught Jude, spinning him around so that he faced her, a wide-eyed, quizzical look on his face. She opened her mouth and the words flowed out as if from a garden hose.
Jude Sherman looked down at her, a knowing smile on his face. “I’m actually about to get some lunch, Miss…”
“M..Milkweed. Sarah Milkweed.”
“Miss Sarah Milkweed. Care to come along?”
Sarah managed to get out a combination of half-nods and affirmative mumbles. Sherman strode to her side, his arm curling like a python around her shoulders.
He led her to a small, square private table in the cafeteria around which two old, bald men sat. Sherman shot each of them a quick, barbed glare and they picked up their trays and cleared out without a word. Sherman sat down at a pre-set space, settling into a decadently padded chair. He gestured to a stocky wooden stool.
“Have a seat, baby,” he crooned. “The waiter’ll be over in a minute, he’ll get you whatever you like.”
Sarah lowered herself to the stool. She set her notebook on the table, drummed her clammy fingers on it. Her heart felt like it was about to jitter out of her chest.
Jude Sherman craned his neck around, eyes flitting about the cafeteria on the hunt for a waiter. Without looking at her, he asked, “So when did you start here? Are you a new P.A. or something?”
Sarah flushed bright red. “Well, to tell you the truth… I’m not supposed to be here. I snuck my dad’s key from his office. He
runs Milkweed Electric. You know, the huge tungsten-bulb factory downtown?”
Sherman caught a waiter’s eye and snapped his fingers to call him over. “Sounds boring as poo poo.”
“Well, I don’t know… I guess it’s not very glamorous, but you couldn’t make movies without them, you know?”
The waiter popped up next to the table. “Hey, Harv,” Sherman said. “Pâté sandwich for me, and, uh… how about a hot dog for my lady friend?”
Harv whipped out a pen and jotted the order in his notebook. He gave a brief nod and trotted off to the kitchen.
Sarah’s face went even redder. “Uh, Mr. Sherman? I’m… actually a vegetarian.”
“So, which of my movies is your favorite?”
“I mean, I know it’s tough to pick, but…”
“Oh!” Sarah perked up. “The Merry Magistrate! I know it’s silly, but my mom took me when I was little and I’ve—“
Jude Sherman stuck out a hand and grabbed her breast. Sarah looked at his hand, then up to his face, her mouth starting to curl with unease.
He smiled. “Merry Magistrate’s a classic. I appreciate fans with taste as good as yours.”
“I’d like to explore your taste further, Sarah.” He drew a key from his pocket and plopped it into her cleavage. “My trailer key. You can’t miss it, it’s the biggest one on the lot. Okay?” He gave her chest a squeeze, as if to seal the deal.
Sarah’s face blanched. She commanded her legs to move, to get her out of there, but the signal got scrambled along the way and she felt herself nodding, up and down, up and down. He patted her breast like it was a little yappy dog. Their food arrived a moment later. Throughout the rest of lunch he fondled her with one hand and stuffed down pâté on toast with the other.
Sarah watched Jude Sherman step back on set and start pawing through his script. She felt as light-headed as when she first saw him, but her excitement had changed from bright, giddy wonder to a creeping nausea. The tungsten shine of the set lights now seemed less like a natural enhancement of Jude Sherman’s features and more like a mask hiding what was underneath.
She saw the director, a stubby man with wispy hair and a cigar nub in his teeth, shuffle up to Sherman and point out a specific line. Sherman gritted his teeth and barked something at him. Sarah moved in close enough to hear. Even with her stomach churning from their “lunch date”, she couldn’t resist the chance to watch her favorite artist at work.
“One more try, and that’s it, Cliff. You’re supposed to accommodate me, if you want this movie to get made.”
“All right, Jude, give it a rest already.” He leaned in and snatched the script out of Sherman’s hands. “Start from the top of the scene, from ‘I’ll tell you what, Maggie”. At this point you think these are the last words you’ll ever say to her, so really go at it. Right from your gut. Okay? Action!”
Jude Sherman rolled his eyes and grabbed his young costar by the shoulders. “I’ll tell you what, Maggie,” he began, “sometimes in life you come to an open door. You can either go right through or keep walking past it, but some doors, when they close… they don’t ever open again.”
Sarah reached down into her shirt, squeezed the cold metal key between her fingertips.
“So here’s the scoop, Mags. You either stick by me or walk out that door, whatever you want to do. But if you leave, don’t expect… ah… poo poo. It’s gone. I’ve lost it. A little help, Cliff?”
Now it was the director’s turn to roll his eyes. He turned across the room and shouted, “Hey, someone bring over a bunch of poster-board and markers. Jude can’t remember his lines again.”
Sherman chuckled and gave his costar a weary shrug. Sarah’s mouth dropped open.
Cue cards? Seriously?
Sarah turned around and marched out of the studio. She dropped the trailer key down the first sewer grate she saw, and then crossed the street to a phone booth. She called the movie memorabilia shop a few blocks from her house and asked if they’d buy a bunch of old Jude Sherman film posters she’d collected.
Jude Sherman? Of course, they said. There’s always demand for Jude Sherman.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 04:06|
Tangentially related to arsenic. It's a degrees of separation thing. 535 words.
Out of Love
27 March 2011
…well it’s just shocking about young Carly, isn’t it? Pregnant, and at her age, and not even married. Her poor parents. Do you think she even knows who the father is? I mean, I know it may seem presumptuous, but if a girl like that is prepared to give it away without even being married, who knows what she’ll do? I mean, the Lord knows I don’t gossip, but people will talk, won’t they? And what kind of an example is she going to set for her child, when it comes to that? If it comes to that. But I’m most worried about her poor parents. What must they have done wrong to raise a girl like that? I mean someone needs to get alongside that girl. Does she know what this will do for her reputation? I certainly won’t let my children associate with her anymore, I don’t want that kind of influence in their lives. They’re good kids. It’s about good parenting, you’ve got to be firm I think. I know I was parented, strictly, I knew not to get out of line…
12 May 2011
…oh, you hadn’t heard? Well I don’t gossip of course, but apparently Carly isn’t pregnant anymore. Yes, absolutely tragic. Apparently she’s unable to take responsibility for her sinful ways. So obviously, keep that poor murdered baby in your prayers. Oh, and Carly as well I suppose, although it seems like maybe she’s beyond help. Can you believe, she tried to come to church the other week, pregnant with the fruits of her sins and all? Of course, I had a quiet word with her afterwards, about not shoving her iniquities in the Lord’s face. Do you think He wants sinners like her in His building? She’s got to show she’s repented first, and rocking up with the evidence of her sins just isn’t the way. And now she’s gone and killed that poor child as well. It’s not the baby’s fault its mother is a… no, I won’t say that, I won’t let her bring me to that. Still, in a way it’s a small mercy I suppose. I mean, what kind of mother would she have made, anyway? I know, it’s awful to think about, but…
27 September 2011
…yes, her poor mother found her body. I don’t know, a mix of pills I think. Just in her bedroom. Her mother’s grief stricken of course. All that girl’s put her through, it’s a wonder she hasn’t had some kind of breakdown. I mean, what more could we have done for her? We prayed for her, and we tried to warn her that sin was taking hold of her life. I’m just glad I didn’t let my children have anything to do with her. Oh they begged me, silly young things thought maybe it would be a good idea for her to spend time with some friends of a similar age. Yes, they meant well, but I could see what direction she was going, and I wouldn’t have her dragging my children with her. It was out of love, something that wretched ingrate could’ve learned a thing or two about…
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 11:13|
Drain pipe (wc: 1175) (Element: Lead)
Working hard wasn't something that was out of the ordinary for those who are Plumbers. As such, today wasn't any different than any other for Phoebe. For a poor girl like her, the only way she could support herself was to take this job cleaning and maintaining the sewer systems here in the deep dark depths under the great city of Polaris. The task assigned to her today was a simple one, flush water out of a reservoir and repair a sluice gate. Nothing out of the ordinary. With her tools in hand, she quickly left the plumbers guild and set herself to her task.
She arrived at her place of work, Area 16-b. It was humid and dark. The light of her kerosene lamp flickered gracefully lighting her path. As she walked, she kept her eyes open for any dangers that would. As a child, her parents would joke at her that monsters lurked in the darkness that would steal her away and chew on her bones. Of course, after living here so long the only thing she has seen was nothing but rats and darkness. While her thoughts distracted her she barely caught a glimpse of the shut-off valve. the leaden pipes slithered from the ceiling to it. she climbed up the steps set aside the lamp and the tool box.
She grabbed the handles of the valve with both hands and attempted to twist the thing as hard as she could but to no avail. She said to herself “drat! That's tough!” but she remembered something her father used to say. “Work smarter not Harder”. She propped open her toolbox and pulled out a long metal wrench. A useful thing which has gotten her through so many tough situations much like the one at hand. She stuck the thing though the valve handle and used her weight to try and force it open. At first it wouldn't budge but then it creaked and soon it it quickly turned. As she picked up her things she could then hear nothing but the constant echoes of water dripping among the stones. With that over and done with she could now get to work repairing this gate.
Having completed her job. Phoebe, began to attempt a final test of the sluice gate. With much effort, she turned the crank. the metal chains clanked and the gate let out a groan. It opened and closed properly, just as it should. She felt a great satisfaction knowing that this was another job well done even though she wouldn’t receive much praise over it. As she was cleaning up after herself she carelessly knocked her trusty wrench onto the ground except it didn’t hit the floor. *CLONK* “poo poo!”, she exclaimed as she picked up her lamp and looked behind the rock she placed the wrench on. There was a grate with a rather large hole. She looked down and saw that her wrence wasn’t too far down. It may not be much but that wrench was a gift from her father given to her on her first day on the job. To her, it was a precious memento. She felt she had to go get it.
Seeing as the Wrench didn’t fall far, Phoebe placed her lamp on the outcropping and she Inspected the grate. The hole was large enough for her to pass through and come back. So, confident in that fact Phoebe jumped in. She landed safely on what seemed to be a metal grate and quickly picked up her wrench. As she stood back up she hear a strange sound. She tried to leave but the floor gave away right under her feet. To Phoebe, that one moment felt like an eternity. It was if time had stopped and there was suddenly nothing in all directions. And just as quickly as her world changed she suddenly found herself surrounded by water. The cold water snapped her back to reality. She began treading water and floated towards the surface. As she broke the surface, it was as if she had been transported into another world. All around her she could see an iridescent glow. She swam towards the nearest thing she could see.
Phoebe pulled herself out of the water exhausted and still in a state of shock. She sat in front of a large boulder. She was wet, cold, and tired. Her body was cut and bruised but luckily she was still in one piece. She looked upwards to see if she could find where she fell from but all she could see a myriad of colors. It was as if she was looking up at the night sky. A feeling of regret came over her. She should have let it be and move on but she didn’t and now she was stuck here in the dark and alone. Unfortunately it was a feeling that wouldn’t last very long.
Phoebe heard a deep growling coming from behind her. She hid behind the boulder cursing her rotten luck. “What is that!” the thought to herself. She peered over the boulder to get a little peek. All she could see from the dim blue glow of the near by fungus was a hunched over figure with a set of huge claws. It was a kind of beast she never saw before. the fearsome beast sniffed the ground as if it knew something foreign was in the area. Phoebe began to panic. She was practically defenseless. All she could do was hide behind this boulder. The beast turned its head in Phoebe’s direction. It took a few deep breaths confirming Phoebe’s fear. It let out a loud growl as it jumped in her direction. Phoebe jumped back, falling on her back on the muddy floor, crawling away from the beast in fear. On the boulder which once offered protection, the beast roared viciously. Suddenly, a dark figure appeared between Phoebe and the beast. The beast jumped at the shadow but was quite violently struck with a leaden club. The figure turned towards Phoebe’s direction. All she saw was a pair of horns and glowing green eyes not unlike the fungus. The figure spoke to Phoebe with in a feminine voice with a strange accent, “We must go. Follow me.”. Phoebe could hear a number of loud howls in the distance. With no other recourse, Phoebe could do nothing but follow.
Both Phoebe and the shadow ran. For how long, she could not remember. The colors of the fungus around them changed as the ran deeper into the caves. while the howls of the beasts that chased them grew louder and louder. The horned woman suddenly stopped. “What were those things!?”, Phoebe exclaimed. The shadow turned replied “You must be a surface dweller. They are the Darkrend. They will eat us if they catch us”. Having stopped, Phoebe’s fear of death welled within her as was about to shout but the woman let out a shrill yell. A rope was dropped. The woman calmly said, ”We’ll be safe after we climb this”.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 14:54|
HOT MUFFIN FACES DOWN ANOTHER DEADLY EX-WINNER.
Fig 1: ErogenousBeef captured on camera.
Soon the love of
What’s in a name
Bertold dropped a stone and counted to seven before it hit the bottom. The ground on this side of the chasm was solid ice: too dense to carve names into. He could see fresh snow drifts on the far side. For a moment he considered calling up snow, but you never knew how much the world would send, and he didn’t have time to dig his way out if it went wrong. Calla was too far ahead.
/brɪdʒ/ he said. The phonemes fell into the world; not just a road for ideas, but a thing of their own. He called up memories of every bridge he'd ever crossed. The word became more solid, fighting against the wind to become real. It was made of wood, with a simple railing along either side. Simpler was easier. He sucked in an icy breath, then stepped out.
A gust of wind forced him to crouch. When he’d joined the guild, he'd begged for magic to rend his enemies, to animate the dead, and bend the forces of nature to his command. He'd wanted to know the secret names of things, which they shared with nobody. The man who’d opened the front door had been a mountain, complete with a snowy cap of hair. He’d introduced himself as Master Gregory, of the Order of Semiomancers.
The Master had taken him into a candlelit alcove, and with a face of utmost severity, said, “I will teach you the true names of things, but first you must feed the AssFace.”
“The -the what?” Bertold said.
“AssFace,” said Master Gregory, “is the secret name I have given to my cat, because he keeps putting his rear end in my face. Alas, having told you this, I have robbed the hidden word of all its power! What a tragedy, young man. See what your pursuit of forbidden knowledge hath wrought?”
“I am sorry master, I had no intent to- to –“ said Bertold. He paused, his face flushed with anger, “why are you laughing?”
That was the first lesson. The second lesson was feeding the cat. While searching the cupboards for catfood, Bertold had met Calla. She had a turned-up nose like a pig and hair of a wildness matched only by her wit, and her deep understanding of the word-wizard's art. She had a way of insulting him that made the blood run to his cheeks.
The third lesson was how to share. Point of order: if a guard shouts “STOP”, a man will likely stop. It is the magic of the shared-word, that both the shouter and the shoutee know its meaning. Instead of speaking to men, the semiomancer speaks to the world, and the world listens. To do so, he must call on his full understanding of the word, and send it out wrapped in the form of the true name. Spoken is good, written is better, both is usually overkill. The bridge creaked, and Bertold said again the sounds which formed its name: /brɪdʒ/.
The fickle word gave strength to the real thing. His boots gripped well to its surface. It would not last: the only thing more fickle than a word is the thing it has conjured. If a bridge-of-stone becomes a bridge-between-hearts while you're crossing it, you're well and truly hosed. You have to know what a bridge is, and hold in your mind a state of archetypal bridge-ness. If it wavers, then it's gone.
He tottered across to the other side, dropped to his knees, then drew his knife. He carved the word Calla in the snow. Nothing happened. What’s a name? It’s a shared word. If it changes, then the old name has no power. Of course Calla wouldn’t be using her old name, not with half the guild on her tail. The shared-name was no longer shared, so it had no power.
He had to get to her before the others did. She had been forced across the mountains with such haste that he'd never even said goodbye. A thought struck him slow, but implacable as a glacier.
He smoothed over the snow, then began to work anew with his knife. /Lʌv/ he said. Two more chops, and the word love was carved in the snow. A broad word to be sure, but it meant one very specific thing to him. He brought to mind her warmth, and her voice, and the roughness of her skin after a hard day chopping logs.
The whistling wind taunted him, singing a lilting requiem: he would die out here tonight, and Calla would die somewhere else. /Lʌv/ he said again. He had to call her. He remembered the smell of her sweat, and the little crooked tooth that she hid when she smiled. He remembered above all love: simple, without pretension. The snow steamed, and then she appeared, conjured mid-argument. There was a knife in her hand. She gawped at him, then looked around and shivered.
/koʊt/ she said. A thick fur coat appeared in her arms, and she put it on. She saw the word carved in the snow, and smiled.
“That coulda gone very differently,” she said. “That word means a lotta things.”
Bertold smiled back. “Not to me it doesn't,” he said.
“Smooth,” she said. She blushed a little, then straightened herself out and looked around. “Svarta Pass? There’s an inn about two hours west. Love is love, but fire’s fire and a bed’s a bed. Storm’s coming, and Gregory and his lads went east. I figure we’ll get in at least an evening’s catching up. Let’s go.”
That was as close as thanks as anybody would get from the woman. She had a way of making big things seem small, and small things cast shadows like mountains. A word represents a thing, but sometimes it is a thing. Love is just a word, but it can turn the world on its head.
“Aye,” said Bertold. “sounds good.”
Whatever it meant, it was close enough.
I took a pretty broad interpretation of the prompt: looking at the quote's source, it's two men discussing semiotics and the nature of metaphor re Saussure's sign/signed dichotomy. In that vein, I tried to write a story about people who were able to flip that system on its head. Also magical realism, and the ability of metaphors to sometimes transcend words, both of which are recurring things in Calvino's work.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 16:15|
A Matter of Energy
1193 words - Element: Uranium
The sleek steel-golem wheeled its hammer around and smashed it into the junk-robot in an elegant arc. Jyllo flinched in unison with his construct’s demise. Force feedback from the metal he had formed was minimal; it would have been worse if he had animated the thing. He pulled up his goggles and rubbed his eyes, flicking his other wrist to set the rusty platform below him into motion. The end was always the hardest part. The audience seemed so annoyed after his battles.
Venerable Master Animator Dyulakk waited for him in the middle, wearing his traditional blue-golden robe. Next to him stood a lean girl in brown novice garment. She gave Jyllo an apologetic look and shrugged. He forced himself to smile back at her.
“Three seconds, that’s a new record,” Dyulakk said and turned to the audience: “Eleah Bravia wins. What a surprise,” he had muttered that last part.
With a sigh, Jyllo made a lifting gesture and the broken parts of his robot levitated behind him as he left the arena alongside Dyulakk.
“It did move this time,” he said. “Still not enough power for weapons or complicated calculations. I think the presence of the others screws with energy transmission. If I could conduct tests outside arena battles, I—“
“Your war machines have never won in two years,” Dyulakk interrupted him. “People are beginning to ask themselves why we are keeping you. Some rumor it is only on the reputation of your late father.”
“Well they can go gently caress themselves.”
“I agree with them. You're a failure. You dress like a clown. Some even joke you’re unable to animate your own golem. I admit you’re a competent engineer. We should give you to the builders,” he smiled.
“This project will be important—”
“When the gods decide to take our powers,” Dyluakk chuckled. “I heard the stories.”
Jyllo remained silent.
Jyllo always liked to spend time in the cool underground air after an arena fight. He followed the new shaft his burrowing machine had dug into the ground, his arms outstretched, fingers tracing the earthen walls. He closed his eyes and reached out to the soil around him, feeling for the elements, and they reverberated impulses back into his fingertips and up his synapses. Shimmering silver. Copper long and wry. Faint traces of musky coal.
He stopped. There was something new. Fever. He concentrated, probing for the source. He tugged at something and felt ore unravel, sliding towards him through pores in the earth until dull metallic pebbles fell out of the wall. The hair on his skin stood up. He picked up a tiny rock and closed his fist around it, reaching out for the soul of the unknown element—
—dense black monolith adorns the horizon and pulsates green and orange in the dark electrifies the air around it and a humming noise slowly rises to a cacophony of particles as the light grows stronger and color washes over me and there is heat so much heat it burns my skin and turns my bones to ashes—
—the clang of a falling pebble snapped Jyllo back into consciousness. He slumped against the wall, shuddering. There was a metallic taste in his mouth and his palm was warm where the stone had heated up from their exchange.
“What are you?” He panted. The rocks didn’t answer.
Experiments had started promising. Jyllo would trace his fingers along the metal and sense the structure, the logic, the characteristics of his newfound ore. He would form it, send impulses and wait for the reply. Communicating with new earthen treasures always had something exciting about it.
“Energy,” it had whispered to him, “and decay”. He had called it Radnite, the bleeding metal.
“Brother, are you paying attention?” Eleah asked and he looked up from his notes.
She raised a brow.
“The Master motioned to remove you,” she repeated.
“And send me to the builders, yeah, he can’t do that.”
“There will be a vote. You haven’t fought in weeks.”
“Oh please, I found the Radnite, like, uhhh…,” he counted on his fingers. “What month is it?”
“They will make you battle to prove your worth.”
“Not ready yet.”
“Just animate some golem. You’re bound to beat one of the novices, right?”
“If you swallow your pride—“
“I can’t”, he hissed. “I can’t animate.”
“Oh. Ooooooh,” her eyes went wide. She looked down. “You never told me.”
“They didn’t lie when they said father had talent for two.” There was silence. “Look, I'll be fine, I just have to make this work,” he gestured towards his notes, discarded concepts of Radnite batteries. “I know the metal. There’s potential energy, but it has something destructive to it, like a contagious disease. It’s hard to moderate. Activating the Radnite is like… tearing it open. There’s heat and energy and the emissions rip apart more Radnite and it loops back on itself. I have to nanny it or it gets too hot and the air goes foul.”
Eleah studied the notes. “It gets hot when energy is released, and too much energy is bad.”
“Can't you just cool it?”
Master Dyulakk had insisted on fighting Jyllo himself. Of course.
He stood on the other platform, smiling. His golem, Block, the undefeated, giant metal cube, shook the ground as it rolled forward. Below Jyllo, his RadBot whirred and hissed in the sand, making jerky motions on the spot.
Block reached the robot and fell over, trying to crush the construct beneath its weight. The robot lifted its arms against the cube, pistons screaming under the pressure. Radnite arms threatened to crack as they pushed back.
“Come on,” muttered Jyllo. He had worked all night to devise a way to delay the power growth process, but now it took too long.
The standoff lasted for many excruitiating seconds. Then the air filled with electricity. The audience gasped as Block began to edge backwards, invisible energies forcing it away from RadBot. Jyllo smirked. Eleah grabbed his arm and stared at the battlefield.
A faint, high-pitched sound emerged until an electric arc shot from RadBot towards the metal cube. As Block was hit, Dyulakk reeled backwards on his platform and cursed. Jyllo felt the energy of a broken bond dissipate. The cube stopped moving.
The air sizzled. An unseen force deformed Block, stretching it towards RadBot, and Jyllo squinted. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He could feel faint waves of pressure as RadBot's magnetic shield fluttered, and broke. Distorted electrified metal seeped towards the center of the robot, piercing layers of steel and lead, water and air. It touched the Radnite core and time stood still.
Then something invisible exploded. The air rippled with force, a warm sensation washing over Jyllo. People in the audience gasped as golems shut down, some falling apart into heaps of scrap. In the middle of the arena, a smoking robot stood unmoving in a puddle of molten steel. Dyulakk was on all fours, staring at Jyllo in disbelief across the field.
For a second noone moved. Then the crowd roared.
“What just happened?” Eleah asked.
“Progress, dear sister. Progress.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 17:10|
Element: Xenon (Xe 54)
Agent Cooper tossed his datapad onto the desk. “No offense, sir, but you have to be making GBS threads me,” he said.
“No, Agent,” said Commander Havel. “I am not ‘making GBS threads you.’” Havel leaned back in his chair. “This missing shipment has gotten BioMed Inc all fired up. It’s a PR nightmare for them, since these supplies were meant to be help with the vets of the Centauran Rebellion.”
Cooper recovered his datapad, scrolled through the text, and finally put his finger down. “Licensed to use lethal force,” he said. Someone who knew Cooper less well would have missed the tone of incredulity in his voice.
“There’s been a case file running on the Karrerans for going on three years now: smuggling, extortion, bribery, even murder. We’re lucky they finally crossed the wrong people,” Havel said. “BioMed Inc have the authority to make the station a living hell, and cover our asses in the process. Thus, do what you have to do.”
“What’s the pay like?” Cooper said.
“If you figure out the why along with the how and the where? I think we can see to you getting a decent bonus for your quarterly,” Havel said. “Enough that you and the wife could go on a nebular cruise like she’s been wanting to go on.”
The light blasted Agent Cooper’s eyes as he stepped out of the air lock. Cooper stumbled back at the illumination, too bright and too colorless for his eyes. The adjustment took a few moments, and the first thing Cooper saw was the smirk on Coordinator Reynolds’ face.
“I take it your journey was without incident, Agent?” Reynolds said. He spoke fluently, but there was a touch of the Karreran accent. “We hope the proceedings will go perfectly smoothly today.”
Cooper waved off the question and looked in askance at the two men that accompanied the coordinator. “My aides,” Reynolds said.
“Very well. With any luck, it will have turned out to be a glitch and I can get home,” Cooper said.
“Excellent, Agent Cooper. Now, if you’ll follow me,” Reynolds said.
The light continued to glare down as they walked through the corridors, cold for all of its intensity. “I have to ask, what sort of lighting is this?” Cooper said.
The Coordinator’s two aides followed along the two of them. Cooper noted the lack of arms on either of the men, but that didn’t mean much. Subdermal munitions had recently upticked in popularity, and the aides were both dressed in the bulky robes favored by Karrerans, which concealed the probable weapons mount locations.
“Oh, we use Xenon lamps. It’s said the light is much like what those on Earth would have felt, with the Sun’s rays upon them,” Reynolds said.
“Xenon? That must set you back a bit in maintenance,” Cooper said. The weight of his fully unlocked and activated sidearm comforted him as it rested at his side.
“Oh, you’d be amazed at how easy it can be to find sellers at reasonable prices, and Karrera understands the value of all things,” Reynolds said. A thumb print scan unlocked the door to the warehouse. “How is your wife, Agent Cooper?
Cooper’s hand drifted towards the handle of his sidearm. “You do your research well, Coordinator. But I don’t see the relevance,” he said.
“We know the value of things. And the cost,” Reynolds said. “You have very poor data security on your finances, Agent. You might want to look into that when you return home.”
“Just take me to the goods under question,” Cooper said. He forced his pulse to calm, and willed himself to keep from filling Reynold’s back full of flechette. Reynolds bowed his head in mock deference and led the way through the maze of shelving.
“Here we are, Agent Cooper. As you can see, everything is right where it was supposed to be. There was likely some sort of error with getting the order to move the material onto the transport vessel,” Reynolds said.
The manifest of the crate’s software synched with it’s peer on his datapad and Cooper briefly scanned the results.. “Everything does appear to be in order,” Cooper said. He looked over to the two aides and stepped back. “Open the crate.”
For a moment, Reynolds and the aides stood frozen. Then Reynolds stepped forward, his voice a low whisper. “Now, I’m certain that isn’t necessary. Like you said, everything is in order,” Reynolds said.
Cooper slid his datapad back into its holster. “I have reason to suspect these goods may have been replaced. The medical supplies would fetch quite large sums on the black market,” Cooper said.
One of the aides began to push back the sleeve of his left arm, and Cooper drew his sidearm in a smooth action, aiming it at the aides’ torso. “Put down your weapon or lose your arm,” Cooper said.
The aide froze once again and Reynolds stepped back. “Agent Cooper, there is no need for bloodshed. I can’t imagine it would look very good on your resume that you were unable to resolve this issue peacefully,” he said.
“My contractor is very insistent that I resolve this issue. And my boss wants to see your entire operation dismantled,” Cooper said.
“But what do want, Agent Cooper?” Reynolds said. “Your funds are running short, your finances are all over the place. A new apartment, rising housing costs, and pay that is not increasing with the rate of inflation.”
The light elongated the shadows, and highlighted the harsh angles of Reynolds’ face. Cooper looked between the two aides, ready to pull the trigger if they so much as twitched. Reynolds stepped forward.
“And all I want is for you to look the other way,” Reynolds said. “Tell your contractor you found things in order and the supplies will be on their way.”
Cooper instinctively trained his sidearm onto Reynolds. “And what’s in it for me?” he said.
“Nothing less than a share of the proceeds,” Reynolds said, “Enough money that you won’t want for anything else in your life. And I can assure you that we are discreet. You continue working for the next few months, then you will come across a sudden windfall.”
The light transmuted everything. Nothing hid in the shadows of the colorless illumination. Here, beneath those xenon lamps, Cooper couldn’t lie to himself. He knew exactly what kind of man he was.
Cooper said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about retiring early.” His finger slid off the trigger, and he holstered his sidearm.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 19:56|
Precious Gems--(1,102 words)
Element: Carbon, Rule: write about someone uncomfortable in their own skin.
January 21, 2000
I got my first diamond today. It’s clear and pretty good quality too. When the light hits it just right, little rainbows come sparkling out from the middle and the cut edges. It’s amazing and just looking at it makes me happy.
God, I love diamonds.
January 22, 2000
Okay, so after looking at what I put in yesterday, I could stand to do some elaborating, although that probably means I’ll have to burn this thing after I’m done. So, I had ordered the diamond two weeks ago after I had finished my first contract. It was a man, I don’t really remember his name, only that it had to look like an accident so I only managed to get a lock of his hair before the actual driving-into-a-wall thing happened. It was enough for them to work with, though.
I told the people at LifeStone that the hair came from my fiance who died in a car-crash, which was only a slight twist on the truth, right? It was super-expensive though, like $4,000 expensive. Fortunately, the contractee had paid enough ahead of time that I didn’t have to wait to get the rest of the payment before I could send it in. I’m looking forward to my next one. We’ll see what else you-know-who hires me for.
March 30, 2001
I have just gotten the most beautiful blood-red heart-cut diamond in the world. Now I have ten gems in all, all set and with a piece of jewelry specifically for each one. This one’s going on a chain of black gold. It’ll look so dramatic, just like the story behind it.
Well, the story behind the contract isn’t so dramatic. Just your average know-it-all rat who couldn’t quit running her tongue to the police, so she had to disappear. I like the ‘disappearing’ jobs since I get more leeway with what I get to do. This time, I got to dress up like a guy and pick her up in a bar. (That was actually kind of fun, I’ll have to do that again.) So black-haired ‘James Schmidt’ was the last one to be seen with her. Anyways, so I had gotten her to my workstation out in the sticks, aided with liberal doses of morphine, and I may have been a little high myself when I came up with the idea of cutting her up while she was still out of it. I cracked her chest open first. Seeing a heart beat and lungs expand while they’re still in the body is amazing.
Of course I kept her sedated the whole time, I’m not a monster, but it was fascinating to just watch that heartbeat right to the last as the blood drained from the rest of her onto the plastic-covered floor, dissolved most of her in acid, but kept the heart for myself and burned it. To the LifeStone people, they were the ashes of Amanda Schmidt’s great-grandmother who passed away a year ago from a stroke.
These contracts, what I get to do, is absolutely...amazing isn’t the right word. I don’t know what is but it’s beyond amazing. I didn’t realize how terrible and grey and drab I was feeling before I started working. Now I feel right. This job is the best job. And the best hobby, too.
September 18, 2006
I’m sorry I keep leaving you for so long, journal. I don’t have anything to write about, though. I haven’t gotten a contract in four years. Two years. Because some rat got caught and then turned on the guys who gave me the contracts. I guess I should be glad that I’m not in prison with them, but that’s just dumb luck on my part. It’s not like they didn’t try, but I’m not an idiot and I know how to cover my tracks.
It’s driving me crazy, just being here, existing, and kind of lonely. Granted, the people who knew me before weren’t exactly friends, but they knew me. I have new job, new house, new name, new everything. Doing computer-programming things (my new job). Going out to a bar occassionally. Netflix movies and pizza. It’s all so dull. Boring. The same god-forsaken thing over and over again. One of the big things I miss about getting contracts is being able to do something I love. The payments and getting those special diamonds definitely helped. I have twenty-nine now, and the odd number is driving me crazy. I’ve gotten one or two more gems since the contracts stopped, but I really haven’t had the money for it. I’ve just had to be satisfied with wearing my old ones. They’re nice, but it’s not like getting a new one.
Maybe, if I can save up enough, there’s this nice woman named Dana I’ve become pretty good friends with. She’s the sweetest little thing and loves to go hiking and really likes my jewelry. I like her eyes.
July 5, 2007
I went to her funeral today. The ceremony was closed-casket, of course. No one would have been able to keep their breakfasts down if it hadn’t. I may have gone a little overboard, but it had been almost three years since I’d done it, and it was so familiar and felt so good to let go again. This time, I took the eyes. I left her out in the woods so most of the trauma should look like the animals did it. Of course, I had to be super-careful with the clean up, but I think I did OK. I’ll probably move away by the end of the year though, just to be safe.
I’ll miss Dana.
July 12, 2007
I have a new diamond! This one’s colored blue and emerald cut. It’s on a pretty little silver chain. She told me that blue was her favorite color, so I think she’d appreciate it. I’m just sad that it didn’t arrive in time for the funeral. It would have been fitting.
I’m still planning to move at the end of the year, but there’s this guy, though, that I met at the funeral. He’s a real sweetheart and was very kind to me afterwards, giving me his condolences for losing a friend and taking me out for a drink. I won’t write his name (it rhymes with ‘grieve’ and starts with an ‘S’) but he likes green, and I only have one green diamond. Maybe I’ll have another one by September, I’ll have to save up for it though.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 20:00|
I opened the door and found myself knee deep in rabbits. One thousand balls of frantic hopping fur that scampered in every direction as soon as they saw sunlight. I had to take a step back and collect myself; I was not expecting this many rabbits. I actually wasn’t expecting any rabbits, since Frank had invited me over for turkey.
I stepped carefully around a tangled ream of animal and made my way into the living room. There were even more rabbits there, which made sense, because there weren’t any rabbits on the doorstep until I had inadvertently unleashed them unto the world. The rabbits here did not seem particularly happy to be spilling everywhere and anywhere. It seemed to me that there should have been some internal wiring that informed them on close quarter maneuvering, since their parents lived in bushes or holes and were known to bone like…well, like rabbits. If such a gene existed, it must have been recessive because these rabbits clearly did not know what the gently caress. They were like cockroaches, darting every direction and falling over each other; I suspected if I knocked down a wall I would find them in the insulation. Seriously, it was a lot of rabbits.
It dawned on me that I hadn’t seen Frank yet. A pang of fear grabbed me in the pit of my stomach as I imagined him swallowed in a tidal wave of cottontail. I kept my cool as I called out to him. “Frank! Don’t be dead!”
“Workshop!” I heard him yell from what seemed like a million miles away, his voice drowned out by the twitching of one thousand noses. “I’ve made a breakthrough!”
“You have some rabbits in the living room,” I shouted, making my way towards the door that connected the house and garage.
“I almost used Bourbon.” That was his St. Bernard. I hadn’t seen him yet, and prayed he was snoozing happily and not avalanched away somewhere. “Imagine the disaster that would’ve been.”
I suddenly realized that every single rabbit was the same: light grey, a white patch on the nose, one ear more floppy than the other. I stepped over three brother bunnies and wedged open the door, where I found myself staring at a very large machine with a red phosphorous laser that was pointed straight into a small rabbit cage. At the other end was a second cage, which was open and spewing out animals at the higher end of rabbits per second. I blinked, stunned. “What did you do, Frank?”
Frank grinned at me. “I made a bunch of Lunch.”
Lunch was his pet rabbit, and he was now everywhere.
I looked around and held out my hands in defeat. “I can’t…you’ve…how?”
“Yttrium!” He glanced into the laser cage, which I assumed contained Lunch Prime, and wiggled his nose at him before moving to a keyboard and monitor by the laser array, where he tapped furiously as he talked. “It’s fairly complicated and I probably can’t explain it well, but basically Y-90 has a half life of around seventy minutes, and when it falls apart, that allows for runoff from the isotropic decay to be harnessed and channeled into the laser, which will—“
“Frank.” I interrupted him and gestured at the garage in an attempt to ground him. “Rabbits. So many. Why so many rabbits, Frank?”
“This is my Kilimanjaro, man. It was there.” He glanced at a readout, then moved to the laser and adjusted a knob. “I mean, I’ve been trying for a while. It clicked when I realized the Yttrium angle. I blew up a couple of carrots using plutonium last week, so I was discouraged, but then I was like: ‘Yttrium! Duh!’”
“Oh, right. ‘Duh.’” I saw a Lunch nibbling on a laser cable and shooed it away with my foot, figuring that was probably a strong choice. Something clicked in my brain and I looked at Frank. “Where the hell did you get plutonium?”
“Craigslist isn’t super regulated.” He looked up at me. “Do you need a kidney? I could get you a kidney.”
“I’m good on kindeys, thanks,” I said, patting my side. I picked up one of the Lunch Borg and held it in front of me. It stared at me with what seemed like gratitude, as if it was happy for the freedom to wiggle its legs helplessly in the air. “So, what are you going to do with all the rabbit? Open a pet store?”
“Nothing.” He checked his watch. “Should take care of itself in approximately…now, actually.”
I glanced at him over the rabbit, furrowing my brow. “Huh?”
He looked back at me and nodded at the rabbit in my hands.
Except it was no longer a rabbit, it was half a rabbit. His hindquarters fell away in a pile of literal dust bunny. His happy expression had become zen-like as he stared dumbly through me, and then suddenly there was no longer a rabbit and I was staring at my fingers. The light from the window caught specks of Not Lunch as they wafted away from me.
Distraught at this turn of events, I looked about the garage. All around me, rabbits were puffing out of existence. Some were melting into puddles like living Escher paintings. Others were crumbling to pieces that rolled away in tiny rabbit tumbleweeds. One literally inflated and popped like a balloon.
It was really weird. This was not the way I had expected my day to go. I didn’t even think I was hungry anymore, but I honestly wasn’t sure. There were a lot of dead not-animals in sandy piles everywhere.
Frank turned off the laser and walked over to Lunch’s cage. He tested it with a light touch, then opened it and pulled Patient Zero out from within. He scratched Lunch behind the ears. “Good job, buddy!”
I stepped over a few piles of once-rabbit and made my way to where Frank was. “What the hell just happened?”
“Well, the time until total isotropic decay is only about an hour and a half. Once the isotopes go bye-bye, so do the subjects.” He held Lunch in front of him and made a few ridiculous faces. “It happened yesterday too.”
“You did this twice?” I gingerly poked a pile of rabbit dust with the toe of my shoe.
He nodded and tickled Lunch under the ears. The rabbit laughed silently and Frank giggled back at him. “I wasn’t sure if it was a glitch or a side-effect. But, you know, theory, hypothesis, test, fact. All that.”
I looked over at the laser. “That…is the most useless laser I’ve ever seen.”
“Turns out it’s kind of a waste of time, yeah.” Frank tucked Lunch under his arm. “Want to get drunk?”
I nodded. I had decided I wasn’t very hungry, but drinking I could do.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 21:01|
Nothing to see here!
God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 22:23 on Feb 17, 2014
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 21:43|
Toil and Tenure
Inspired by Sulfur , 1005 words
Budi sat cross-legged on a boulder, chewing betel. He stared at the smoky crags rising above the village. “Was anyone killed?”
“No,” Wibawa said. “We found Harta’s goats in the lower slopes, all of them slaughtered. We only caught glances of the mountain spirits darting between rocks and scurrying about. Mostly we could just hear them hissing and sniggering.” He thrust his spear into the ground. “If only we could fight back against them. It’s as if they exist solely to confound us.”
“It is only a matter of time before they start attacking us directly for our encroachment.”
“The people are restless. They want to move on from this place.” Wibawa sighed. “But there is no where left that is safe from the warring tribes.”
Budi could feel the great weight of his people’s welfare fall to his shoulders. The vast jungle that Wibawa had led them out of weeks before surrounded the village, threatening to swallow them back up. Fresh water bubbled up warm from the ground and rich soil in these foothills promised bountiful crops, but death lurked above.
“I have a theory,” Budi said. He plucked the vine from his mouth. “Do you remember the old stories? How our ancestors once lived in trees, fearful of the spirits of the land? It was only through gathering the fruits that fell from the branches, then hunting the animals of the earth, and finally cultivating crops in the soil, that we were able to claim the land.”
Wibawa furrowed his brow.
“Surely you’ve heard the tales of how man conquered the shallow seas. In the old days the water spirits could drag a man from the shore and drown him if they pleased. It wasn’t until our brave forefathers began fishing and navigating the waters with boats, that man added the seas to his domain.”
“The spirits still control the deep places,” Wibawa said. “And it is such with this mountain, Budi. Smoke and fire rise from the crevices. We are very close to the underworld here. That is the undisputed domain of the spirits. Are you suggesting we can claim it?
“The depths, no. But I think we can take the surface. There is unnatural heat and twisted bone-like formations, but there is also soil and water.”
“Soil that belches choking fog and water that boils.”
Budi slid down from his perch. “The only other option is to turn back and submit to one of the barbaric tribes. We have run out of places to go. I will test my theory. If it fails, we will have lost no more than if we had not tried.”
“I will assemble the men for battle.”
“No,” Budi said. “You know that is futile. I will do this alone. Gather the tribe in case I am unsuccessful and it is necessary to leave.”
After collecting his supplies, Budi ascended the gravelly path. When the rocks became sharp and jagged he carefully placed each footfall, all the while keeping an eye out for the mountain’s inhabitants. A thick stench soon alerted him that he was close. He untied one of the bamboo baskets slung over his shoulder and fished an egg from the pouch at his waist.
Budi crept up to the crater of bubbling water and knelt. He dropped a basket in, then an egg.
He looked back to find the way blocked by a writhing mass of shadow. A group of spirits pressed together to observe what he was up to.
Budi rose slowly. Chest out, he strutted to the next boiling pool and set the land’s resources to work with another egg and basket.
The spirits crowded around the first pool. Oozing in and out of the water, they jostled the basket. The ones at the edge began swaying back and forth. Their translucent amorphous forms undulated, then spasmed into opaque angular bodies. Swaying turned into frenzied dancing.
High pitched chirps and squawks called to Budi as he made his way from the third to the fourth pool at a calm, steady pace. Dark, spiny crab-like creatures skittered past him on both sides. Something hard and sharp clawed at his calf. The spirits swarmed, taking his legs out from under him.
Budi crawled, clawing at the coarse sand. He threw his remaining baskets at the boiling water feet from him. One landed half in. He reached for an egg, but it cracked in his hand as the spirits raked and battered him. Budi lashed out, flinging yolk and slime in all directions.
Budi hit and kicked at his attackers. When his fists or feet tried to connect with them the spirits faded into immaterial shades, but in that state they couldn’t harm him either. Flailing wildly he made a break for the fourth pool and threw his remaining eggs in the basket.
The spirits, slithering, tumbling, leaping, closed in on him. Black tentacles wrapped around his ankles. His chin slammed into the hard ground. They piled on his back and tore at his flesh. Yet, despite their increasingly frantic attacks, their blows fell weaker and weaker.
Budi threw the creatures off of him. Some splattered into a puddle of goo when they crashed into the ground. Others sank down into the dirt. The bigger ones charged right back at him.
Budi made a run for the first egg he had set to boil. He tore the basket from the scalding water. He plucked out the egg and held it up to the peak of the mountain. Blood and yolk ran down from the corners of his mouth as he bit into the egg, shell and all.
The spirits shrieked and thrashed. They clawed at the ground as they sank back into the depths, squatters banished by a superior title. A great rumbling shuddered through the mountain. Fissures cracked open and released clouds of blinding miasma.
Budi limped to retrieve the other eggs. After retrieving the products of his toil, he retreated, choking and coughing and spitting up blood.
The assembled tribe wept and wailed as the mountain erupted. Ash and debris rained down. Surely Budi had failed.
Budi hobbled out of the thick haze. He flicked egg shells to the ground and called out to his people, "The taste of victory is good!”
Wibawa ran through the cheering crowd and grabbed Budi’s shoulders. “What happened?”
“I boiled some eggs.” He took a long wheezing breath. “As long as we continue using the land, the mountain will be ours.” He popped a yolk into his mouth and smiled with broken, bloody teeth.
Jagermonster fucked around with this message at 22:06 on Feb 9, 2014
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 22:02|
The Oracle (silver, 590 words)
By Benny the Snake
I knew a person with silver-colored eyes.
Where I come form, those born with eyes of silver are blessed with the gift of prophecy. When they become of age, they are taken to the temple to serve as oracles. I once had my future told by an oracle. To this day I still remember what she told me.
I spent my days back then toiling over the blacksmith forge as an apprentice for only a few copper pieces a day. One day, I had saved enough to where I decided to have my fate revealed to me by the oracle at the temple. I climbed up the steps and reached the outside where giant columns supported the roof and the archway was guarded by a monk. “I wish to see the oracle,” I told him.
“Present your offering before entering,” the monk said and pointed towards a collection plate on top of a pedestal. I thew five gold pieces in the plate. “Your offering is accepted. You may enter,” he said and stepped aside.
Inside the temple was a statue of the God of prophecy: a one-eyed man holding a star in his hand with the words “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” written on the base. The oracle herself was a young woman wearing silk robes who had eyes of silver so polished I could see my reflection in them. Incense was burning inside, filling the air with a sweet scent that made me drowsy. I immediately bowed in front of her. “Oh great oracle, I have come to seek my destiny.”
She looked into my eyes. Her gaze was so intimidating that I looked away. “Tell me,” she said, “What do you think about fate?”
“What do I think about fate?” I asked. “Well, I never thought much about it. All I really know is that it's unavoidable,” I said trying my best not to look into her eyes.
She gave me a faint smile. “That is true. There is a saying that as man plans, the Gods laugh. On a cosmic scale, the fate of man is as insignificant as a grain of sand.”
“Well my fate matters to me.”
“Of course it does. Give me your hand,” she told me. I held out my hand. She took it and pulled a knife from behind her. “Don't worry. For me to see your fate, I need only a drop of blood,” she said and pricked my thumb. After squeezing it to draw blood, she took my thumb and pressed it against her forehead.
“Yes...” she said faintly. “Oh dear...”
“What?” I asked as a lump started to form in my throat.
“I see you at your home with blood on your hands.”
“Yes, I see blood on your hands and the bodies of three people at your feet,” she told me. “I see a bloodstained dagger and madness in your eyes.”
“No, this cannot be,” I said as fear overtook every fiber of my body.
“I am sorry, but that is all I can see," she said. “Th-thank you,” I said weakly and turned around to leave. About halfway through the temple I started running. How could I raise my hand in anger against my own flesh and blood? How could I kill them? I left home that night with nothing more than the clothes on my back.
A year later I slaughtered my whole family in cold blood.
Benny the Snake fucked around with this message at 23:45 on Feb 9, 2014
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 22:17|
Because He Was
Calcium. 567 words.
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 02:50 on Dec 11, 2014
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 22:41|
Flash Rules: Moustache, One of your characters should be concerned about what is real.
“It’s simple,” said Joan. “It’s a fake. Definitely a fake, painted on with greasepaint, because he hated ripping off a glued one every night.”
Simon watched her perfect mouth form each word, hating the fact that it was Tim’s to kiss.
“We need to be sure we're answering the exact question being asked, dear,” said Tim, looking from his wife to Simon. In 1950, was the moustache of the host of ‘You Bet Your Life’ real or fake? We have to be careful. There’s only a couple of points between us and those smarmy ‘Angry Nerds’ bastards.”
“Well,” said Joan, slowly, as if explaining to a dull child, “the host of Bet Your Life in 1950 was Groucho Marx. He had a fake moustache. Ergo, it was fake. Put ‘Fake’.” Joan took a swig from her beer bottle while tapping the table to emphasise the finality of her decision.
Simon gazed at her slender neck as she swallowed, but then noticed Tim’s attention and focussed on the the almost complete answer sheet in front of him. “You know, I’m pretty sure he grew a real one, later in life. In the last Marx Brothers movie, he had a real moustache.”
Emily reached out and touched Simon’s hand. “Was that the one we saw on telly? The one with Marilyn Monroe in it? He definitely did have a moustache in that one.”
Simon glanced at her and nodded before turning back to Joan. “I think it’s a trick question. They want you to think you’re clever for knowing that Groucho Marx was the host, and that he usually had a greasepaint moustache, but then they sting you because at that point he didn’t.”
“You’re sure, then? Sure enough that you’d bet on it.” asked Tim.
“Stakes?” asked Simon.
“Domination for the half life of Seaborgium-271,” said Tim.
“Done,” said Simon. He wrote “Real’ on the answer sheet and underlined it. As the QuizMaster passed by their table Simon tore the sheet from the booklet and handed it over. “...and done. It’s in the hands of the Quiz Gods now.”
Joan rolled her eyes and grunted. Emily looked confused. “What’s going on?”
“The boys bet when there’s a difference of opinion at the table,” said Joan. “They say it keeps things interesting, but really it’s just an excuse for them to swing their general knowledge related dicks around. There’s bunch of different rules but Domination is a ‘you have to be my slave’ kind of deal.”
Emily giggled. “That sounds fun. And what’s a Sea Borg? One of those Trekkie things?”
“Seaborgium 271 is a trans-uranic isotope that only exists in laboratories after bombarding Californium with Oxygen ions. It decays into Rutherfordium after only a couple of minutes,” said Tim, looking at Simon with a wolfish grin.
“One point nine minutes, to be precise,” said Simon, smiling shyly at Joan.
Having collected all the teams’ sheets and handed them over to the scorer, the Quizmaster read out the answers. They’d done well, missing a geography question but picking up a bonus point for knowing the names of both Dalmatian parents in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. During the reading they listened out for the Angry Nerds table across the pub, trying to judge how their opponents were doing by the sound of their whoops and groans. It was hard to be sure, but they seemed to be level pegging.
The final question about the host of ‘You Bet your Life’ was read out and the answer pronounced: Fake. Simon sagged in dismay. From the Angry Nerds corner came a low muttering of disappointment.
“All right, Timmy,” said Simon, smiling nervously. “You got me fair and square. Let the indentured servitude begin. Just remember: I know where the bodies are buried.”
“OK then, mister,” said Tim. “I declare, for the next one point nine minutes, you have to stop being in love with my wife.”
Everybody stared at everybody else. Nobody spoke. And then someone did.
“What?” asked Emily. “Is this part of the bet? Simon?”
“I’m not,” said Simon staring squarely at Tim, “in love with Joan.”
“Good stuff,” said Tim. “And for the next couple of minutes I expect you to remain that way. Do whatever you have to, I really don’t mind how. Just do it, it’s starting to get a little embarrassing, you staring all the time, not to mention excessively rude to Emily here.”
“Simon?” asked Emily again.
Simon stuttered, face flushing as he realised he had nothing else to say. He closed his eyes, ignoring Emily, ignoring everyone. He could get up and walk away, he realised, but really, what was the point? It was said now. And besides, he was under Domination and a bet was a bet. There was nothing else for it but to stop being being in love with Joan. Perhaps it was possible - perhaps he really, truly could if he tried. It had to be better than staring at her across the table every week, trying to impress her with useless facts.
He breathed, summoned tiny particles of hate: the bitterness he’d felt when she and Tim had become a couple; the way she laughed at Tim’s jokes and not at his; the lurid pictures of them together that occasionally slid unbidden into his mind when he thought of her. He opened himself to be bombarded by them. He pictured his own heart devoid of warmth, turning metallic, a deadened, silvery grey. He felt the chemical reaction inside him, changing him. He opened his eyes, looked directly at Joan, and felt nothing. Had he done it, he wondered? Had he truly done it?
“I am not,” he said with absolute conviction, “in love with Joan.”
“Just in time!” said Tim. “I can almost believe it - what do you think, dear?”
But Emily and Joan were looking at something else. Someone from the Angry Nerds team had brought up Wikipedia on their phone and was waving it angrily at the QuizMaster.
“I’m sorry,” said the QuizMaster, his face dwarfed by the thick framed spectacles he wore each week. “Usually we don’t allow correspondence to be entered into, but as this will stop a three way tie I will allow the fact that that one of our answers appears to be quite demonstrably wrong. In 1950 the moustache of the host of You Bet Your Life was, in fact, the real thing. Our mistake. Everybody gets the point!”
Simon saw Joan’s face crease with mixed emotion at the news and his heart collapsed back into love, its deadened nature transient and unsustainable in the real world. But there were still particles scattering - newly created residue of its metallic state. Atomic slivers of vengeance.
“Does that mean Simon gets to be the SeaBorg now?” asked Emily.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 22:47|
Element: Bismuth http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bismuth
The Crawling Statue
Words: 1393 (193 stolen from Jeza for a previous Brawl victory)
Oliver Jones, covered in sweat and losing daylight, had no sign of any goddamn tin mine. Just green hills and mountains as far as he could see.
“Sanderson sent us on another goose chase,” Oliver said. He said to himself, as his silent Bolivian guides barely understood him.
Oliver threw his rock hammer in frustration and took a deep breath. Getting angry at his step-father was useless. This was not the first time, nor the last, speculating for minerals would lead him to the rear end end of nowhere. Oliver traipsed through the scrub grass to retrieve his hammer. Turning to wave at the Bolivians, his next step found no solid ground. A sink hole opened under him, sending a layer of topsoil and plants plummeting down a steep embankment, with Oliver tumbling after them.
When he landed, the wind knocked out of him, and he lay wheezing on the ground for an eternal few seconds. Crawling onto his hands and knees, he righted himself, and found that he was in a cave system of some kind.
“I’m okay, I’m okay!” Oliver shouted.
The tumble into the cave was steep, and he would most likely need a rope to get back up. Not impossible, but dangerous if he were to fall again from a poor foothold. Oliver looked around, and saw glints of light from the walls. Specks of rainbow colors caught the corners of his eyes as he turned, reflecting even the tiniest sunlight. At once he realized he hadn’t found tin, but better.
“Bismuth! Bismuth!” Oliver shouted.
“Ayudar? Ayudar?” The Bolivians shouted.
“Si! Ropa, ropa!”
Oliver saw the Bolivian’s head nod and disappear. Oliver laughed and clapped. Not only would Sanderson be wrong about the tin, but he’d have to acknowledge Oliver’s prodigious find. Something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. A purple, shifting color intrigued him and drew him further into the cave.
Oliver unclipped his belt flashlight, but found almost no need. The sun from the opening seemed sufficient even past the antechamber. Movement caught his eye again, and he was certain something was down there. Excitement and wonder blended with fear, but his feet continued.
Around a bend, he finally saw the thing, but it was not flesh or chitin. Small, cube-like segments, connected in inexplicable flexibility crawled its way along the ground. Oliver saw no discernable anatomy, and yet it moved unhindered. The alien creature ignored him, and only avoided him if he reached out.
It was angular, and mostly square, lacking any sort of curvature or roundness. Each segment shimmered; a changing spectrum of metallic colors, none uniform in anyway. Oliver couldn’t believe what he was seeing, so overwhelmed that he couldn’t explain why followed it.
The creature was moving towards something, and Oliver compulsively trying to study its geometry. Before he realized it, he was in a colossal chamber where the snake-like creature had led him.
The entire chamber of the cave was lined in bismuth of all colors, so vibrant that he believed them to be artificial. They were illuminated from light that came from no where. The chamber should have been pitch black, but Oliver could see everything. The angular formations seemed to adjust and shift, and he realized the walls were covered in creatures just like the one he followed. And in the center of the cave was their altar.
Floating on a natural pedestal of rock was the largest intact piece of bismuth he had ever seen. Impossible angles and sides jutted from the rock. Its color shifted, even without Oliver changing his perspective. Reds and purples gave way to oranges and blues, and tiny columns of hexagons and squares rose and fell as the bismuth core rotated freely in the air.
The Core was a beautiful, perfect mass of spiraling squares of rainbow hues and symmetry. The Core pulsed, no, that was not the right word for it; as it rotated it constantly re-aligned as though it were purging imperfections and errors in its construction. The Core was alive, that he was sure. Oliver stepped closer, compelled, and reached out his hands.
The moment his flesh touched the cold metal, a piercing reverberation knocked him to the ground. Rumbling, crashing metal sounds filled the cave as the creatures who had been watching him descended on the small man. From the ground a rocky, undulating snake creature sprang, sinking blade-like teeth into his calf. Oliver cried in pain and tried to shake free.
Kicking the creature off, he fled. Something filled the veins of his wound, immediately inflaming the perforations. They came at him, diving on translucent, metallic wings, buzzing and clawing at him. As he ran he ricocheted off jagged walls but began to gain distance. He saw the opening he fell through and his hope jumped. His lungs pumped fire, but he kept going.
As he scrambled up the embankment his leg locked up. Thick, ferrous liquid seized his muscles from the vein. It was as though the poison in his leg was trying to re-unite with the Core. Through clenched teeth he wheezed; spittle and foam dribbled out of his mouth. He had to move faster.
Behind him he heard the slithering metal creatures, moving in square-like revolutions, tumbling after him from the walls and ceilings and floors. He could hear their sharp talons and fangs grating against each other, scraping in cacophony. He couldn’t bend his leg at the knee, and he tumbled, crawling as fast as he could towards the light. He knew he would be safe, if he could make it toward the light.
Now there was only the sound of sheet metal grinding against itself. Each handful of rock and dirt pulled Oliver closer to the entrance, and as he burst into the light he could see nor hear any longer. The blinding white light was all he could remember.
Oliver Jones’s village nickname became “la estatua de rastreo”, what he learned to be ‘crawling statue.’ After refusing to divulge the mine’s location, or return to the company, Sanderson cut him off financially. The guides had left town the night they dragged Oliver back, and no one could find them. Oliver wondered if they were the lucky ones.
Empty bottles lined the flat surfaces of the small adobe hut Oliver slept in. He made a point of never calling it home, but he wasn’t sure that he’d ever leave the little village. The alcohol was burning through his savings, and he suspected the courier to La Paz was ripping him off as well. There was little he could do, and everyone knew it.
Propped on a chair was his leg, blue-gray to the knee and hard as stone. He wondered if what he should call it an infection, or a petrifaction. This was a far from the Core as he was could risk, or bear. He yearned for it. Drowning himself in alcohol was how he dulled the pain of his leg and the absence of the Core. But there was another way.
Like a divining rod of relief, he could tell where the Core was at all times, pulling him with the gentle promises of release. Oliver trekked, once a week, as close as he dare. The creatures were out there, and he felt stalked by them. Absolutely sure of their aggression, he varied his spots, never sure if he were walking into a trap. When he got close enough, he could feel the poison loosen its hold, so much so that he could bend his leg at the ankle again. It was almost like the feeling of the pins and needles from it being asleep, and he relished the sensation.
Anxiety crept into his gut, and he spun around like a wary deer. They were there, always in his periphery, but he could never confirm them to be more than just imaginations and phantoms. Oliver gathered his belongings into the pack and took up his walking stick. Every session seemed shorter than the last, and he wondered when they would finally close in on him.
Returning to his hut, he waited for his courier to arrive with more alcohol. That was all Oliver could do, wait. Wait for inevitability to come crashing down on him, and he was afraid that he would never be ready.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 23:03|
As Good as Gold
"I can't find the ring you bought me." Sophie appears out of the bedroom waving her hands, there's dirt under the fingernails and a slight green mark on one finger. "Have you seen it anywhere?"
"You probably lost it in the garden," Erik takes her hands in his, and smiles as she laughs and pulls away, "I'll buy you a new one, it was only copper anyway."
She shakes her head and turns towards the bathroom, still laughing, "Sometimes I think you don't appreciate me, next time I want gold!"
They're in the potting shed the next morning, planting seeds and searching for the ring, when he hears Sophie hiss with pain.
"Your drat rosebush bit me," Erik jumps back in alarm as she waves her hand at the rosebush that grows up the back wall, covering the benches with blood, "I'm going to go wrap this up before I bleed out." She pushes the door open and disappears.
Inspecting the seedlings later, he notices one has turned a pale yellow colour, over-watering maybe? He puts it to one side until Sophie comes back.
She runs her fingers over it and exclaims, "It's hard!"
He grins, confused, and she shakes her head, "The plant, you idiot, it's made of metal, are you sure it grew?" He nods, and she stares at it thoughtfully.
The metal seedling sits in the shed for almost a week, but grows no bigger. At dinner one night, Sophie is unusually quiet. "I've been thinking..." Erik looks up and sees her food is untouched, "It's metal, but what if it needs blood to grow. Blood has copper in it, right?"
Erik frowns, "I dunno. Iron, maybe? It's worth a go."
They finish their meal. Later on he watches as she pricks a finger and squeezes the blood onto the metal leaves. It sits there for a moment, before sinking in and swirling through the copper like water.
"I told you it'd work!" Sophie is surprisingly pleased, "I wonder how much it needs."
Erik blanches, "You're not planning to keep feeding this thing your blood are you? You could kill yourself, Sophie!"
"With one drop of blood a day?" she laughs and runs her fingers over the leaves, "I doubt it."
Several days later the copper plant has tripled in size, and Erik and Sophie have their first ever fight.
"I told you not to keep-" Erik starts, but Sophie interrupts him,
"You can't tell me what to do!"
"I'm going to get rid of it, I'm going to throw it out! I swear, Sophie..." He's never seen her angry before.
"If you do, I'm leaving with it!"
Hours later, Erik stands in the shed and stares down at the plant. Sophie has moved it into a bigger pot now. On a whim he uproots it, it has a normal root system but there's no sign of the ring.
He lays it on the bench, then switches off the light and heads back into the house.
Erik plants the other seedlings alone, and soon the shed is clear apart from the rosebush and the copper tree, which Sophie has replanted. Seeing it in the late-summer sun, Erik thinks it's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen; standing almost 3ft tall, the trunk and branches resembling twisted bronze wire, the leaves a bright copper-gold.
He's still staring at it when the door to the shed opens and Sophie comes in, stopping as she notices him. In her hand is a small knife, and as he takes it, he sees the cuts for the first time.
He reaches for her hands, but she refuses to look at him, pulling away and turning back towards the house. Confused and scared, he follows.
Awakening the next day, Sophie finds all the outside-doors locked, and all the knives missing from the kitchen.
Erik watches her search, "I called your work for you."
She spins to face him, and he hesitates at the madness on her face.
"Just stay inside for a few days, don't go near that, that thing, then-" he suddenly realises how this sounds, "-then I'll let you out?"
"You'll let me out?" Her mouth moves, but for a moment no sound comes out, "You'll let me out? We're not even married, you can't do this!"
He closes his eyes for a second, "Yes. If you can stand it for the weekend, then I'll let you out. I sold that drat tree to a scrap dealer anyway. It's gone, Sophie."
He watches her face change, the madness fading, leaving a strange emptiness in its place. She stares at him for a moment, before silently turning away.
The next morning she seems almost normal, chatting and laughing at breakfast, but there's a brittleness to her smile and her eyes are cold, her movements too precise. That afternoon she tears apart the house searching for the keys.
The second day is worse as she goes through each room, destroying. In the kitchen she pours bleach over all the food, then methodically smashes up each room, before collapsing in the remains of the bedroom sobbing.
On the third day she doesn't get up, and Erik puts the house back together alone.
The light is fading as he lets himself into the garden, lifts the tree from the shed and throws it into the bin. Returning home, he's startled to find Sophie in the kitchen, wearing nothing but a thin summer-dress. Her eyes are puffy, bloodshot, and very, very wide.
"You said you'd sold it."
He hesitates, and she lurches forward, grabbing the keys off him. Within seconds she's outside, running through the garden. He follows, but she throws open the bin and pulls out the tree before he can stop her.
Clutching it to her chest she turns and stares at him with cold eyes, and as Erik reaches for her, the tree lurches from her arms. He tries to grab it as it grows up and through and around her, towering into the sky.
Erik stares ahead blankly, one hand still outstretched, resting on the huge copper tree.
He never really got over the loss. Sometimes though, come late summer, he'd rest against the trunk and talk; telling Sophie about his day, what he'd done at work, what he fancied growing over the next year.
Eventually, he hoped, Sophie would answer back.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 23:10|
“Dog Five, this is Dog One-Seven, over.” SFC Williams’ Detroit accent.
I key my Bose headset. “This is Five, send it.”
“ANA are stopping. Looks like they found somethin in the road, over.”
“Roger, confirm and report. Dog Five out.” I open the door of my MATV, step out onto the running board. 1st Platoon’s Strykers are on the road ahead, pulled off in alternating directions in what we call a herringbone. Williams is out of his truck, walking to meet the ANA commander. His terp, short and scrawny in too-large ACUs, trots beside him. The green ANA Ford Rangers and Humvees are parked in no particular formation. A couple of the scout dirtbikes slewed across the road maybe half a klik from my vehicle. This logistics patrol to my 2nd Platoon out at COP Shamulzai is stretching on into infinity. We left at zero-seven and it’s already thirteen hundred. We’re only halfway there.
“What’s the deal, Sir?” SPC Branovic asks. She tugs at the bun under her helmet.
“Afghans found something up there. Probably an IED.”
She nods, drums her fingers on the steering wheel. Branovic is a mechanic, not my assigned driver. But she’s a better than SPC Gray, and the mechanic team can afford to lose her for a day.
Williams and the ANA captain are done. He transmits as he walks back to his Stryker. “Hey Dog Five, this is One-Seven, these dudes found a pressure-plate IED. Up where those dirtbikes are parked, over.”
“One-Seven, Five, good copy. SOP for removal, over?”
I slide back into the vehicle. I say to Branovic, “I want to see this poo poo.”
“gently caress yes.” She puts the big Oshkosh armored truck into gear. We roll past 1st Platoon’s vics and through the ANA trucks. Bearded faces swivel towards us, eyes unreadable under bushy eyebrows. Most of them don’t wear armor or helmets, just a few magazine pouches for their M16s. I’m jealous. I don’t mind my plate carrier, but I loving hate helmets. Itchy, hot, gives me a sore neck after being on patrol all day.
One of the scouts is back on his dirtbike. He pulls it off the road and behind a boulder. He and one of his buddies crabwalk up to what must be the IED.
“Stop here,” I say. Branovic hits the brakes. We’re a hundred meters from the scouts. Plenty far if the charge blows. I watch them fiddle with something on the ground. They walk back to where I’m parked. One has a length of five-fifty cord in his hand. He yanks on it. A piece of wood and metal skids along the dirt on the other end of the cord. I step out onto the running board again, brace my M4 over the door. With my 4x ACOG I can see the pressure plate lying harmless in the dust. A dead cobra made of wood, a saw blade, and copper wire. More wire sticks up from the ground a foot away from the plate. The two scouts go back to the site, pick up the pressure plate. They hook the cord to the wires, repeat the same walk-and-yank routine. Nothing happens, again.
“Dog One-Seven, this is Dog Five. Afghans disabled the IED. I’m walking up to take a look.”
“Dog Five, this is One-Seven, roger.”
I dismount the MATV. Branovic stays in the driver’s seat. I clip the strap on my M4 to the buckle on the upper-right corner of my plate carrier, let it hang. This part of Zabul is never very hot, even in the height of summer. It’s still hotter than Germany. I miss the weather back there. The high-speed driving. I miss beer and liquor, but more than that, I miss good loving food.
The scouts are standing near the IED site, jabbering in Dari, watching a pair of regular ANA soldiers dig with crowbars. I stop and look down at the hole. They’ve exposed a patch of dirty yellow plastic. The charge.
“Hey sir, these boy-fuckers need some help?”
I turn around. SGT Gavin squints down at me. He’s one of Williams’ best team leaders, a six-four, two-fifty bundle of aggression and courage. “Looks like it.”
Gavin swaggers past me, unfolding his E-tool. He squats with the Afghans, starts digging with the little shovel. I get closer to the hole. If the thing blows, I figure I should go out with my dude. Some mixture of second-in-command responsibility, boredom, and a complete lack of concern for my own life.
Fifteen minutes or so, and most of the charge is exposed. Gavin’s been doing the brunt of the work. It looks like a yellow plastic jug, the kind you’d get at Wal-Mart in the Oil, Salad Dressing, and Condiments aisle. But this one’s full of HME instead of corn oil. Home-Made Explosives. Some mixture of ammonium nitrate from fertilizer, other chemicals. Fertilizer. Meant to produce life in plants, grow life-giving crops for the people. Instead, these fucks use it for destruction. Irony.
“Here she comes,” Gavin says. He pries the jug up out of the hole. It’s a five-liter. Enough HME to blow the wheels off my MATV.
“Good poo poo,” I say. “Let the ANA handle it from here.” We walk back to my MATV. Gavin leans on the hood and we bullshit while the Afghans carry the jug to a rise just over a hundred meters away. They set it down and walk back. They’re supposed to burn it with diesel, but these guys decide to try shooting it instead. Five ANA take a knee and pop off with their M16s. No hits.
“These faggots couldn’t hit a target if it was sucking their dicks,” Gavin says. “Sir, let me take a shot.”
I shouldn’t let him do it. Shooting IEDs is expressly forbidden by our rules of engagement. It’s not a sure way of blowing the charge, and just makes the it unstable for if and when the EOD dudes have to go and disarm it by hand. But EOD isn’t out here. They’re forty miles away at FOB Laghman in Qalat, on the other side of the Dab Pass. Nobody’s gonna know anyway.
“gently caress it,” I say. “Go ahead.”
Gavin takes aim over the hood. First shot, nothing. Second, loving BOOM! A twenty-foot high cloud of dirt spreads from the blast, billowing out like a dust storm.
“Nice shot,” I say.
Gavin bows. “Thank you, Sir. Now can we get the gently caress back on the road, or do these moon-worshippers have to salute the sun again in celebration?”
I chuckle. “Hope not. Once they get back on the road, we’re good to roll.” I slap Gavin on the shoulder and he walks back to the Strykers.
The convoy gets rolling again, fifteen minutes later. Twenty more kliks to Shamulzai. I wondered about who put the IED in the road. We hadn’t driven that way for a couple weeks. What was the loving point? Nobody lived out here, not for miles. Was it that important to stop a LOGPAC of food, water, and mail for the 2nd Platoon dudes? That was the big question about all of this.
What’s the loving point?
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 23:12|
Somewhere in the those lower-east Berlin city streets, those selfsame wintery alleys that make a home to those both foreign and strange, Beltavic Russaso has the false front of his Neon Light Shop — one that used to advertise for Krypton and Xenon lights as well, but for some reason or other all those would-be German Supermen customers found the idea quite Kryptonitic indeed — active in hopes of attracting business. Signs line the walls and windows of the shop, a sterile interior, but the back room is a mess of PO invoices, ribbon burners and hand torches, inert Argon/Neon/Krypton/Xenon gas containers, colouring powders, an organ pipe display of tubes, his pumping system, and a makeshift bedroom where Russ has been spending his nights.
As each day passes, the shop that he’s inherited becomes more and more of a mausoleum for the time spent away from his wife and boys. And that sounds grim— poo poo, it is grim, but for the last two or three nights, Russ has found solace crouched under his worktable out back, listening through those tired thin walls to a couple argue relentlessly…
The woman comes in late each night (but not too late, Russ thinks) to the hotel room on the other side of the Light Shop, and always with the same intonation her lover/boyfriend/husband asks, Where were you? Did you have fun? Yeah? What were you doing? Who was there? etc. She tries to stammer on, stunned, that gorgeous face of hers on the cusp between youth and motherhood, expressing honest and pure affection but still she fails each time to reply. Russ has seen her leave the hotel to take up on the street car in the mornings, and he makes small talk with her whenever he gets the chance. Definitely a tourist, he thinks, Westerner. Russ has never spotted her man. He never seems to join her when she takes off in the morning. To Russ he’s just an American voice through a dim light in the distance.
This carries on for days. Long after closing, Russ sits cross-legged with his head pressed up against the wall, listening to the couple fight, the man’s voice building vitriol as time passes. When the woman speaks, she speaks low. He has to shut down the lights in his shop, kill their humming just to pick out her words. There’s a certain romance in the darkness of his shop, with her voice being the only stimuli to reach him. He gathers fragments of their conversation and begins to build the narrative.
Esther and Tom (John?) had married and fought and separated and tried again and this appeared to be a kind of re-honeymoon. Russ still hasn’t heard the exact details yet but it seems like TomJohn picked Berlin for work related reasons, perhaps it’s why Russ never sees him with Esther in the morning.
It’s on the tenth day of their stay at the hotel next door that Russaso finally gets carried away with it all. He finds himself anticipating the fall, the breaking of the glass, that explosive moment where she can take no more and will storm out into the streets and he can join her, take her in to his little cozy bivouac, not so much a sexual thing as the need for genuine company and closeness.
On the twelfth day, he closes up shop. He phones his wife and tells her it’s going to be another late night, that there’s just a behemoth invoice for a new club in Central. He’ll be home tomorrow morning for breakfast, he swears.
He’s sorry it’s been so long.
He sets himself up in usual spot and waits to hear Esther’s voice. It’s such a sweet voice, that even as TomJohn continues to raise his own voice further every night, she stays so soft he hardly hears her. She must feel so alone, he thinks, she doesn’t deserve that.
But tonight, he hears their door open and no voices ring out. He waits, he waits for hours but he hears nothing. He falls asleep and wakes up on the floor, no peep from the hotel.
He spends the next day tired, intricately moulding tubes and filling them one after another with electrodes, mercury and whatever gas was requested on the PO, and in between signs he takes breaks to eat sandwiches from the shop just across the street. Two customers come in and ask where they could get quaaludes but Russ doesn’t know, ludes fell out of fashion when he had just left his teens. He calls his wife but she doesn’t pick up. Again that night he falls asleep with his ear to the wall, having heard the door open and close but nothing else. He hasn’t been home in two weeks.
It’s the next evening, as he’s setting out with some purchase orders for Neon gas, that he sees her sitting outside, smoking on the sidewalk. She’s not gone. Her husband must be. The glass must’ve broken in silence.
Russ puts his back to the door and breathes slowly.
“Did your husband leave,” he asks, and she turns to him and gives him a sad smirk and nods, like, Yeah, I guess you could hear us arguing hmm?
“I mean— I don’t mean to intrude,” he follows up, realizing just how ardently loving creepy this whole thing has started off.
“No, he’s gone. It’s okay,” she says, and they both stay still, snow coming down but the marquee overhead keeps them dry.
“Did you need something? A cab,” he waits “… a place to stay…” but she doesn’t answer, and he begins to realize that he has nothing to say to her. What could he even tell her? Hello, I’ve been away from my wife for weeks just listening to you argue with your husband through the walls of my shop and I’ve convinced myself that I’m madly in love with you. Would you care to come in?
They wait in silence, Russ worries it might be uncomfortable but Esther looks relaxed.
“When you were young,” she asks, “did your mother or father ever tell you that, when you grew up, that it was going to be the little things, the tiny insignificant things, that made life the hardest?”
“No. Maybe, I don’t know. That… seems like a strange thing to tell a child, no?”
“No, it is, you’re right. My mother never told me that, but— it’s the truth, isn’t? You can’t ignore it, the minutiae, and if you start to work with it you find yourself so lost and absorbed in it all that everything is worse for wear anyway. I know you aren't supposed to tell your child the whole truth of it all when they’re young, but that’s the one lesson you never learn until it’s too far gone. Those little things,” she says, trailing off. She gets up and says goodnight to Russ before heading back in to her hotel.
That night, Russaso turns out the lights at his shop, lets the neon glow of his false front disseminate and die out, and walks through the snow on his way home.
|# ? Feb 9, 2014 23:58|
Word Count: 1200
After Mr. Kennedy died, my mother fell into a deep depression. She used to just lie in bed all day until the pain in her knees overpowered the pain in her heart. “The difference,” mom told me once, “is that my heartache doesn’t go away.” She told me that now she had lost the two best men that she ever knew, and we sat in silence until dinner was over.
That Saturday I hit the swap meet, intent on finding the perfect gift to cheer her up. I scoured the aisles, but ultimately nothing spoke to me until he did. A ‘53 Mickey Mantle, but I remember calling him Mickey Mint, because that card was flawless; I had to have him. When my father left, I took up the job of building on his baseball card collection; dad loved baseball so much that he even named me after his favorite player. I couldn’t say when the collection would be finished, but I knew it wouldn’t be complete without Mickey Mint. He wasn’t cheap, but after spending every cent, and promising to do all of the old card shark’s yard work in the upcoming spring, he was mine.
I walked down Freemason Avenue on the way home, appreciating my new prize with every step. I rubbed the slight crease draping Mikey’s shoulders with my thumb, noticing the fine grit on its surface. It felt great. A thunderous repeating snap interrupted my reverie. The high school was just ahead, and the sound of that crack was as identifiable as the sound of his voice; Joe Peerson, All-State Third Baseman, former teammate and best friend of mine. He was taking batting practice. Nobody in the city could blister the skin of a baseball like Joe. The last time I saw him, both Joe and I had bloody noses, so I took the long way home.
I found her hanging sideways out of a strange, sooty, moving truck. Her name was Claire Bishop, and she needed a hand. “I’m Babe,” I told her, lifting the box marked Claire’s Bedroom Stuff, “where do you want it?”
“On the porch is fine,” she said with a smile, “my dad can help me carry it in.” I asked her to hold Mickey Mint, fearing he get any new creases.
“You know Mickey Mantle?” I asked.
“Please,” she scoffed. “My dad has a collection of Negro League cards, and I bet you couldn’t name most of them players. Although, I would take Jackie Robinson over Mantle any day of the week.” I set the box down on the porch, catching a trace of honeysuckle lifting from its folded shutters, and noticing how beautiful Claire was. She added, “and that’s not just because I’m black.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was staring at her lips, and not the color of her hair or skin, so instead I nodded dumbly. “Where’d you get it?” she asked.
“At the swap. I went down there looking for a gift for my mom, but I ended up with this.”
“I’m guessing she’s not a baseball fan,” Claire said, sliding an aquamarine bracelet from her wrist. “Here. Give her this,” placing the bracelet in my hand with fingers that lingered in my hand as delicately as her scent on the breeze.
We fell in love that winter under the shelter of an old woodshed in the dense tree-line beside the high school, a holdover hideaway from my childhood. We kept our love a secret as we shared the secrets of our own. She told me about her distaste for yams, the quilt she was knitting, and her old town, and how the threat of violence caused her family to leave. I told her about my father running out, how I had discovered this place with Joe, and why we weren’t friends anymore. One inky January night, I had forgotten to bring any candles or a flashlight, so we talked and held hands under match light.
“Babe,” she said, bringing the flame only inches from her nose, “kiss me.”
I leaned in, but before I could even close my eyes, Claire blew out the match with a breathy puff and ran into the darkness. “If you can catch me!” she shouted.
I gave chase, but the evening was unkind to my pursuit and I lost her. Off in the distance I saw the spark of a new matchstick.
“Over here!” Claire called, before snuffing the flame.
I started running, tripping over the fallen branches and slipping on red leaves. When I got to the tree, she was gone. “No fair,” I said.
Claire led me around the woods for what must have been an hour, and with each match she struck I ran like I’d never see her again. When her last match, like the North Star, led me back to the shed, we kissed and then fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Meet me in the hideout before sunrise. I have a gift for you; bring your baseball cards.
All my love,
I held the folded note, waiting for my signal flame. When we would meet up, Claire would wait for me in the shed after a lighting a candle, match, or twig to let me know that she had made it. That night her flame was larger than normal.
I knew something was wrong when Claire didn’t peak her head out of the window to call to me. From the doorway I saw my Claire crumpled over in the corner on top of the quilt she had been making. Joe held his trusty baseball bat, and the floor was littered with the ashy husks of Mr. Bishop’s Negro League card collection.
“I knew you were up to some shady poo poo lurking around at night,” Joe said, lifting the Jackie Robinson card in his hand, but I never expected you to be loving a shade.”
“Claire-” I began.
“Don’t worry; the friend of the family isn’t dead or nothing. She even brought you a gift.” He said, tracing a line on the floor in the ash. With a flick of a match, he lit the Robinson.
I dropped my binder and lunged at Joe, but he was too big. Dropping everything, he wrapped my neck in his arm and began squeezing. He leaned down and whispered to me, “I should kill you for disrespecting my family like this.” Joe threw a punch, knocking the wind out of me.
As the world turned white, I noticed Jackie Robinson being devoured by the flame, which then crept to a piece timber. When I heard a crack louder than anything I’d heard before, I was sure it was the sound of my neck breaking, but it was Joe who collapsed onto me. Towering over us both was Claire, holding his bat.
“Hurry!” she barked, dipping her quilt into the flames before throwing onto Joe’s body.
We threw whatever we thought would burn into the growing hell before us. As the flames swallowed the structure whole, we kissed. Then we sobbed. Then we ran. We ran from Joe, the woods, and the town, but we couldn’t outrun the morning.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 00:22|
The Lightest Metal
Iris wiped her sweat off the guitar's strings for the third time when a pot-bellied man barged into the cramped backstage room. His entrance let a blast of noise in from the band onstage. Iris shot a glance at her phone beside her, praying for Jane to reply.
The man fell into a folding chair, hunching over the backrest like a gargoyle. He looked like a biker who had rolled through dirt.
"At least close the door," Iris said. "Please?" When the man didn't respond, she closed it herself and returned to her spot. The mounting stress made her playing weak and troubled. Where was Jane? This was her gig, her idea. Iris had tried calling her a few times, to no avail.
She noticed the man turn in her direction, staring at her. She stopped. "Excuse me? You're creeping me out."
The man blinked. "Sorry."
The look on his face made Iris want to apologize herself. "I'm just strung up." She strummed a chord, chuckling at her stupid pun. "Are you performing tonight, too?"
The man's shoulders drooped. "I am."
The door opened slightly and a face popped out. It was the bar manager. "Lance. Man. Where's your band?"
"Gone," Lance said. "But I have the gig. I'm still performing."
"Where's your guitar?"
Lance turned up his palms. "Don't have it."
The manager made a disgusted face. "Bullshit. Band on stage's halfway through their set." He turned to Iris. "I'm moving you up on schedule. I'll double your pay if you double your set. Where's your partner?"
"I've been trying to get her." Iris wagged her phone as if she was about to hurl it. She was close to the brink.
"I need to keep the noise going out there. Do something or I'll throw you both out." The manager slammed the door.
It was then when Iris's phone beeped.
mark called and asked me to fill in. playing at bugsy's instead. sorry <3
Iris cocked her arm holding her phone, frozen in one tense moment. She let it dangle to her side. Smashing her phone wouldn't help. She should have seen it coming. Jane had formed their little partnership as a way of getting back at her ex. Right. First word of need from Mark and she comes scrambling to help, rest of the world be damned. What of her poor, friendless guitarist indeed?
Iris sank in her chair. "I just got ditched."
"Looks like we're in the same boat," Lance said.
"I have a guitar, though. What happened to you, anyway?"
Lance looked down on the ground, shaking his head.
"Could it be... that you got kicked out by your own band?"
"Yeah. Girl problems. Don't ask."
"And they took your guitar."
"More like smashed it. Then they threw me out of the van and drove away."
"That's harsh." Maybe you deserved it? Iris thought to ask. But there was enough meanness in their lives already.
"Let's find out what we can do," Lance said. "Can you sing?"
Iris shook her head. "Not at all. That was supposed to be Jane's job."
Lance's eyes gleamed, as if she had flipped his switch. "I can."
Iris sized him up carefully. "You play metal, right? I just thought you looked the part. No offense."
Lance smiled. "Spot on. Mostly the 80's stuff. Farthest we went was 1991, with The Black Album."
"I'm sorry, but I've never dabbled in it. I was supposed to play Taylor Swift with my friend, but so much for that idea. That's not all I know, though." Iris played a ditty, fingers coaxing sweet, sylvan tunes from steel and mahogany. "Dad was a frustrated guitarist. He overcompensated with me, I guess. I've been playing guitar since I could read."
"But you've heard a few of the songs, at least?"
"Yeah. I'm just not sure if I can nail the style down."
"Lend me your guitar for a bit? I'll teach you some songs. You should be able to pick them up."
Iris folded her arms. "I still haven't agreed to playing with you."
"Truth is, I think you need me more than I need you," Lance said, turning his seat around. "I mean, I'm totally in deep poo poo with my band and all. But I've done this a hundred times. Let me help you."
Gingerly, Iris handed her guitar over. Lance's large hands worked with a keenness that could only come from years of experience, tuning down the lowest string. "It's just like this." He did a riff. "Then before the chorus, do this. For the chorus, back to the first riff."
A ghost of a smile formed on Iris's face. "What about the solo?"
"Phrygian dominant. Slow or fast, do whatever you like."
Lance taught her more songs, and they passed the guitar between them for Iris to try them out. The tunes were discordant, but the phrasing made them pleasing to the ear.
Later, the manager popped up again. "The band's cleaning up. Can you do it?"
Doubt flashed in Iris's face. "We need--"
"Yes," Lance said. "We're playing together."
The manager looked at the two of them and shrugged. "Soundcheck in five, then." He left.
* * *
Iris thought the ground was going to swallow her up, even if the stage was just a foot above the floor. Her guitar felt leaden in her hands. Lance's stool creaked, but the man was grinning. At least no one in the bar seemed to pay them any attention. They weren't very rehearsed, and she hasn't actually heard Lance sing yet.
"Hi everyone, we're L and I," Lance said on the mic. "Due to some problems with bands and bitches, we've decided to merge." Cringe. He nodded to Iris.
With a deep breath, Iris began with the riff she had been taught, funneling the awful stuff in her heart into it. Lance joined in, his gravely voice filled with menace, singing about desolation and abandonment. A topic etched in their bones.
They fought, sparring with notes and rests, bickering in their marriage of melodies, their adversity reaching equilibrium. Jane floated briefly in the swirling miasma of Iris's thoughts. She plucked a note off-key, and transitioned to a furious lick without missing a beat. If only Jane could see her now. Being mad felt so beneath her.
The last chord sent Iris's ears ringing in its fury. The audience responded with mild applause. Her first victory. They followed it up, burning through their material like wildfire.
The manager gestured at them from the side. Do the next set?
Lance grinned. "Let's do your stuff?"
"Do you even know the lyrics?"
"It's pop. Doesn't matter."
Iris rolled her eyes. "We're going to get thrown out for this." But she strummed the chords anyway, and Lance reared up, beginning with a roar that filled the bar, and beyond.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 01:14|
I took a pretty broad interpretation of the prompt: looking at the quote's source, it's two men discussing semiotics and the nature of metaphor re Saussure's sign/signed dichotomy. In that vein, I tried to write a story about people who were able to flip that system on its head. Also magical realism, and the ability of metaphors to sometimes transcend words, both of which are recurring things in Calvino's work.
Oh, is this a thing we're doing now? I guess I can do one too, then:
I wrote a story.
Beefcake v. some baked "good" (and I use that term loosely) Brawl
Idle Hands (1000 words)
I walked down a dirt lane, surrounded by Nigeria’s fiercest headhunters. They lay in the dust beneath drooping thatch eaves, eyes half-open, smiling at nothing. Flies crawled on their lips. I peered into a hut. In the squalor dozed more savages: men, women, children.
Their good White vicar, Sir Winter, led my tour of his mission. He hiked up silk trousers with gold-ringed fingers and stepped over a dung-puddle.
“On my rounds, Sir Winter, I’ve not seen a missionary so completely tame the Igbo.”
He smiled. “The Lord’s Word works miracles for a faithful servant, inspector. They’re not listless - their industry is saved for Christ.” He pointed to a tall wood house. Above its door, two long sticks had been nailed cruciform.
We went in. It was a long shack, with plank benches set in rows. Two stacked crates bore another crucifix, and atop them lay a thick Bible. I opened the Book.
It had crisp letters printed on heavy paper and was bound in burgundy leather. “Fine printing, and so far from civilization.” I rubbed the pages between my fingers. They were creamy, rich, and familiar.
“The Word, both verbal and written, is our export. Of interest to heathens and holy men, but hardly to Her Majesty’s Excise.”
The vicar’s flock gathered for afternoon prayers. He led them in hymn. I sat crammed between dark shoulders and flipped through the Bible. Truncated watermarks edged the pages. The parishioners glared. I closed the tome and daydreamed of promotion, of a safe desk job in London, away from the sweat and filth of Africa.
After the church emptied, Sir Winter approached. “So, when will you be off to Fort George?”
I thumbed the Book, rubbed the watermarks. “I’d like to see your print-works, Sir.”
Sir Winter frowned and took me to a barn. Within were a dozen cast-iron presses - rare now in London, but too fine for a Colonial capital, let alone a mud-pit. I raised my eyebrows.
“A donation.” Winter stood at attention, shoulders high and squared. “We’re fortunate to have wealthy benefactors.”
A crate of Bibles sat beside a machine. I took one, opened it. A splash of color where only monochrome type should be.
Sir Winter snatched it from me. “Permit me to handle those. The bindings crack easily.” He gave me another. “Here, an irregular copy.”
It was identical to the church’s. “May I keep this, as a souvenir?”
The vicar relaxed. “Christ is a traveler’s best companion. I’ll have your horse brought around.”
“It’s late, Sir. I’d prefer to be off in the morning.”
Sir Winter clenched a fist. “Very well. This way.”
He led us out of the village, to a manicured track trimmed through bug-besotted jungle. We emerged onto a lawn and I tripped over my own feet. A polished-stone ziggurat with gilded balustrades rose above the trees. Igbo servants swarmed it like ants on a scone.
“On loan from the governor, Sir Winter?”
“Close enough.” Winter rushed me into a large bright room on the third story, with a feather bed and pure white linens. A servant brought Devonshire tea with clotted cream, ham, and a handwritten note.
The paper wrapped a fistful of fresh twenty-pound notes and invited me to supper. I plunged the bribe into my tea. The servant collected the tray and left. The door locked behind him. Another note arrived: the evening meal was off; business called.
When a bell rang midnight, I climbed down a balustrade and snuck to the stables. My horse was inside. Between us, six liveried Igbo huddled around candles, smoking opium in long pipes.
Soon, the men lay down and snored. One remained awake. He reached for the box and tipped it over - empty. He stumbled upright and slouched past me, towards the jungle.
I bridled my horse. My saddlebags were still empty. With evidence, I’d have a desk at the home office by Christmas. I turned and shadowed the servant to the printing barn.
He crowbarred open a crate and dug through reams of paper. He took a box and staggered back to the vicar’s mansion.
Within the crate, the unwrapped reams bore the Queen’s watermarked face, and buried beneath were boxes of sticky, black pearls.
Light shone over my shoulder.
“Stealing from the Lord is a cardinal sin.” Sir Winter stood behind me. Two muscled Igbo flanked him, knives in hand. “My flock is not fond of sinners.”
“In England, Sir, opium is Sloth given flesh.”
“I’ve blunted feral warriors into servants of the Word. Is that not God’s work?” The vicar pushed the armed Igbo towards me. “Without a smoke, the ancient instinct to part a white man’s head from his body is not long suppressed, and these men are quite sober.”
I dropped the box. “Bring my horse.”
“Gladly.” The vicar slapped a servant’s arm. “Go!”
A drowsy man delivered my mount and filled my canteens. While the priest pushed the sleepy servant away, I snuck Bibles into saddlebags. Sir Winter waved me off, smirking. I kicked my horse and sprinted into the night.
Hooves beat dirt in the darkness behind me. I galloped hard, plunged into a river, and tumbled from my sweat-slick horse. It whinnied and thrashed, a leg broken. I cut its throat, tore off the saddlebags, and hid beneath reeds. A mounted Igbo warband stomped past.
Come dawn, I staggered to Fort George and spilled my tale to the Excise General.
He yawned and lit a cigar. “Opium smuggling. File it for Customs, inspector.”
“The opium is a distraction.” I yanked the Bibles from my pack, slammed them open, and fumbled past the word of God. Printed on the creamy pages were fresh counterfeit pounds. My promotion was secure.
The General took the Bibles and closed them gently. On his shelf was his own fine copy of the Book, bound in red leather. “Forging Her Majesty’s currency is high treason, inspector.” Smiling, he ordered me arrested.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 01:35|
No Time Like the Present
Ruby looked down at the squiggle on the paper, staring as though she could make it disappear if she disbelieved it for long enough. But there it remained: Squiggle Squiggle -- $105.
She had been outbid. Again. By someone who couldn’t even write their own name legibly. This was the fifth time it had happened since she had placed her first bid.
She started to count her money again, frantically this time. She had saved her allowance for the last several months, done extra chores, even babysat the neighbors’ horrible 4 year old, but all she had to show for it was $100. Not enough.
Her eyes drifted up to the item in question, a small desk clock in the shape of an atom. Well, a Bohr Diagram of one. Each electron on the rings was picked out in a deep purple-red rhinestone, with the clock hands radiating out from the nucleus. The small sign in front of it proclaimed it to be an “Atomic Clock!! Made with REAL Crystal!!!”
What had surprised Ruby was that the clock was accurate. Well, not ACCURATE, not in the sense that it was an actual atomic clock, but accurate in that they’d got the atomic structure right. They’d even used an element that was in real atomic clocks, and the crystals were close enough to the element’s emission spectrum that Ruby was sure it must have been intentional. It was a joke only a chemist could really appreciate.
Or someone whose parents had named her Rubidium.
She didn’t really blame her parents for giving her such a strange name (although it was hard sometimes). They loved their work, and they loved their children, and their misguided attempts at mixing the two was just the product of their wanting to share the wonder of science with their offspring. Ruby had been dutiful, and had learned more about her namesake and its fellows in her 14 years than most adults could claim to know. That didn’t mean it was always easy to love.
The clock, to her, stood for everything beautiful in her parents’ work that made it important enough to name their child after it. It was beautiful, it was functional, it was exactly what she’d been looking for when she’d agreed to come to the auction with her mother.
It would have been the perfect Christmas present for a chemist. Or, in this case, two chemists.
But the squiggle had won, and Ruby knew it.
“This is the final call for bidding!” a woman’s voice blared out over the loudspeaker. “Bidders, you have five minutes remaining!”
Ruby took a last look at the clock and went to find her mother.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” Ruby’s mother looked over at her from the driver’s seat. “You’re so quiet.”
Ruby glanced up from her phone. “It’s nothing, Mom.” She set down her phone and looked out the window. It was raining, and the lights of buildings and the city’s Christmas lights reflected off of the pavement.
“It doesn’t seem like nothing.” Her mother tried to catch her eye, but Ruby ignored it.
“It’s fine.” She might have time in the next few days to make it to the mall and find something. If all else failed, there were always gift cards. Ruby hated giving gift cards, but it was better than nothing.
They rode in silence for a few miles before her mother spoke again.
“Hey Ruby, do me a favor and reach into the back, will you? Grab the green bag.”
Ruby turned around, and found the bag in question after some searching; her mother had won several of her auctions, at least.
Ruby took out a small package swaddled in tissue paper, and began to unwrap it.
“I was going to wait for Christmas, but I thought you might like it now.”
It was the clock.
“See? It’s Rubidium, just like you!”
Ruby laughed until she cried.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 02:02|
Miss Annabel Yoder Finishes Her Quilt
A tale involving lutetium and a lute, in 1195 words.
docbeard fucked around with this message at 15:29 on Dec 25, 2014
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 02:34|
Word Count: 1013
I had never heard of Francium until my friend Chad mentioned how great the Francium tablets he had were at curbing his appetite. He had lost ten pounds since he had started taking them, or so he had said. I was intrigued but skeptical. I didn’t want to get my hopes up because this wasn’t the first time that Chad had claimed that some new thing had been a catalyst to major weight loss.
Ten pounds, while good, was just a drop in the pond for Chad. Not to mention that it seemed like over the past year of fad diets he’d been trying he’d gained and lost those same ten pounds at least six times. Only time would tell if the Francium tablets were truly the godsend he had been praying for.
He had gotten the pills from a guy at a bar. Well, he didn’t buy them at a bar, he met the guy at a bar. His name was Jack I think. He said he knew Jack from way back and that he’d been huge when he knew him. He said he hardly even recognized him the guy had lost so much weight. “You gotta try this stuff,” he had said to me. “It’s kinda expensive, but totally worth it.”
“I want to meet this guy first, hear about the tablets first hand from the guy,” I had said.
“I totally understand,” Chad said “I was actually going to go see Jack tonight, you free to come along?”
I said I was and we made plans for it. If these tablets were as good as Chad said then I would definitely pick some up. I’d save them meditative fasting, none of the self-help gurus said anything about performance enhancing drugs being off limits.
We were meeting Jack at 7:00 at the bowling alley he owned. I showed up on time and noticed Chad sitting in his car, early like always. As I walked up to his window he noticed me. He smiled at me. He got out and we walked towards the building together.
“Just let me do the talking to begin with, Jack’s only got a small supply of these. They’re in such high demand he doesn’t like lots of people knowing he’s got them. He’d have people constantly bugging him for stuff at the alley,” Chad said.
That sounded a little weird to me, but some people are just weird. Chad wasn’t the most normal person in the world either.
The bowling alley was mostly empty, only a few people playing games in random alleys.
“Chad! How’s it going buddy?” The man behind the counter said. He had oily black hair and a well kept mustache. I recognized him immediately.
A few weeks back I had responded to an ad on craigslist for a 40 inch LED tv. It was an extremely low price, but the ad said he needed money for rent and was desperate. I met with him he was in a rush, said he had places to be. I didn’t have a chance to test it he was in that much of a rush. When I got home, the TV didn’t work. No sound no picture. I called him and all he could say was “sorry, no refunds.” There’s no way I broke that god drat TV, I only had it my car for the short ride home and it was in a blanket on my back seat the whole ride.
Now here he was standing on the other side of a counter.
“It’s going ok,” Chad said. “How are things at the alley?”
“Oh you know, easy come easy go,” Jack reached under the counter and produced a bag of capsules. “Got 100 milligram caplets this time. They’re stronger than the last batch so obviously they’re going to be a little more expensive.”
“Will $120 cover it? That’s all I got,” Chad said.
“Yeah that should do it,” Jack said. While Chad was pulling the money out his wallet Jack looked to me and said “Do I know you from somewhere? I feel like I’ve met you before.”
I looked at him, then over to Chad who was eyeing the pills money in hand. His stature had changed, he no longer slouched over like an old man, his weight no longer pulling him downwards into the depths. The ten pounds he’d lost seemed to be a helium filled balloon tied around his shoulders, pulling him straight easing each and every step he took.
“No, I don’t think so,” I lied. “Maybe I bowled here once?”
He looked me over again, like even though I had been standing here the whole time this was the first time he had actually seen me. His wet eyes underneath his dark eyebrows ran over me, trying to make the connection that existed somewhere in that noggin of his. Place a face to an event.
He shrugged, “That must be it.” He took the money from Chad and handed over the bag of pills. “Enjoy ‘em. Hey you guys want a free game on the house?”
Chad looked over at me.
“No I gotta get going I think,” I said.
“Thanks anyways Jack,” Chad said.
We headed out of the alley and back to our cars. “Wanna see ‘em?” Chad asked.
“Sure,” I said.
He handed me the bag of white pills. I took one out, it felt chalky to the touch. It was a pure white pill with the letters Fr stamped on it. I scratched at it with my fingernail and a chunk broke off. It tasted bitter.
I handed it back to him. “You need to be careful with these,” I said. “That guy ripped me off over a TV. Over like a hundred bucks.”
“What? Why’d you say you didn’t know him?” Chad asked.
“I don’t know man, I didn’t want to get into a whole thing over it. But what I’m telling you is just be careful.”
“I know what I’m doing. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” Chad said.
I hoped he was right.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 02:55|
Of Little Faith.
(755 dicitur de palladium et palladium)
After nine years I’ve spent in the monastery of St. Scholastica, I no longer feel like I believe in God. Precisely because I know Him maybe just a bit too well – where Tertullian saw absurdity, I now see nothing but logic and facts.
Can there even be faith, when there is no doubt? I hold it that within absolute certainty there’s no room for belief. Furthermore, faith can only be born from doubt, which is a necessary stage in spiritual life. I imagine that’s exactly what inspired St. Thomas to pursue monastic vocation and compile his proofs of God’s existence; to turn doubt into faith.
But for me it is undoubted that, say, relics in our chapel do not date back to St. Scholastica, yet I know that they are venerated for what they stand for, not for their age, and that’s what I want to stand for, too. Still, for two last weeks every time I say the Creed at Mass the ‘believe’ that drops from my lips I know to be a lie. The Scripture says, ‘It is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,’ which makes my dishonesty even more sinful in my mind.
It also seems like I can no longer truly love my neighbours. When sisters attend to the needs of those in want, I can see their faith in their smiles, in their tears, in their every gesture and emotion. And my kindness now stems exclusively from the knowledge of how a nun should be; like a tree standing in the sand of a dried up river’s bank, my works of charity now bare no spiritual fruit for anyone.
Mother superior is sure that I’m just having my doubts and offers her prayers for me, but she clearly doesn’t understand why I’ve lost my faith, since doubt is what I need the most to regain it. As per her her advice, I try to meditate more. ‘You search the scriptures…’ and I search in the most mysterious and seemingly contradictory parts of the Bible and, alas, find nothing that my logic could not explain or my mind could mistrust. My meditations turned into sessions of literary analysis and hermeneutic reading with no sense of miracle or awe-inspiring presence of divinity to them.
And at this very moment kneeling beside my bed as I pray for God to bring back my faith, I sense no hope in the words I say nor do I feel saddened with my current state – this is just something I am expected to do. In silent anger at my own absence of self-empathy I clench my hands into fists as strong as I can to the point where I can feel my ‘wedding ring’ digging into my finger.
‘Receive this ring as a sign of heavenly protection bestowed upon you by God and keep your faith in him until you come to the wedding feast of everlasting joy,’ those were the words of father Joshua who was presiding over the profession Mass when I had been taking my solemn vows.
A plain white gold band with words ‘My beloved’ engraved on the inside. ‘He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention towards me was love.’
Sorry, Bridegroom dear, I couldn’t keep all my promises. Maybe my resolve wasn’t true, after all. But what should I do? I still have an art degree, so there is a worldly life for me should I want to come back to it. And I know I can come back. The only logical thing for me to do now is to leave the monastery forever. The fire in my heart can’t burn without the oil; I just can’t keep my promises anymore, not like that…
But did you keep yours? Through father Joshua acting in persona tua didn’t you swear to protect me, yet took my faith – the very foundation of our relationships – away from me?
I gaze on my ring once more. It’s truly amazing how even a drop of white metal can change gold into something new, something even purer. ‘And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.’
‘Thank you, Lord,’ I say out loud as I go to bed with my newly found doubt. I lay face down just as I did on the day of my solemn profession in front of the altar, and drift away to sleep.
‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 03:00|
With just under two hours to go, we are still awaiting the presentations of fourteen chemists, three of whom have sworn to throw themselves into toxic waste should they not deliver.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 03:05|
Sorry it's a few minutes late, I had connectivity issues.
American Werewolf in America
Element: Chlorine. Flash rule: must have a pool but no one gets wet.
First thing you gotta know about me is that I'm a werewolf. The second (and more important) thing is that I am a skateboarding junkie who's desperate attempts to get my fix had turned me into a public menace.
Anthony knew this and went immediately for the jugular.
“My parents had the pool emptied. Dan, it's perfect for skating.” He had me cornered at my locker.
“If it was perfect it wouldn't be the full moon.” I said, casting a nervous glance up and down the hall.
“It will be fine, no one will find out your secret. I'll just lock you in the basement cage when it gets dark.” As much as my parents wanted to keep a lid on my condition, you can't expect a little kid to keep something like that from his best friend. Anthony's parents had a cage to house me for sleepovers after they came around to the idea that I was a lycanthrope.
“I don't know...” I shifted uncomfortably.
“The only way Ashley will come to the party is if Jess comes, and Jess will come if she hears you'll be there.” Anthony had been wanting to hook up with Ashley since freshman year. Jess though...ugh!
I tried to say no, but when I looked for the words all I found was the electric thrill promised by the possibility of pool boarding. “Alright, I'm in.”
The rest of the week dragged on. Any attempts to focus in class were sabotaged by the skateboarder lurking within, threatening to make its way to the surface. Friday couldn't come soon enough. When the final bell rang I dashed out of physics, freed my skateboard from my locker, rendezvoused with Anthony by his car in the parking lot. I wanted leave immediately, but he told me we had to wait since we were giving a ride to Jess and Ashley, so I killed time skating circles around his car.
Most of the parking lot had emptied when Jess and Ashley finally met up with us. It was about time, since at that point I was trying to figure out how much speed I would need to get to jump Mrs. Schumacher's car, which she had carelessly parked at the bottom of side entrance staircase.
We piled into Anthony's Taurus and set off for his place. Ashley took my spot in the passenger seat, leaving me trapped in back with Jess. Jess was delighted, of course. She had been obsessed with me since forever (I have no clue why), but I felt the complete opposite. Everything she did managed to get under my skin, from the way her voice went up at the end of every sentence like she was asking question to the fact that she was currently wearing a Team Jacob t-shirt (seriously, in 2014!!).
“I got a joke.” she announced. I bit my tongue for Anthony's sake, but he was nowhere near as generous.
“Go for it.” he said, grinning as he looked at me through the rear view mirror.
“What's the difference between a werewolf and a mermaid?”
“I don't know, what?” Anthony asked, stifling laughter.
“Werewolves can't swim while mermaids aren't real.” Anthony was the only one that laughed. Bastard could hardly contain himself.
I didn't even wait until his car had finished pulling into the driveway before I leaped out and dashed straight for his back yard. The smell of chlorine was lingering in air, beckoning to me. The change was coming on soon, heightening my senses and making the pool-cleaner's aroma intoxicating. When I laid eyes on the emptied pool I nearly wept for joy.
Anthony's family had money and their pool was one of a number of indications. It was massive, five feet deep in the shallows and eleven in the deep end. It's bowl shape made it perfect for skating. I hopped on my board and dropped in with abandon.
The next few hours were a blur. Other people stared to file in to the party, but I was ambivalent to them and the lovely pop-songs they blared over the speaker system. Other skaters joined me, in the pool, but none could match my fervor or intensity. I was dervish, flying high and free as I careened between them. My board and I were one, and felt a glorious release from the confines of gravity.
“Bro! What are you doing?” Anthony said, pulling me away as I was about to drop in for nth time.
“Huh?” I saw the hickey on his neck and the look of worry in his eyes.
“The sun is going to set any moment.” he said. He was write. It was dusk and I hadn't even noticed.
“We got to get you into the basement.” I knew he was write, but my skateboard was calling to me, urging me onward to sicker and sicker tricks. If Anthony hadn't pulled me away I think I would have stayed until I had reverted into my bestial form.
My skateboard clenched to my chest, I was lead down stairs to my prison to wait out the night. He locked the cage, wished me could night, and scurried away back upstairs.
The change came quickly. My blood boiled. My bones broke and re-knit themselves together. Muscles and sinew swelled until I became the beast of nightmares and legends. One think filled my frenzied brain: skateboarding.
I had lost track of time entirely until I heard the door to the basement open. Music bellowed from above, while the scent of alcohol and perspiration filled my nostrils.
“Dan, are you down here? I heard – Oh my God!” Jess's cries where downed out by hoard of high schoolers singing along to Miley Cyrus's “Wrecking Ball.”
“Dan, is that you?” she said. She was terrified, but there was something that kept her from running. Probably her werewolf fetish. loving Jess.
“The key. Over there.” I managed to growl out. She nodded and took the key from the peg on the far wall. With only a moment of hesitation she unlocked the cage.
I took a furtive step out of my cell. The wolf in me was calling for blood. I reached out to her with one of my massive clawed hands. But I had another urge besides carnage, an even more powerful urge. I curled my hand into a fist and scooped up my board in the other.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 03:18|
Oh poo poo, I just realized I had until 12:00am instead of 10pm. Oh well, who needs to editing when your writing is fueled by fevered dreams and cold medicine?
The answer is me.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 03:26|
Room to Breathe Element: Oxygen, 1132 words
“So, you think I should talk to her?” Emmett asked, slumping into his chair. He glanced across the room to Esther, who was vacantly staring into a screen. Her short brown hair was bunned up underneath her hat, allowing Emmett to fully take in the profile of the girl he had longed after for months now.
“What better time than the present?” asked Chet, shoving his friend in the shoulder. Emmett winced – he was weak and bruised easily. He let out a small breath as his chair spun around with the shove. “Listen, pal, I’m just going to be honest with you: say something to her or stop whining about it! I, for one, am a bit tired of it.”
Emmett sighed. “But won’t it make things awkward?” he asked. “What if she says no? What if she says yes and I’m just boring? Or a wet blanket? What if she just doesn’t like me at all?”
“If every man deliberated so much before talking to a lady we’d be a much less populous planet, rest assured.” Chet removed his hat, rolled it up in his massive hands, and slapped Emmett on the back.
“Go get ‘er, tiger.”
Emmett stood but he felt light-headed. He held on to a bar above him as he walked over toward where Esther was sitting, still lost in the blinking lights and subtle beeps emanating from the panel in front of her. Emmett cleared his throat and then, after an awkward silence, said Esther’s name aloud.
“Oh, hey Emmett,” she smiled. Her smile was soft and subdued, but he could see his reflection in her glittering teeth. How did she keep them so white, he wondered? She stared at him and he thought he might drown in her ocean eyes. He shuffled his feet from side to side and then stopped, placing his hands in his pockets. He turned his face away from her hypnosis.
“Do you want to-” he stammered, words falling out like water dripping through a sieve, “do you want to maybe have- have lunch together? Today, I mean.” Suddenly the sieve broke the water poured in like a dam had been keeping the ocean in check: “Imeanwedon’thavetodoittodaybutImeanifyouwanttoandImeanifyoudon’tthat’sokaytooImeanyoucantakesometimeandthinkaboutitunlessyoualreadyknow-“
Esther giggled and shushed him. “Sure, I could eat. I’m off duty in an hour. Sound good?” Emmett took a second to fully process her response, perhaps sucking the loose words back in to his now-empty brain. His face lit up and he nodded wildly.
“An hour,” he gasped.
After fifty-eight minutes of frenzied pacing, stopped only by what Emmett could only describe as a moment where the reality of the situation had hit him and turned the world upside down, Emmett grabbed his lunch card and began walking toward the cafeteria.
Esther was already there when Emmett arrived and he plopped his tray down in front of hers. The cafeteria was empty, which was not a common occurrence. He kicked his feet in the small layer of water on the floor. Emmett chalked up another win for fate. As he twirled his fork around the spaghetti, Emmett made an attempt at small talk.
“So,” he said, fear overcoming his confidence once more, “what do you, er, do here?”
“Radar, mostly,” she replied, wiping sauce from her chin with a wet nap. “Though sometimes they’ve got me on comms. I’m not super-interested in that kind of stuff. What’d you do before, Emmett?”
“Before?” he echoed. His socks seemed drenched with sweat.
“Yeah, before they put you down here. What’d you do?”
“Well, I was a dentist,” he said proudly, moments before realizing that was the lamest thing he could’ve said. In his mind he scolded himself, thinking he should have said racecar driver instead.
“And you gave up being a dentist for this?” She took a swig of milk.
“It’s not as exciting as it sounds,” he replied. Emmett’s face lit up. He’d made a joke! She even giggled a bit. Was he actually charming? No one had ever described Emmett as charming, or even really funny, but he was very glad that she might think he was.
“No,” she stifled her giggle under bread and the echoes of screams, “I meant that it probably paid a lot. Most of us signed up for this because we needed the money. So if not that, then why?”
“I dunno, seemed fun.” Emmett thought for a moment on his words and then realized he never did come to a conclusion as to why he’d signed up. It was fate that brought him here.
“Oh yeah, big fun,” Esther laughed again. When she laughed her autumn hair curled a bit. Emmett tried not to get distracted counting the curls but he couldn’t help it. After ten seconds of silence, words fired forth like a torpedo. He shifted in his wet chair and took a bite of his meal.
“What’d you do before?” he asked, tomato sauce flying from his mouth onto the table.
“Just college, mostly,” she sighed. “I wanted to be a lot of things. I- I don’t dream much anymore.” She reached her hand across the table and intertwined her fingers with Emmett’s. Her glossy fingernails sparkled in the swirling red lights. Their eyes met. “Chet told me about you, a long time ago. I’ve been hoping you’d ask me out for a while now.”
Emmett smiled and was about to say something when Chet burst into the room. He sloshed through the waist-high water and slammed his fists down on the aluminum table.
“Esther,” he growled, “this is your fault!”
“Her fault?!” Emmett exclaimed, standing up with a splash. “Our date’s going so well, pal. Why’re you ruining this?” Emmett looked down at the water is it untucked his shirt. “What’d you say you did again, Esther?”
“Radar,” she smiled, finishing her milk and dropping it into the drink.
“If you hadn’t been on this date. If someone had been on the radar,” Chet moaned. “Now we’re done for. We’re sunk, quite literally.”
There was a flush silence as the water reached their shoulders. Chet rolled his eyes and dove his head under the water, perhaps hoping to die in a room where he wasn’t absolutely furious at everyone inside. Emmett looked up at Esther.
“So, not a boring first date,” he smiled. Shards of torpedo floated into the cafeteria and up between them. She leaned forward and rested her head on some metal.
“I’ve had worse,” she laughed. “Everyone’ll be gone soon, and what about us?” Emmett was finally coming to the realization that she was probably really terrible at her job. She sighed again, the water enveloping her chin. They could feel the air thinning.
“We’ll always have the bottom of the ocean,” Emmett smiled.
They embraced as the submarine fell silent.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:14|
Word Count: 718
Emilie’s husband spoke in a low voice, “It’s okay, Emmy. It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
He squeezed her wrist and looked at the man next to him, “Paul, run to the ship’s doctor and bring him here. She’s having a fit.”
Emilie no longer knew where she was. Breathing stopped, the muscles in her face flexed. She scrambled her legs, trying to get up but only jerked around useless. Paul’s hand slipped from her wrist. Her second attempt to get up caused her legs to tangle around themselves and the chair slid out from underneath her body. She felt her head smash to the floor but there was no pain. Images raced through her mind. Her mouth tasted like copper wiring.
Paris was broken but London still burned. She could taste the rot seeping through her. The bombs had destroyed everything. No museum was left standing but even this was insufficient.
Something hard and cold forced its way over the ruin of her tongue. In the distance, weeping and the gnashing of teeth. People backed away as she writhed, chairs toppled over and dishes smashed. She forced away her senses in favor of delirium. The visions were clearer.
Stalingrad was only a memory. The Eagle marched onward, fearsome and terrible, defiling everything in its midst. Only disaster could slow its progress. How would they explain their failure to future generations?
“Emmy, Emmy!” it was a chant, a ritual that her husband liked to perform before unwilling audiences. Was it love or hate she felt? Her head felt hazy.
These zeppelins are vulnerable. One spark! One spark and they would collapse in a cacophony of flames. What would Hitler say to that? How weak he would seem then!
It was in these moments that she understood everything. Her husband dismissed the fits as the product of misplaced electric signals, but Emilie knew better. She had dumped the medicine bottle in the sink, wondering if its contents would end up in the Arctic. It was her quiet rebellion against tyranny.
The airship burst into flames and fell upon the moor-masting. The Eagle’s spies cooked alive, their plans were ash in her mouth. She knew what was needed. She understood God’s plan.
The doctor arrived. He bent over Emilie’s form and turned her over, allowing her secretions to drain. There they sat for several minutes as the tremors stopped and the visions faded. She could hear people exhaling in relief as she finally stopped moving.
“Madame,” said the doctor in a thick German accent, “Do you know where you are?”
She did not want to respond but forced words through the exhaustion and swollen tongue, “An airship.”
“Can you tell me what the name of the ship is?” If she ignored the swastika lapel, the doctor seemed like a very nice man.
“Good. And what year is it?”
The doctor smiled and looked at her husband.
“I think the worst is over. Does your wife have a history of seizures?”
“Yes, but this is the first major episode that she’s had in some time. She’s been taking phenobarbital for the last couple years.”
“These things do tend to come and go. I’d like her to stay in bed until we get to New Jersey. The supplies on board really only deal with minor injuries. It will only be a few more hours. She can be taken to a hospital when we land.”
Emilie’s husband nodded and without another word, scooped her up from the floor. She rested her head against her husband’s shoulder as he carried her to the room.
“You really gave me a scare,” he said after depositing her on the bed, “I thought you’d swallow your tongue.”
She stared at the ceiling in silence. The room seemed to throb.
“Are you going to be alright?”
Emilie turned her head toward him, “Yeah, I know what I need to do.”
“Do you want me to see if I can get some sedatives from the doctor?” he said, misinterpreting her once again.
She smiled, “That would be lovely, Erich.”
He left the room. Emilie allowed herself to wait several minutes before getting up again. Although her limbs felt heavy, Emilie knew that she had a duty to perform, an obligation to God. It would not take much to ignite the hydrogen in the ship.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:25|
Welp, here goes. My Thunderdome debut (element is osmium):
Heavy Metal Roses (1109 words)
Ted smiled confidently at the new co-op student, admiring how her fitted lab coat accentuated her curves. A little lacking in the breast department, but even in the harsh light of the transmission electron microscopy lab, her face had a certain ... fuckability. Definitely an eight, maybe even a nine. 'Julia.' He repeated to himself. It was important to keep their names straight. He'd been kicked in the nuts more than once for crying out the wrong one.
'Focus, Ted, time to get your game on.' The orientation tour afforded plentiful opportunities for openings. Plus, he actually needed to get her set up so he might just get some productive academic work out of her. 'Haha, I'll get some work out of her all right!'
He gestured to the ugly 70s-green linoleum lab room.
"We're in the sample prep area. I'll run you through the details of the protocol when you shadow me through it starting tomorrow, but before then, I need to impress something on you."
"This", he held up a sealed ampoule containing what looked like a broken piece of test tube, "is osmium tetroxide, which we use for staining TEM sections."
He leaned in a little. This particular pep talk was one of his favorites, the thrill of danger a sure-fire aphrodisiac.
"We use a lot of nasty chemicals in the TEM lab, but OT is by far the worst. In fact, it's one of the deadliest you'll find anywhere. The vapor pressure is huge, so it gasifies almost instantly, and binds to tissues even faster, coating them permanently with osmium metal. And I mean permanently. Osmium is ultra-stable, so once it sticks to cells, there is no getting it off."
He watched her face blossom into the first satisfying signs of unease as she processed the implications.
"You breathe that vapor in, and it coats the inside of your lungs. The best part? You don't even realise until hours later, when the pulmonary edema sets in and you die."
He gazed into her deep brown eyes as they grew wider and more beautiful.
"The word osmium is from the Greek for smell, since it's supposed to smell pretty strongly. But the toxic effects are orders of magnitude stronger. If you can smell it, you're already as good as dead."
Satisfied with the effect, he decided to round out with a subtle neg.
"So you keep those delicate hands steady," he punctuated this with a light touch, "and stick strictly to the safety guidelines while you're using it."
The rest of the tour was pretty mundane stuff for him, but Julia was still bright-eyed enough to lap it up. He slipped in a little more game, and arranged to meet her later to "discuss research" over coffee.
Ted sauntered back to his office and sat down at his immaculately kept desk. Unlike the other PhD students in the department, he knew that it paid to keep things tidy. He'd closed with more than one target on that desk, and there would be nothing more mood-killing than a naked rear end getting stuck on half-eaten pizza. Not that those other slobs would ever have that problem.
He unlocked his computer and fired up the GradPUAs chatroom. It was pretty empty, but his buddy Sam from chemistry was on.
PhysicalChemistry: Ted! How's things hanging in EM land?
StickingItInTEM: Pretty good. The new co-op student Julia is in an advanced stage of preparation, if you know what I mean.
PhysicalChemistry: Dude, you have got to stop sarging on your co-op students. It's gonna land you in trouble.
PhysicalChemistry: As if you weren't in enough already, bro. What the gently caress went on with that Cynthia chick? She's spreading poo poo about you everywhere.
StickingItInTEM: Hey, I just had to get a little assertive with my kino escalation to get past a little last minute resistance. Sure she was holding back a little, but her subcommunication said she was all over it.
StickingItInTEM: Besides, man, that deer-in-headlights look they get in their eyes is almost as good as the closing.
PhysicalChemistry: Haha you are terrible.
PhysicalChemistry: But seriously, what happens if she goes to security or the cops?
*StickingItInTEM does the dying swan*
StickingItInTEM: Then woe is loving me.
StickingItInTEM: Really, though, what's she gonna say? *She* came home with me. She was obviously asking for it. And she had a loving great time, whatever she may say now.
StickingItInTEM: Besides, as far as the law goes, it's her word against mine.
PhysicalChemistry: Whatever man. I just don't think your pretty rear end would last five seconds in jail.
StickingItInTEM: Do you think this is the first time I've had to deal with this? Trust me, she has nothing. gently caress her. Again.
PhysicalChemistry: Anyhow... I gotta go grade some papers. Try and stay out of the wrong kind of trouble.
StickingItInTEM: Yeah I gotta go up my game with target:co-op student over coffee. I am gonna be bumping up against that sweet rear end in no time. Later!
Ted stood up and preened for a few minutes, admiring his lean face, high cheekbones and prominent jaw in the mirror he kept hidden at the back of the cupboard. He was a handsome guy, and sometimes he wondered whether he really needed his game. But hey, he knew a ton of other good-looking guys who were just average frustrated chumps. Foregoing the game was the path to oneitis and misery.
Slicking his hair back, he started getting his mind in gear for Julia. Demonstrating higher value was so easy with co-ops, especially the ones directly under him. As a PhD student, he was everything they aspired to be, and they worshipped the ground he walked on. Closing with her should be a cinch.
Satisfied that everything was in order, Ted opened his office door and stopped short. Lying alluringly on the floor was a spray of deep burgundy roses. He barely noticed the shift in the wrapping as he scooped them up to read the tag's ornate lettering: 'To Ted, lustfully yours'. It was signed only with a lipstick print.
'Such a sweet gesture! A little gay, maybe, but really sweet.' He just wished it hadn't been so obtuse by being anonymous. He'd have to do some careful cold-reading around every target and gently caress buddy he had going to avoid a crash and burn.
'Whatever', he thought, lifting the bouquet to his face, 'I can deal with that later'. He inhaled deeply, dismissing the faint chlorine overtone ('who would put bleach on flowers, anyway?'), filling his lungs with the cloying, sensual fragrance of rose petals and promises of sexual conquests to come.
Holy poo poo this was a sleazy character to write. I just hope the comeuppance works, and the motivation is obvious enough.
E: Fixed a weird copy/paste error where the last three paragraphs ended up copied into the middle of the chatlog. I swear I didn't change any of the wording, just deleted the duplicated text.
Lead out in cuffs fucked around with this message at 08:56 on Feb 10, 2014
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:28|
The catacombs whispered with the hiss of the drill. Erik watched it, trying to take his mind off the cold in his joints. There was a shriek and the drill jittered to a stop. The burly American using it grunted in satisfaction and motioned for Dr. Cleve. She moved up awkwardly and slowly fumbled her testing equipment together to begin the process of extracting the sample.
“Lemme knew if you need the drill again, Doc.” Caporal Chef John Parker leaned up on the wall against Erik and pulled a wad of tobacco from his pouch. “Sucks not being able to smoke, eh Doc 2?” He waved the pouch at Erik. Erik hated being called that, but he hated withdrawal more. He stuck a wad in the corner of his mouth.
Parker called him Doc 2 because he was the second Ph.D to join this expedition. Dr. Astrid Cleve had started them on this insane quest. She had originally been recruited by the Allies to locate and/or isolate as much thulium as possible. Virtually all grafting technologies required thulium powered lasers. The Nazi’s lead in cyborg technology and Thulium production meant that they were gaining the upper hand again. A chemist and geologist, Dr. Cleve hypothesized that this stretch of northern Greenland would be the only place in the world where one might find a naturally occurring deposit of Thulium. Someone at Allied command had listened, and commissioned this team.
The French Foreign legion had been contacted to provide the manpower. Command had expected a platoon. When only Parker showed up, they had furiously called Algeria demanding to know what was wrong. Algeria had simply said “il s'agit d'une armée d'un seul homme.” And then in added in unaccented English: “Now gently caress off.” After watching Erik carry his precious Maxim M32, its ammo, the drill and a full rucksack through waist deep snow, Erik believed it.
Parker had stripped to his undershirt while working the drill. He caught Erik looking at his Arm. F.L.F.N. was tattooed in giant blue letters on his forearm. “Got it in ’55.” He said. “When I realized the war wasn’t ending anytime soon, and that I was gonna have to do something about it.” Erik was about to ask what it meant when the last member of their quartet appeared in the small hole that led to the outside. Her dusky skin was ravaged with acne scars, but her cheekbones could slice a stale baguette. He remembered how he had felt when he had translated the name of her organization for Parker. In her native Inuinnaqtun, it meant roughly, “Woman Hunter” but when he moved it to English he took the liberty of changing it to “Inuit Lesbian Commando” because he liked to laugh in the face of disappointment. Parker had roared at that.
“Dr. Holtved, our hosts are restless and want to speak to you. I still can’t make out their dialect very well, but I gather something may be coming our way. You better speak to them.” Erik nodded and squeezed past her. Was she smiling? Uqalik’s skills for this mission were obvious, but the fact that she couldn’t speak Inuktun, and had never been to Northern Greenland had led to Allied command commissioning him. As the only living white person who knew the Inughuit, and a Dane who hated Nazis, he was more than happy to sign on. He had led them here, and found guides to take them to this desolate mountain range. He found the guides outside, their ears cocked to the wind. He conversed with them briefly and then hurried back inside. Dr. Cleve was still busy with her test kit. He looked at John and Uqalik.
“They hear engines. They are going to leave to go back and check on their families. The last time a plane came through here it was bad news for them. They’ll leave kayaks for us.” Uqalik went back outside and then yelled back in:
“It’s not a plane—they’re snowmobiles, and they’re close. John?” Parker was already dragging his gear outside. He spun the Maxim together, filling a cap with snow for coolant. Half a dozen snowmobiles appeared on the horizon, each adorned with a swastika that gleamed in the arctic sun. Parker motioned to Erik.
“Not much time.” He waved his forearm at him. “It means gently caress Lindbergh, Fight Nazis. You understand that Doc 2? Now see if you can hurry Astrid up.”
The roar of the snowmobiles became too loud to ignore. With a roar, Parker fired up the Maxim. Snow spat up in a line and the lead sled was split in half. The other machines began to weave and Parker tried to track them each. The Nazis began to return fire. Erik could see what was going to happen. They would close before John could get them all. Erik crawled back inside. Dr. Cleve was grinning from ear to ear. “I was right!” She seemed not to have realized there was firefight outside. “It’s a huge deposit of naturally occurring thulium! This could finally turn the tide! We have to get the coordinates back to Command! We—“ a ricochet took her in the temple. She slumped forward in his arms, her grin still on her face. Suddenly the noise outside stopped.
“Dr Holtved? Dr. Cleve? You are in there yes?” It was a German accent. “Put down any weapons you have and come out. We don’t wish to hurt you.” Moving numbly, Erik backed out on his knees, pulling Astrid’s body behind him. They had been so close!
The German tsk’d when he saw Astrid’s body. “Such a waste. The Fuhrer will be disappointed.”
“I don’t give a poo poo what Herr Himmler thinks—“ Erik spat defiantly; but the words caught in his throat as he turned around. The German was dangling Parker off the ground with one metal arm. The servos were barely straining. Parker was still kicking faintly, but couldn’t escape that grip. Two other Nazi soldiers stood with their guns levelled. The cyborg spoke:
“So the thulium is here?”
Erik laughed. “No, no, that’s the funny thing. She died for nothing! There’s nothing here but rock.” The cyborg stopped smiling.
“You disappoint me Doctor. Do you take me for a fool?” He barked an order in German and one of the Soldiers disappeared into the hole. No sooner had his feet disappeared than the snow behind the other exploded and the Nazi’s throat disintegrated in a hiss of red. Uqalik’s knife was at the cyborg’s ribs before Erik could blink, but the clank of metal on metal revealed the ugly truth. The cyborg dropped Parker and swung at Uqalik. The other Nazi was crawling back out of the tunnel. Erik remembered he had a gun and fumbled it out of his coat. He discharged it into the Nazi’s upturned face and then found himself being separated from it by the cyborg. The cyborg was speaking to him in German, but he couldn’t understand a word. His throat was being compressed and all he could hear was a roaring sound. It was only when he was dropped to the ground and saw the end of Parker’s drill that he realized where the sound was coming from. With a last surge, Parker drove the cyborg forward into the ground, drilling through his chest and into the frozen tundra. The drill gave its trademark squeal and Parker slumped down, blood pouring from the half dozen slugs in his chest. He looked Erik in the eye:
“Honneur et Fidélité.” And with that, John Parker fell to the snow. Uqalik came over and closed his eyes.
“Now what?” Erik whispered to her.
“We burn Astrid and John. Leave the others for the bears. Then we head over the pole to Rovaniemi. It’s too dangerous to go any other direction.” She looked him the eye. “Ultima Thule.”
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:39|
Word count: 1,195
The crows called out when they saw Martin coming up the hill. He could hear them, even through the drum and roll of the rain off his poncho's orange hood, and it sounded to him like laughter at his expense. He cursed at them under his breath, and he cursed the mud harder. It was a slog to plow uphill one foot at a time, dropping to his hands every few minutes to shove against the sliding downhill muck when his boots got sucked under and trapped. He wasn't here because he wanted to be.
Schloop! Tripped again. Martin smashed into the ground face first. He could feel the cold, wet clumps of jagged earth pressing into his belly and rainwater pouring in little rivulets down his pants. He pulled himself to his feet, yanked his shirt down, and hissed more swears.
Then he saw what he had come for, yards ahead of him, and his throat tightened.
"Sh-poo poo. poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo..."
Martin kept chanting his sutra of poo poo as he clambered up the soggy grass and soil to the Tinhouse. It wasn't made of tin, really, but that's what he and the guys had called it back in high school. Corrugated tin roof, rusty tin panels on the walls, so it was a Tinhouse, right? But the carcass of their old haunt, underneath the tin-skin, was all just wood, and rotten wood after years of neglect. A wave of mud had slammed through the back of the Tinhouse. Water streamed down the hillside and through this new back door, blocked only a little by the trunk of a gnarly dead elm tree that grew behind the shed. Martin knew it must be flooded inside. He'd hiked all the way up here for nothing.
With level ground under his feet again, Martin shot around to the back of the shed and breathed a sigh of relief. The torrent of mud from above had crumpled in the back of the Tinhouse, but it had also formed a dam, forcing the water and muck to fork along the sides of the shack's outer walls and splash down the hill. Gave me a lot of trouble on the way up, he thought. But if the Tinhouse wasn't flooded, maybe some stuff could be salvaged.
Martin tore open the front door. Some water rushed out, and the floor warped under his feet, but it wasn't Atlantis in here yet. The gamebooks should all be on the second shelf in the corner. All Wizards of the Coast stuff, most of them with original sheets, some with the supplemental stuff.
Martin shuffled off the backpack he'd been carrying--another high-school relic--and piled every one of them inside. The guy at the comic store said 750 flat for the whole lot. Some of these looked real old...could be less than they were worth...definitely less, the more he thought about it. But he was already a week behind on rent. Too late to think about eBay. Comic store guy could pay him that day, if he was still there. Martin left, what, 40 minutes ago? So 40 minutes back?
drat rain. drat mudslide. drat bills. drat--
Martin realized he was staring at a few pepperings of metal in the muck at his boots. They weren't rocks, too oddly shaped and...familiar? He fished one out of the earthy slime. Tin. It had a little head, lopsided arms, and big clumpy feet melting into a bigger clumpy stand. The little tin staff was made too thin and the end had snapped off at some point. Oh. That's right. He made these.
The books belonged to Chris, originally. He was a good DM. He took the game seriously without forcing anyone else to. This figurine was made for him. It didn't look like much, but it was supposed to be a god-thing, with a beard and a staff. That's all Martin did in high school. He played D&D and he made little figures. There was more than enough tin left over from making the Tinhouse, and it was easy to heat and bend while everyone else was tallying numbers or arguing semantics. Chris was a bland-lookin' guy and he always DM'ed. He didn't have a game character, so Martin was proud of what he had come up with for him. Bland or not, Chris was the only guy in the group who had a girl. Still did! They were married now, with a kid. He seemed happy now.
Thunder rattled the shack's ruffled roof and snapped Martin back to reality. He really should get going, but...were there more of his figures in here? This storm was probably going to wash away most of the Tinhouse. They'd all be gone.
Martin set his backpack down and started picking through the sludge like a sandpiper for all the little treasures he'd made.
There was Mark, a dwarf. The baby of the group, they used to pick on him for needing a ride all the time. He was graduating college this year.
This rusty one was Eddie, a mage. He flaked on half their meetings, but he was funny, so they kept inviting him. Graduate school now, engaged.
Martin pawed through the mud for six more minutes, but his own figurine never turned up. Whatever. He could be running out of time, and a one-inch tin ranger smushed together by a high-school dropout wasn't worth anything. He slung his old backpack over his shoulder and schlepped back out through the slop, bracing himself for a long leg-locked trek back through a torrent of muddy water.
Martin froze. Crows collected shiny things, didn't they? He looked up at the dead elm behind the shack, full of dead nests. There was something dull amidst one little clump of twigs, copper wire, and earth.
The rain was coming down harder now. His muscles ached and his lungs burned. The way down might even be slower than the way up.
He dropped the backpack and swung his leg into the crook of the tree. It pinched his foot, secure but a little painful, and he hoisted himself up to the swaying, soggy nest about ten feet up.
There were bits of wire, glass, and metal laced throughout the melting nest, but all Martin saw was Ranger Thranmoor, leader of the Timberland Warriors. He twirled the tiny hero between his thick fingers.
Hey buddy. It's been eight years.
It wasn't going to pay his bills this month. He might not have an apartment to bring it back to for long. But...
The wave of mud from the mount above him rushed down almost silently, but the force was incredible. It shook the thick elm. It swallowed his backpack. It swept away two crows as five others screamed and took flight. It swelled to six inches below his shaking feet before stopping. He could walk from the tree to the Tinhouse roof on the new ground. So he did, quivering in shock.
Martin sat on the roof with Thranmoor until the rain stopped. When his heart finally stopped racing, he tightened his bootlaces and prepared to head home.
Word count was murder on this one. Once again tried to do too much. But I wanted to rewrite my debut word-vomit story in a way so the core idea made sense, albeit more cheeseball. I promise after this, no more chubby tabletop nerds.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:46|
Theoretically Hopeful, 1132 words
I laid their silently, letting the cool night air blow across my body. Marie was laying next to me, also completely nude, but she was asleep. I could never fall asleep right after sex, not anymore. I was always too jumped up, too anxious. Too worried that the curse was about to settle in. Marie obviously didn't have that problem. She was on her stomach, face buried deep into her pillow. You could just barely hear the soft snores, a sort of breathy in and out. It was dark in my bedroom, but I could just barely make out her tan back against the white bed sheets. She was tall and thin, with a smattering of freckles over her skin. I felt awkward, watching her sleep, but there wasn't much else I could do at the moment.
The relationship always ended after sex. That's what was keeping me up at night - this curse on my head. She was a wonderful, great person, and I thought that I loved her very deeply, but I had noticed a pattern in my life. I swore to myself that I wouldn't open myself up like this again, let myself get hurt. But here I was, and now I was just waiting for the shoe to drop.
It hadn't been an easy pattern to notice at first, mostly because my relationships lasted much longer when I was younger. My first girlfriend, Sarah, we started dating the sophomore year of high school. We stayed together all the way through the first semester of college - she broke it off. The strain of a long distance relationship was too much, she said, and I didn't really disagree with her. I didn't know at the time that relationship would be my best, and my most stable one. Three and a half years, altogether, before an amicable break up.
I met my second girlfriend, Annie, at my university. That one lasted into the beginning of my junior year, until I found her sleeping with my room mate. It hadn't been the first time. So now we were at two years, before a terrible betrayal. After that was Lindsy, which lasted a year before a screaming, tear-filled fight. Jackie, three months. Beth, a month. Marsha, two weeks. Liz, seven days. It didn't matter how long we were dating before hand, as soon as sex came into the equation, the relationship was doomed, faster and faster.
The last relationship, before this one at least, had been the worst. I took a break from dating, to find out how to be happy with just myself. I didn't really like it that much - I guess you could say I'm an old-fashioned romantic. I wanted to love and be loved. I didn't see anyone, but I met this woman online. She lived in a relatively close city, and we started chatting. I really opened up to her, and she opened up to me. We had all the traits of a great relationship, everything you would consider typical, except for the physical connection. I thought maybe this time would be different. It was her idea to meet in person, and I took her around for a night on the town.
One thing led to another, and the inevitable happened. I remember vividly how it happened. I had just finished, and rolled off of her. She cleaned herself up, looked over at me, and said, "I don't think this is going to work. I'm sorry." And there was relationship number eight - lasted less then ten minutes after sex before it was over. You see what I mean about the pattern?
My friend Alfred started joking about it. Not in a mean way, you understand, but just pointing it out to me. I started noticing the pattern after Beth, and griped about it to him. After Marsha, he started saying that I was right, that my relationships were following a pattern of exponential decay. After Liz, he came up with the formula - 365 days over ten to the nth power times two, or something like that. He joked about how my relationship seemed to follow some sort of universal law. He was a chemist, and compared it to the instability of atoms - he was a real nerd like that.
He didn't joke about it after Jenna, the woman from online. I was pretty devastated by the whole thing, and he knew an open wound when he saw one. After a month of moping, he tried to cheer me up. He started talking about the Island of Stability - you had these bigger and bigger elements, and they became more and more unstable. But there was a theory that, through a lot of chemical mumbo jumbo, there was an atom that was massive, and yet stable. It had some weird, stupid name, but he kept talking about how it was double magic. It seems stupid when stated this way, but at the time it felt really encouraging. Despite this curse hanging over my head, there was still hope for me. Theoretical, unproven, but hope none the less.
Somewhere out there was the woman who was double magic, someone I could accept who would accept me, and there was hope for a long, stable relationship. I just had to keep trying.
That's when I had met Marie, entirely on accident. She had been beautiful, and wonderful, and an absolutely great friend. He considered just staying her friend, not making a move... but hope beckoned. He took a chance, and the date had gone wonderfully. So did the second, the third, and the fourth. And now I was here, awake, wondering when the curse would strike. There was no real answer - if they mathematical formula was correct, the relationship was already doomed. And if the Island of Stability existed, well, then there was nothing I could do about that either.
I sighed, rolled over, and went to sleep.
The smell of bacon frying woke me up in the morning. Marie wasn't next to me, and I looked around worried for a moment before the two facts connected. I grabbed a t shirt and headed out to the kitchen. There she was, as beautiful as ever, wearing my t shirt. I wondered about that - I had always seen women wear an old t shirt in the movies, but it seemed strange to see it real life. Then again, it's not like she had brought a change of clothes with her.
"You didn't have to make me breakfast," I said with a smile. "But I appreciate it."
"Well, next time you can wake up and make me breakfast instead," she replied.
"Next time?" I asked, trying to keep the hope and happiness out of my voice.
She gave me a strange smile, and said "We'll see."
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:49|
Enforcer - 1101
We rode the horses to the prison at dawn, tied them to the post and entered. Investigator carried his cane like a baton, limping slightly. He did that when he was angry, I'd learned that. The officer in the window pulled the lever that made the big doors open, and walked on towards the holding cells.
“Crudgel at the ready, Sloan,” said Investigator.
“What?” I said.
“Club, Sloan, I want you to be ready with your club.”
I nodded and grabbed my club from the sling on my back. It was big, this one, cut from one of the thick trees down in the Old Forest. I'd cut it myself when Investigator punished me for eating with my hands. Two days in the Old Forest, didn't want to do that again.
The corridor with the holding cells were a long lonely row of metal doors, each leading to more and more metal doors. I had no idea how many near-deads were down here, I'd given up on counting.
“Bring out Nander, Grand and Lozier,” said Investigator to a box on the wall.
We waited for some time, heard the drip-drop of water through old stone and the creaking of bad, worn boots. I had good boots, got them from a dead one a few weeks back. Almost as big as me, but just almost; they hurt on the big toe if I ran too much.
A door opened, and Investigator motioned for me to follow. We descended a staircase, passed through a corridor with pairs of steel doors on each side, and then did the same twice more. Now and then we heard screaming from beyond a door. I couldn't imagine why anyone would be stupid enough to end up here.
We ended up in a room with four chairs. Chained to three of them were near-deads, ragged hair and stringy beards.
“Gentlemen,” said Investigator. Two of the dead ones looked up, last one mumbled something I couldn't understand.
Investigator sat down on the fourth chair, passed his cane to me.
It was the usual signal, and when he started talking, I was already gone.
“... The rape and murder of Coran Grand...”
Leftmost, the one called Lozier had a limp in his right foot. The way he moved when he shifted, pushed with the right foot, gentle with the left.
“... And yes, at first you were our main suspect, but your own brother?”
Middle one, Grand, the brother. Strong arms, chain stretched taunt. He was focused, and he tried to act groggy and gone, but I could spot focus. I knew a fighter.
“... But what if it it wasn't just one murder? What if it was a spree?”
Right one, Nander. He was the weakest. Legs and arms withered from unuse. He was a laborer once, maybe a dockworker, but now he looked like opium-ridden and gone. He'd be fast though, probably gave the officer a long nice run when they came to take him in. Now and then he'd shift forward, mumble something and lean back.
“... Because, you see, we found something common in all of these scenes. One repeated by at least one witness...”
Grand had something weird with his breath, like the left side of his chest wouldn't quite follow. Probably a half-busted lung, he'd tire easily. Nander had his right eye were swollen shut, he'd be hard pressed to fight someone on his blind side. Lozier showed more and more signs of being the better fighter. The shifting from left to right kept the blood running. He'd roll his shoulders as much as he could now and then.
“... There is one place that could explain this common element. One place where the murderer would visit again and again, each time marking himself with a fatal clue...”
Lozier would make eye contact with me now and again. Probably looking for the same things I was looking for. Grand stared at a point to the left of Investigator, eyes heavy lidded. He was losing the focus he had earlier, his muscles relaxed, shoulders slumped. Nander had his eyes closed, mumbled constantly now.
“... Two days ago we arrested a doctor, Ryan Roheed for selling opium to unlicensed sources. This doctor used a certain compound in his process, one that left this fatal clue.”
Nander tensed up, and shut up. I turned Investigator's cane half a turn and kicked the ground twice, soft as I could. Investigator paused for half a beat, then he got up from his chair, took a step back.
“Sloan, do you know what tellurium is?”
Nander started mumbling again, but I could hear the ping of metal hitting the stone floor.
“No,” I said.
I put the top of the cane against my shoulder, angled my forearm towards Nander.
“It's a chemical element. We used it in the cure against the Grand plague, but it found a new use among some people.”
Nander tensed up.
“A certain doctor discovered it was very effective in the process of purifying Albian opium.”
When Nander moved his foot forward, I saw the handcuff pin he'd kept hidden. In the time it took to move the cane backwards, ready to throw, he was up from the chair, he really was fast. I threw the cane just beside him, on the side of his good eye. Right eye swollen, left eye preoccupied, I grabbed Investigator’s chair and threw it at Nander. He got one edge right in the throat and the other one on the knee, raised in the start of a run, and he stumbled and fell back towards the wall. I rushed forward and hewed my club in a wide arch, sweeping him to the side and snapping both shins in the process.
When the noise died down, Investigator stepped forward, picked up his cane. It was made from the thick trees down in the Old Forest. It cold take a beating.
“Tellurium leaves an unmistakable aroma in anyone who spends time working with it, or even those who only visit, for example, the office of a doctor who uses it for the purification of opium. A smell like garlic, but fouler. A smell our witnesses described, and a smell our officers described when you were brought in, mister Nander.”
The damage to his windpipe left him unable to speak, but he wouldn't need to. Investigator made a sign, and I dragged him out of the room, up the stairs and towards the sun and the gallows.
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:58|
Growing Cold Together
crabrock fucked around with this message at 18:35 on Feb 19, 2014
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 04:59|
Djeser fucked around with this message at 19:46 on Dec 31, 2014
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 05:00|
|# ? Oct 4, 2022 04:12|
element: iodine btw
|# ? Feb 10, 2014 05:03|