The Little Great Train Robbery -- 1199 Words
About a hundred miles southeast of Colusa, California, nestled amidst the watchful pines of the Eldorado National Forest, sits Pollock Pines—a former Pony Express stop, now just a passenger and mail stop on the train tracks running through to the west.
About one mile east of Pollock Pines, in a corridor of trees alongside Jenkinson Lake, a haphazard stack of logs lays across those tracks. A lantern set on top, the only light in the dark of morning, illuminates two figures running up the short hill to the right of the tracks. A third figure waits for them behind a rock.
“Alright, let’s go over the plan one more time,” Marshall (the third figure) says, once the others, Ronnie and Jacob, reach him.
“Won’t they know these are fake guns?”
“Won’t they see our faces?”
“How do you know all this stuff, anyway?”
“Shut up!” Marshall shouts, and holds out his hands for quiet. When Ronnie and Jacob finally stop their barrage, Marshall starts to talk. “This is how the James gang did it. I read it in a book. And I was on the train last week with my dad, that’s how I know all this stuff.” He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a wad of rags, and held it out to the other two. “Anyhow, they won’t know who we are because we’ll be wearing these.”
“Dish rags?” Ronnie asked, his head tilted to the side.
Marshall’s hand dropped to his side, the bundle of rags with it. “No, stupid. Disguises.”
“Hey mom, where’s Marshall?” Walter rubs his eyes as he walked into the kitchen, still in his pajamas.
“He’s not in your room with you?” His mother stands at the ice box pulling food out for breakfast. She is still in her robe and her hair is pulled back, which tells Walter it is still early. The only time his mother isn’t put together is the half hour right after she wakes up—usually around 7 AM.
“No,” Walter replies. He starts thinking about the possibilities. His little brother (younger by just one year) has an active imagination, and is always coming up with ‘secret’ plans—which he can never wait to tell Walter about.
“Hmmm. Check your father’s office, please? He knows he shouldn’t be in there.” His mother isn’t looking at him; she is rummaging through a drawer. A confused look crosses her face, and she starts checking the other drawers. Finally, she turns to Walter. “Have you seen my rags? I can’t seem to find them.”
Walter’s eyes go wide in an instant. Without a word, he turns and sprints back up the hall.
In the distance, a train horn sounds, once twice, a third time. Marshall is looking out to the east from their vantage point at the rock.
“Good, that means the train is at the bridge.” He looks down at the watch he had taken from his father’s office. “The 8 AM to Pollock Pines.”
“How do you know that?” Jacob asks, leaning over to look at Marshall’s watch. Marshall pulls his hand away.
“I told you, I was on the train last week.” He stops talking, as if that settles the matter, then sees that both Ronnie and Jacob are looking at him blank-faced. He sighs. “I asked the conductor all sorts of questions. They love talking to kids. He told me they use the horn when they cross the bridge. And then he said it takes half an hour from there to Pollock Pines. So, idiots, put your disguises on.”
Walter’s feet churn the dirt as he runs. Next to him runs his best friend, Colton. After Walter had left the kitchen, he’d gotten dressed as fast as possible, grabbed his BB gun, and bolted outside. His mother had followed him and peppered him with questions, but Walter had simply said, “I’m going to get Marshall!” and headed straight to Colton’s house. A minute later, Colton had snuck out his own window and joined Walter.
Marshall had a lot of plans, and many of them were quite stupid. Usually Marshall just talks about his plans, though, and never tries them. Of course, the one time he does decide to try one, he chooses one of his stupider plans, but thankfully, Walter thinks, he had just told him about this plan last week.
“Come on, I know where he is!” Walter shouts as they run. “There’s a big rock by the tracks where we sit and watch the trains sometime!”
“What’s he going to do?” Colton asked as he tries, unsuccessfully, to button the top of his shirt.
“He’s going to try to rob the train!”
“He’s going to do WHAT?!”
“There, you can see the smoke,” Marshall says, then pulls out the Smith & Wesson cap gun from his belt. The other boys look to the east and see column of white rising above the trees. “Get ready.”
Marshall drops to a squat and moves around the side of the rock, prepared to break into a run. The other boys do the same, lining up behind him. They wait.
Then, from the west, they hear shouting. The sun has risen, but the trees still cast long shadows, so they can’t see anything clearly—until, suddenly, two figures are maybe 100 yards away and beelining for their log pile. A moment later, Marshall realizes that one of the figures is his brother.
“Walter! Darn it!” He starts to run down the hill, shouting behind him. “Come on, we’ve got to stop them!”
Walter and Colton have reached the log pile and are throwing logs off as fast as they can. It’s slow going—they each grab an end and pull one log off at a time.
“STOP!” Marshall screams, and levels his pistol at the two figures. They whip around and stare at him. “You’ll ruin my plan!”
Walter bends and picks up the BB gun. “I know that’s a cap gun, dummy. And you’re plan is stupid—the train is going to crash!” Walter levels the BB gun at Marshall, who is still pointing the useless cap gun at Walter. Behind Walter, Colton is still struggling with the logs.
“No it won’t! That’s why we put the lantern!” Marshall takes a moment and looks behind him, for his backup. Ronnie and Jacob, however, have not moved from their spot by the rock.
“Didn’t you pay attention when we read that book? Trains take a mile to stop! Now help us move the logs!”
“No! You never let me try my plans! This one is going to work, and we’re going to get 50 bucks out of it! And you won’t get—“
“OW!” Marshall drops his cap gun and holds his shoulder, then unceremoniously takes a seat on the dirt. Walter turns and helps Colton once again. A moment later, Ronnie and Jacob join them and start pulling logs off themselves.
“I’m telling mom!” Marshall yells from his seat on the dirt.
“Go right ahead,” Walter says. Soon, the logs are removed. 5 minutes later, having retreated to the rock, they watched the train go by, right on time.
|# ? Jan 12, 2017 06:03|
|# ? Jan 23, 2021 09:27|
The one in which I foolishly 'd HM or Bust...
The command crew of the Leviathan sat before Thessalia wearing looks that ran the gauntlet from stunned silence to skeptical amusement. She’d gone into this briefing knowing that it would draw mixed reactions; she hadn’t planned on it dividing her officers so completely.
“Permission to speak frankly sir?”
Thessalia answered her first officer’s question with the appreciative smirk she could never keep off her face when looking at Lieutenant Jenkins. It was a look that never failed to provoke flushed cheeks and a downward gaze from her second in command.
Here in the ready-room Maura kept her composure.
Real Navy, the captain lamented silently, too respectful of rank and regulation to put herself first… (is this spoken dialogue? If so it should be in quotations unless theres something weird going on here.
“Your plan is batshit sir,” Maura’s words belied her disappointment. “Even if the Aegis had survived landfall I don’t expect it would be able to maintain life support let alone break atmo.”
“Duly noted.” Thessalia surveyed her officers. “Anybody else want to take a stab at breaking my heart today?”
A data-slate slid across the table coming to a clean stop at the captain’s fingertips. Thesallia thumbed through a few pages worth of bad news before looking up to the one delivering them.
“Those are the latest reports on Khanate fleet movements in the systems surrounding Parthia.” Strateo Norris sighed as disappointment darkened her features. “As much as we all would love to have old bucket of bolts back a salvage op is off the table.”
“The High Command is getting better at dealing with an insurgency it seems.” The captain flicked back and forth through the reports looking for some way to recover her old ship without losing the one they’d taken as restitution. “Take a look at this.”
With a tap on the corner of the data-slate, the room darkened. Pale greens and deep blues washed over the awed faces of her officers as the abstract numbers of registry numbers and their coordinates were given life as a hologram projected from the table.
Norris’ tone had gone from crestfallen to offended, “Why am I just now finding out about the glossy hologram table of strategic miracles?”
“Because I just found out about it before calling this briefing.” Laughter from her officers filled the ready-room putting Thessalia at ease. She steeped in the warmth of camaraderie for a moment before getting back to business.
“The Khanate has a pretty devious trap laid out for us.” Tapping a few images Thessalia brought a few key systems into focus on the display. “We can get into the system any number of ways but with the power required to escape the star’s pull. We’re going to light up every dial and doodad on every ship within sensor range.”
Every face in the room went deadpan. A few faces in the dark slowly contorted under the strain of finding an answer to a question not yet asked.
With her best sailors hinging on her every word Thessalia filed her request, “I’m not giving up on salvaging the Aegis just yet. Engineering gives a best-worst-case scenario of two-hundred hours to get that tub space worthy again.”
The captain rose from her seat. A chorus of clicking heels and harmonious ‘sir’ echoed through the room as the assembled officers snapped to attention.
“If we don’t think we can make it happen then we won’t try, but I’ll be goddamned if I don’t think it’s worth trying. I’m giving you two days to come up with a way to pull it off. If we don’t have something by then I’ll deep-six my homesick and we’ll go back to doing hit-and-runs to avoid getting our asses kicked.” Dropping the data-slate on the table Thessalia made for the door. “You’ve got two days free of regular duties to come up with a plan sufficiently ludicrous to impress me.”
Sixteen hours later, Captain Anthony stood atop the observation deck of the the shuttle bay. She wasn’t usually the type to get pre-mission jitters but the insanity in which she was about to partake demanded a bit of apprehension.
“You’re loving crazy Jenkins, you know that?”
“Aye sir,” her lieutenant replied with a smile, “but only as ordered by my commanding officer.”
“So run down how this plan is going to work one last time before I die trying to pull it off.”
“We’re flying at the rock the Aegis splashed down on at full tilt. We’re going to cut engines just before entering the system relying on momentum to carry us the rest of the way.”
“Sounds simple enough.”
“We’re gonna hit the moon’s atmosphere. With a little luck and a whole lot of skill, we’ll skip off without losing too much speed. Assuming perfect timing, we’ll dump the shuttles just fast enough that they won’t need to fire their engines but just slow enough that they won’t be dragged in our wake. From there you just need to track down your ship and pull off an impossible amount of repair work before the Khanate sends a ship to investigate.”
“What’s the margin of error on our approach?” Thessalia chewed at her thumbnail; an old nervous habit that she hadn’t succumbed to in years.
Lieutenant Jenkins looked her captain square in the eye; her worst tinted with uncharacteristic humor, “I assure you Thess you don’t want me to answer that.”
Maura laughed. “If it goes tits up you’ll have the good fortune to die almost instantly.”
Thessalia placed her hands on Maura’s shoulders. “You know Maura you really know how to put a girl at ease…”
“I try sir,” Maura said with a smirk. “Look at it this way… at least this way we don’t risk losing the Leviathan too.”
“Not helping Jenkins.”
Klaxons rang through the corridors of the Leviathan followed by a call for all hands to stations. Launch crews streamed out onto the flight deck below. The choreographed beauty of hundreds of individuals working in concert wasn’t enough to draw Thessalia’s eyes from Maura. Her stare was fixed firmly on her first officer as she studied the features of the most beautiful and loyal companion a woman cold hope for.
“That’s my cue. It was Thessalia’s turn to blush as she committed Maura’s face to memory. “Wish me luck.”
Maura tightened the chest-straps on her captain’s flight suit before pulling her into a long kiss.
“Try not to die,” she whispered. “If we’re on separate vessels we can deep-six my worries about fraternization.”
“Well if that’s the case, I’ll see you in my quarters on the Aegis in 200 hours. Clothes are optional.”
The captain pulled on her helmet before sliding down the ladder to the flight-deck proper. Jogging the distance to her shuttle she tapped a button on her helmet, sending her voice echoing through every station and hallway of the Leviathan.
“You all know what we’re here to do. It may seem impossible but know that we’ve come out of far greater odds unscathed in the past. Pulling off the unfathomably stupid is what makes us Amazons!”
The captain paused. If she knew her crew, they’d be cheering at the top of their lungs at that declaration. Imagining that the din had died down she continued.
“Let’s make certain this isn’t the last act of lunacy we commit together. Lieutenant Jenkins has the bridge while I’m gone. I expect you to follow her orders without question in my absence. If she says to blow the Aegis out of the sky when we get that old hulk up and running I expect the only argument to be who pulls the trigger.”
Thessalia double-checked her restraints before opening the windscreen of the shuttle. “I’ll see you all in 8 days. Captain Anthony out…”
The pilot of Thessalia’s shuttle was a jittery young man by the name of Ogedei. With an authoritative tap of his helmet he signaled his passengers to switch to the local comm channel before proceeding with his launch briefing.
“Good evening passengers. this is your pilot Ogedai Shen speaking. Today we’ll be making the short trip to the desert moon of Karakorum from the shuttle bay of the Leviathan. Our elevation at takeoff will be negligently close and we’ll be making our final approach at a velocity well beyond what this tin can is cleared for.”
The engineers on the shuttle laughed at that. The marines just exchanged nervous glances. The pilot continued.
“We’re looking at a total travel time of oh poo poo between wheels up and wheels down and are cleared for ejection from the shuttle bay in thirty seconds. Now would be a good time to fasten your seatbelts and prepare yourselves for survivor’s guilt.”
There was a metallic clunk as the shuttle released its parking clamps. Thessalia felt her stomach lurch as the craft lifted gently off the deck of the shuttle bay. Karakorum and its host gas giant were now visible in the distance. The captain mused on how rare it was to realize just how terrifyingly fast space travel was as the moon grew ever larger in the viewport.
The launch controller counted down as they drew closer to their target. It felt as though an entire lifetime passed between each of those final fifteen seconds.
The captain admired the beauty the gas giant as a vein of chromium gas wove its way through a purple cloud of permanganate.
She hoped that Maura would remember to take care of her fish after she died.
We can do this… she failed to convince herself.
In an instant they were tumbling through the void; the Leviathan streaking off in the distance, already just a speck of black against the light of the system’s star.
Thessalia felt nothing but incredible loneliness.
They fell towards the moon in silence for what felt like hours. The captain was only brought back to reality by the frantic buzzing of an alarm and flashing red lights throughout the cockpit.
“Flat spin,” the pilot barked. “Very bad but at least we weren’t dragged into the black by the Leviathan’s wake.” As shaky as he’d seemed prior to launch, Ogedai was in the zone under pressure. Flipping switches with the kind of confidence that could only come from having averted death a thousand times prior, he looked to Thessalia.
“I need your help getting this bird to cooperate.”
Thessalia turned to her pilot, her eyes pleading for guidance. “Tell me what I can do.”
“Get the airfoils out!”
Thessalia deployed the wings and rudder without question. The sudden loss of speed threw her forward into her restraints, stealing the air from her lungs.
“Done,” the word came out between gasping breaths as she struggled to inflate her lungs in the thin atmosphere provided by her helmet.
“We need to get our nose pointed down.” Ogedai was unshakable. He flipped another switch and a pair of flight sticks deployed between the legs of pilot and copilot. Easing the throttle forward he looked his captain square in the eye. “Watch my controls and do as I do. We’re going to need to wrestle this thing into cooperating with us.”
Thessalia mirrored the motions of Ogedei as he expertly worked to assume control of the plummeting craft. After what felt like an eternity, the shuttle was streaking like an arrow down towards the steppes of Karakorum.
Thessalia had finally caught her breath. “Now what,” she panted.
“Pull up slowly,” Ogedai instructed, “and try not to blackout.”
Thessalia kept both hands on the stick and an eye on the altimeter as she followed Ogedei’s lead. Staying conscious was a tall order as the closer the shuttle got to level, the thicker the black rings at the edge of her vision got.
They had just barely saved themselves from becoming one with the scenery. The altimeter took up what was left of Thessalia’s sight. Another hundred meters and it would have been the last thing the captain ever saw.
Captain Thessalia Anthony blacked out, uncertain if it was due to relief, exhaustion or the g-forces finally besting her efforts to keep the blood flowing to her brain.
On the bridge of the Leviathan Lieutenant Jenkins found herself with the unforeseen consequences of not smashing her ship into a moon.
“Orders Captain?” the comm specialist had asked her the same question three times in as many minutes and Maura still didn’t have an answer. “The Drumheller is requesting a parlay. They want to know if we’ll host or if they need to.”
Jenkins chewed her lip in search of the answer. “Who’s wears the pointy hat on that boat?”
“Registry shows a Vice Admiral Ackerman wearing the pointy captain’s hat Sir.”
Maura pushed the panic brewing inside her to the back of her mind, hoping the Admiral was still a friendly face.
“I’ll take him in the ready-room,” She stated. “Have the escort team track down some N.C.O. uniforms. We need to all look like real navy when he comes aboard.”
Now to to dig out my old set of whites, Maura pondered if she even remembered how to wear a real navy uniform.
Thessalia awoke to the barking voice of Stratego Norris directing the repair crews from a roughshod wheelchair planted in the sand beside her bed.
“Get up you big baby,” Norris teased. “You’ve been out for ten hours. Some of us would kill for that luxury.”
The captain groaned. Pushing herself upright she gave in to gravity allowing herself to fall back onto the cot.
“Five more minutes.” she whined. Burying her head under her pillow she pled to Norris, “All I want is five more minutes.”
“You’re the captain,” Norris gave a condescending smile. “Just keep in mind I’m not reheating this coffee when it gets cold.”
“Fine I’m up.” Thessalia stretched before accepting Norris’ offer. “What’s the sitrep?”
“Better than expected.” The stratego shifted her focus to the hulking silhouette of the Aegis in the distance. “Automated systems brought that old death trap down in mostly one piece. Most of the fixing is splicing blown electrics and patching hull breaches.”
Norris winced as she adjusted her position in the wheelchai. “Unfortunately comms and sensors are fried and we weren’t accounting on having to fix those. We’ll be heading back into the void totally blind when we’re back up and running. Three of five shuttles have the aerodynamic properties of bricks now so we’re salvaging what we can from them.”
“I was talking about the crew,” Thessalia didn’t mean to sound so short but was too fatigued to issue an apology. “Did we lose anybody.”
“Just you for half a day. Hard landings put a couple engineers and a handful of grunts in club-med. In all reality that’s the worst of our casualties.” Norris pointed to the slapdash cast wrapped around her unsettlingly crooked shin. “So I hear you’ve got a weak stomach and a knack for atmo-flight?”
Thessalia gave her strategic officer a puzzled stare.
“What do you mean?”
“Just after leveling out you turned your helmet into a fishbowl.”
The captain sighed, suddenly aware of the stench of vomit permeating her hair.
“The enlisteds aren’t going to let me live that down, are they?”
Turning her chair to face the captain, Norris put on a devious grin. “Even if they do drop it at some point you can rest assured that I never will.”
A smile painted itself onto the face of the captain., “That’s fine I’m used to it coming from you.” She pushed herself to her feet. “Wouldn’t happen to know if the showers on that tub are up and running would you?”
“Never stopped working,” Norris replied.
“Good. I’m going to go clean off this puke before I get covered in elbow grease.”
Maura snapped to attention as Vice Admrial Lance Ackerman stepped into the ready-room. He was a rugged man. Handsome in his old age with a warm smile buried under a face marred with the scars of a lifetime at war.
“Sir!” Maura’s right hand snapped up in salute, dropping in sync with the admiral’s as he returned the gesture.
“Good to see you captain,” he said as he closed the distance between them. “Now, since we’ve dispensed with the formalities of rank how about you give your grandpa a hug?”
Maura obliged, pulling her grandpa in close. “How’s mom?”
“Worried about you. Captain Yamamoto said you’d gone native after your demotion and joined up with the revolt.”
Maura looked at her toes, fully aware that the Vice Admiral could see through the lie she was forming in her head.
“That’s just not true,” Maura’s words carried no conviction as they left her mouth.
“Don’t lie to me Maura. I want the truth.” The vice admiral didn’t sound angry. It wasn’t even tainted with a tinge of disappointment. “Do you believe what you’re doing is right?”
“Yes sir,” resolute sincerity rang proud in her voice, “I absolutely do.”
“That’s all I need to know then.” Her grandfather smiled at her with the same warmth he had at her graduation from the Naval Academy, “So, tell me how I can help.”
Maura looked dumbstruck at her grandfather. “What will you tell your crew about helping us?”
“The same lie you were going to tell me,” he said with a grin, “that you’re working as an operative gaining intelligence on the resistance and that we don’t plan on compromising that operation.
The lieutenant embraced her grandfather once more, grateful for his mercy but terrified of his insight into her behavior.
Back on the ground the Aegis was ready for the do or die moment. Thessalia had always felt that it was the best ship in the void, a fact the grace of its auto-landing only served to confirm. She stood on the bridge, confident in the quality of their repairs.
“Let’s get off this rock,” she shouted.
“Aye sir.” The helmsman’s control interface lit up and he began the series of keystrokes that would set them on a launch trajectory.
“Everybody strap in.” The captain’s advice was unnecessary. Not a single member of the bridge crew wasn’t already firmly lashed to their chair as the front end of the battle cruiser tilted off the ground.
“Ten seconds to vertical,” the helmsman's voice rang through the ship as the ship turned perpendicular to the desert floor. A soft thud announced that they were ready for takeoff.
It was Thessalia’s turn to address the skeleton crew. With a few keystrokes she was ready to broadcast through the whole vessel.
“We may have gotten this tub space worthy again,” she began, “but we’re far from green as far as getting home is concerned. Sensors and comms are both down and we have no clue what we’re going to find when we break atmo so be on alert.”
She paused, running through the list of repairs that hadn’t been completed either out of urgency or lack of proper materials.
“The two big guns are ready to blaze but outside of that we’re defenseless so play it smart and don’t be quick to open fire.” With a sudden realization, she lamented their lack of ammunition. “Actually don’t fire at all,” the caption continued, “I’d rather have to break out of prison than survive the vacuum. I’m not normally one to consider surrender an option but if we encounter surrender stand down.”
Thessalia adjusted the harnesses of her captain’s chair one last time. “Enough rambling out of me though, let’s get on with it then shall we? Approaching escape velocity in in t-minus five.”
The launch thrusters fired up, filling the ship with the fiery roar of a star.
The rest of the bridge crew snapped into action. It would take more than a lowly helmsman to get this tube airborne.
Slowly the hulking pile of metal rose from the desert floor. Once more Thessalia felt sick.
Faster now, the horizon in the skylight creeped lower and lower as their altitude increased.
Thessalia’s heart was pushed against her spine as the escape thrusters turned to full power. The sky grew darker every second. Once more she fought the g-forces to keep blood flowing to her brain, this time she was successful. After an eternity the force of acceleration ceased, ushering the captain back to the comfort of weightlessness.
“Good job everybody,” her compliment echoed through the corridors of the Aegis. “Now for the hard part; getting home in one piece.”
The Drumheller and the Leviathan sat in high orbit like a pair of raptors. Sensors and eyes alike scanning the surface of the moon for the telltale signs of a launch.
First a brilliant flash of white as the launch engines flared.
Then a brilliant streak of white smoke as the escape thrusters fired.
Then the growing silhouette of the Aegis in the viewport.
Thessalia had her comms specialist hailing the Aegis at the first sign of recover. No response. She hoped the presence of their companion wouldn’t scare them off.
We’re hosed. Thessalia did not see the presence of the sector flagship for the Khanate as a good omen. We’re hosed and Jenkins is going to be forced to shell us to oblivion.
“Alright clowns I’m tasking you with finding a way to figure out what the gently caress happened that we’re staring death in the eye.”
The crew did not seem enthused, but they set to work regardless as she did some brainstorming of her own. Ideas bounced from ensign to lieutenant to captain, none ever seeming good enough.
The suggestion was barely a whisper. It had come from a tactical officer seated at the trigger of the big guns.
“Repeat that Commander,” The captain’s order was harsh. She didn’t have time for anyone to play coy.
The tactician cleared his throat of the uncertainty that had muted his earlier declaration.
“Morse code,” he continued. Old earth boats used flashing lights to send messages over short distances.”
“Get on with it then,” Thessalia barked. “Tell the Aegis that we’re willing to stand down if they’ll escort us to dry dock for prisoner processing.”
The beacon on the bow of the ship flashed in a sequence of longs and shorts. The tactical officer worked furiously to translate the message.
“Captain Maura Jenkins says we’re all clear to head back to friendly waters,” he stated. “Apparently the Admiral in charge of the Drumheller is going to act as escort to talk down any hostiles.”
“Send a reply.” the captain thanked her lucky stars. Her triumphant grin betraying an intent the crew had long suspected she continued, “Tell her I expect her in my quarters to explain exactly how in the hell she pulled that off at zero-dark-thirty.”
The tactical officer gave Thessalia a knowing smile, “Aye captain… Responding now.”
Somehow Captain Anthony’s crew had pulled off the impossible once more.
|# ? Jan 12, 2017 09:58|
The Fires Of Discontent:
Number 2... The Normal One
INT. ARASPASIA PARLOR - NIGHT
The room is lavishly furnished. Dozens of GUESTS are assembled in the area; mingling amongst themselves and speaking of the issues of the day. Everyone is dressed in late medieval garb. CHARLOTTE DESJARDINS stands out among them. Her raven black hair stands in stark contrast of her fair complexion and the impeccable emerald dress draped over her body. She raises a glass of thick red liquid to ARASPASIA OF CARTHAGE; a girl of about sixteen with blond hair and a spectrally pale complexion. The latter casts no reflection in the mirror behind them.
To the embers of revolution. May the winds of change fan them into a conflagration which engulfs the dead wood of tradition in a conflagration of progress.
Araspasia raises her own chalice, offering an appreciative not to her guest.
I understand that a place where our lot drop eaves like filthy habits but I do think it's prudent that we schedule a time to discuss your propositions in detail.
A most reasonable request. I shall dispatch my viceroy in these coming nights with a secure location to do so.
Araspasia’s eyes linger on Charlotte for a moment as she sizes up her new ally. Taking another sip she continues.
Forgive my prying, but how many nights have you been of our condition?
I’ve been a childe of Caine since just after the founding of the Sardonne. In fact I was born an orphan. A privilege I’m quite glad to have been granted as I traded my services to the university in exchange for a meager education.
Active for a mere half-century. I must say however humble your learning may have been you’ve put it to devastating use.
Araspasia studies Charlotte over the rim of her glass, more intensely this time. Licking the dark blood from her lips she raises her own toast.
To the tenacity of youth. Lacking in wisdom though it may be the young of heart make up for such deficits with fiery ambition and urgency of deed.
The two clink glasses. Charlotte drinks deeply.
What of you priestess… You carry the wisdom of an ancient yet here you are plotting the destruction of your peers.
I’m young at heart. In my old age I’ve found that the fountain of youth is filled with drive and ambitions.
Charlotte raises her glass. This time she is the one to size up her acquaintance.
Wisdom I will be sure to live by.
Charlotte surveys the room with unapologetic scrutiny, taking in the motley assortment of street urchins and wealthy merchants as she sips from her glass.
I’m curious. What odds to you give our fledgling movement.
The children of the night are not a cohesive lot.
She follows Charlotte’s eyes around the room, fleeting expressions fleeting subtly across her face hinting at her feelings for each of the attendees.
The prejudices of our clans and their progenitors are often contagious within the blood. I consider that our biggest obstacle in these coming nights... It’s rare to find one such as yourself who is so willing to cast away the sins of our fathers. Rarer still is it to find one so vocal in their opposition to such bigotry.
Araspasia polishes off the contents of her glass, setting it gently atop a buffet as her upper-lip stiffens as contempt makes itself known on her face.
Our self interest will be our undoing. I must say though I am skeptical of your insistence that violence is the only path to reform.
Araspasia’s expression softens as she looks back to Charlotte.
So how are you adjusting to Prague?
Quite well actually, I find it quite similar to Paris in many regards…
The two are cut short by the CONCIERGE clearing his throat before announcing another guest.
Introducing Baron Marcus Dahl and his childe Misha… Baron of Ostrovia.
Charlotte and Araspasia exchange a mutual expression of surprise and hatred, turning their eyes to the new arrivals as the rest of the room falls silent. MARCUS DAHL is of jet black hair and coldly noble. Garbed in the finest robes bohemia has to offer his mere presence commands the attention of those around him. His associate MISHA is younger than he though of similar pedigree. He dons more practical effects, sporting a sword on his hip and a disdainful mien as he leads his sire into the room.
The baron walks with haughty deliberation, clapping slowly he stops at the buffet and pours himself a drink.
I must say I am impressed.
Each of the attendees withdraws in fear. Charlotte and Araspasia step forward, flushed red with anger and fuming.
I’d say I was offended at my lack of an invite, but I do not make a habit of lying.
What are you doing here Marcus?
Just sizing up my competition. I must say it is not much by my approximation.
Charlotte pushes forward still. She’s stopped in her tracks as Misha’s sword flashes from its sheath, coming to a halt with its tipped pressed firmly against her jugular.
Now, now young one. I wouldn’t want my progeny to be responsible for shedding blood at a peaceful congregation.
Go gently caress yourself, baron, you’re neither invited nor welcome to this gathering.
Dahl sips from his glass. Reveling in the moment a moment before looking at Charlotte with an almost paternal affection.
Such strong words from one of such weak blood. I do apologize for the intrusion… I assure you however I will be brief.
The baron downs the rest of his drink, ceremoniously smashing the empty glass against the marble floor. Charlotte directs the blade at her throat away with a single finger.
In the interest of brevity I’ll leave you with this statement of truth.
His aloofness fades; leaving only an aura of commanding certainty…
(looking directly at ARASPASIA)
I will have this city… Be it by fiat or force I will ruin the denizens of the region both Cainite and cattle alike.
Araspasia steps forward. Eyes red and fangs bared she has the demeanor of a predator ready to strike.
And should we refuse?
Should you decline my offer I am more than happy to send a legion of my finest knights on horseback to broker the exchange.
And I will be happy to send those knights back to you in boxes.
A fleeting expression of affection flickers within the features of Dahl as he gives the most shallow of bows to Araspasia and Charlotte.
Well then I look forward to our next meeting. There is little more I find as satisfying subduing the passions of the insubordinate.
Dahl surveys the guests of the party once more before turning on his heel. Commanding his charge over his shoulder as he ascends the stairs.
Come along Misha.
As you wish sire.
Not a second after the two exit the room erupts in a dozen frenzied conversations. Charlotte and Araspasia return their focus to one another; mutual hatred still ringing clear in their voices.
A butler passes by with a platter loaded heavy with goblets full of blood. Charlotte snatches one as he passes, downing half of it in a single pull.
That is why we need to destroy the foundations of power within our ranks. Not even half a century damned and I am already infuriated by those of elder status.
Araspasia’s complexion is fading back to its original fairness. She takes the glass from Charlotte and finishes the remaining blood.
Now my good friend, I would like you to imagine half a millennia living with that very sentiment.
Araspasia throws her glass hard against the mirror in which she is unable to see herself. It shatters; once again the room falls silent.
I can not in good faith say that it was you alone who swayed me to this decision. That said I declare my loyalty, resources, and forces to your cause. Any aid you request of me I will provide to the fullest extent of my abilities.
Charlotte makes no effort to disguise the relief that washes over her as she offers a hand to her new ally.
I can not thank you enough priestess. Your voice will be a beacon for the disenfranchised throughout the civilized world. I look forward to the bonds we will forge and the victories we will achieve.
I am but one of many who share our sentiments. It will take more than the two of us to effect real change in the nights to come.
|# ? Jan 12, 2017 12:17|
The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at 04:33 on May 9, 2017
|# ? Jan 12, 2017 13:26|
:11: The End of All Flesh
There was the Brother in ragged clothes, and his wrists were red from the iron that bound him, and he was a sorry, broken excuse of a man, branded with the five dots of the blasphemer, and he knelt on the cold stone as he recited the Ten Prayers of the Eternal, and his lips were silent and dry. And there below him was darkness, and there were eyes and ears and teeth, and there was a murmur rippling through all of it, and it echoed off all ways to infinity. And there next to him was the Sister in her red robe, and she would see the Brother to his end, for our blood is our duty, and she would strip the sin off his flesh, and she would lay bare the soul so that it should be judged, for there was order in all things. And there she felt nothing, nothing, but love.
For the Brother had lost his way, and his fear was a cold hand around her throat, and she would end his misery lest he lose himself in sin. For we are all to join the Void one day, or despair. And there is a great cruelty in defying this will of the Void, as is told in the First Prayer of the Eternal, the End of All Things.
And see, for in her heart there burned an Endless Flame, and the Sister took it in her hands, and it tore through the twilight like the sun setting on the last of days. And the brother saw the light, and he fell unto his sister, and begged to be spared salvation, for he did not believe.
And there the Sister stayed her hand, for despite all she knew, here was the agony of the Endless Flame, and there was the agony of eternal damnation. And there was the knowledge that her Brother would be lost, but there was the knowledge that she could not bring herself to pain her own flesh and blood, and then her thoughts were but drops of water on a burning stone, and there they evaporated and wound themselves through the Void in wafts of what-once-was.
And there the Brother saw the light fade from her eyes. And there he realized that he had found pity, and damned her to sin. And with all his strength he tore the Endless Flame from her hands, and he plunged it into him, and there was a great hush as the Brother’s sinful flesh was rent from his bones, and his screams followed him into the Void. And there was what remained of his shell, and his sister’s, and the twilight settled on their dying flame.
And as such, it was decreed:
That the Brother shall never again judge the Sister,
That the Sister shall never again judge the Brother,
And such is the eleventh prayer of the Eternal, for there is order in all things.
|# ? Jan 12, 2017 22:40|
btw some of you are questioning whether there it's possible to go "off-prompt" or whether or not i'll even know
the answer is, yes you can, and yes i'll know
don't waste my time with insincere garbage
|# ? Jan 12, 2017 22:52|
ok ill write sincere garbage then
|# ? Jan 12, 2017 22:57|
post with a bunch of words hiding a bit of boldtext.
|# ? Jan 13, 2017 00:09|
I’m not fat; every time I run my hands over my stomach there’s a pothole-bumpbumpbump of ribs. My skin is wax paper - so weak and thin it might tear. I do not remember the last time I threw up; I do not remember the last time I slept.
“You’re getting fat,” says my sister. She has not seen my ribs. I make sure my stomach is covered by the towel when I leave the shower, so nobody can see. We do not speak of pain - it would not be polite.
My ribs are bigger today than they were yesterday. I do not know whether my ribs hurt, or my stomach hurts, or whether hurt is, in general, woven through me like highways through a nation, like mineshafts through the earth, like bones through a carcass. My ribs are ready to burst from my body and open me up to the world - spread and eager like a flower in spring.
Every morning I rub my hands over my ribs, and a sourness rises up from my throat to settle behind my tongue. They are bigger every morning, and I am smaller; I am less. I am collapsing inward forever until there is only awake-at-4am and silence-regnant.
we are gravid with suffering - pregnant with the things we cannot say
we are sick with the protestant truth: medicine is weakness, suffering is strength
One day soon my stomach will split, and the world will see: grasping roots, a strangling vine, a monstrous blossom. One day, all of me will spill out and stain the heavy carpet. One day, I will do something deeply impolite -- find words for my pain. Until then, I suffer in silence, as is proper.
|# ? Jan 13, 2017 06:23|
Entrhino chaos wizzard brawl judgment
these both plough a similar kind of operatic mythic furrow and do it reasonably well which makes me happy - I read rhino's and loved his magical adventures of monkey stylings then took about four increasingly perplexed runs at Ent's gnarled farrago of wordspittle and thought Rhino had it at a walk.
But then I got what ent was doing and put together the wires and admired the coiled shape they made, and went back to rhino's and ... for all its fine words and font-trickery flash and sizzle there's basically nothing there, is there? Tripitaka and his merry band of public domain chums arrive, demon goes FUK U some special fx happen and tripitaka says HEY IT'S KOOL TO STAY IN SKOOL and they live happily ever after.
So this brawl goes to Entenzahn, gj fella keep it comin
|# ? Jan 13, 2017 08:37|
don't waste my time with insincere garbage
but my soul is insincere garbage.
|# ? Jan 13, 2017 17:42|
I'm INto exposing my blackened soul for your entertainment and mockery.
|# ? Jan 13, 2017 18:03|
Outside a View (937 words)
The headline art exhibit of New York, which is to be slated for a three page article in Visual Arts Online, is a photo collage of one thousand different eyes from various photographers.
The collage form a single large unblinking eye in the colors of blue and green: the planet earth and its oceans. The eyes themselves are collected
from personal portraits of internationally acclaimed photographers. Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Helmut Newton, Berenice Abbot
and many more are collected sorted, and colorized if snapped in black and white.
Critics, such as practically ever popular independent blogger on social media, have raved about the peaceful image evoked through joining the eyes of old masters
into one collective window to the human spirit. Very few find issue with it. A rarity, either by ignorance, or circumstance. Time should be running out for its chastity.
The artist herself, goes by an alias. The name is temporary safety for the validity piece. Temporary until someone digs into her email and finds her rich,
She is standing above a cycloptic window tonight. Gazing out from her uncle's abandoned penthouse in a silent citadel in New York city.
Sipping from a bottle of Hefeweizen, the cap in her right hand, being flipped through a knuckle obstacle course in lieu of a lens cap;
she hasn't slept in three nights. She is rich by default, her only weakness in passing is a weakened constitution by birth, and an unfulfilled ambition.
Her work finally seems a viable way to pass the time, she has received the misery she wanted from it.
It feels good to have her body wrung out by motives rather than sickly wombs and coddling.
She has a visitor every so often when she imbibes too much alcohol and spends too much time awake.
It appears in the corner of her eye, fluttering and close, like a moth skirting the blue of a flame.
“You’re here again.”
The figure is looming there, out of focus. It looks like gray blot and anxiously moves like a human being who stands still too long.
When it appears, she continues an ongoing conversation with it. The being, and the topic of the conversation is forgotten until she is in the right state of mind once again.
“Do you think I'm the last one? The last independent contributor to be all over the news, on the web and TV, to be in the smiles of grateful people.
Well, I haven’t really given them anything-I mean, it was hard finding the right kinds of eyes, it's just... It isn't the symbol that people make it out to be.”
She sniffs, her nose is bleeding,
“I have a talk show that wants my name. It’s one of the daytime ones that airs nationally, if I’m on it, then everyone after me must already be known by their real name. That's a likely future. Whenever someone does something, it'll be their name that people utter. Not what they did.”
It moves closer. It leaves an envelope from her desk on the cement railing. She opens it up, slicing away the logo of her father’s company with one of her long uncut nails. They aren’t painted or manicured but left to grow from a fear of nicking the cuticle. It’s the image of the eye from her exhibit.
The photo looks wrong. She takes out a lens on a key-chain. Looking over the picture it looks as it should be. She brings it the bathroom, the brightest place in the house. She scans it. Up and down, centering on a corner, then making her way down the rows of possible perspectives.
She doesn’t know what’s missing but it bothers her. She asks, assuming it's still here.
“Something's missing. Did you change anything?”
Her heart speeds up. It’s fear. The answer is no.
“Is it something I didn’t notice?”
Her heart palpitates. That means the answer is yes.
“Can I see it?”
A pain shoots through her arms and she stumbles forward, her chest across the edge of the bathtub. She’s trying to pull herself up and call out.
Her rib cage like a solid mass of stone. She reaches for the curtain and yanks at it, it pops off like centipedes rolling across the ground.
She yells to the outsider,
“Why can’t I see it?” The curtain goes over her head, a blue curtain that becomes gray up close. She murmurs as spots start eating at her vision,
“Why can’t we all see it?” A soft echo emanates from the place beyond the obscuring veil, from a cavern where the moon peeks through.
“One set of eyes. One mind to view it. One’s own view to sate-”
Glass breaks somewhere.
The original photo is now sitting on the archway above a museum lobby. Tourists pass by it, glance at it if a cab takes too long.
They move on after that.
Occasionally, someone who thinks they understand it better, tries to prove a theory to themselves.
Everyone's looking at the eyes on paper, wondering if they can find something more meaningful, more unusual.
It seems an egotistical thing: about the medium, about the artist, and especially the observer.
No one who looks at this collage feels familiar eyes gazing at them, their theories don't sound convincing after first hand proof.
They feel the passing glance of some unfathomable train of thought considering all who look at it.
Not in pity, or abject interest. In an emotion that no human being can understand as long as they are just that.
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 02:25|
I gotta write more so I'm gonna do this writing thing.
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 03:39|
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 03:57|
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 04:27|
I gotta write more so I'm gonna do this writing thing.
hey, another Mafia guy
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 04:48|
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 05:32|
hey, another Mafia guy
Oh poo poo, that's where I know you from!
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 06:14|
Sneaking in last minute.
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 08:39|
|# ? Jan 14, 2017 14:17|
hosed the heck up
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 04:55|
Soul, The Contents Emptied
Armack fucked around with this message at 03:14 on Mar 7, 2017
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 05:07|
It was a senseless death, for what else can the death of a child be? But it was not a simple death. It was a death that started long ago, but seemed to come abruptly. It was not unique in this sense.
It was a cold walk home for Esrela, beneath a pale, open sky that kept leaving patches of frost around. Her hands were sore again from weaving, and her feet sore from walking. The chill made the cobblestones feel harder somehow. She sensed something was wrong as she approached her weary cottage. Normally, the front shutters were open, and there was a candle lit. Her daughter Tayka loved to watch for her by that window after a long day of play and chores, loved to move her hands over and quickly through the candle flame. Normally, the smoke from the chimney was thicker. Normally, the things did not seem so silent and still, but perhaps that was the winter, chilling the world so that it slowed.
Esrela entered and saw Tayka curled up by a fading fire, wrapped in her wool blanket. At first, she thought to scold her for letting the flames get so low. Tayka was normally such a responsible girl. But there was that pit in her gut. She knew.
“Tayka!” Esrela hurried over to her and knelt down.
Her daughter’s face was pale, and her flesh clammy. It took her a moment to open her eyes. “Mother? Is that you? I feel all dizzy. And cold… why is it so cold?” She began to mumble, then her eyes closed again and her head fell back heavy.
Esrela added two logs to the fire and gently lay her own blanket on her daughter. She stroked Tayka's hair, then busied herself about the cottage, dicing up what little food they had into a pot for soup. As it was cooking, she looked through her pots and chests, checked the back of her battered shelves, scoured about for anything and everything that was coin or could be sold.
The merchant who delivered the wares she made to the city had never paid them much. Esrela had always been a bit bitter, watching as the tanners, smiths, and craftsmen left with far more coin for the same day’s work. She’d managed to save enough copper here and there over the years, but every time she did it seemed to evaporate on the winds.
This year, the taxes had gone up again to pay for the war. She’d heard of grand battles in Solamoth and Kiresmalt, faraway places south and west of the capital. The names meant nothing to her. One of her fellow weavers, her friend Silsa, had watched her son march off two months back. There was no word from him yet.
She would have had enough, still, but the cloth and garments they’d made one week hadn’t sold. “Fashions have changed. No one wants these now,” the merchant said, unloading the cart’s leftovers onto the dirt. That meant their next batch was a waste too. Two weeks of wages, gone.
So there was nothing left when she searched. Esrela already knew that. She searched her cottage anyways.
In the morning, the town doctor turned her away. “I can’t work for free,” he said. “I have a family to feed too.” He’d threatened to have her arrested when she begged and pleaded.
Esrela didn’t try the moneylenders. No one would lend to a woman, widow or not. Such was law, such was tradition.
There was a plant that had grown by the river when Esrela was a child. Her mother had taught her what to look for; the twelve waves around the leaf, the silky stem, and the sweet smelling milky-white sap that came out. When she’d been sick as a child, her mother had picked the leaves and boiled them, then stirred the sap in with a bit of sugar. She remembered drinking it by the fireside, the warm feeling it gave her.
The rest of the morning she scoured by the river for it. But it was not to be found. The river was low, and had a sickly color to it. Perhaps the color came from the tannery, or the mill, or the waste water from town, or from the farms up north. It didn’t matter. The flora by the banks were withered, and her mother’s plant was nowhere to be found. Not that day, nor the others she searched.
She went back to her daughter. She built the fire up. She prayed.
Three houses down, she begged the old widow Yuma to check in on her daughter. “Please. I can’t afford to stay. I need the work today, I need money for medicine.” She agreed, and Esrela went to the looms, heart sick with worry. All day, she felt hollow, and her hands kept trembling as she worked. That night, she cried softly while she prayed, and slept without a blanket so her daughter could have two.
It went on like this.
A caravan coming from the northern farms with fresh food was set upon by bandits, and another from the south redirected by order of the King to support the war. So there was little enough money for food, never mind medicine. She begged, pleaded around the town, but times were hard. There was little anyone could lend, less that they could spare. She offered her body, but it fetched a poor price. A traveling merchant offered her a special potion, but it did nothing but sap away the last of her coin.
She watched her daughter wither. Day after day, she grew lily-pale, more like the ice on the river then any semblance of the life-filled girl she had raised.
On the eve of the winter solstice, Tayka’s heartbeat stilled. Her breathing stopped.
Esrela cried and held her love, held her everything. She clutched at her daughter’s soul. She howled at the faces across the veil that were grabbing at her daughter, and pulled with all her might. She pulled against the celestial God, pulled against the endless armies of angels and spirits, pulled against the might of death, screaming defiance. It took all the legions of heaven to pull that soul away from her, and it was a slow, torturous ripping. Then at last, she stood empty handed, feeling less.
Of course, that never happened. She merely felt like it did, but it might was well have happened. So it did happen, after all.
There was no one person, no one thing to curse, so she cursed the world, cursed fate, cursed death, cursed God. They had all stolen her daughter. How many others had been snatched away before their time? How many more years of life had they stolen, those stoic things that ruled the cosmos? What right did they have?
She spat maledictions at them all. Perhaps for a moment, they shivered at her words. They were spat with a hatred and sorrow that only the sundering of love can release. Perhaps God on his throne felt remorse for what he had done.
They lowered her daughter into the frozen earth, and the few people that came offered their condolences. A priest offered a short prayer. Some men offered their spades to pile the frost-bitten ground back where it had come from. After that, Esrela was left alone next to a bare patch of scratched earth and the thin whisper of the cold winter breeze, and silence.
What else was there to say? It was, after all, a senseless death.
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 07:51|
Whoops, I didn't enter. DQ my soul if you dare
Before the Lion, he laid Bare
The library of a university is a place to find lost books, but to say that Before The Lion was lost is perhaps not truthful. Perhaps it was meant to be hidden, or perhaps like the hrönir, the act of seeking is what produced it. It was a bare book, with silver binding and a blue cover, wedged between two volumes of a compendium of Persian archaeological periodicals.
The book itself was the second edition published by Harcourt Press, being published in 1973, while the original edition had been published in 1969. The work itself was written (or so it claims) by one Louis O'Brian, with an introduction by Elizabeth Bowen, an Irish novelist of no small esteem.
The content of the book itself concerns a young man of the sort that is readily relatable to other young men attending college: he has education and means, but doesn't know what plan his life should take, so in the way in which protagonists do what we know is unwise, he leaves home and takes an extended trip. The central conflict, that of seeking his own identity, steals the focus of the narrative to such an extent that the people he encounters on the way--a beautiful older woman, a man of questionable intentions, a young woman his age who entices but frustrates him--are left shallow.
It is in the middle of this book that this young man comes to Damascus, and, through a rather contrived (though daring and adventurous) conjunction of events, wins favor with the company of the monks of a monastic order. He is invited to stay with them, and in the time he spends there, impresses them with his command of Greek and his gentility. Through this, they allow him to visit their library, where he reads a Greek translation of an Egyptian fable, which proceeds like this:
Following a year of poor inundation, a scribe found himself struggling to provide enough for his family and slaves. One night, he was approached by a "spirit of the desert" in the form of a lion, with whom he made a contract: for ten years of prosperity, the spirit would be granted whole and complete ownership of the man's soul. Ten years passed, and the scribe was visited again by the desert-spirit, who had come to collect payment. The scribe insisted he was ready to pay, but that before completing the transaction, he had to be assured that only his soul would be taken. His argument is one rooted in the fact of a constantly changing identity: the spirit cannot take a single part of him, because these parts surface and recede. His memories alter themselves, his attitudes vary; the man who worried over his taxes is gone as the day to collect has passed, the man who cares for his sick child will be no more when the child is well.
Eventually, the spirit, exasperated, proposed that the man has no soul after all, and thereafter vanished. The scribe rejoiced, but soon found himself wracked by spells of stupor, where he would feel as if removed from his body, like his eyes were just a wall upon which shadows were cast, and he was adrift in some deeper dark. The fable concludes here, with the suggestion that perhaps, the spirit had taken the man's soul: that the illusion or the image of a soul is its real and total being.
Following his discovery of this fable, the young man finds himself contemplating it further and further, and though he continues his travels afterward, the sights he sees in Baghdad and Ephesus and Istanbul are distant, as if seen on a postcard at arm's length. The distances between locations become more nebulous as he begins to question what it is that is him, which separates him from reality. The penultimate chapter, taking place in a Prague drained of detail, cast in clay on a flat plane, ends thus:
"The fog had set in thicker, swallowing up the world but for the cafe, and the table, and the chair I was sitting in. The less that there was, the clearer everything was to me. Everything was white, and I was black: I am nothing."
After this bit of self-indulgence (as all fiction about fiction must be) the final chapter returns to the original conflict, which seems so distant now. The young man, having realized his non-existence, uses this freedom to determine his own path for the future, and to create meaning out of nothingness. By the end of the story, his "revelation" that he was ever only fictional has become a sort of creation-power, allowing himself to recreate both the world and himself, maintaining the status quo, but wiser for his journey, and with a new goal in mind.
The afterward of the book is written by this Louis O'Brian himself, and describes the challenge he faced in first publishing the book, which originally lacked its final chapter, and expresses his hope that the new ending will bring his message of hope to a wider audience.
The addition of this ending, which is clearly of a different mood to the rest of the story, appears as an attempt to make Before The Lion into a marketable piece of fiction, though I can hardly say that it is the least of its sins. But for the young man, none of the characters exist as more than a cipher for some aspect of his personality. In addition, the "Egyptian fable" entirely ignores the fact that Egyptian culture had a strict concept of the soul, and seems to resemble more Greek philosophical wanderings or Norse riddles. To base a work about truth and reality on a text so blatantly false would seem deliberate, if the story were any more tactful.
What lingers in my mind is that I have never found any further information on this author, Louis O'Brian, whether through libraries or publishing houses or those who knew the late Elizabeth Bowen. The book itself is lost, too; I have only found it once since that time in the university library, and it has long since slipped away from me. I try not to think of it now, but every so often, when I drive through the countryside or sit at my desk, I begin to see the world as a postcard at arm's length.
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 10:02|
Judgburps for curse week, happy to discuss further if you like, hit me up in irc
1 sparksbloomEarthquake Season
So this starts slow, meandering along in a deliberately rumpy dump kinda way which is a definitively risky play when you're looking for the approbation of notoriously testy and time-poor tdome judges, but then it does a hard left into cocaine town and then hops up onto jesus rock and then trips over its own pretensions and tumbles down WTF gulch, never to be seen or heard from again. Tolerable words, I guess?
2 Benny ProfaneMy Washer is Full of Baby Boomers
this was the story where I got the first inkling that most of these stories would basically just be an explication of their assigned image - which is fair enough, I suppose, but never feel bound by the flash rule as a rigid cage - as long as there's some kind of relationship with your words you can have it be metaphorical, inspiration, poo poo just have a character with similar eyebrows. that said, this is a good and funny little yarnlet that taken on its merits hits the modest target it's aiming for. Kind of cheap but still ok, like a comedy mug you buy someone for secret santa at work then end up taking home and using after they quit two months later and leave the mug behind.
3 flerpTo Punch a Ghost
so yeah, i guess you have a character acting to achieve a goal, e.g. punch a ghost, and you're being p deadpan by putting that right there in a title, but it's a big fat sack of nothing really isn't it. You had loads of room to have your competently sketched mum character have soemthing more to do, or to have your ghost character do anything actually interesting but you were like nup imma do bad chairchucker words then hit full stop, add the wordcount and submit. tsk.
4 EntenzahnThis is One of My Hardest Tricks You Know
goddammit ent this one is like reading one of those books with a wireframe car on the front except instead of cars it's like magic, like a magic book for mechanics if you get my drift and it doesn't make me happy at allll
5 a new study bible!Universal Donor
see this is a good tangential use of the image, i think maybe i was just being grumpy before. it's not like i even read the prompt when i judge so eh. Anyway this baffled me when i read it (though the other judges liked it) and it kind of still does but I can't deny that it's got some gnarly beef to it but wtfffff. there's blood everywhere, there's spurting, there's a couple of slightly bland characters, soemthing happens, i guess? I think of this kind of thing as a very successful failure but that's not such a bad thign.
6 Baleful Osmium SeaGoogle Earth
lol that guys totally in his undies that's hilarious like ribs cracking, spiral fractures, i'm actually serious i have to go to a hospital now my thoracic cavity is collapsing because of how funny that was. ok back, now this is a good idea and a decent image but it's not a story is it mr sea nooo it is not.
7 SkaAndScreenplaysFantastic Meats And Where To Grind Them:
dude what is it with you and punctuation and spelling. seriously. and while as usual there's some juice in the basic setup of the youtube urbexers (putting aside the obviousness of the picture/story relship) the ending kills it stone dead because who chuckles when they're about to be minced, ska, who the loving gently caress even does that.
8 ChiliYou Have No Self Worth, Take Some of Mine
I didn't like this as much as my fellow judge-penitents and i'm obliged to admit that's at least partly because I didn't pick up that the last line was a reference back to the habit joke; still, I think this is an edit away from being a fine piece of tdome wacky. the nun is a great character and there's a bit of a throughline with the protagonist's journey. maybe if you hadn't started with the nun it would have worked better? yes, i believe so. control your characters better chili they're pixels on a fuckin screen.
9 HawkladA Hard Reset
this is solidly competent wordwise, and I guess it has the requisite quantity of incident and character related goal seeking, but the fragile flower of new romance blossoming you have at the end really doesn't land because duuuuuude he just comedically dumpster murdered his wife.
this is like one of those silver age sci fi stories but really you should go and read a couple because they had there THE OLD GUY TURNS OUT TO BE COSMIC OR THE PROTAGONIST FROM THE FUTURE OR SOME OTHER poo poo IDK game on lockdown. this doesn't really have any impact because a man being compelled by bread then getting a mild cramp is like the very antipodes of drama.
Winner11 QuoProQuidRoll for Initiative
awww poo poo that's a good image. now this had a clumpy confusing beginning, which you should really work on fixing when you re-edit this and send it out to journals etc. it's always risky to have a bunch of names at your front end - do it if you must, but make sure you do a little clarity enhancing. like you've got john, the dm's friend, carol, mitchell, michael, clive, all in the first couple of paras and I believe i frowned a little as I read them four times before proceeding IMPT NOTE do not make your judge frown if you can avoid it. but this won, because it's p heartwarming but earns its feels and grounds it in some tidily delivered plot that retrospectively unravels the clotted front end. so gj. and drat, that picture was badass.
Honorable Mention12 ThranguyLantern-Fish
i had this down as a winner iirc and was talked out of it for reasons that my cojudges have explicated; I was charmed by its knotty metaphysical conundrum, coupled with a bunch of good words and pungent images. I think quo's had more emotional juice and it was therefore the deserving winner, but this was a tidy piece you should feel happy with.
lol i really liked this and the use of the image was spot on, because technically it's unrelated but emotionally they uh rhyme as my man george L might have said. this is a sweet, silly little yarn that could have gone on the pile of misguided dome butt humour but actually has a solid emotional integrity because it takes its characters seriously, and gives the protag a pleasing scrap of victory to be salvaged from the reeking mire of defeat.
14 ReeneTake With Food
so yeah this was an unnecessarily protracted intro to a very cool psycho freakout, with a well delivered it was just a drug dream twist ending, which felt like a waste - take those drat fine words and do something better with them next time.
Loser15 KrungeBugging Out
lol i actually liked this in a haha what the hell am I goddam pipetting into my eye-jelly kind of way, and calling a cat 'dickfuck' is the kind of ballsy high stakes play we love to see in this here place, but this is just nonsensical and while i await your next story with any amount of anticipation this one had its losertar prestamped on it when it hit the page, you know wammean?
Judgeburps for week 226
I was looking at this all puzzled because I apparently judged it but didn't recognise any of the stories, but then I remembered that Okua solojudged. I would have given Fuubi the loss, and Kaishai or Baleful Osmium Sea the win.
Loser 1 Sailor ViyThe Guest at the Feast
This lost, and without going back to the other judge crits I'm not sure exactly why - it's not what I'd call elegant but it's competently written and has a good bit of incident, and things happen. That said it's super silly, and not quite entertaining enough to make up for that, and the ending is a bit of a sad so what belch. I did like the hologram universe reference.
2 ThranguyStealing Luck, And Something More Than Luck
Hrrrmm, this feels like an idea that's groping for a story with the dad as the story shepherd come to bring the wayward word sheep home and gently caress you that's a great metaphor. the central image of the magic sideways 8 ball is ok but it's a bit like one of those kids fantasy books where the prophecy was in rhyme and basically told you what was going to happen leaving little room from drama.
Aww yis great opening line. and some great jaunty words and ideas, but wimps out on the ending. don't give us a character (e.g. the scammer) then have them just pop out of existence at the end. Having your large protag wander off to find a life is a stop, not an ending.
4 Fleta McgurnThe Judgment Circle
Yaaaa so this is a decent adventurey yarn with some tolerable wordwritin' but it's a little too one-note and I don't ever feel like the protagonist is scared or under threat which feels important. She had a thing she was always going to do, she did it, on to her next exciting adventure. also it's all people talking about what happened while the protagonist stands there which isn't the sort of thing i find next to the defn of dynamic in MY dictionary fleta let me tell U
5 ChairchuckerActually the Stomach is Way Bigger than the Eyes, I Mean That’s Just Basic Anatomy
nice, first para and i've got the setup, goal, history, tone. strapped in and ready for some chairchuckering - hopefully it's good chucker not slightly less good chucker. Then: oh no! why did you have your gourmet thug shoot his friends, that's unkind and nonsensical. This is actually very solid apart from that, and manages to land the ending (always tricksy in this kind of gently silly sort of tale) perfectly. yeah, just cut the two thugs (as your head robber does, in fact, do) and this is great.
I had this hella cool roger dean poster of an ice schooner on my walls when I was a kid, you know, so I'm predisposed to like this and you help that along with your swift gritty sketching of some kind of post apoc scenario. But I'm not completely sold on what you come up with - seems like this is actually the mum's story, and the mermaid sprog is sort of out of nowhere, as is teh apparently magical survival of the ice boat (plus how the hell they gonna get back?)
Honorable Mention7 Baleful Osmium SeaFirst Contact By a Species that Speaks Almost Entirely In Metaphors
Yeah, I prefer this over hawklad's - an elegant combination of good words with a nicely formal schema lets its structure lead the story of the couple to an expected but still surprising end. great language, and the image of the monster is fantastic.
8 KaishaiThe Dead of Winter
ooh, this is proper good in the gnarled fairy tale mode which you own so precisely - this story is just the right size for its words and it carries its own mythic baggage lightly - I feel like everything that happens makes perfect sense, because you lead me down the story's path so well.
9 TyrannosaurusThe Girl Who Slept With Everyone
"I thought I was an artist back then because I smoked a lot and read a little and was always late on my rent. " That's a sweet-rear end line. bunch of typos in this, which is a pity, because it's a nice character sketch. it nearly hits its mark, I guess, but for all your hippy boho protagonist tells us she loves Vinny I'm not sure that actually comes across in the story you tell us - maybe that's the point? maybe it is.
10 FuubiThe Ragged Man
oooh first para I'm bettin a cruel reckoning is going to come! and in fact yes it is, but only to the english language, upon which set of characters this terrible story is a grand traducement! when it's not ladling gobbets of purple prose, it's being hilariously hamfisted and melodramatic! i'm therefore astonished it didn't lose! and i would have argued strongly that this should have lost instead of the story that did!
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 12:22 on Jan 15, 2017
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 10:59|
The Cave Adventure.
The Cave Adventure.
It had been my brothers idea to explore the cave. I had not been in the mood for an adventure and had not wanted to go at first, but Nathan's gentle persistence had eventually won me over. When he then suggested that we go deeper into the cave than ever, I started to feel felt excited. We had always found something interesting to play with on a cave adventure, and going deeper than ever meant we were sure to find something interesting this time too. Eagerly we set off for the cave.
We found ourselves crouching side by side in near total darkness, Nathan (who was smaller than me) was holding my hand in his. There was only a small amount of light in this part of the cave, coming in from a low point. I could sort of see mine and Nathan's feet, but could only make out the vague outlines of his face in the darkness.
“Lets go” Nathan said excitedly. He let go of my hand and got on all fours. Not much further into the cave there was no light at all and the floor became very uneven, so Nathan began feeling his way forwards with his hands. Nathan was much more comfortable crawling than I was, so I stood up and put my hands against the wall of the cave. It was coarse and rough, but strait. Using the wall as a guide I flattened my body against it and began feeling my way forwards with my right foot, testing each step before I put my weight on it. It was slow going, but I was having fun.
“I reached the Square Holes” Nathan said, his excited voice coming from the darkness below me and to my right.
“I'm coming over” I responded.
The Square Holes was the border of the deepest we had ever been in the cave. They were large square holes (big enough for Nathan to crawl halfway into) in the cave wall, stacked on top of each other going from the cave floor to higher than Nathan or I could reach. (Nathan could reach 3 holes, but I could feel the outlines of a 4th hole when I stood on my tippy-toes) In past cave adventures we had found many interesting things to play with in the square holes. The only problem was they were also on the other side of the cave from the one I had been feeling my way along. To reach Nathan I had to take several steps across the uneven cave floor without the wall to brace myself on.
“Marco” I said.
“Polo” came Nathan's giddy response.
I pointed my foot towards towards Nathan's voice and took a slow step, gingerly putting my weight down lightly until I was sure I had found a flat part of the cave floor. I then repeated the process with the other foot, guided by steady chirps of “Polo” from Nathan. Soon I fond myself standing by the Square Holes. Nathan crawled into the bottom one while I used my hands to check the two above him. All empty, nothing to play with this time.
“Lets go deeper now” Nathan said, his voice sounding weird as it came from the inside bottom Square Hole. I felt giddy as I started to feel along the far side of the Square Holes. Next to the holes was the Soft Wall, a wall of thick soft material that came down from the top of the cave and stopped above the floor, leaving a big enough gap underneath to be crawled under. Nathan and I had both felt the edges of the Soft Wall before but had never ventured into it.
Nathan was a much better crawler than I was, so he started to feel his way on all fours, inching his way into the gap underneath the Soft Wall. I pushed my hand into the Soft Wall, and found a place where the wall gave and my hand was able to slide inside the wall. Feeling a sudden rush of adventure I pushed onwards, and soon the Soft Wall enveloped first my shoulders, and then my entire chest. I pushed in deeper.
The Soft Wall was pushing in on my chest, making it hard to breath. I was undeterred, and pushed in deeper. The material pushed against my head and made it almost impossible to hear, but I pushed on. The pressure on my chest kept building, and I started to feel very warm. My warm breath blew in my face every time I exhaled, caught in the material of the Soft Wall. Then the tips of my fingers pushed through the soft wall and found the cave wall on the other side. I felt elated, I was a real explorer.
Getting out of the Soft Wall was much easier than getting in, and I emerged into darkness that was suddenly cool and refreshing. Nathan was near my feet, crawling from under the Soft Wall. Happy from my adventure, I sat down on the cave floor next to him.
“I found something” Nathan said as he gently grabbed my hand in the darkness and guided it towards what lay on the cave floor next to him. It was large, much larger than my hands, and soft on top but hard on the bottom. “I think its a Mom
“A Mom shoe?” I replied quizzically. “What is one of those doing in the cave?”
“I dunno” Nathan said, and I could almost hear his shoulders shrugging in the dark. “Want to play a game with it?”
“What sort of game?”
“How about we guess which side it will land on?”
Within moments Nathan and I were back near the cave entrance and the tiny slit of horizontal light that it provided. We soon created a game of taking turns guessing how the Mom shoe would land before tossing it. We became swept up in our game and lost ourselves, forgetting that we needed to keep quiet right now. We started tossing the mom shoe further and higher each time, until on my turn I tossed it a little too hard and it thudded into the far cave wall, and then thudded again when it hit the floor. From outside the cave we heard a series of angry thuds moving in our direction.
The closet door burst open and Mom stood there, outlined in the light and staring angrily.
“You two kids need to stop roughhousing, punishment time is not play time” she said sternly, her eyes blazing.
Nathan and I droned out a meek “Yes Mom” in unison.
“Do you need to go peepee go poopoo?” she asked. Both Nathan and I shook our heads no. She started to turn to close the door when I spoke up.
“How much longer?”
“Two hours” came the sharp reply.
“But Mo-oooooom” I whined, “that's what you said a long time ago.”
“Its still two hours. Keep whining and it will be three.” And with that the door closed, and Nathan and I were plunged back into darkness.
“Its not fair” I pouted out loud. But deep inside I knew it was fair, Nathan and I had gotten into a fight and spilled the entire box of Cheerios all over the table. I felt very sad, and angry at myself.
My thoughts were interrupted by something being pressed into my side, it was Nathan with the Mom shoe.
“It's still your turn, don't toss it so hard anymore” he said, and soon we were giggling and playing again.
Prester Jane fucked around with this message at 14:12 on Jan 15, 2017
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 14:09|
Boring Words are Expendable 1131 words
“We need to chat,” said Jeannie, and Sam nodded and thought that this was probably not going to be a chat he would enjoy, but mostly he thought of this drat tune that was in his head and he couldn’t remember what song it belonged to.
So the two of them walked out to the middle of the oval where they could talk privately, and Sam went through some of his favourite artists in his head in alphabetical order, but got stuck on ‘A’ when he couldn’t decide whether he should sort solo artists by first name or surname. Surname made more sense in a way, but that wasn’t the way they were, by default, sorted on his iPod. The two of them sat down; the grass was a little damp, but would be fine. Was it a theme song? He hoped it wasn’t from an ad.
“So I was just thinking about us, and we didn’t spend all that much time together over the break.” That was true. Also, the way she’d said that made him even less optimistic about the outcome of this chat. Also, he was now repeating the words ‘we need to chat’ in his head to that same drat tune. Didn’t sound like a rock kind of tune. ‘We need to chat’ was a phrase with an average syllable length of three. And if he rearranged the words, he could turn it into a group of three letter words that caused each original word to be bisected, and also she’d just broken up with him.
Well actually, what she’d said was “I think we should break up,” which technically speaking was just an opinion rather than a definite decision, but he didn’t see that it was the kind of thing that could really be argued against. It wasn’t like he was going to present an argument about why she was wrong about the best course of action for their relationship to take, right? And also he still had no idea what that drat tune was, and the phrase ‘we need to chat’ which had, by necessity of being able to bisect the words in the way he liked, been changed to ‘we to chat need,’ had lost all meaning and was just an unconnected group of words. But good words because they had an integer as their average number of letters per syllable, although the fact that they were all monosyllabic meant that he couldn’t rearrange them in other ways he fancied, unless he conjugated them or whatever. Which wasn’t out of the question. Maybe later, though, because the conversation had progressed to them agreeing that they would still be friends because each of the other was awesome, and then walking together to her bus stop.
“What’s happening, man?”
“Not much,” said Sam. “Got this annoying tune stuck in my head.”
“Oh yeah,” said George, “what tune?” They were at George’s place, because Sam’s place was on campus, and he didn’t really feel like being there right this moment, because he’d met Jeannie on campus, and if he hung around campus he was just gonna be hoping he’d bump into her, which was ridiculous because she’d gone home, and he didn’t need that right now. Although all he’d said to George was, “Wanna hang out?”
“Dunno,” said Sam, “that’s the annoying part.”
“Hum a bit for me.” Sam hummed a bit, but it was a fairly non-descript tune when hummed instead of played with instruments or whatever. Maybe it was an electronic song? George shrugged. “No idea, man.”
“Oh well,” said Sam. “Sure I’ll figure it out randomly during a lecture.”
“Listen,” said George, “you’re still on for tomorrow night, right?”
“Yeah, looking forward to it.”
“Jeannie too, right?”
Uh oh. “Huh, forgot to check with her. I’ll probably just come by myself.”
“Hey if she can’t make it that’s fine, she’s more than welcome though.”
Sam smiled and nodded.
Sam arrived at Lisa’s place early, because, again, he didn’t fancy hanging out on campus. “Well, look who’s Mr Punctual,” she said.
Sam shrugged. “George here yet?”
“Of course! I told him he had to help me set up, or he was dumped!”
“Right,” said Sam.
“I’m just joking.”
Sam cracked a smile out of the left side of his mouth. “Of course.”
“Jeannie couldn’t come?”
Sam shrugged. “I didn’t end up asking her. She’s pretty busy.”
Lisa shook her head. “Worst boyfriend ever! I’m gonna ring her.”
“I’ll go say hi to George,” said Sam, and headed out the back door. ‘Worst boyfriend ever’ was an annoying phrase. It kind of almost averaged four syllables if you chopped ‘ever’ in half. The only word you could remove to make it average an integer of letters per syllable was ‘boyfriend’, which wasn’t ideal because it was the longest word. And neither ‘worst boyfriend ever’ nor ‘worst ever’ fit quite well enough to that drat tune. “Hey George.” George was in the backyard sitting back in one of the lawn chairs. The furniture was one of the main reasons Lisa’s place was often chosen for social gatherings. And the large area.
At least ‘worst boyfriend ever’ had some polysyllabic words. Wasn’t ideal, though. Only one monosyllabic word. Made messing with the phrase in terms of polysyllabic vs monosyllabic words an entirely unsatisfying venture.
“Hey,” said George, “what’s happening.”
“Still got that tune stuck in my head.”
“You know,” said George, “pretty sure there’s an app for that.”
“Here,” said George, and got out his phone. “Hang on a bit. Aha!” He held up his phone to Sam. “See, this app can recognise songs even if you’re humming.”
“No way,” said Sam. “That’s awesome.”
“Right?” said George. He tapped the phone a few times. “That’s downloaded now. Come on, hum your tune.”
Sam hummed the tune into the phone, and the two of them looked at the screen. “Hmmm, nah, that’s not it,” said Sam.
George shrugged. “I dunno what to say man, maybe you need to get better at humming.”
Lisa appeared at the back door. “Sam, why didn’t you tell me you and Jeannie broke up?”
“Wait,” said George, “what? When did this happen?”
Sam shrugged. ‘Maybe you need to get better at humming’ was a pretty good phrase. He’d have to drop one of the two syllable words to get it to average three letters per syllable, but that was near best case scenario, all things considered. Prepositions were kind of boring anyway. Good mix of polysyllabic and monosyllabic, too. Down for every syllable of a polysyllabic and up for every syllable of a monosyllabic word meant equal time heading into negative as positive, too. “I dunno, guess I just had other stuff on my mind,” he said.
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 17:47|
Whoops, I didn't enter. DQ my soul if you dare
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 20:26|
Flush with Cash (2,597 words)
The number-two problem in the world, according to Gerald Lindemeier, was that Americans didn't want hot jets of water blasting their anuses clean. This fact was amply demonstrated, he thought, by the thirty-two thousand surplus bidets currently occupying his basement, garage and the plurality of his yard. This state of affairs was inconvenient for Gerald as (a) the neighbors were getting testy about the piles of potties and (b) the loan he'd taken to seed his butt-cleaning empire had grown past due. His creditor, Jellicoe T. Whipple, was insisting on prompt repayment. This was Gerald's number-one problem.
Gerald was frantically attempting to renegotiate the terms of his loan. Had Mr. Whipple been the small-business banker his name connoted, this might have been a staid stamping of paperwork. However, Mr. Whipple was not a pleasant middle-aged man in a suit purchased at discount from the Men's Wearhouse in Paramus, New Jersey. Mr. Whipple was a loan shark and the span of his patience was inversely proportional to the girth of his biceps.
Mr. Whipple could bench four hundred pounds. He did, however, wear suits purchased at discount from the Men's Wearhouse in Paramus, New Jersey. Mr. Whipple was both strong and thrifty.
This was also why a straight razor, its blade honed to a shining surgical edge, was hovering beside Gerald's genitals, close enough for curly hairs to drift away whenever he swallowed. Gerald was a nervous swallower. The past five minutes had left his balls almost bald.
"You do not have my money, so you will offer me something of equal value," said Mr. Whipple.
To keep his testicles unsevered, Gerald blurted out: "I'll get the cash by midnight!"
This was a terrible proposal. Mr. Whipple, like every other loan shark born since the eighties, had seen enough heist movies to know how Gerald would attempt to satisfy such a promise. Without professional planning, such heists rarely ended as they did in cinema, and federal imprisonment would further diminish Gerald's already-paltry net worth to sums sufficiently microscopic to require scientific notation.
"No. I will tell you how to employ your merchandise, and you will agree, or schnick-schnack." Mr. Whipple waved the razor menacingly, which is the only way a razor can be waved while adjacent to reproductive organs.
He explained the plan to Gerald, and when Gerald agreed, he closed the razor and bade the failed businessman farewell. "Don't worry, Gerald. When we are done, the streets of Paramus will run with gold."
Whipple's plan was bold. Whipple's plan was audacious. Whipple's plan was daring. These three affirmations Gerald repeated as he paced back and forth in his garage. His therapist had told him it was a good way to break negative thought cycles. Gerald needed to break negative thought cycles, because whenever he wasn't muttering one of those three statements, the descriptor that sprang to mind was stupid, and such negativity would not long maintain the integrity of his vas deferens. To help him execute this stupid plan, Gerald had gathered his two closest friends.
"You need me to what?" asked Buzz Rockjaw USMC. Buzz was not, and had never been, a Marine; he merely had an unfortunate surname. At bars, Buzz told attractive members of his preferred gender that he was drummer for a band called Cyclopean Fucksnake. This was not altogether untrue. What Buzz did not mention was that Cyclopean Fucksnake had eighty followers on Twitter. They were all middle-aged midgets who worked in some sort of construction cartel. These men anesthetized the ennui of menial labor with loud music and narcotics. When Buzz was not smashing sticks into strained animal hide for the amusement of overpaid half-pint cokeheads, he ran a a mall.
Running a mall was a good career choice in Paramus. There were many malls. They all needed running, except on Sundays, because the citizens of Paramus had yet to accept the patriotic American idea that shopping was an acceptable form of worship on the Sabbath. This annoyed many, including Mr. Whipple, who occasionally found himself in urgent need of a new suit — particularly when his old one acquired sticky, red stains.
For the plan, however, this inconvenience was a godsend. On Sunday, there would be a surplus of men in questionable physical shape who were nonetheless dedicated to proving their masculinity through idiotic feats of physical prowess. Generally these needs were sublimated into supporting tribal groups of other men who demonstrated their masculinity and physical prowess by torturing a spherical or ovoid object live on national television. Support, in this case, was a euphemism for sitting on one's couch and consuming beer.
Beer is well known to the medical community to be a diuretic and intoxicant. Bidets are well known to confuse Americans. Americans are prone to believe bidets to be urinals. This is particularly true of intoxicated men.
"I need you to open the mall, the bars especially," said Gerald.
Buzz Rockjaw USMC snorted. "The city will sue my shorts off. Besides, the NFL's playing the Rain Bowl tomorrow, and I have a show right after. Here, you should come. Bring some friends." He handed Gerald an envelope of concert tickets.
"I don't think Cyclopean Fucksnake is going to draw in a crowd, Buzz."
"Either way, you'd need a miracle to get anyone to show up."
"Exactly." Gerald turned to his other friend. "Pepe, I need to see your ex."
"gently caress her," said Pepe, and his nose fell off. Pepe spoke in the gravelly, pack-a-day voice of a diner waitress. His mouth did not move. Pepe was not a ventriloquist; Pepe's mouth did not move because it didn't exist. It'd fallen off years ago. Pepe was a leperchaun, an chimera of degenerative disease, folklore and outmoded racism. He picked up his nose and stuck it back on.
Pepe's voice operated through the personal and direct intercession of the Virgin Mary. This was a miracle. It was also a miracle, Pepe believed, that he had survived seventeen years married to that bitch without one of them ending up dead. He hadn't gotten through the marriage to Mary without scars: he'd become a devoted fan of Cyclopean Fucksnake.
"I know where you can find a bag of finest Colombian," said Gerald.
"Get your car keys," said Pepe.
Pepe directed Gerald to an IHOP just off the interstate. It was almost midnight and the place was empty aside from its traditional clientele of long-haul truckers and indolent students. Neither of these were known for tipping.
Gerald got out of the car and directed Pepe to search the glovebox for his reward, then shut the door and hurried away to avoid the inevitable stream of high-pitched expletives when his friend discovered a Ziploc of coffee beans. They were, as Gerald had promised, the finest Colombian.
Inside, he found a booth in the back, as far away from the windows as possible in case Pepe got too angry. Pepe was bad at anger management. He had a habit of projecting. He mostly projected nine-millimeter slugs into the things that angered him.
The area was empty aside from a bearded senior in a funny red suit. Gerald hunched down and didn't make eye contact with the man; he wanted to keep this business as private as possible. Soon, an aged woman came around the counter with coffee in hand. She was wearing a blue server's apron and a saintly halo, slightly tarnished. The well-worn nametag on her blouse said Mary. She gave Gerald coffee and then smiled at him. "Hey, Gerald. Next time you see my rat-bastard of an ex, tell him he's an rear end in a top hat."
"And yet you're still letting him speak."
"Legally obligated. I should never've signed that loving pre-nup," said the Blessed Virgin.
"Can't get out of it?"
"Where in heaven do you expect me to find a lawyer?" The Mother of God slapped down a menu. "Much as I like you, I'm on shift. You going to order something or should I go serve paying customers?"
"Listen, I need a miracle. I got a ton of work and I only have one night to do it. Can you stop time for a couple days, like in Joshua?"
"Oh, sure, I'll just snap my fingers." Mary shook her head. "It's my baby-daddy who did that sort of time crap, and in case you hadn't noticed, I'm not on speaking terms with Pepe, let alone Him." The Madonna glared at Gerald, then glanced at the man sitting at the adjacent table and sighed. "But you wanted a miracle? I do have a friend with experience doing one-night jobs. Usually he lives up north, but today he's in town."
"Thanks, Mary. Where do I find him?"
In the next booth over, Saint Nicholas turned around. "I'm right behind you, young man. Just what sort of work do you need?"
Gerald explained: he had to retrofit an entire mall with hundreds of bidets and custom plumbing. "It has to be done tonight, all of it."
The old man stroked his beard. "Hmm! Well, I'm in the couriering business, my boy. I'll give you a hand, if I can, but what you need is cheap labor! I have some contractors who are quite excellent at building things on the quick, but I'm afraid they're seasonal workers and there's not many jobs up north right now. They usually come down here on the sly, so if you poke around, you should find them."
Gerald thanked Santa, bought him a plate of milk and cookies and left a nice tip for Mary. He snuck out the back and peered around the corner. His car was still there. Pepe was gone and his passenger-side window was smashed. Odd. Pepe didn't usually run off, but Gerald was relieved; one less person to placate.
He got in and started the engine. There was one place in Paramus where undocumented workers congregated to accept short-term construction gigs. He pulled out onto the highway and headed for Home Depot.
Buzz Rockjaw USMC stood outside the door to a unisex restroom, tugging at his collar to adjust a tie that didn't exist. He had already opened the mall illegally, on a Sunday; he'd be damned if the cops also caught non-union labor on the premises. He rapped on the door. "Game starts in five minutes, Gerry."
A clang, a screech, a scream and Gerald popped out of the washroom, wiping his hands down on a rag. "All done."
"Good. Get them outta here." He looked up the hallway. "gently caress."
Crisp footfalls echoed off the floor. The well-shined boots of the Paramus PD crashed down as they marched on floors power-waxed just hours earlier. Buzz winced. He heard his janitorial bills rising with every step.
"Buzz, why in God's name are you open today?" shouted a sergeant.
Buzz Rockjaw USMC cupped a hand towards Gerald. "Find another way out." He spread his arms wide, smeared a poo poo-eating grin on his face and approached the police. "Our boys in blue! Come with me, please. We'll be showing the Rain Bowl in just a few moments on the mezzanine Jumbotron, and may I offer you each a free pitcher of beer?"
Gerald ducked back into the washroom. A dozen dripping, grease-faced elves glared up at him. "Well, mister? Job's done, where's our cash?"
"I don't have it right this second—"
The elves looked at each other. "Money. Now." A pipe smacked Gerald's knee. He doubled over. Tiny hands grabbed his coat, sprawled him across the floor, dug through his pockets. They smashed his wallet open: Amex, Discover card, checkbook — nothing anyone would actually accept.
One elf hoisted his fist high, clutching a bunch of Cyclopean Fucksnake tickets. "Jackpot, boys!"
Gerald played dead until the elves departed, then gathered up the scattered shreds of his stuff. A man staggered into the room, his eyes unfocused. He slouched to the line of freshly-installed bidets and grunted in confusion. There was a zip. As Gerald left, he was rewarded with the music of piss on porcelain.
As the Rain Bowl wound down, Gerald followed Mr. Whipple into the bowels of the mall. Mr. Whipple's hand traced along freshly-installed pipes. They terminated in a large room. In this room was an enormous, enclosed cistern, encircled by catwalks. Both pipes and tank were disgustingly warm and sloshed with foul cargo.
Situated on the catwalk was a small television. It was showing football.
"One last job for you, Gerald, and then we'll be done. You're to sit right there and tell me precisely when the game ends. Not a second too early or too late, or else, schnick-schnack." Mr. Whipple made snipping motions with his fingers.
Gerald did as he was told, but in minutes he was bored. Gerald did not affirm his masculinity and physical prowess through football. He affirmed his masculinity and physical prowess through the intense consumption of alcohol while trying to tolerate the music of Cyclopean Fucksnake. He called this feat "getting wicked wasted." He and Buzz would often "get wicked wasted" after a show. It was an unspoken agreement between them that "getting wicked wasted" would be followed by another feat through which they could affirm their masculinity and physical prowess. They referred to it as "picking up chicks." They were bad at it.
Feet clattered on the catwalk. Gerald turned.
Mr. Whipple approached, carrying a burlap sack over his shoulder. The sack writhed. Mr. Whipple wagged his finger. "Now, Gerald, I said to watch the screen."
"Thirty seconds left," said Gerald. "Twenty. Ten."
"Good." Mr. Whipple flicked open his razor and sliced the sack apart. Out fell Pepe, his hands and legs bound, duct tape on his mouth. His nose was missing again; Gerald considered this a blessing when perched above a cistern half-full of urine.
Five seconds left in the football game. Mr. Whipple wound up. He was about to drown Pepe in piss, and Gerald realized the trick: Mr. Whipple was going to make a chamberpot of gold at the end of the Rain Bowl.
Gerald charged. Whipple shoved. Time seemed to slow down.
Then it stopped. Everything was frozen in place: Whipple, arms outstreched. Pepe, plummeting over the edge. The game, one second to go. The one second stretched on, and on, and on.
A red streak slid down the pipes, leapt onto the catwalk and exploded into a red-faced, red-suited man. "Like I promised, a gift for you. This should settle your debts," said Santa Claus, and handed a box to Gerald. "I must say, I'm more used to chimneys than drainpipes. Now hurry. Time doesn't like standing still." With a bow, Santa vanished back up the pipes.
Gerald opened the box. There was nothing inside. And then Gerald realized what he'd been given: an opportunity. He shoved Mr. Whipple over the edge and grabbed Pepe by the shoulders.
Time clanked back into motion. Whipple shrieked and careened into the air, toppling and tossing and turning. He splashed down in the cistern. The buzzer sounded. Thousands of men cheered as their masculinity and physical prowess were elevated by proxy. Other thousands groaned and got up to relieve themselves.
Gerald cut Pepe free and stood the leperchaun up. "Come on, buddy. We can still catch Buzz's show." And the friends walked off, enjoying the one thing worth more than gold while Whipple stood in the cistern, trapped, surrounded by a rising tide.
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 22:41|
Keith laid out a wrench, a hammer and a banana on the table.
It was a good system.
The way he had unwrapped the wrench, hammer and banana from their soft leather bundle was part of the system. The wordlessness had been tested over the years. He'd experimented with multiple combinations of tools, of expression, of posture over the years. He had endeavoured to take reflective notes after each job, and the first couple were recorded in vivid colour coded glory, neat handwriting and technical diagrams of horrific violence that had no right to look so crisp.
Sam watched Keith place the wrench, the hammer and the banana on his kitchen table. Bound to a chair, Sam found himself suitably intimidated by Keith’s efforts. He had started to sweat profusely.
Five minutes ago, Sam had been drinking a beer and staring out the window. Keith had efficiently and brutally dealt to Sam’s front door, entered the small flat and tied Sam to a chair like a muscular whirlwind. Sam wasn’t quite sure he could piece together the choreography of the event if pressed, there was noise, there was force and there was now restraint.
Tools unpacked, Keith came around to the front of the table. He leaned back slightly against it, folded his arms and stared at Sam. Sam stared at the banana.
“You know what I’m here for.”
From that point on, Keith knew it was just a scale of escalating violence until people admitted they knew what he was here for, and helped him get it.
Keith had developed the process over the years to achieve maximum intimidation with minimum effort. He was what most people would call lazy, but he wasn't without a work ethic - he would work industriously to ensure that things required the least amount of input from him in future. He’d even hired an assistant to handle the surprising amount of bureaucracy that came with the job. He just had to show up and be pointed at a door. It was a very good system.
Keith uncrossed his arms and put his hands on the table. Sam glanced at Keith’s big, weathered knuckles as the wrapped over the rim of the table. He started to think about what those hands could do with a wrench. He thought about the banana.
Sam didn’t know what Keith was here for. Keith recognised the confusion and picked up the wrench. He drew himself up out of his slouch, pushing off the table gently. Whistling.
Sam was now terrified again, his eyes wide as his brain raced to make sense of the hulking man in his kitchen, the banana, the song he couldn’t place a finger on.
Keith stepped closer to Sam, swinging the wrench lightly, almost absentmindedly, just enough to loosen up his shoulders. The whistling was replaced by words.
“So I'll go, but I know I'll think of you each step of the waaa-ay”
Keith was right in front of Sam now. He lifted the wrench above his right shoulder, his bicep curling menacingly beneath his shirt.
He brought the wrench down hard, swinging across his body like a tennis forehand straight into the side of Sam’s right kneecap. Sam screamed, his cry merging with Keith’s song, belting out together in harmony as Keith hit the chorus
“..will always love yo-ooo--I will always love you”
Sam’s screams turned to weeping, snot and tears ran down his face. He was not enjoying this as much as Keith was.
Keith grinned. This too was part of the script. He’d actually tried a few different songs over the years, Dolly just worked though. He knew he probably sung with far too much gusto than the first verse and chorus actually called for, but you couldn’t just whack a guy in the kneecaps without some theatrics.
“Now.” He stepped back and leaned against the table again. “You know what I’m here for.”
Sam looked up at Keith. He’d worked out the song he’d been coerced into a duet of by now, but had chosen to file it with the banana.
“Wh..what? No. I really don’t - I don’t have anything. Who are yo-AAaaargh”.
Sam had, on his efforts to regain his composure, accidentally put weight on his right leg. The shattered joint throbbed with fresh conviction.
Keith wasn’t expecting pushback. Sam didn’t look the type. He was a weedy, substitute maths teacher looking man in his late thirties. Most people would crack when he started laying tools on the table, almost all of the remainder would start babbling as soon as their kneecap was shattered. People who needed special treatment generally looked a lot tougher than Sam.
“Friend. Remember, you have two kneecaps. I can do another verse if you want me to, but it’s probably best if you just cooperate now.”
“No no no, please, no I don’t mean - I swear, I don’t know what you want, but I’ll co-operate. Please, don’t.. don’t hit me again.”
The door burst open.
“Keith, I’ve hosed u - Oh poo poo. Oh Jesus.”
“What’d I tell you about names - wait, what do you mean you’ve hosed up?”
Craig looked at Sam. He looked at Sam’s knee and paled. Sam looked at Craig. He looked at Keith.
Craig wasn’t really a “hands-on” assistant. This was the first time he’d seen Keith’s handiwork up close before, and he found himself in a strange silent world filled with many loud thoughts. Muffled words drew nearer until one grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him.
“Oi! Snap out of it kid. What do you mean you hosed up?”
“We’re at the wrong house - I don’t know what happened, I guess I copy and pasted something wrong? This isn’t - this is, oh man.”
“This is what?”
“Your son, Toby, he’s at his friend’s tonight - you’re going to pick him up after work. You’re going to pick him here. This is the Weavers’ house.”
Sam’s eyes widened. Keith’s eyes widened. Keith considered his options and came up with a dreadful plan.
He swung the wrench as hard as he could across Craig’s face.
Craig’s eyes widened, and then abruptly closed as the wrench caught him in the temple. He crumpled.
Toby’s eyes widened. Whatever the Weaver kids’ name was, his were wider.
“Dad?” they both said, almost in unison.
“Toby, thank God you’re alright! It’s still not safe here, son. Can you both wait for me through there in the lounge? ”
The boys nodded, stunned and shuffled off into the next room quietly.
Keith grabbed a fistful of tea towels and moved to Sam. He started to wrap Sam’s broken knee, splinting it with a wooden spoon. He leaned in close to Sam’s ear.
“Now, Mr Weaver, I think we need to come to an understanding. I have just rescued you from this young man. I arrived to collect my son, and witnessed this horrific scene that’s unfolded in your kitchen. Thinking only of my child’s safety, I hit the intruder in the head - just once, but, well, adrenaline is a hell of thing.” Keith squeezed Sam’s knee gently, sending fresh waves of pain rattling around under it “That sounds about right, doesn’t it?”
Sam’s eyes rolled around a bit, but eventually focused in on Keith’s. He nodded weakly.
“Mr Weaver, I know where you live and you know what I’m capable of. I have friends, Mr Weaver. It’s for the best, you understand, right?” Keith, untied Sam and stood up, “Let’s see about getting you fixed up.”
He called an ambulance using the phone on the wall. He briefly thought about disposing the body himself, but there would be too many questions at the hospital - best to tie this all up in a neat bow. He asked the responder to send a police car too.
After checking for Craig’s pulse to make sure he wouldn’t be a problem, Keith called the boys in.
“Toby, I need you to be brave for me, ok? Try to look straight ahead, and go out the door to the car - I’ll be right out.”
Sam’s child and Sam folded in on themselves, in a quiet sobbing embrace. Keith gathered up his tool bag, leaving the bloody wrench.
“K-Keith?” Sam looked up, having built up enough courage to talk again. “What’s - why do you..” he paused to gather himself and formulate the question. “Why a banana?”
Keith looked him in the eye.
He turned and walked out and down the steps to the car.
“Dad, should we wait for the police or something?”
“No, sport. We need to get you home safe. Mr Weaver will tell them what happened. I’m just glad I got to you in time.”
They drove on in silence.
“Do I have to do my homework tonight?”
“Yes, chief. No shortcuts, nobody’s going to do the work for you.”
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 23:24|
flerp fucked around with this message at 05:27 on Mar 14, 2017
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 23:48|
Sorry, I’m Not Flying
flerp fucked around with this message at 05:27 on Mar 14, 2017
|# ? Jan 15, 2017 23:54|
sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 03:32 on Nov 27, 2017
|# ? Jan 16, 2017 01:31|
Matthew sat in his booth at the diner, holding his ribcage closed, or at least, he tried. Between his fingers leaked thick fluid, some shades too dark to be blood. It made them slick, and that made the skin on either side of the gash on his chest somewhat difficult to grip, moreso under the bloodsoaked shirt that was rapidly growing an imperial red sun.
From the flip phone in his left hand came the electronic sound of his girlfriend, Jessica “So I’ll just meet you at home, ok? You know how crunch time is.” There was a creaking sound on the line, a chair, probably.
“Well,” he hesitated, looking down at the widening schism in his chest. “I think this is outside of your job description.” There was a sickening crack as a sliver turned into a gash.
“You’re not being very supportive. Dave said there could be a promotion in this for me.”
“Refill?” the waitress asked as she pulled away from her patrol route to check in on him.
He looked down at himself, all grisly and crimson, then back to her. She couldn’t see it, could she? “One sec.” he said into the phone. He let go of his chest and covered the mouthpiece with his bloody hand. “Sorry. Yes, please.”
She picked up the translucent red tumblr of mostly ice-water. “Coke?”
“Yeah, coke’ll do, thanks.” he said with a spurt.
He watched her go for a moment, listening to the click clack of her flats before turning back to his solitary meal and raising the phone back up. “What was that about?”
“Waitress.” he said. The seeping wound in his chest all of a sudden seemed harmless. He’d let it go and it hadn’t killed him. Heck, it’d stopped hurting.
“Ok, no sure, go ahead, have your whole meal, I’ll just sit here on company time for you. Would you like that? Go ahead, order seconds. I’ll wait, then I’ll call Dave over so you can explain to him how-”
“No, no, god drat it.” He pulled at the little pink napkins in the dispenser, jamming them into the wound. They did nothing. “Look, forget about it. I’ll see you at home, ok? I love you.”
A sigh and a dial-tone were the response.
There was a plastic click of a glass being landed on the vinyl table. “Everything alright, darlin’?” said the waitress, who looked for a moment like she could see everything.
“Just dandy.” he smiled.
Ten minutes later, Matthew stood in front of the till, fiddling with a few bloody fivers. As Violet (Matthew found her nametag infinitely easier to read when he wasn’t seated.) ran the register, he looked back at his booth. It was like something out of Dexter, just a slick mess of red, with a streak where he’d slipped and red footprints leading to the counter.
“That’ll be 17.97” she said.
“Here you go” he handed her five shining bills. “Sorry about the mess”
She laughed “That’s fine darlin, it’s nothing to worry about. Won’t take me but a minute to pick those up.”
Matthew checked himself into the ER. He left a trail from the parking lot, past the handicapped spots and the ambulance access. He waited for maybe five minutes in triage, hand over heart, before he heard a nurse say something about “chest pains” and he was whisked onto a bed behind a curtain.
The attending identified himself as Dr. Rodney. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, Doc, I got this pain right here.” Matthew indicated his blood-soaked hand, clutched clawlike, holding himself together.
The doctor told him to take off his shirt, and ran through the standard battery of tests. After maybe two hours, he was out the door with a scrip for something that ended in “-fil”, a good night’s rest, and some relaxation. There was likely a bill, too, but per doctor’s orders, he decided to to worry about it til morning. Heck, maybe till next week.
Matthew arrived home, left a slug trail into the bathroom, wrapped himself in some bandages from the medicine cabinet, and slept in an empty white bed.
Life went on. Matthew got used to living and working ankle-deep in red. His chest would pull itself apart, and he would bandage himself up. He started with super glue. That held for about a week.
When Jessica started locking her phone, he moved on to wood staples. Surprisingly, the PSS-CHK of a staple gun only hurt if you were thinking about it or if your hands shook. Once you got used to it, PSS-CHK! PSS-CHK! PSS-CHK! Done in minutes.
After Jessica started taking ‘business weekends’ on short notice, he moved on to nails and 30 gauge wire. When he ran into Dave at a local bar, he made mental note to pick up something heavier. When Dave asked How Jessica had been doing since she quit, he upgraded the nails to bolts.
Replacing the sheets had stopped helping around the time he’d upgraded to staples. Replacing the mattress had given him most of a month before it soaked through, but the replacement mattress (“upgrade” he had told Jessica) soaked through in a week.
They’d started sleeping apart, not out of any particular design of separation, but that Matthew couldn’t sleep unless he was either on the couch (leather didn’t get effuse like a bloody sponge when rested upon), or loaded up with several drinks before hand (restless sleep was still sleep).
Matthew’s chest rested open like a maw, showers beat on his exposed heart like drumming fingers, so he’d stopped taking them. Shirts soaked through and tore on the bolts along the rim, so he’d wear them only when leaving the house.
It took him a week to realize he’d been fired. Answering phones was difficult when your hands were constantly slick with blood.
It took him a week to realize she’d left. He’d only realized she’d been missing when he’d found white spots on the walls where her things had hung.
By the time he’d been evicted, nothing would hold his heart closed.
On a crisp autumn day, freshly homeless, Matthew walked past a dumpster. He laughed that he had not done it sooner, but still he reached into his chest and pulled out the source of his pain. He left it in the dumpster.
That night, Matthew spent his last few dollars at a greasy spoon and slept on a park bench. It was the best sleep he’d ever had.
|# ? Jan 16, 2017 02:00|
Not Quite Friends (2,115 words)
Lark Wilder climbed on the fence and wrapped her elbows over the pointed ends of the wooden posts to hold herself up. The bit of field before her was mostly dirt except for a lone tree, defiantly standing alone in the otherwise dead looking ground. It was tall in the same way giants were, and looked older than any tree she’d ever seen. In front of it was a young boy named Zhao Kong.
Zhao Kong came from Northern nobility, the stubborn sort that would walk with two broken legs and tell you nothing was wrong. His cold face dripped with hot sweat and he squinted tightly to avoid the sun in his eyes. He struggled to stand with the weight that held down his shoulders. His knees shook, looking to buckle. With quiet ambition he held up a wooden bar, and off it hung two buckets filled with water. The dirt beneath him was absolutely dry as he did his best to keep them from falling.
Lark hopped over the fence and walked towards Zhao, but he turned his head further away from her the closer she got. As soon as she was within arm’s reach, he spoke out of the opposite side of his mouth.
“Go away,” said Zhao.
“You’re going to be my friend,” said Lark.
“No. I’m not.”
“Of course you are!”
Zhao grunted and looked towards her. His face wrinkled and bunched up near the top of his nose as he looked more and more like he was going to drop the two buckets of water. The shaking in his knees moved up into his stomach, and then to his shoulders, and then into his arms. Even his fingers shook a little. He clenched his teeth and sealed his mouth tighter than before.
Lark didn’t understand him. Why he didn’t want to be her friend. Why not understand what he’s thinking?
“Why are you holding those buckets up?” asked Lark.
“I hit someone,” said Zhao. “Will you leave now?”
“Okay. But only if you tell me who is making you do this.” said Lark.
“Sir Telmorris,” said Zhao. “Leave.”
Lark walked towards the edge of the yard and unlocked the gate from the inside. She wasn’t sure whose yard it was, honestly. Just that the other kids had seen Zhao over here, struggling to hold up two buckets of water. She made her way closer to the center of knight’s village where she came towards a small house. It almost looked like a silo, it was round and made of brick the color of a calm gray sky. Small little vines had started creeping up the sides of it, but came just short of the simple wooden windows. Lark moved up to it, adjusted her shirt and fussed up her hair before she knocked on the door.
The man that answered was Sir Telmorris. A man with a shovel-like jaw and the hint of a mighty beard cut short by the knife. He was tall, too, but his body was filled out well enough that Lark thought he might have just been a regular sized person from a further distance out. Even in a simple shirt with the top and only two buttons undone at the collar, his strength showed clear. When she looked up unto his eyes, they blocked her from looking inward. This was a man who could properly hide even the deepest sadness or most powerful of rage, she thought.
She didn’t like him.
“I don’t want any flowers,” said Telmorris. “Or whatever it is you’re selling.”
He started to close the door, and Lark walked in between it and the doorway, stopping it from closing all of the way.
“Why is Zhao in that yard holding buckets up?”
“He hit Druck,” said Telmorris. “No one hits my students outside of a duel or practice. Got that?”
“Who started it?” asked Lark.
“Excuse me?” said Telmorris. Maybe he didn’t hide rage as well as Lark thought. The way he whipped around was quicker than she would have expected him to.
“Who started the fight? Druck or Zhao?” asked Lark.
“That doesn’t matter.”
“It does, actually.”
Telmorris glared at her and then shoved her outside. When the door slammed, Lark closed her eyes, thinking it was going to hit her right in the nose. When she opened them, the door was a blade’s edge away from her face.
Lark looked towards the small yard he had and spotted two wooden buckets and a long staff.
She knocked on the door again, but the only response she received was a distant grunt.
Lark walked into his yard. She had to push aside an old oak crate and some riding gear that he left outside, before she managed to pull the two buckets out of the small pile of stuff. The staff was easy to carry. She made her way down towards the yard where Zhao was. She made sure the gate was still open, and gave Zhao a quick smile as he struggled to ignore her. There was a well not far from here, and after filling each bucket with water, she carried each one to the gate before Zhao noticed her.
She placed both buckets next to him and hooked the staff underneath the small metal handles and lifted it up and over her shoulders, before letting it rest. With bent knees, she copied Zhao’s posture as best she could before holding still.
After one minute her knees felt sore. After two, her thighs joined in. After five minutes she wobbled back and forth. Zhao, at this point, couldn’t ignore her, but with how red his face was, his words were hurried and weak.
“Did Druck punch you?” asked Lark.
“Excuse me?” asked Zhao.
“I want to know if Druck punched you first, or you punched him first.”
“Druck, he punched me, so I punched him back. Telmorris took his side.”
“I bet it’s hard to think like this, I bet that’s why you won’t talk to me,” said Lark. She wobbled to the right, away from Zhao, before catching her balance. “How long do you have to do this?”
Lark tried her best to keep her buckets up. At first she spread her legs and squatted a little further. Eventually she teetered the weight from one side to another. Eventually she twisted and tumbled and fell over next to Zhao. The water splashed out and onto the thirty earth which absorbed it all within the minute, leaving only dark spots besides the turned over buckets.
Lark sat next to Zhao and looked up at him. Then she sat against the tree and looked up into it. When the sun started to set, she walked back over to Zhao. He still held his buckets up, his body struggling intensely under the weight.
“Think he’ll be back soon?” asked Lark.
Zhao nodded his head. It looked almost bloated from how red it was, it resembled a ripe tomato.
Lark sat a little longer and watched the sun set with a smile. The moon, once barely visible in the evening sky, became a bright white circle beaming down on them. Lark looked at it for a little while, she was hungry, and she hurried off and found a baker tossing their unused bread away at anyone that would buy it for a steep discount. She hurried back and broke off half, and started to eat it in front of Zhao. She stepped closer to him and put the other half of the loaf close to his mouth, but he turned his head away.
“Aren’t you hungry?” asked Lark.
“Not allowed to eat,” said Zhao.
“You’re really determined.”
Zhao stopped talking.
The deeper parts of night left Lark with a chill she could no longer ignore. Even as she pulled her clothes tighter around her frame, she felt the cold breath through to her skin. As she folded her arms in front of her, she tried feeding Zhao the staling bread, but when he turned his head again, she ate it instead. Eventually she grew tired, and after fighting back a yawn, she walked back to Telmorris’ house, only a few minutes away.
At this point she wondered if Zhao had given up. She couldn’t imagine him lasting any longer, but she waited for Telmorris anyway, wondering just what was keeping him.
Telmorris answered in loose clothes and a tall cap. He yawned and stared at Lark with tight eyes.
“What are you doing here?” asked Telmorris.
“Zhao is waiting for you to come back,” said Lark.
“He can go home. I don’t care.”
“He’s really stubborn, you know.”
“I know. I want him to realize that he has to learn to give up sometimes. Why do you think that fight started?”
“He’s not going to give up. You know that, don’t you?”
Telmorris slammed the door in her face.
Frustrated, Lark walked back to Zhao, thankfully the fence was still unlocked. In the moonlight, the tree looked prettier with every gentle breeze. The way the leaves rustled sounded pleasing. It was the sort of sound she’d lay in bed and focus on if she wanted to fall asleep with gentle haste. Zhao’s ability to stand with the weight of both buckets on his shoulders seemed unreal. The way he wobbled back and forth and caught himself seemed almost like an animalistic instinct, the sort that lets a cat always fall on its paws.
“He’s not coming back, you know,” said Lark. “Do you need anything?
“I don’t care,” said Zhao.
“Okay,” said Lark.
Lark grabbed both of the buckets she borrowed and took them to the well and filled them up, then carried them all the way to Telmorris’ house. Her arms felt like they were going to fall out of her shoulders by the time she made it all the way back. With a bucket at each side of her feet, she knocked on the door.
Telmorris opened it with a stony face.
Lark lifted one bucket and splashed the water onto Telmorris.
Telmorris’ face transformed. At first it was shock, and then, as he woke up a little, it became shame, which slowly twisted into a tight anger. Just as he raised his finger and opened his mouth to yell at Lark, she emptied the second bucket onto him. Water completely soaked his pajamas, and he kept bouncing back between trying to say something and clenching his jaw tightly. Telmorris slammed the door in Lark’s face, but she waited a moment as she heard the shuffle of drawers opening and gentle steps. A moment later, the door swung open again. Telmorris was fully clothed.
“I borrowed your buckets, I thought I should bring them back,” said Lark with a smile.
She knew he was angry, and she wanted to giggle and tease him, but thought better of it.
Telmorris snapped his hand forward and grabbed Lark by the wrist, practically dragging her to the field. When he walked through the gate, he slammed it closed behind him, and it bounced back on its hinge a couple of times before settling at just slightly open. The loud noise roused a couple of cats and silenced a few dozen crickets.
Lark stood next to Telmorris and looked at Zhao. At this point she thought he was dead, and his soul somehow managed to prop his body up despite his passing. But Zhao raised his head slightly with blood-red eyes and a hoarse voice.
“What?” asked Zhao.
“I’m back. Have you learned your lesson?” asked Telmorris.
“No. What have you taught me?” asked Zhao.
“Nothing,” said Telmorris.
“That’s right. I’ve learned nothing. You were never going to come back, were you?”
“No. I wanted you to give up.”
“I never,” said Zhao. His face went almost blank, and then he fell forward as the two buckets toppled over and splashed water near his feet. Zhao looked directly at the dirt, opened his mouth, spat out a few sandy grains of the dryness beneath him, and spoke directly towards the center of the earth.
“I never give up,” said Zhao.
Telmorris grumbled and tossed Zhao over his shoulder as the three of them walked back to the barracks. As they did, Lark trailed behind and looked up into Zhao’s eyes with a big smile on her face.
“Are we friends now?” asked Lark.
“Maybe,” said Zhao. “Let me sleep first. You’re not like those buckets, you know.”
“How’s that?” asked Lark.
“You’re actually exhausting.”
For the rest of the way back towards the barracks, Lark skipped circles around them both and whistled a cheerful tune.
|# ? Jan 16, 2017 04:37|
The Answers You Find and the Questions You Don't
I crash through the window like a hundred-twenty-pound sack of flabby meat that’s just gotten dunked on by Godzilla Kobe Bryant. There’s a dull crunch as my body crashes into the wooden floor beyond and rolls out towards the bar, where I enjoy a few blissful seconds of nothingness before the pain rushes into my body and I realize that about a dozen blurred-out figures around me have frozen mid-motion to look at the idiot that just stamped a man-sized hole through the front. I hear someone shifting above, and then a pudgy face stares down at me over the counter.
“I’d love to say that I’m paying for that,” I say, and check my coat for cuts. I don’t follow it up with anything, I’m pretty sure the way I dress does the talking for me.
I pull myself up just in time for the Big Ben Brothers to come stomping in. They’re mean guys, not mean like one of these street-smart butterfly-knife-flipping douchebags with girls’ names tattooed on their shoulders. Mean like the kinda guys who wear suits and wherever they appear everyone else just turns back around and pretends like nothing’s going on. I lean into the counter and try to look like I still have a working spine.
“I think you have misunderstood me, friends.” I shake my coat and shards clatter to the ground. “I meant strong in the literal sense.”
“You have a lot of nerves pal, running ‘round asking stupid questions,” says one of them.
“That reminds me.” I reach into one of my coat’s many pockets and pull out a pen and notepad. “Do you know where I can find Hot-Dawg? Not that I’d imply you know literally every scumbag dealer in town, but…”
The other one of them cracks his knuckles. It makes the sound of a skull that’s about to be ground to dust.
“Asking for a friend.”
They both take a step towards me and I can tell how this is going to end. Let’s not be ridiculous: I have no chance against these guys. I’m just a twenty-something douchebag with too much free time and a knack for annoying the poo poo out of people. Everyone always said I wouldn’t amount to anything, and it’s moments like this that really make me appreciate the truth of it.
“Hold on,” I say. It might have sounded a bit more panicky than I liked, because they actually stop. I turn around to the barkeeper and order what might be my last drink: a shot of amaretto. Sorry, that’s probably not so cool. But it is what it is.
I start to nip on the liquor and the two gorillas probably assume I’m just stalling now, but I’m doing more than that. I’m setting them up for a magic trick: I take the glass in one hand, and I close both hands to fists, and I bump the fists into each other. And then the glass is in the other hand. “Ta-Da.” I say. They are not impressed. That doesn’t matter. I just really like doing magic tricks.
Anyway, I throw the amaretto in their faces.
You’d assume they’d at least drag you out of a bar full of witnesses before they give you a hiding. But they have a point to make. The first punch lands in my face and time kinda slows up to a point where I swear I can feel my bones shift into something new and bizarre. Maybe the guy hits so hard that the impact shatters the fourth dimension. I’m catching a one-two on the thinking box, one more in the kidneys, and after that I’m losing track, there’s just general pain all over until I stumble against one of the guys, and for a brief second I kinda awkwardly reach around him as if I was trying to give him a bear hug, and then I’m up in the air, and then I’m already back down again. There’s a crunching noise and I wonder if they actually broke my spine for real this time before my back begins to burn in various places and I remember the glass shards.
I have just enough time to cry out so that there’s not much air in the way when the kick shatters my ribcage.
“That’ll teach you some manners, punk,” one of them says, and then another kick hits me, and another, and then I’m beginning to understand what it must feel like to be a patch of dirt at a derby. There’s a spitting noise, and something wet lands in my hair. I want to wipe it off, but some primal instinct tells me to keep my arms in front of my face.
“Keep your loving nose out of our poo poo.”
And then they’re gone. It takes a moment to settle in because my body hurts so much I could swear time-defying phantom imprints of their kicks and punches are reverberating all the way from back in the past and are still knocking the living daylights out of me. But they’re gone. And they didn’t kill me. But the be honest, that’s why I started the fight with all these people around.
I manage to get on my feet, and it takes a bit too long for my liking, but I stand, as much as you can when every single neuron in your body is busy sending pain impulses to your brain to a point where it’s hard to sort out what still works from what doesn’t. But sometimes you just gotta take a beating to get somewhere.
I feel for the pockets in my coat, and it’s still there: the phone I stole off the one brother when I hugged him.
“You okay, man?” the bartender asks. “You want me to call an ambulance?”
But I’m already outside. Because if they realize what I’ve done they might come back and finish what they started. And if they realize what I’m about to do, they will for sure.
The pounding in my head and the sharp cold air makes it hard to focus, but I find what I assume to be Hot-Dawg in the contact list. I’m going out on a limb here but these guys are probably pro enough to use a secure messaging app instead of calling each other about their dealings like chumps. There’s no logs but that makes sense too. So I send Hot-Dawg a message. I ask him where he’s at. I get an address. I ask him if the girl is with him.
“how do u know?” he says.
I wipe the log and throw the phone in the trash.
It’s been two weeks since Lena McGill has disappeared. I’ve learned about it over the news. We’re not close, but we’d been in school together, and she’d been nice, and I remembered enough about her to know that she’d really liked getting high, but couldn’t ever afford to pay for it. I also know that she kept it a secret from most people. So it made sense to me that it might have something to do with that. But not enough that I wanted to go to the police and get her in trouble.
So first I found that, yep, she still owed money. Big time. And I found out who her dealer was. And now, where.
Hot-Dawg’s hideout is a shitshow of a building. It doesn’t look uninhabited so much as that it looks like zombies live here. But it’s also not Fort Knox. It’s a place where junkies meet to bleed time. And I look like poo poo right now.
I sneak in round back, and the door that covers the entrance is more of a formality than a thing that actually enables or denies access. I shamble through the ground floor like I’m half-dead and coked out of my mind, and the people wriggling around on the cluttered, dirt-stained floor inside give me plenty inspiration to draw from. There’s a set of stairs going up from the hallway, and two people in the room out front talk about slinging dope, and they sound decidedly unstoned, so I keep my distance, but to be honest I’m not really sure what I’m looking for anyway. Probably Lena, Hot-Dawg, or any kind of clue, in that order. It’s not a huge house, and I realize pretty soon that the ground floor is void of interest, or intelligent life for that matter, unless Lena is hiding in one of the kitchen drawers. I go back over to the stairs.
As I do, one of the voices grows louder.
I slide down along the wall and assume the guise of a heap of human waste just in time for the tall, black gentleman with a gun clearly sticking out his belt to walk past me. He gives me a gentle kick with his foot, and I moan silently, prompting him to laugh and move on. He mutters something under his breath as he leaves. I’m fairly certain I detect the word ‘cracker’ somewhere in there.
A thousand scenarios race up my head as I sneak up the stairs: Hot-Dawg comes out the toilet, shoots me.;Black dude comes up the stairs behind me, shoots me; Big Ben Brothers call Hot-Dawg, tell him something’s up, tell him what I look like. I get shot in that scenario too.
It’s one of these moments that really make you evaluate your life choices.
And to be honest I don’t know why I’m doing any of this. Maybe I just saw something that made sense, and nobody else saw it, and now maybe I feel like I can do this, and it’s the first time I ever felt like that. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be: clever, but also kinda stupid. Or maybe I just feel sorry for Lena. Maybe I’ve read too many detective novels. Maybe I’m not doing anything. Maybe she hosed off to Paris and maybe nothing matters. Maybe everyone I know will remember me as the boy who died in the Heroin House. But I’ve got nothing else to do with my life. It might as well be this. At least this feels real.
The upper floor seems a bit more orderly, so I guess the junkies don’t have access here. I look through the half-open doors first, and there’s not so much stuff there that’s interesting, just general living space and mattresses, but I take a mental note of all the windows that seem like they could be escaped through. Just in case.
The closed doors are next. I listen. I check the keyholes. People loving in the bathroom. Hopefully not important. I get to the door at the dark end of the room. Or maybe that’s just my intuition making it seem sinister. Anyway, I look through the keyhole, and there’s a cot with a woman on it.
My heart skips a beat. This sounds cliché, but it really does. It just loving checks out for a second, does a double-take on the situation and finds that this is still reality, so it goes back to beating. A bit louder than I’d like. So’s the door. It squeaks, just a little, or maybe that’s just me imagining things because right now a thousand thoughts race through my head and all of them are “I’m about do loving die.” But there are no footsteps, and nobody is shooting at me. I go inside.
The bed looks like Lena hasn’t left it for approximately two weeks. There’s scabs around her right wrist where the cuff has bitten into her skin. She is unwashed, haggard, bruised. Dead? There’s blood. I don’t want to describe it more than that. My throat closes up. I hate seeing this poo poo.
She doesn’t move until I am right next to her, feeling what’s left of her pulse. She looks at me for a few moments, tired, and I’m not sure if she recognizes me at first, but even when she does, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to her.
“I remember you,” she says. Her voice is like a fading imprint on my mind, barely clinging to existence. I only believe that it’s there because I see her lips move. “Toby?”
I got my phone in hand. 9-1-1. “I’ll get you out of here.”
“What the gently caress?” an angry voice says from behind us. I drop the phone and kick it under the bed as I spin around. And there’s Hot-Dawg in his undershirt, the word ‘Mary’ tattooed to his shoulder, all street-smart and mad as hell. But he’s not carrying a butterfly-knife. He’s a bit further up the food-chain. He’s got a gun.
“Man, like, chill out maaaaaan,” I shout in my best junkie impression. But he’s not buying it. But that’s okay. I’m just trying to talk over the operator on my phone. Hot-Dawg doesn’t seem to notice that the call is already going on. He hasn’t seen the phone. He couldn’t have seen it.
He comes closer and waves his gun in my face.
“I think you should let us go,” I say.
“Because you’re surrounded.”
There’s always this moment in movies where the gun clicks back and that’s when you know it’s really serious. Well, I already knew. But it clicks back anyway. And somehow it gets more serious.
“Bullshit,” he says.
“We’ve got twenty people ready to go in right now. I’m only supposed to extract Ms. McGill to safety before the raid begins. We know she is your only hostage. That and the junkies, but City Hall doesn’t give a poo poo about a bunch of channel swimmers. In your own best interest, please lower your gun and surrender.”
The gun isn’t going off. It wants to. I can see it blinking at me. It doesn’t even waver. But it’s not going off. Not yet. Because he isn’t sure.
“We know you’ve been using the 155 Lanklane Avenue residence as a place to peddle your smack. We’ve been on that for a while now, but let’s face it, we’d rather go for the higher-ups. The Big Ben Brothers, now that’s a name that turns some heads in the upper brass. But then you’ve abducted Ms. McGill. And that kind of case, that gets people’s attention. So we find out she owes you money. It’s happened before. So maybe you were fighting about the debt and things escalated. Maybe you thought this was your way of getting your money’s worth out of her. It doesn’t matter. It’s over, boy. Lower your weapon.”
“You don’t call me boy, you gently caress”, he says, but he doesn’t sound at all like the angry lion anymore, more like a trapped rat, whiny and in denial.
And then come the sirens. And Hot-Dawg is really losing his mind. He just runs past us, looks out the window, sees the single police car. Laughs and cries at the same time. Calls me a gently caress. Puts the gun back up and realizes that I’ve closed the distance, that I’m almost right in his face, just an arm’s length away.
“That’s the police,” I say. “For real this time. And if you still want to shoot me, then go ahead. But I swear to God, if you miss, I will loving kill you. And if I can’t, then I will fight you, and I’ll fight you as long as it takes for the police to get up here, and if I just hold on to you as much as I can, and if it means I’ll be dead by the time they’re here, they’ll find you with my loving body hanging off your punk rear end, and then you’re dead just as well, because they’ll drag you to prison where they’ll let you rot until they give you the shot, and if not we’ll paint this loving room red with each other. I swear to God you piece of poo poo. I swear to God. You better not miss.”
I didn’t expect it to sound sincere, but here’s the thing: it was. And it’s left a mark. He still doesn’t lower his gun. He’s not that kind of guy. But he doesn’t shoot either. And I die a bit with every second that ticks away. But never all the way.
And then the police is at the door.
And say one thing for Hot-Dawg: he knows when it’s over.
The sun is going down on what’s probably the longest day in the longest two weeks of my life, and if every cell of my body wasn’t in pain I’d probably appreciate the way the red-blue of the sirens is mixing with the orange sundown. It almost looks nice. As if the planet itself wanted to say: “Good job, Toby. Take five.”
But a planet where poo poo like that happens can go gently caress itself.
They’ve already loaded Lena on a stretcher, carefully, as if they were handling a precious glass vase, because if you think about it, they kinda were. And they’ve taken her to the hospital, and now nobody knows if she’s going to make it, but I’ve asked around, and people are carefully optimistic, or at least they want me to be. And then it’s already my turn, and I’m lying in my own little ambulance, because I really look like I need one, and to be honest I probably do. And there’s a policeman with me, and as proud I am of what I’ve done today, I wish he’d wipe that patronizing smile off his face.
“That was good work, kid,” he says, for like the third time. Then he mixes it up and asks me: “So what are you, like, a private detective?”
“I think I just wanted to know if I could do this,” I say.
“That doesn’t really answer my question, does it?”
“You’re right. It doesn’t.”
But it’ll have to do, because right now it’s all I got. And if you think about it, that’s okay.
At least for now.
|# ? Jan 16, 2017 05:10|
I unlatch the trapdoor and climb into Room 1307, ready to haunt someone’s dreams.
The lights went out about a half-hour ago--it’s in the guidelines to give every guest some time to settle down before we get to work. I can hear faint intakes of breath from the shadowy lump under the bed, light from a crescent moon coming in through the drapes.
The first and foremost rule of being a Professional Spirit is to speak with your arms and legs. Don’t convey in words what can be said in gestures and movements and angles and motions. You are a ghost, ghosts are oblique, ghosts are playful, ghosts specialize in ellipses rather than periods.
I’m wearing thin fabric, French canopy material, something I can glide in. I’ve got ballet slippers on my feet, and they sink into the light blue shag carpeting that looks grey in the after-twelve. Sometimes they’ll take pictures in the morning, mark the footprints we left while we were asleep.
Every Professional Spirit must tell a story though silence and motion.
There are pill bottles clustered together on the dresser next to the TV cabinet. I can see my warped reflection in the black screen, like a glimpse of something intriguing and disquieting. I take a breath and I hear it like an iceberg calving.
My arms ascend above me, and I start to dance.
Use your body to form the shape of the person you used to be in a past life. Form your identity in the air.
My fingertips caress the air-conditioner currents, knead life back into the stale atmosphere of the old hotel room. White and gray chiffon flows from my shoulders and waist as I twirl, trails after me like an unrequited impulse. I arch back, lean into an invisible wall, feeling the hands of my lover encircle my waist, flick my wrist like I’m sending away a spurned suitor, perch on my tiptoes like my past is paved with gold. I blow a kiss at the lump under the covers, keep my face turned to the side, letting the camera in the corner get a good shot.
Most of the Professional Spirits that work here work like they’re climbing into their coffins every night. I climb out.
I flounce to the dresser and stack the pill bottles on top of each other, then pluck a lily from the vase on the night stand and bring it up to my nose, drawing in the sweetness before placing it on top of the television. Tomorrow, it’ll all be a game, recognizing who was there and what they left behind in their wake, traces of something inconceivable. I lift my hand to my forehead and sink to my knees, feeling the deep bite of the arsenic, the betrayal--
--and then my watch starts beeping, blinking neon green in the dark.
I claw at my wrist, push the button on the side until the beeping stops.
There’s a grumbling from the bed.
I hit the floor, my heart in my throat.
The covers shift above my head. There’s some more grumbling and lip-smacking, and then then nothing, and then the slow inhale-exhale again. I hear the camera go off again, taking a picture of the empty space where I’m supposed to be telling the story of my life through my body.
The shag carpet burns my knees as I crawl to the trapdoor and slide it open again. My tongue hurts, because I’m biting it until it feels like it’s in two pieces.
No phones or electronic devices of any kind permitted during the Dream Period. Any sonic interruption of the Dream Period puts the reputation of the Hotel Forsythe at risk. We seek to provide our guests with the particular experience that the Hotel Forsythe is known for, and it is paramount that the experience must remain uninterrupted.
My boss Darren sits at his desk, turning my digital watch over in his hands. I sit in a leather chair with thick armrests, the noise of the evening crowd filtering into the room from the lobby.
“I was just using it to keep track of time,” I say. “It was never supposed to go off.”
Darren sighs, lays the watch down on the edge of the cherrywood desktop. “I know. I like you, Tammera. You know that, right?” His eyes are wide and warm.
“I like you. You’re a quality worker. And last night, the guy, whassisname, he didn’t even say anything when I asked him, didn’t write anything on the survey form. But--” He leans back in his chair, his arms folded over his head, then leans forward. “But it’s just company policy. It’s principle. You don’t need this--” He picks up the watch, twirls it in the air. “You don’t need any of this extra poo poo. Talk to the other girls. They have systems worked out. Lana has some thing she does where she plays a bunch of Katy Perry songs in her head to measure the fifteen minutes. Maybe you could do that.”
I nod again. It’s way too cold in here. I can feel the individual hairs on the back of my neck.
Darren leans back in his chair again. “So, I keep the watch, and you keep your job at Forsythe. Sound alright?”
I nod, brush the hair off my forehead. “Yes, sir. Thank you.”
He smiles. “Good. Tell the bartender that the first one’s on me, if you want it.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The lobby’s a white marble cathedral, and when I exhale, I feel like every one of the two-dozen people milling around can hear it, hotel-workers and guests alike. It’s a pretty place that I don’t usually spend a lot of time in--there aren’t a lot of places to sink into the background. Everything is stark and art deco and highlighted and amplified, from the Victorian portraits of nameless old belles on the walls to Marco, the bartender in front of the backlit vodka bottles.
I sit on a stool at the far end and wave to get Marco’s attention. “Double Diet Stoli. On Darren.”
He nods, and mixes a glass.
I take a sip and look around. Most of the people in the lobby aren’t stationary for long, they’re either rushing in to claim a room or rushing out into the city, towards a tour bus or an antiquated toy store or a Times Square pizza place. The only other person sitting down is the tall lady in her late-twenties swirling a glass of wine at the other end of the bar, her billowing black dress pooling fabric on her knees. I smile to myself.
She smiles back, and I freeze, then turn my head.
I think about the watch, why it went off. I’ve never touched the alarm function in my life, never set it for any time on any day. Despite being a professional ghost, I don’t believe in real ones, ones that cause mischief. Could someone have fiddled with it when I left it in my bag?
I hear the lady in black’s voice and I turn to look, but she’s talking to Marco. “Who is that?” she asks, pointing at the row of screens on the wall above the bar.
The screens show green-light nightvision still pictures, pale bodies posed against the shadows of hotel rooms, occupied queen-size beds in the background. In the morning, the guests on floor 13 come down and drink their Bloody Marys and Irish Coffees and they ask the bartender to pull up their room number on the TVs, and they pick the photo they want to keep, put on a postcard, social media page. Like those roller-coaster photos they take before the big loop. I Survived The Terror Machine, and Then I Was Haunted at the Hotel Forsythe.
The lady’s finger is pointing at my face, turned at the perfect angle between the camera and the moonlight, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. Never look directly at the camera. Never look directly away from the camera. Practice the forty-five degree angle pose, stare off into the distance at something that the camera cannot capture.
Marco stiffens, lowers his voice. “That’s...Alouette, ma’am.”
Your Ghost Name must be personally appropriate and meaningful, but must also be pre-approved by management. When your Ghost Name is mentioned by and in front of staff, they are required to address the name with the appropriate hushed tones and pregnant pauses, hinting at something terrible that happened in the past but never directly explaining it.
“Who’s Alouette?” asks the lady in black. Her arms are folded over the countertop, cradling her glass in her palm.
Marco flicks his gaze towards me for a split second. “She’s, um--we don’t really talk about it often--”
“She haunts the thirteenth floor,” I say, before I drain what’s left in my glass. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself.
“I thought that hotels didn’t have thirteenth floors anymore,” says the lady, setting her drink down.
“This one does,” I say. “It’s like a roach motel--it traps all the ghosts.” There’s no hint of a smile on my face. “And Alouette is the worst one.”
“Really,” says the lady in black. “How do you measure how bad a ghost is, exactly?”
“How do you measure how bad someone is while they’re alive?” I say. “She killed the most people. All her ex-lovers.”
“That’s enough, Tammera,” says Marco.
“No, I want to see where this goes,” says the lady in black. She takes another sip. “So how did she die?”
“Poison,” I say. I pretend to think for a second. “She got lazy.”
“She got cocky. She told one of her lovers that he was just one of many. Mon coeur est ailleurs --my heart is somewhere else. And he didn’t take it well, and he fixed her a drink with something special in it, and she woke up the next morning coughing up blood.”
“That’s it?” said the lady in black. She finished her wine. “Come on, you can do better than that. Give me something else."
“Well…you didn’t let me finish.” I stare into her eyes, try not to blink. “Because when they cut her open to prepare her for her burial--her heart wasn’t in her chest.”
The lady in black smiles. “Here we go.”
I smile back. “There was this legend while she was alive of The Heartless Queen, how she kept her heart locked away in this old gilded box and wore the key around her neck. So of course word got out when they never found her heart.”
“What do you think really happened?” says the lady in black, her voice low.
I pause. “I mean, it was cutthroat times in France. The coroner probably sold her heart, ground it up and sold it to some French elixir-maker, some scam artist. That’s all.”
“Uh-huh.” The lady in black folds her arms again. “And she’s French? So how did she end up at an old hotel in New York City?”
My lips are pressed into a straight line. “Exchange program. Right now Lizzie Borden’s in some cafe in Paris, learning how to sing that song about forty whacks in French.”
“Right. Makes sense,” says the lady in black.
We stare at each other for a bit longer, and then she bursts out laughing, big belly laughs as she bends over and holds onto the bar counter. Her face is flushed as she sits back up.
“That was fun,” she says. “I’m Nila.”
“Tammera,” I say. “I have to go.”
“Aww,” Nila says. “Alright. Try and fix up the ending while you’re gone, okay?”
I smile, and turn to leave.
Alouette, gentille alouette... I hum the nursery rhyme as I walk towards the elevator, my right index finger toying with the tiny gold key strung around my neck. As the doors close, I slide the key into the panel on the elevator wall, unlock the button for Floor 12.
“It was Claire,” Ray says, her arm around my shoulder as I apply my makeup. “I’d put money on it.”
It’s about 15 minutes before the night’s Dream Period, and I’m trying to focus on getting into character. I am Alouette. I am vengeful. I am graceful. I live in the corners of your mind.
“I don’t care who it was,” I say, putting on the last bit of foundation in the bottle. “Maybe it was no one at all. Maybe I just pressed a button earlier in the day and forgot about it.”
“You see the way they look at us, right?” says Ray, pacing over the carpet. “They’re effing animals.”
I see. I don’t often talk to the other Professional Spirits that work here, but we pass each other in the hall, and their expressions run the gamut from “tepid bathwater” to “iced-over lake”. I mean, I can’t say I put myself out there either--the hotel boards us all on the twelfth floor as part of our benefits, but I rarely spend any time here when I’m awake. The only reason I ran into Ray was because we were walking through Washington Square Park at the same time, both on the way to somewhere else. “That’s what a real friend does,” Ray keeps saying. “Makes you excited about changing your plans.” She came up with the “climbing in/climbing out of coffins” thing, too. It wasn’t my thing, but now it’s our thing.
The time before everyone’s nightly Dream Period starts is the only time when the hallway of Floor 12 is completely dead. Everyone’s making up their faces, cinching their costumes, practicing their movements. Movements are imperative. Practical dress is important. Wear flowing clothes with no colors, only shades, varying degrees between white and grey, fabrics that can flutter and trail behind you in even the stalest air. Something that will show up on a night vision camera, puff up over your shoulder blades and back like fog rising from a field. Wear light footwear, ballerina shoes preferable, though bare feet are not unwelcome.
“I saw Claire looking our way in the lobby yesterday,” says Ray. “She had that ‘I-know-something-you-don’t-know’ look on her face--”
“Look, don’t you have something to do?” I say, rubbing the last of the foundation in, leaning over so I don’t stain the white shroud I’m wearing.
“Nope. I have nothing to do, and I’m doing it,” says Ray.
I laugh, push the chair back, and stand up. You see the other girls talking to themselves sometimes, going over their characters, doing their stabs at method acting. Ray kids around, but sometimes they creep me out.
The lights in my room flash on and off, then on and off again.
“That’s my cue,” I say.
“Great,” Ray says. “Knock ‘em dead.”
“Har har har.” I point to the door. “Get the hell out.”
Ray prances to the door, tosses her red hair back, and flings herself into the hallway, laughing.
I hit the two switches next to the door. The first one shuts the ceiling light off. The second one brings down the rope ladder in a smooth unfurling cascade, silent as smoke.
I wedge my feet into my old ballet slippers, and start climbing.
By the time I reach Floor 13, I know something’s wrong.
When I start to dance, I can feel an itching sensation in my toes. I try to think of lovers past, an endless procession of suitors with their throats cut and their hearts poisoned, but all I can feel is the itching sensation, slowly morphing into a burning pain. As flawlessly as I can, I kick my slippers off and keep moving my arms, grinding my toes into the shag carpet in order to get rid of the burning sensation--to no avail.
I bend over and grab at my toes and feel something light, like dust, in between them.
The camera snaps a shot of me bent over.
Well, poo poo.
I finish out the Dream Period the usual way, rearranging things, telling the story of my life and death through my dance, all while sweating and setting my jaw, waiting for it all to be over.
I don’t know if it’s been fifteen minutes by the time I lunge for the trapdoor, but it feels close enough.
As soon as my toes are planted on the carpet of Room 1207, I bend over and inspect them. They’re covered in a blotchy rash and still itching. I open my right hand, inspect what was stuck between my toes.
It looks and feels like pink cotton candy in my hand, but then I feel the same itching in my fingers.
Fiberglass. Someone put fiberglass in my--
I freeze, look back up at the ceiling and just catch the tail end of the rope ladder as it retracts into the ceiling. I hear the trapdoor lock shut. Privacy settings. The cameras are only live for a predetermined fifteen minutes. The trapdoor is only unlocked for a predetermined fifteen minutes.
Now the fifteen minutes are over, and I’m down here, and my ballet slippers are still up there.
“I think I was wrong, before,” says Ray, twirling on one foot. “I think it was Zara.”
It’s Saturday, my one day off, but Ray’s still on deck, so I’m helping her practice before she gets to work. I haven’t been downstairs since last night. I don’t want to run into Darren again. To be honest, I don’t want to run into anybody.
“You don’t know who it is,” I say. “Neither of us knows who’s doing this.”
“Have you talked to Darren about it?” she asks.
“Darren already chewed me out for the watch thing,” I say. “The next time I see Darren is probably the last time.”
Ray shakes her head. “So don’t worry about it, then. Enjoy your day off, if you can’t do anything about it. Lock your door next time.”
“I did,” I say. “You’re telling me what I already know.”
“Did I already say ‘keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer?”
“No.” I throw a foam makeup wedge at her head. “Usually that only works if you know which of them are friends and which ones are enemies.” I stand up and walk towards the door.
“Hey,” says Ray.
I turn back towards her.
“Maybe go make some enemies while you’re gone, huh?”
I grin. “rear end in a top hat.”
Ray holds her hands up. “Hey, which one’s easier?”
I shut the door, take the elevator downstairs. I need some time to think.
The elevator doors open and I stride out into the lobby and sit at the bar. I stare at the backlighting as it changes from green, to blue, to pink, then back to green again. By myself, I think. I just want to keep to myself and be by myself and do my job well. Is that so much to ask--
“Hey, ghost girl.”
I look to my left, and Nila is sitting on the stool next to me. She waves the bartender over. “Two glasses of red, please.”
“When did you get here?”
Nila grabs her glass, takes a long sip. “I’m practicing.”
“Practicing?” I say, bringing my glass up to my lips.
“Practicing to be a ghost like you.”
I choke on the wine and grimace, setting my glass down.
“Sorry,” says Nila, laughing.
“It’s okay,” I say, coughing. “So...uh…who told you?”
“No one. I came back this afternoon and asked to look at all of those pictures again,” she says, sweeping her arm up towards the video wall. “I knew there was one that looked familiar.”
I look down at the bartop. “So now you know who Alouette is.”
She laughs. “Do I?”
I stare into my glass, hearing my mother’s voice on the phone in my head about how she’d rather sit next to a live bear than a New Yorker. A live bear doesn’t sound so bad right about right now. “Okay, so what else do you want to know?” I say. I think: What do they make you do at this job? Does whatever they pay you make it worth it? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in one of these rooms--
“How much French do you speak?”
I look up. “Huh?”
“I mean, have you ever thought about learning?” Nila says.
Marco’s at the other end of the bar, wiping the counter with a dishrag. “I mean...I learned enough in High School to read the Little Prince front to back. That’s about it.”
Nila shakes her head and whistles to herself. “That’s...pretty good.” She laughs. “Maybe you could read those guys bedtime stories. That’d be a good gig.” She waves at Marco, gestures at her empty glass. “Could we get two more of these?”
Marco nods and refills our glasses. She hands mine back to me.
I take another sip. “You’re weird,” I say.
Nila smiles at me. “Why?”
“Because...because you’re not being weird at all.” I say.
“I’m weird because I’m not being weird?” she says, frowning.
“No, no, it’s…” I sigh. “I don’t like telling people what I do for a job.”
“Yeah? And how many people have you told?”
“Well…” There’s a tightness in my stomach. “I’ve told you.”
“I don’t count. I found out on my own. Give me some credit.”
“Right, it’s just that…” I don’t know where to look anymore. The backlighting is reflecting off her eyes. My glass is empty. “Can we get another drink?”
Nila laces her fingers together. “If I keep buying you drinks, you have to answer my questions.”
“Can I lie?” I say.
“Of course,” she says. “But I’ll know if you’re lying.”
I tell her about my useless college degree, and then I tell her about where I’d like to vacation someday, and then I tell her about that thing my mom said about bears and New Yorkers, and then I tell her that I only have one friend at my job, and then I tell her why. I lie about where I’ve already been. I lie about my relationship with my parents. I lie about how I feel about her, and then I tell her the truth.
At some point, I lose track of the time, and I know I should head back upstairs, but I feel warmer down in the lobby, warmer than I’ve ever been even with the cold winter air blowing in every time somebody walks in through the sliding doors.
There’s rays of sun hitting my face. I groan and put a hand over my eyes.
“Darren?” I say. I open my eyes.
He’s standing over me. There are men in sportcoats and ties shuffling back and forth behind him. One calls another one by name over, and they hug, slap each others’ backs.
I sit bolt upright, still in the top and jeans I was wearing the night before.
“I need to see you in my office for a second,” says Darren.
My mouth tries to make some sort of sound that would be appropriate for the situation, that would compensate for the massive levels of poo poo I’m in. After a couple seconds, I manage a “Sure.”
It takes twenty-seven steps for me to walk from the couch in the lobby to Darren’s office, and I hear every single one reverberate off the marble and echo off the high ceiling. I sit down in the leather armchair, and I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to stand back up. “I’m so sorry, Darren--”
“No,” says Darren, folding his hands together. “I should be the one apologizing, to all of you.”
“I swear, I wasn’t--” I start to say, then stop, squint at him. “What?”
He looks back at me, wholeheartedly uncomfortable. There’s something else in his face that I can’t identify. “You didn’t hear about Reagan?” he says.
It takes me a second to realize he’s talking about Ray.
My arms grip the leather armrests. I can’t move.
It was last night, he says. As soon as Ray closed the trapdoor behind her and moved towards the bed, the fucker threw the covers off and went for her, grabbed her by the throat and squeezed.
“It’s a failing of the process,” he says. “We screen every client. I don’t know how it could’ve happened.”
The guy in the next room over heard the commotion and hit the emergency Call button, then went next door and was able to pull the guy off a few seconds before hotel security showed up.
“He kept screaming somebody else’s name,” Darren says. “A woman's name. I can’t remember whose.”
It feels like we’re sitting outside in the middle of the winter weather, chills running down all of me. “Is...is she…”
“Oh God, no--she’s fine--well, she’s not fine fine, but…” He stops, takes a breath. “She’s downtown, in the ICU. I--” He clears his throat. “I’m sorry. I know you were friends…”
“Are friends,” I say, my hands clenching.
“Are. Sorry. Yes. Um.” Darren pushes his chair back, stands up. “Would it be too much to ask you to get her bag from her room, so she can have it with her?”
I nod. “Yeah, I can go get it.”
It takes me a couple tries to fit the key into the panel the right way. I breathe, try to stop my hands from shaking.
Her room is messy as hell. There are empty potato chip bags, empty bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper, uncapped lipsticks in a row on the dresser. I spot her purse and pick it up with one hand and leave before I can look up at the ceiling, at the locked trapdoor.
I keep it together until I get back to the elevator, and then I sink to my knees, tears streaming down my face. I cry without making any sound, because I’ve gotten so drat good at my job, me and the twenty parallel versions of me reflected in the mirrored walls of the elevator, all bent over and crying silently, we’re all just so drat good at our job.
I force myself to open my reddened eyes, looking down at the open purse, because I don’t know where else to look. I see cuticle trimmers, compact mirrors, tangled earbuds. A plain brown wallet. A tiny sandwich bag, stuffed tight with something that looks like pink cotton candy.
I stop, open my eyes wider.
Before I can reach for it, the elevator doors open.
Darren’s waiting for me. I hand him the purse, then keep walking towards the hotel entrance.
“Tammera--wait--” He calls out to me. “Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back, I promise,” I say, because my promises mean nothing.
The snow is falling outside of the hotel entrance, slow and soft.
On my way to the sidewalk I almost trip over a woman, kneeling down, scrubbing the pavement with a bar of bright blue soap. Her hair is matted and gray, and she won’t look at me, not even when I stop and stare down at her, wordlessly beg her: Look at me. Remind me that I’m here. What she’s wearing is thin and stained and cottony and ragged and it looks way too much like a Spirit costume. Or maybe it’s just a nightdress, an old-fashioned nightgown.
I keep walking. I take out my phone, dial Nila’s number. It rings ten times before disconnecting on its own.
Alouette, gentille Alouette, Alouette, I’ll pluck your feathers off…
When I was ten and still in ballet class, a boy named Jared kicked my other leg out from under me while I was doing leg exercises on the brass bar. When I hit the floor, I started bawling bloody murder, and Jared ran away and pretended like he didn’t do anything. The old lady ballet teacher took him by the shoulders and made him look in my eyes and apologize to me and he did, sticking his tongue out at the end like a snake in a secret “screw you”.
I try Nila’s number again. Twelve rings this time.
Be light on your feet, but at the same time have a signature set of footfalls, a repertoire of movements. You can sound like a funeral procession, like a waltz, like a creature underneath the floorboards. You are traipsing on the outside of a person’s skull without them even wanting to scratch the persistent itch. Toes pointed, heels raised, arches poised. Shuffling across quicksand with the weight of a dragonfly.
I didn’t tell my mom about getting kicked. She would’ve made me go and kick him back. I didn’t tell my father, either. He would’ve just patted my head and gone to fix himself a drink. I just kept it to myself.
I’ll pluck the feathers off your back, I’ll pluck the feathers off your tail…
Two years later, my mother woke me up in the middle of the night and told me to pack up all my clothes. I asked her why, and she said the same thing, but louder. I remember shoving my books and my underwear and my ballet slippers into my little pink duffel bag while wiping tears out of my eyes, wondering where Dad was, wondering what I had done wrong. I remember one of the wheels on the end of the bag getting stuck at the bottom of the doorway and my mom just reaching over with a hand the size of my entire face and yanking it free, the loose wheel skidding off to the side, yelling now, let’s go NOW and just following her, still crying, still wondering what had happened, what was going to happen next, whether or not I could go back and say goodbye to my friends.
If you must talk, don’t talk, whisper. Perfect a flawless under-the-breath murmur, a timbre made to linger in the subconscious. Practice in your daily life—mutter to yourself while walking, while dining at a restaurant, while riding public transportation. Just loud enough to be noticed, but not loud enough to be placed.
When we were on the road and she’d stopped yelling and I was still crying, she sang, sang over the noise of the van engine. The one nursery rhyme I really liked, the one in French that I refused to forget.
This time, fifteen rings. I put the phone back in my pocket.
I’ll pluck the feathers off your legs, I’ll pluck the feathers off your wings…
The last time I talked to my mother was when I told her where my new job was. I measure the years between Age 12 and now by how much space she left between her words. The older I grew, and the further away I became, the more she rushed and melded the words coming out of her mouth, like she was speaking in front of steadily closing elevator doors, racing against time. Alternately begging me to come back and cursing the ground I walked on, alternately describing me with four-syllable words and four-letter words. I still don’t remember who hung up first, her or me. I like to think we both left each other alone at the exact same time.
I’ll pluck the feathers off your neck, I’ll pluck the feathers off your eyes…
I keep walking and the people in front of me keep blurring into each other, just wave after wave of eight-legged eight-armed four-headed creatures washing over me as I duck my head down and get pulled back and forth between remembering and forgetting.
Look for the subtle head movements in others, the sudden hiccup in personal rhythm that signifies that you have slid under their thoughts like a needle under the first layer of skin, omnipresent and untraceable.
I keep thinking about my mother because it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve wanted to call her, and that’s how I know I’m well and truly hosed.
Your job is to drag your fingers through the path of a person’s dream without waking them up. If they were visited last night by a spirit with unfinished business, if someone danced a waltz through their sleeplessness, if they wake up the next morning and aren’t quite sure if you exist, then you’ve done your job.
And all I see in front of me are hands.
I’ll pluck the feathers off your beak, I’ll pluck the feathers off your head…
Hands, countless hands poking through my blurry vision, slicing through the air, grasping at snowflakes, rubbing themselves together to stay warm. Hands turning my pale heart over and over like a digital watch. Hands reaching for me, grasping my hand in theirs, then tearing it off at the wrist, jagged scraps of skin left behind. Tearing off my arms, my legs, clawing out chunks of my torso as they work their way up my neck to my head. I feel fistfuls of hair get yanked out, ears ripped off like ripe vine fruit, eyes clawed out through bright sockets and tongue clawed out through a smiling mouth because I suddenly know, right then, that no one will ever get my heart, because I plucked it out from my chest myself, and I laid it in a gold box and hid it away where no one would ever find it, and even I don’t need it anymore. I know what a human heart looks like. It’s not special.
When I get back to the hotel, the sun has set, and the woman is gone, but the bar of soap is still there, lying still and dusted with snow on the pathway, an island in a sea of grey sludge.
Without thinking, I bend over and pick it up. I move to put it in my pocket, but then I stop, just look at it in the palm of my hand for a while, the snow falling on my shoulders. I wonder where the old woman went. I wonder if I want to know.
You are a Spirit. You are caught between life and death. You are invisible, you are untouchable, you are unreachable. You are ancient, and at the same time, ageless, forevermore.
I set the bar of soap on the edge of a brick planter, tuck it under an overhanging shrub. Then I unzip my coat and go back inside.
It’s been a few weeks, and I’m back in room 1207, waiting for the lights to flash.
There’s a call button wound around my arm, and three security guards in the hall of Floor 13, and there’s a much tighter screening process now, Darren tells me. “I mean, it’s still a quality job,” he says. “Free room and board in one of the best hotels in New York City, top-tier wages...ultimately, you can’t let one bad person color your work experience.” He says that they’re “committed to keeping us safe.” That it’s their “number-one priority,” says Darren. “You’re a good worker, Tammera. You are.”
“I know,” I tell him.
It all sounds good enough, doesn’t it.
The lights flash, and the rope ladder unfurls. I climb, feeling each step.
I never got my ballet slippers back. The guy under the covers that night loved finding them in the morning, thought they were “a delightful souvenir”. “Maybe it’s just fate telling you that you didn’t need them anymore,” Darren says. I want to tell him what I think of fate, but I don’t.
I hoist myself into room 1307, and shut the trapdoor behind me.
The room is spotless. No bottles on the dresser, nothing on top of the TV stand, nothing on the nightstand. Nothing I can disturb, affect with my presence.
I begin to dance again, to tell my story. The story of Queen Alouette, the Heartless Queen, bloodthirsty, murdering all her lovers when she grew tired of them.
After a while, I stop dancing.
The moonlight is shining in through the window, and I walk over by the bed, stand in front of it.
I feel the thin air pressing down on me like the walls of a coffin, solid and suffocating. I think of Nila and her bedtime stories. I haven’t tried to call her since that morning. I’ve brought the number up on my phone about a dozen times, stared at the neutral numbers in perfect order, like a house of cards, something you’re afraid to send toppling down.
The other girls look at me with fear in their eyes, now, mostly because I’ve gotten better at sending iciness back their way. Sometimes I never want winter to end.
I exhale, looking out towards the city, and a hand shoots out from under the covers and grabs my wrist.
My body tightens up, and I try to yank my arm away, to press the call button wrapped around my other arm, but I can’t. I try to scream, but I can only manage a yelp, choked and thin.
“Amelia,” I hear.
The hand lets go of my wrist. I inch away, my lower back hitting the dresser. My limbs have turned to icicles, and I think about running, lunging for the trapdoor again, but I’m frozen to the shag carpet.
The lump on the bed sits up, brings himself into the light.
It’s a man, a very old man. I can see the creases in his forehead, around his eyes and mouth, the faint hints of white hair around the crown of his head. “Amelia,” he says again, and I think of a sister, a mother, a wife, someone he loved? Lost? Wanted back?
“Amelia,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
I grip the edges of the dresser to keep myself standing, waiting for what happens next, but nothing does.
“I’m sorry,” the man says again. He coughs, and I see how pale his skin is in the moonlight.
Do I leave? I think. What do I do now?
While I’m waiting for the right answer to come upon me, I hear the camera go off in the corner, and later, when I’m back in room 1207, I’ll think of the picture it’s captured, playing above the bar in the morning while businessmen have their morning cocktails, scrolling by while the other guests decide which parts of us they want to bring home with them, the picture of both of us stuck on opposite sides of the same room:
Two ghosts, unsure of what to say to each other.
|# ? Jan 16, 2017 05:44|
The axe lands heavy across his neck with a wet, ripping sound. Momentum buries it deep until it strikes bone and sends a familiar vibration up Aegar's arm. The man folds downward into the sand, but before he falls his free hand reaches up and grasps the axe handle. A futile gesture. The blood loss is immediate and intense. He dies with a sigh on the black sand of this foreign beach.
Aegar grimaces, his vision smeared with sweat.
His foot presses down on the corpse and heaves the axe free. The chaos of battle thunders around him as he rises. Horses flash past, their wild eyes rolling back, their riders a smear of fur and crude weapons glinting and whirling in the failing sun. Aegar is tired but he presses on. His axe swerves and bobs through the melee in a fatal dance, rising and falling and chopping and spurting its way through the Welsh riders.
This is not his first battle and Aegar is not a young man. His axe does not rise as high as it used to, and as he fights his arms grow leaden and his lungs slam against his ribs. He pauses to blink away the sweat, but in that moment a horseman flies past and carves a gashing wound in Aegar's midsection. Aegar falls to his knees and his intestines start to spill out. Desperate, he drops his axe and grabs at them, keeping them from sliding into the midnight sand. His head feels light, too light, it starts to lift from his shoulders. The world spins and he slips into darkness as the conscious world blinks out.
Aegar dreams, for a time. Restless. Then he wakes.
The sun is high and the battle is long over. How much time has passed? The wound hasn't closed and his guts still threaten escape as he pushes himself up from the sand, his tired muscles limp and reluctant.
The beachhead is eerily quiet. Corpses and body parts litter the sand, slowly bloating and pulling apart under the baking sun. The only signs of life are the flies and the gulls, feasting on a bounty of new meat. Aegar looks to the water and sees no sign of the Viking fleet that brought him here. Those who survived the battle must have retreated over the horizon. His axe is gone, no doubt looted by the Welsh bastards his army could not conquer.
He sinks back onto his haunches and heaves a mighty sigh. Pain fills his rapidly emptying body. His wound is fatal. Visions of his son and daughter swim before him. He knows he will never see them again and it makes his heart constrict. Has he taught his children enough? Will they survive without him? And his wife. What will become of his beautiful Astrid?
The pain burns and Aegar's thoughts turn inward. What will become of him? His body will rot on this beach for sure, picked apart by gulls, by insects, worms, and even lower things. Without a proper burial he may rise as a draugar, a mournful revenant bound to this foreign beach. He can think of nothing worse. Better a clean death, with no regrets, than a false life. Aegar mutters a prayer to being making his peace with the gods.
scratch. scratch. scratch.
That sound again, barely audible above the washing of the surf. Persistant, like an itch. Irritating. He stops his prayer and turns his head towards its source.
Down in the surf another dying man leans on a large boulder and draws his knife against the volcanic stone.
Aegar staggers to his feet. His balance is off, and he needs to keep one arm across his belly to keep his insides from spilling out, but he lurches forward. Each staggering step sends pain searing through his body. The wet sand oozes up between his toes, a reminder that his boots, too, have been looted. He stops to rest every few paces.
He takes a circuitous route to dodge the corpses. It is torturous, but Aegar is determined.
Drawing closer, Aegar can see the man is too small to be much of a soldier. He wears the blue and red cloth of a Viking although Aegar does not recognize him. A grievous wound has removed much of his left leg. What remains is mashed and torn beyond repair. The man leans against a pillar of volcanic rock and stoically draws his blade across it.
scratch. scratch. scratch.
Runes, Aegar realizes as he approaches. He's carving runes into the pumice.
He lurches up to him. He doesn't know why he is suddenly angry. "Stop making that loving noise!" he roars, but his body fails and dissolves into a spasm of coughing. He pushes his guts back into himself.
The man looks up and waits for Aegar's coughing spell to end. "You're worried about noise?" he finally says. "Here? Now?" He gestures around to the gulls and the rats feasting on the corpses. "We're all dead here, my friend."
"Then what the hell are you doing?" Aegar rasps. The beach is spinning around him, his brain parched of blood.
"This?" the man looks at his knife. "Carving. What does it look like?"
"What are those runes?" Aegar gestures to the marks on the stone.
"They tell a story, if you put them together. I doubt anyone shall, though. I'll be lucky if anyone finds them, let alone bothers to read them."
"Then why carve them?" Aegar asks, voice harsh.
The small man looks at him. "What else would you have me do, brother? Time is not on our side here." He looks down at his mangled leg stump.
Aegar spits in the sand in disgust.
The man resumes his work.
Aegar's head is swimming and the pain from his gut overwhelms him. He leans against the side of the boulder upon which the man works. It shifts slightly in the loose sand.
With the last of his failing strength, Aegar pushes. The boulder topples and the man's skull is crushed down into the dark sand. His body spasms, then is still. Quiet returns to the beach save for the cry of the gulls.
Aegar collapses to his knees facing the boulder. The cooling surf washes over his legs and he lets go of his abdomen. The effort to keep his guts in just doesn't seem worth it anymore.
The man's fallen dagger lies in the sand.
The blank slate of stone asks him a question. He is not sure if he can answer.
But with all the time he has left Aegar picks up the dagger and tries.
|# ? Jan 16, 2017 06:40|
|# ? Jan 23, 2021 09:27|
one hour remains
|# ? Jan 16, 2017 07:01|