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Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



Never done this before but looks like fun. I'm in.

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Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



The Gift
1250 words

In Sayyid's village, the wind smelled like spice and canaan dogs howled at the moon. The men of the village wore white robes with saffron scarves and shaped their jet-black beards with camel fat. The women wore shimmering veils and tattooed their hands when they married. Centuries ago, a dust witch had used iron chains to seal a jinn inside the boulder at the centre of the village. It could talk and it was wise. It had been this demon that had led to him being chosen for the task.

It must be one without family, it had told the elders. They chose Sayyid.

Now, he was dying. His eyes were blinded by the sun and his mouth was so dry the insides of his cheeks were cracking. He limped across the sand then tripped, stumbled and collapsed. His pack sat atop his back like a tortoise shell.

'This is it,' he thought, 'I have failed them. I have not found the dragon. I have not brought the rain.'

He was too exhausted to sob and the few tears that crept from his eyes were mostly salt. With his ear to the ground, he heard a deep rumble, but he was too exhausted to lift his head.

'The dragon,' he thought, 'is too late.'

-*-

He woke with wind howling in his face and music blaring all around him. His mouth was wet and when he inched open his eyes, the desert was rushing to meet him. He had never moved so fast, not even in his dreams.

Motherfucker, you nearly gave me a heart attack! a man laughed beside him.

He was in an open-top sports car. The driver was a huge man with a handsome face as bald as a boy's. He wore a crimson robe with a golden fringe, and dark sunglasses. He told Sayyid how he had found him in the desert, poured water down his throat and dragged him to the car. His name was Bilal and he was from the city.

You have saved many lives, Sayyid told him.

Oh? Bilal replied.

My village has had no rain for months. We are dying. The speaking stone told us that if I honoured the dragon with gifts, it would converse with the heavenly kings and they would send rain. Suddenly, panic pierced his chest.
My pack! Where is it?

Relax, friend. It's in the back. What's in there that's so important, anyway?

Everything we have, he said with a sigh. Our best meat, jasmine, two gold coins, the speaking stone even gave some of its wisdom. It is how I will honour the dragon.

Are gifts the best way to honour someone?

To honour dragons, yes, he said.

Where does this dragon of yours live?

He shrugged and Bilal roared with laughter, slapping him on the back. The stranger's joy infuriated him.

Stop the car! I must continue searching.

Not tonight, Bilal told him. I saved your life and I am not letting you back out to die. We're going to the city to buy supplies. Tomorrow, if you would have it, I will drop you back.

In the distance, a colossal rukh swooped over the desert and plucked a scorpion, the size of a Jeep, from the ground. The scorpion flailed its sting but was crushed within the bird's solid gold talons. Flaky white meat spilled from the cracks in its armour as the rukh flapped its rainbow wings and vanished into the sky.

See, there are some who are having a worse day than you, Bilal said.

-*-

Sayyid knew of the city, but he had never visited. There seemed to be infinite cars, infinite people. Towering buildings of concrete, metal and glass. Everywhere, noise and movement. The men had no beards and the women did not cover their hair. The children had foreign accents.

You may stay at my hotel tonight, Bilal said, parking in a plaza.

No, Sayyid replied. Thank you, but I must keep searching.

Very well. Be here tomorrow at midday.

Bilal handed him his pack, then embraced him about the shoulders. He smelled of perfumes and oils and it was the sweetest scent Sayyid had ever known.

I hope you find your dragon, Bilal said. And be careful. This is not your village. Many would kill you for those two coins and leave everything else, including the wisdom, to rot.

He promised to be careful, but within minutes he was lost. The towering streets were claustrophobic to a man who had lived his whole life beneath open sky. His stomach ached with hunger and when he finished the bottle of water Bilal had given him, he found himself both starving and bloated. The city people could tell he did not belong. The adults eyed him suspiciously. A gang of children pelted him with stones until he ran into a labyrinth of alleyways. In these darker hidden streets, glowing efrit prostitutes bared their breasts at him from upstairs windows. Men with the shadows of hyenas smoked and drank alcohol openly on the corners.

What the gently caress are you looking at? one growled.

He stammered in return until the creature threw his cigarette at him. Sayyid ran until he could not breathe. In a nearby street, a drunk sorcerer spat glowing incantations into the sky. Sayyid walked slumping and hunched so as not to draw attention.

Around midnight, he placed his pack on the ground and lifted his robes to relieve himself against a stone wall. When he turned back, his pack was gone. He had not even heard the thief who had stolen it. He collapsed to the road, his own piss pooling around him, and cried until he slept.

-*-

The next day, Sayyid returned to the plaza and waited. Bilal was not there. He sat atop a hot brick wall and stared at the ground, his heart filled with dread.

I'm sorry, friend! Bilal cried when he finally appeared. I was at a meeting with some very important people. It ran longer than I expected, but I am here now! I will take you home.

Sayyid climbed into the car without a word and sat, staring miserably from the window. They drove in silence, parking atop a sand dune looking over the village. Below, the blind oryx shaman escorted their herds to pick at the last scraps of limp grass.

Good luck, Sayyid, Bilal said. I hope your dragon forgives you for losing his gifts.

The dragon is not known for its forgiveness, he said with a glum nod.

Stones are not known for their wisdom, Sayyid. You should listen to them less.

He turned and gave a half hearted smile and their eyes met. Slowly, Bilal leant over and kissed him. Sayyid froze, then closed his eyes. Bilal placed a hand on his chin and he allowed him to. They kissed in a cocoon of perfume. They parted, gently, and Bilal gave him the warmest smile he had ever seen.

I've neverbefore...not with a... Sayyid said, swallowing hard. Bilal put a finger to his lips.

Well, consider me honoured. You are a good man, Sayyid. All will be fine.

I hope so, he said.

As he stepped out onto the dune, there came a deep rumble of thunder from the distance. Thick black clouds rolled out like mighty waves over the bluffs. Below him, men in white robes and women in shimmering veils rushed out of their huts carrying basins to gather the rain.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



In with automation.

In a world with no animals.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



Prompt: In a world where everything is automated.

The Unclean Animal Not Suitable for Sacrifice
Word Count: 1493

One cold summer morning, surrealists committed an act of terrorism in Volgograd.

-*-

I was 48 years old, born into the era of autocars and self-regulating homes. The age of ubiquitous intricate automation had grown alongside me. As I paced the room, the rug was put perfectly straight beneath my feet, the lighting changed, doors opened and closed and a multitude of golden eyes followed me. It was good. It was the modern world. It was order and structure and automated constraint. Everything that the terrorist act was not. It had only existed for moments before the drones tore it apart, but the city was still in lock down.

I can picture it, I said.

Remember your exercises, my therapist replied.

It was terrible, I said.

There was a gentle hiss as the room was flooded with something to calm me down. I lay down, breathed deep and closed my eyes.

Okay. Don't picture what you saw. Don't think about it as a whole. It makes perfect sense broken down. It was the joining of disparate ideas that made it terrorism. Break it down. Take away the parts that make sense and see them as individual. A few moments of silence. What do you see, Commander?

I see a black base, a round dial, numbers.

Good. What is it?

It is...an old fashioned telephone.

Good. What else?

Sweat began to trickle from my temples. An automaton appeared and dabbed my face with a cloth.

I see eyes. I see clicking jaws. I see a red shell. I see... I took a deep breath. I see a lobster. It makes sense.

Good. Avoid alcohol for a few weeks, my therapist said. It watched me stand with the golden eye which served as its face. I've injected you with dream-inhibitors. The last thing you need now are nightmares.

-*-

I was about to leave for the day, when the police automatons brought in a suspect. He was young and handsome with a strong jaw and wild blue eyes. When I entered the room, he was strapped into a doctor with a drip in his arm. The old days of beatings and starvation were long gone. Now, interrogation occurred on a chemical level.

Alexei Danielewski, I said. Twenty four years old, resident of Polpolga. Third year fine art student at Moscow University. Your work is on file, Danielewski. It's good.

It's trash.

Nonsense! Its clear, crisp, ordered work. Landscapes and diagrams of things that are real.

I'm playing the game, Commander. If you want perfect images, then take a photo. What I do at school is not art.

The doctor turned its eye to regard him and he winced as it pumped something into his veins.

I saw what you consider art, today. Do you know what kind of sentence you're looking at?

Danielewski shrugged.

Fourteen years with good behaviour, the doctor hummed. Plus three for resisting arrest, plus two for aggressive use of an unapproved metaphor. Quote: pearls before swine.

I swallowed hard and broke the phrase down to sounds without meaning.

Please, Danielewski sneered. You're as strange as I am.

I waved him off. It was a common fallacy invoked by surrealists that by having a job in the age of automation, I was somehow surreal myself.

Automatons don't understand surrealism, I said. That's why I do this job.

Danielewski smiled, then began speaking frantically.

Imagine getting on a train and going into a very small tunnel, but the tunnel lasts forever and suddenly...

The doctor knocked Danielewski unconscious.

-*-

My co-workers gave sympathetic glances. Grishin had been on the ground when entropists placed an abomination of shoes and wheels in a city centre. Krylov had been dosed with LSD when a Bretonist cell blew her cover. Petrenko was perhaps saddest it had been one of the thousands of accidents that occurred every day, but it had taken him weeks to recover. A street cleaner had broken down and begun spitting trash into the breeze. A piece of plastic that vaguely resembled a hat had landed on the head of a dog right in front of him. For an instant, the dog had been wearing a hat. And dogs did not wear hats.

In the cool air of the parking lot, I tried not to think about the giant construction the surrealists had unveiled. I kept telling myself it was a phone near a lobster. I sensed something behind me just before the blow came to the back of my head. It was a cold white pain that spread through me as I fell to my knees. Another blow. Darkness.

I woke up in a moving vehicle, my ankles and wrists bound. I had been blindfolded, but I could see through the gap by my nose. I managed to catch glimpses of the passing scenery through the window. I saw the marketplace, the high bridge, the circus that Commander Tsvetkov was desperate to shut down, despite the fact they stuck rigidly to the law. She argued that circuses were, by their very nature, surrealist. I was taken to some hidden location away from the city, where I was bound to a doctor in a dimly lit room and my blindfold was removed. My captors wore mismatched clothes and had tattoos that were expertly and precisely legal. They were surrealists. I recognised some of their face, even knew some by their nom de guerres.

I tried to take in as many details of the room as I could, but my view kept returning to the doctor. It had been broken open, patched back together with scraps of computer to override its software. Its eye lulled in its socket and flickered. Sparks rained down to the floor from a crack in its side.

You plan to torture me? I asked.

No. Let's get started, a man said. Anaesthetic flooded my veins. We're going to make you better.

-*-

I awoke from uneasy dreams, on the floor in blinding agony. I felt as if I had been skinned. Every inch of me burned with a strange tingling, but worse than that was the feeling of dissonance from my limbs. They were unruly strangers to me. I was low and heavy and sluggish and slow. When I tried to move, my muscles didn't fully respond. I could tell there had been blood on the floor recently, though the area had been cleaned, because I could feel it with some new foreign sense. The surrealists stood at the opposite end of the room, eyeing me warily. They were taller than me now.

He survived, one muttered.

My legs moved on instinct and I retreated to a dark corner of the room. The tingling in my skin cooled to a cold sensitivity. My thoughts came lazily through a thick viscous fog.

Is it hungry? someone asked.

We should pelt him with apples, someone replied. A few of them laughed awkwardly.

The refuse box of a chef was thrown to the floor. I felt hunger pangs in some part of my anatomy as trash scraps spilled across the concrete. My body moved of its own accord and I scuttled back into the light to devour vegetable peelings and rinds. Thick, gelatinous fat dripped from my clicking, twitching mandibles. I pictured the lobster telephone without nausea. I could appreciate the beauty in its surrealism.

For weeks, they ran me through the plan over and over again. My once sharp mind was now painfully dull, but they were patient. They rewarded me with rotten meat and by moisturising the dry areas on my underside where my legs joined my torso. To begin with, the most beautiful women did it with an air of sensuality, but eventually they realised that I didn't care who bathed me. They made me a bed full of dead leaves and damp cardboard where I hid when I became frustrated or miserable. They taught me to form four words without lips or a tongue. When I became distracted or defiant they hosed me with ice water or poked at the soft joins in my carapace until they leaked pus. I was shown their compound and introduced to some of their children.

Then it was time. The sewers were far too small for men, but I scuttled along the ceilings above the cleaners with ease. I found the correct manhole cover and burst up into a world of blinding light and frantic noise. Moscow Plaza.

The crowd around me were horrified by my size and monstrous form. They were shocked, but did not scream until I began to speak.

I am a man! I roared in an unnatural earthy voice. I am a man!

Panic unfurled like a flower opening its petals. My wing case burst open and I launched myself into the sky on six chitinous legs.

I am a man! I screamed over and over as an army of drones zeroed in on me to tear me apart.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



In with John William Wildcat.

The John link might be NWS if your work don't like you looking at pre raphaelite titty.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



The Promethean
1247 words

Summer jobs and summer relationships create a monotony of the soul that people seem to forget when they are older. By day, June through August, I took tickets at The Terrorgig. By night, since breaking up with Marcus 61 days ago, I had done nothing but dream about it. It was a tower of metal and flashing lights that swung an eight-legged mechanical limb lined with caged seats. It was a thrilling four minutes and twenty seconds of being thrown around and spun, and it was there that I met John William Wildcat.

A Police era Sting dressed like Lost Boys era Keither Sutherland. A gigantic soda cup in one hand, a joint in the other. A vicious, hungry smile.

You work here? he asked.

Over summer, I do.

You like the job?

It helps pay for school.

Ah, a scholar, he said theatrically.

I rolled my eyes.

How old are you? I asked.

You wouldn't believe me, he said. How do I pay?

The tickets you got when you came into the park.

I didn't get tickets. I jumped the fence, he said with a boyish grin.

I gave him a look. The fence was fifteen feet of anti-climb paint, metal spikes, and barbed wire.

I saw you from across the street, wanted to talk to you. Come on, what do you say? Give me a freebie?

I sighed and, despite myself, smiled. He was kind of skeezy, but his attitude was infectious. Standing there in the blazing sun, unsweating in a black leather jacket, hair flowing and eyes bright, he contained a glimpse of the freedom that my summer job was costing.

Sure, I said. This is our secret.

You mind if I jump in ahead of you? he purred to the couple at the front of the line. He noted my surprise as they stepped back. People like to make me happy.

-*-

That evening, John met me at the end of my shift and we walked along the seafront in the orange glow of the setting sun. Gulls barked and the crashing waves cloaked us in a thin film of salt.

We ate at the nice place by the beach. It was full of older couples in fancy clothes and families splashing out because they were on vacation. Over dinner, I again felt that sense of excitement in John. It wasn't until somebody yelled the word 'slut' across the restaurant that I considered perhaps part of me had wanted Marcus to see me on a date.

He was sat at the bar with three other guys, chicken wings and pitchers spread before them. I ignored them, so they shouted again. This time, people turned to look. My cheeks glowed as I stared into my sea bass.

The guys watching basketball, you know them? John asked, forking fish into his mouth.

They're from the park, I muttered. I had a brief thing with the short haired one at the start of summer. He's an rear end in a top hat. I was bored, I guess.

They hassle you a lot?

Sometimes. I don't know.

John wiped his hands, then stood and crossed the restaurant. I watched him go in horror, unsure whether or not to follow. Marcus and his friends got up and closed around him but John didn't flinch. His posture was calm and when he smiled, they laughed. A few minutes later he returned to our table, sat down and continued picking at his food.

Marcus asked me to apologise for him, he said.

What the hell was that? I hissed.

I told them to leave you alone.

I don't believe you, I said. I told you, he's an rear end in a top hat, he would have gone loving crazy.

And I told you, he smiled. People like to make me happy.

-*-
When we had sex on the beach that night, it wasn't because of Marcus. I just wanted to feel free. Afterwards, we lay on our backs and stared up into the night together.

When the first men saw the stars, they thought they were animals looking down at them, he said.

Oh yeah? I replied, kissing his shoulder.

Everything they couldn't explain was an animal. When animals were pleased, good things happened. When disasters happened, it was because they had angered the beasts. It's like cave paintings.

How? I asked. I started to dress. The ocean wind was cold.

You think those people were too simple to paint accurately, but they understood symbolism better than you'd think. When they painted a little group of people, they understood that more than five just meant lots, you know?

Okay, I said.

So what if, when they painted some crude four legged thing, they weren't showing an actual animal? It was a symbol for lots of animals. When they were worshipping animals, maybe they were praying to concepts rather than actual creatures. The concept of big angry beast, silent hunting beast, slithering beast, flying beast...

Can you zip me up? I asked.

That night, I dreamed of John descending onyx steps from stormy skies. He carried a ball of burning fire in his hands, searing his naked flesh. I stood at the base of the stairs, surrounded by tanned figures in animal furs and we watched giant hands reaching for John from beyond the stairs.

-*-

John returned to The Terrorgig three days later.

Come with me, he said.

Where? I can't, I'm working, I laughed.

No, no, no. Come with me forever, he said, taking my hands.

I go back to school in a week!

I'm not used to being told no, he replied with an edge that sent a shiver down my spine.

I can't, John, I said. You know I can't.

Please don't make me make you, he whispered pleadingly, his face sad.

You can't make me come with you, John, I said firmly.

Come with me, he replied, and his voice was different. It was syrup and perfume and darkness.

I can't.

His brow wrinkled in confusion. He silently walked towards the fence and scaled it effortlessly. He flowed over it like liquid, harmlessly picking through the spikes and barbed wire to crawl head-first down the opposite side.

How did you do that? I called after him.

He ignored me and approached a waiting taxi.

Hey buddy, you mind if I borrow your car?

The driver stepped out wordlessly and walked towards the beach with a dazed smile.

John looked back and, for just one instant, I saw inside him. Pointed ears, wild eyes, sharp teeth, thick haunches, padded feet, muscular legs, a swishing tail. A beast that was cat and hyena and coyote, shadows and smoke, gave me a smile that was vicious and hungry. Then John stepped into the cab and was gone.

Behind me, there came a terrified scream. I turned to see the woman hanging from a cage of The Terrorgig, her legs kicking as she spun around. I froze in panic, as the ride threw her one way, then another. Then she fell, flailing for fifty feet, and landed in a broken heap. Above her, another cage opened and a fat man was spiked like a football directly into the ground. I heard the crunch as he bounced on the concrete. One by one, the cages opened and people fell like dead leaves, twisting and turning like ragdolls, begging and clutching for safety. The Terrorgig rolled around and struck a flailing teenager the length of the park.

Bodies rained from the sky.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



jon joe posted:

"Don't say anything you wouldn't want repeated."

In with this.

Make Hay While The Sun Shines"

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



FuckArabella
Word Count: 1,119
Prompt: Don't say anything you wouldn't want repeated.

In the beginning, there was a word and the word was FuckArabella.

It was technically two words, but it was spat with such spite that it became one.

Jehana, the 163rd of the 999, watched his universe spiral out into the void. It undulated like oil in water until it settled into a helix. He watched it through tear-filled eyes. Just as it travelled out of sight, the first stars formed within. Time worked differently across the universes.

Media, placed a hand across his shoulder.

You're not angry at Arabella, she said.

I am, he muttered sadly.

No, you're not, she said kindly. You're angry at Ixion.

Jehana sniffed hard and shook his head.

No, I'm angry at Arabella. gently caress Arabella!

You love her, you don't mean that.

If I loved her she would love me back. If I loved her, then she wouldn't with Ixion. He's a dick. We've joked about it for millennia and now he comes sniffing around and suddenly she's all 'oh he's not so bad' and loving 'you need to get over it'.

Maybe she's right? Media said.

It had been intended as reassurance, but Jehana took it as a betrayal and launched himself deep across the void.

As Jehana weaved his way between the smaller universes, he pretended he was floating aimlessly, but he knew where he was going and it shamed him. It hadn't been a rash decision, or maybe it had been and he didn't care. He hurt and it wasn't fair.

He sailed through the void to a place that was less than void. It was a gaping chasm, a trench in the nothingness filled with negative space. Where he and his kindred represented substance and creation, the entities inside the cave were ghosts of absence.

They laughed and begged and cackled like mad Argonauts. The spectres of antimatter sensed him coming and spilled out of their cleaved home, writing and crawling and falling over one another.

Why are you here?

They swam around him, darting close like sharks, then billowing out and floating away like jellyfish. One glancing blow from the unpredictable chaotic things, and he would be ended.

His shame made it hard to look at them, but his fear stopped him from looking away.

I need somebody ended.

The ghosts spiralled into a vortex above him, dancing in a maelstrom fronted by a single antimatter figure. It turned and he felt as if the emptiness was facing him.

Who?

Arabella.

Ar-a-bell-a, they said.

It can be done, but he who is so full of light and life must give to us. It is so dark and cold and empty here. Feed us.

The spinning tower of ghosts opened and encased him like a cocoon. He stifled a scream as he found himself in the centre of a bubble of the inverse. He made himself small and shrank into the very middle as the things clawed, desperate for some tiny spark to feed on. He took a breath.

Eat, he barely whispered.

The universe that formed at his lips was tiny and contained barely any energy, but the ghosts babbled in awe. They opened a space for him to escape and danced around it, daring to float close enough to taste the tiniest spark of what he had created. As the energy transferred to them, one at a time as a tiny flash or pocket of heat, those affected fell away singing and laughing like animals drunk on fermented fruit.

Jehana fled.

-*-

Arabella noticed the ghost before it came anywhere near her. It was a fuzzy unpleasantness on the borders of her senses. She had felt them before, when she sailed too close to the chasm, but this was different. It was attuned to her personal form.

Then it was upon her, a reeling, shrieking spectre of antimatter. It barrelled towards her, limbs extended. She froze momentarily as the shape clawed for her, and then she was spiralling away from it. Its hands grasped for her, it needed only touch her to infect her with some seed of negativity, to slowly transform her into the void itself.

What do you want? she screamed over her back as she moved with the speed of creation. The ghost said nothing, but barked and yapped.

It grew closer and closer, gaining slowly as they weaved like sparrows, rounding pocket universes, heading deeper and deeper into the void. And then it was beside her, not quite touching, but outpacing her in its monstrous, unnatural flight. It crept ahead as they pushed themselves to their limits.

She took a deep breath.

Die!

The universe she spat forth was huge. It grew at her lips like a bubble, then launched directly into the ghost. The spectre screamed in ecstasy, grew swollen on the energy, then bloated, then ballooned. Tears appeared inside the antimatter, gaps of nothingness as it thinned and then ripped and then vanished.

-*-

I found the universe, she said with a voice that was more tired than angry.

What? Jehana stammered.

I found it. The FuckArabella universe. I felt your creation on the spectre. You fed it you piece of poo poo. When I told Medea, she told me about how pathetic you are. She told me about your universe.

She opened her palms and revealed the helix. He could hear the whispers of his voice clinging to it like a scent.

Arabella I'm sorry, I was angry, I didn't...

Look at what you have made, she said.

Jehana looked into the swirling depths of the universe and saw all. He saw how the stars had formed, how they had been followed by ice and planets and life. Then he saw them, shadowy shapes in the void, beings of creation. He watched as they created universes of their own. He saw himself, some lower level version of himself, spitting the word FuckArabella into a universe of its own.

What do you think the Jehana inside your universe will see when that Arabella brings it back to him? How many infinities of this cycle do you think there are?

I...I didn't mean to do it! he said. I was just hurt! I'm sorry I went to the ghosts, I'm sorry I...

Do you think I care about the ghosts? she spat. Do you not understand, Jehana? Do you really believe that you're the first loving rear end in a top hat version of you to spit those words? Our universe, every universe, all the universes repeating down are just this over and over again. This is all there is!

You can't know that! he said.

I saw it inside this! And I saw what I do next.

She launched herself across the void, away from him. He floated to the universe, still spinning only light-years away, and glimpsed into it once more. One universe down, he saw her Arabella, driving herself full speed into the depths of the ghost cave. Vanishing as her body inverted and she became nothing.

I won't do it again! he screamed at the Arabella within the universe he had made. I've learnt my lesson! I'm sorry!

But it didn't matter.

In the beginning, there was a word and the word was FuckArabella.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



In with this bad boy.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



The Lamb Feast
(1997)

The painting was oils on canvas, layered so thick it made you want to reach out and run your fingertips over it. It showed a clearing, or maybe a crater, full of lambs. Their fleeces were thick and bushy, their eyes little black beads. In the centre stood a small pack of wolves, blood dripping from their jaws and a corpse at their feet. They looked up at the deluge of sheep pouring into the crater with fear, their tails down and their ears flat.

What do you think it's saying? Donny asked with a sniff.

Well, I don't know there, Donny. I think that it's probably supposed to show strength in numbers or something.

Are the wolves the devil?

Maybe the wolves are sin? I don't know.

It was one of many paintings of a similar nature that lined the walls of The Divinity.

Look at that one! Donny suddenly laughed, pointing at the lower corner.

One of the sheep was standing at the edge of the corpses and had its feet and muzzle matted with blood. It was probably just a slip of the brush or artistic blur, but it looked as if it had taken part in the feast itself.

This is going to be long, I said with a shudder. Let's go watch the loving flock roll in.

We joined one of the Filipino chefs on the deck, looking out over the crowd bustling to get aboard. He grunted something as we came up beside him, then took a long drag from a wet cigarillo and threw it overboard.

Look at them, he spat. loving Christians.

I thought you all were Christians, Donny said.

I'm a Catholic, motherfucker, the chef grunted. 'S different. I wouldn't pay for this poo poo. You boys get a last drink?

Last drink? I asked.

Nobody told you? It's a dry cruise. Father Goodman s orders. All the booze locked up, boys. No alcohol for guests or staff for the next six weeks. Anchors away!

He walked away, laughing until greasy tears poured down his weathered cheeks.
-*-

The Divinity had been called The Ventura up until a year ago. It was a discontinued cruise liner owned by one of the major companies. Father Goodman, television evangelist, multi-millionaire and saver of souls had bought it up and it was now a Christian themed retreat for the holy elite to travel the world.

They poured on to the deck as a mass of terrible haircuts and pasty white skin.

Man, I shouldn't have quit the Disney liner, Donny said grumpily, his hands hanging over the rail.

You didn't quit, Donny. You were fired. I quit. Remember?

He waved me off, then smiled.

Up by the tour bus, big guy with his family. Kids all dressed the same.

I scanned the crowd for his pick. We were playing a game where we tried to find the person who looked most like a sex offender.

Nah Donny, I win that round.

Not him, check out his wife.

The father wore a suit, the boys were dressed in matching red shirts with milky sweater vests. The lone daughter, a carbon-copy of her mother sans glasses, peered up at the ship and blinked at the sun. The mother was taller and broader than her husband, wrapped in a floral dress that I could imagine farmers burying their grandmas in. Her hair was a mass of frizz and her eyes blinked like a cartoon moles behind thick coke-bottle glasses.

drat.

I handed him back a crumpled dollar.

-*-

The cruise began exactly as planned. A giant ship full of weird, white, American Christians all singing and dining and praying together for hours and hours a day. There was something strange about them, the way they walked and talked and moved. They were zombies with blissful smiles. Donny and I stood in the kitchen and watched them when they said grace before eating, over half of them moved to tears in pure ecstasy. Father Goodman delivered his sermons three times a day and his leaders led courses and the rest of the time the blissful zombies shuffled about in their floral dresses and sweater vests and made small talk over shuffleboard and Holy Mojitos. They were the same as virgin mojitos, but on the second day Father Goodman had talked to the captain and now they were holy. On the Disney cruise, eventually all the guests had begun to merge together. On The Divinity, it had happened on the first day.

As we headed south into warmer climates, the sweater vests began to disappear and were replaced with baggy Hawaiian shirts and swimming shorts. The floral dresses never changed. Not once, did I see a woman in a bathing suit. I saw the family often, the sex offender in her dress, the man with his glasses, their identical children.

And then, as we passed into The Gulf of Mexico, there was an engine fire.

The ship shuddered and rocked, the fire grew high and a pillar of smoke rose into the air and then the crew were able to get it under control. But no engine meant no movement. We were stranded. More importantly, no engine meant no electricity. The captain sent a distress beacon and then all the lights went out. The boat shut down section by section with a low-pitched gurgle like a dying animal. Blissful zombies blinked stupidly up at flickering lights as the ship fell to sleep. They came to us, in groups, mewling in complaint, dragging their feet in long lumbering steps. The lights are ouuuut! Theres no pooooooweeer! Nothings woooorkiiing! After a few hours, Donny found me hiding somewhere on the deck. His hair was matted with sweat and his eyes were bloodshot.

Man, I cannot stand this. What the gently caress is wrong with them all?

I know! I said, slipping him a cigarette.

They look at me like Im a loving mechanic. I tell them do these look like overalls to you?

I know, man. Any word on when were getting picked up?

He breathed a long line of smoke directly in to the air as the sun began to set behind us.

I dont know. But I cant take much longer of this.

After three days, we had not received any word of rescue. The zombies were getting restless. It didnt take long for Father Goodman to turn our ordeal into a test from God. That satisfied the blissful zombies for a while. They closed their eyes and shuddered and spoke in tongues and babbled whilst the staff exchanged awkward glances around them. Goodman began to do five sermons a day instead of three. Then seven. His prophecies of rescue stepped back daily. If the guests could just remain faithful, if they could stay patient, then surely God would send rescue soon.

On the fourth day, a group of the men cornered the Father.

Preacher, we need a word, one of them told him.

Thing is preacher, this whole thing is getting a little tiring. Me and some of the fellas have been talking. We think its time to bust open the alcohol.

And just like that, on the fifth day, the Father told the captain to open the locked down booze and the mojitos were no longer holy. Just as the first warm beers were being handed out among the men to cheers and applause, every toilet on board began spewing rivers of filth. I turned and watched as a river of sewage and chemicals and rotting sanitary products pooled upon the deck. Donny stood, his eyes streaming and his cheeks turning green, as a river of foulness flowed up to his ankles and over the deck into the sea.

They were like animals. We watched, in shock, as they drank. The blissful zombies stopped going to sermons, so Goodman stopped doing them. Abandoned children wandered the boats in packs, their clothes filthy, completely unsure of what to do as their parents acted like pirates. They drank long into the night, passed out, woke again and started drinking. Their soiled clothes were stripped away and thrown into the ocean to float like shed skins.

Oh Christ! Donny said as he came into our cabin, slamming the door behind him. I had stopped going to work. We all had. Theyre loving up there. I just saw a sixty-year-old from Wisconsin with her ankles over her head. This is this is scary, man.

He was right. It wasnt just strange. It was terrifying. Whether it was a panicked animal instinct to the claustrophobia or a release after years of restraint, the Divinity had become Sodom and Gomora.

This isnt right, he said. Its

He was interrupted by a knock on the door that seemed to echo around our whole cramped little cabin.

Captain wants everyone on deck, someone barked. Wants to address whats happening here, stop things before they go too far.

The crew assembled on the deck, alongside the children. They had grown feral in two days. Their faces were grubby, their hands and feet like monkey claws. Their eyes had seen far too much. They huddled around us, desperate for guidance. The deck was now part orgy, part fight club.

A woman on all fours with bloody face paint was being spit roasted by two guys who looked like off-season Santa Clauses. Two Minnesota housewives sixty-nined whilst onlookers masturbated. Meanwhile, a man in soiled white briefs swung a broken bottle at a man in black boxers clutching a wooden plank. Men and women alike limped or clutched at their stomachs. Many had broken glasses and black eyes. Others were bleeding from scratches and cuts down their sunburnt backs. They left footprints of poo poo around the deck with feet cut on broken glass.

The captain, in his full uniform, appeared on the stage flanked by five of his senior crew. Father Goodman was with them, his face cleaved with worry lines.

Ladies and Gentlemen of The Divinity, the captain bellowed. May I have your attention please?

To my surprise, the noise died down. There were still rough grunts of anal penetration from different parts of the deck, the sound of someone moaning in pain from where they had been fighting, but for the most part the guests were silent.

Okay, folks. Weve all had our vacation fun, now its time to get serious, the Captain said. Its time to face the facts. A distress call was launched and rescue should arrive shortly, but we dont know when that will be and with all our generators down, we just have to wait. Which brings me to my second point. Its time to gather and ration the food we have on board. With the industrial refrigerators down, and sections of the larder behind electronic locks, we need to start being sensible with supplies.

The crowd were looking back and forth at one another with animal eyes. They had left their human selves behind a few days ago.

gently caress.gently caress Donny was whispering. His hand reached out and grabbed my wrist. I think we should maybe head to our cabin

The guests approached the stage slowly, their blissful zombie smiles replaced with wide, genuine grins.

My children, Father Goodman yelled as loud as he could. The captain is right! We must conserve to ensure return to land. Like Jesus himself declared.

Hands grabbed him and pulled him from the stage. I turned and ran with Donny, leaving the children and our other crew members behind. I heard Goodman screaming. I turned and saw flashes of crimson as his flock tore him open like rotten fruit and dined on his raw body. The captain was screaming orders, but the guests ignored him and continued to advance on the stage. They had no desire to return to land. I saw the sex offender, now naked, leap on to him and sink her teeth into his face. The lambs turned on one another and feasted.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



I am in. Got my fingers crossed for a super rare shiny!

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



Augury
1746 words.


I was locked up, when the witch's owl came to life. One moment, the owl was a wooden carving, the next it was alive. Its wings became mottled feathers dancing in the breeze, and its eyes glowed like twin suns. It opened its curved beak, stretched its sharp talons, and spoke with a voice like thunder.

The wise woman requires medicine.

Then it was a statue once more. That was how I came to be sent to the witch.

Since birth, I had been warned of her. I had been told that she would snatch me in the night if I told lies, or would pluck off my limbs and devour them if I stole. However, she needed medicine if we didn't send it then she would cast a spell and turn all the children to sparrows, or she'd fly over town in the dead of night and no woman or animal would have a healthy baby for thirty years.

I walked with feet that felt as if they were wrapped in chains. Nobody who had been sent to the witch had ever been seen again. I could feel the law man shaking as he escorted me through the woods, up the path and into the dark copse of trees where her shack stood. Nobody came here. It was a wonky little building of mossy wood and creeping ivy. A thin plume of smoke was curling up lazily from the crooked chimney and a dull glow came from the murky windows.

Sorry, George, the law man muttered. Just the way it had to be.

I didn't do it. I protested one last time.

He put the medicine in my hands.

If you try and run, I'll chase you down and you'll be crawling to the witch with broken legs. Don't make me chase you, George.

The door was a rickety piece of oak with a bird carved into its face and I stood there, staring dumbly at it, for what must have been minutes. A terrifying melody seeped through the wood.

George! the law man hissed.

I took a deep breath and knocked. The song halted mid-note. Then, slowly, the door creaked open. In the shadows, the law man slunk away.

-*-

The inside of the witch's shack was surprisingly spacious. I shivered as I looked at the huge iron cooking pot in the corner of the room, bubbling atop smouldering coals. The walls were lined with shelves, upon which sat more books than I had ever seen in my life. Tiny birds roosted among the library in nests, or simply huddled together. Every few moments a little winged thing, a sparrow or a thrush or a crow would flutter across the room from one space to another, or soar from the window and out into the night.

And in the centre of the room stood the witch. She was tiny, probably five foot tall altogether. Her skin was the colour and texture of a walnut shell, but nasty clever eyes burned from within the wrinkles of her face. Her hair was the colour of winter mist and there was so much of it that she wore it piled atop her head, threaded with knitting needles, yet it still seemed to spill down to the floor in every direction.

Come in, she said with a voice that sounded like a creaky floorboard.

Whether on instinct, or by some kind of magic, my feet carried me inside. The witch raised her hand and wriggled a bony finger and the door closed behind me. We stood in silence for a moment, staring at each other in the flickering fire light.

What did you do? she asked with a raised eyebrow.

I found myself unable to answer.

She waited for a moment, then rolled her eyes and tottered towards me. I found myself frozen in place, unable to run.

She plucked the package of medicine from my hand and took it over to a rickety desk covered in blood and deep gouges. A rusty cleaver was embedded in the wood, handle upwards. My blood ran cold as she reached into a basket, pulled out a pig's head and tossed it onto the table with a splat. The witch opened her package and poured the contents of the medicine over the head. She tugged the cleaver free effortlessly and began hacking the meat to chunks.

What did you do? she asked again.

I didn't do anything, I said sadly.

What do they think you did?

They think I murdered my wife.

She clucked her tongue and nodded, then continued to hack at the meat, before throwing it into a wooden bowl and dropping it to the floor. She waved her hand and behind me, the door creaked open again. A mange-bitten black cat stalked inside, regarded me for a second, then proceeded over to the bowl and began to feed. She stroked its back fondly, then hobbled over to a large wooden rocking chair.

And you didn't? she said.

No.

She nodded sagely, then motioned to the other chair in the room. It was old and crooked and dusty. I obediently took a seat.

And this is your punishment. To come and see me?

Yes... I said.

I suddenly felt the fire inside me die and fat salty tears welled up in my eyes. My nose began to run down my chin. I sniffed and took deep breaths of the warm smoky air, but I couldn't regain my composure.

Why would they send you to me if you did nothing wrong? she asked with a curious smile.

I don't know! I bawled. Despite my fear, I felt shame that the monstrous woman was seeing me cry like a child. It wasn't me. She was killed. Our little girls too. I was spared. I slept through the whole thing and of course nobody believes me! They even found the axe beside me in my bed! But I never did it! I never did!

Then why did they send you here? she asked. When I looked up she was clutching a fine cup of steaming liquid that had materialised from nowhere. As she sipped from it, I could smell spices.

Because the truth don't matter, it's what everyone believes that counts.

Dear, please calm down. I'm not going to eat you.

I sunk deeper into the seat and fought the urge to bring my knees up to my chest.

I've been told about you since I was a boy, I said.

You're still a boy, she laughed.

I'm no boy! I cried.

To me, you are, she said with a sigh, and that just proves your point. I'm no monster.

I stared at her mutely.

A long long time ago, I was just the wise woman who could talk to birds. When the village folk needed to know things that only the birds could see, they came to me and brought me gifts to say thank you.

Her eyes became duller, as if she was staring into the past rather than the fire place. There was a brief scuffle atop one book shelf as a pigeon tried to land and other birds shuffled and cooed and pecked at one another.

I was the medicine woman. I healed the sick, predicted the weather for them. I treated livestock. I delivered their babies. They would hold them up and I would kiss them for good luck and they'd gift me cheese and wine at Christmas. They called me the augur. Then one day a preacher man came to town and he helped build the church and suddenly I wasn't a wise woman, I was a witch. She swallowed hard. It took three generations for me to go from saviour, to crone, to heretic to monster. I've never hurt anyone, young man. Ever. The prisoners like you they send me, I take what they bring then send them north to start new lives in West Haven or Sanctuary Point. I've never harmed a person who comes here. But you're right. It doesn't matter what the truth is. All that matters is what people think happened.

She climbed out of her chair and waddled over to her books. She took a piece of parchment and a quill and began writing. After a few moments, she placed a page of scribing in my hand.

Forgive me, I said. I don't know my letters.

I can't bring your wife and children back, but I know what happened. It was Heath Weaver. He coveted your wife and your life. He stalked in to your home by night and killed them. If you take this to the sheriff, I think he'll trust me, dear.

A dry, hot rage spread through me. My eyes stung with it.

All this, all this you're telling me. It's true?

Aye, it's true, she said. I'm fed up of being the witch. Maybe I need to make more effort. Maybe if I show everyone that I'm the augur again, instead of rotting up here in my bitterness, they'll think of me kindly.

She turned and stared out of the window. Through the dirty glass, she looked down at the fire lights of the town below. Watching her, carefully, I took a few steps back towards the wall.

It would be nice to be gifted cheese again, the old woman said. It would be nice to...

I tore the knitting needle from her hair and plunged it into her neck. My stomach turned as blood pumped over my hand. She tried to say something, but her words came as a moaning drawl. I pulled the cleaver from the table, threw her forward and chopped through her neck. It took five strikes altogether to sever her head. The birds inside the room became a whirlwind of panicked, frantic beaks and talons. I took her blankets and lit them in the fire, then set her thick woollen curtains alight.

I felt no pride as I dragged her head back to the town. She had been an augur, not an ogre. But it didn't matter what the truth was. It just mattered what people would think had happened. I would be the hero who had slain the witch.

As I arrived back at town, the witch's owl statue was burning. People were beginning to gather to stare at it. The witch's head hung by her hair in my fist as I made a line for Heath Weaver's cottage.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



I a6 in.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



Just checking, Friks, didn't see my name in the signups but I did sign up.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



Carcosa
1660

The audience was a strange one. Teenagers with facial piercings and beanies, laughed and drank imported beers next to sour-faced college art types dressed in black, drinking overpriced cheap wine. There were couples who seemed out of their depth in the theatre, people who had perhaps walked off of the street and expected something else. A large woman who looked something like an opera singer, fanned herself with a folded up programme as sweat pooled in the cleavage forced up by her ridiculous evening dress. Her partner, a wiry older man, was scanning the crowd as I was with thin lips. For a moment, our eyes met and instantly we knew neither of us wanted to be there.

Alexander, a voice said beside me. I turned to see Amelia Frost, a theatre critic from a rival publication.

Miss Frost, I said.

You ready for this? she asked.

I made a face and she laughed, then moaned and collapsed against me, burying her face in my chest.

Please don't make me watch it, Alex! she mumbled dramatically. Please don't force me to see the wretched thing!

Do you know anything about it? I've found nothing, I said. Please tell me it's at least short.

She shook her head.

He's playing the cards close to his chest on this one. Really building the mystery. I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

How about this? I said. Let's go get a drink and just say we watched the play.

We've both got reviews to write. Maybe you could write mine for me and let me pass it off as my own? At least that way only one of us has to see it?

I laughed. A tall teenager with a waxed moustache and long dreadlocks bumped into me as he squeezed his way past to get to the bathroom.

Or we could go and get a drink, then just find one of these kids' blogs and base our reviews off of what they're saying. Come on, that'll probably work! I'll back you up with your editor if you back me up with Hastings.

You're just trying to get me to go for a drink with you, she said rolling her eyes. Besides, I don't need to read anyone's blog to know what I'm going to write later. Jamie Bellows' latest piece, The King in Yellow, is a familiar and predictable return to mediocrity. Bla bla bla, terrible direction. Bla bla bla, stilted and lifeless dialogue. Bla bla bla some okay performances by young actors clearly doing their best despite Bellows' characteristic aimless vision...

Amelia was interrupted by the bell ringing. The crowd began to filter into the auditorium. I took a deep breath and Amelia mimed crying as she took my hand and led me through the doors. It wasn't until later that I realised there were bars on the outside.

-*-

The auditorium was small, like most pop-ups, however it felt much much older than it was possible for it to be. The walls were damp with condensation that dribbled down them like sweat, painting lines in dust. The house lights embedded in the ceiling hissed and flickered and the currently dimmed stage lights seemed to swing gently on the safety chains attaching them to the rig. The damp walls and flickering fluorescent lights bathed the room in a sickly green. In the back of the room, rickety vents belched stale warm air over the audience filling their seats. It felt as if the whole room was laboriously breathing like some large, slowly dying thing.

I took my pad from my pocket and began scrawling some notes about how uncomfortable the room was. To my surprise, as I looked around, most of the people in the room were doing the same.

I glanced up at the stage. It was bare, aside from at the very back. A huge metal ring covered in candles and bizarre symbols had been placed against the far wall. It was the first time I had seen Bellows use anything even remotely interesting to look at. As I stared up at it, I felt a nervousness in my stomach. It looked like some instrument taken from a large industrial machine.

The house lights went down.

Here we go, Amelia sighed.

Jamie Bellows, dressed in faded Hessian rags, stepped out onto the stage. He held a malformed lumpy mask under one arm and rusted chains hung from his ankles and wrists. He smiled out at the audience as the stage lights came on, filling the room with an ugly hum.

Ladies and Gentlemen, he bellowed in an approximation of a Shakespearian actor. Welcome to the premier performance of The King in Yellow. I thank you for attending tonight and I hope that you will enjoy the show. For those not yet aware, tonight's show is a by invitation only event! You are all here because you have one thing in common.

Around me, the audience glanced about.

You have all produced negative reviews of my previous work.

Half of the crowd muttered in distaste. Someone laughed awkwardly.

In fact, you have all published seething reviews of some of my prior work. The vast majority of you, whether in newspaper, magazine, or on the internet, have lambasted my entire repertoire! Well fear not, I have read your criticisms, reflected upon them, and hope that I have grown as an artist.

He placed the mask upon his face and the lights began to dim.

Jesus, Amelia said. Is he acting in this one?

Oh god, I think he's really doing it. He's pulling a Branagh, I moaned.

Is he going to talk like that all the way through? she hissed.

Allow me to introduce, The King in Yellow.

There was a smattering of awkward applause, which I reluctantly joined. There was a blackout and two women stepped onto stage in the darkness.



It began, long ago, the women said in unison. I shuffled in my uncomfortable damp seat and prepared myself.

-*-

As the final scene of the first act ended, Bellows stepped out onto the stage and told us to hold any questions to the end, where all would apparently be revealed. After he had left, I turned to Amelia.

What do you think? I asked cautiously.

She looked confused.

This is...weird. This isn't like anything he's done before. All his other stuff, all the stuff I've seen anyway, has been stereotypical mental illness slash addiction slash growing up poor garbage. This is so so much weirder.

But do you think it's any good? I asked.

Good? God no, she laughed. He's still a terrible director and I have no idea what's going on, and not in ambiguous clever way, in a badly portrayed message way.

The lights dimmed again, though it had been less than a minute. The audience members who had risen to their feet to go to the bar, froze, and turned around in confusion. The actresses reappeared on stage, even though it had been my understanding that Cassilda had been vanquished in the final moments of the previous act. Awkwardly, those who had rose, returned to their seats.

The stranger, in his pallid mask... the actresses began.

-*-

Chaos filled the auditorium. The ring at the back of the stage was now vibrating so hard that it sung. The walls and the ceiling moved inward and outward with wet breaths. Amelia was screaming something, but there was a high-pitched noise reducing her words to silence. I grabbed her hand and dragged her violently to her feet.

Come on! I screamed, but my words were dragged from my lips by a deep wind that was pulling towards the stage.

Beads of sweat were ripped from my temples and vanished into the inky darkness where Bellows stood. Slowly, he raised his hands to the terrifying, misshapen mask from within which his eyes glowed like saffron fires.

You would dare? Bellows roared. You would dare to criticize me?

His voice was deafening and seemed to emanate from the very air around me. The whole room sweated and spat his words with him.

Don't let him take it off! Amelia managed to cry out over the howling around us. Don't let him remove the mask!

I looked up but it was too late. As he unhooked the mask, the ring at the back of the stage burst open and I found myself staring into a swirling abyss. The space within the ring twisted and bubbled and warped. I felt something inside me stretch, go stringy, then snap with the tension. I saw a city of tall twisted spires and high copper domes. The architecture was surreal and uneven, an ugly and unpredictable skyline beneath two huge burning suns. I felt waters unlike any I had ever felt before.

Cold air poured out from the ring and enveloped the auditorium, filling the room with the stench of sulfur and something I couldn't identify. Half of the audience were catatonic now, or writhing around on the floor. Of those standing, most had made their way to the locked doors where they pounded and hammered with fists until bones broke and blood splattered the metal.

Jamie's mask pulled away with a sound like wet tearing paper. Behind it was a pitch black void with two yellow eyes burning deeply at its centre. I could not tell where the city in the ring ended, and where Jamie began.

Come, you who judge so harshly! he roared, still affecting a Shakespearian actor's tone. "See what I have seen!"

The vortex within the ring rolled out into the room and swallowed us, pulling us through and into the ancient city. For a moment I was floating in free space, then I was falling, descending into darkness and towards the fallen city. I desperately tried to recall the play, but the warnings throughout it now seemed vague and distant.

I heard Jamie's manic laugh echoing through the city.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



Tintin..... Tintin is from Belgium right? Give me one of them flash rules too, please.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



The City of Crust
Prompt: Brussels as a city for exiles
1993 words


As the armed soldiers marched Mark Summers into a shipping container, he could hear the chitinous clicking filling the dark night sky all around him. His breath was visible in front of his mouth as they stepped back down the ramp and onto the train platform. The container he would be sharing with three dozen brainless beasts smelled like industrial cleaner. From the woods, they emerged, herded by soldiers at all sides an ocean of cuboid black bodies atop thin ivory legs.

-*-
They had arrived as less than a million creatures on a ship of frozen organic matter. It had been during Mark's final year of school, that the aliens had begun to appear in the curriculum. Contact Day became part of history class. A unit on the ethics of alien citizenship was added to social studies. The science labs were suddenly filled with posters showing their development from wriggling nymphs to either the bloated drones with their somewhat bovine bodies, or to the intelligent flying mantis things. Their had been no eggs on the ship, and none of the aliens had ever given birth on earth.

Then, just as quickly as they appeared, they were gone. After seven years, they vanished in a matter of minutes. Every mantis, every nymph, every tissue sample around the world, all were gone. All that were left were the drones. They stumbled around aimlessly on their insect legs, their faceless bulky bodies incapable of communication. They chewed at the ground and created the crust which they subsequently reaped nutrients from. It was a hideous organic rot that seeped into the earth. To Mark, it looked like shards of scab in seeping oceans of meat. In places, rivers of pus and infection formed around the islands of crusty tissue. In others, the ground looked safe but fetid pools of filth collected beneath and could give way suddenly. People drowned in them. What had once been the most important scientific moment in all of history, became an awkward reminder of everything humanity had failed to gain from its first interstellar encounter.

-*_

Over the next hour drone after drone was loaded alongside him. They waddled in awkwardly, their legs not designed for the slope of the wooden ramp leading into the container. They knocked together, toppled over, righted themselves. They smacked their front ends against the far side of the container, checking its strength. They were like giant, dumb turkeys. They were so animal that it made him angry. As they began to fill the space of the carriage and cramp against him, Mark lashed out, slamming his fist against a thick hide. The drone he struck felt no pain, but shambled aside all the same.

-*-

It was at a kid's party, a kid whose name he no longer remembered, that he had been infected. He was leaning against a tree, breathing in the cool smoky air of a fall afternoon. The sky was an expanse of pristine blue with thin, small clouds sailing lazily across it. He sipped a glass of wine with another dad from the group. They talked about sports, the weather, their upcoming family Christmas plans. The sounds of the children playing filled the yard, but then there was yelling. Thea father he was talking to frowned, then turned. They watched as a frightened drone ran blind with fear from the street. Bone-coloured legs clicked as it threw its huge black body forward in a lopsided gallop. Back then, they had known nothing of the diseases they carried, but the sight of the huge alien form rampaging towards the children had filled him with a bright white cold panic that seemed to come from his temples and radiate through his entire body. The other adults had frozen. One mother fell to her knees and screamed as he sprinted for the children. His own son, Matt, looked up, his thick brown hair catching a breeze to dance above his face in loose waves. Mark sobbed uncontrollably in the train carriage, cried shamelessly as the drones settled down around him. He remembered that look of confusion on his son's face as he stared up at the mass of chitin and blubber stampeding towards him. Mark had run harder and faster than he had ever thought possible. His feet had pounded the yard so fiercely that it felt as if they would break the ground. He had leapt and whipped his son up by his belt and dragged him from harm's way as the drone circled around, charged across the road, and into a farmer's field. He had clutched Matt against his chest until his son had struggled and complained he couldn't breathe.

He was torn from his memories as he was momentarily crushed against the wall. He grunted as the air was forced from his lungs and his bones crunched uncomfortably. His limbs were already useless. His arms had grown withered and unresponsive and he had begun limping at some point in the journey. Now, he was sure that they were broken but he could still walk. He closed his eyes as tears rolled down his dark cheeks. He focused on memories of his childhood friends, on school, on his wedding day, on his children learning to walk and Christmas holidays. He thought about the things that had made his life peaceful and content, of home cooked dinners, of nights out with his friends, of dressing the house for Halloween with his wife.

-*-
The drones had become a nuisance. They did not age, they did not die, they were slow and large and ugly and noisy. Wherever they lived, they spread the crust across the ground, rendering it useless for anything else. Animals hated them, wireless technology failed around them. At night, they clicked their legs together. Leaders around the world had argued over what to do about the leftovers of mankind's greatest discovery. Eventually, it was ruled they would be sent to Brussels. Nobody knew why Brussels, but the thought was that if the mantis aliens ever returned - the real aliens, as people had taken to calling them - they would want to know where the drones had gone. When it was impossible to communicate with another race via language or writing, gestures were important. Mass slaughter was probably not the most peaceful gesture.

The disease had manifested as sickness to begin with. The first day he vomited three times and blamed it on food poisoning. When he was still being sick three days later, Mark went to the doctor. The doctor did some tests but found nothing wrong. A few weeks later there were stories around the country of people with a similar condition. All of them had been in recent contact with a drone. The military men and women who were working to round up the drones and transport them began wearing hazmat suits.

It's probably something in those chemicals they spray, his wife told him. She stroked his hair and rubbed his back as he vomited into the toilet. He spat, sniffed, flushed.

Pheromones, he had managed to say before his stomach convulsed and he was sick again.

Doctors were baffled by the disease. There had been no sign of it for the years that the aliens had been on the planet, now it was coming up all over the world. There were countries where the locals were trying to domesticate the drones and farmers who were attempting to use the aliens as beasts of burden were the most effected. There was vomiting, then the body began to deteriorate. Long periods of mute-ism. Strange neurological impulses. Nobody knew exactly what was going to happen. Everyone was terrified, afraid that the disease might be contractable from the infected. Mark noticed his own skin beginning to darken on the day that the military came to his house and arrested him. They had seized doctors records around the country. His wife had screamed and slapped at the soldiers until he had truly believed one of them was going to shoot her.

It will be fine, he had told her, holding back tears. He had forced a smile as the soldiers put him into the back of a van. I've done nothing wrong. I'll be back before... they had slammed the door before he could finish his sentence.

Of course, he now knew what was happening. He was becoming something like them. He would never take their shape fully, would never be a proper drone, but his limbs would eventually decay to ugly stumps and his body would bloat and turn black and soon he would be a brainless thing, chewing at the ground and spreading the crust just like the others. He would not eat, he would not drink, he would not rest. He would be a crippled walrus of a man, fat and blubbery and sliding on his stomach, spreading the alien rot until he, maybe one day, died.

There were no windows in the container, but Mark could tell the passage of time by the changes in temperature. It was through this that he knew it was dawn when he first began to smell the pheromones. It was not true scent, no sense that he had ever known, but something else. Some unknown sensory organ that had taken root inside him, twitched and convulsed at the chemicals in the air. To begin with it was a chaotic overload. It felt like someone screaming wordlessly in his head. He clutched his body and rocked and knocked against the drones around him. Slowly, he began to pick out individual voices. It was as if he could translate the messages automatically.

Scared! a drone spat in a spray of pheromones.

Space. Light. Space! Another cried.

But above all, stronger than any other message was another. A message that was chanted in unison with regularity. It was so thick in the air that Mark suddenly felt blinded by it.

Make crust. Bring queen. Make crust. Bring queen. Make crust. Bring queen.

He tried to push the message out of his head. His body took the chanting as if it was made for him. Something in it was comforting, but it made him itch. The urge to spread the crust was like an itch he could not scratch that got stronger with every repetition. He must spread the crust, he must let the rot spread wide enough and sink deep enough to become a new queen. He must prepare the world for the billions of eggs she would produce.

He could vaguely hear that he was screaming. As he took one hard step, his leg collapsed to mush and he stumbled painlessly on a broken chunk of bone. Staggering around the container, choking on the pheromones, one human thought remained. A warning. He had to warn the world what the drones were doing. He had to warn the world about the summoning of the queen. He suddenly understood so much. He grabbed blindly for the broken stump of leg. He had to warn the world. He lifted the stump of leg to the wall.

-*-

Yo boss, you seen this? Thomas asked.

Maxime turned his torch on the back of the shipping container. Behind them, the drones and the infected were crawling towards the abandoned city. The floor was thick with crust there. It had grown up and swallowed the buildings in most of the inner city.

What is it?

Something written in blood.

He shone his torch on the wall. It was not just blood, but shards of bone, clumps of meat. He checked his watch. They had an hour to clean the containers. He turned on his pressure washer and hosed the wall clean.

Get going! he barked. You know how spooked the new drones will get if we don't wash the pheromones out.

Thomas shrugged and sprayed chemical cleaner over the wall.

In the city, the crust grew ever deeper.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



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Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



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