Technically Not Fanfiction
I will tell you about the city of Sylvia now. It lies in a valley lush with every kind of tree, curved up like a bowl to meet the sky, which seems to curve down and separate the place from all the world outside. All around, the valley stretches, and even the very air within it seems isolated from the weather beyond; the leaves are perpetually bathed in the dawn's dew beneath a sky half-cloudy and twilit.
One path intrudes upon the valley, though no merchant travels by it. If you were to walk this path, between the canopy and carpet of leaves, you would come across what I once saw with my own eyes.
Three days I journeyed in the valley's forest, or what seemed like three days. If I had ever known what first drew me into it, such knowledge fell from my mind as I traveled deeper and deeper in, and I found myself simply walking along the path, wondering whether I would even manage to cross the gulf of trees or be marooned in it the rest of my years. All about me grew fruits of every variety, so there was no question of hunger or thirst, but I was goaded on by the horizon, somehow always visible at the valley's far rim, no matter how deep I traversed.
I was surprised one morning, or possibly evening, by a wild pig trotting across the path, the first sign of another life that I had seen. The pig traveled scarcely fifty paces into the surrounding forest before it let out an abrupt squeal and fell to its side, an arrow buried in its shoulder. I stopped walking and turned to see the archer, a tall man whose hair hung lank at his back and whose face was long like a dog's. He went up to the pig, slit its throat with a gleaming knife, and began dragging his kill through the forest. I thought it very strange that the hunter should take no notice of me at all, and curiosity got the better of me. I followed behind him.
I was sure that my tread would disturb the man, but he seemed deaf to me as we wandered along. I felt safe, as the path was never far – sometimes nearer, sometimes curving away, but always visible as we trampled the leaves and stepped over the roots and branches cluttering the ground. Suddenly, before my mind could even realize it, we came to a grassy clearing at the end of the path, where a little house stood, firelight glowing in its windows and a well close by.
As the hunter approached the house, the door opened, and another man walked out and disappeared into the trees. Neither paid the other, or me, any heed. Despite the apathy of both men, I decided to remain outside the house, as I did not think it mine to use, and waited in the cool, dim clearing alone.
Not ten minutes had passed before the hunter came back out, his pig gutted and slung over his back, and a woman went into the house on business of her own. I had not seen her as she approached, but through the windows I could see her loveliness as she went about washing her golden hair with a bucket evidently drawn from the house's well. Then, just as quickly as she had entered, she left the house, and a third man, bleeding from his left foot, went in to dress his wound.
I sat for hours watching people come and go in and out of the little house, never availing themselves of it for long, neither cooking at the fire nor sleeping by it, which seemed to me a waste of fuel. Eventually, I could no longer stand the mystery of what I was seeing, and as a stoutly built woman made her exit, I ran up to inquire about what I had seen.
"Who is the master of this house?" I asked.
"This is my house," she answered, "although you are welcome to it."
At last, I understood what I had come across. It was not a house, but a city of countless houses, each of its countless masters using it solely as his own. And at the same time, it was much less than even one house, as no master ever put it to its full use. As I walked back down the path out of the forest, I thought to myself how the house was a metaphor for how everyone lives in a different tiny world instead of the reality they believe in, or maybe how everyone speaks their own language instead of the ones they think they share, or some other post-modern idea that I might have devised this incredibly contrived scenario around. No disrespect – Calvino rules!
|# ? May 21, 2018 04:52|
|# ? Nov 21, 2018 19:39|
The Truth of Hamaall
A city, so the sages say, is an idea built by accretion like a pearl is formed from a speck of sand. Layer by layer its walls are constructed, with each new partition a single argument in its ever-developing premise. Every barrier erected, separating the outside world from the city within, is distinct, unique, but a necessary part of the whole. Yet no matter how thick the barricade, each is translucent in an important way. No matter how distracting the new, no matter how bold the re-invention, there is always something of the old that can be seen beneath.
Thus, they tell us, a city is a trap for the mind and soul. A city built on the backs of slaves can never bring forth an enlightened being. Even the First Sage had to flee the palaces and slums of SinQual to sit alone atop a mountain until the gentle winds and summer rains of passing eons had reduced it to a valley. A city grown from a simple trading post can never give of its bounty freely, and so the dreamkind of Qma tell us their Solstice Father provides only for those children whose behavior on balance tilts toward goodness. A city whose streets ran with the blood of sacrifice can never truly divest itself of attentions ancient and dark, just as the contracts of F'lal's Dragon Bank carry their terms beyond this life and into the next.
What then are we to learn from a city like Hamaall? What is the idea to which it gives form? What is its truth?
The libraries of Iskander do not go back far enough to tell us of the circumstances of its birth. Dreamkind stories give us hints, whispers and allegations - but what are we to make of tales where it sprang, fully formed, from its own reflection in the Gate of Water, or how it passed from the bowels of Shazz after a meal of fallen empires. The judicious scholar must note these fanciful tales and move on, entertained, perhaps, but little the wiser. The question remains - how do we assign meaning to its architectural variety, to its haphazard yet delineated geography, to its sprawling mass of contradictions?
To answer this, I believe we must peel back the layers, and reveal the truth that lies within.
A visitor to Hamaall is confronted by two gates in the wall of Imaash. By day, the Gate of Light stands open like a gaping maw, inviting an endless stream of travellers and goods-laden carts to step inside and be consumed. Before the gate itself is a seething mass of humanity, a screeching, clawing mob trying to worm its way inside, kept from murder only by the judicious whips of the Light Guards. By night, the smaller Gate of Dark stands more even steadfastly watched, and through it run streams of intelligence. Runners and spies and errand-keepers of unknown masterage utter the night's password beneath their breath and are allowed on their way. But it is told there is a third gate, the Gate of Crystal, and that is for the Pontifex himself. It may not be seen unless his own illumination brings it to the eyes of lesser mortals. I have not seen it myself, though not for want of trying.
Once within the city walls, the casual wanderer is simply lost. Buildings have been built upon buildings, which are themselves stacked upon buildings, with no concern for safety or sense and preventing the view of landmarks and towers by which the neophyte might find their way. The air is filled with the cries of hawkers, the senses assaulted by perfumes and waste. If there is order in the chaos, it is unknown to me and all I have asked. Guides spring up like weeping sores upon the afflicted, who may help you or hinder you regardless of the coin you offer them. It is best to ignore their services and make your own way, for it matters not what path you take. If you follow the endless flow of people you will come, in time, to the Harrakian wall.
The guards stationed along this wall are of a different calibre to those who steer your entry to the city itself. They are quiet, and watchful, and it is said they know your thoughts before you do. Many is the traveller who came to their attention for no deed or word seen or heard by others - yet when they later appeared in Threnody Square, before the Headsman's Mask, it is all they can do to stop themselves from confessing to every crime yet unsolved...and more that they had planned deep within their hearts.
But say you pass the Harrakian wall unaccosted. Say the guards step back and let you enter through the polished ivory gates. The chaos of the plebeian is forgotten and you step into a garden of unparalleled vastness. Mile upon mile of scented bowers, streets and pathways paved and wide, all lined with trees that flourish in the eternal sunshine. The buildings are spread, a healthsome walk between each, and each is built in the style of its founder. Stone Dragon banks of F'lal, Columned Temples of Sin'Qual, Boutiques and Exotiqueries from Qma, all live in harmony with the manses and schools and manicured waterways of Inner Hamaall.
The paths themselves are like spokes upon a gigantic wheel that has gathered the moss of cultured greenery. To follow the spokes inward is to end, ultimately at the Gate of Water, the perilous moat that surrounds and protects the Crystal Palace of the Pontifex. To see the sublime construction of reflective yet unbreakable glass reaching to the very clouds is to feel the breath of life itself! To climb its minarets and look out upon the wider Hamaall is to see order spread into confusion, the forces of chaos held at bay by Harrakian and Imaash.
Or so one would imagine. The water gate remains as impenetrable as ever. The Palace of Crystal is inviolate and the Pontifex a creature of shadow and surmise, a being made of proclamations that appear unheralded and disperse to the far corners of the city. The chopping blocks of Threnody Square are rife with those who claim that they arrive from afar through the gate of Dark, and I most certainly would not make such a suggestion. And yet - the city flourishes. The gate of Light admits those that seek wealth, wisdom, and pleasure equally. That of Dark admits both secrets and lies. Yet the walls of Harridian and Imaash stand fast against the tides of increasing chaos that lie without.
And so we see that Hamaall makes liars of the sages. The pearl has surrounded itself with ever dirtier layers, its own surface as opaque as the libraries of Iskander tell us it has ever been, reflecting forever the selfsame waters that protect it, from which some say it sprang fully formed.
But the unhappy analogies of the sages are not truths. What, then, lies within the peeled back layers, from which we might learn. Is it the Palace of Crystal, emblem of the City, that truly shows us the meaning of Hamaall? I do not believe that truth would coat itself so prettily. Is it the Pontifex himself, unseen, yet felt everywhere, that is the deeper truth? There is an argument to be made for this, but still, I do not feel satisfied by it.
I sat outside the walls of Hamaall for many days, turning it over in my mind, hoping for insight and inspiration - a glimpse of the Crystal Gate - but found only my own questions. At last, I walked away, feeling only the city's years beneath my feet. And so - I believe the Truth of Hamaall is this. When we retreat inside ourselves to learn, we might penetrate beyond the putrefaction of our flesh, beyond the order of our bones, but when we arrive at our true center, what do we see peering out? Only a reflection of ourselves.
|# ? May 21, 2018 05:12|
Farthest from the Moon: An Abbreviated Lexicon
They still tell the story of Abraham and Isaac, in the beer halls of Calverde, in the Library of Murmurs. Of the religions they are part of nothing else remains as other than the subjects of dry academic ponderings, but that part lives on.
A father and a son and a dry desert rock. The younger full of fearful trust, the older filled with a spirit of holy murder. A makeshift altar, thirsty for blood. And at the last instant, Providence stays the father's hand, provides an alternate sacrifice.
The story endures, not in spite of but because of the fact that things do not work out nearly so well at Ghiralee, the place farthest from the moon.
The ocean is too hot. Moonspeak is a dying art, practiced by a dwindling few, because nearly nine times out of ten, what the moon is saying is just that. 'The ocean is too hot.’
Hot oceans bring great storms like still water brings pestilent insects. The storms of our age rip trenches in the ground, toss hailstones like bullets, drench towns with flood water. The great cities find ways to adapt. Umtau turned the wall that served it in its military heyday into a water-tight near dome, and thus far no storm has reached so high that they needed choose between suffocation and drowning, between sealing the cap or not.
Other land took other approaches. Draven III ordered each of his mayors to present a plan, and put as many as practical to the test: cities with huge dry cisterns to catch and hold floodwaters, walls, moats to channel flow past, even one small town resting on floats, designed to rise with the water. Many of those schemes worked well enough that they are still kept running, waiting for the next storm.
Monarchy outperforms the republic in the age of mixed blessings that Petaris unleashed, because it is better to have but a single powerful man living in mortal fear of his son than to have a hundred, or more. Late in his second century Draven II saw the threat of his son’s ambition slightly too late. He set a trap, but Draven III knew well the story of Abraham. The younger man came armed, and with hidden allies, and it was he who came out of the council room alive.
The third Draven reigned long, and the people grew increasingly discontented with his lack of sons of his own. He had brothers, so the line was secure. For a time. But as each of them aroused his suspicions and met with accident or exile, the grumbling grew louder. Still, he made no heir.
Courtiers sent for the loveliest grooms Umtau could provide, in hopes one would catch the aging king’s eye, but none did for more than a short dalliance, and none of those bore even bastard fruit. All warned of chaos when the childless king died, and the wisdom of all was, at length, proven out.
Two men on the rock. A father and a son. The son is tied down like a sacrificial goat, but this is not a sacrifice. Thus is justice, and also mercy of a sort.
The father raises his blade. No god stays his hand.His tears mix with blood on the rock. There is a powerful lot of both.
Petaris's father gathers the still corpse into a bundle and comes down the mountain. Whatever he had done, he deserved proper burial. The blood he leaves behind.
It dries to a dark brown dust. Over weeks what little rain falls here makes streaks on the rock, scribblings that tell a history of wind over time, until the Balestorm wipes all away.
The moon sees none of this.
Library of Murmurs
A historian might tell you that the grand library of the city-state of Wently got its name from its early days, when sages blinded in the Scar of Kana worked in cells alongside scribes, struggling to spill their knowledge before the poisons inside them took voice, memory, and life from them. But that was long ago. And the name remains, and remains true.
Every student has a story of the murmuring stacks, of a time, deep at night in guttering lanternlight alone among the books, when a text was not content merely to be read but needed to be heard as well. Some will tell of a book that moaned or sighed or stifled sobs, and got their notice, and happened to hold the one fact that completed their study, or the one that rendered it invalid or moot. Others denounce their authors as liars, like the biography of Draven III that, when it catches just the right breeze, makes insulting claims on his anatomy.
The scholar Petaris was always a genius, and was always at least a little bit mad. No one disputes either of these facts.
As a youth he learned the language of machines, mastering in a week what took older men years. He learned Moonspeak over a weekend, on a bet. He invented a new and better bicycle, a water-powered alarm clock, a cypher easy to use and nearly unbreakable, a way to predict the path of a Balestorm. He never stopped learning new things
His greatest accomplishment was his work with the healing beds. He haunted the Library of Murmurs, studying what was lost of their use in the scars, and found ways to coax them into doing more than fixing broken bones or preparing men for birthing. He taught them to cure all the ailments of age, each malign tumor and dementia-causing plaque falling. Lifespans, active and healthy lifespans shot upward, to Abraham's storied one hundred seventy five and beyond.
Nearly a millennia since his passing, it is too soon to say what did more harm: his madness or his genius.
Scar of Kana
The moon watches. No place save Ghiralee is safe from its gaze. It watches constantly. And the moon judges.
It does not punish small crimes, no matter how vicious. When Petaris, his madness ascendant, butchered his family in their beds, the moon was silent, leaving justice to men.
The moon cares only for great crimes. The burning of forests, the defilement of rivers. For those crimes, shafts of light wider than houses sweep across across miles and turn cities to rubble.
Kana was too proud to fear the moon.
That the most beautiful men are from the city of Umtau is not merely true but axiomatic. If the Umtaui decide to wear long beards, in an instant facial hair would be the standard of beauty everywhere. Fashion travels fast, even faster than gossip.
It was not always thus. Once, Umtau was loved for its warriors, the only thing standing between these lands and conquest from the south. The Scar of Kana put an end to that need, and with fierce Kana now a desert Umtau's military became a thing feared rather than loved.
Umtau had no great ambitions. A city state, its rulers had no designs on any more land than it took to feed. The city’s diplomats worked long days and weeks and months, and put together a regional treaty that has kept away war for centuries.
The treaty was signed at Ghiralee, away from the sight of the mischievous moon.
Three men came up to the rocks, a son, a father, and a grandfather. They did not bring with them knives or rope.
“How is this the place farthest from the moon?” asked the son, looking at the tiny white disk. “Isn’t the other side of the Earth even farther?”
“It is farthest from the moon at night,” said the father.
“Don't be an idiot,” said the grandfather. He turned from his son to his son's son. “And don't be a wiseass. It’s a metaphor. The moon has eyes in the day, and on a moonless night, but this is a place they cannot see.”
They took out their food and ate without knives.
“Do you think people really walked on the moon?” said the son.
“There are pictures,” said the father.
“There are pictures of wizards in old Britain, of giant lizards destroying Tokyo,” said the grandfather. He turned to the youth. “ What do you think?”
The youngest paused. He spoke carefully. “I think there were never any wizards. I know it was the ocean that put down Tokyo. But I think people just might have walked on the moon.”
They talked all night, and into dawn, and all three came home from Ghiralee together.
|# ? May 21, 2018 05:58|
They Sing in Veneta
The bones of three great dragons curve up from the plains of Veneta, the ribs hollow towers in which a hundred families reside. Not the richest citizens, no, nor the strongest nor the most clever, because those men and women--if one can call them men and women still--claim the vertebrae for themselves. They live in luxurious isolation there. Each knob of the ancient spines is bright with carved filigree. No one has dared to carve the tops of the rib towers since the last man to try it (was he yet a man?) fell and broke into fragments, a spray of blood his final, inadvertent graffito.
Yet they sing in Veneta. Ribbons wind around teeth and metatarsals. New babies wail inside the skulls, where they are delivered. Every ridge and spike wears a garland of charred corn in the harvest time, even if fewer kernels are eaten year by year. People keep arriving; people keep breeding; they start to prefer meat, that's all.
When a great dragon dies, magic pours from its corpse into the ground, the water, and the air, and this magic does not weaken with time. Centuries after, the crops of Veneta grow fire-blackened on the stalk. Venetans use rocks from their fields as lanterns at night, and they etch art onto their ivory homes with the ivory nails at the tips of their fingers. Old power pulls their bodies into elongated shapes. The slow transformation ensures that only the most desperate come to the city and stay. It also makes them all kin. They sing in Veneta.
A fourth dragon, one many years from being great, finds the city while they are singing to the moon. Its black hide blends into the dark. Sounds announce its arrival: the thunder of wings, a gutteral growl louder than all their voices. The Venetans run on legs no longer bent toward that purpose, some fast enough to reach the shelter of bone--some not. Some die in the spikes of electricity the dragon spews, which light up the rib towers with plasma. Survivors scream, and the dragon screams back, furious at their defilement of its kind.
A solitary figure steps out of a vertebra. Born in the largest skull, she has never been a woman. Her blouse drapes poorly over the withered winglets on her shoulders; she is as white as chalk; her claws reach for the sky, for the black dragon and the voltage it spits. This is Veneta's sorceress. Her twisted body glows.
As the lightning comes again to kill her, she calls out a summons: a child's cry to her parents.
Mist and magic boil up from the earth, cloaking venerable bones once more in power. The ghosts of three dragons meld into one shape, impossibly vast compared to the living creature above, whose shriek holds fear and bewilderment now. The great ghosts exhale the cold of death over the black dragon. It freezes and falls without ever recognizing nascent kin.
Their children saved, the ghosts dissipate. Veneta's dead lie quiet under the night.
The city works to drag its new neighborhood into place. The ribs curve up, destined to house those who can live in little rooms. The energies of even a small dragon's demise have destroyed the crops, but no matter; Venetans are human enough, still, just, to feast on the meat they strip from the bones, on the brains and eyes they dig from the skull in order to render it empty. They lay the sorceress to rest in this once it is clean. Eventually her bones too will be bare, and they will carve her story on her scapulae to honor her.
For now, they sing in Veneta, imagining what they may someday be.
|# ? May 21, 2018 06:41|
Every Night in San Rafael
Every night in San Rafael the dream-clouds roll from the east. No window can bar the way and no door can shut them out. Every night in San Rafael they find the sleeping and the aimless and bring to them ghosts of the past. The clergy see their vows and the sinners they could not save. The police see criminals who got away and innocents who slipped through the cracks. Fighters see the blows they took and taste blood in their mouths. Those who fail see their shortcomings and those who succeed are shown the precipice upon which they stood and down which they can still fall. Rich men question all the paths that led to their fortune. Lovers see painful separation and fight old battles while vagrants shivering on park benches are tempted by comforts long gone.
Every night in San Rafael its sleepers are caught in the cold embrace of what was and what could have been. Every morning they wake and for those first newborn hours of daylight nobody speaks or troubles anyone else. On glittering orderly streets everyone starts their day with the weight of every step that took them to today. Every citizen greets dawn with the taste of old words in their mouths and an emptiness in their gut no meal can fill. No one dares ask anyone to their left or their right what the dream-clouds brought. The grocer realises what words might have gotten his wife to stay. The city councilwoman sees a world where she still has a son. The prisoner stares at his hands and thinks on where his life would have gone if he had never pulled the trigger. To ask about such old wounds is seen as a crime almost worse than murder. Some say the city should be renamed “Si Sólo,” “If only,” for every morning in San Rafael all souls are one in facing their personal ghosts and all souls say those two words.
Every night in San Rafael some stay awake to see the clouds. They say they wish to understand. Some want it to stop. Some simply cannot bear to sleep. The dream-clouds bring them visions too and none has the same story. The voices of the past speak to each and wrap the questioner in the chains that link each moment to the one after it. No one sees from whence the clouds come or where they go when the first spears of sun slay the night.
Every night in San Rafael there are fewer people than the night before. Some simply leave, fleeing south to Los Angeles or north to San Francisco or east to who knows where. Some stay in their dreams and chase “if only” for ever and ever. Some confront the weight of history personal and grand and choose to make their own peace. Some drive into the dream-clouds roaring challenges and defiance and are never seen thereafter. The lights dim with each departure, in silent acknowledgement of the burdens all souls bear. “God does not give us burdens we cannot carry,” say the priests, yet every morning San Rafael wakes to find more lost, wandering eternally in days past.
Every night in San Rafael is a test not all pass. Millions gird themselves in the new light and use their pasts as armour or hard learned lessons. Millions else fall into “if only.” The bars are full day-round with those the dreams and phantoms have pushed to the final extent of their power, those the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have given ever-bleeding wounds. None hold any ill feeling towards these injured souls for the unspoken creed of San Rafael is that all bear their own weight and all strength has its end. In every street, every business, every school, every eatery, every alley of San Rafael people look to each other with weary eyes and give each other weary smiles. They share their food and their drink and what strength they have left to lend and congratulate each other on seeing another morning. Every soul in San Rafael knows they are surrounded by those who walk the same trail and the same endless battle.
Every night in San Rafael, every weary traveller remembers a simple mantra that has spread from corner to corner across all the city, in every broadcast and on every sign since the dream-clouds first came: Don’t you dare give up.
|# ? May 21, 2018 06:49|
Before the Big One
After the Big One hit Wellington, everyone started living in reverse.
We’d been expecting the earthquake for years, of course, but when the Northern Island wrench fault finally had enough, unzippered itself like an old woolen cardie and threw half the city into the sea, it was still surprising. Then the days started counting backwards.
It was confusing sometimes.
“Don’t we get married,” I talk-yelled at a familiar-looking woman in the crowded bar. I put a drunken sip back into my beer.
“I think I have a child in a few years,” she yelled back. We were talking in the reverse way of records being spun with a finger. It was easy enough to understand but you had to listen carefully.
We looked in each other’s eyes for a few moments, while the music through the PA dropped to a drum break, a series of insistent sucking sounds. She looked familiar like a picture on your mum’s mantelpiece that you’ve seen so many times you don’t really see it any more.
“Noooooo,” she said at last, a long purse-mouthed ‘oooooo’ with a tongue-click ‘n’ at the end. “I don’t think so, but you look nice.”
I stopped smiling, put the last of my beer back in the glass and gave it to the barman for rekegging as the drunkenness left my head. Outside the plaintive wind was pulling me up into the sky.
The one thing that hadn’t changed was the gap in the middle of the city, the Breach, the yawning gulf between what was going to be and what had been, so I walked there. As I walked backwards down the street, the blemishes and stains and blobs of old chewing gum softened, and faded, and vanished. My feet landed solidly on the ground, the Earth turning backwards under me.
The closer you got to the Breach the faster things went so people said it was risky but meeting my future maybe-wife had shaken me up inside.
I stopped to watch a sparrow hopping by, tail feathers first, depositing neat little crumbs on the footpath.
Above me, the State Insurance Building had reverted: the letters on the top of its black marble and glass immensity reassembling themselves into BNZ sometime during the night. I picked up a butt off the ground and puffed it back into being as I watched the black marble slabs flicker away, leaving behind a skeletal framework of rusty iron. I strained to remember what had been, rather than what was to come, and the effort sent a jab of pain through my right temple.
Everyone had a different theory about why the Breach had taken time and flipped it on its arse. There was a lot of science babble, a smattering of religious end-of-daysing and even more variations on “what are we going to do?” Some people said it was a blessing, giving us a chance to fix our mistakes. I’d listened to a talk on youtube, some man talking about time’s arrow, quantum indeterminacy and ‘Schrodinger’s City’. It had made my head hurt. My head hurt now.
A car whizzed off backwards from the red light and I sucked the flame off the cigarette with my match and tucked it back into the packet. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew where I wanted to go.
They’d thrown up barricades in the weird days/weeks/months after the Breach, when they were still trying to pretend things were normal, but they were gone now because they didn’t use to be there so now they weren’t. I clambered up Plimmers Steps towards it, looking back down the steps. I saw someone come round the corner that looked like me just as I turned the corner. The big parking building was disassembling itself as I climbed, scaffolding bristling around it like hollow armour.
My forehead prickled and I felt it, rubbed my fingers over the new/old hair. I jogged up the hill, staring back at the top of the stairs. Two of me were there, side by side, dressed differently. They rubbed their hands over their head.
My clothes felt loose, so I pulled my shirt out of my pants and tightened my belt. The overpass was gone now, a pile of mud and rubble in its place, dancing as unseen hands filled in the holes they’d dug for the columns that used to hold up the road.
I was crying. I could feel the years under my feet, spun up by the earth’s endless turning. I saw the rows of wooden houses that lined the Terrace, teetering over the Breach like hens on a steep perch, saw them collapse in on themselves. My selves had nearly caught up to me, there were dozens of them now. I quickened my pace. There was a cool wind on my face, coming from the Breach, drying the sweat on my skin.
The wooden houses were gone. I was fighting my way through the punga ferns and kanuka that had sprung from the stumps. Behind me there was the crashing of a hundred former selves, driven by the same desire. We’re all points of awareness that’s all we are, I thought, and I knew my other selves were thinking it too. Driven by memory and pulled by desire and we make cities that reflect us. And when you take that away what’s left?
I’d noticed people disappearing as the time passed in its strange way, and I’d wondered where they’d gone. But now, by the Breach, it was simple. They’d gone to find where else they could go.
I was at the top of the Terrace, the fault line underneath. I looked down. It was a nothing, a humming void the colour of dust and rainwater. A pebble soared up from the fathomless depths and plugged itself into the lip. I looked left, and right, and my other selves. They had the same puzzled expression as, I supposed, me.
Behind me the city was green again, hills shelving down to embrace a cold ocean. I looked out to the harbour mouth and saw a gigantic coil of slithering scales as the two Taniwha, Ngake and Whataitai, swam back from the sea to take up their places in the earth.
As one, we nodded. Cities have to be born, and the violence of separation is the point of change, from old to new. Just like everyone else, poised equidistant between memory and desire, point sources of awareness.
We jumped into the Breach, and Wellington was born, as it was always being born, as the world is always being born, one decision after another, world and time without end.
|# ? May 21, 2018 06:54|
O o o o o
Oh plasma burps of a jealous star,
The muddled chagrin of men from afar.
Oh lovely worlds they could only desire,
Wholly perfect apart from the fire.
O o-o o o AD
We’d long forgotten the scientific name of the God Chain, as well as it’s prisoner, the planet we called Angel. The God Chain anchored our world to the inner planet so that they danced through space in synchronous harmony. I live in GC 4,056, a block of apartments about a quarter of the way up the God Chain. Rent’s not bad, and the weightlessness is the only way I can sleep with my bad back. Too many years of hunching over computer terminals, looking for answers.
Then I found them.
I’m about to check my watch when I feel the rumble of the approaching train as it twists down the chain, aided in its planetward plunge by twin rockets. My stomach lurches as my pod leaves the station and quickly matches the falling train. The pod attaches to the train with a thick clunk, as do dozens of others each time it passes a station.
The train hits the upper atmosphere of the planet, and its reentry shield throws fire around us. I clutch my briefcase to my chest in a futile and unnecessary maneuver. The train levels out and glides to a stop near interplanet transit.
My knees are wobbly, both from the train ride and for my presentation to the council. I look back toward Angle and its violent halo. The permanent eclipse is the only thing keeping my overpopulated planet from frying.
There were other worlds in the system, but they all suffered from the violent whims of the star. Shielding even one planet should have been impossible, mathematically speaking. Clouds move in between a mirror satellite that reflects the light and warmth--but not the deadly plasma storms--and I shiver in the sudden coolness.
But we are living proof it was possible, and now I know why. I’m late for my presentation.
O o-o-o o
Hal had reached top of the corporate ladder. He’d started as a lowly dust collector, worked his way up to general manager of a planetite accretion crew, and finally sat on his own miniature moon shackled to the planet below. He leaned on the window, looking down at the twinkling lights of a hundred cities.
He thought there must not be a species anywhere among the stars that experienced the prosperity of theirs when they lassoed another planet. A hundred trains moved back and forth between the two planets every minute. They’d outdone their forgotten predescers. Even they had not been able to shield more than one planet, and now there were two.
The second world hid vast mineral deposits beneath its molten surface, and as soon as they’d cooled it down and introduced the first plants, it’d been a runaway success. The jungles were thick, the agriculture almost wasteful in its abundance. The citizens wanted for nothing.
But Hal wanted something.
He returned to his desk and pulled up the hologram of the system. He’d worked the math over a thousand times in his head. They could get the third planet. Rope it up like the others. They didn’t need it, but Hal wanted it. It would be his legacy. A thousand little moons dotting the sky with thin tethers and personal elevators weren’t what inspired him to study chains in university. They weren’t what made him claw his way to the top.
The real technological marvels were the big chains. Thicker than cities, they had their own ecosystems, political movements, monuments and cultures. They were worlds unto themselves, and the basis of their whole species.
Until the last planet was similarly ensnared, it would look back at the inhabitants of the three worlds and laugh. Hal did not like being mocked.
They could get the third planet.
The last of the atmosphere pumps have shut down, so there’s nothing to do but wait. Looking back at the triple eclipse of the dead worlds reminds us of what’s to come, so instead we look outward. On the end of the Feynman chain we’re being slung through the cosmos so fast that each particle of stellar dust hits what’s left of the atmosphere like a tiny nuke. These breathtaking-cum-apocalyptic starbursts in the night sky shower us with a rain of light each time one pops. Supercharged photos flitter to the ground. Kids run and clap at them like they were bubbles.
Each dust particle that explodes in the sky blasts off magnitudes more atmosphere on the other side of the planet. They said it was miniscule, until a year later when we hit the debris left behind by our own world. We were caught in an exponential feedback loop, and every year more dust ejected more of our atmosphere, and each trip around the star bombarded us with ever more.
The star had stripped the original planet of its atmosphere, but we pumped it back in. Now it was the only thing keeping the dust from obliterating the surface. We’d left such a wake that as soon as the last of the atmosphere vaporized, the supersonic dust would begin smashing into the ground. Then the little lightshow wouldn’t be so harmless.
I hold my wife’s face in my hands as her lips are dappled by falling light. “I love you,” I say as the first dust particle hits the surface.
O o-o-o x
O o-o x x
O o x x x
O x x x x
O ⚬ o o o O ⊚ o o
“False alarm, real planets have a predictable period. They transit their star and we measure the dip in starlight. Got some weird readings there at the end, but now it’s shining steady. Probably somebody using the microwave. Too bad, thought we had something.”
|# ? May 21, 2018 07:00|
Head of State (538 words)
Henrietta still remembered the first time she had attended the mayor’s execution. She’d been a child then, the daughter of a printer. Her father had instructed her to take many pictures.
The execution always took place on the 17th of March, the anniversary of the death of the tyrant Scaramanga. It was a festive occasion. There were stands with toys and food and games. The most popular stand was the old dollmaker’s. She sold felt dolls with black button eyes. Each shared the likeness of the celebrated mayor.
“Take one, Henrietta,” she’d been offered, “Please, take it. You look so lonely with that camera in your hands.”
The dolls were of exceptional quality, as was tradition when the mayor was just. Henrietta had been too young then to fully appreciate the politics of the village, but she understood innately: the mayor must have been fine indeed to merit a doll of such careful distinction. There could be no doubt in anyone’s hearts the old dollmaker had sewn them with pride.
Henrietta shook her head. “Father needs me,” she said. She raised the camera and took a picture.
“Such a dutiful child.” The old woman smiled. “Perhaps one day you’ll be mayor yourself.” She set the doll aside. Any dolls left unsold would be donated to the village policeman who managed the shooting gallery. He was always in need of a few extra targets.
The village was a sprawling collection of disparate districts joined by winding, intestinal streets. At the center stood the church and the mayor’s residence, the former palace of the tyrant Scaramanga. Henrietta’s father had told her all about it.
“Colonel Scaramanga was stationed here after the war. The village was to be his reward for loyal service.” Her father leaned back against the printing press, his sleeves rolled up, his collar uneven. He raised a bottle to his lips. He’d been running the village newspaper since before he had a daughter. Before Scaramanga, before the war. “Of course he layered abuses upon us. Military men are all the same.”
Henrietta’s father had taken great care in reporting the tyrant Scaramanga’s every cruelty and indulgence. When the revolution came, it had been her father who printed off the marching orders, who had personally chaired the committee of what was to be done. “As we learned in the war, a good leader is one prepared to die for his people. Henceforth we shall put this truth into practice!” His words were greeted with cheers and applause.
The term of mayorship over the village had since been established: two years time. After their service, they were to be killed. The village had faithfully followed this prescription ever since the revolution. When the mayor had been good and fair and righteous, they were bid farewell with a solemn appraisal. When the mayor had been hard and cruel and capricious, they were lead with jeers to the chapel steps. Henrietta’s father remembered them all, and so too would Henrietta.
The band announced the hour was nigh. The crowds gathered round as the mayor was lead in chains before the firing squad. The women cheered. The men saluted. Henrietta took a picture.
The splatter was beautiful.
|# ? May 21, 2018 07:02|
Submissions are closed.
|# ? May 21, 2018 12:18|
Week 302: The Results
Lo, we three pilgrims emerge from our endless journey, bearing annotated journals of our travels through your words. For the most part, they were good words! There was a lot to enjoy this week and a lot of stories worth mention. Unfortunately, not all of those mentions are positive.
Let's get started with the bad news this week. We had several stories that we felt fell onto the lazy/sloppy/rushed side of the line, and these were our three DMs: crabrock's "987 Words" (interesting, sloppy, with a serious doggerel infection); sebmojo's "Before the Big One" (could have used some more setting focus, also some more effort) and Bad Seafood's "Head of State" (rushed? rushed). All of these stories had potentially good elements, but all of them needed more time in the great forges of Thunderdome, about which is written...
Er, right, sorry. Moving on: your loser for this week is Sham bam bamina!'s "Technically Not Fanfiction," which executes a technically beautiful swan dive straight into an empty pool. I'm not sure whether it was intentional or not, but you cut yourself off at the knees, friend.
On to brighter horizons! There was a wide field of stories that the judges enjoyed, and it took some discussion to narrow it down to three Honorable Mentions. In no particular order, those HMs are SurreptitiousMuffin's "What Ukto Saw," Solitair's "Trompe-l'śil," and Flesnolk's "Every Night in San Rafael." These are very different stories from one another, but they were all extremely interesting and enjoyable. Very nice work, folks.
However, there was one story that the judges unanimously decided deserved the Blood Throne this week: a story that, in a reverse of the loser's knee-chopping, really found its heart with its ending. That story is our winner, Fumblemouse's "The Truth of Hamaall." drat good stuff, Fumbles, and the throne is yours.
|# ? May 22, 2018 03:14|
|# ? May 22, 2018 03:30|
m e i n b e r g
|# ? May 22, 2018 03:44|
very good judging
Let's get started with the bad news this week. We had several stories that we felt fell onto the lazy/sloppy/rushed side of the line, and these were [...] sebmojo's "Before the Big One"
|# ? May 22, 2018 03:51|
very good judging
also good crittin itt
|# ? May 22, 2018 03:56|
|# ? May 22, 2018 04:09|
Crits for week 302
I thought this was a great prompt, so I was looking forward to judging this week. I was not disappointed. Good job, thunderdome. The main problem was people missing the prompt and not managing to bring their settings to life. Here are my crits, in order of submission.
What Ukto Saw by SurreptitiousMuffin
This is beautiful and dreamy. I love the idea of the city existing in a way that transcends time and people. The way it ends with just the city and the gods remaining left me with the image of the city being the mirror image of the gods on earth - eternal and intertwined with, yet separate from, the lives of the people who lived there.
My complaint is that it’s not dreamy enough. I wanted to fall in love with Enji, but there aren’t enough details about the city to really do so. Instead we’ve got details about people, like Ibu and Ajata, who don’t matter to the story. I would rather have heard more about what the city looked like and how people interacted with it. The image of men with mirrors playing music with the prisms was a good example of what I was hoping for.
There are a few points of detail that distracted from the otherwise smooth prose. For example, you’ve got “name does not matter” repeated three times in the space of a couple of paras. At the start of the story everyone got names, why do names not matter by the end? The way you describe the land-locked (broken and crying out in pain) doesn’t gel with the way they then go on to live very long lives. And why didn’t their families weep? It doesn’t feel like this part of the story is supposed to be horrific, yet it kinda is.
Overall I think this is good, but it feels like it needs another iteration to make it great.
Of Eluse, before the lightning by CantDecideOnAName
I liked this. The prose isn’t amazing but it’s a smooth read and I could clearly picture the city of Eluse. I enjoyed the richness of the description.
However it feels like it’s just the first half of a story. What happens after the cataclysm? Does the city die? Or does it find a way to survive, cut off and alone in the desert? Or is there a happier ending, where the city finds new ways to connect with its neighbours, or people find new ways across the scablands? Any of these endings could have made for a satisfying read, and you had heaps of words left.
A Place With No Name by Uranium Phoenix
My first reading of this left me very confused. On second reading I wasn’t much better off. We’ve got a stellar leviathan called Krakail Astra, the demise of earth, a university (?) called the Academy of Dreams, and something about collective memory and a magic seed (?) that seems to ultimately stop Krakail Astra from doing whatever it was doing.
On the plus side, it was quite pretty. I feel like if I could jump into IRC now and ask you to explain this to me I’d go, “ooooh, that’s really cool.” But as it is I just don’t get it.
Trompe-l'śil by Solitair
I really like how you simultaneously make Rubaiyoht sound like a beautiful triumph of complex architecture and just a really irritating bat city. The idea of a species building a city not only to suit themselves but also the give outsiders a view into how they experience the world is a neat one.
Some of the more flowery prose needs trimming (you don’t need “gigantic” and “vast” in the same sentence) but for the most part I enjoyed the descriptions.
I think the “From the missives of Svarđa Yufransdotr Griegen” bit is unnecessary. The last line, “you will soon ache for the open space and lack of pretension that you can get in abundance back home,” unfortunately detracted from the piece for me, as it has a judgemental tone that implies that Rubaiyoht is not as good as wherever Svarđa Yufransdotr Griegen is from.
Technically Not Fanfiction by Sham bam bamina!
Terrible title. Is it a joke? [Reads to end]. Oh I see, it is a joke. I was reading this seriously - and was quite enjoying the description of the valley and its mysterious inhabitants - so your ending makes me feel like, I, as your reader, am the butt of your joke.
You could’ve rounded this off nicely with a couple of paragraphs about how the inhabitants live sharing a single house and had your protag leave feeling enlightened and/or confused or whatever, but instead you chose to poop on it.
The Truth of Hamaall by Fumblemouse
I thought this was beautiful and thoughtful. Good job.
To give it a higher mark I would have wanted it to be just a little tighter - in one or two places I felt a little lost in the meandering prose.
Farthest from the Moon: An Abbreviated Lexicon by Thranguy
I don’t think this hits the prompt. The story features lots of different locations but we don’t really get to find out anything about them. Instead the story is snippets about the rulers of cities and various calamities. It feels like the sections are supposed to weave together, but they don’t quite manage to add up. I also don’t understand why some proper nouns are in bold.
They Sing in Veneta by Kaishai
The idea in this story is cool - people living in the bones of dragons are slowly changing into something resembling their hosts, while at the same time the ghosts are becoming one with them; so much so that they can be induced to turn on the fourth dragon.
But it felt a little empty; there wasn’t enough description of what the bone city felt and looked like for me to really enter into this world.
Every Night in San Rafael by Flesnolk
This is great. A strong, clear, well-delivered idea. Great use of the flashrule picture.
It doesn’t hit the prompt in the sense of describing the setting (I have no idea what San Rafael looks or feels like) but you do a great job of describing the impact the dream-clouds have on the people of the city and the way they live their lives, so I think this counts.
You would’ve got a higher mark from me if you’d used some of your remaining words to bring a bit more life to the setting.
Before the Big One by Sebmojo
This borderline fails the prompt as it’s not really about the city but the earthquake and whateverthefuck has happened to time. You’ve chosen to set the story in Wellington but you barely bother to describe the city beyond mentioning a couple of landmarks and name-dropping its taniwha.
You also don’t seem to have used the flashrule that Fumblemouse gave you, but I’ll let the head judge decide whether they care about that or not. Although I note Fumblemouse made excellent use of the flashrule you gave them.
There are some nice bits of description of the backwards movement, but mostly the time thing didn’t make a lot of sense. For example, barriers get erected around the breach after time has started moving backwards, and then un-erect themselves. The story says that people have been living with backwards-flowing time for a while after the earthquake, but in the last third of the story time is clearly speeding up, with the city disappearing and being replaced with bush. This appears to be the result of your protag going closer to the Breach, but does this mean time is speeding up for everyone or just him? And if they know that going close to the Breach makes time speed up this must mean it’s happened before so why… This is making my head hurt.
I can’t tell whether you had a great idea here, and just didn’t manage to express it well, or whether you had no idea what you were talking about either.
987 words by Crabrock
What is this? Why does it start with a weird poem and end with a weird quote? Why is it full of proofreading errors? Why o-o-o-o-o-o-o?
On the upside, the image of planets chained together and connected with interplanetary trains is kinda cool.
Head of State by Bad Seafood
I think this misses the prompt. The setting isn’t particularly described, and there’s nothing remarkable about what we are told. Instead we have a short view into a village’s practice of executing their mayors lest they go mad with power, or something. It’s not badly written but I don’t really see the point.
|# ? May 22, 2018 04:15|
Week CCCIII - Things Humanity Was Not Meant To Know
I wish to know them... through the power of not-crap flash fiction.
Humanity, right. It just sits there on its wee rock, peering into the universe with eyes and ears that barely register a miniscule fraction of the actual universe. What if those senses could be opened a little wider. What would they see or hear...or feel? Would it be wonderful or terrible, horrifying or boring in a surprisingly interesting way?
Could these things be learned from a visitor, an overdue library book, or a grain of sand? And why isn't Humanity supposed to know them anyway? Who the hell says not?
You have a thousand words to answer these or similar questions. No erotica, google docs or other badnesses. I'm not a stickler on genre, cosmic horror through to drawing room comedy could all work. Surprise me!
You may ask for a flash-of-insight rule, but it may not be what you thought you wanted as it will come with
Sign-ups close 11:59pm Friday PST
Submissions close 11:59pm Sunday PST
Judges: Fumblemouse, SebMojo, TBA
Thranguy - 960
Meinberg - 1240
Sham bam bamina
apophenium - 1100
Skylight - 600
Sandnavyguy - 1111
Hug in a can - 1169
Fumblemouse fucked around with this message at May 28, 2018 around 07:41
|# ? May 22, 2018 04:43|
insight rule me.
|# ? May 22, 2018 04:55|
In and hit me up with some of that good, good mad man's knowledge
|# ? May 22, 2018 05:00|
Hindsight is Twenty Twenty - but you haven't checked what's following you. Minus 40 words
insight rule me.
In and hit me up with some of that good, good mad man's knowledge
Abdul Alhazred died in 731 of being tortured, blinded, and having his tongue severed for speaking secrets, according to August Derleth who died in 1971. The difference is 1240, your new wordcount.
|# ? May 22, 2018 05:09|
yeah i'm in actually
|# ? May 22, 2018 05:50|
|# ? May 22, 2018 06:53|
|# ? May 22, 2018 09:32|
|# ? May 22, 2018 12:22|
|# ? May 22, 2018 14:32|
In, , and insight rule please
|# ? May 22, 2018 14:52|
In, and insight rule me, please and thank you.
|# ? May 22, 2018 18:40|
This is kiwijudge two reporting. Speak if you want a kiwiana flash rule.
|# ? May 22, 2018 19:53|
In, , and insight rule please
Your own avatar suggests you know that what is behind a face is not always what you might expect. This wisdom gifts you 100 extra words.
In, and insight rule me, please and thank you.
"All in the valley of death rode the six hundred". Poetry buries many secrets, and you have only 600 words to unearth them. If you choose, some of them may rhyme.
|# ? May 22, 2018 21:28|
I'm alive and In, flash me a fun one.
|# ? May 23, 2018 05:43|
I'm alive and In, flash me a fun one.
"A picture is worth a thousand words, but this picture is worth one thousand, one hundred and eleven."
"But it's blank..."
|# ? May 23, 2018 06:47|
I'm in again this week.
May I please have a flash prompt?
|# ? May 23, 2018 22:17|
I'm in again this week.
Why yes, you may have a question answered with a question.
Which is worse? To have the gods laugh at you, or to have them ignore you?
You may also have an extra 169 words to explore your hurt.
|# ? May 23, 2018 22:27|
Just in case any of you wily writers were thinking about it....
Judgepandering by voting for Speedball (#44) in the Something Awful Best Cat Competition Finals will do you no good whatsoever , but also no bad, so feel free to give it a try.
Fellow TDer Chile's Butterscotch (#17) made the finals too (and is kicking rear end) so check out some fine SA catte goodness over in that and related threads. Vote early and often - even if the field is currently dominated by an actual feline/scrotum hybrid.
|# ? May 24, 2018 04:49|
I Was a Teenage Judgecrit Doc
Sitting Here: Apparitional Experience
I really like the character work here. You've drawn four distinct and real-feeling characters in a short space and come close to drawing another one or two out of a deliberately indistinct group. I'm not as happy with the plot and ending, which sort of deflates rather than concludes.
I had this in the high part of the middle.
Jay W. Friks: Pupa Rise
I don't like the first paragraph, which is a stack of cliches that makes the central metaphor here a little too obvious. The concept is strong here, but you're explaining it a bit too much.
This fell in the middle of the pack for me.
The biggest problem with this story is the extent to which the entire world is arranging itself to vindicate Kent. I kept expecting a crowd of strangers to burst into applause. Still, a vegan merpire is an amusing concept.
Another middling story.
Deltasquid: ...Howe Three Youthes...
I'm not a fan of this kind of mixture of anachronisms and faux-historic grammar. Glad you didn't lay the latter on as heavily in the text as in the title, but was still more than enough to obscure the ‘teens were the same in the past as today’ story. (Except they really weren't, extended adolescence is a fairly modem development, but...)
In the lower third.
capn_dr: Special Features
Good, authentic voices. Don't like seeing this much untagged dialog. The voices are just barelly strong enough to stop it from being a constant confusion of who’s speaking, but without any kind of blocking or action you just end up with talking heads. Still, this wound up in my high group.
Captain Person:most magical
Interesting premise, and strong prose backing it up. My main complaint here is that the ending feels rushed, and I don’t think you’ve managed to resolve enough minor threads satisfactorily to ‘earn’ the way you completely drop the main mystery. It’s possible to do that sort of thing, to completely fail to answer a question like that, but you have to have something else resolve more solidly,and you have to convince the reader that you know the answer even if you’re not telling it.
This was in my middle group.
A teenager, missing a text? My willing suspension of disbelief is ruined.
Seriously, though, a powerful story about lovely teens being lovely teenscat each other in authentically shittly ways.
In my high group.
Solitair:Not enough voices
Best hook of the week. Not sure if recent teens say ‘image macros’, let alone ‘pen pals’. Is this a period piece? This was probably my favorite of the week, with the only real complaint here being that it did exactly what you’d expect from the flash rule.
Not good. Repetitive if not gross, certainly not actualizing anything. Also wrong. There are all kinds of distinguishable farts. One could probably get more comedy mileage categorizing them, in a Borges-like manner...
This was in the low group.
crabrock:We all make
This is the poster child for the standard td advice: Cut the first paragraph.
One wonders how good a physics tutor he could have been to have not noticed a factor-of-ten error and its implications for jumps that are known to be achievable. Or even for how close to the landing the previous person got.
Firmly in the middle.
Kaishai: stolen hopes
There’s some very good prose here, including the second-best hook of the week. But the main problem this story has is that everyone in it is just too nice, too considerate and too empathetic with each other to allow any stakes to develop and stick. I mean, the narrator’s private heartbreak is where the story’s trying to live, emotionally, but since she’s just a spectator of the actual story, that emotional core doesn’t connect to the plot
High part of the Middle.
|# ? May 24, 2018 05:02|
|# ? May 26, 2018 03:39|
Sign ups are now over.
|# ? May 26, 2018 09:33|
Refusal to Fade
Felicia pulled up to the curb of the house where her brother had died. The house seemed such a normal place, a one-story suburban home that didn’t stray from the model for the rest of the neighborhood. There had been talks of an extension, but then the cancer set in. His family couldn’t bear to live there anymore and sold it, unknowingly, to Felicia. She couldn’t bear to have anyone else live there. It took a few minutes to get in her gear, get all the wires connected, all the straps tightened.
She flipped the switch and the device hummed to life. Her perceptions shifted two degrees along a dimensional axis that her peers refused to believe existed. The house glowed then, an ethereal hum that contrasted with the pitch blackness of the sky and the dirt. Life, or the echo of it, resonated in the structure of the architecture and Felicia felt herself compelled forward, step after uncertain step towards the door. She steadied herself, remembering those extensive therapy sessions and the tools she learned to keep panic down - just focus on breathing.
She creaked open the front door. On the other side, visions flashed and flared, running in loops: her brother chasing after his kids, laughing; his brother and his wife embracing, and more than embracing, their love burning to look at like the sun; the darkness that had settled in when he got sick radiating through every room. But the thing that struck Felicia most was the lack of her presence. She had come to visit often enough, as often as she could, but her echoes were pale, translucent things that were constantly overshadowed by those other moments. Still, she saw those moments when he had been there for her, supporting her when no one else would, believing in her science, believing in her potential.
It had been two years since he died. Cancer had wrapped itself around his lungs and not even the most expensive medical care was able to slow its progress. In the years since, Felicia had labored. Felicia’s peers thought that she was pursuing fairy tales and nonsense, but there was solid science behind her principles. Two years she struggled to turn her science into engineering, until one day, a cold February morning with the winds forming a whistled melody in the bare branches, she finished her work.
Ultimately, she decided on a helmet, allowing her to translate the lingering signals into both both audio and visual information. The chassis had been a motorcycle helmet, bright white and swept backwards with no concession to aesthetics. The additions that would expand her senses were stored internally, but powered by a large battery that she carried in a backpack. The control device was a small panel with a switch and a knob attached to the helmet via wires. Modeling it an a mirror in her lab, she couldn’t help but feel ridiculous, like a child playing make-believe with the help of homemade props.
But the work had to be done. Two years her brother had laid in the ground, two years for the imprinted signals to degrade, two years that seemed an eternity of sleepless nights and missed calls and lost opportunities. Two years the guilt had gnawed at her, guilt that she refused to speak.
She headed down a hallway, avoiding the intangible presence of memories. For a moment, she wondered what it might feel like to touch them, but there was something to that glow, to the persistent intensity of their faces and their postures that made her quickly banish that line of questioning. She paused outside of his bedroom, the room that he had died in, the room that he spent all of those years, all those months, fighting his disease. Her hand trembled on the handle, but she breathed again, finding the balance within herself.
Awaiting her was a kaleidoscopic explosion of light, of memories and impressions bleeding into each other to form an indistinct blaze. She gritted her teeth, reached for the controls, and gave the knob another twist. Her perceptions shifted another two degrees and that chaos fell away, fading into a black void that swallowed up the room and the house, leaving only the bed and her brother, a luminous figure staring at nothing.
She stared and her own memories flooded to life, taking form like reversed silhouettes on the void: days sitting at her brother’s side, laughing and chatting; arguments, flaring violet and orange, over her work, over her obsessions; the day she received the call, far from here, in her office, turning over the latest test model. Her voice cracked. “I’m sorry, Adam.”
Her brother turned to face her, revealing that the previously hidden half of his face was a gaping hole, the degradation of his thought patterns into the void that surrounded them. His half-a-mouth worked soundlessly, then resolved into a raspy whisper. “You could have been here.” He repeated, voice now echoing firmly in that darkness. “You could have been here!” Felicia instinctively flinched backwards and her brother rose, the sheets of the bed clinging to his now floating form like a spider web, dangling down to the bed. “YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE!”
“I know,” she said. Her voice was a small thing before the spectral figure, and she backed up further until she hit the tangible but invisible wall behind her. “I know! Why do you think I’m sorry?” Her words caught in her throat and emerged as a strangled sob. Her brother crept closer and closer, the sheets catching on the bed and dragging it along behind him. The cancer cells throbbed visibly beneath the material of his chest, a pulsing red in contrast to his glowing white.
“I died and you didn’t care! I died and you’d didn’t come! I died and you ran away!” His face curled up into a rictus snarl, as that gaping hole inched further along his flesh, more of that void mixing in with whatever material he was made of.
She swallowed and pressed her palms flat against the wall, finding strength in its solidity. “You weren’t like this. This isn’t you.”
“No!” His response emerged as a bark as he drew his face, now half-a-maw full of razor sharp teeth, to a barest fraction of an inch from her own face. “This is your deserving, this is you and the shadow you’ve carried with you.” The void of consumption rippled across his face, distorting his expression. “It’s so cold here, there’s nothing but the pain and the dying, and it’s all your fault.”
She stiffened then, and, with a swift motion, switched off her helmet. In an instant, her brother and the void disappeared, replaced with an empty and ordinary house, just like all the others on the block. She ripped off the helmet and wiped at her eyes. The truth rang in her ears, refusing to fade. She reached a hand tentatively towards the space the vision of her brother once occupied and felt the empty air between her fingertips. But she also felt the weight of her regret, the weight of her inability to let go, and the void seeping into her brother’s phantom, yet another sin.
|# ? May 28, 2018 02:42|
Within the Stars
I was seven when I saw my father peel back his flesh. It was a small flap, just under his left ankle. I did not see him make the squarish cut, but I saw him peel it back and look below his skin.
I left before he noticed me, with fear’s icy touch prodding me to my room.
Paranoia ruled our lives. He, that the world hid from him, that his own flesh covered secrets. Me, that I was losing my father to delusions. Fear that maybe he was right.
I was 20 when I identified my father’s body. I recognized the scars from his explorations. But there were fresh incisions, not glued back together the way he always had. The cuts were ragged, lacking his precision. They ran up the sides of his face, just above his jaw, to his temples, and then across the forehead to meet under his hairline.
I said, “May I have some time alone, please.” The figure beside me left with no noise. I pinched a bit of the skin on my father’s face and pulled. Underneath, his facial muscles were in shreds; I glimpsed the skull through their tatters.
There were writings etched in the bone of his skull. Codes, formulas, star charts. I reeled, vision blurring. The weight of vile discovery, the weight of finally knowing dragged me unconscious to the morgue floor.
I woke in a hospital bed some time later. I had dreamt of birds and moths.
A person stood at the foot of my bed, a silhouette in the fluorescent glare. They shifted backwards and forwards on their feet. They were asking me a question.
No, my father did not have any enemies. Or friends. No, I had not seen or spoken to him in a few years. I was at the university in my dorm. My roommate can corroborate. Her name is…
It went on until the person muttered a thanks and left. I fell back asleep and dreamed of nothing.
I was discharged from the hospital. My dorm was the same, unaware of the new absence in my life.
I worried I had forgotten all I saw in the morgue. But when I touched pencil to paper my hands remembered for me. I filled page after page with what I had seen in my father’s head.
The diagrams and instructions fixated on a certain area of the night sky within the Telescopium constellation. I imagined my father’s observatory, always occupied by the latest powerful telescope. His paranoid quest led him farther from Earth as it led him deeper under his own skin. Now the room would be occupied by stuffy detectives and little white markers with numbers on them.
Despite its infrequent use, my own telescope came together easily. I positioned it and scanned the night sky, consulting my father’s skull-notes. I brought Telescopium into view. Not one I was familiar with. Father’s skull mentioned it, always alongside his extensive research on pain and how it transformed one’s mind.
It was a simple connection to make. With telescope’s blank eye leveled at its celestial replica, I retrieved a razor blade. My father’s grim smile seemed to look out at me from my bathroom mirror. “Shed some blood,” he said. “You might learn something about yourself.”
My eyes rolled as I struggled to hold onto consciousness. My feet slid lazily in my pooled blood. Congealing blood beaded my wounds like freezing water. My head lurched once more to the telescope, my eye and its eye looking on the faraway constellation.
As I stared I lifted out of my chair, pulled by a tentative force. The edge of my vision reddened. The constellation’s points of light pulsed, revealing more and more colors. I honed in on the spot from father’s diagrams. A lopsided parallelogram of blackness within the constellation.
The upward force gained confidence and I rushed up to Telescopium. Its stars formed a halo in my periphery. I tried to focus my eyes to stare into the depths, but could only focus closer. It was so close. I reached out a shaky arm.
My fingers stopped against something. I choked in panic. Too weak to keep my arm raised, I let my hand trail down. The inky blackness smudged beneath my fingers like soot. Behind it, cold glass. My eyes widened and I wiped away more of the filth. The glass underneath was cold. I saw my own face reflected, though it was no mirror. A firm barrier in the depths of space, with nothing on the other side.
I crashed down, down into my chair, and then to the floor, still leaking blood. There were no answers out there. I was merely a fatherless child, procrastinating grief.
|# ? May 28, 2018 03:09|
|# ? Nov 21, 2018 19:39|
In the Eye of the Beholder
Sarah paused for a moment, her fingers absently tracing the edges of the aged canvas. Gazing into the softly painted eyes of the portrait, she had forgotten all about the idling towncar in the estate's emptying lot. She snapped out of her reverie when a gloved hand gently tapped her elbow, her breath catching in temporary shock until she realized it was merely the driver. Handing him the picture, he looked puzzled for some reason, but quickly snapped to and headed around the back of the vehicle.
There was plenty of room in the compartment compared to the Countess' usual outings, which her husband often referred to as her silly “Trinket Trips” when he'd taken too much brandy with the gentlemen in the lower parlor. He'd never said it to her directly of course, he was usually patient and discreet with her personal proclivities, but when the liquor passed his lips they became far more loose. Still, he'd ]sit stoically in his chair and never rebuke her when Sarah would come home with crates of curious statues and unreadable texts from the far flung corners of the world, and for that if nothing else she was eternally grateful. But today's find was both fascinating and oddly urbane for her tastes, and Sarah looked forward to proudly displaying it in her curio room in the East wing.
Sarah had only known of the canvas from one her many tittering beetles, as she fondly called them, each carefully groomed contact an expert in one of her many fields of interest. This particularly shining insect was an art collector whom had gotten her many exquisite pieces over the years, some with most unsavory pasts or difficult acquisitions, but her contact always ensured a fair price for his most revered patron. In this case, it was the final work of the late Nicholai Varstok, an enigmatic painter whose path had crossed Sarah's most recent line of inquiry. The rumors she'd heard titillated her curiosity, ranging from alchemical secrets to insight into the divine. Though much of what she'd gathered proved fruitless and was likely fake anyway, this painting would act as a fine centerpiece for her next exhibition.
It was a simple piece, to be sure; sitting at a small writing desk was a beautiful young woman clad in a dark and finely detailed cerulean gown, her hand resting on a small pile of books, her expression frozen in contemplation. There was a slight greenish tint to the color that seemed to age the picture, that emanated from a glinting letter opener in the girl's other hand. What really charmed her, however, was that the girl looked remarkably like herself. Not identical, obviously, the brow was too furrowed with lines and the skin a bit gaunt, but otherwise it bore a striking resemblance. She'd decided she would surprise her husband with it once it was hung on the wall. Perhaps I should wear my own cerulean dancing dress for the viewing next week, she thought to herself with a small giggle.
It had already passed well into the evening when Sarah entered the Count's study, her normally composed expression broken with a mischievous grin.
“Darling,” she called cloyingly, “do come into my trophy room, I have a surprise for you.”
“Sarah, dear, can it wait? Lord Valium is on his way and should be here any moment,” he spoke from behind a newspaper in his chair, glass of brandy already half-empty in his right hand. Sarah huffed and began to storm out when she heard a defeated sigh and the ruffling of papers behind her. Minutes later she flung open the door to her curio room, and proudly gestured at the now framed portrait flanked by shelves of glittering baubles from her recent trips. She turned to him expectantly, but he remained quiet with a confused expression beneath his well-oiled mustache.
“Well? Isn't it interesting?” she asked after a moment.
“Is what interesting? Dear, you know I'm not very involved in your trinkets and hobbies, and I've seen those already anyway,” he said with a sigh.
“The painting, Reginold, what do you think of the painting?” she said her hands firmly planted to her hips. Shaking his head the Count turned and walked back down toward the stairs.
“I think you have odd taste in humor, Sarah, There's nothing even there and I told you I'm going to be late for my meeting. Goodnight.”
Sarah stared after him, hurt welling up in her throat. She whirled away and closed the door behind her so he couldn't hear her sobbing. Nothing there? That man, why does he have to be so cruel? It's the drat alcohol, mother always said-
He's a real frigid bastard when he drinks. You should throw that vile poo poo away.
Sarah snapped her eyes open. She suddenly felt very cold. “ What did I just...?”
He doesn't understand. The pull of wonder, the thirst for the unknown. Not like you do. Not like you will.
Looking up toward the mantle she gazed into the eyes of the girl again, and this time knew. It was like it was talking through her, voicing her inner most thoughts. She was about to flee screaming, her shaking hands already grasping the door handle when suddenly she stopped. Her vision exploded in an array of color, like a vortex of paint and glittering jewels, and her fear was replaced with joy and spectacle.
Why Sarah, we have such lovely things to show you, such wondrous, curious things. We only have a few requests...
Count Reginald sat with Lord Valium and his officials, midnight and the end of drinking hours looming on the horizon. He felt warm and giddy, but when one of the officials asked after the lady of the manor (Where is that woman? Always an interesting conversation with that one, eh Reggie?), he felt a pang of guilt. She'd been so taken with that empty canvas up there, and he'd gone and made her cross. Perhaps if he took the crowd upstairs that would cheer her up...
Surrounded by the mirthful group he threw open the doors to her curio chamber, only to recoil from the grisly scene inside. Blood had been slung against every wall, and his wife's fingers had scrawled strange crimson runes upon the floor around her pale shredded body. Before he could turn to vomit, his eyes caught upon the painting on the mantle, the surface no longer blank. Sitting there at a cluttered writing desk and clutching a revolver, was the spitting image of the count himself.
|# ? May 28, 2018 05:16|