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Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


I'm in!

6

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Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Skulls and Beetles
Prompt: Quasi Elemental Plane of Radiance
Words:1,198

They had been traveling for three days across the paradoxically desert-like swath of color beneath them. They were an odd collection of beings – some resembling humanity more than others, with the balance sporting pelts instead of flesh or holes where a cartilage nose normally roosted. Templeton rarely felt like an anomaly in the typical villages; humans were roaches across most planes of existence. Yet a restlessness inside a young man’s heart inspired him to seek the odd, the unlikely, and the uncommon. These three conditions usually overlapped with ‘will kill you if you stand still too long,’ and this realm was no exception.

The foreign land of riotous color embodied lethality merged with beauty– intense light caught on every radiant surface and charged the air with deadly heat. The distance to their destination should not have required three days, but a chromatic typhoon forced them to change course and take a meandering detour that epitomized mind-numbing boredom. Safe within the hull of their vehicle, the light cast prismatic against the walls, refracted through the one-way-mirror that formed the floor. Everyone pedaled – that was the rule onboard It was more rickshaw than ship but the driver insisted on being called ‘Captain,’ and the entire journey had a vaguely nautical feeling to it. If one could chart a course across the ocean in a pedal boat, it would be comparatively miserable. Except here the vessel rode an ocean of light and heat instead of water.

Templeton was a gambler by trade, thoughtfully packing his playing cards before embarking on this journey. The cards had been safely tucked within an allegedly magical case that had seemed so fortuitous when initially won. On the first night in the rickshaw pedal-boat, he had enthusiastically gathered the other pilgrims with an invitation a friendly game of ‘Skulls and Beetles.’ Upon opening the top of the case and upending it, only ashes fell into his palm. The exposure of the case to the radiance had been brief, but this plane purified everything with its glory. Now the hot metal bumped against his side, occasionally finding skin to sear as it made a mocking chink-chink-chink with every fresh push on the pedals.

A deep groan shook the walls as the driver turned the wheel to shift mirrored panels on each side of the hull. The currents of light caught them like a giant’s fist, hurling the rickshaw down some new noxious rainbow river. The force slammed Templeton into the creature pedaling beside him, an oil slick of sweat left in his former seat as he struggled to right himself against fur and guttural snarl. The head of a bipedal ox swam into view, just before a cloven hoof plowed into his chest. The Oxman shoved Templeton back into his seat with an indignant snort. In a different world, Templeton might have spit in contempt at the creature, but nobody was worth the saliva here.

Since the outset of their journey, he could not determine if Oxman was another traveler or perhaps some employee of the ship. Indubitably the creature worked the hardest, and when the rest of the pilgrims collected themselves at the end of the working day, he would retreat to some far corner and stare silently at the floor beneath his hooves. All Templeton knew was that every time the ship turned, Oxman waited with thinly veiled sadistic glee to shove Templeton back into his seat. Templeton had stretched his bounds of human ingenuity attempting (and failing) to fashion a seatbelt that would prevent the inevitable battery. Now his body bloomed with black and blue splotches from the consistent repositioning.

Bruised and irritable, he wheezed and pedaled while the ethereal existence of the world passed beneath him. Templeton had stopped trying to determine where blue skies bled into land or how the blurred edges of greens were supposed to knit together into something recognizable. His human eyes found the beauty of his surroundings incomprehensible and therefore disappointing. Even saturated by infinite possibilities of color, he could only see a paltry 7,000,000. From what the others said, the bugs possessed a higher capacity to appreciate the surroundings, which may explain their omnipresence.

The rattle of tiny wings and carapace bodies was a constant, dull thrum overlaying exotic screeches of other localized fauna that Templeton hoped to never encounter. Anything surviving in this world of disastrous beauty was hard edges and sharp angles. Templeton felt small and squishy in his fleshy pink body, a vulnerability pronounced by every new plug of blood-sucking probe or tiny mandible jaw the perpetually present pests bestowed on him. An aggravated swat caught one of them between his neck and his hand, a short-lived victory immediately regretted as metallic wings sliced through his palm. When he looked down, he couldn’t figure out if the blood smear came from popping the little bug or the new cuts acquired in doing so. The passing aggravation materialized into a plot his bored mind seized like a man driven desert-mad with a drop of water left in the skin.

The next time Templeton felt a pin prick, he stayed his hand from the reflexive slap and instead reached for the card case. With his dark eyes trained on the iridescent parasite chewing away an insect appetizer hunk of thigh, he thumbed the top off the now defunct card case and brought the rectangular box down quickly over the bug. Though it tried to escape, its metallic body hit the inside of the case with an enraged chiming quality like bee wings beating on glass. He neatly reinstalled the top, and returned to pedaling just as Oxman let out a guttural lowing noise. Templeton didn’t speak Bovine, but suspected it was something along the lines of, “Get back to work.”

The buzzing continued inside the little card case. The captive was deep blue, almost scarab-like in body, plump and perfect for the gambit Templeton had planned. The turns so recently dreaded now seemed impossibly far away, but Templeton was proficient in waiting. The buzzing joined with repetitive chink-chink-chink, measuring time with each pedal. Finally, the familiar groan of the wheel turning their course rattled the walls, and the deck beneath him tipped. As the sudden shove of heat and light caught them, he slid towards Oxman's waiting hoof. Except at first rattle, Templeton had neatly removed the lid of the card case with a pop of his thumb, and engulfed the entirety of the scarab in one chomp.

The glass wings burst apart between his teeth, the sound of chewing glass stabbing at his eardrums in the same painful burst as the metallic body sliced into the sides of his cheeks. The sudden wash of moisture from within the beetle flooded his mouth, drowning out the taste of his own blood, metal and mirrors. Now Oxman looked more puzzled than sadistic, but Templeton still careened towards him. When the hoof reflexively connected, Templeton spit a wad of glass guts and blood directly across the creature’s brutal, hairy face.

It was not the traditional way to play Skulls & Beetles, but a gambler knows how to improvise.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


In with she, Thanks!

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Snuffles
Word(s) 1,492

“Isn’t this a little excessive?”

My dad is a tired man, living through enough years to be unsurprised but continuously disappointed. He surveys the rabbitry of three hanging wire cages covered by squat roof and the surrounding pen with skeptical grey eyes. He takes another swig of the cheap beer, leaving the green can against his lips as he waits for me to justify the lumber, the time, the presence of livestock in my backyard.

I shrug and respond with an abridged version of the justification penned by Alfred Lewis over a hundred years ago, “Nine meals.” Dad turns and regards me patiently, accustomed to my dramatic pauses. He makes no move to help as I haul another bag of pelletized feed into the barn with a grunt. I set it down at the gate and elaborate.

“Any kind of shortage, they figure most folks will go without nine meals before descending into anarchy. You know, looting, stealing, raping – the whole deal.”

My father has never gone without a meal in his life, but receives this critique on humanity in complete acceptance. He takes another swig of beer, and leans over the dividing fence line. Along the other side, a swarm of rabbits vie for my attention, crowding in a frenzied pile of fur and ears as I attempt to part them with a toe. I can see my dad’s lips moving, trying to count them, losing track between brown agouti and grey fur, before restarting. Finally, he shakes his head and exclaims.

“Seventeen.”

“We don’t count them.” I’m quick to answer, the sound of pelletized feed hitting the bowls drowning out his response. Frantic noses descend upon their dinner, even as I reach down to toss one or two towards a less populated bowl so that all get a good meal. My dad is still repeating ‘seventeen’ in shock under his breath as he regards the colony. We started with three; two does and one buck who escaped his cage after impregnating each doe and was never seen again. I assume the coyotes got him, but perhaps he is enjoying bachelorhood in our small suburban neighborhood.

The rabbits are the newest addition to my preparations for an apocalypse reluctant in coming. The garden came first, but the soil is hard here and the light weak through the leaves of the old maple tree. Although several wildflowers were planted, only borage grew in the dappled-shade. The small blue flowers taste like cucumber and hold the local pollinators enraptured. Seven days of water are stacked against my house in heavy blue drums where a decorative shrub belonged. The preparations are a hobby, not a necessity, but like with all my hobbies, it got away from me. A single expense on freeze-dried food, packaged in 3 month bucket supplies, escalated downhill like a boulder finally loosed from quarry wall.

“What do you call them all?” My dad asks, and I shrug.

“They’re grow outs. We don’t name them. They all have numbers in their ears so I can tell them apart when I write down their hanging weights.”

“So you’re going to kill them?”

He states the obvious as a question, as if I have some other need for this many rabbits. I shrug and laugh.

“That’s kind of the point.”

I can tell by the way he shakes his head that he cannot envision his daughter killing a bunny.

***

The kits are no longer babies. Their long and flexible spines are sleek with adult fur and their haunches thick with muscle. I moved the entire family to a larger pen when the kits could hop after their mother in hopes of a spare meal. The space developed stronger muscles, leaner meat, and it felt better than sanitized and industrial wire. In the mornings, I water my hopping crop of meat like any gardener and fill their waiting bowls with food. I sit against the trunk of the tree with a dark roast of coffee while their tiny noses sniff at my clothes and race around me with enough enthusiasm to toss up straw under their feet. There were originally two mothers for this batch of grow outs, but one decided to eat her offspring instead of raise them. Under the suggestion of people on the internet, I moved the survivors to the other nest where the surrogate mother proudly took on both sets as her own. Their mother presides over the entire bunch, a harried looking white rabbit who appeared to be wearing spectacles due to the brown markings around her eyes.

I don’t name the ones I intend to eat, but I call the spectacled doe ‘Mama.’ As I sit within the pen, she hops closer in the way cautious rabbits do, extending her entire front forward while bobbing her head to sniff at the air before springing back together a little closer. Mama and I watch each other as I finish my coffee, her body eventually sinking into the dirt near my thigh as she kicks her back legs in full frog sprawl. I know from previous efforts she does not want to be touched. This is the way of a content rabbit, quiet calm punctuated by sudden flurries of speed and joy. I pluck leaves from the huge maple over our heads and set them in front of her waiting nose, which she nibbles while eyeing me warily.

When I stand, she disappears in a burst of speed and white fur, companionable peace shattered by my ascension to two-legs.

***

Prey animals are subtle when they suffer. Illness manifests with a sluggish effort to get to the food bowl, a sunken appearance in the hips, or a sniffling nose. I noticed the grey kit during my morning chores. He hopped weakly towards the food dish, but was easily shoved aside by his siblings, listlessly drifting back to rest underneath the tree. I caught him up in my arms and held his soft, grey body against my chest. Against the backdrop of bees humming across the borage blossoms, I could hear ragged breathing. A smear of wet spittle masked his nose, giving the normally healthy pink an encrusted yellow tinge.

I thought I could save him. I fancied myself a strong and capable individual, which is why the hobby of ‘prepping’ for some unforeseen disaster appealed to my self-image. Holding the weakened kit to my chest and hearing his heartbeat against my fingers like some frantic hummingbird’s wings – I felt compelled to save him. Taking him inside, I wet the edge of a makeup sponge with a mixture of water and a sugary slurry designed to help rabbits recover quickly. The green liquid spilled out of the corner of his mouth, his breathing now shallow and quick. I couldn’t bring myself to call him by the number written in his ear with permanent ink, a way to identify how fast he grew and how much meat he would ultimately convert to. Instead, I breathed, “Hey Buddy, come on, drink something. Stay with me.”

When Buddy began to seizure, I gently ran my hands down his stiffened and twitching body as if I could loosen the muscles held rapt by agony. Between episodes, I frantically asked the internet how to save him. Their textual responses were a stoic chorus, “Cull now. Cull any rabbit exposed to him.” Cull was a word backyard farming enthusiasts loved. Like ‘processing’, it allowed us to avoid the word ‘killing’ or ‘slaughter.’ It avoided names and connections which made managing the earth and its creatures an emotional task, balancing the worth of living things into simple input and output tables and figures. It could be a little bit of straw up his nose or it could be a bacterial infection that would kill my herd within ten days. The risk was too great to simply hope for the best, especially for a grow out and not a breeding animal.

After a few hours, it became evident it wasn’t straw. I watched as the spasms held his body in rigid alignment, toes fully extended as if he could outrun death while his neck flung back to stare at the sky with wide bulging eyes. I buried the body in between the hairy stalks of wildflowers, tears running down my face as the weight of uselessness settled across my chest. I apologized to the dark earth and thanked Buddy for feeding my garden. Mama watched me from the pen, her tall ears twitching with each drop of the spade to soil. I went through the motions of feeding and watering with dirt-stained hands, sinking to the ground emotionally exhausted. Mama hopped over to her usual spot and kicked out her back legs, settling in for our moment of peace. In the moment of gentle calm that grows from a freshly tilled grave, I realized the rattling wet noise didn’t come from my tear-choked nose.

Mama’s face was wet with snot.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


I'm in for CCCXI

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


3 Hours
Word(s): 1225

“It’s only three hours.”

Jeff assures his wife. He’s said the same thing twice already. Karen wishes she shared his certainty as she as she adjusts the rearview mirror. The station wagon grumbles to life. Chad and Leesa are in the back seat, ages four and two respectively. Chad was intentional, Leesa less so. Now that Leesa sleeps through the night and Chad occasionally hits the toilet, Karen is taking them to visit her parents. Jeff has a golf tournament this weekend. It’s “very important” he make an appearance for the company. As he tucks Leesa into her car seat, he falsely promises-

“If all goes well, just think – we can do Disneyland next!”

The kids exclaim “DIDNEYLAND!”, and Karen’s heart sinks. Jeff closes the car door and waves, climbing into his BMW and easily shifting out of the driveway. Karen is left with her son’s imminent disappointment. “This will be a good trip too.” Karen promises her four-year-old as he struggles with the concept of “next time.” “Grandma and Grandpa have a pool and they’re so excited to see you!”

Chad asks if Mickey Mouse will be there.

“No, but we will see Mickey Mouse soon.”

The Disneyland money is waiting in the bank, but first Karen has to see her dad. The third round of chemotherapy made travel impossible, and they haven’t seen their granddaughter Leesa since birth. It’s only three hours. I should have gone sooner. Karen chides herself, turning up the air conditioner and ignoring the despondent noise of a child without Mickey Mouse.

The air conditioner blows cold for the first five minutes of their suburban neighborhood, then turns lukewarm. By thirty minutes, it’s sweltering and Chad is exploring the overuse of the word, “Moist!” to describe the sweat beading on Karen’s forehead. Leesa chimes in with a squalling, “Me hot!” Karen pulls over to crank down all four windows.

They start once more, and the wind whipping through the car blurs the edge off the noise. “It’s a safe, reliable car,” Jeff had argued, “We need to keep it simple. We don’t need all those bells and whistles! It’s just more poo poo to break.” Karen had lobbied for a minivan, something with a DVD player. “I remember playing Eye Spy with my brothers in the car! The kids can do that if they get bored!”

Karen tries Eye Spy as they approach Vacaville, but Leesa is more interested in parroting the word “blue” on repeat rather than finding something that color. Chad immediately points out a blue car. And another one. And another one. His shrieks of “BLUE!” become cacophonous, but at least he’s done with “moist.” Karen ponders if it’s too soon to bust out the bribery snacks.

“Do you think you two can be good enough for popsicles?”

A joyous shriek unanimously proclaims their mutual worthiness of popsicles, but when she pulls the popsicles out for distribution, she finds only juice bagged around a stick. She hands them back anyways, and “Me hot” becomes “Me sticky.” The upholstery in Karen’s car is battle-scarred with no hope for salvation.

After, she passes back a packet of wet wipes to Chad with instructions to clean himself up and then help his baby sister. Classic rock blares as they hit the Interstate. The task of doling out wet wipes encourages Chad to explore an air of responsibility and discipline on his younger charge.

“One for you. One for me.”

It seems like a fair distribution of wipes, until Chad suspiciously repeats and Leesa cackles in a way never inspired by moist napkins. In the rearview, Karen watches Chad feed the last wet wipe out the open window. Leesa supports his littering efforts, clapping her hands, as the towelette leaps into the wind and curves back along their drag like a released bird.

“NO! NOT OUT THE WINDOW!”

The force of the words leave Karen’s surprise her, coming from a deeply exasperated corner of her soul. She takes a steadying breath while the children are stunned into a momentary silence. Leesa breaks the peace while mommy attempts to salvage her tranquility.

“Mommy. Me tummy not all full of food.”

“Honey, you just had a popsicle.”

Leesa considers this, pondering the deep possibilities of fullness. She concludes, “Four more popsicles.”

“No more popsicles, those were a special treat. Let’s play a new game? Whoever can be quiet the longest, wins.”

A riot erupts over the very concept of the Quiet Game. Karen abandons the effort, letting the sounds of their quibbling merge with “Highway to Hell” on the radio.

She turns the song up until she feels it in her teeth, but still she hears Chad screaming “BLUE”. Karen looks to the green numerals on the dash. It’s only been an hour. She has passed back two new versions of snacks at this point, bananas that ended up smashed in the edges of the car seats and some ‘all-natural’ cheesy snacks that stained the maws of her starving brood. The car smells like the zoo’s ape exhibit.

“Honey, we’re done playing Eye Spy.” Karen begs Chad. Leesa begins to fall asleep, but every new, concussive “BLUE” from her brother rouses her again, her fierce determination to stay awake manifests in the form of screaming.

“We going to Didneyland, Mommy?”

“Chad. I thought we established that if you were good on this trip, we would go to Disneyland next. Not now.”

“Not now Didneyland?”

“No, not going to Disneyland-“

Chad has now hit critical mass of waking hours between naptimes. This re-discovery that they are still not going to Disneyland proves too much for his fragile sensibilities. His bottom lip trembles. He begins to stammer, “B-b-but-“ Leesa is screaming again. Chad has thrown her shoe out the window. He joins in with a low moan, as if he were being dragged behind the car instead of carefully restrained in a reclined car seat with extra padding. There are no more snacks.

“No” Karen decides suddenly, “We’re going somewhere better.”

As if by magic, the raging hoard has fallen silent. The peeping inquiries of “Where?” are met with only “Wait and see.” The anticipation tastes like rotting bananas and sticky hands. Karen sees what she needs and takes the next exit.

The wagon gutters into the parking lot of the car dealership, and Karen steps out. The children are covered in stick and sweat, and she shepherds them into the air conditioned show room with a sigh of relief as the cool air washes over them. Julio is politely willing to sell her “a car that runs and will keep me from killing these two for the next hour.”

“I have five at home. I completely understand. Here, let me show you what I just bought my wife.” Steering her towards the newest model of minivan on the floor, he waves off her worries about the children running amok. Karen catches her reflection in the rearview mirror, sweat stained and exhausted, with dark circles framing in her eyes with cadaverous weight. The car turns over easily and purrs to life with a blast of wonderfully cold air through the vents

“We had an old wagon too. They’re good cars,” he observes. “But you deserve an upgrade.”

The family’s vacation savings is liquidated in an afternoon. She lets Chad pick out the color. It’s blue.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Sorry, not sure where best to respond to crits but just wanted to say thank you. I'm miffed with myself I didn't give ya'll something better to read.

Sitting Here posted:

Week 311 crits

Lippincott

I haven’t critted you before I don’t think. Hello! Hopefully you find this helpful and not offputting. [...]

Thank you so much for the honest criticism. I am glad you found the pieces of it enjoyable that I was moderately proud of and had the emotional response I wanted. What I did with that response fell flat, which is something I need to work on and hope to do so with good feedback like what you've given.

Staggy posted:

Week 311 Results - From Apprentice to Master
The dishonourable mention goes to Lippincott. Parenting as a trade or skill is exactly the sort of non-obvious take on the theme I was hoping for. Sadly a lack of polish and some truly unbelievable dialogue did not help your execution.

I struggle with dialogue (obviously). Any advice that you are willing to offer me in this area, I would be truly grateful for - especially with specifics and insights into how to rework pieces for believably. Suggestions for short story collections that I can get on paper, which really shine for dialogue...? I have a hard time reading through archives here for any length of time due to screen/eyesight issues. I can sign onto IRC later if that's an option. I don't get out much/observe conversation/have discussions as part of my daily life so it's a weakness in my writing that needs vast improvement.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Team were-beast, please.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Thranguy posted:

Crit of Lippincott’s Skulls and Beetles

Nobody responded to my offer so I picked out this story to look at.
[...]


This is super helpful! Thank you, Thranguy!

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Thunderdome Entry for Week CCCXIII
Were: Scorpion
Oh the Places You’ll Go
1197 Words


“It’s a fairly easy process.”

Dr. Keisler’s voice continues through the talking points outlined on the pamphlet in my hands.

“We confirmed there’s a viable embryo today. Next, we move on to blood testing for genetic compatibility.”

No expense was spared on the full color trifold. A picturesque couple cradles a newborn baby between them with smiling faces. The child’s skin glistens, but not the high gloss finish on the paper. Instead of baby soft skin, scales cover the infant from head to toe.

“And what if there’s no compatibility?” I ask without looking up.

A pause. Keisler chooses her words carefully. “That is rare. More common, the genetic compatibility is aligned with a mammalian species. If that is the case, you can choose how you want to continue with the pregnancy…”

She trails off, but we both know there is only one option for this child. A baby born without the hybrid enhancements of an ectothermic species could never feel the sun on their face or breathe outside air. There would only be life in the Underground to look forward to – cramped apartments buried under miles of soil. The closest thing they could experience to daytime would be the lights in the tunnels, rigged to ebb and glow in imitated diurnal cycles. To survive Topside, an organism must thrive on heat and UV exposure.

The genetic therapies weren’t ready for clinical trials when I was born. For me, it’s a lifetime of breathing recycled air and staring at pictures of Topside on my computer screen. Some humans make it up there, where thick plastic windows march up heavy concrete skeletons towards the sky. The astronomical living expenses can only be managed by finding a company looking for new employees, and there are no human-owned companies Topside.

My hand drops to my belly, the skin just beginning to swell with the suggestion of life inside.

“How long do I have to wait for results?” I finally ask.

“Three to five business days. They will email you the results. Then we can proceed with the injections if appropriate to the embryonic compatibility.”

---

Nobody gives a gently caress about gender anymore. People used to bake cakes and release balloons; all to celebrate if a child was a boy or a girl. Now everyone asks what species compatibilities your future child possesses, and which you are going to select for them.

In vitro hybridization wasn’t a large jump from genetically modified crops, and these days it’s impossible to grow anything besides the biotech crops. Our aversion to such technology reduced with necessity, but the hybrids still face animosity from the society that created them. Instead of being isolated by their differences, the hybrids have carved out of a world Topside from the remains of past civilizations. Now it’s just humans in the sunlight starved world of the Underground, our UV secure hell.

The email finally comes. I wish I had a drink in hand but it would be asinine to give the child fetal alcohol poisoning after investing my life saving’s into this. The attachments take forever to load, but finally the letter reads-

Congratulations Miss June Avaxis,
Our testing has concluded that your child is eligible for genetic therapies in the following Classes
Arachnida
Please ensure you complete the associated liability paperwork and read the disclaimers thoroughly.


I sink back in my chair, glancing over the boilerplate information. It blurs together; ‘no guarantee of species’, ‘as likely to kill the fetus as hybridize’, ‘some experience severe pain from injections’, ‘the maternal body may reject the fetus upon hybridization.’

“Listen up, kid. We’re going places,” I promise to my womb.

The white noise of the air purifier is the only response.

---

All birth plans are untested theories, but it’s hard to plan for birth when you don’t know what form the child will take.

An egg? Gills and a water birth? Will the thorax be so broad and rigid with chitin that a cesarean will be necessary? The ultrasound image shows the eight legs that we expected from Arachnida, and a heartbeat strong enough to keep the body alive, but we don’t know if blood or haemolymph flows through their veins. It’s been six excruciating months of injections and vitals checks, my money slowly dwindling to the handful of credits I’ll have when I leave this hospital.

When we leave this hospital.

Two emails have already come through from companies with offers for residency in a small apartments Topside. Arachnida is an uncommon compatibility and my skills match their need for day laborers. I’ll have to work Underground during the day, but at night I can return to our Topside apartment and see the stars for the first time in my life. I keep the stars in my mind as the contractions break against me like waves. At first I had enough time to think about breathing between each fresh onslaught, but now I have to be reminded.

It feels as if the doctors made a terrible mistake in assessing my body’s ability to bring this child into the world instead of a scalpel. Dr. Keisler’s voice is as even and calm as when she first explained the pamphlet to me, except now she is telling me we only have a little farther to go and to get ready to push.

“Just wait, hold on, breathe in, wait to breathe out-”

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see her reaching for thick gloves. Not the sanitary nitrile of surgical procedure, but the kind of thick mesh nothing can get through. As the oncoming contraction seizes me, I understand her words.

“And push.”

The entrance of my child into this world is marked by a searing pain as they emerge with an anguished scream, pale and white as the walls in the surgical suite. I can’t tell if the sound left my throat or what must be their mouth, a cross-section of pedipalps and chelicerae that stretch out from where human lips would be.

“Oh she’s beautiful.” Dr. Keisler croons. I can’t tell how she knows what gender the child is. I can only see the eight legs unfolding from the sides of an otherwise humanoid form, wriggling in the air as the newborn makes an uncoordinated effort to cling to the doctor’s gloves.

I reach out to her, fascinated by the two black eyes staring back at me where I expected eight. I mumble through an exhausted fog, “She’s not a spider?”

Dr. Keisler laughs and I can see the nurse reaching behind my child, pulling something that stretches from her tailbone along segmented extension of the spine. She ties the thick barb at the end to the ankle of lowest leg with a pink ribbon. There’s no umbilical cord to cut.

“No, my dear. She’s a scorpion. Congratulations!”

When they set her against my chest, there’s a rattling noise as her mouth parts emit a soft stridulation. I kiss the ends of her segmented legs, skipping the lowest. She’s not close to human. She was made to go places, and I’m coming with her. I whisper against her hairless head, “Let’s go home.”

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Yoruichi posted:

A crit of 3 Hours by Lippincott for no particular reason other than I happened to read and like this so I thought I'd tell you so.

Thank you so much, Yoruichi! I missed it in the mix and so I apologize that my gratitude is delayed.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


In with a request for a flash rule, please.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Week CCCXVI: Measure Twice, Cut Once
Map-Reading
Flash Rule Race Against Time
Words 1,200

When Jason drops me off at the trailhead, his stubble grazes my cheek as he kisses me gently with a confident, “You got this. I’ll see you on Tuesday night.”

He waits in the lot for me to disappear up the trail. Buoyed by the sense of being alone, I lengthen my stride. The night before, Jason carefully weighed each part of my pack – double checking my math down to the fractional ounce. I knew it was about thirty eight pounds, significantly more than the recommended percentage of my body weight.

I couldn’t feel the excess yet. The first few miles are always the same, long strides and the weight settling on my hips easily. There’s no blisters yet, the sweat hasn’t slicked away the layer of bug repellant and the sunscreen is holding strong. Jason had quietly disagreed with the extra precautionary pounds, pointing out how well-marked the trail was and our previous experience traveling it. I referenced the ten essentials and whined about needing more than trail mix to eat.

The last three weeks were filled with imagining how the unlikely could overlap with the disastrous on a wilderness trail. It didn’t seem so scary last year when Jason led me silhouetted against the grand vistas, glancing over his shoulder with a patient smile as I struggled in his wake. When the stars wheeled over our heads as we slept without a tent, I felt grounded where our shoulders touched, listening to his soft voice defining the constellations. Covered in dirt and sweat and DEET, I finished that trip bone-tired and so wildly in love with Jason I proposed in the weeks after.

He accepted. The date is next month, an August wedding.

Which is why he was incredulous when I announced this trip. “We are getting married next month.” He kept repeating, to which I parried, “And what is left to be done?” The details were all finalized, the contractors all booked, the strawberry cake with lemon buttercream frosting tasted. I also couldn’t shake the feeling of something left unproven on this mountain. Some part of me that hadn’t been enough to carry my own weight or contribute in any way besides company. I could select photography packages and haggle with DJs, but a childhood without Boy Scouts and camping had left me unprepared to adventure with Jason for the rest of our lives.

This was my way to prove to myself that I was enough for him; that I could stretch my comfort zone.

*

By mile six, I am sick of the sound of my own breathing. The beautiful birdsongs are white noise. Another vista passes by to my right, ignored as I huff and gasp after the ascent. I’ve already seen three others, and nature views are blurring together. I am getting a sun burn.

By mile ten, everything hurts and I have no idea why I wanted to do this for three more days. This was a lot more fulfilling when I could stare at Jason’s perfect rear end for the entirety of the trip, his voice casually breaking up the silence by naming a tree or mushroom I wouldn’t have noticed. Now all I can hear is my pulse in my ears, my breathing ragged as the extra weight is made very evident by the burning in my calves.

When I unpack my bag at the end of the day, I’m chewing on one of the heavy bars of sausage I insisted on bringing. It tastes like regret. All of my supplies look so excessive scattered out like this. My heels are a battered mess of blisters that have burst and then sloughed away.

Thirty more miles to go.

I fall asleep as soon as I wriggle into the sleeping bag, before the stars have even come out.

*

I wake knowing something is wrong.

Jason once described a cougar stalking him. He could sense it in his gut, a cold dread that prickled the back of his neck and whispered “Look behind you.” I feel it now, staring at the plume of smoke rising from the way I came. It’s huge and black, guttering into the otherwise blue sky from a single point that’s spreading too fast to be a campfire anymore.

“gently caress.”

It feels hollow as I say it. I’m on one of those beautiful vistas, and my mouth is dry as I watch a wildfire start at the base of the mountain I’m perched on. Of course there’s no service. I keep staring at my phone’s screen like it’s going to help, like I can call Jason and he can tell me which way to go and what to do now. The Satellite locator seemed so excessive, but I would slap down $350 to have one right now.

How fast can a fire move?

As if to answer my question, the wind picks up the smoke and blows it my way like a cat playing with its prey.

I shove back on my shoes and begin re-organizing my pack. I’m dumping food out as I spread the map to look at the patchwork quilt of roads and trails, my focus narrowing on the best way out. I hope some distant fire lookout has sounded the alarm, that someone can get me out of here if I can get to a road. I can’t wait any longer with the wind whipping like this. One last look at the map, and I start walking.

I’m moving fast, a steady five mile per hour clip without a break to even piss. The wind is moving this fire faster though. I can’t get a signal for long enough to send out a text message, though I keep trying. The words “There’s a fire. I love you. I’m going to road 23” glare uselessly up at me from the screen. I have a full battery, for all he good it does me. I can smell smoke now, and it’s hotter than the midday sun accounts for.

The adrenaline wore off in the first hour, and I know my sock is soaked with blood from the new blisters. I keep moving, purposefully checking the map I almost didn’t pack, and comparing it to the compass I hold away from my body like a beacon in the night. The birds went silent a long time ago, but there are other things moving through the trees, deer and smaller woodland creatures fleeing along the same path as me.

I hit road 23 stumbling. I keep imagining I can hear things popping and sizzling behind me. I realize before the truck hits me that it’s the sound of gravel crunching underneath the tires of an oncoming Jeep, not the fire at my back. The Forest Service vehicle slams on the brakes, the ranger sparing no niceties as she shouts, “Get in.”

It’s not until we’re on the main highway and I’ve stopped shaking she looks back at the map and compass in my hands and ruefully laughs.

“Glad you packed those?”

“Yeah,” I admit, trying to get the taste of smoke out of my mouth with another swig of water, “Even happier my fiancé taught me to use them.”

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


In for an emotional week.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Sunday Dinner
Word Count 1,199
Prompt Insecurity, rage



---


Abe waits for Mom to set down dinner on the farmhouse table. It takes four trips from the kitchen, and it took as many hours to prepare. His mother only leaves her domain to present or prepare food; mountains of starches, slabs of meat, and a meager salad attempt of iceberg lettuce. He gave up trying to help her when he was fifteen, because the suggestion she needed helped seemed to insult her.

The roast comes last, and he takes it from Mom because she can’t reach the center of the table. Dad’s already seated, silent despite the meal prepared for him. He doesn’t thank Mom, instead calling them to say grace. With bowed heads, Abe and his parents speak the same four stanzas they have for as long as Abe can remember. His lips move around the words, but they’re hollow in his chest and flavorless on his tongue. When they’re done, Abe offers, “It looks wonderful, Mom.”

Sometimes Abe says it looks ‘great’ or ‘good’ or ‘delicious’. It’s Sunday though, so he says ‘wonderful.’ It’s easier to vary the compliments when you schedule them. She smiles, but not with her eyes.

“Thank you, but I think the potatoes came out a little gritty.”

Mom doesn’t take compliments without offering up a self-deprecating observation about herself. The high school counselor says Abe does the same thing. Mom’s serving him up the allegedly gritty potatoes. He smiles, accepting his plate after a large slab of lamb completes it.

“I’m sure it’s fine, Mom.”

Abe can’t test that theory until Dad begins to eat though. He sets down his meal and waits. When Dad takes a bite, Mom knows she can serve herself the leavings of the carefully prepared meal while he opines about the wolves that took two cattle from the Henderson’s last week. Abe takes a sip of water, before interjecting without preamble.

“I was talking to Mrs. Collins today-”

Dad looks annoyed to be cut off in the middle of a ‘shoot, shovel, shut up’ rant. Mom feigns polite interest.

“Your science teacher?”

“Biology, yeah.”

Dad’s chewing silently, eyeing Abe like a good stock dog about to drive in for a bite. Abe’s used to the look.

“Yeah, she thinks with my grades that I should go to University of Idaho. Apparently I could get a couple thousand a year, what with being from in-state and-”

Dad makes a scoffing noise. Abe pauses and watches Dad swallow, the outline of food skittering down his throat like a roach. The table waits in trained silence for Dad offer up an opinion. Abe takes a bite of the mashed potatoes. They are all butter and cream.

“What about the rest of it? You got fifteen thousand, boy?” Dad asks without asking.

He doesn’t expect a response, which is why he startles a bit when Abe speaks again, interrupting the evening rant about ‘the god drat Feds.’

“The potatoes came out perfect, Mom.”

His mother shoots him a look, even though she’s smiling thinly at the compliment and receives it with a murmured, “Thank you, still a bit watery…”

“I applied in the spring, actually. They let me in with a partial scholarship, but I still need a few signatures...” Abe continues his previous train of thought, seemingly unaffected by the little twitch over Dad’s left eye.

He cuts his lamb carefully while he speaks, segregating it into small bites of medium rare, before drizzling the cuts with mint sauce made fresh from Mom’s garden. He planned out this conversation; rehearsed it in his room over and over again while staring in the mirror, hating with every word how much he looked like his father. He had practiced because he knew he needed to remain calm, to steady his voice, to speak to Dad like one would gentle a wild horse. Not that it would matter. His calm could not change an angry man.

“It’s just paperwork. I have it in my car. It needs to be done so I can start in the fall.”

Mom’s pale, staring at him across the table with those wide brown eyes. He expects the words out of her mouth to be a bleat of fear, but whatever she wanted to say is drowned out by Dad’s dangerously low tone growling across the tabletop.

“You’re not going to college, Abe. We don’t have the money and you need to stay here. We have too much-”

The meat is great. Abe takes a slow bite and chews thoughtfully. It keeps him from interrupting like it feels he should. He should let his dad know it’s already decided, that he’s as stubborn as his father, and as strategic as his mother. The paperwork requests signatures and parental financials, but Abe has already devised a way around that requirement with the assistance of the academic counselor. He knew this would be Dad’s reaction, but it seemed respectful to attempt this conversation.

“-I need you here. What do you expect your mother and me to do? What’re you going to learn that you can’t learn here?”

“Biology,” It wasn’t actually a question, but Abe was answering it like one. Dad’s face was veiny and bulging, his jawline set so tight he may crack a crown. Abe pressed on. “But I want to focus in Wildlife Sciences, so statistics, calculus, chemis-”

“What the gently caress did you just say, Abe?” Dad bellowed, incapable of attempting quiet intimidation tactics.

“Language.” Mom squeaked.

“Carol, did you just hear what he said?” Dad implored, asking for someone at the table to see reason.

“Wildlife Sciences. Yeah, it’s the study of-”

“Did Mrs. Collins put this in your head? You’re not going to college and certainly not going to study some liberal hippie bullshit.”

Mom is crying. Abe isn’t sure when she started, and he wishes he could reach over and apologize for this entire conversation. But he can’t. Abe can’t live like Mom for the rest of his life. He says nothing and stands.

“You sit down right now, Abe.”

He carefully avoids Dad’s eyes and turns for the front room. He could yell back. He could slam his fists on the table and wave his arms and square his shoulders until it came to blows. Or he could simply set down his napkin, and walk away.

He is halfway to the door when he hears Dad coming after him, the heavy boots thudding on the wooden floors. ‘Turn now’, his instincts scream, ‘Run’. But Abe has a lifetime to know it ends the same way. He can hear the slick of the belt coming out of Dad’s pant loops’, the jangle of buckle as he wraps it around his hand readying to send it out in a lashing arc across Abe’s retreating shoulders. Abe winces.

Instead there’s a loud thud.

And Abe turns around before he can help himself, and stares down at Dad who tripped on the entryway rug.

Silence hangs between them as he stares down at his prostrate father, belt still in Dad’s hand, upholstery bundled up in treacherous folds beneath him.

“Get the gently caress out. And don’t come back,” is all Dad says.

Abe obliges without another word.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Most definitely in.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Riding the River
Prompt Magical Girls
Words 1,277


The truck hits every pot hole like it’s attempting to launch, creaking from side to side with steely groans. Robbie’s fingers dig into my thigh whenever I bounce across the bench seat, using the excuse of steadying me to climb higher up my leg. I brace my boot against the bucket frame of the passenger seat and leverage away from his touch.

“Almost there?” He asks, tapping my knee as I retreat.

I’m swallowing bile to murmur, “Yeah, just turn at the oak tree.”

“I knew you’d come around,” he grins like a wolf with hamstringed prey as his eyes ease over my appearance. I know he’s peeling off my thick jeans with his gaze, ignoring the dirt from the barn, imagining that I’ll keep the cowboy boots on. “I came on a little strong at the party last Friday, but I didn’t mean anything by it.”

‘It’ was pinning me against the hallway wall and forcing his hand down my pants. He asked me if I liked Reverse Cowgirl or if I had a lot of experience riding something besides horses. The truck jolts and I feel like I’m going to be sick, pressing my palm against the dash and staring down at my feet.

“It’s fine.” I chew the inside of my mouth until I can taste blood and smile while swallowing it down.

It will be fine.

I smell the river as soon as we park. It’s the thick smell of dark and deep water. I stumble out of the car, letting the low dirge of insect wings and the light breeze rolling off the sandy banks envelop my senses. The sound of the door shutting jolts me into the present, and I can feel him looming behind me. His hand rests on my shoulder, slides down to the small of my back, lower- I move away, towards the river.

The late summer sun is creeping towards the horizon as we pick our way down to the banks. I slip off my boots and step into the shallows, my toes curling around smooth pebbles as water bugs skitter across the surface.

“So how’d you find this place?” he asks, taking in the low hanging branches of the cypress that shadow the shallows, “It’s a perfect fishing hole.”

I smile because that’s what I’m expected to do, and glance over my shoulder at him.

“We used to live up the road. I’d come here after school with my brothers.”

“I didn’t realize you had brothers.”

He’s taking off his boots, aiming to join me in the water. I move a bit farther out to avoid the hand I know he wants to put on my back.

“They died.” I state it like the fact it is. He has the good sense to look sorry for the first time in his life. “It happened when I was young, but I had two older brothers.”

“Wow. That’s rough.” He manages, setting his boots aside and putting his foot in the water. I watch him wince as the cold jolts up through his calf, the spasms of his muscles puzzling over the sudden change in temperature.

I take another step in. The water climbs up to my calves, seeping up my jeans.

“Go any deeper and you’re going to ride back home without your pants!” He laughs as if it’s a joke, as if this wasn’t his plan all along. I know I’m expected to laugh too, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. I’m smiling for a different reason.
The summer sun is below the ridge now, casting long shadows as it finally sets. The marsh flies are going to sleep and the fireflies waking. Robbie misses all of this though. He’s closing the distance between us, laughing like we’re playing a game.

I suppose we are.

I take a step back, the waters rising up to my thighs as the current tugs at my weight. I feel the pebbles beneath my toes shudder as the River awakens.

“Be careful, Jessie!” He’s warning me, acting like he’s actually worried.

“I thought we were going swimming?” I ask, coquettish as the vixen toying with a hound.

Apprehension flickers in his eyes, but he doggedly pursues deeper into the current. “It gets deep fast,” he murmurs, trying to make the nerves in his voice sound like concern.

“I can swim” I parry, taking another step back, letting the water hungrily claw up my hips. “I couldn’t when I was younger. Even though we lived so close to the river, you think someone would have shown me, right?”

“Uh, right.” Robbie isn’t sure where I’m going with this. I can tell he’s confused, but I take another step back, and now the water sloshes up to my chest. Whatever caution festered in the vestiges of his primal consciousness are chased away by the twitch of his cock.

“So one day, my brothers lost track of me. I had seen something in the water, kind of like a fish, but it didn’t swim. It just parted the water. I saw its head come up and my kid brain thought it must be a unicorn. As soon as I got up to my legs though, the current dragged me under.”

“Holy poo poo. Did your brothers save you?”

“No. They tried. But that’s how they drowned.”

I take another step back, and the bank drops off under my feet. The River sucks me under in a swirl of frigid cold and roaring current. I can feel it pulling down on my jeans, tethering me to the silty floor. In a practiced motion, I unclip my belt, kicking myself free of the weight as I tumble through the murky darkness. A branch tangles in my hair and I rip myself free, another dragging through my blouse until it tears open. There’s a moment when I breathe and the black water floods my lungs that I am seized with panic, but it passes as soon as the instinct to choke passes.

I reach out and the River is there. Its current formed into heavily muscled and proudly arched neck, the soft eddies a silvery mane, and the whole of its churning rapids corded into four powerful legs it now stamps impatiently with equine snort. It lowers its head and waits for me to swing my leg over its back.

Together we break the surface in a surge of black water.

“What the gently caress, Jessie? What the gently caress is that?”

The panic in his voice throttles the curse words, making it sound like a child pretending at confidence. He’s stumbling back into the shallows, trying to put distance between me and the River I sit astride. To his four steps, the River takes one and devours the distance between them. Robbie screams now, because he can see the River has rows upon rows of teeth, and its opening its mouth.

The screaming abruptly stops as I drive my heels into the side of the River. It lunges forward in a surge of water and darkness that engulfs Robbie’s head. The rest of his body is dangling above the shallows now, legs kicking helplessly as the River’s jaws close, crunching as countless teeth break through cartilage and shatter bone.

I lay across the neck of the River, sliding my hands over the muscles as they convulse to continue easing Robbie down its gullet. It tosses its head back, throwing Robbie’s legs comically skyward where they dance across the stars. The fireflies are out as I sigh and murmur into the River’s nodule of an ear.

“He wanted to know if I rode anything except horses.”

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


In.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Sons of Hróðvitnir
Words997

I hate this ride.

The elevator climbs at a speed impossible fifty years ago, powered skyward by a combination of human ingenuity and stupidity. I respect their accomplishments, but I would have preferred my natural method of launching space bound. When my brother completed his exit strategy though, we lost New York.

The technician makes no effort at discussion. We have passed the last two hours in silence, and the acrid stench of his fear is makes my back itch. I know it’s not the climb into the mesosphere. This is routine to him, a taxi driver for the stars. As our bucket rattles through the last vestiges of the atmosphere and bursts into the turbulence of auroras, the wheel chair under my hands sounds like it may shake apart.

The sound finally drags his eyes up to me, and his pupils dilate like a rabbit realizing it needs to run. Except there’s nowhere to run in here. I would smile, but a wolf’s smile never made anyone feel better. I turn my gaze to the monitor that shows Earth spinning beneath our feet and wait for the sound of his heartbeat to stop thundering in my ears.

“Do you think you can stop him?”

I don’t realize he’s asked me a question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing for the past two weeks. I respond while staring at the monitor. I can’t look at the technician without seeing my reflection in his glasses; a frail looking husk of a man in a wheelchair hurtling through the cosmos.

“You should hope so.”

I don’t have the energy to salve his fears or promise him the Moon will still hang in the sky when the Earth completes its next turn.

“I do. I hope. But I believe that you can save us.”

I turn my golden eyes to him, regarding the elevator technician with that removed disdain humans always earn. Yet they amuse me, perhaps I have even grown attached to them. He looks away immediately, and I ask his shuffling feet.

“Do you have a brother?”

I can tell that he doesn’t like the question but he placates me with a response. “I do. Three.”

A wry chuckle loosens from my throat, devolving into a cough without warning. He waits patiently for me to recover enough to chortle, “I’m glad I don’t have three brothers.”

“I’m glad you don’t either.” He agrees, and despite our present circumstances, we both laugh.

---

The Commander of our docking space station regards me with incredulity as I wheel out of the airlock. I smile and adjust the blanket around my weak legs, my hands pausing long enough in propelling myself forward to extend my hand to offer a handshake. He grips my hand but immediately drops his eyes.

“Mr. Hati.”

He says it ‘hat-tee’ and I twitch a little at the mispronunciation. Yet I let him finish with his preamble.

“We are indebted to you for your service today. Please let me know if you will need anything to complete your mission.”

“It’s Hah-tee. Let me know when we are about aligned with what’s left of the moon.”

The twenty minutes drags into what feels like hours with nothing to fill the dead space but idle chatter.

“Five minutes. You may want to prep your crew.” I interrupt. My eyes haven’t left the clock. He falls quiet, staring at me for a long moment before I feel his hand pat my thin shoulders.

“Thank you.” He manages, and then he’s gone. The dock begins to clear.

I’m alone when the warning alarms begin to echo and the air locks turns. The maw of the ship opens up into dead space that engulfs me in one tumultuous snap.

---

As the blood freezes in my veins, I can feel myself waking up from a deep sleep. My brother’s transformation in New York was a torturously long performance, bones snapping, sinew breaking, darkness doubling in on itself as he grew and grew into a monstrosity before the eyes of millions who were about to be snuffed out of existence. There was screaming, so much screaming.

Out here, it’s silent.

I know they are watching. The elevator technician on his monitor, traveling back to earth and his three brothers, probably all crowded around the same television with the rest of his family. All the world packed into bars and living rooms, watching the most important fight of their lives on television. My skin shatters as I stretch, pulling in the darkness of the space around me, mass doubling and tripling but there’s no gravity out here. I spin in free fall, and nothing hurts.

Years of pain in that wheelchair, starving slowly as I tried to eat enough to satiate what I was, denying who I had to become. Obliterated in one instant as the stars open up in front of me and my jaws open in a delighted howl, and I know the people on the screens can see me as I really am now. As what I was always meant to be. Hati, Hróðvitnir’s son, the wolf god who eats the sun.

The heat of the sun, I can feel her pull calling me even from here, saliva pooling on my tongue and gagging me with the insistent hunger. That single, devouring need to catch her and rip her into pieces, make her part of me.

But that’s not why I’m here.

I turn slowly, twisting in the free fall spin until I can spread my paws to brace against the solar wind gust, and pushing with every muscle in my celestial being. The moon careens into view, my brother’s dark form perched along the rocky spine. He pauses in ripping apart pieces of her ghostly hide, signaling the end of this world’s cycle with the untimely demise of its lunar denizen.

That’s when I break against him with all the power left in me in a whirl of fur and hate.

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


In!

Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Sphericals
Words 1658
Prompt Armillary Sphere

The cabinet was a massive piece of furniture for their small apartment. The lines in the stained oak had been carefully shaped by hand, cabinetry rising from tapered legs into shelves spanning the breadth of the wall.

James stepped towards his birthday gift skeptically, running his palm along the polished wood as the metal apparatus on top of it seized his focus.

“Do you love it?”

Shae asked, unable to contain her enthusiasm. James swallowed thickly, turning around with a smile teasing the corner of his lips.

“It’s incredible. Where did you find it?”

“Oh, you know that little antique shop that is off of Alder?”

James didn’t, but he nodded so she could continue excitedly.

“It was a refurbished piece. I’m not sure what this used to be, but the shop owner converted it into a bar. As soon as I saw it, I knew you had to have it.”

James turned back to the metal circles arranged on the surface of the cabinet, the focal point of the furniture. His hand slid from the wood up the pedestal, pausing at the joint all the orbitals mounted to.

“It’s an armillary sphere. I had to look it up. It supposedly represents the principle circles of heaven.” Shae continued on to detail the history of armillary spheres.

While she spoke, James’ fingers drifted along the brass rings, coming to rest at the dial and winch system. A small twist adjusted the angles of the different spheres, but the mechanism was deceptively simple. Minor adjustments caused the modeled orbits to shift in a way James didn’t expect, such as the passage of the sun and moon. Perplexed, James fiddled with the settings, making minute adjustments as he tried to understand how the pieces fit together. The bands reflected the kitchen lights, blurring the beams into fuzzy globes that blurred under the lazy drone of Shae’s words. He startled out of the reverie upon recognizing the sudden sharpness in her tone.

“James.”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“I hope you like it.”

“I do.”

The words didn’t feel quite right when he looked at the interlocking spheres poised atop the old hewn wood, but he made them fit.

+

Every night, James selected a leaded highball glass and set it on the surface of the bar. Three ice cubes hit the sides, then a slosh of something amber colored and warm, but drink sat forgotten on the top of the cabinet. The television filled the silence in the same room while James sat beside the cabinet and stared at the simple mechanism, turning the equinoctials and ellipticals in complicated arrays.

At first he referenced a diagram on his phone, trying to find a Tropic or Arctic Circle. Only after twisting and turning and sighing in defeat would he finally turn off his phone and settle in beside Shae to drink his drink. He never said anything though. Just sipped the watered down alcohol in his glass and glanced occasionally over his shoulder at the sphere.

The silences between them had never felt so thin before, stretched by unanswered questions whenever Shae tried to talk to him. Reference books and note books piled, and James would look up briefly, but only after she repeated herself a third time. He never remembered what she had asked, and his blank stare told her he could no longer hear her.

James could get like this sometimes. His mind thrived off research, but fixated easily. When they were first dating, it was snakes, specifically ball pythons and their many varied color morphologies. Shae had been supportive, until there were stacked cages alongside every wall of their apartment and the constant hum of the heat lamps drove the electricity to $200 a month. Shae reasoned the armillary sphere was a similar passing obsession. She simply had to wait.

Waiting was painful though. She watched James over the back of the couch as he thinned, his eyes shadowed from lack of sleep, his back perpetually hunched over the notes he was making. At least there weren’t forty snakes in her apartment right now. Shae raised her glass to small victories, and turned back to her cooking show.

One evening when Shae returned home, James was already there, sitting in his chair beside the sphere, furiously scribbling in the notebook.

“Hungry for dinner?” Shae offered, holding up take out.

Silence.

Sighing deeply, she ate out of the container in front of the television.

“Shae.”

James’ voice sounded ragged around the edges from disuse. She jumped in surprise, grains of rice spilling out of the container and into her lap. Swinging her focus over her shoulder, she smiled and asked, “Want me to make you up a plate?”

“No. Can you mute the television?”

Shae stared at him incredulously. Bobby Flay’s face paused on the television as she hit a button and opened her mouth to ask James when he planned on eating next before she realized he was still in the same clothes from three days ago.

“James, when did you last go to work?”

Silence

Gritting her teeth, she set down her take out and un-paused the television. The sound of a crowded kitchen and meat sizzling on the grill filled the room. Immediately James turned and opened his mouth to ask her to mute the television again. She shouted over Bobby Flay’s narration of how to properly sear.

“James what the gently caress? When did you last go to work?”

James stared at her. He licked his lips. He glanced at the spheres, at his notes beside them, and for a moment Shae considered throwing the take out box at his head. Then he groggily calculated, “I think… I think a week?”

“Did you tell them you weren’t coming in?”

“I…I think so?” He placed a hand on his head, as if trying to ward off a headache. Blinking slowly, he squinted again at his notes and his eyes went distant, as if the words on the page could reach out and ensnare him.

“James.” Shae breathed. She couldn’t yell at him. She was too close to crying. He turned to stare at her, the James she loved in the softening of his features as his own eyes widened just a bit.

“Shae, it’s not the circles of heaven.”

She blinked. “What are you talking about?”

James quietly stood up, glancing over his shoulder at the spheres as if they could overhear his betrayal. He turned back a few pages in the notebook, displaying a carefully sketched diagram. Every looping radial was a perfect circle, labeled with tightly printed handwriting. Shae let him set the notebook on her lap, so grateful that he was speaking to her, touching her, for the first time in months, she could ignore that his only focus was the sphere.

“I thought at first maybe it was just a simple difference between Ptolemaic or Copernican-“ James must have noticed her expression, because he clarified, “-If the sun is in the center or the earth. It’s definitely the earth though, the poles confirm that, but there’s this equinoctial. It should be divided into 24 hours, but it’s not. It’s… counting down.”

Shae raised her eyebrow, making no effort to disguise her disbelief as she clarified, “But the ring is fixed. It’s made out of metal. It can’t count down. It just turns.”

James shook his head furiously, leaning in as he lowered his voice to a whisper.

“No, Shae. You don’t get it. When we first got it, there were 333 indentations. That is odd in itself, it should be 360 evenly spaced degrees. I thought it was a craftsman error. But every day that I’ve taken notes and carefully calibrated the turns there’s 1 less indentation. The middle ring is shrinking.”

“But if they’re not degrees… Then what are they? And if that rink shrinks, wouldn’t it just run into the other rings?”

She stood up to inspect the Armillary Sphere but James put a hand on her shoulder and shook his head, “Shae, the rings move when I’m not watching them. They twist around one another, fold to allow one colure to become another, a tropic to swap or an eliptic to bend. I only realized it after I started taking the notes.”

He thumbed back in the notebook, as if this could clarify anything. It was an unintelligible mess of diagrams and carefully printed notes. She couldn’t tell him she didn’t believe him, or that he just needed sleep and food. Instead she suggested.

“I think we should sell it.”

He stared at her, looking over his shoulder at the cabinet, slowly shaking his head as he breathed.

“It’s not that simple. I really think something bad is going to happen, Shae. I just can’t figure out what it is.”

Gently she squeezed his hands, lifting them to her lips and pressing her fingers to each knuckle before she looked pleadingly up into his eyes.

“Then it won’t happen to us, okay? I’ll put it on Craigslist. Please. I would rather have you back for one night than worry for the next six months about what secrets you will find in that bundle of bands.”

She watched his throat move as he swallowed thickly and nodded once, not trusting his voice in the presence of the sphere.

+

It took one week to sell on Craiglist. A father and son picked it up and loaded it into a pickup truck with a smile and a wave. Shae graciously started their collection with a bottle of bourbon. When the first email came a month later from the buyer, she ignored it.

When the second email came, she blocked the address.

When she recognized the buyers in a news article detailing a gruesome and inexplicable house fire that took the family’s life, she kissed James on the cheek and turned on the television without a word.

It had been 333 days since she purchased the cabinet.

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Lippincott
Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Fast, condensed and straight-forward crits.

Thank you so much!!!

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