fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

The boy laid in a white room, a white bed, and white clothes while Robert Molner looked on, taking initial notes.


Mother was reluctant to leave, but subject submitted to clothes change and recumbent position without proclivity to violence--restraints and support unnecessary.


The mother had been adamant that she remain in the room; after all, she said, her son avoided all other children on the playground at recess and had scratched and bit relentlessly when a teacher tried to bring him to play with the others. She thought she could calm him down but clearly knew otherwise since she decided to bring the boy to Robert in the end.


The boy’s name was Thom. He was a small boy with pale skin and a dusty blond mop of hair on his head. He didn’t look ferocious as much as sick. Deeply purple blots puffed out beneath his eyelids--that much would have been enough to solicit Robert’s assistance for most people--and a fainter bluish ring surrounded his mouth.


As relaxed as Thom looked, his pulse was beating quickly and his breath faltered when drawn even if it was consistent in rhythm.


Subject is visibly afraid. Administered first probe when subject settled in...


Robert liked to note a probe before it happened because dealing with reality after delving through a dream could be challenging. Having a notepad to remind him what to do when he returned to his own body was essential for an oneirotrist.


“Do you know what I do, Thom?” Robert asked the boy.


“You’ll look at my dreams.”


“More than look. I’ll join them with you, inside your head. I’ll put my fingers here,” Robert said while placing his fingers near Thom’s temples, “and walk with you when you experience whatever you are experiencing.”

“Why?” Thom asked.


“To help you through it. Nobody would pay me if I couldn’t help. And if nobody paid me, I would be hungry. Being hungry makes me cranky,” Robert said, tightening his jaw and dropping it into a deep, pitiable grimace.


Thom didn’t find it funny. Robert was terrible at working with children, but he held the face a little longer anyway.


“Won’t you help me eat? Let me in?”

“OK, I’m ready,” Thom replied. The boy looked up at the ceiling with determination clenched between his gritted teeth. Oh, child, you’re not ready for this at all, Robert thought.


“Close your eyes.”


In time, the sedatives they had given to him took effect. Without rolling over or fidgeting, Thom closed his eyes. Robert moved in with a morpholyzer, a device that looked and worked like jumper cables attached to three car batteries, two of which happened to be, in this case, human heads and the brains within. The third was a small relay box designed to facilitate the jump. Robert always lied when people asked him how a dream connection would work--no one was very amused when he pulled out the little box and several feet of cables and told them he would shove the devices deep inside one ear (that was the permitter) and the other one deep into the nose (that was the receptor). Worrying about being eaten by technology was a recurring theme in dreams after Robert mentioned the box, so he eventually decided to omit it.


As Robert pulled up another bed alongside Thom, and as he shoved the receptor deep inside his nose, lodging it where it was most ticklish, he wondered if he was in the right profession.


*****


There is a one-story house, but the lines are not straight. The yard’s grass bends uniformly at a 45 degree angle to the left, changing relative to the viewer. The picket fence surrounding the house doesn’t seal off the backyard, and there are contorted faces in the wood instead of knots.


The door is open and leads into a tremendous, abandoned warehouse with steel fans spinning and punctuating the dim sunlight leaking in--this is the starter room. Instead of going inside, there is laughter in the backyard. Each note of childish giggling lasts about one second longer than is normal, even for children. It sounds like someone being mocked.


In the backyard, a man with a whorlface is drinking a beer named… a man with a beer is sitting in a lawnchair. The man has a beard but then he does not. The man has sunglasses but then he does not. He is smiling, and he is frowning. He laughs a deep bellow that cuts short, ending in spittle.


Thom is in the grass, chasing a cat. It’s a black and white tomcat, very large. Another boy is sitting next to the man in the lawnchair. The cat seems bigger again. It runs behind a tool shed and the fence bends when cat and fixture collide. When Thom circles behind the shed, the cat moves to the center of the lawn, waiting. Thom easily catches it and tries to lift it, but the cat’s paws and torso spill out of Tom’s grasp like sand.


Thom pulls the tail. There is a grip now, and Thom tugs upward. The cat doesn’t move. Clouds move in and the rain falls, making the man and the other boy disappear while the cat remains completely still except for two eyes that are dilated with fear before the eyes narrow to the point that they resemble razors. The wind reverberates and the rain falls unevenly and the cat’s form becomes unstable, flickering with the rain.


Something large falls on Thom, flattening him into the grass and dragging him across the yard until he collides with the fence.


When Robert had his first lucid dream, his first indication that oneirology was the profession for him, he watched an ocean from the bobbing of a buoy. He realized that he felt trapped in a position, unable to see the depth of the sea no matter what force was exerted on him. Always floating, Robert would take anything anyone gave him, never truly making goals.


He would attribute his own will to this later, but an object fell from heaven then, splashing as it made contact with the sea, sinking out of sight. Robert mourned the loss of it, but whatever it was, it drained the ocean completely. Nothing would remain sightless after that. Robert was a prodigy at dream manipulation and it started with himself.


*****


Robert awoke to find himself in a white room again, wearing his standard all black slacks and shirts. The contrast between Robert and the rest of the room helped the subject begin inputting him into the dreams. It hadn’t happened yet, Robert realized.


It also occurred to Robert that his patient apparently died in the last dream. His own dream took over when Thom’s failed; few people could dream their own deaths, but it seemed like this happened to Thom on a regular basis.


Robert examined his subject.


Subject’s heart rate has increased. Eye movement indicates continued REM-cycle patterns even if dream sensations are non-present. Administering second probe. Intensity of first probe merits increased caution.


The morpholyzer’s effects could be wearisome if Thom needed to be probed too many times before resolution--the central conflict of a dream being fixed or removed by the dreamer somehow--could be achieved.


For Robert’s part, the fewer times he had to watch Thom get trounced by something unseen and the fewer times he had to shove a morpholyzer node deep inside his nose, the better.


*****


Calm wind on open water.


Thom sits in a shallow, wooden boat. The waves move like waves but are mostly still. No land visible anywhere. Thom is wearing an anachronistic sailor hat like the boy character on a box full of frozen fried fish.


Thom has a fishing pole. The line is long, but flimsy. The line is cast. The reel has a digital display because it is from an electronic fishing game. The clouds in the sky look like dolphins, sharks, and whales, repeating in that order. The air smells like a bubble bath.


Something dark moves beneath the boat.


Robert starts to scream, but he is a buoy in the distance again.


The line hooks on something, and Thom is snatched from the boat and hauled underwater. The splash of his body going in is interrupted by another body coming out--a tower of mist sprays the empty wooden boat as it ascends towards the sky with a boy dangling from its mouth. It blots out the sun and the clouds turn purple and rain acid on distant seas. The stars become visible, and each one is on fire while the body continues to ascend.


Robert becomes aware that there is no ocean at all except the movement of scales beneath him.


*****


Robert wipes the sweat from his brow before he wakes up completely. What is this? I’ve never been so scared before, he wonders.


Thom’s body looks different than before. Paler and tense. Robert wonders if it’s time to stop the treatment and turn the boy over to a general practitioner at a hospital. Something seems quite wrong.


Thom’s head tilts to the side in a jerk, and Thom pleads.


“Save me. It comes.”


Robert glances at his notebook--the words are scrambled completely, and he realizes.


The walls to the clinic crumble while the world serpent crosses the other side of the room before coiling back on itself. With its tail firmly wrapped around the whole earth, it rears into a poison sky and whispers with a sound that could shatter bone.


I’m going to eat you. I’m going to eat you.


Robert reaches into his nose and rips out the node.

*****


When the boy’s mother returned to the room after, she couldn’t help but notice that her son still looked pale and sickly.


“Did you help him?”


“Does anyone you know own a large snake?”


“Pardon?”

"I asked you if anyone you knew had a pet snake. Like an anaconda or something similarly sized."

The mother looked perplexed.

"Anaconda? Can you even buy those? What are you talking about?"

Robert went home that evening covered in sweat, and he didn't stop sweating until he pulled the blankets to his chin and turned out the light. He didn't stop sweating until he fell asleep and dreamed of a poisoned sky covering a sundered earth. He dreamed that, beneath the acid rain, Thom fought the serpent until the world ended.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

Sitting at the foot of a dead man’s bed, cradling two different rifles across his lap, Cory Roane held a bullet in each hand. One of the bullets was long, pointy, and heavy, but it otherwise looked exactly like what he expected a bullet from the gun he used to kill Everett Hayes to look like. That gun was branded as a Barrett M107 on the stock--it was an old gun, and when Cory fired it he lost all hearing, having pulled the trigger in too small of a space. His ears were filled with a stinging ring, and he wondered if it would ever end.


The other bullet was something else entirely. It had fins that seemed to be connected to an engine inside the bullet and were adjustable, a razor sharp tip, and considerable weight for being about a fifth of the size of the conventional bullet. Cory wished he knew more about firearms--he owned several but everyone did, and few knew how to actually use them. The gun that likely fired the special bullet was heavy and technologically baffling--it looked nothing like the “status symbol” guns available at any shopping mall, and it certainly wasn’t a poor man’s weapon. It had a silenced barrel, a purely digital scope that offered information about what it was looking at (“chair” or “bookshelf” would be displayed if they were in the reticle) and could be adjusted by voice, a trigger that only loosened when the gun was pointed at a human head, and a strange button that didn’t seem to do anything to the gun but made the bullet’s fins move.


Thinking back, Cory could vaguely recall a trial for a guided bullet, but the bullet never hit the market. If this was a guided bullet, it would explain how Cory thought there were multiple shooters earlier that day when there was really only one. The bullet’s pathing would have tried to avoid structures, if possible, making the odd angles of wounds on people’s heads as they toppled to the ground more understandable. Still, how could Hayes have killed people who were inside the steel shells of shipping containers in New Magdalena? How could he have seen people who were outside his immediate view, hiding?


Cory realized then that Everett Hayes had intended to kill him with the M107. The loud report of the gun as Cory was running away didn’t mean that Hayes had run out of bullets for the more modern weapon--it meant he had chosen to switch. Cory couldn’t quite understand why that would be true, but he guessed that Hayes got tired of using the easy-kill method. The man’s wallet had a permanent hunting license in it as well as a card signifying travel clearance across the wall. The latter of those suggested what Cory had already guessed--someone had sponsored Hayes as an executioner for anyone arriving at New Magdalena. That “someone” likely issued him the gun and expected him to use it all the time.


It worked like this, then: people who had been either pinpointed by a government official for misbehavior or were contacted by relatives in New Magdalena were then, under the premise of outreach crimes, deported to the same place. Fresh groups of people arrived in New Magdalena every three days. They would send emails to family members explaining their innocence or the events using the oddly pre-established internet and lodging in the makeshift town. Once they’d had time to settle in, Hayes would drive from his house to his hill and take shots at the people in town until they were all dead. Hayes would switch from the fancy weapon to the older, trickier gun for the last shot, a decision that would save Cory’s life and doom Hayes.

A calendar in Hayes dishevelled bedroom had every third day circled, starting with yesterday. “That must be when you hunt,” Cory said to the dead man. “If Denise is next, I’ll save her too.”


Cory yawned so deeply then that he started to gag on air. Just two days ago, he finished walking to New Magdalena from the desert south of the wall at Nogales. The night after, he ran for about five hours straight to get to Hayes’ shack of a home. He still hadn’t slept, and the sun hovered half-way up from the horizon, blasting light through the slats of the shack’s blinds.


“I guess I have time to rest,” Cory said. First, I need to deal with the dead man, he realized. Cory’s initial thought was to load Hayes into the back of the car, drive to the site, and leave him where Cory might have died had Hayes used the easy-kill rifle.


As soon as he got to the hill, which was littered with beer cans and shell cartridges, and looked through the fancy scope into New Magdalena, Cory noticed that the bodies were gone. Someone must have collected them. Now, if Cory left Hayes there, it would be obvious. Instead, Cory drove off the road halfway to Hayes’ house on the way back and tossed Hayes’ body down a sharp embankment where a river once ran. While doing this, Cory failed to notice vibrations or a red, blinking indicator light inside the scope.


Once that was dealt with, and the bloody sheets were changed out on the bed, Cory slept quite soundly.


*****


On the day of reckoning, Cory arrived when Hayes did. He brought both guns with him, dressed in Hayes’ spare clothes, and laid down in the dirt facing the site. He propped up the M107 on its mount and looked through the scope--he still didn’t trust the other, fancy gun enough to use it. It sat next to him in a bag.


Even from a distance, Cory could see people in New Magdalena.


“Let’s see if you’re there,” he muttered into the dust and the scope.


There were about twenty people in total. Denise was there, in a white button up and slacks as if she had gotten home from work and had not even had a chance to change before they took her. Still, seeing her auburn hair, even through a scope, was nearly enough to make Cory cry.


“I’ll do what I can, Denise,” he said.


He was still stuck in how to handle it. Even if he called out to her, he could never fit the whole group into Hayes’ car to drive away. Cory considered whether they would truly be safe if they fled, since someone else was clearly visiting the circle of storage containers that served for housing.

It was then that he felt the buzzing. The ground next to him seemed to tremble slightly. He looked down and saw the bag carrying the fancy gun shaking. He opened the bag quickly.


It was the scope. A red light flickered through the eyepiece. It stopped vibrating and flickering when Cory touched it, lifting it to his own eye.


AUTO DISTANCE DETECTED//CALIBRATION TIMEOUT//CANCEL VOIDED


The display inside the scope flickered with this message before switching to:


DRONE SUPPRESSION IN EFFECT


“No!” Cory gasped, looking down at the site. Even without the scope, people were already falling. A number inside the scope started to tick down to 0--does the gun know how many people there are down there?


“Zoom in, zoom in, zoom in” he told the gun, watching the digital zoom magnify nearly to a point where the slightest movement would send him a great distance away from the target.


They were nearly invisible, but they were everywhere. The drones attacking New Magdalena were no bigger than wasps and looked like insects themselves. Cory’s blood ran cold as he watched Denise start running and then abruptly stop when one landed on her neck and injected something into her. She did not scream, she just collapsed. They were there all along, he realized. This is how they took us from our homes, before we came here. They didn’t use gas… they used these drones.


He was helpless.


Then, looking through the scope, he saw twitching in the victims. Breathing. Fluttering eyelids. They’re not dead!


Cory was standing up to run from his post to the village to retrieve Denise when it clicked that, if the gun knew how many people were there and was communicating with the drones, he would likely become a target again if he tried to interfere.


I’ll wait for the cleanup and follow them in the truck. If people lay hands on her, I’ll kill them all, he decided.


It was less than two hours before two tan skinned men showed up in two different trucks. They started moving the bodies into the bed of the trucks, stacking them on top of each other. Mercifully, Denise was stacked against the side, snug enough to not fall out but not being suffocated either. Cory decided to stop them before they got where they were going, once they’d gotten far enough to be out of reach of the drones.

*****


To Cory’s surprise, the drive took a couple of hours. He was mostly following dust contrails as he was keeping distance between his truck and their trucks so as not to be seen.


He saw the building long before the brake lights ahead were visible. It was a massive, grey, flat rectangle with a long, umbilical-like metal corridor stretching from one of its points into the concrete and steel border wall to the north. As Cory followed the the two trucks ahead of him, he crested the edge of a valley, looking towards the structure. The trucks were far ahead at this point. They were already there, already pulling into it.


Many things started to unravel within him. The gate to the complex was fortified. He used the fancy gun to shoot the guards--it was remarkably smooth even though, this time, it offered no count for their loss as they dropped to the ground.


I don’t know how long she’ll last when she’s inside, he thought, tearing down the bluff before pausing at each gate like he saw the cars before do. Luckily for him, each gate was still open. Luckily for him, when he reached the rectangular, windowless building, the metal door the trucks had previously proceeded through opened once more, as if there was no problem.


Of course, when he entered, he shot the attendant and a couple of other workers in white coats before he even thought to ask where did you take her?


The trucks were parked in front of him and the bodies were gone. Two directions were available to him: Compound East for Processing and Compound West for Operations. He chose “Operations,” walking briskly away from the loading dock as his adrenaline finally started to abate enough for him to see the orange safety rails and the sterile white doors and the long, silent hallway ahead.


At the end of the hallway, Cory found himself in a bitterly cold, dark room with a single computer monitor in front of him. The display on the machine activated as he stepped closer.


“Hello!” the computer said in a cheery female voice, as if it was going to try to sell him something. “Who do you need to help today?”


“Denise Roane,” Cory replied in a voice that was not his own. He sounded hoarse and dangerous, like a snarling wolf.


“I’m sorry, but Denise Roane is slated for destruction today. Do you want me to postpone her processing?”


“Yes! Where can I find her?”


“She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband Cory Roane. They have received four transplants. Do you want to view their information?” the computer asked.


“I want to know where she is right now!”


Lights clicked on deep within the room, each one illuminating a different subject. Four lights shined, in total. Three men and a woman laid horizontally in canisters with attachments that looked like IV drip bags hanging from the ceiling, feeding into them. The woman was closest. She was naked and light skinned and had stitches where Cory assumed breasts had once been.


In spite of his urgency, Cory stammered, “Who is that?”


“The woman is stasis-patient 2792145. Her name is Naomi. She was harvested twelve years ago for office insubordination. Susan Cowery received her liver, Margaret Randolph received her ovaries, Denise Roane received her breast matter. She is rated as a 3.9 for organ stability. She has given blood 32 times. The closest man is statis-patient 3615920. His name is Mark. He was harvested five years ago for outreach crimes. Harry Trammer received his right eye, Cory Roane received a skin graft. He is rated as a 4.2 for organ stability. He has given blood 53 times…”


The message went on. It all came together. A few years after the wall was built, health improved dramatically for surgical procedures involving transplants--the era of waiting lists came to an end seemingly magically. 3D printing technology was credited with easing the burden on the donor list. Eventually the option to volunteer as a donor all but vanished. Blood drives stopped happening. The burden of gathering these resources shifted to a single agency, which Cory could now recall he had seen as an emblem on the gate on the way into the building.


“Are these people alive?”


“Few stasis-patients are retained post-mortem.”


“How many people are there total?”


“Between 73 facilities, there are 921,042 active stasis-patients with an organ stability variance of as low as 3.0. There are over 15 million inactive stasis-patients in 257 holding facilities accounting for the transplanting needs of the entire nation.”


Cory sat down and looked at his right hand, where he had fallen off a bike on an asphalt road a year before. The skin was scraped away. He would have let it heal on its own, but instead he chose to go to a doctor because he had a presentation to give at work the next day and didn’t want to show up with an unsightly wound or a bandage. The procedure was fast. It apparently took only two hours to put Mark’s skin where his had been. It had always felt odd and looked a little different. Cory wanted to peel the other man’s skin from his hand.


*****


It wasn’t hard to retrieve Denise. Cory sailed through the facility, barely lifting the scope on the gun to feel the trigger unlock as he pointed towards workers’ heads. He knew now that the shot wouldn’t kill them--the bullet went in and never came out. It was made to keep people alive enough to be used here. It stopped them, though, and that was sufficient.


Denise was lying on a table in her same clothes as two doctors prepared to cut them from her while a bulletin in the white tiled room read “Immediate: kidney replacement for Senator Tancy,” detailing the extraction procedure.


Neither of the doctors said a word to Cory before they fell to the floor. None of the other people Cory had put down had managed to get up since he shot them. None of gates stayed closed after Cory placed Denise in Hayes’ truck and drove away. None of the towns south of the wall were willing to offer any lodging to Cory or Denise until Cory had driven several days and was nearly starved.


When Denise woke up, she softly asked, “What happened?”


Cory replied, “Nothing.” He refused to speak of the facility or the services it had given them.


The two people in the truck pushed south until few people had any idea what the country north of the wall was doing. There, Cory and Denise hid, sleeplessly hoping that they would not find themselves awake once more one day, just south of Nogales and south of the wall, posted and processed.


*****


A week later, a question was raised about what should be done about Cory Roane at a Special Senate Committee meeting. The fact that he hadn’t mentioned the incident or attempted to publicize it was discussed. Eventually, the decision to terminate him and his wife was tabled. It was decided that what he saw at the transplant facility must have changed his perspective enough to not make him a threat. Someone would eventually suggest using him as a replacement for Everett Hayes since he already knew how to use the tools of the job as evidenced by drone footage, but the damage to the usability of New Magdalena as a preparatory facility for processing was too profound. It was eventually closed along with the Nogales gateway.


Luckily for taxpayers, there were others.


_______________________________________
This was part three of a three piece story. The first part was two weeks ago, titled New Magdalena. The second part was last week, titled Minuteman. Thank you for reading!

Minuteman

Feb. 19th, 2016 05:59 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
While setting up his ranging spot on a high bluff over three miles away from New Magdalena, Everett Hayes considered how much the landscape had altered over thirty years. As he attached the scope to his rifle and began to calibrate the drones to it, he almost remembered a girl.

Months before the wall went up, Everett shot a child. Normal ranging, standard watch--it was a dry, windy day, and dust danced across the brush speckled plains. The crack of the M107’s shot echoed back long after the girl’s filthy skirt flapped to the ground. In his mind, he could have guessed she was six. It was a very long shot, just over a mile away.

If he could have dreamed, it would have been of her face, frowning as he banished it from his conscience. Who, besides him, could have cared that an orphan was put down in the desert beyond the border? No one would know. Carrion birds and other elements would see to that. Later, Everett would find that even his fellow Minutemen were congratulatory about the kill. Later, Everett would find himself stretching the distance of the kill, the angle he needed to take to counteract the wind, and the extent to which his vision was obscured by sand. Later, Everett would forget that it was an accidental kill.

When his high school buddies who had served overseas returned from their own battles, Everett joined them for drinks to swap service stories. It took only one telling of his kill story to earn one fist against his mouth, cementing all that Everett would become.

Not long after the wall went up, Everett was given a special job. The surest method to keep expunged illegals from returning to what they believed was their homeland was to stop them in the desert. As the rains slacked off, leaving the desert increasingly sparse, it became easier for Everett to pick off whatever they sent him. He became better at it. Farmers from Magdalena were paid to load up and relocate the targets after. His boss gradually updated his tools and techniques.

Everett had to hold down the calibration button on the scope--it would allow him to faultlessly fire at any distance up to four miles, so long as the drones inside New Magdalena were still in effect. The scope gave him a digital overlay indicating where the heads of his targets were, and the rounds could pierce the storage containers set up as make-shift housing units without making too much sound due to the nature of the round and the silencer. The drones let him see his targets even if they were inside a building. He liked to let go of the calibration button before it could give him a perfect reading--it was more fun when he had to work a little for it.

Once every three days, a fresh batch of illegals were processed and then posted just south of the wall. After the people found their way to New Magdalena and got cozy, Everett would drive out in his own truck from his “outpost” home about twenty minutes from where Nogales once existed, head to the bluff, set-up his ranging spot, and take aim.

Even though he had the X731 and was required to use it for his duties, he still brought along the old M107 just in case he got a wild hair on the last shot. It was like the icing on his cake--he loved his job, but sometimes it needed a little something extra.

*****

Cory Roane heard a popping sound. It wasn’t his unit. His feet were still sore from the walk to New Magdalena, so he couldn’t get up as quickly as he liked. He pushed open the door of his steel shipping container disguised as a living space and looked around. It was dusk.

A woman named Seline shoved open the door of her own unit, three units to Cory’s left, ran for about three steps, and then planted face down in the rocky scrabble, her long brown hair barely twisting as she fell.

Cory’s blood was in his ears. He dropped to the ground, guessing the angle of the shot to be behind him. What about the shot? The woman was clearly and definitely dead, but the amount of blood was trivial.

Another man opened his door to check what he was hearing. He also fell down, but he fell in a different direction. Cory snorted and coughed dirt while trying to turn on the ground to get a look.

There were sixteen people in New Magdalena--someone would kill them all and do something with the bodies. Cory started to crawl away from the first kills. I’m dead. There are at least two shooters.

The sound of the shot started to click in his head. The pop was barely audible as it sliced through a storage container directly in front of him. A new angle. Three shooters. Cory assumed it was a perfect shot. He had noticed small holes at face level in many storage containers previously. Staying low could save him. Breathe and crawl.

Then a man stumbled out of the same unit. He was missing part of an ear. He was screaming. People began to open all of their units and step out. Something popped and he stopped screaming. Everyone saw it. Everyone scattered. No one heard Cory shout “Get down!

The firing picked up speed. No matter how people ran, they fell. Cory couldn’t count the number of shots. I’m dead. How many shooters?

Another man tripped and fell trying to get out. He heard Cory’s command and stayed low, and then he too stopped moving. The back of his head started to bleed into the dirt. Cory gagged and started to snap, standing as fast he was able and running away from the door of his own unit. It might be the general direction of the shots. If I can get out…

Pop! Cory thought he’d been shot, but he found another dead woman as he crossed out of the cluster of units. I’m out! he thought, and he started running downhill away from New Magdalena, hoping the hill would serve as cover. Crack! Something significantly stronger whipped across the air and hit the dirt at the top of the hill, covering him with a spray of small rocks and debris.

Cory was fast. Breathe, he reminded himself. They missed. They’re aiming for me now. I don’t need to die. Cory was fast, deliberately kicking dust with the toes of his feet scraping behind him to obscure the aim.

What was that last shot? Is there another shooter, or did someone change guns?

When he reached the bottom of the hill, flat plains and distant ridges stretched out before him. If he went forward, he would be doomed--out in the open, easy picking. He dropped to the ground again and began throwing dirt in front of himself. Maybe I can lay here until night and stay alive.

Cory thought of Denise, his wife. Soon, she would be sent down to New Magdalena also, unless she was lucky. Escaping wasn’t an option. I’m dead, Cory thought now. As the wait for the shot to end his life stretched on, seconds from death, then minutes, then an hour, Cory realized that his death would likely be his own fault. Cautiously, he walked back up the hill and began to walk in the general direction he had heard the last shot, confirming it when he saw the part of the hill it had cleaved aside.

No one was shooting anymore. It was dark. They must have gone home, saving him for another day. It wouldn’t be hard to spot his tracks in the dirt or to pick out his bright skin and clothes across the plain. Cory guessed that whoever was targeting him would need to be close enough to make the trip in the morning.

As soon as he reached the top of the bluff, Cory found tire tracks. Following those, Cory found a road.

*****

“Fucker got away,” Everett muttered, waking with indigestion at about 3 in the morning. It wasn’t the first time he’d muttered about it. He had no one to talk to and needed to pretend that he was dismayed. In truth, he was delighted. The next morning, he would wake up, drive his truck down to New Magdalena, and let his M107 find the sneaky fuck that escaped.

It wasn’t the first time he’d let someone elude him on the first hunt. It was the first time he woke up to find that someone standing over his bedside with his own M107 aimed at his face.

“Tell me how to save my wife, and I might not kill you,” Cory said, breathing raggedly from the run to get to Everett’s house.

Everett was screaming so loud and in such a startled way that Cory accidentally pulled the trigger anyway.

__________

This was part two of a three piece unit. The first part was last week, New Magdalena. Topic and voting willing, next week will be the conclusion.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
Dear Denise,

I didn’t really do it, and I do still love you.

The news will report my absence like this, I think: “Cory Roane, a well-liked physical therapist in Salt Lake City, was found to have ties with an illegal in New Magdalena in the latest in a series of outreach crimes. Federal agents captured him on Thursday night and placed him under arrest.” I’m not sure how much you remember about my cousin, Paul. Like me, Paul was put under arrest shortly after his wife was put under arrest, which was shortly after her father was put under arrest. Like them, arrest meant that I was processed at Nogales Station and posted just south of the wall.
Like you, I received an email from a loved one.

If you’ve opened this message, they’re probably coming after you now. Three days after I opened Paul’s email, I woke up at Nogales. An hour later, I was abandoned with a group of people with only enough water to get us to New Magdalena. There is nothing immediately south of the wall, Denise. We believed that Nogales was on both sides, but there is no evidence of any human life within the first 30 kilometers of the wall.

I don’t remember being taken, and you know I was the lighter sleeper. I doubt you remember. People here say they suspect some kind of gas is sent through a house that knocks residents out for a few hours. They come in the night, take the “perpetrator,” and transfer them as quickly as possible. Do not expect to be able to defend yourself against being taken. None of us remember how it happened.

I didn’t email you just so that you could be trapped. Take this message to the news station. Renounce your love for me. Burn the letter on video. Maybe this way, you can avoid getting taken. If you would prefer to make a stand, do it fast and throw everything else in your life aside.

You probably won’t be hearing from me again. There is a wireless signal here on an unprotected network. You might recall hearing about it and how people here are accessing it with increasingly complicated hacking protocols. New Magdalena, an outpost of about 30 repurposed shipping containers on a hilltop with little else in the way of civilization, is about thirty kilometers from the wall. There is no signal in any direction around New Magdalena, meaning that someone is allowing “illegals” to access certain networks. We have electricity, water, and modern computers. All I can do is access my email, though. Every other website has been blocked.

The problem is, however, that there are no old illegals in New Magdalena. I can’t find Paul anywhere, even though this is supposedly where he went. Did he keep going south after a rest at New Magdalena? I doubt it. A man came up from a town south of here. He couldn’t speak any English, but we managed to ask him if he’d seen anyone like us. He shook his head, made a sound and a gesture not unlike firing a rifle, and pointed to a far off outcropping of hills. He then showed us some of the marks--tiny holes in the container units that always seem to be at face level. Is there a kind of gun that can make so small of a hole while still puncturing steel?

I expect I will be dead before you can do anything about it, Denise. Probably, if you know all of this, you’ll wind up where I am soon too. I think this is their way of winnowing down anyone who could possibly oppose the way of things. Odd, considering that we have always been annoyed and even scared to hear about hacking attacks and seditious acts from illegals who apparently no longer exist.

Do you remember when the word “illegal” changed? I must have been a baby at the time, but I definitely recall it meant something else once. When did it stop referring to people who crossed into our country without clearance and start being about all people who looked like they had come from the south? When there were no more of those people to process and post, when did it become about affiliation with the illegals who had already been processed? There is no one to defend me as an accused man if you and I both perish, and now that I’m here, I realize that anyone who could defend me would wind up here too.

I hear a popping sound now. I think I’m out of time. I can’t give you advice here. If you do anything I’ve asked you to do, you’ll be caught and processed. I love you more than words, more than water, and more than you can know. I will do what I can to survive and hope you do too.

Your husband,
Cory Roane

Seeing Grey

Feb. 5th, 2016 05:24 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
First year Paladins face lofty expectations--after all, every mentor and upperman is a paragon of divine strength.

Rodrick Posthaste brushed his fingers through the scraggly stubble of hair on his head while staring at Mentor Loma’s brilliantly bald dome. Could level of baldness be a measure of holiness? Rodrick wondered, recalling then that some uppermen had flowing, silky locks. It was probably more like a personal choice. Realizing then that the mentor never touched his own head, let alone to thoughtfully stroke it, Rodrick abruptly jerked his arm down, accidentally scratching his face. Rodrick’s quirks and fidgets probably damned him to a life as a cleric or a monk--something less than a “holy warrior”--but he tried hard to overcome his habits.

When he was in training, individuality was stamped out. All personal habits were rolled into one militaristic, thoughtless drone, and that drone had to pass an application test if it wanted to become a Paladin. As soon as Rodrick passed the tribunal--a terrifying exam conducted orally using a foot-long, divinity-assessing tapeworm--he entered the school and was overwhelmed by the vast differences between his new peers and himself. It was too much to adjust to at once.

Mentor Loma’s grin broke Rodrick’s train of thought. Oh my God! thought Rodrick, even though it was blasphemous to think one of his lords’ names vainly, he caught me staring at his head! The Mentor’s grin was as devastating as a thunderbolt called from the heavens. The bald man’s small lips curled genially, and his eyes shut softly, leaving delicate webs of delighted crow’s feet around the edges of his face; if it was the expression he used when he gave a loaf of bread to a starving child, it was also the expression he used when he drove his sword through the heart of a hill giant.

The Mentor let his focus and silence linger for a moment and then returned to speaking. Rodrick did not breathe again that session.

Maybe the key to being a good and godly Paladin was to have a sincerely scary and unpredictable face.

*****

The best predictor of a young Paladin’s success at Castlemont, or Paladin school, was his ability to sense evil, Rodrick later learned.

It was a hunt. Ragnalis, the ferocious and foul dispositioned upperman, was leading his team--which, due to upperman obligations, included Rodrick--through a moonlit forest on a hunt for a marrow-walker, a half human creature that could take blood from any man, woman, or child and would assume their appearance for a day. It never needed much blood to perform its magic, but there was a fear that it could spread bloodborne disease; therefore, when it attacked a young boy who was afflicted with Trask’s Bloodblight, the local communities called upon Castlemont to resolve the issue.

Also, nobody really liked waking up in the morning with a swollen arm or shoulder due to blood extraction. It was uncomfortable.

“Steady lads!” Ragnalis roared, “the fiend is close at hand.”

When they surrounded the thin visage of the boy they had seen earlier as it was shrugging off layers and layers of false flesh, no one needed to hold it still while Ragnalis uttered the invocation for discerning evil. A pearly aura lit up his glistening, black armor before bouncing in a spear of light to the marrow-walker. As soon as it touched the marrow-walker, the aura shifted so black that it could shut out the stars.

Then, oddly, it lit up again, becoming bright once more.

A complicated look of brief confusion, followed by annoyance, followed by outrage crept into Ragnalis’ face.

“Who dares?” he howled.

Rodrick realized then that he had uttered the same invocation at the same time Ragnalis had, out of habit. He always repeated everything Ragnalis said. Ragnalis was nearly an ascended Paladin, ready to serve beyond the school’s confines, and Rodrick worshipped him.

And yet, the auras disagreed. The invocation to “Discern Evil” was an absolute judgment given by an absolute God. If the aura was black, the creature was evil. No one could dispute a Paladin’s decision to slay a living thing if the aura was black--it needed to happen. Paladins were the ultimate force for keeping political malfeasance in check because they simply needed to call upon their abilities in order to suss it out.

If the aura was white, however, no wrongdoing existed. Even the most dangerous Paladins would be forced to seek a nonviolent resolution if the invocation gave a target a white aura. Rodrick’s invocation overlapped Ragnalis’, making it impossible for a Paladin to attack the creature.

The marrow-walker peeled back the false boy’s face from its own skull, tossing it into a hedge, seemingly unaware of the men standing nearby. It couldn’t see the aura around itself, since only Paladins could perceive the effects of the invocation unless they chose to let the effects be seen by others.

Ragnalis turned to face Rodrick. It was the first time Ragnalis had ever looked upon him directly. Even in the darkness of the forest, with his back illuminated by the aura of the marrow-walker, Rodrick could see the fires of malice smouldering in the eyes of the upperman.

Then, Rodrick could see and hear the upperman’s sword click loose from the scabbard. Ragnalis slowly drew out the colossal blade, letting it gently scrape the scabbard as he raised his arm. When Ragnalis finally held the blade aloft, someone else’s invocation finished, the pearly white aura behind Ragnalis vanished again, and without breaking eye contact, Ragnalis turned and sliced cleanly through, from right collarbone to left thigh,the marrow-walker.

As he resheathed his sword, Ragnalis let out a faint sigh, broke eye contact, and signalled the group to follow him back to Castlemont.

Rodrick seared with pain where he felt the sword eviscerate him rather than the marrow-walker. He followed behind, blinking and wondering when the school would decide to send him home.
It would surely be soon.

*****

Weeks passed, and Rodrick could not shake the fear that he had committed a grave offense. None of the people who participated in the hunt would talk to him. Of course, they never had talked to him in the first place, but Rodrick felt the burden of their silence many times more than he had when he started.

To prevent further mistakes, Rodrick practiced. He walked through the city streets, uttering the invocation to every living thing that he came near. He looked like a madman, wearing his old farming attire, lips constantly twitching with the soft words of his order. Orphans were white, rats were white, cats were white, dogs were white, fathers were white, ducklings were white, spiders were white, and mothers were definitely white. To Rodrick’s view, the whole street was an illuminated mass. He was glad he chose to do the check during the day time, or else Castlemont would certainly have seen the lights.

Finally, just as he was getting ready to head back, a man at the corner of Rodrick’s eye became a blob of shadow. The twisting nexus of darkness that enveloped him reached high into the alleyway and licked the gutters on roofs.

Rodrick had not considered the possibility that he could actually see something evil. He started to draw his sword, but then the man changed to a white aura. Rodrick looked over his shoulder and found himself staring at Mentor Loma’s visage as it smilingly sauntered up to him, lips twitching with an invocation Rodrick knew just by watching the movements.

“Having a bit of a crisis, son?” the mentor asked.

“No sir,” Rodrick replied, not failing to notice that all of the auras on the street that he had previously walked were not white anymore but were black instead.

“I can see your handiwork from a mile or two away, and you have not been very communicative since you joined our order this year. What seems to be the matter?”

“H-how did you do that?” Rodrick blurted.

“Do what?” the mentor smiled.

“Change what my God said about this man and all of the other people I looked upon today.”

“Oh, it’s a simple trick. Watch,” the mentor beckoned before speaking the intonation again. Sure enough, the man who Rodrick had just marked as an evildoer was again an evildoer. Then the Mentor spoke again and, with a sound that was not unlike grains of sugar being dropped into a porcelain bowl, the street was filled with only good people.

Rodrick’s jaw felt dislocated. The entire Paladin order depended upon this absolute truth.

“Young Posthaste, the point of being a servant of a God is to do what?” the mentor asked, his grin vanishing from his face.

“To serve,” Rodrick replied, quoting the words over the threshold of his dormitory.

“What makes you so surprised that part of your service includes the rendering of a judgment? Do you think your God incapable of changing his or her mind?”

“If we can change the verdict of our God’s judgment through our intent, how can we pass it off as an absolute?”

“We can because we must,” the old mentor replied, setting a gentle hand on Rodrick’s shoulder. “Being steadfast is part of our service. When you saw the marrow-walker, you saw a being that lived as it did through necessity. If it attempted to step into one of our local towns in broad daylight, it would be killed--it had no choice but to pose as a human. Am I correct?”

“Yes, sir,” Rodrick replied.

“And yet, it cannot reason as well as we would like it to, as it is only half human. In order for it to retain its lifestyle, it would need to also afflict anyone it came into contact with with Bloodblight. Are you committed enough to your duties to your God that you could also ignore the word of your God if that very word would bring desolation and despair to your community?”

“I am not…”

“It is a matter worth considering. Sometimes our duties require deviance. Sometimes they require us to look at a good man and see only the darkness in his heart. The words of the invocation are the same, but our choices are not. The heavens are a fire, and each of us is only the lens in a looking glass aimed at the sky. Judgments may vary.”

The old mentor smiled again. “Do you feel this resolves your concern at all?”

Rodrick mustered his courage to ask it. “Is the invocation just a formality then?”

“No. It is a result of your collaboration with your God--the synchronicity of your wills made into a commitment. When you see the goodness in a being, you must not strike. You must act on your own judgment, regardless of the outcome.”

At this, the mentor’s smile changed as he turned toward Rodrick to look at him directly. The intent was different.

“Ragnalis could turn your aura black with a moment’s thought. He merely has to utter the invocation in your direction in order to give himself any license he needs to do… whatever he needs to do. Am I clear?” the mentor asked.

Rodrick felt the cut again, though it could just be heartburn brought on by intense, sudden dread.

Roderick nodded.

“Good.”

It was going to be very difficult to survive as a first year Paladin at Castlemont.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
It was a good apartment. You only heard the sound of a woman screaming two or three times a week, and only two of your neighbors ever sat outside your window, crouched down in the gravel, whispering sweet somethings all night long. You sure are glad that never happened again--it would have been weird. Those tranquil days will be behind you soon, as a quaint, quiet house just went on the market much closer to your work; for the first time in your life, you're going to be a homeowner.

Congratulations!

However, homeowners need furniture, lawnmowers, and spatulas. The myriad items necessary to live comfortably in our modern society necessitates that you, eager owner, gain your deposit back on the apartment. Unfortunately, your apartment manager is known for upcharging on every stain or mishap.

You've got a lot of work ahead of you if you want to reclaim your deposit. In order to determine how likely you are to succeed at regaining your funds, we will need to assess you with our "Apartment Renter Wholistic Assessment," or ARWA for short.

Directions: Answer the following five questions exactly one time. We will measure three statisics that are the best predictors of deposit retention, but you should maintain a record for your own purposes as well. Again, choose only one answer, as multiple answers from the same question would invalidate the assessment.

1. What is the first thing you want your guests to notice when they walk into your house?

+3 to Sexiness


+3 to Wizardry


+3 to Filthiness


2. How do you feel about your neighbors?

+2 to Filthiness, -1 to Sexiness


+2 to Sexiness, -1 to Wizardry


+2 to Wizardry, -1 to Sexiness


3. If you turned out your pockets right now, what would fall on the ground?

+1 to Sexiness, +1 to Wizardry, -1 to Filthiness


+1 to Filthiness, +1 to Sexiness, -1 to Wizardry


+1 to Wizardry, +1 to Filthiness, -1 to Sexiness


4. On a busy night, which of these are you most likely eating for dinner?

-1 to Wizardry, +1 to Filthiness, +1 to Sexiness             You get the skill: Unimaginative Slurping!


+1 to Filthiness, +1 to Sexiness                         You get the skill: Many Dirty Dishes!


+1 to Wizardry, +1 to Sexiness                           You get the skill: Epic Indigestion!


5. What is the most important thing in the world to you? Also, what is that stain?

+2 to Sexiness, -1 to Wizardry


+1 to Wizardry, +1 to Filthiness, -2 to Sexiness


+3 to Filthiness, -1 to Wizardry, -1 to Sexiness


Tally up your scores and write them down.

*****

Your apartment will need to be clean before you move out. Ideally, you will start this process at least five weeks in advance, but sometimes life and obligations thwart your plans.

In the following scenarios taking place in the five weeks leading up to your move-out date, use your tallied statistics to determine your capability to retain your deposit. Understand that, regardless of any aptitude you might have for cleaning and organization, your manager will not give you the full amount back. Your decisions in this section will cost -1, -2, or -3 from your DRS, or Deposit Retention Score. You start with a DRS score of 0.

The objective is to have the highest score possible, even if that is -5. Total as you go along, and do try to avoid selecting more than one answer and one subanswer (based on your previous section's scores) per question; otherwise, you may need to "refresh" the "page."

Do you have your previous score ready?


5 Weeks from Move-out
Your pets are starting to sense something is afoot. You need to ensure that they're properly fed and cared for, because...


You have nothing dogs like in your apartment, so they poop on the floor. -3 DRS


You need to spend more time walking the dogs than cleaning and clearing. -2 DRS


The dogs have literally no room to do anything potentially destructive, you compulsive hoarder you. In fact, they want to move, and the older ones get misty-eyed remembering the days when life wasn't so cluttered. -1 DRS





They begin peeing in every corner of every room. All is lost! -3 DRS


You sooth their spirits by petting them with both hands. Feels so good. -2 DRS


Intense sensuality radiates from your body, overwhelming their beastly fears. When all is settled, you hunt together, catching five neighborhood rabbits and devouring them before the dawn sun cracks the horizon. -1 DRS





They are not really your pets, and in some circles their presence would be considered an infestation. -3 DRS


You feed them moths and flies, and they comunally decide not to dangle right at face level in the entryway. Less time with a spider on your face is more time for cleaning! -2 DRS


You give them the warm reassurance of your flesh by allowing them to live on your skin. You no longer need clothes. While shopping at the grocery store, you are heard whispering, "Shh, shh, my babies. Mama is right here." -1 DRS




4 Weeks from Move-out
You send in your 30 day notice to your apartment manager. You are scheduled for a maintenance visit. When the man arrives to check on the place, you...


Your residence is so immaculately clean that the maintenance man breaks down to tears. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness. Afterward, you and the man become best friends forevermore. -1 DRS


The maintenance man does his job. He finds problems, and although you didn't cause them, you will pay for them. -2 DRS


The maintenance man later reports to his boss that he "saw the devil" in your apartment. Your apartment manager frowns because she knows the devil personally and now considers you to be a threat to his unholy name. -3 DRS





You are so socially repugnant and physically repulsive to talk to that the man tries his utmost to finish the job quickly. -1 DRS


Your advancements are confused for courtesies. When you sexily bend over to pick up his screwdriver, making a little "ooh" sound when you do, he is genuinely appreciative of your effort in helping him out. -2 DRS


You give him a look that would have worked on any other man around. He could not mistake: you made it totally clear that you were his for a night. Then he said, "Leave me alone! I'm a family man, and my bark is much worse than my bite--if you push me too far, I just might!" -3 DRS





He arrives to find you sitting on the floor, mumbling, dressed in only the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter. This is disconcerting for him, so he wraps up business quickly. -1 DRS


He is clearly some kind of mage himself, having an anti-spell barrier around him at all times. He never notices that you even tried anything. -2 DRS


The maintenance man is actually a witch doctor! As soon as you start barraging him with your most powerful spells, he retaliates by throwing a vial full of his own brand of magic in your face. Eventually, you suppress him, but not before his "Tincture of a Thousand Lesions," does what it was meant to do. It is rather disgusting and painful, and you leave stains everywhere you go until you finally move out. -3 DRS




3 Weeks from Move-out
The apartment manager has a pet rooster named Rodney. You consider Rodney to be the avian incarnation of Satan, since every time you've dropped off a check, you've heard Rodney softly whispering into the manager's ear, "Kill, kill, roaaak, kill, kill the deposit." Of course, you have a hyperbolic imagination. The bird could have been saying "deficit."

One night, you return home from work to find Rodney sitting on your bed. Red eyes glisten maliciously beneath an infernal cockscomb. "Despair mortal," he crows, "for your end is nigh!"



A combination of dirty fighting and psychic warfare ensues. Eventually, you send the the tyrant-bird back to hell where he belongs. You take his left leg as a trophy, but you wind up eating it because shopping for groceries during moving week is ridiculous. -1 DRS


You meet your match in this bird. It is a war of attrition. When it is over, he saunters away knowing that his true purpose is fulfilled--your place is now a mess. -2 DRS


The bird-devil not only defeats you in single combat but also steals your soul. It's a hard life we live. -3 DRS





You transform into a radiant angel of a bird. Your brilliant plumage is so blindingly bright that Rodney is instantly destroyed just by glancing at you. There is a little bit of cleanup because he exploded, but it's not a big deal. -1 DRS


You say "nope!" and walk right out your own front door. While you are gone, Rodney vomits on your carpet. It doesn't really matter if roosters do that. Rodney is Satan. -2 DRS


You transform into a bird! Unfortunately, that bird is a hen. Rodney begins cackling maniacally. In the proximity of his towering rooster physique, you cannot help but lay eggs constantly, watching as they crack on the linoleum beneath you. It takes four days for your own spell to end. By then, some of the floor omelette you've made is very rotten. -3 DRS




2 Weeks from Move-out
The apocalypse happens. Lucky for you, you just bought a...


You call your Super Nintendo a time travel device because time flies when you're having fun. Unfortunately, a meteor strikes your house while you are preoccupied in a rousing session of Super Mario RPG. That will be hard to clean up. -3 DRS


You call your microwave a time travel device because time slows down whenever you look at the clock whilst cooking a Hot Pocket. It's a good strategy, and it allows you to redirect falling meteors before they hit your house directly. But eating Hot Pockets also slows you down, so that's not entirely effective. -2 DRS


Your time travel device enables you to rewind other objects besides yourself. Since skipping over the portion of your week where a meteor destroys your kitchen is unwise since that event will still take place, you instead rewind that silly meteor back into space. However, after one solid use, your time machine implodes, leaving time dust on the carpet. -1 DRS





You have no idea what you are inflicting upon the world. When satellite images catch your leopard print, denim, glittering rainbow pants, the United Nations work together to nuke your house first. -3 DRS


They're still just a pair of pants. The nuclear holocaust still wipes out your house. -2 DRS


It's no ordinary pair of pants. This is Venetian, Boot-cut, Unicorn Leather! There is no way world leaders will drop a nuclear bomb on your house. -1 DRS





You use the Zombie Survival Kit! It's super effective! Zombies die in your apartment, leaving necrotizing flesh everywhere. -3 DRS


You immediately lose the Zombie Survival Kit in your own clutter. However, barricades to zombies are all over the place in your apartment. You stop most of them from getting in and only need to bludgeon two of them with your fifth grade lunchbox. -2 DRS


You have no earthly idea where you last saw that Zombie Survival Kit, but it doesn't matter because the zombie hoard completely avoids your apartment. It looks like a disaster already happened there, and zombies only like clean, clear places. -1 DRS




1 Week from Move-out
It is your last week at Aspen Pine Crest Vista Bluff Apartments. You are moving as frantically as you can. Your week goes...

Really great, because you're really great. -1 DRS



Just like a regular moving week. Moving really sucks. -2 DRS



Terrible, because almost everything you do goes terribly. It's not easy being you, that's for sure. -3 DRS


*****

Now total up all of your DRS scores. Your score should be between -5 and -15 if you know how to add negative numbers together.

Here is your outcome:

You get about 50% of your deposit back and buy a stand mixer with the money. You make bread for everyone you know almost immediately.



You buy a spatula with your returned deposit money. It's a good spatula. Can't complain.



You do not get your deposit back. Sorry.



You die.


Now that you know your potential for getting your deposit back, strive for it. It's not often you get to see a check in the mail for a few hundred dollars. Now that you're a new homeowner, you really need it.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

She could forget it if she tried. The bright letters of “Inspiration” jutted from a wall over a permanently gated shop. The only immediately clear sign that remained in the place, it was hardly ten years ago when it flickered out for the last time. After that, it wasn’t long before the water penetrated the food court doors on the lowest floor, washing away a cheap Indian restaurant that she once considered good food. Effortlessly scavenging, the water dredged up everything. Victoria’s Secret bras sequestered in dark corners started to float on top along with upended trashcan contents. Condom wrappers and Dorito bags were ubiquitous, signifying the stages of evacuation.


When they knew the water would rise, the facilities closed to the public. Then the sellers who weren’t local cleared their shelves while the local sellers put their stock in duffle bags and boxes, sobbing and whispering about flood insurance, altered dreams. Schools were slower to shut down and neighborhoods even slower to evacuate, so children played in what was left of Tisdale Mall.


Ashley Bryson had known a few of them, she thought. Naturally, they had vanished. Children who had lived on the perimeter--the boundary of hope, almost certainly going to fail high school--perished on the perimeter. The water pushed Ashley’s family out before the mall even shut down. By the time the valley filled to the brim with water, all except the top two floors of that mall and a few other tall buildings that were also on high ground, Ashley was so far inland that disaster was almost an afterthought.


Staring at the pager, Ashley knew she needed to respond to the call:


SOS AT TISDALE MALL--0U0--RESPOND TO PINE BLUFF STATION 1300


After the water rose, people still got lost in the new channels and rivers. People boarded boats to find debris from their lost homes. Every crazy method of gathering old memories or personal items had been tried, and Ashley was certain that the situation with the mall was no different. Ashley volunteered with Arkansas Search and Rescue to attempt to help the people who were essentially lost in the New Gulf of Mexico, which now pushed nearly to the Ozarks.


“SOS” meant here that some signal had been sent, but the “0U0” meant that no clear identity or numbers of subjects had been spotted. It was a common signal that her group had to send often when a boat would be seen drifting, unattended. Tisdale Mall was an uncommon target because large buildings were uncommon. Flood damage created massive structural issues quickly, and ten years had not been kind to the buildings that remained.


Packing up her gear and driving out to the trailers where the responders operated, she couldn’t remember any other functions of the mall beyond that one store. Of course, standard options (like Old Navy and Barnes and Noble) were a part of the Tisdale Mall. While she was still in middle school, standard options pushed out almost all of the more exciting aspects of the place. An arcade became a Payless. An ice rink became a sporting goods store.


The fourth floor was nearly undeveloped because no one could be bothered to go up there to shop. “Coming Soon” banners were blockades to store gateways that would never be ungated. A smattering of smaller shops (a Christian bookstore, a local candle shop, a sheepish rental meeting hall with aluminum chairs around a plastic table) frantically eked out an existence.


“Inspiration” never opened, so Ashley never had a chance to examine the wares. When she was a sophomore in high school, the year before she preemptively moved, she pretended to have a job there for a month before her parents found out the truth. They dropped her, clad in khakis and a navy blue polo, bookbag at her side for “studying on break time,” four nights a week at the mall. Instead of working, she met a boy with brown hair in front of the lit up sign. He vanished less than a week later, and Ashley sat alone in front of the unopened store with an illuminated logo, wondering idly what it might sell when it opened, working on homework until the mall was nearly closed and her parents arrived.


One day, when her parents arrived, she admitted to everything. It was a wistful kind of guilt--something was lost when she spelled out her lies for them. Still, when the waters rose and everything she knew from her childhood was drowned, it made little sense to think about it further.


*****


Save Us, the white paint on the roof of the mall said in jagged, giant lines. No boats were found amongst the debris surrounding the unsubmerged base of the mall, and no easy or safe entry points were observed even though they circled it three times, shining lights into the cracks. The search team had to anchor their boat to the building for stability before raising a ladder up the side of the building. Seven people climbed the ladder, including Ashley, leaving the boat with two others.


The only reasonable point of access in and out of the mall was on the roof, where a maw grinned from one corner to another. Parts of the crevice opened to a janitor’s closet--that was the easiest point of entry, since the other portions of the gap overlooked a drop where the escalators were, into the third level.


The painted cry for help occupied what was left in another corner, and it had not been there more than a week. One part of the crack had a makeshift staircase which was partly caved in ceiling and partly stacked cinder blocks, seeming intentional enough to merit concern. A few beer bottles adorned the roof top; although the garbage seemed new, garbage had a peculiar way of getting places when only so many resources could be allocated to the cleanup. It was a sign, but the team decided that they needed to enter the mall through the roof in order to either confirm or deny the presence of a subject.


“Help is here! Anyone there?” Ashley called into the chasm, but only heard her own voice echoing back at her.


Two people stayed behind to offer support in case structural issues caused harm to the team or further supplies were needed. The humidity made the cinder block stairs slick even for their waterproof boots, and mold growth was ever present. Little outside light penetrated the fourth floor when the team climbed into the janitor’s closet and stepped across the crack again as it stretched further into the building and the foundation.


When they opened the door to the fourth floor, what wasn’t pitch black was masked by a dark green luminance. It’s probably the sunlight from the roof crack reflecting off the fakely green garden down in the food court, since the elevators and escalators are right over that, Ashley considered. It was a disconcerting hue that hid where water had accumulated. The hallways were tilted through slow fracturing, and on one side of the hall brackish water had pooled against storefronts as if they were gutters. The old benches in the middle of the walkway were firmly rooted in and gave the whole atmosphere an unstable look, since the fake plants next to those had fallen completely towards the draining wall.


The remaining five team members split up. Three went downstairs using the service stairs, leaving Ashley and Roger to survey the upstairs. Ashley knew it wouldn’t take long, but she felt a strange interest in it, since the shift may have opened areas that she had never seen before. She reminded herself that she was looking for people. They walked together slowly with flashlights, trying to examine each corner.


Sure enough, part of the foundation had shifted around two stores, leaving a gap with something that resembled a footprint where the display window led into the shops. Ashley couldn’t remember what the purpose of the stores had been, but she understood where they were relative to her memory. Roger followed the footprint in while Ashley turned to examine “Inspiration” behind her.


For once, the gate was wide open. The letters were untouched and still seemed to shine, even though unlit. Procedure dictated that Ashley follow Roger, since no one would be allowed to explore on their own, but Ashley rationalized that the never opened store could not be very large. It would not take much time to have a look. A part of her did not want to share the first glance.


It was a non-descript, rectangular room with a desk built into the wall at the back. The floors were wood laminate and seemed to be in remarkably good condition for all that they had been through. In fact, the air in the store seemed somehow drier--it was difficult for Ashley to notice that with the mold-proof mask on and a head-to-toe antimicrobial suit, but the walls weren’t beaded with humidity like many other parts of the mall.


Ashley walked slowly through the room. I’ll savor knowing that I finally solved at least part of the mystery, she thought. Then, on the desk at the back of the empty room, she saw an object.


Moving closer and inspecting it with her flashlight, strange connections fired inside her skull. It was a tan bookbag with a couple of bumper sticker like pins attached to the clasps. Inside the bag, a navy blue polo and a pair of khakis greeted her. When she picked them up, an employee ID fell out between them, bearing her name, followed by her first driver’s license. It looked authentic, even though the licensing place put a hole through her first driver’s license when she went in for one at 21 years old.


The door seemed remarkably far away, but Roger suddenly appeared, shaking his head.


*****


In the years after finding her own bag in a shop she had never entered, especially considering that the call had come up with no found subjects, the bag never left Ashley’s mind. She saw it as a split possibility, a reflection of the huge change in the world and the chance that she might not have escaped the rising water. She began to wonder if the bag had been planted behind the counter, but she never told anyone besides her parents about the story of her pretending to work. Perhaps the store or someone responsible for it wanted her there to live the role she had imagined. "Inspiration" wanted her or had expected her, and it was denied.


She could not forget, no matter how hard she tried.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
The Well (2002)

PG-13 / 2 min / Art-house, horror / 18 October 2002 (USA)

Your rating: *********- 9/10
Ratings: 3.2/10 from 291,001 users Metascore: 23/100
Reviews: 1901 user / 20 critic / 3 from Metacritic.com

A collection of images with a grainy filter portends a terrible fate in this viral video from late 2002.

User Reviews:

**-------- Not scary. Why didd I waist a minute and a have on this. (posted 10/31/2002)

I cant believe this. Its takingme longer to right this review than it did too watch the movie. My friends are soo dumb. One of them callled me after and told me seven days in a scary voice like what does that even mean Jennifer?!

5 of 42 people said this review was useful. Do you agree? Yes/No


*******--- Seven Days (posted 11/06/2002)

I shared this with no one, and it’s the seventh day, and I’m still alive! Obviously no one is going to fall for this prank. OH MY GOD WHY IS MY TV TURNING ON ALL OF A SUDDEN

30 of 41 people said this review was useful. Do you agree? Yes/No


*--------- Either don’t watch it or make a copy when you do. Save yourself. (posted 11/30/2002)

My best friend watched this video before sending it to us through burned DVDs. One of the friends she sent it to did not share it and was recently found dead underneath her coffee table with the Sunday comic page from the newspaper covering her face.

I am a skeptic. I don’t believe in most of what I hear or read. Even reliable sources often say things that I question. I may not have connected this thing in my mind, but I shared the video with my boyfriend, and he was found sprawled across his tile floor after running from something. I don’t know what.

DVD is the way to go. Whatever it is that does this doesn’t like VHS copies, since they’re already closing video stores. My boyfriend made VHS copies and put them into cases at the video store, but I guess no one checked them out.

Go ahead and call me a troll. I know this is like a chain letter from back when you owned so many AOL discs that you started to use them as disposable serving plates for individual microwavable pizzas. I can prove I’m valid. You can find the obituaries of my friend and boyfriend at (read more-click here).

1 of 38 people said this review was useful. Do you agree? Yes/No


Your Review: (posted 11/12/2008)

*********- Suspenseful, atmospheric cuts tie together an innovative advertising scheme.

I’m not sure what this video is selling, but it’s clear what they’re trying to achieve. Viral marketing is the latest trend in a tradition of finding new ways to sell a product. Remember when “I believe in Harvey Dent” was plastered all over the internet a year ago, leading to the fantastic success of The Dark Knight this summer? Selling a new product seems to be a blend of creating something worthwhile and perturbing the target audience until they want it.

In this case, the video is being sent like a chain message. “Watch this or within seven days your mother will implode!” you might have read, or some other, similarly spurious claim almost guaranteed to skyrocket a product to success once the product is actually revealed. In this case, the video itself manages to match the claims being made about it; this is one spooky clip.

We start with a flickering image of what seems to be a solar eclipse. Because of the title of the clip and a later image, I surmise that it’s probably taken from the inside of a well, looking up as the well gets covered. This is shot alongside an undulating electrical sound. The image cuts to static, and we hear a shrill, almost “dial-up” modem sound. When the sound ceases, the static changes into red, rolling waves. Is it supposed to be blood? Is it blood?

We then cut to a shot of a woman combing her hair in an ornate, oval mirror, heavy green filter over the rest of the video. Graphical distortions stop her for a moment, the mirror changes which side of the room it sits upon, and a girl (or a blob of hair that could be a girl) is reflected in it, walking or gliding backwards. The scene jumps back to the reflected woman combing her hair, but she’s turned to the left, admiringly looking at the spot where the mirror was previously.

If that sounds strange in terms of description, the next cuts are stranger still. In seconds, we’re shown a spike dripping something red, a man in a white paneled house glaring at us from the window, and a breezy, bleak coastline. All of the rest of the video has sounds that basically amount to a variety of electronic bird sounds and gurgling.

We then get a mash-up of disturbing visuals. It’s surprising that this passed censors if it was going to sell, for example, jewelry or pants. A human mouth appears to be shooting some kind of extra-long tongue right into the camera, a finger is punctured and the nail is uprooted by the spike we saw earlier, a tree is set on fire, a mass of maggots metamorphoses into a sea of partially submerged humans crawling against each other, and a centipede messes up someone’s furniture. It’s an early form of viral marketing, but the crudely cut together images definitely captured an audience.

The last shot is of a stone well in a forest of leafless trees. It’s an eerie still, and we watch it expecting something to come out; instead, the video stops.

Just what is this a commercial for, exactly? It’s hard to say. Probably something that starts with the letter “O.” There’s no actual words in the video, so it seems likely that it comes from a different country. Regardless, I teach a class in multimedia advertising and have found this to be a useful tool in showing how even crude attempts at viral marketing managed to reach massive audiences in the first years of the 21st century.

Speaking of which, here is the video. We no longer have to track down DVDs of the original in order to see it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkVlC2WgEwc

142 out of 154 people said your review was useful!
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

I could have followed. The road to the mountain, made by so many feet, was obvious and wide enough. When they passed through the forest, they hewed a straight path over grass and through streams where none had been before; however, wherever the first untrampled flower stood proudly by the side of the road, I paused to admire it. In the middle of their passage, whenever a stone was kicked over exposing a wriggling earthworm beneath it, I stopped to watch it seek a different sanctuary. I was a distractible child, but I committed to memory each thing I witnessed in the forest that day.


Teachers ignored me while they had an opportunity to do so. I could not blame them--my attention was all about butterflies through the classroom windows that vanished whenever we took recess. When the schoolmaster pulled me to the front and swatted me while my peers laughed, I could only look at my situation with a dissociated anger--why is this happening, I would wonder, finding it hard not to blame the chipped edges of the wooden floorboards I was looking at while bent over the man’s knee. Classmates, their parents, teachers, and the master all expected the same end result from me--failure.


All of them are gone now. Providence was kind to me eventually; I’m a warden of this forest now. An influx of new neighbors made me essential. The trees are so dark at dusk, and no one can discern north from south in this part of the country. My memory of the path, a route of several hours heading southeast from town in nearly a direct line, made me best suited to the task of finding lost souls.


Until today, I did not dare linger on or re-enact the path made by the children. I always clipped it while navigating to quickly discern the cardinal directions, but I never walked it for long. A distraught parent, frightened by our town’s history and the absence of their seven year old daughter called for me. I found the child an hour away and an hour down that trail, even though the path was overgrown with vegetation from the first moment I dawdled along it as a child. I remember glancing back where more than a hundred bare feet had flattened the grasses, watching them bounce up again and rapidly mend broken stems.


I’m asking the flowers now whether something still calls to young children, but I know that the way is shut at Poppenberg. I watched my peers, always separate, always special, vanish into the mountain’s stone before I could reach it.


The flowers say nothing, of course. They only guide me. No one else is allowed to feel the pull of the mountain song.


I was nine when I walked with bloody feet back to town the night after, stumbling out of the trance. No one believed me, of course, even though they had scoured the countryside and found no other trace besides me. The prevailing opinion was that the children had, while the adults were in church, mutually decided to wade in the Weser but were swept away with a strong current. When they saw me and no one else, they knelt on the cobblestone streets and clutched their mouths and held their garments to their eyes, screaming through the fabric.


Around that time, I nearly died. The community held me responsible. My mother, a widowed woman, bolted our door and moved her bed against it to bar entry to the groups of men and women who waited with torches each night. I had thought that the cruelty of children was an isolated blossom, but I learned well that it grows from a sturdy branch on a stronger trunk. I don’t remember the faces of my peers as they taunted me--I do remember the expression on the man’s face when he broke the door of my house with an axe and reached through to grab my mother’s sobbing body.


Now, as I was then, I find myself drifting between the trees, lulled by a subaudible song played on pan pipes. This time, I am prepared. At a good pace, it takes less than a day to reach Poppenberg. I move through the forest with keen insight, crossing several new roads with an insatiable need to follow this one, rugged course to the end.


Eventually, the townsfolk believed me. The man responsible was differently garbed in my account than in their recollection. He wore a red hat, hunter’s clothes, and a tight lipped smile as he danced away from town with an entire generation of children--his pipes made the shrillest sound I had ever heard, but it didn’t hold me as firmly as other children once I started following him. Even with that trance, I could not stay focused. I had to touch every flower in the forest. After I was found, I told the warden where to go and he found the threads of shoes that fell to pieces on the trail, leading right to the mountain.


When I mentioned the pipes, adults shook their heads and mumbled about debts unpaid, growing pale. Young families started to move away, afraid that the town itself was cursed. The mayor died pining for his lost daughter, and most of the teachers and the schoolmaster left to seek employment elsewhere. Older teachers who could not survive travel became my tutors. It was then that I excelled as a student. Left alone, I ascended beyond my ascribed destiny.


My tutors are all dead now. My mother is dead. Nearly the entire town has either uprooted or perished, leaving behind empty houses for newcomers. I let them know about the Mayor’s last decree when they profess to know little about our small town’s grim history: in memoriam of vanishing children and young adults, there is to be no music, whether pipes or drums, on a street five minutes from and parallel to the Weser.


I make camp not thirty minutes from the foot of the mountain. In the night, as I drift into sleep, I can hear the crescendo of shrill piping as all other natural sounds leave my mind.


When I wake up, I’m there already. Even in a trance, I’ve still packed my bag. Now I produce my pickaxe and attack the stone. The pipes are strong. The trill of airy pitches in the instrument reverberates through my bones. Sliver and chunk of stone crack away from the rock as my blows fall upon it for each day of a severed youth. Providence was kind to me, but Providence left me behind.


I work without exertion. I was destined for this. Hours or days later, a hollowed sound begins to emanate with each strike. Finally, each crack of the pickaxe begins to reveal a cavern beyond the stone. The door to the children is ajar, at last.


Cautiously, I break enough rock to move easily in and out of the cave before proceeding. If I am to face the demon who danced into the dark, I must be cautious.


I move through the cavern holding a torch. It is dry enough that I can still see the undisturbed footprints in the dirt. I carry the flame at my side so that it doesn’t blind me to this and what lies ahead. Eventually the cavern narrows into a slim passage too tight to squeeze through. I reach for my pickaxe again but stop and listen. I hear, through the passage, something more than the throbbing pitches of the piper. There is a shuffling sound.


Leaning into the crack as far as I am able, I can see a faint light. I put out my torch to see it more clearly.


There is a man in hunter’s clothes and a red cap dancing while playing the pipes. He has two braziers burning dimly at his feet, and the light produced by these flames is terminated by hundreds of shadows that move in a circle around the dancer. It is hard to get a good glimpse until they slow their rhythm as the pipe pitches drop into a low, raspy moan.


The shadows slow to a stop and turn towards me. One face is illuminated across the fire. It is the skeleton of a young child with an extra row of undeveloped teeth visible in a brilliantly white skull.


When the piping ends, the shuffling recommences towards me. I can hear the sound of bones scraping against rock, squeezing and clamoring through the crack to grab at my cloak and clothes. The trance snaps away, and I run even though I have no torch.


The caves smash against my body again and again, and the sound of dead children scuttling across stone drives me harder. I see the light of day and lunge for it.


I return to the forest. The sounds do not abate in spite of the daylight. I begin running but quickly realize that nothing is familiar anymore. When the piping stopped, though it was always in my head, so did my memory of the path. No need for the piper to play when the last of the children has come to join the dance, I think, as I flee deeper into the forest.


*****


If some traveller should happen upon this record, they should know that I eventually died. Where it’s found is a good indicator of how much I managed to travel before I was caught. Maybe I was lucky and died of exposure or hunger. Even so, even in a city when I can beg for an innkeeper to let me in for the night, I hear the rustling of bones in the alleyways outside the windows; my exhausted, fearful breaths play the pipes of death in my chest.

Dogs

Dec. 7th, 2015 06:00 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
Iosef could smell the ale. From the tap, it had a faintly honeyed aroma with a citrus finish. From the stains in the hardwood floor, where repeatedly sloshed drinks had destroyed the varnish and warped the oak boards on the ends, it reeked of rot.

A low hanging light cast a red glow over the bar top across the room, and the shadows of the stools and the men sitting upon them crossed paths and broadened as they stretched toward the prisoner. The liquor cabinet behind the bar was small, and the bartender seemed too familiar to the men, laughing while pouring drinks poorly so that the foam rushed toward and over the rim of each glass while men rushed to suck on the foam before it could spill too much. Another man behind the counter, to the bartender’s right, set a record to play. The song was a swinging rendition of--it was hard to place the melody with saxophones rather than bellowing bass voices--“The Song of the Volga Boatmen” transitioning into Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave.”

Only the bartender’s face was illuminated in the light. He had a scar from his chin to just over the left side of his lip, giving him a curious smirk. He noticed Iosef looking at him and smiled with tiny brown eyes. Iosef could not recognize him even when the bartender exclaimed “Ho, Iosef!” heartily and walked with two other men to where he was sitting on his knees with his hands chained to two steel bolts a full arm-span apart.

Iosef felt the sudden pang of a wound on the back of his head--strong men had been carrying him by his arms through the snow, and when he dared to open his eyes and remark on it, they clubbed him. It was a reminder to not be alert, and Iosef had already failed to heed it. One man gripped Iosef’s hair and dragged it up so that he was almost lifted off his aching knees. Only the glistening eyes and general body outlines of his captors could be discerned, but it was enough.

“Are you awake now?” the man holding his hair roared. The three men who were still at the bar chuckled, but they did not turn around. The man’s name was Matei. He was the first of the group to whom Iosef was introduced when Iosef started to ask. He stank of dead fish, though it was difficult for Iosef to discern if the smell was coming from the man’s armpits or his breath or both.

“No,” Iosef softly replied. More laughing from men at the bar which didn’t stop even when another of the men standing next to him shoved his fist into Iosef’s gut. Iosef guessed that it was Petru. Even the shadows and the dark glint of Petru’s eyes couldn’t hide how far apart they were within his head. Petru had a head like a goat and was probably blind right about where his nose, a mountain with two caves in it, sat on his aggressive face. Sandu, is this what they did to you? Iosef wondered, and he hoped he would be alive long enough to find out.

“Did you really think you could get away with your cheating, old man?” Matei gloated, dropping to a crouch and talking directly into Iosef’s mouth. “Did you not think we’d notice when you slipped two aces into your hand? Or maybe, where you come from, Ferbli is played differently.”

Iosef smiled. It was, actually, but that had little to do with him being in this place tied up by the strangers who assuredly murdered his son.

Matei slapped Iosef’s face with his own forehead and continued speaking. “In our house, we play fairly. In our house, if we play with someone who doesn’t abide by the rules, we set a different kind of stake.” Matei and the others stood up and walked back to the bar, relieving Iosef slightly in spite of the pain in his nose and the blood dribbling down his chin. “You will die here, old man.”

Iosef tried to remember. Did he wear the right shoes and the right trousers and the right shirt? It had taken enough. They should be here by now, he thought. He was not worried. He knew the danger.

Matei pulled darts off the countertop of the bar and took aim at Iosef’s chest. He threw a dart and landed far outside of Iosef’s right leg, striking the straw bed next to the prisoner. Iosef became worried quickly and tried to whistle, but couldn’t produce a sound through bleeding gums. Matei threw another dart, and it glanced off Iosef’s thigh, cutting him slightly.

Through a ragged gasp, Iosef did manage to produce one shrill note through his teeth. A door opened to the right, and a pack of dogs rushed into the room, sharp teeth ripping through the air. The bartender reached for a rifle in the corner, but he failed to move quickly enough as one of Iosef's hounds bit into his ankle while another one attacked his face.

Men whose names Iosef had learnt from a card game were now food for dogs he trained for this explicit purpose. Iosef's wife followed them in after a few moments and unchained Iosef, tending to his wounds.

*****

In the end, Iosef could find no proof that his son had gambled and perished at the hands of these men while away at college. Regardless, it seemed like a fitting trick to lull them into attacking him when he had seen how viciously they could attack. His wife rubbed his shoulders every night before he went to sleep, assuring him that he had avenged his son in the end.

Iosef slept well, all the same.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
It was three months before we moved out that our cigarette smoking, pillowcase wearing, downstairs neighbor named Susanna started to die. You will remember the person but not what she meant to me. The nights when our soft footsteps on the second floor caused her to thrash her ceiling with the handle end of her broom became fewer and farther between. She stopped loitering outside the locked laundry room, standing barefoot in the yellow grass while her flimsy nightgown fluttered, looking on at anyone nearby with bloodshot eyes and a heavily wrinkled scowl. Her son, a tree trunk with a beard, knocked on her door less and carried plastic bags filled with over-the-counter drugs and cigarettes less, but he appeared more, idling in his car before softly turning the knob with his gnarled hands to step inside.

Our surprise that old women really did tap their ceilings and cuss at their upstairs neighbors was halted by the silence of her thin body occasionally wheeling an I.V. stand out to her son’s car. After that, she started coughing. The back of her bed or favorite chair must have been pressed against a wall, because we could feel the spasms of her diaphragm through the legs of our own bed as we laid together, and we could hear those coughs turn into gagging and vomiting through the vent in the bathroom before we closed that door.

Winter was over. It was the first day of May and the last flurries of the year’s last snow cut through air, mocking the red flowers that decided to bloom during the first warm spell. We were heading back from school after studying for our finals for most of the night. You went up to unlock the door and start making hot cocoa while I checked the mail. Did I ever tell you what Susanna told me when she met me at the foot of the stairs, right next to her door? I doubt it; you were irate with me then, as you were with me often when we first lived together. Her rheumy blue eyes glanced through me and appraised someone long gone while her white knuckles clutched the rail to the second floor. I could have pushed or slipped through, but her look stopped me.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“What?” I replied. No one who lived at that apartment ever talked to another person directly. If we could avoid it, we avoided eye contact also.

“I said ‘where have you been?’”

“Just at the library working.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re always somewhere. Always busy.”

“Sorry?”

“You don’t have to apologize. I understand.”

She lit a cigarette and didn’t move.

“You never have any time for me,” she whispered while inhaling.

“I don’t think-”

“Your son is here with me, and you’re always looking at other women. I know you’re unhappy here, Cary.”

Smoke clogged my thoughts.

“If you need to leave, you can. It might be time for you to live by yourself. There will be child support, but you seem like you could use your own space.”

I started to push past her, but her gaze followed me.

“I loved you from the first time I saw you, but you don’t need to be rearing Wesley just because you’re committed to not having him grow up like you did, fatherless.”

She grabbed my arm through my coat sleeve.

“It would be worse for him to grow up loveless, Cary.”

I pried her cold fingers free and continued up the stairs.

“Where are you going? I’m talking to you!” she snapped.

“I live up here. My name is not Cary. Goodnight.”

The hue of her eyes shifted as she started to process what I told her. I stopped looking at her conflicting feelings when I rounded the corner onto the walkway outside our apartment.

Years have passed and that May snow would be a reminder of change and fixed expectations being frozen to death whenever they dared bloom into something majestic. We had many firsts but children were mercifully not among them. I vividly recall the day I dropped pieces of your unicorn puzzle on the grass outside that apartment, as I recall choosing to discard seasonings you believed would still be fresh years after we returned from teaching overseas together, as I recall breaking the sake cup given by your best friend, and as I will recall staring down this paperwork for separation after watching you return from your own job, after months away, a different person every time. I thank you for giving me the indicators of distance and disinterest I needed. I thank you for giving me the signals I needed to realize that a cold wind could return us all to the start, new plants in a new season.

Someday, when I’m clutching a rail with white knuckles while staring with pale eyes wracked with disease at you, dressed in the skin of a stranger, I will thank you for prioritizing your own destiny even at the dissolution of our partnership of over seven years. The stranger will know that even “forever” is a transient concept then, and the stranger will prepare more wisely than we did.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
Picard bought bologna from the grocery store, but it had a grey tinge right below the label. He noticed it as soon as he put his groceries away and attempted to make a sandwich. Bologna containers all work the same way--peel off the back of the plastic, grab exactly two slices to set on white bread, put mayonnaise on it, push the plastic back in place, store it with the plastic lid face down. When Picard did this, the bologna flopped against the backing and revealed the patch of apparent rot that ran in a crescent moon shape under the lid. It looked like a birthmark on his inner thigh. Shuddering, Picard set the sandwich on a paper towel, folded the paper towel like gift wrap, and dropped the whole sandwich into the trash.

When Picard brought the bologna to Customer Service at the grocery store, which he did immediately with a perfectly unwrinkled receipt in tow, the counter worker leaned over and whispered into her manager's ear discreetly, making Picard imagine what having a gentle breeze with a little spittle directly inside his ear would feel like.

"Excuse me," Picard motioned, setting the bagged bologna on the counter in front of the clerk.

"Yes, just a moment," the woman working the counter replied. Then she and her manager walked into a back room, closed the door, locked it, and left Picard with the bad bologna and carefully maintained receipt right at the counter top. He stayed there and waited at least twelve minutes before walking home.

I am not Picard. I have no restraint about eating around the bad parts. If they smell right, I may even eat the bad parts.

I am Fodschwazzle, which means "pocket monsters," but not like a famous Japanese brand of a card game turned multi-million dollar video game line means "pocket monsters." It's an onomatopoeia. It's the sound of reaching into a pocket and finding only the slippery tentacles of the abyss to slather your fingertips in tentasauce, which is sauce for tentacles and similar to oyster sauce with a little less salt.

I am not Picard, but when I walk home I am going to leave the bad bologna right on the counter top at Customer Service. I'm going to wad the receipt viciously. I'm going to pretend that the crescent moon shape of gray meat under the label is magical and lucky.

I hope we have a good time writing together.
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
I am on board with this writing and this LJIdol. Lemme in!

http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/861191.html
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

Hello folks,

Just finished programming my first game in Game Maker Studio. Feel free to try it if you use Windows (if you don't, it won't work). It might not work even if you do have Windows. Who knows!? But if it fails, would you mind sending me either a picture or a description of the error? It's a small install (15 MB) that can be easily removed.

This is a side-scrolling shooter similar in fashion to Gradius or R-Type if you like oldies. All of the art, music, and sounds are mine. If you're a good gamer, you'll probably finish it in 5 minutes or so. But I've no earthly idea how others will play, so take that recommendation with a grain of salt.

http://www.filedropper.com/dakkadakkadakka

fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

This post is a bunch of Euphoric Brag Rambling.

I don't know where else to put this but need to have it written. I've started to program my first full game, doing all of the coding, images, goals, and music. I'm good at one of these things already, and it's not one of the ones that normally requires a programmer or game developer to hire out of industry.

But you know what? Screw those hang-ups. I want to make a game that represents me, and I can't do that if I delegate rolls to other people. I want to make a game that shows a culmination of all the hours I spent loving little worlds inside of a screen, and I can't do that if I need to take one damn moment and explain that to someone else. So now I've sat down and learned how to code a bit, learned how to pixel art a bit, and learned how to produce sound effects and music a bit.

The music aspect has scared me most all along. I shiver with impending rejection anytime I touch a music program, even though I've got tunes in my head when I need them--if I forget to play a CD or MP3 when I'm in the car, sometimes I just start making melodies and rhythms without even thinking about it. Do these internal songs suck? I've had no way of knowing, ever. Until now. I wrote a song for my first itty-bitty game. I give songs stupid titles. This one is called "Slagacore's 7 Tips to Loving Yourself." It is action-packed, because this first game is a sidescrolling shoot-em'-up. I had the original midi converted into a .wav file, playing it like a classic 8-bit song.

Listening to it feels like a statement of a possibility.

I think I can do this. I think I can make this dream real if I try. This song feels good, like holy shit I made that? I know I'll do even better if I wait, listen, and create some more.

I'll post a link to the downloadable game when it's done. It's not far off.

fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
James Thomas is elegant as far as ghosts go. He looks dapper in his Victorian Era coat and vest, although being dapper while dead holds little value for him. I want him to look classy. I also needed to learn how he died to give myself a sense of balance, but the greenish tinge of poisoning in his face is unobtrusive against his fading outline. I consider that the graveyard's unkempt but vibrant grass, visible through his body, could also be blamed for his appearance, though I know better.

"Hello, Jonathan!" he booms cordially.

"Good evening, Mr. Thomas."

"How is life?" the ghost asks.

"I've started a new job."

"Got tired of dishwashing, did you? Scrubbed yourself out?"

"Not really," I reply. "I'm a shift leader now, so I still have to show people how to scrub, pick up slack."

Mr. Thomas scratches his bald spot thoughtfully. I consider that he might not be familiar with that expression. In context, he could likely figure it out.

"Is it a higher wage than before?" he asks, adjusting his long coat before placing a hand on his own tombstone for support.

"No, but I get more hours."

A long pause forms between us. I know this silence well.

"I have a new neighbor next door," I say.

"Oh?"

"She's about 35 and works at a casino as a hostess."

"Is she," Mr. Thomas winked, "Comely?"

"Oh no," I say, grimacing. "But she has a daughter, about 15 years old. She looks a lot like your girl."

Mr. Thomas looks down and tugs at his vest.

"You've never asked me what happened to your children, Mr. Thomas."

"You've always had your own beliefs, Jonathan. I couldn't contradict them."

Mr. Thomas' daughter had been accused of poisoning him. She was imprisoned and nearly received the death penalty. Life imprisonment was unkind to her, and she died shortly after. Looking at Mr. Thomas' one existing photograph, I would say she was wrongly accused. Her face was blurred, turning towards her father with an impish grin, not at all like the hundreds of other photos that I came across while searching.

"I think you would tell me if you had something you wanted to share," Mr. Thomas says in a hushed tone.

"She loved you. I am convinced."

"Because you saw our photograph?"

I never mentioned it, but I’m not surprised that he knows about it. I nod.

Mr. Thomas pulls a long wooden pipe out of an interior coat pocket. He starts smoking while a familiar vacant expression starts to form across his face--his eyes look into the distant street, as if I have stopped existing. We have reached the limit of things we can talk about. I swear to myself that I will look up more information on him to have more to say, but I also remember the hours I have already spent with library clippings of old newspapers.

"What happens after we die?" I ask. I always ask questions like this.

Mr. Thomas glances at me for a moment before looking at the street again. I never get an answer.

"Oh well. It's time I went further in. It was nice seeing you again, Mr. Thomas," I said, waving goodbye. He sets his pipe on top of his tombstone and smiles again.

"You too, Jonathan. Say hello to Miss Melody for me," he shouts as I walk away.

I still try to rationalize it, but James Thomas from 1850 cannot know about Melody Fisher from 1922. It's not possible. They are not having casual conversation over the graveyard's cobblestone walkways. I need more, I think. More voices, more facts.

It's a big cemetery. I hate the distance between faces I know. The October air isn't breezy, just bitter. I walk roughly a city block before I run into Melody. I guess they built it chronologically, adding plots like a chunky timeline towards the far end, recent graves hidden by browning maple leaves.

"How are you?" asks Melody, with her hands folded together behind her, rocking back on her heels. She's doing better, I think. Two weeks ago, she was clutching her neck to hide the rope's thick, splotched curve.

"I'm fine." I say. "I had to pull in the rest of my potted garden. It was getting too cold."

"Heavens, you took long enough. Anything left besides dried, frozen roots now?"

"Hmm, not really. There is a little green coming out of the tomato pot, but I think it's just a weed."

"Well, you don't heat your apartment. They would have died anyway." I never mentioned that, of course. She knows everything I know.

"I hate winter," I say. "I always slip on ice and can never find a matching pair of gloves."

"It was winter when I was waiting for Benjamin to come home," Melody replies solemnly. "I was so excited that I forgot to wear gloves. When no one I knew hopped off of the train, I sat on a bench at the station holding my hands together."

I only take the time to learn about people who have unusual age ranges. I learn more if I find that they didn't die of disease. The rope's shadow around her neck is a shallow comfort, but I need it.

"Have you seen him since then?"

"Not while I was alive. My Benjamin never returned to me."

"No, no, I know all that already," I snap.

"Then what do you need?"

It is uncomfortable to talk about need. These faded stories of people know my purpose in knowing more.

“Why don’t you carry on and see her, if that’s what you really want to do,” Melody adds, without a hint of irritation. Of course she’s sympathetic, I think.

“I need to know about what comes after.”

“After death?”

“Yes.”

Melody’s face changes. The color of her eyes shifts to grey even though her eyes never reflect the sun. She’s not looking at things within the cemetery anymore; she’s looking out beyond the city streets, out to the ocean.

“What is heaven like? Have you been there?” I ask, knowing that I will get no reply.

I am done with Melody. Taking what I know and making them real is a practice that is limited by willingness to talk—

“Do you know that she will always love you?”

I stop. I’ve never heard that line before. “I know,” I whisper, before I walk towards the cemetery’s end.

They’re in my head, I made them up, I tell myself. I believe it, but I can’t stop digging into their backgrounds to make them even more real. I’m a crazy man who can see only the apparitions with which he is familiar--specters tethered to their own corpses. I look over my shoulder while I walk away, but I still see Melody sitting on her own tombstone, tapping the heels of her sandals against it with her fidgeting legs. Is she there when I look away?

I think that they only exist for my eyes, for my mind, but I can’t stop coming to the cemetery.

“Hello, Jon,” my mother says smiling faintly, as if she carried the disease with her when she went.

If I stopped visiting her now, would she be lonely? How can I leave my own mother to live in a grassy field with dead-looking marble slates all around if I don’t know whether or not she’s real right now?

“Hi, mom,” I reply before choking out small talk. “How have you been, lately?”

“Lovely!” she sings quietly. “The weather has been a little chilly, but I can’t find any real reason to mind being outside yet. The groundskeeper has kept the grass nicely trimmed, and I always enjoy the flowers you bring me.”

I will bring her flowers in December, when the snows piles over her headstone and leaves her shadowed visage, from a distance, like ash flecks in the snow. She will still tell me she enjoys the weather, as if my particular form of dementia of refuses to let her speak her suffering.

No, it’s worse. My mom was cheerful until leukemia took her last breath, just like she is now. If I could touch her hands, I think I would feel the calluses from the last time she forced herself to shovel her flower bed to plant new tulips, to look happy. Either my mind is only maintaining the image I had of her, or she’s real and trapped.

“Mom, where did you first meet my Dad?” I ask, probing for things I never bothered to know when she was alive.

“I really can’t recall, Jon. It’s been so many years, and my head isn’t the same as it was when you were younger.” It’s a perfect non-answer. If she said nothing, I’d have too many suspicions that she wasn’t real. She really did suffer from some memory loss towards the end, though I blame the chemotherapy.

I’ve tried every trick I can think of to prove her existence. The way she was at the end invalidates it all. I have called family members to tell me things about her childhood; they’re usually annoyed that I cannot seem to let this go, but her brain fog silences any benefits I could get from the new information. She says “If you say it’s true, then I believe you.” If I invent stories from her past and convince myself that they actually happened, it’s the same problem.

Only one question ever gives me something to consider.

“Mom, I know I ask you this every time. Sorry.”

“It’s OK. I’m here for you.”

“What is heaven like?”

“Heaven is you, Jon. You’re my heaven.”

Silver

Feb. 19th, 2015 01:32 am
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

With a sacred synchronicity, she moves.

When she's six, the mirror above her bed sings with admiration. It watches the cycle of the young girl's clutter as it spreads across a bedroom floor before fluttering into tight boxes again. This pattern is holy. This pattern is protected.

Emily loves beads, so beads become everything. The smooth on smooth texture of a marbled bead against her soft fingertips is equal to the agitation of small hands trying to nudge a bit of string through the tiny hole in the center. The sea of colors tossed and lost about the carpet is equal to the sound of her giddy, raspy breaths when a bracelet is done. Beads scatter from the folds of her skirt as she bounces up and races off to brag about her achievement with a bigger grin than words can grasp. Her hair bobs around her tiny shoulders as she skitters through the door. Peals of laughter echo under the door as she jumps down the stairs.

The Silver in the mirror watches.

She walks through the door again with an echo of her previous face played around little teeth biting a lower lip, cheeks beginning to flush red. A tall woman follows her and puts her hands on Emily's shoulders and gives her a hug. The woman tries to get Emily to open her right hand, but Emily won't--there is a determination in her teeth. When the woman walks away, Emily gathers her beads into miniature, color coordinated drawers. A gruff rumble from below rattles the mirror, and the drawers jolt in the child's hand, throwing beads on the floor. Emily's face falls into her pillow and makes a sound that shouldn't exist.

The Silver observes without understanding.

The sacred patterns shift, retaining a semblance of what they used to be. Instead of nice, neat boxes, clutter crawls under the bed and into places that it cannot be reached easily. The bracelet is behind the night stand, wrapped around one wooden leg. The girl sees her reflection at nine and assesses. It's fine. Pretty dresses still happen on occasion, but brilliant colors turn into simple patterns in shirts. Stripes and logos are wadded in dresser drawers and worn with crinkled patterns.

Gifts come through the door and the bow-tied boxes sit on the floor for a week or two before being filled and stuffed into the top of the closet. Emily tucks teddy bears into the paper-packed boxes and stands tip-toed on a chair to shove them up, ignoring the month after, when a different growl always replaces the one before. At times, Emily sits on the floor with knees supporting a book, but she doesn't turn the page. At ten, Emily locks the door every night.

The Silver sees her body forget, sees sleepless sheets rumpled around her neck. Locking the door is now a sacred pattern, but it's not like before. The click of the mechanism is equal to the nights when Emily doesn't sweat or scream in her dreams. When Emily looks into the mirror now, her face is blank as if the silly cheekbones and laughing eyebrows have been scrubbed away for forehead creases and half-smiles.

*****

When the girl begins to cry at her own reflection, the Silver becomes irate. Pencils that fall on the floor immediately disappear into their perfect order, the original order. Emily sits at her new desk with her fingers twisting through her highlighted hair while brushes and combs and pins vanish into dressers and drawers. At night, she sleeps like a nightmare. In the morning, she wakes with her sheets neatly folded around her, though she doesn't notice as she pulls on a black sweater and dark blue jeans.  She doesn't notice that the jeans are smooth. Emily pulls her backpack over her shoulder and doesn't notice when it zips up while she walks out.

The nights when Emily cries and the nights when grumbles penetrate the floor do not coincide any more, but the Silver sees her fists balled beneath the sleeves of her sweater. Emily finds pictures of musicians with thick, fake faces to hang on the ceiling and on the walls and on the door, and though she notices that the pictures are straightened when she returns, she unlocks and opens her door and begins shrieking shrilly down the stairs. Emily locks the door again. Moments later, the door pounds with the tall woman's voice and fist.

In the mirror, Emily shakes her head and adds makeup. This also becomes a sacred pattern when Emily comes home and stares at herself as she takes the makeup off. The foundation is equal to the mascara. The eyeliner is equal to the concealer. She doesn't notice the beads on the floor or the beads in their own boxes even when she steps on them and grabs her foot, whimpering.

The Silver realizes the difference when the razor arrives. For two weeks, it sits unused on the edge of Emily's desk. Gleaming sharpness hides beneath a simple retractable switch. Emily's eyes meet the blade when she doesn't notice the math homework disappearing into the pattern of papers. Emily's eyes use the blade when the doorknob rattles as if a thin object was being inserted inside from the other side, a sound that dissolves into a series of loud, growling and pounding sounds from someone with a deeper voice than the tall woman. Emily's hand grips and extends the blade as the Silver screams, cracking a bit on the bottom right corner. Emily drops the blade, but the Silver sees the threat.

Soon, the razor’s blade is snapped and hidden. Every morning, the folded sheets resist Emily’s attempts to wake up. When she applies makeup, it cakes and makes a clownish, smeared smile. The beads on the carpet increase, making it difficult to walk across the floor. The desk disappears. The black sweaters and dark jeans are replaced with the bright colors of Emily’s childhood. The boxes spill out of the top shelf of the closet, scattering teddy bears and forgotten gifts from nearly-fathers across the floor before settling into the primal patterns they deserve.

Now Emily notices. Instead of a razor, Emily keeps a small, orange bottle filled with rounded white cylinders. The mirror wonders if these work like beads. The yelling of beasts below increases, but Emily’s face is blank.

One night, in only the glow of the fluorescent light bulb as it loses heat, she removes the mirror from the wall and breaks it across her knee. When those ragged pieces of glass at last touch her skin, the Silver in the mirror escapes.

*****

“Emily, are you in there?” the tall woman asks.

“Emily, talk to me!” the tall woman commands.

“Open the door, please.”

I open the door to show her my bracelet, grin stretched all the way across my face.

“Do you like it, mommy?” I ask, showing her the sacred synchronicity. My mommy’s face is equal to the lost girl. My mommy’s surprise is equal to the beads in the carpet.

*****

This piece is linked to the fantastically, dubiously wonderful [livejournal.com profile] kickthehobbit, who wrote on the topic of "Bystander Effect." Her piece is great, and you should go here to experience it!

Alignment

Feb. 4th, 2015 11:39 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

enhanced-buzz-29509-1338570077-13

She holds the blue bin for concessions like a shield, clutching the sides so tightly that the wash of fluorescent lighting almost shows the flush of color in her hands. The crowd is bedlam, and as she passes bags of chips amongst them, murmurs of madness creep underneath the howling din.


"If you shook that ass more, you'd make more money," a girl says.


Clutch the bin. Take the money. Give food. Sticks and stones, she knows, are nothing. Outside the noise, a flashing fire snaps from hand to hand and whacks the court floor. Buzzing alarms ring for things concession workers couldn't trouble themselves to comprehend. Whistles cut the air and pierce ears but do not block rumors.


"You're a cutie. Here, have a tip," an old man says, tucking a dollar bill into her back jeans pocket.


Clutch the bin. Deal with it. She says she's strong, but she feels their eyes. She knows she's strong--she knows she's strong. The fluorescent lights have a way of sapping her memory of successes. Handing over a Hershey's bar is now like forfeiting humanity. Alone, standing in a tide of people who either appear to be laughing at her or are laughing at her, she becomes frail. The stench of clustered, sweating bodies covered in perfume and deodorant gives her claustrophobia, even in the biggest room of the school.


One boy dares a friend to grab her.


Clutch the bin. Clutch the bin. The act of maintaining a visage of strength begins to lose clarity when she needs to do it everyday. When she sits on the concessions counter later and cries, claiming that she has little left to cling to, she means to end it. Everything can break your bones, she knows, especially words. The slap of a basketball and sneakers on wooden slats is a clock ticking.


She feels like a tomboy. She feels like Cinderella.


The story has a precedent, but it's irrelevant. How many times has she heard that someone else has it worse? How much self-harm has she heard about, committed by friends or family members who have "gotten better?" Pain is never going to be a pain-killer. She says she's strong, but she thinks of a friend who died and wonders if she could wander with him.


She's a tile set into a bathroom floor with no connection to the pattern. Eight white squares hug one black square, always one teal square apart from one and another in any direction. We are comfortable enough with the pattern to realize that one white square is adrift, disrupting the entire setup. We are not alert enough to realize how ghastly it all looks in the first place, especially as the white squares begin to acquire dirt from shoes and bodies. We are not alert enough to prevent mismatches from happening. We are not troubled enough by the sawed off squares at the border of the room. A system must have sacrifices in order to succeed.


*****


On the weekend, she speaks against bullying. She stands against wave after wave of challengers, speaking a poem that galvanizes her spirit. She does not know the magic of her own soul, but she is starting to feel how her will can influence an audience, how her words are her own history's answer if she can hold it in her heart a bit longer. She is starting to win these competitions, but winnings will never fill a street's potholes.


She's one of a few odd tiles. A boy who cannot process thoughts is gathering his will under the glowering presence of his father. He will soon speak for ten minutes on the topic of his choice. It would take him three straight days to write such a speech under regular circumstances.


When he stands in front of a crowd, his words tumble out of his head like hail bouncing off a rooftop, well above his own sight. When the storm stops, he stands silently still for seven minutes, looking around for distant storm clouds.


He is a marvel. A fair number of people would wet their pants if forced to have even a small group of people witness the complete breakdown of a thought process--he endured their ceaseless scrutiny for seven minutes. When the next round of competition starts, he tries it again.


Another girl tirelessly refines her stance for a similar speech on feminism, even though she has not yet learned why such a thing might be necessary. She bawls and experiences a panic attack during her first round, reads from her script for the two competitions thereafter, and cries again when a round goes worse than she expects. Even so, she tries again every week, constantly revising her ideas. These students watch each other perform and make speaking out feel real.


A tile displaced in a sea of patterns will always look strange. We are building a mosaic. It's just three pieces right now, so it's hard to tell from these cracked, discolored, and misplaced stones how the final product will look. Even now, each piece sings. I know it will be beautiful.


It will be enough to change these lives.

fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

I am aware of what death does or should do to a body. In one manual I read, half buried in the Dust, sometime after a body falls slack, losing heartbeat and brain function, rigor mortis sets in. The manual featured pictures of cadavers in varying stages of death, before and after rigor mortis. It described the breakdown of muscles through enzymes, the slow loss of body temperature before an increase during decomposition, the development of bluish hues beneath skin depending upon how a body is arranged after death, and even the practical usage of rigor mortis in the preparation of meat.


We no longer have words for much of this. We no longer discuss enzymes. We no longer discuss rigor mortis. In fact, if we even saw a body with bluish skin, walking or no, we would assume it was either painted or being used as a model for a demonstration.


In the fifty years since the world ended, we have lost all grasp of the mechanics of death. What recollections we possessed as different cultures were pitched into the sea when the land reformed, making up our unnamed nation that we live in today. This nation is fraught with oddities--vast jungles that change shape in our sleep, icy tundra that no true light will touch due to a sun that never moves,  and creatures that haunt our dreams.  Our cities tremble with madness, each city bearing a different blight: Coburntown scorns knowledge, and Vaust rejects creation, for example. We are reminded that life is impermanent and fickle. At any moment, the world could end again and forever.


Death ended.


Now, rather than becoming gradually rigid or slowly decaying, bodies stand up and return to work. Why do they do that? Men die, but it doesn't bother them for very long. We grow old to a point, and then some kind of clock stops ticking inside--we become semi-permanent.


I met a lighthouse keeper in the early years of the new world, before I also stopped aging. I met him again, tangled in brine in the shallows of his own beach. His body was turning blue. I guessed it might have been a combination of hypothermia and asphyxiation. Now, I'm not so sure.


I dragged him into his house. I didn’t see his wife around. I did see a strange note on his kitchen table. He seemed conscious, so I boiled water for him and made soup with what ingredients I could scrounge together. I wrapped him in blankets and coats, talking to him to see if I could solicit any kind of reaction at all. I sat with him for hours,  following the path of his vision to a slight twist in the right kitchen table leg nearest to him. He stared at it incessantly, never blinking. From time to time, I would lay a hand on his algae and dirt covered skin; he was cold and clammy, sweating even as I tried to warm him up, never gaining in temperature. I knew he had died, for whatever functional purpose such a designation might carry.


I knew I had to watch him.


Just as I began to grow tired from my watch, his eyes twitched and flickered, jolting to the letter on the table. The envelope had a fishy aroma--a fileting knife sat next to it. He opened this envelope recently, I thought briefly, interrupted when the lighthouse keeper stood up and began to walk out.


Find me in the Silent City, the letter read. It was not the first time I had heard of that place, but I had always assumed it was simply another name for one of the eight cities and towns. I also knew that the Silent City was somehow linked to death; the wordlessly trudging fisherman would lead me there, I guessed, and I began to follow him.


Animals and plants die. People do not. Some factor of the new world inhibits human death. I suspect that the presence of the soul requires death as a device. If true death is denied, then the soul gradually corrupts the physical body, leading people to become different. Inevitably, people who die more than once become increasingly twisted, estranging themselves from family in pursuit of something more final. I told myself that they would never find it.


That day, following a drowned fisherman on the roads running east of Coburntown and around Mount Aramis, I wondered if true death would find me.


There is a hole. The hole lies, I would guess, roughly ten miles north and east of Coburntown. It is deep. It is deep enough that stones make no echo when tossed inside. The hole sits at the mouth of a town that I have never seen and dared not approach. Steel structures gleam underneath a coating of rust, illuminated by the thin glare of sunlight cracking through the surrounding mountains. It is hard to look at them, hard to know if there are predators between those structures.


As for the fisherman: he kept walking until he fell into that hole. I watched the flecks of seaweed rush away from his body as he plummeted, the wind whipping them away, rippling the cloth of his shirt and the hair on his face. I watched him disappear into the darkness.


As I watched, they watched. In the distant city, hundreds of dark eyes looked upon me. I could feel their hostility and their hunger. I walked away, knowing nothing more about the nature of death.


Did the void call out to me, then? Would I need to be dead in order to hear it properly? I hope to know some day. There are few questions more worth answering in this new, dangerous world.

fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
The last happy day of Jeremy Finklers life smelled like toasted marshmallows, sand-filled beach towels, and stars obscured by bonfire smoke. Invited to celebrate the last year of high school, Jeremy bundled dozens of missed opportunities at dances on other moonlit nights into a bouquet clipped from his backyard; Tonight, he told himself, Ill let Heather know how I feel.

It was her night, her invite. After the bonfire started, however, Heather disappeared from the beach. Do you know where she went? Jeremy asked the pasty white Prom King who was aggressively shaking his pectoral muscles in the flickering fire light to the Wub wub of a dubstep song. The young man shrug-convulsed and started spinning. Jeremy walked up the dunes away from the water, following her flip-flop imprints in the dirt.

Jeremy imagined the cool air whipping through the grasses and her hair as their lips drew close, savoring the collapse of the silent space between them. Instead, Jeremy found her flip-flops flapping against the backseat window inside Johnson McDougals Honda Civic, with some bare-chested giant wildly gesticulating against nothing Jeremy could bear to witness.

Things fell apart.

Soon, Jeremy was halfway downtown, maniacally laughing about trivial things instead of confronting the years lost carefully examining the tread patterns of Heathers flip-flops.

At least I still have a wristwatch. Hah! At least I still have buttons on my shirt! Haha! Jeremy exclaimed, pausing to drunkenly caress the Hawaiian shirts zebra-stripe buttons. Suddenly, one popped off, hitting the pavement and rolling away.

Oh no! Oh no no no! Jeremy cried, chasing after it. A moment later, he had his foot on it. I have you now. I wont lose you! he whispered.

When he stood up, he realized that he was standing in front of a lifelong nexus of terror. Of all heebie-jeebie inducing businesses in town, few induced so many heebies or conjured so many jeebies as The Magic Shop: Costumes and Accessories.

At least I still have the Magic Slop! Jeremy laughed, hurrying inside. The place looked derelict, but it never managed to gather enough dust or cobwebs to cover the neon Open sign that flickered on at sundown andat least as far as anyone who had watched could discernnever turned off. From the front display cases, costumes were hung from hooks so that the eyeholes were just empty, spider filled voids. One French Maid outfit adorned a mildew-rotted mannequin that definitely moved if one looked at her long enough.

Appearances were deceiving, Jeremy decided, eyeing the lush velvet curtains that adorned all the walls of the room, the bright lights illuminating an assortment of strange display case items, and a ring of eight pedestals with one book on each that were set equal distances apart from each other.

Hello, can I help you, young sir? asked an incredibly tall man wearing an enormous, black hat. His face was complicated; in the shadow cast by his hat, it was hard to tell if his weathered skin carried tattoos. His face seemed to change shape the more Jeremy stared at it. He looked like a Native American, although he could have been Indian also. Then, at another glance, he was definitely just an older white man in a shady hat.

Nothing much, just browsing, Jeremy stammered, disconcerted by the shifting face and his own woes. What am I here for? he wondered, before shaking off the sensation.

The glass cases held items that would likely have been disturbing if Jeremy had actually known what they were. A curled greyish brown whorl, which probably came from a living creature, was sitting on a plate with pearl inlaid in its rim.

Cat gut, the odd clerk volunteered.

Tha-thanks, Jeremy meekly responded, moving away from the glass cases.

He started to examine the pedestals. How to Throw a Demon Dinner Party and The Big Book of Umbilical Cord Home Décor were not particularly interesting books. 99 Bottles of Virgin Blood on the Wall and The Ultimate Guide to Prancercise were also not likely to be of interest or use.

One book caught his eye, however. It featured a ghastly visage of a large reptiles jaw jutting out of the cover. The teeth felt sleek and slimy to the touch, while the tongue felt leathery and rough. It was titled The Dinonomicon.

Yes! Jeremy thought. He had loved dinosaurs ever since he was a little kid. The wonder of the creatures when the theme song to Jurassic Park played! The best trip ever taken by The Magic Schoolbus! The Land Before Time! Barney!

And yet, when the store clerk simply waved his hand and said the book was free, he forgot the illustrations of maimed dinosaur flesh, unpronounceable sea beasts, and all pretense of good sense as he walked out the door.

*****

Make eye contact with the creature, Jeremy read from the So You Want to be a Dinomancer chapter. You have only one chance to establish your dominance over the beast. If you fail to maintain eye contact, it will become hostile and attempt to consume you…”

Jeremy gulped. The book was serious in tone. In a worst case scenario, a real dinosaur might eat him. It would be a mistake to take it lightly.

Then Jeremy remembered the years spent idolizing Heather, all gone to waste. Jeremy needed to bury four years of overenthusiastically waving hello when Heather was really looking at someone behind him. Four years of becoming hyperaware of his breath anytime she was assigned to lab work beside him. Four years of pretending to like her vapid friends even as they harassed him. Jeremy knew he had the will to look a dinosaur in the eye, for all he had endured.

"Faciebam pterus vicum!" Jeremy roared, summoning the first dinosaur on the corner of Platte and Delway. Thwmp! it went, as it grabbed a hold of the light pole with immense red talons, screeched through a long, crooked beak, and took flight, tearing into the night sky.

"What? Wait!" Jeremy cried. "I need to look into your eyes!"

"Shraw!" the pterodactyl said, fading into the distance.

"Please don't eat me later," Jeremy softly begged.

Jeremy was somewhat concerned about the rogue pterodactyl, so he decided to summon other creatures to help deal with it.

Unfortunately, the triceratops had angry eyes like a hippo in a cage and Jeremy wet himself a bit as he ran into a Waffle House to escape. The triceratops tried to go after Jeremy, puncturing glass with its horns and generally having a hard time with the door before stampeding down Platte.

The velociraptor was created about half a block away and unceremoniously splattered against the grill of an oncoming semi-truck.

Jeremy opted to summon the stegosaurus rather than the T-Rex, for safety's sake. Although he managed to look the lizard in the eye, all he could get it to do was thrash trees with its flail-like tail and eat the fallen leaves.

Overall, the experiment was a huge failure. Jeremy no longer knew what he had hoped to achieve. Was it revenge? Did he want Heather dead?

"No," he said to himself. "I don't deserve to demand her for myself. I should say what I'm feeling, get it out of my system, and then go to college and forget this all happened."

Jeremy grudgingly trudged back to the beach. The sun was rising, and Heather was standing alone, waiting to watch the colors trickle into the distant horizon. The wind caught her skirt as it danced around her waist, making Jeremy almost cry at the lovely sight.

"Jeremy, where have you been?" she asked with a worried look.

"I thought you might not need me anymore, so I took a walk," he replied.

"What do you mean? I invited you, then I didn't see you at all. You were moody when you were here, and then you were gone."

"I saw your flip flop tracks in the sand, so I followed you to Johnson's car and saw you with him."

"What? Really? So that's where my flip flops went?" Heather asked. "Gross! If someone stole them just to do that, maybe I don't want them back."

Then she paused while Jeremy's relief and guilt at being so rash flooded through him.

"You know the imprint of my shoes in the sand?"

"Yes. All of them, I think," Jeremy nodded.

"You are such an idiot!" Heather laughed. "Just tell me that you love me. Try it and see what I say."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"Shraw!" the pterodactyl said, swooping in from the clouds, catching Jeremy in its elongated beak, and dragging him into the sky.

*****

Sometimes, on the corner of Platte and Delway, one can still hear the scraping of claws against bone, the squawk of a bird that surpasses man's most fearsome dreams, and the agitated howl of a man whose skull was too thick to leave love and the damned dinosaurs alone.

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