Friday, 16 December 2011

99) Family Time

    Out behind their house, only six years old, Mom and Dad and baby son Junior, only four years old, take in the night while sitting on their swinging bench. There’s no soft whoosh of traffic in the distance, the highway is several dozens of miles away and thousands of feet below. There’s only the keening song of cicada, the percussive whine of crickets, the occasional muted dog barking off in the distance, and the slow rhythmic creak of the swing.
    All at once they ooh and ahhh as a large meteor streaks across the sky. It burns yellow then blue, all the while splitting off into smaller and smaller fragments until it finally disappears in a bright flash of white.
    “Oh, mommy wassat?”
    “That’s a falling star, honey.”
    She laughs a little and says, “Mmm, it’s a celebration honey.”
    Dad chimes in, “Of the great and humble, kind and virtuous King Barley the Sheep.”
    They both stare as his crazy proclamation and Jr. laughs first then mom giggles too.
    “No joke,” Dad continues, “King Barley was the best king ever. He’d let little boys stay up late and everything.”
    Junior squeals “No, sheep can’t be king.”
    “Hmm, why not?”
    “They’re not person people?”
    “Oh, ok then. What if he was only king of the animals?”
    “Umm, I guess that’s okay. But why was he king?”
    Above his head the adults have a quick wordless conversation with their facial expressions. You want to tell the story? I can’t think of anything. Is it bed time? No, not yet. Ok, I think I got something. Thanks, love you.
    Mom says, “Once upon a time, back before people.”
    “A long time ago, huh?”
    “Back before people it was only animals and it was wild. There weren’t any roads or cars…”
    “Or houses?”
    “Back before houses, or airplanes, or anything human a sheep named Barley came along.”
    “Was he the king?”
    “Not yet, he was a simple sheep, but he wanted everyone to get along. You see, Barley had noticed that when we work together, when the animals worked together, they got things done faster and better than when they fought.”
    “Like you and daddy fight.”
    “Kind of, but with more claws and teeth.”
    Junior laughs.
    “What’s so funny?” Dad says.
    “You and Mommy with big teeth.” And he waggles his fingers out of his mouth miming giant fangs and everyone laughs.
    Mom continues stoically, “It was hard going, but eventually Barley the sheep convinced every kind of animal to work together. And once everyone saw how prosperous, how well everyone was doing, they decided to make him king.”
    “But why the falling star?”
    “I was just getting to that, Mr. Impatient Pants. So, Barley wasn’t a magical sheep, he was only really smart and knew how to get people to trust each other. And for a long time, longer than any sheep had lived before, he ruled with a kind hoof and a gentle nose and the best listening ears. But he aged, as everyone does and eventually he died.”
    Dad chimes in with a heart felt, “Awww.”
    “Eventually even the gods in the stars heard of Barley’s triumph and they were so moved that they sent most beautiful stars to rain down on the Earth in thanks for his good work.”

Thursday, 15 December 2011

98) Security

    All I can see is a wall of flames up the closed transom, all I can smell is smoke, all I can hear is the useless fire alarm blaring away. I look back into the meeting room where I’m stuck and smoke is starting to seep under the door. I frantically strip off my shirt and pants and shove them in the crack to stop the smoke from coming in. But maybe I shouldn’t have done that. I rummage through my now smoking pants and find my cell phone.
    I go back and open the window, not only for fresh air, but to see a tiny slice of blue sky out beyond the towers of the city. I hear sirens, hundreds of feet down below and I think maybe about jumping. I’d certainly land with a splash.
    I flip open my phone and scroll through my contacts list. Who do I call? Mother, Father, any of my sisters, grandparents, aunts or uncles? My wife. Her cell phone number is one of the few I have memorized, it’s only one digit off from mine.
    It rings and rings and rings. The firemen have turned off their sirens and the fire alarm has been shut off. I wonder idly if the fire has been cancelled, if they can do that. But I have to cut off that stupid thread of thought as her familar voice mail picks up. I think that maybe it’s better this way. Then they can play the message for everyone, even though it’s only for her. Without thinking about it I know what to say, the Rumi poem I memorized for our ten year anniversary:
        The springtime of Lovers has come,
        that this dust bowl may become a garden;
        the proclamation of heaven has come,
        that the bird of the soul may rise in flight.
        The sea becomes full of pearls,
        the salt marsh becomes sweet as paradise,
        the stone becomes a ruby from the mine,
        the body becomes totally soul.
    As I finish the poem the epensive wooden doors at the end of the room finally fall to reveal an advancing wall of flame and thick black smoke. It licks up the ceiling and in less than a heart beat the heat hits me hard. I can’t do anything but fall out of the window. The cell phone slips out of my hand and floats in free fall next to me. I don’t try to catch it. Through the rush of air I can almost hear the mechanical voice on the other line asking me to press buttons. I am eerily calm.
    And all too soon the ground slams up into me. It doesn’t hurt.
    In big friendly red letters the words “GAME OVER” pop up in front of me and I slide off the VR set from my head. Disbelief falls to the ground and shatters and I’m back at work, goofing off.
    Only a few minutes has passed in real life even though the dreamy weight of death is still heavy on my mind. I slip the VR set back into my desk, close the drawer, and take a deep breath. The snuff games aren’t my favorite, I prefer animal rides or ancient cities, but my hacked set only works on shuffle. In fact, my death, the businessman’s death has put me off of VR entirely. I look at my watch, still another fifteen minutes until I need to do my rounds and make sure all the doors that need to be locked are locked. I hate being a security guard.
    I try to distract myself by watching an old black and white television. The set is made of green plastic with a smooth bubble shape. It has several dials, but only the volume works. The figures on the tiny lit screen works their feeble magic on me for about five minutes. Someone is chasing someone else in a car, there’s explosions and screaming.
    And then like a good rat I fish out the VR set and put it back on.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

97) Playground

    “Who’s beast are you?” The girl on the playground asked me. I told her I was my own beast and she ran to her mommy, afraid. She almost fell and then looked back at me. 
    My mother called me a beast when she bailed me out of jail, must have been the fifth or sixth time that summer. It wasn’t that bad, I’d only bitten off part of the other kid’s ear that time.
    I asked my lover who her beast was, she pointed a claw at me. Good mouth on that one, what a waste she didn’t last as long as the others.
    In prison I make sure I’m in solitary. Here’s where I find peace, pale yellow concrete walls. Here’s where I wait until I can hunt again, hibernating.
    Today men in suits came to ask me questions. They showed me pictures but wouldn’t let me keep them.
    I know one day the men in suits will come again and take me away. They will have a special job for me, a job only I can do. And I’ll do my best and be the beast again.

    I ran away from him on the playground. And in that second of fear he entered my mind like a sharp thorn. I was still running and suddenly taller and stumbled a step. I turned back to look and he was still there, I was still there. I couldn’t tell him I was him, too many adults were around.
    Her memories come back like to me like a picture book. There was mommy and doggy and daddy and bampa and nanna and the big house and we all lived there.
    I did well in school. Everyone paid attention to me and let me do what I wanted. People didn’t run away or beat me. My thing’s different too. Gone, cut out like I always wanted. And the new one feels even better.
    There’s so much you can learn when people leave you alone. Everyone’s afraid of me, but in a different way than before. I can take what I want and it’s expected of me to conquer. Men pave my path to greatness. I go for the money, I go for the power, enough power to finally search for myself, the original beast.
    I’m forty years old when I get confirmation of his location. Grey hairs on my head. I think I might like to go completely white like that Australian starlet. Like with children you have to be a chameleon in this playground. Look like one thing, act like another. Cognitive dissonance can give you that hair’s breath of advantage.
    Many people do what I tell them. I feel them like fingers and toes. When I finally see myself again behind the mirrored glass I will certainly smile.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

96) Moon and beyond

    On every black and white television screen across the developed world people watched the tiny capsule hit the moon, a tiny white plume of dust. Footage came from the orbiting station manned by world famous philanthropist, scientist, and experimental airplane pilot Sharia Goldberg.
    From any main street you could feel the rapt silence as Sharia explained the purpose of the capsule. It was not only a foothold in space, but it was a home away from home. He explained that the capsule contained several types of small machines that would burrow down into the rocky layers of the moon over the next century and prepare for us caves and support systems so that we could live on the moon and manufacture ships to explore even more of space.
    A millennium later the political tides caused by the new international Moon colony had worn smooth any difference between us an them, we were all too connected to think otherwise. Travel between Luna and Terra was taken for granted. The colonies became the destination for the newly wed and the nearly dead, and then families. Then expansion and independence. Eventually the whole solar system became a backwater.
    A few millennia after that and we were gone. Our floating cities lay fallow and our broadcasts were mute. Only our artificial flora and fauna had any chance at carrying on the flame of intelligence in our absence. One animal in particular, the smart koi, flourished. Originally intended to maintain Lunar aquifers and aqueducts they were able to plan ahead for their own safety and communicate their plans to others. And more importantly, to build.
    The Koi created their own culture, made their own discoveries, their own first step into space, and naturally made their own mistakes. Eventually they died out. Eventually another sapience rose and fell, then another and another and another, beating through geological time like the fluttering heart of an adolescent in love.
    The blue green twins of Terra and Luna spun through space around their parent star until he bloated and died. When the pressure waves hit Luna huge feathery thistle downs burst out from her body. They sailed out into space carrying the seeds of life and civilization. Each puff of ionized gas pushed them in random directions and they drifted, silent, cold, and alone into deep space, waiting patiently to find another home.

Monday, 12 December 2011

95) Near Crash

      I sat at in the pilot’s chair, a useless fish. In the sea I would have been a bad ass with my sharp spines and whip like tail. But a blue fin tuna cannot work any human technology regardless of the time or place. Since I was the only one on the airplane still conscious it was up to me to save the day. Thankfully I could still breathe, a real tuna would have been half way asphyxiated by the time I had flopped my way into the main cabin.
    My name is Reginald and I’m a budget bodyguard. This particular job had me working for a group of brownies from a small town named Orlaska. Though brownies are a spirits it’s more of a slavery since they have no money. Lucky for them, and unlucky for me, I owed their king a big favor. So they got my services gratis on this trip over to the human world for negotiations. Except that there weren’t going to be any negotiations if I couldn’t bring down the plane safely. Thankfully whomever had planted that sleeping spell onboard hadn’t anticipated me. And if I couldn’t not be a fish it wouldn’t really matter.
    The way I got my curse, and I guess you can call it a blessing too as it keeps my rent paid, is fairly short. And as we have a little time before I become something else, let me tell you.
    I was an impetuous youth. We all are, aren’t we? We know how the world works and what we can get out of it. I thought that since I had that old book of spells and a magical birthmark that the world was mine for the taking.
    Sure, some of the easier and cheaper spells worked fine. But if I had bothered to read all the way to the end of it, like my master had said, I wouldn’t be in this mess. It turns out that the book was booby trapped with a bit of a practical joke. A permanent practical joke.
    Several years into my quote-unquote mastery of magic and I was curing the sick and killing trolls for a hefty fee when I found my mana getting a little dry. I was getting colds, bowel movements were more difficult and they were garishly bright colors. Even though I could have afforded a top tier magician I had to choose a budget shaman to fix me up. Rent was due.
    We met on a dark and stormy night. His teepee smelled old and musty. He looked like he hadn’t moved from his seated position for years. His voice was a dry crackle, “How can I help you, young man.”
    Having grown used to the respect from others by being a high class wizard I was a bit snotty and didn’t really think to answer his question fully, “I’ve been cursed.”
    “Oh? How’s that?”
    I described my symptoms, but didn’t mention the book. I had somehow imagined that admitting the use of a grimoire would prove that I was only a rank amateur. Though, thinking about it now, I don’t know why I was worried about impressing a crusty old dream-walker.
    As I finished he raised his hands, I assume to cast a spell. And at that very moment a bolt of lightning flashed through the guy’s cramped and cluttered home.
    This is where it got evil.
    When I woke up I was home again, a rented duplex on the soft lands in Miami. Turns out that the book didn’t like me trying to mess with what it was doing to me so, as its bound servant I returned to it as soon as a spell was formed to try and remove its influence from me. I didn’t know it at that time. As I continued to try and cure myself additional layers of protection were activated.
    First I was returned to the book. Three times I was returned to the book. The fourth time I was stripped of my ability to hold mana for any appreciable amount of time. And that one stung. Without a job and within a month I was out on my ass. The final trap was a kicker. Any spell cast on me would have unpredictable effects. It’s not quite as good as being magic-proof, but it was something I could leverage into a job.
    So, the timed sleeping spell turned me into a tuna. Considering the size of the spell and the two hundred people it put down I figured I had a good twenty minutes as a fish. That would be well before anyone else woke up on the plane, like I said, mana just doesn’t stick to me.
    Oh, where’s the book you say? As a fish I’m not sure where it is on me, but as a human it resides as a very fine silver bracelet around my left hand. Turns out the book doesn’t mind its self being changed into something else. Go figure.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

94) Wizard Construction

    “No, no, put it further out so you can see it from the street like I told you before. What? Of course it matters. No, use the metric wand. Yes, of course, ok, fine do it your way see who runs out of mana halfway through the job. I’m sorry, I didn’t know your father lost his mana on the battle field. Look, I was in the war too so don’t get snippy. I know you went to school for this, but I’ve been raising buildings since the turn of the millennium… Ok, great, thanks. No, I didn’t. Yes, you’ll do fine. No, I’m not mad at you, this is just business. Right? Right. Ok, Danny, talk to you later.”
    Grand Warlock Forego Esq. put down his phone and turned back to me. His eyes burned bright green then dimmed. He stared at me for a good long minute. I squirmed in my seat. Then a broad and not completely unhealthy smile crossed his face. He said in a mellow tone, “So, Kerrie, says here you want to work here for Forego Construction on my survey team.”
    My palms sweated, why was he asking? Of course I wanted to work for him, that’s why I was here. Maybe it was a test. Oh, god, better answer or he’ll think I’m a deaf mute. I tried to speak, but my mouth was completely dry. A mousy “Yes, sir” finally squeaked out of me.
    “Good good. Here at Forego Construction we always need fresh meat.” He laughed. I cringed inside, but kept my spine straight.
    “As you know my great great great grandfather started Forego Construction shortly after humans left Africa in the late Pleistocene and we’ve been the number one name in magical buildings and fortifications ever since.”
    He continued on for several minutes unfolding the glorious history and holdings of his company across the countless centuries. And it was impressive, but I’d heard it all before, had it nearly memorized. I’d watched all the corporate videos and read all the brochures. It wasn’t exactly boring, but I needed the job. I thought he would take that as a given and wondered why he was trying to sell it to me.
    When he finally finished his epic retelling of the company’s history he said “So, Kerrie, tell me… why shouldn’t we hire you?”

Saturday, 10 December 2011

93) In the post

     I knew the wind whipping snow around me ruined any sense of direction. I had taken a bearing that morning on the second day of my journey, but I was sure I needed to take another. I pulled out my gps, I had been going more than ninety degrees and several hundred yards off. I reoriented and continued on my way through the frozen wasteland.
    I had set off from my small town in the middle of nowhere with a postcard, the first mail in months. A cartoon turtle on one side said ‘Visit Sunny Florida’ and on the other side was a set of very accurate coordinates. Very inconvenient coordinates. Our long distance post man, Gerald McManus, was out with the flu so it fell to me to trek a hundred miles into the wilderness.
    No matter how antisocial you think you can be there’s someone who’s taken it the tenth power, and they all live up here. They’re separated from each other by miles of frozen tundra in the fall and winter and spring, and miles of mosquito infested bogs in the summer.
    To celebrate the fact that I’d made it halfway I noshed on some jerked beef and sipped some skin temperature water even though it wasn’t lunch time.
    The next thing I remember I was coming to in a plush recliner in front of a fire. All of me was warm and I never wanted to see snow again. That life was a farce, this life in front of the fire was all there needed to be.
    Then I remembered my job and checked my pocket. The postcard was gone. My heart sank, I’d be fired or worse I’d have to come back up here again. I sunk further into the chair and shivvered as something cold and wet ran down my neck. I followed the trail up and pulled the ice pack away from my head. I touched the spot where it had been resting and yelped a little as I touched the big knot on my head.
    A tinny voice buzzed from the side of the room, “I’m sorry if my assistant was a little too enthusiastic, young man. Sometimes he doesn’t know his own strength.”
    I turned my head towards the voice, but couldn’t see anything but a wall of books.
    A bolt of pain shot through my side and up my neck. I kept from yelling out that time. I said, “Who’s there?”
    “I am Doctor Henry Latch Esq. You are now talking to me through remote microphone. I am several miles away on business in sunnier climes. My assistant Henry was tasked with surveying the perimeter of my summer home to keep a look out for deliveries or spies. And, yes, I did take that post card from you as I am its intended recipient. And I apologize, but now that you’re in my house I cannot allow you to leave.  I should be there in a few months. I can talk to you later about your personal effects. Otherwise, please, make yourself at home.”