Wednesday, 30 November 2011

84) By The Bridge

    My legs were cramping, my ass was cold and damp, my mind was wondering. I’d been sitting the same cramped position in the second basement car park under some middle American mall for the last eight hours. I didn’t know what city I was in, let alone which state. And as a professional super hero I only have myself to blame for my situation. Today’s big baddie was supposed to come through this particular parking lot sometime today. I should have asked for a more definite time window. I wish we could read a book on these things.
    Unprofessionally my mind was wondering and I remembered the first time my powers manifested. I was twelve years old and walking back home after school with my friend Mark. Thing you gotta know about Mark is that he was that kid who would run after you with poo on the end of a stick just to hear you scream and then earnestly wonder why you were mad at him later. Yea, a real joker.
    We went to Blossom Hill Middle school, a couple miles from home through a small forest and several housing developments.
    About halfway through the tiny forest Mark motioned me over to the edge of the trees where a small bridge crossed a mostly dried up river bed. I was a little shy but he kept motioning me over. I had a new video game waiting for me at home and cold chocolate milk and a cookie and Mark wasn’t really to be trusted.
    “Come on, it’s really cool, I swear.” He said.
    I frowned, but eventually gave in to curiosity.
    Down by the small stone bridge, tucked in behind the brambles was what looked like a pile of filthy clothing.
    “So?” I said.
    “It’s a dead body, you dummy.”
    And like those hidden 3d pictures where first you only see noise and then a picture of a shark or a building will pop out, it was like that. That weird bit of grey shadow became a a pale dead hand, that dark lump of cloth was actually a ragged tangle of hair. I gasped and vomited a little in my mouth, but I couldn’t look away.
    Then two things happened simultaneously. Mark, the ever sneaky prankster, screamed out loud, and I saw something glowing from the body down below. Mark ran off, still screaming and I took a step towards the strange thing down below.
    Then I heard a rustle. I was old enough to have seen more than my share of zombie movies, but I knew that was just fantasy, just made up stories. At least I thought there were only stories until I saw that dead man’s arm rise up out of the brambles and head right towards me. His fingers dangled limp and bloated at the end of his rotted limb and something from inside his forearm glowed brightly.
    I screamed, turned tail, and ran after Mark. After only a few steps something heavy and fleshy hit me in the back of the head. I pitched forward and landed face first in the wet dead leaves. The strangest thing is that I could still see the glowing from earlier behind me. It’s really hard to explain. It’s kind of like hearing and smell at the same time. It’s like hearing because I can focus on it, but it’s like smell because it hits me all at once. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it either. Regardless, I was still freaking out. I got up and tried to run, but this thing kept bumping into me. Eventually I turned around and it was the dead man’s arm hovering a foot or so above the ground like an excited puppy.
    What would you do?
    I fell over again from shock and tried to back up away from it, but it kept following me at a friendly distance. I screamed some more, but it continued to float there. I gave up and yelled, “Go away!”
    And it did. It flew back away from me and splatted into a tree.
    Shaking I stood up and walked back home alone, my nerves jangling and heart racing. When I got home I was so relieved that I forgot about the whole episode.
    It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning and my whole house was glowing in that same way that I was really concerned. As I took my morning shower and looked at the nozzle and the knobs it finally clicked. I could see the metal all around me.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

83) Closet Survivor

    The first few days were the worst, but my quick thinking paid off and that got me through it, knowing that I was smarter than everyone else.
    Imagine utter darkness for a week while the world falls around you. That's my life. I brought two box of health bars, 10 gallons of water with me, and a plastic bucket with a lid. I bet you can guess what I use the bucket for. I think my biggest secret is to sleep most of the time, which is easy because that’s all I tended to do anyways.
    Maybe you’re not familiar with what happened, maybe my words will somehow get out into an alternate timeline where the dead didn’t rise, where we didn’t bomb our cities and napalm the suburbs.
    I had maybe six hours more warning than most people, being all connected to the electronic world I saw it happen in Sydney and Japan and India and Europe and could put the pieces together as the sun brought the ravenous dead to life.
    Back in my closet I have no sense of time. My watch says it’s Sunday at noon, but it feel like Friday night, whatever that means. If there’s no one else to coordinate with does time really exist? I don’t think so.
    A few days ago some survivors made it up to me in the Observatory. Didn’t I tell you that? Didn’t I tell you where I am? Right up on a huge hill overlooking the Los Angeles city basin, used to be more people in there than all of Canada. Hows about that?
    Today I heard them come in and argue and there were some gun shots and then that was it. I could almost make out their words.
    I wish I was a bear so I could have just hibernated and let all the would-be survivalists burn themselves out. And I’d have a fuzzy jacket all around me.
    I couldn’t save my roommates, it was hard to put down my cat.
    I guess the government figured out what was going on when I did. One of the last things I saw before I hid in the closet was the firebombing of downtown Los Angeles. Huge silent balls of flame rose up to the cloudless sky. No summer blockbuster movie looked like that. In the movies you’re always up close to the action and there’s a THX sound system rattling the theatre and your bowels. And I’m sure if this ever gets made into a move there will be some handsome survivor standing alone, or with a hottie, on a hill watching LA burn. No, it’s just fat lazy lucky old me. Less fat than I had going into the closet, totally.
    And typing away at my phone. It’s one of those with three weeks of charge at a time. I give myself a five minutes everyday and write my self an SMS. I’m afraid I’ll go insane when I can’t do anything, when I run out of food or the battery dies. I’m afraid I’ll have to go outside and deal with the real world.

Monday, 28 November 2011

82) Imigration

    We’re at a crowded airport terminal, high ceilings, beige vinyl floor and people in a queue snaking back and forth for hundreds of yards in front of bored agents sitting in their booths.
    The man that walks up to the available booth is bald and a little hunched over carrying his meager luggage. Something subtle is wrong with him, maybe a spinal problem or simply a hard life. He doesn’t use a cane or a walker, but maybe he did at some recent point and he’s trying to be strong, trying to be self sufficient. He makes eye contact with the agent and they both smile wearily.
    Before the agent can say anything the man pulls out his papers and lays them down on the counter for the agent. The agent scans them and says, “Welcome to New America Sir, what is the nature of your visit?”
    Betraying his weakened body his voice is strong and almost lilting, “Just here to visit family for Christmas. Got a young niece in London. Going to stay with her family for two weeks.”
    The agent ignores the old man for a minute and pours over his computer monitor. He frowns and says, “Says here you have a mechanical animal, mister Simmons.”
    Simmons says, “Yup.” and pulls out a small white package from under his arm and places it on the agent’s counter.
    “Would you mind activating it for me, sir?”
    “Aaup, no problem.” Simmons presses something on the back end of the wooly pile and it shudders awake. A set of stumpy black legs curl out from its side, a round black head pops up out front, and it emits a weak bleat. The agent smiles and says, “I used to have one of these as a kid. Where’d you get it?”
    “Mmm, s’been in the family for a while now.”
    “Ok, sir, I’m going to have to scan it just now. Has it had any modifications that might interfere with the scan?”
    “Mmm, nope.”
    “Thank you, sir.” The agent scans the mechanical sheep with a circular wand. A little red light pops up and he investigates. He pulls out another wand, this one has branching limbs on the end.
    Simmons isn’t interested and leans against the agent’s booth.
    The agent finishes up and smiles, “She’s clean Mr. Simmons. And you’re good to go. Have a nice stay.” He stamps the papers and hands them back. The man gathers them up awkwardly and shuffles off into the airport. The sheep baas woefully under his arm.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

81) Herbie's Introduction

    There is a shadow dimension just under the skin of the world and we are your best defense against it, the Illuminates. My name is Herbert Howard and I may only be a Trainee, but I promise to do better than my best against the secret dark forces that would drive you mad if you really knew what they were.
    Most people call me Herbie, I’m fifteen, tall and skinny, and a high school junior at East Valley High in Merced California. My parents are full agents and have been since they were my age. It’s an interesting life, but extra hard because between studying for algebra and world history I’m training for magical battles or hacking into government computer systems.
    Just last week we had to fly out to Italy to sneak into the Vatican. That was nuts. And all for this weird grimoire without any real writing in it, I sneaked a peak, I couldn’t help myself. But it was all chicken scratches. I couldn’t even tell if I was holding it up the right way.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

80) Accidental Spell

    “Ok, I think we’re done for the day. Thanks Archimedes.” My assistant and watcher, an overgrown Rhinoceros beetle grumbled, walked off the book we had been reading, and with a sputter flew off back into the house.
    Actually we had been done for a good half hour before. He’s a sweetheart, but when Archimedes reads for more than an hour or two his accented and monotone voice puts me to sleep, or at the very least a drowsy state where I can’t retain anything that he’s saying.
    I ran my fingers over the book’s rough pages. There were words there in plain black ink, but it was all chicken scratches to me. I could have cast something to make it readable, but then the knowledge of what I’d read would be gone with the spell. This was a thick tome and I didn’t want to become one of those living books who can only cast spells related to retaining information or else lose it all, a noble if sick addiction.
    I left the work on the table and got up. Even though it was late afternoon the heat and humidity quickly returned. It’s funny how studying focuses all your senses and the fact that you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world just evaporates. I walked out to the lanai and lost myself again, but this time in the deep green of a rain forest instead of the interlocking symbols and syllables of ancient spells.
    I slipped on my sandals and walked out of the house. I took the trail down to the beach. Ancient spells swam in my head, their shapes and functions, assumptions and implications made me dizzy for a moment. So dizzy I had to sit down on a moss covered rock.
    The book had been recently recovered from the Vatican. Older than Christianity, Egyptian or Sumerian maybe. The language, even when translated, was circuitous. The meanings of words went around and around in circles, sometimes branching out and interlocking, sometimes ending abruptly. The shapes they made reminded me of some of the twisted proteins I studied back in College.
    On the last page I recalled there had been one strangely lyrical passage about rain and thunder, fire and sound that had stuck in my head. Maybe the colors of the clouds reminded me of it.
    The low rumble of a plane flying overhead caught my attention. Hawaiian Airlines, the purple silhouette of the pretty girl on the tail of the plane was easily visible even from this far away.
    Out of nowhere, and against all my training and hard won experience, I began to mumble a spell from the book. Before I could stop myself it was done. I didn’t have long to worry if anything would happen because a huge bolt of lightning exploded out of the ocean and pierced the plane’s wing. The engine burst into flames then belched out black smoke. I didn’t stay around to see if it landed safely, we needed to get the hell out of there.
    I got up and ran back to the house, swearing under my breath the whole time. I ran straight to Archimedes’ room. I hadn’t visited him there in his personal space the whole month we’d been here together, I wanted to give him his privacy, but this was an emergency.
    The door was open a crack. I knocked politely on the jamb. “Hey, Archimedes, we have a problem. We need immediate extraction.”
    I heard shuffling from the other side of the door and two spindly legs pulled open the door.
    I wouldn’t say we were soul mates, or even best friends, but out here in the middle of nowhere and a thousand dimensions from home he was my only friend. Even as he chattered at me angrily in English peppered with Insect I realized how much I’d come to rely on him for companionship and now I’d thrown it all away because I couldn’t keep a stupid spell locked down and my mouth shut. No doubt he’d be reassigned and I’d be heavily disciplined for my mistake, if not entirely stripped of my ability to hold mana. I might even be blinded and deafened. I’ve heard of worse.
    “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He cut me off with a curt swipe of his scythe like horn. Without another word he popped out his wings. I could see a thick puff of mana curling off of them. He took off and slipped through reality. 
    Depending on the path he took, and if any agents found him, and if he didn’t just leave me behind it could be several hours or days until help came.
    I sulked into the kitchen and got myself some left over sushi from the fridge. I took it to the back lanai, watched the sunset, and tried to enjoy my last moments of freedom.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

79) Plane Escape

    I had nothing but the clothes on my back, a set of toiletries, and several well coordinated government agencies trying to find me.
    Dallas Forth Worth Airport, late evening, the shops inside are closing down and my time is running thin. I’ve been hiding like a coward in the bathroom for several hours trying not to cast any spells while  waiting for the boarding call back to New York. As soon as I spent any mana I would be on their radar again. Hell, most airports are giant scrying glyphs. You cast a spell and it’s echoes all around in a traceable pattern. Well, if you have a powerful enough computer you could trace it back to the source.
    I glanced at my watch, ten minutes to go. It was now or never. I pulled out my eye drops and practiced a spell in my mind, something with parts of a sleeping spell and parts of a mesmerism spell topped off with a go-to potion spell. I didn’t have time to test it out, I didn’t have time to do the proper weighting on paper, sometimes you gotta wing it. And if I was unlucky I could use on myself and erase my memory before I was captured.
    I held the eye drops with both hands around the tiny bottle and cast the spell. Even though it was a simple spell I swear I could feel the magic blossom, fill out the room, and immediately leak into the hallway. I waited a second to let the magic set in the potion and then put some drops in my eyes. It stung like hot oil for a second then absorbed into my mana body and the pain was gone. I blinked out tears and left the bathroom.
    I wiped my eyes and strode straight to the gate. I quickly sussed out my quarry, a fellow human, older and disheveled. Someone who wouldn’t look out of place passed out at an airport toilet stall.
    I found one, an older white guy. I looked around to make sure he did have a ticket, I could see it peaking out of his inside jacket pocket. I tried to look less than suspicious walking over to him.
    We made eye contact and a beat later he was mine, “Excuse me, sir, would you come with me please?”
    He tried to shake off the suggestion, a normal response to any mesmerism spell. Thankfully he wasn’t wearing any protection spells or I would have been lost. He nodded his consent, stiffly stood and followed me.
    I took him by the arm to steady him and whispered into his ear, “You’re going to hand me your plane ticket and identification. Then you’re going to walk to a bathroom stall, close and lock the door behind you. Then you’re going to sleep. When you wake up you’re going to forget these instructions and who gave them to you. Acknowledge.”
    “Yes, master.”
    I hated taking advantage of the innocent and even more I hated stealing, but when your whole nation’s way of life is threatened you’ll do just about anything to save them.
    He complied easily. I took the ticket, boarded the plane and we took off. I finally breathed a sigh of relief and for an hour I almost thought I got away. I was nodding off when the ward tattooed into my left arm began to burn, someone nearby was looking for me. I tried to calmly look around the cabin. The lights were off except for a few people reading.
    “Psst, hey.” I heard a small voice. It took me a second to figure out where it was coming from, right in front of me. I looked over the seat and a small sheep was sitting alone, illuminated by a reading light above it.
    His voice was high pitched like a child’s, but scratchy like a child raised on whiskey and cigarettes, “Ah, there you are. My old eyes aren’t what they used to be. Lucky for you you’re right here, eh?”
    “What do you want, what’s going on? Are they here?” I obviously hadn’t been tricky enough. If there were agents on the plane against me there apparently were agents on my side too.
    “Oh ho ho, they’re all around us young man. And you shouldn’t be.” He coughed and something small and shiny emerged from his mouth. He turned around and stretched his neck up and forward to me. I took the hint and grabbed the thing out of his mouth but didn’t look at it. I slipped it into my pocket.
    “He he, you should probably get going now. Go, go, do our queen proud!”
    I’ve never been much of a royalist, but I took his advice. Without a word I squeezed out into the cramped alleyway and walked back to the bathrooms. I could hear some shouting from first class. I slid the door closed just as the cabin lights came on and several tough looking guys walked through the curtains separating cattle class from first class barely sixty feet away.
    My heart beat hard in my chest. The spell in my eye drops was long past potency and there was no way it’d work against several trained professionals at the same time even if I had it in gallon quantities. With what was left I might be able to knock myself out, but there was no way could I erase all my memories.
    I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do next. My fingers fiddled with the sheep’s little metal thing. I took it out. It was a small key, like something you’d use to open a teenager’s diary.
    I heard knocking on the doors to the bathrooms next to me and excited screams. Time was running out. I closed my eyes and prayed.
    Dear mother queen of all fairy, please guide my hand to do your justice and your will…
    The key pulled my hand towards the sliding door. That didn’t make any sense, there wasn’t a keyhole there. Sure enough though the key made its own hole. I turned the key and pulled the door back like a normal wooden door, not the accordioning door it should have been.
    Wet salty air blew in from the other side. I pulled the key out, crossed the threshold, and closed the door behind me just as shouts were coming from the other side. I wondered if they saw me leaving, I wondered what they would tell their superiors.
    What I was sure of is that I had little time if any. Word would reach General Watherton and he’d send out a warlock hit squad after me on this side of the fold, that is if I was in Fey.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

78) Last Stand

    The crystal medallion pulled hard against the fabric of her being and tried to return to the ground from which it had come. Inside her chest she could feel it push her living components around. When she scraped by a torch on the wall she could see it gleaming through her dark flesh that was pulled taught and thin around the damned thing. She thought that carrying it through the Roster fields and across the Essen swamp was hard, but this was madness. The higher she climbed in the mountain fortress the harder the medallion pulled against her.
    Goblins raced several floors below. She couldn’t hear them, but she could feel them. And they were getting closer.
    She wished that Aton was still with her, that obnoxious human had been a good host, but she wouldn’t have gotten this far without his sacrifice. She felt her face grow thin with sadness. He would have smoothed over her frustration by telling some stupid aimless joke or…
    She screamed out in pain and fell against a rough stone wall. The darkness binding her body together had ripped inside.
    With no supplies and no companions saving the world was all up to her, but she didn’t think she could make it. She fell, shuddering in pain and curled against the wall. She stopped and tried to pull all of her strength inward. She remembered her parent showing her healing spells and fortification methods. She tried to pull herself together, sacrificing other parts of her body to shore up the broken parts. She pulled in her left arm, pushed it down to support the medallion and replace the structure inside her that had turned into lifeless shadow. Her left hand became a sad stumpy version of its old self.
    She concentrated hard and the world snapped back into focus. Though she felt stronger panic set in. The goblins were even closer, probably just around the bend. She twisted off what remained of her hand and threw it as a brute darkness spell down at the torches on the wall. The torches sputtered, she held her breath, and finally they went out.
    Aton’s lasts words echoed in her head, “I believe in you.”
    She knew that flakes and strips of herself were undoubtedly falling off from the exertion, but she got up and didn’t look back. She had a mission to complete, a fate to fulfill. She propped herself up against the wall and groped around in the dark for the staircase she had seen earlier. She slid up it towards the roof, towards the altar and the salvation of her world.

Monday, 21 November 2011

77) Fish Massacre

    The sleeping spell had worked perfectly. Everyone that would have normally been up and about in the village at midnight was fast asleep. Security guards slumped over in their booths, teenagers mid kiss fell against each other. Even pets were subject to the magic, a barking dog collapsed into the dewy grass and patrolling cats mid fight fell softly to the concrete. There were several car accidents as the drivers heads hit their wheels, and thankfully no one had died, yet.
    Fluorescent lights up and down the main avenue flickered on and off then exploded and darkness engulfed the small town. If anyone had been awake they would have heard a high pitched whine as the skin between dimensions stretched and cracked. A single ragged line of white light formed in a rubbish strewn alley. The rip in space quivered for a moment and then suddenly erupted with a myriad of shimmering forms. Tuna, salmon, sun fish, crabs, lobsters, and a nearly endless stream of living sea creatures resolved themselves. They swam through the air as if it were water. And then the rift sealed shut after them.
    The creatures spread out through the town. It was a small town, so many of the doors were unlocked. The creatures that couldn’t slice through a screen door or manage a door knob broke through windows. Coldly they flew through houses dispatching everyone. Fins and claws sliced through jugulars and emptied bellies of guts with a quick flip or snap.
    In an hour their justice was served and they made their way back to the center of town.
    Once every creature was under the large gazebo in the town’s central park the spell that kept them afloat cut out. The fish fell and gasped for water, the crustaceans snapped wildly for a several minutes and they expired in a large pile.
    The stench of death wafted through the town as the sky began to brighten with the sunrise.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

76) Goblin Porno

    I sat on a tree stump and swung my feet back and forth, fidgeting in the moon light. I was early for the shoot, needing the money and not willing to flake on this kind of opportunity. My name is Gregow, I’m a Kobold and I’m going to work on a porno.
    I heard leaves rustling behind me and I quickly put my red leather cap back on. The cap was itchy for some reason, probably because I was nervous. As I stared at the low brush and its waving dark greenery I could see the chaos compass burnt deep into the tree stump. Its edges were sharp as if it were carved in before the wood was burnt, it’s magic glammering the area out of human vision.
    After a moment the most beautiful sylph floated through the bush. She wore gossamer vestments and the most tortured bored look I’ve ever seen on a creature. When she saw me she raised a twig thin arm and I returned the greeting, probably a little too enthusiastically. I stopped quickly and put down my thick hairy arm in embarrassment. Maybe she saw that because she smiled a little as she flew up to the stump.
    “You must be Gregow. Here to help right?”
    “Yes ma’am.”
    “Good, and polite too. My name’s Silesh. Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m the director, the camera man will be here shortly, and the talent will be late, like they always are. Ah, and speak of the devil…” She turned and jumped off the stump.
    She must have heard something I didn’t. All I noticed was the slight night breeze. Realizing something was missing I called after her, “Wait, what am I going to do?”
    Maybe she didn’t hear me or was just ignoring me. Either way it was better than my day job.
    Thick deep purple smoke roiled out from the tree tops and I gasped. This was amazing, I’d never met a Djinn before. He materialized a little on the small side, but I’m sure they come in all sorts of sizes. He fell slowly through the air and landed in an embrace with Silesh.
    They talked animatedly for several minutes while I sat, forgotten on the stump. My fingers itched to hide under a measuring cup or pull a drawer closed behind me. Now that more people were here I think I was getting nervous. Even though the glamor was still strong, the branches hung low, and the grove was a bit claustrophobic it wasn’t quite tight enough for me. I really like to feel four walls around me if I can. But what am I supposed to do when all the house cleaning is done by robots?

75) Bush Barter

    We sat in silence for some time after sunset roasting fish over our small fire. Eventually I spoke up if not to start an actual conversation then at least to hear myself talk. “So, Barry, what did you think of that guy that came earlier?”
    “Hmm.” He said and pulled his fish off the fire with the branch it was laying on.
    “I mean, that stuff he showed us was interesting, right? Did you like his stories?”
    “I dunno.”
    “You didn’t like them?” My own fish had begun to burn and I took it off the fire as well.
    “I didn’t like his thing, his book. It was too complicated. Too much like a pile of bugs on leaves.”
    I laughed and poked at my hot fish, still too hot. I nursed my burnt finger and Barry snickered. I said, “It wasn’t worth what he was asking for it.”
    “What do you think will happen to him?” I remembered the guy, tall and thin. He probably wouldn’t last too long out here without proper tools. And piles of leaves aren’t any good for hunting.
    “He’ll probably meet someone who wants it and will kill him for it.”
    Something in me was satisfied with that small amount of conversation. Meager like the meal before us, but it was all we needed. And maybe tomorrow would bring more too.
    Barry dug into his fish and I followed his lead. As I ate the tender crumbly deliciousness my thoughts swirled around the stranger that had visited us earlier. I thought about his strange clothing, many colored strips of fabric sewn around his body, even in the sweltering heat, instead of a tasteful loin cloth. I thought about what he had brought, his books and their words. He had wanted several days worth of food for a single book. It was a ridiculous offer, but he seemed so sincere. The writing did seem magical, words that stayed on the book. He could say words from it and then go back and say the same words again no matter how long he didn’t see them. He tried to teach us how to read, but neither of us could tell one word from the next.
    When the stranger could tell we were not interested in the books he told us stories of his home. I have heard of people living in caves their whole lives so that did not come as a surprise. I have heard of people making their own caves out of wood or mud. He was a very boring story teller until he came to his people’s creation myths about a world without gods or demons. His story was of a giant ball of mud where simple animals grew from it naturally and then they turned into other animals. Decent at best, but not as entertaining as gods making us out of dust.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

74) Bar Talk

    “Sometimes I feel like an Alien traveling backwards through time.” I said, staring down into my beer.
    “What’re you going on about?” Carl, my workmate slurred at me.
    It was a celebratory Friday night. We had just delivered the software on time and under budget at this small game software company in Berkeley. Carl and I were Quality Assurance, the last essential step before going gold. It’s not actually burned onto a gold disk anymore, but the name has stuck over the years.
    Carl belched and shoveled a few pretzels into his mouth. He chomped away at them for a minute then said, “Well, I feel like a sheep in a castle.”
    I laughed, “That makes even less sense, man.”
    “You started it.”
    I noticed our beers were running short. “Same?” Meaning did he want the same beer as the last three. He frowned and nodded in response. And there in the dim bar light he suddenly seemed very old. Not necessarily wise and aged like a wizard, but more like a tired old shop keeper or down on his luck blacksmith. The game we had delivered was a clone of another massively popular game, but this one had a more realistic feel with ghosts and several hundred professions a more than just the popular classes. I didn’t think it would do very well, but the pay checks were steady.
    I got up to the bar and was the only one there. I thought about my earlier statement. Maybe it had been about work, about seeing all those virtual lives generate and iterate and die off. The last thing I had tested was the non player character generation. I was a bit impressed with that part of the game, and I was sure there’d be few actual players that went that deep into it. Each NPC has a rich back story. They’re really just numbers in fields in spreadsheets, but the way it translates into the simulation of a life can get pretty spooky if you don’t think about it too hard.
    Lost in my reverie I must have missed the bartender come back because she was serving another patron. Dude wanted a half dozen tequila shots. I groaned. But then she expertly set them up in a tight row and filled them all at once, spilling only a little. 
    As I watched her work my brain listed out her history in neat little rows and columns. Born twenty-ish years ago, public high school diploma, ten serious boy friends in the past, nothing now, several tattoos and piercings, has two cats at home, lives with a roommate, wants to be a vet, watches twenty hours of television a week, estranged from her father, talks to her mom on the weekends, vacations in Taho and goes snow boarding, owns a late model Toyota, is saving up money to visit Paris.
    The man slapped down a fifty and she walked over to me.
    “What can I get you?”
    “Two Guinness please.” I said and held up two fingers in the peace sign just in case she didn’t hear me, it wasn’t that loud in the bar, but it came naturally. I think there’s a universal law somewhere that says your chances of getting how many of whatever you want increases dramatically when you use your fingers to count them out.
    She went to fill up our glasses from the tap. The guy next to me had lined up his six shots of tequila. As he licked a bit of salt off the rim I started to project a spreadsheet over his life. Thirty five years old, business degree, wife and kid back at home, sleeping with his secretary on the side, has worked for the same company for a decade, drives a two year old Mercedes. He downed the drinks mechanically. Salt, tequila, lime, breathe. Salt, tequila, lime, breathe.
    I wondered if he was in the game how he’d react to an amour clad adventurer or a scaly demon.
    I noticed myself staring at him and turned my eyes to the back of the bar and its dark rainbow of liquor bottles.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

73) Haunted House

    From a pitch black sky lightning flashed. Thunder roared immediately after and a group of three kids shook in their shoes watching the show from a block away.
    “Yeah, I’m not going in.” Brady said and backed up a step. “You can shove your dare where the sun don’t shine.”
    “Ha, you scared?” Terrance asked and made crying motions with his fists on his face.
    “Pssft, I saw you jump too.” Sharon said and elbowed Terrance in the ribs.
    Lightning flashed and thunder rolled again. Sharon grabbed onto both of the boys’ arms and squeezed. They looked at each other and nodded simultaneously. Without another word they walked down the street towards the old Governor’s mansion.
    Sharon released the boys and skipped a little then ran ahead of them. The two boys looked at each other then raced to follow her. They arrived at the gate just a moment behind her and rattled the chain link fence with their weight.
    Brady pulled out an candy bar from his backpack and bit into it.
    “How can you eat at a time like this?” Sharon said.
    “What? I’m hungry. Being scared messes with my blood sugar.”
    “Hey, guys, look!” Terrance exclaimed and pointed to the house.
    “What?” Sharon and Brady said together.
    Terrance grabbed the candy bar from Brady’s hand and tossed it over the fence and into the yard.
    “I hate you.” Brady said and hit Terrance in the arm.
    Terrance just laughed.

72) Domus the great

     Once upon a time the ocean was full of giant sea turtles until they came in contact less and less, until they were only legend. Until the the great Domus drew his last breath.
    Over the centuries Domis had acquired many guests on his prodigious shell. From the Umplings in their temporary grass teepees to the Humans in their more permanent mud huts and the Omnim in their spiky tress. Peace had reigned from beach edge to edge for generations. They had weathered storms together on Domis’s mile wide back. They had fought off sea dragons and sky demons.
    One evening during the Quiet Moon festival, when all the Humans and Omnim and Umplings were out celebrating, the ground began to rumble. The scared Omnim flapped their useless stubby wings. The nervous Umplings sprinted away to their trees. The Humans all cried out and grabbed onto the ground. After several minutes of stronger and stronger shudderings a cry went out across the whole turtle, the sea was rising.
    By morning all had been lost. Several humans waded in the choppy ocean and clung to debris. Soon silver ribbon sharks found and ate them all.
    What was once of Domis returned to the ocean.

Monday, 14 November 2011

71) Detention

    Jerry wiggled and squirmed under my arm, but I wasn’t letting him go. It had taken a good half hour to catch him that last time and that was with the whole class chasing after him. Anyway, it was cold and snowy out and his wooly coat warmed me up a little since I was just wearing a t-shirt.
    I looked up at the receptionist at her desk, a full human, asian and really old.
    She said, “Yes?”
    Jerry continued to squirm.
    “My friend here transmogrified himself.” I had his wand in my back pocket next to mine. I was sure nether of them would do us any good. The spell reversal was way over our heads, we weren’t even supposed to know that one he had used.
    “Didn’t you know that was a stupid thing to do?” She peered at me over her horned rimmed glasses.
    “I know, I’m sorry, I kinda dared him.”
    “You dared him?” I’d seen that look plenty of times before. It was the I-can’t-believe-you-really-did-that look.
    “…” I bowed my head. Pain and embarrassment kept me quiet a little too late.
    She stared at me for a few seconds, maybe trying to figure out how stupid we really were. “Fine, bring him into the nurse’s office.” She eventually relented and waved us back further in the teacher’s building.
    “Baaa..” Jerry finally said.
    We walked to the nurse’s office and I we sat on the paper covered bench to wait. I put Jerry down next to me, but kept a firm grip on him. Strangely he didn’t seem as skittish here. I glanced around the room at all the posters of naked humans and dragons and elfs and orcs with transparent guts and labels floating next to their bodies. Funny we can all go to school and treat each other the same and yet be so different on the inside.
    The door opened and Jerry startled, but I kept a good hold on him. In came our school nurse, a hefty half orc. She pulled up a robust stool and sat directly across from us. I sat there nervously and tried not to stare at her stubby tusks pointing out a little bit from her mouth.
    “Hi, I’m afraid we haven’t met. I’m Lucille. Your school nurse, obviously.” She said and giggled, “What’s your name?”
    “I’m uh, Viktor Croce.” I stuttered. I was thinking of the Orc villains on my favorite cartoon shows. But that was dumb, this was the nurse and she was there to help. Her laugh was kind of cute and her tusks weren’t even that big.
    She said, “So, what’s his name?”
    “Jerry. He turned himself into a sheep.”
    “Baaa…” Jerry said.
    Lucille laughed and I couldn’t help but join her.
    “So, Viktor, why don’t you leave Jerry here with me and I’ll see what I can do, ok?”
    “Sure. Ok, great. Thank you.” I handed him over and left.
    I turned the corner to go back to class and bumped into the Dean Stolux. Around campus dragons are required to keep their wings in at all times and wear a shrinking amulet. But even with the amulet the Dean was taller than the Girl’s P.E. teacher and twice as wide.
    “Well well, Viktor Croce.”
    “I hear you dared another student to transmogrify himself in a mirror?”
    “Yes sir.”
    He shook his big scaly head. “Here.”
    He handed me a pink detention slip. I didn’t have a chance to look at the dates on it before he coughed and said, “Your parents have already been notified. Now be a good child and go directly to the Library.”
    “Thank you, sir.”
    He leaned back into the wall and gave me enough room to just squeeze by. I shoved the detention slip in my pocket and nearly ran out of the teacher’s building.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

70) Magician Loser

    Larry plays the distraught magician to great effect.
    When the oak he’s bound to is struck by lightning the audience feel his pain.
    When he keeps losing at dice, even with his charms, the audience feels his loss and frustration.
    But when his fireball spell backfires and sets his cloak a light the audience laughs at him.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

69) Vandalism

    The plastic bit into my wrists and the ones on my legs hurt too. The room menaced me with its flat white walls and hard corners. The lack of green and high frequency detail made my eyes itch. The lack of familiar smells and sounds made skin crawl and my nose felt heavy. The adjucant that I was assigned to promised I could go free as long as I just told the truth. I think he was lying. I had no reason to believe they would ever let me go home.
    The door opposite me creaked open and three men in black came in. The biggest of them stayed near the door as if I might overpower the other two and make a break for it. One sat in front of me and the other walked over to me and undid my bonds. The big guy walked back to the door and I sighed with relief.
    “So, Daniel. Tell us where you were last night.” It was the one in front of me speaking.
    “I don’t know why you’re asking. I’ve already told you a bunch of times.”
    “Pretend I’m hearing this for the first time.” He didn’t sound angry or mean, just bored. “And honestly, Danny, do you have anything else planned for the day?”
    I wondered if the one standing was going to hit me, but somehow I didn’t really care. I said, “Don’t call me Danny. Only my mom called me Danny.”
    “That’s a good point. Let’s talk about your mother. Why did you run away?”
    “My mother’s dead. You know that.”
    “That’s not what our records say. Our records say your mother, Susan Morey is alive and well in Atlanta and she’s very worried about you. Now, we wanted to wait for your actual arrest before contacting her, but you’ll cooperate, won’t you Daniel?”
    “She’s not my mother, you know that. Ok, just don’t call her yet, okay?” I was my own legal entity since I was fourteen so they didn’t have to call her, but if they didn’t it’d make my life very hard for a long time as she could probably get my personhood revoked.
    “We can only help you if you help us.”
    I started again, “Benjamin was the boss. He led us to the housing complex. He’s the one that suggested we put the brambles in there to protest something.”
    “That’s funny, Benjamin says you were the boss, Daniel.”
    I was angry for a moment, but pushed it through and let it pass. I’m sure they saw my fists clench. I hated being stuck with these men in suits. I tried to ignore them and tell the story, but justification won out. “You have his sequence, you know he’s DRD4 positive, you know he’s a novelty seeker, not me.”
    “So you say, Daniel.”
    “Ben found a gene printer in the dumpster behind school one night. He got Gerald to fix it up. Anyways, they got it fixed and we started printing things.”
    “What kind of things did you print out Daniel?”
    “Just simple things at first. A snail parasite. I thought that was gross the way its poor antenna bloated up. Then they made some plant pathogens. But they didn’t use them.”
    “You know that would have required an administrator password to make user generated seeds?”
    “No, I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I figured it was broken and they fixed it. I don’t know about computers much.”
    “Sure, fine, please continue.”
    “Then we printed some accelerated seeds. That was my idea. We crossed ivy and a black berries. They were so beautifully sharp and hot to the touch. I thought that was wonderful. I wanted to make more, but Ben got bored and wanted to do something really big. I didn’t see them for a week until he came to my bedroom window one night with a whole bag of teardrop shaped seeds. I swear I didn’t know what they were. I should have figured it out.”
    For some reason I stopped and looked up at them, expecting the suit to interrupt me again. But all three of them were silent. I continued.
    “I think he was on something because he talked really fast. It didn’t matter where we were going or what we were doing with Ben, it was always exciting. We got in his car. I think it was his car. Now that I think about it, it could have been stolen.
    “We drove for a while and he talked non stop about the hegemony of humans, how we were a one species eco system. He didn’t pause long enough for either of us to interrupt him. And even if you did try to say anything he’d roll right over you.
    “When we arrived at the construction site the moon had set, but we could still see the growing houses with our torches. He gave us each several seeds and gave us instructions on how to use them. He demonstrated by putting one in his mouth, swishing it around then spitting it out quickly. The seed steamed as soon as it landed. It burst open and nearly exploded into a pile of brambles it’s tendrils spread out and burrowed down into the ground. It looked painful.
    “Benjamin had us follow him into the closest house. He demonstrated again, but this time when he spat out the seed and it landed on the house’s tender floor and the brambles dug into the floor it began to bleed. I know they’re only plants, but it looked like blood to me in the dark.
    “I was scared, I didn’t think it was a good idea. But like I said we were all caught up in Ben’s plan. We’re weren’t separate people. We split up and started to break into the houses. I did one, but it made me sick to see the house bleed that I dumped the rest of the seeds into the brambles and tried to leave.”
    “Tell us about Gerald.”
    Startled, I had to take a second. It had already been said so many times and I didn’t want to say it again. “He swallowed a seed.”
    “We know that, but how was he as a person?”
    “Kind of Ben’s right hand man, I guess. I never saw them apart.” Without meaning to I started to cry. I couldn’t tell if it was shame or proper sadness as my heart was strangely quiet. “He, uh, wanted to be an architect. Not with plants I mean, like with dumb stone and dead wood. Weird.”
    “So, you saw Gerald die then?”
    “Yeah, uh. I heard him first after I had dumped my seeds and tried to find him. I think Benjamin ran away at that point. Gerald looked like he had fallen asleep with his head in the brambles and I threw up when I saw him. Then the enforcers came and you’ve seen all that.”
    I felt exhausted, but happy that tales of being beaten were an exaggeration.
    The man that was sitting said without looking at the other men, “I think we have enough, thank you Daniel.” He nodded and the standing one put the handcuffs back on me.
    Then they left and I found myself crying again.

Friday, 11 November 2011

68) Sky Arcs

    “Jim, hand me your phone.” I said.
    “Whu, what? Why?”
    “I gotta call my wife.”
    “Sure, but there’s no reception out here.”
    He fumbled in his backpack as I continued to stare at the sky. We had just crested a medium sized ridge and when we got out of the trees that thing was waiting for us up there. A huge curve of dark grey arced across the pale blue sky like a parody of a rainbow. The base of the structure was lost in early morning mountain mists, slowly turning the same color as the clouds before disappearing into the forest below. When the sun came a few hours later the nature of the structure was clearer, but in that moment it was simply an eery magical thing. That kind of thing that makes you want to call your wife and tell her you love her.
    I turned on the phone and waited for it to boot up.
    “What do you think it is?” Jim asked me.
    “Do those look like windows?”
    “Is it a building?”
    “Could be, I guess. It’s totally not on the map, I tell you that.” I laughed uncomfortably as I looked down at the phone, no bars, no connection. I turned off the phone and handed it back to him.
    “I told you, man.” Jim said snidely.
    “I just wanted to check.”
    Then the ground rumbled and knocked us off our feet. Jim slid in a patch of mud and tumbled down a few feet into a bush. Instinctively I reached out and grabbed a branch to keep from falling.
    I heard him moan from below and said, “You okay, man?!”
    He said something back, but I looked up and forgot about everything else. The arc had begun to come apart. Huge chunks were simply falling off. While keeping my eye on it I crouched and sorted through my backpack by feel, trying to find my binoculars and cursing my past self for not packing a camera.
    I could see Jim in my peripheral vision getting up and I was relieved, but I didn’t say anything. The sight of the crumbling mega structure held me. Petals of the material were peeling away and falling. It looked like a blooming rose crossed with an unwinding rope.
    Bingo! I found the binocs and whipped them up to my eyes. It was a building. I could see an internal structure to the petals, cables and thin sheets of material in layers. Then I saw the people falling out of it.
    “Oh shit, no way!” I shoved the binoculars into Jim’s hands. He took them without comment.
    I looked back at the area I had spotted the people falling out and they were still there, slowing falling in groups of hundreds, almost weightless and light and fluttering.
    “We have to go help them.” Jim said.
    “How? We’re not medics, hell I only have a dozen bandaids and some aspirin. How is that going to help? There must be hundreds if not thousands of people there.”
    “We can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
    We argued back and forth for a few minutes, but since we were headed out there anyways we decided to make the extra effort and try to help those people if we could.
    We stood to walk down the trail when another rumble shook the ground. This time I had nothing to hold on to and fell next to Jim in another bush.
    When we finally got up and out of the dirt the tragedy was gone. It was again a sane landscape. No more arc of a building dissolving and spilling out people, nothing but blue sky above and forest below.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

67) Science with beetles

    Researcher checks airplane windscreens at the airport for bugs on windshields to do a survey of the flying insect highway.
    Finds a correlation between phylogenetic genetic markers and how high the bugs fly regardless of their size.
    Tracks that change back to the birth of flowering plants 200+ million of years ago.
    Finds pollen for that flower in amber and is able to resurrects said flower because it’s very similar to magnolia.
    As it blooms a thick haze of pollen seeps out and puts everyone in the lab in a coma, then the building, then the campus…

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

66) Night Missing You

    As we slept the crescent moon played softly against our faces. It must have tickled me more as I woke gently opening one eye then the next. The world was a blanket of silence and I wondered why I was so awake in the middle of the night again.
    I think I slept through the whole night last night, and maybe the night before, I can’t always remember. I’ve never left notes before this, I’m afraid you might have found them. I don’t know why I would be embarrassed. Lots of people get insomnia.    No wind blew through our bedroom’s open windows. The night’s warmth and humidity were standard summer fair. The world was so still even the mosquitoes ceased bumping against the net around our bed.
    Resigned to my fate I slid out of bed without kissing you goodbye, and parted the net. I had a little trouble getting one foot down on to the smooth carpet without slipping, but righted myself quickly.
    I wasn’t hungry, but I made myself a sandwich with left over lamb from dinner. I ate it mechanically and stared out the kitchen window at the garden in the back. The food was gone before I knew it and suddenly I had washed the plate and put it away. I was afraid the clank of dishes might have disturbed your sleep. I assumed I had cleaned the dish, but to be honest I don’t recall doing it.
    Is this just a dream? Maybe that’s where the anxiety comes from. In dreams nothing is solid. You can’t pick up a pen, write something down, give it to someone else and have them read it to you. So maybe this is more for me than you.
    In the next jump cut I found myself out in the garden out by the small stone castle, that one your father gave us when we bought the house. I sat down next to it and leaned against its parapets and wrote some more. I’ll probably tear out the pages before I go in a try to sleep again, it’s all nonsense anyways.
    The night is nice, I like it out here. It’s serene, like a keyhole without a key. I think you might like it.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

65) House Crop

    Alfred walked along the deep trails through his crops. The fruit were mostly black and bumpy, some were still purple or green. He touched every few of the watermelon sized fruits for texture and ripeness. He knocked on them like he knew shoppers would once they were at market. Alfred was reasonably nervous, this was his first crop of houses and he had a lot riding on it, nearly a million credits in debt and his family displaced several thousand miles on the chance that the soil was right and mother nature would treat them right. So far they’d been really lucky, and he hoped it would hold out.
    He paused at the end of his field and looked down at the nearly endless rows of ripe tree houses. It still amazed him that only a year ago this whole area was wild grasses and sparse oak trees. Alfred heard a low buzzing off in the distance. He turned and looked to find a crop duster on its way. He looked down at his terminal and smiled. “Right on time!” he thought. He watched as the plane descended and its multi branched nozzles unfolded out from its sides like a giant metal mustache fingers. It zoomed over his head and began to drop its payload, billions of tiny helper mites.
    With such a complicated thing as a house fruit some details of construction can only be dealt with by microscopic helpers. That’s where helper mites come in. With fruit that was ripe enough the mites would burrow in and trim excess growth, help balance hormones, and deal with the wormy parasites that were prevalent that year. Each batch of mites was specially bred for each crop. Alfred had met the owner, a large woman of considerable humor and intimidatingly precise. He liked her a lot and they chatted quite often. There was a slightly cheaper crop dusting mite company a few counties over, but Alfred felt good with “Lacy’s Spray ’em Fighters”.
    The mites descended in a dense dark cloud and settled in the trees and did their business. Alfred thought he could hear them grinding their way through the fruit’s tough skin, but he knew it was impossible.
    He headed back to the house for breakfast, content and with a little skip in his step.
    The rest of the day went as usual. The kids did their chores, he went out to help his neighbor Farnsworth with his crop of knives, a few were coming up rusty and they were clogging up the harvester.
    When Alfred finally got home just before the sunset he was surprised to see his whole family waiting by the front door with their suitcases. He picked up the pace and ran the rest of the hundred yards to his house. When he got closer he could hear the crying.
    “It’s over, Alfie.” His wife Gertrude said.
    “What’s over? I don’t understand.” He leaned in to give her a hug and she started sobbing anew.
    He looked over his shoulder and saw Lacy and a couple of men at the dinner table. Lacy, who’d he’d only seen jovial and powerful was now dour and hunched over a pile of papers.
    “No!” He yelled as he grasped the situation.
    Lacy got up from her seat and slowly walked over to the front door. She said, “I’m sorry Alfred, it was a simple mistake. We thought we had enough fail safes in line to stop something like this. But, but, I’m really really sorry, we’re going to do everything we can to put this right, you know?”
    The blood drained from his face and before he knew it he was running through the house to the fields out back. When he jumped out of the porch he smelt it first, the rot and decay. The wall of stench barely slowed him down. His breath was ragged by the time he reached the first tree. He half slipped in the broken fruit on the ground, its melted latticework skeleton and shingles crunched under his feet.

Monday, 7 November 2011

64) Mask Man

    Once upon a time in a big city there was a costume shop. They carried the expected Halloween latex masks for children and enterprising young fellows with poor impulse control, abusive personalities, and a penchant for guns. But what they had down stairs was much more interesting. The owner, one Mr. DeLong (widower), would take you down there if you slipped him a twenty.
    What you’d see first is darkness, then of course he’d flick on the lights, but it would still be dim down there past the creaking stairs. As you rounded the corner there’d be DeLong’s pride and joy, his collection of historical masks. Huge wooden masks from native peoples all around the world, horned African masks and Inuit masks with tubes sprouting out of strange places and more. And maybe one of these masks would talk to you, prompt you to pull it down and put it on, just for a laugh. And you would go to pick it up off the wall and then remember where you were and who you weren’t. This is the modern world and there’s no need for such ostentatious masks. No, the masks we wear are simpler. The good husband mask, the goodly wife mask, the concerned lover mask, the attentive student mask. Our modern world is filled with masks, but we wear them on our minds. And you think that maybe these huge unwieldy masks were from a more honest time.
    And DeLong sees your frustration, so close to a newly found desire and restricted by the social contract of good manners. You can’t just pop up and take one off the wall and run with it. There’s no telling how old or valuable they are and you might break it. He laughs and walks up to the closest mask, it’s a little bigger than a soccer ball and covered in beautiful yellow and black feathers. You think it’s from some island nation. He hands it to you with a nod. You take it and its lighter than it looks. It’s soft and smooth, the feathers cover the entire surface. You turn it back and forth. The inside surface is made of some vegetable matter, maybe palm fronds you guess. You think you smell the ocean, but it’s gone before you can verify. And you pull the mask up to your face and line up the eye holes with your own eyes.
    And you wait for some electric knowledge to jolt through your soul, but it’s just an old mask. While holding it up to your face you look around the dimly lit basement at the rest of the masks and Mr. DeLong and you wonder how it would have been for the original wearer, what kind of ritual they performed with this mask. Was it a fertility ritual, coming or age, or a war dance? Or something else you don’t have a word for in your language?
    Enough time has passed for you to sample the mask and you reluctantly take it off your face and hand it back to DeLong. He takes it with a smile and an eyebrow wiggle. He puts it back up on the wall, but in a different spot than where he took it down from, and that makes the back of your hand itchy for some reason.
    Then there’s a phone ringing from upstairs. He motions for you to follow him back up the stairs. You do so and the stairs creak the same way and the light switch clicks off the same way, but you look down into the darkness in a different way then when you went down. You can’t tell if you’re deflated by the reality of the masks, just piles of feathers and wood, or if you’re feeling sour grapes because you know you’ll never go down there again.
    DeLong waves for you to wait, like he’s going to show you more of the basement. But he’s on the phone for a few minutes, talking excitedly in a different language, you can’t tell if its Greek or some Slavic tongue. And you want to stay, but there’s homework to do, or you have a date, or you’re hungry, or you just feel the pulse of the city outside pulling you back out.
    You try to wave to DeLong, but he’s well into his conversation and only when you leave through the door does he turn to you and wave back. You both smile.
    The sun is warm, or it’s raining. Either way it’s a comforting reality and you return to your life.
    You forget about that costume shop for years. For whatever reason you just never go by that block again until one day you’ve graduated or you have an new job or a new girl friend and the name of the street you’re on rings a bell and you wonder if that costume shop is still there. In this neighborhood sometimes dry cleaners are around for forty years while a posh restaurant can barely last a season. The city is capricious.
    The neighborhood hasn’t changed much. A few buildings have a new coat of paint and the cars are totally different. You walk up and down the street a few times until you’re sure you’ve got the right place, you can tell by the thin alley across the street, that memory is somehow the most vivid.
    And of course the costume shop is gone. People don’t wear costumes that much these days. There’s a bakery or a pizza shop or just boarded up windows there now. And you peek through the window and it’s just as advertised, the glare on the windows was hiding nothing.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

63) Justice Melody

    Justice Melody put her pet sheep on the soft grass floor and let the little fuzz ball run around the office. She pulled up to her terminal and her sheep ran over to the waterfall in the corner of the office and lapped at it enthusiastically.
    Several boring hours went by as Melody worked her morning shift triaging cases: sending them up to higher justices, tossing them out, or adjucating them herself and sending them off for confirmation. Her sheep, Mildred, ate some oats and went to sleep.
    Just like every day at 12:30 Justice Melody’s stomach grumbled. And unlike every other day her phone buzzed. She’d talked to her mother the night before and her father was fine. She wasn’t delinquent on any work related responsibilities. As she fished her terminal out of her purse her mind continued to whirr as to who could be calling. The display said “Chaos” and a happy little buzz surged up the back of her neck. “No way.” She said and laughed.
    She answered the phone, “Hello, Justice Melody.”
    “Hello, uh, this is Chaos David.” the voice on the other line stammered.
    “Are you the guy I saw in the elevator this morning?”
    “Here, give me a second. I have to read this.”
    “Sure, sure.” She said, stifling a giggle.
    “You are hereby detained from your normal course of your day. All of your normal rights and privileges are suspended for the remainder of the day. You are now a secret agent of chaos and as such should meet me for lunch at the Japanese place on Sweden block in concourse seven.”
    “That last bit, I don’t think that’s in the script.” She said, smiling.
    “Say, an hour from now?”
    “Compliance, Chaos David.” She clicked closed her terminal. She turned to her sheep who was dozing horizontally in the corner clapped her hands and said “Mildred!” The sheep popped up and trotted over to her mummy. Melody nuzzled her soft wooled body and Mildred closed her eyes.
    “Mamma’s gotta go away for a little bit. You think you’ll be okay here?”
    Mildred looked up with her soft dewy eyes and bleated in response.
    “Good good little one.” She said and gave Mildred a good scratch on the chin. She took her terminal back out and called the secretary and a couple friends in her department telling them she’d have to be out for the rest of the day and to kindly come in a keep Mildred company ever hour or so. Sure, no problem, they all said.
    With a smile Melody slipped out of her office and back out on to the concourse.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

62) Strand Dead

    He stood stock still on the beach again in the pale moonlight. He looked behind himself, whole again and alive. He counted seventeen steps from where he’d started all those years ago, or just minutes ago. He tried not to think about the time it was taking to get to his goal, just fifty feet ahead of him, a loaded gun on a large rock. He looked to his left, nothing but calm waves of ocean all the way to the horizon. He looked to his right, thin scrub brush and palm trees for a few hundred feet and then more bloody ocean.
    He touched his naked chest and lightly traced out the fresh wound of the sigil there, the magic that was causing him all this suffering. He sighed. His stomach growled and he fantasized that maybe he would die of starvation and wouldn’t have to kill himself.
    He resolutely picked up his left leg, waiting for it to cramp or give out, and swung it foreword. Even though he’d killed more than a hundred men in honest combat and burned down a dozen ships, even though he’d ordered five men to take the same sigil on their chests and left them to the same fate as he, he still winced as he put his foot down.
    That now familiar electrical sting cut up from the sole of his left foot. From his bones out his soul gave way to the magic as it transported him away. He turned inside out a hundred times, twisted and turned though space and landed face down in hot gritty sand.
    He brought himself up enough to vomit then fell over on his side gasping. Eventually the heat and the dryness and the hope got to him. Hope that maybe he could find a way to stay longer wherever he was, maybe survive long enough to forget the gun on that lonely beach. Hope that maybe the rules would change for him this time.
    Frank Decheneaux, recently deposed ex-captain of the Black Plough, got to his feet and brushed off his tunic and pantaloons. All he could see was more damned sand in every direction, huge rolling dunes of it. The sun burned down from directly above like a blast furnace and he picked a random direction and began to walk.

61) A Walk

    He walks out of his apartment complex and heads down the dirty streets looking for a place to sit and enjoy what’s left of the day. After years of pills and therapy he’s found that a simple sit in the park is the cheapest cure.
    First he walks down Grant street with more apartments and the occasional convenience store. Then a right on Cesar Chavez and it’s the freeway ramp off on the right and gas stations every other block up to Mission Street. All the towering signs look like the strangest parodies of trees.
    He hears the sounds of childrens laughter, playing rough and rattling chains on monkey bars. That’s St. Cynthia’s boy’s school a block over. He keeps walking and their shouts of joy fade into the noise from the street.
    All of a sudden an elderly woman pushing a walker appears from out from an alley. She’s short and hunched over in a greasy overcoat. She smells like off cheese and has thing greasy grey hair. He jumps out of the way and she gives him a ward against the evil eye and spits at his feet.
    “Hey, what’s your problem?” He says.
    She mumbles curses in a guttural language. He puts up his hands and backs off. “Look lady, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. But you can have it.”
    She gazes up at him with her piercing red rimmed eyes.
    He can’t meet her eyes but instead has to stare below them at her flapping lips, six teeth, a salt and pepper mustache, porous nose all red and veiny. He finally breaks his attention away and turns around to go to the park.
    The old woman is still yelling at him. He double times it down the street and her voice fades in the distance. He rounds the corner of Cesar Chavez and Gogh St and there is his salvation, his neighborhood park, anemic with one slide and two swings and a single bench. A single occupied bench. A single bench occupied what that horrible old lady in it.
    He puts his head down and keeps moving the park. The old woman starts screaming at him again. He runs away down Gogh. He glances back and she’s gotten up from the bench and is slowly following him on her walker, its tennis balls scraping away at the cement.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

60) Strange Flame

    Michael sits in his apartment and grows a strange fire from his palms. The flames are blue and crinkle like cellophane when he blows on them. He can keep the fire going fine and it can get bigger when he uses both hands, really big. He likes to hold it in his left hand and pass objects through it with his other hand. Nothing gets burnt, it’s not actually combusting. Everything comes back with a light dusting of dark blue powder on it.
    Michael thinks about his one bedroom apartment shithole, rent three months overdue. It’s a huge complex and nobody’s come to bug him about the money yet. It might be that the landlord is away or dead, but it still makes him nervous. Too nervous to get a job because what if he was evicted and couldn’t get another place close enough to work?
    Even though he’s sure he could impress a girl with it he’s afraid to show anyone his fire. He knows what happens to mutants, he sees it in the news everyday, beautiful women with angel wings on the tv are handcuffed and led into big black vans. Super strong men with purple skin and horns are taken down with tazers every day. Normal business man by day, crusader by night, tossed in the paddy wagon the next morning. Michael doesn’t think those people did anything beside being different. Except the big strong ones have to be careful not to hurt anyone or break buildings.
    Michael gets sad thinking about all the other people with more obvious differences getting thrown into jail here and being put in front of a firing squad elsewhere. The scientists tell everyone they’re still human even with their hard shells or bent backwards spines, or too many limbs. We’re all still human, he thinks to himself.
    He calms himself down, not wanting to make too much of a mess. The blue powder stains if its on a surface too long and he hates cleaning off the ceiling. He pulls back the fire entirely and wipes his hands on his naked chest and gets out of bed. He puts on his clothes, with keys and wallet still in them. He leaves his apartment and goes for a walk.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

59) Shadow's Plane

    Well over the middle of the Atlantic ocean I smelled fire, sulfurous and sick. I only had a moment to act before the cabin was filled with chaos. Thankfully the lights were out and almost everyone was still asleep. I mumbled out a spell, well worn and familiar, and slid into the shadow world. My headphones clattered to the seat and continued to blare out the soundtrack to the saccharine drama that was playing on the screen ahead of us. I diffused into the shadows and saw that thankfully none of my neighbors had noticed my disappearance.
    Just as I had squeezed myself in-between two bulkheads someone else must have told a flight attendant about the smell or maybe one of them smelt the fire too because the lights came back on suddenly.
    To say there was chaos in the cabin would be perfect, but still I want to say more. Humans are their best are a capricious lot. There’s a lot of snap decision making that has gone into your million year history. You’ve had a lot of tight fixes running away from predators ten times your size. But nothing has prepared your sad little bodies, soft and delicate and inflexible and flammable, for being trapped shoulder to shoulder in a giant burning metal tube going near the speed of sound over the ocean. There’s just no biological precedent. So you go haywire. Sure there’s a safety protocol and lecture at the beginning of the flight. But who really pays attention to that?
    After a lot of screaming and crying and praying the plane eventually landed just a few miles out from New York. And against my better judgement I returned to my human form and joined the huddled survivors on the inflatable rafts. There were a couple dozen of the large red boats, bulbous and canopied, all of them full with us scared huddling humans.
    Whoever had started the fire had wanted to delay me not kill me. There was a small chance the I was not the target, but being the only magical creature on the flight I thought that chance slim. I could only think of a few parties that would want me to miss the yearly portal to Fey.
    Someone elbowed me and squished me into the back of life raft. I was going to protest when I saw what the others were pulling up and into the raft, a limp and soggy old man. I looked away in shame. I’m not normally too sentimental, but this whole crash was my fault. If I hadn’t spent that extra three months in Paris this wouldn’t have happened. I could have taken a boat or even chartered a jet all to myself to get back to New York.
    I really hoped he hadn’t died, that would make me feel bad and anxious. And its harder to cast spells when you’re anxious.
    Someone was hunched over the old man resuscitating him. As they tried to bring him back to life I tried to go through my enemies to figure out who would have most profited by my delay.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

58) Family Time

    “Stop!” She said as she was about to hand me the keys to the time machine.
    “What?” I whined.
    “I want you to know what you’re doing first. Have you gone through all the checks? Have you taken your chrono-suppressors? Are you wearing anything asynchronous? Did you fill up your torch?”
    “Come on, mom, of course I’ve done all the checks. I’m not dumb. I don’t want a ticket. You know I did real well in class. We’re just going up time a few centuries for a walk. It’s no big deal.”
    “Don’t you give me any lip, boy.” She said and pulled the keys back from my outstretched tentacle and my poor four fingers grasped at the air.
    “I’m sorry, Mum. I didn’t mean to mouth off.” I said, truly terrified that I wouldn’t be able to take my first drive in the family time machine.
    “This is a very powerful machine and I want you to respect it, okay?”
    “Okay. Yes, for sure.”
    She gave me that piercing look, searching my face for any of that attitude I’d been trying so hard to iron out, but that keep coming back and rearing its ugly head. I did my best impression of innocence. But she didn’t make a move to give the keys to me.
    I whined, “Mom, I’m coming on. I can feel the suppressors working, we gotta go.”
    She sighed, rolled her eyes, and handed me the keys. The jingled so sweetly. I smiled broadly, but not too broadly. I opened the passenger side door for her and bowed. I could feel her glare through the back of my head. I closed the door, carefully, and got into the driver’s seat.
    I checked the mirrors, the chronometers, the fuel gauge, synched up my panopticon, and turned around to give my mom two enthusiastic tentacles up. She nodded back and smiled a little. She must have gone through the same thing with her parent.
    I really could feel the suppressors working. They keep your internal chrono field from freaking out when you hit the button, but they also make you really relaxed as they disengage all your sense of time. Your body is fooled into thinking it’s tired and has gotten plenty of sleep at the same time. A little messy, but time travel was impossible without it, your body just acted like an anchor and you couldn’t go anywhere.
    I dialed in the 3500’s, a good practice century. I grabbed the handle bars and looked back over my shoulder at mom one last time just to get that nod of approval. She did and I turned back around. I gently pushed forward on the bar and we popped out of time.