Category Archives: prose

So Wrong Even a One-Eyed Mule in a Root Cellar Could See It’s Bad

It looks like a baby. A scintillating baby refracted through a shattered prism. You could perhaps convince yourself that the effect arises from your smashed spectacles, but you cannot recall smashing them.

But, hey, let’s pretend you did break your specs – in a dust-off, a tumble, what have you. You could take them off, but a one-eyed mule in a root cellar sees better than you. You couldn’t tell a baby from a coal chute from more than a pace or two away.

Lucky for you, these shiny babies like you. They’re mewing as they toddle toward you. It’s hard to tell through the broken sparkliness, but they seem a might bit steadier than your average toddler. The mewing reminds you of hungry kittens. You try to recall if the town has a wet nurse.

They cover the last few paces between you and them in bounds. Whether your mouth falls open because of the bounding or the sight of a mouth no wet nurse would want her bosoms near, let alone in, we will never know because, even if the blood loss wasn’t killing you, you never learned to write and your throat seems to have gone missing.

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Experimented

Nothing.

No sounds. No smells. No sensations of hot or cold, hard or soft. No sights. No tastes.

He wondered if he even had a body. Maybe he was just a consciousness, floating in, well, nothing. The idea that he could be stuck like this arose and panic stirred. He tried to flail, but nothing happened. Was he numb? Paralyzed? Somehow disembodied? Speculating on his circumstances quelled the panic.

What was going on? Why? And who? Who had done this to him? That someone must be responsible for it angered him. Someone took him and left him like this, would not even face him. Panic and anger were both futile, but what was not futile in his current circumstances? Nothing, as far as he could tell. He wondered how long he had been out, and then awake. A sensation of the passage of time was lacking as well.

Lacking anything else to try, he listened for long moments, straining for any noise. Nothing. Not even the sound of his own breathing. He wished he was psychic, a telepath who could search for nearby minds. He imagined searching the room and how he might see the nearby minds. His mined conjured up a brain and spine defined by a network of veins and pulses of neuro-electrical pulses. It was familiar somehow. Maybe he had seen it in a sci-fi movie. It was cliché enough after all.

The familiarity nagged him. Then then blinding pain crushed him. All his senses at once: light seared his eyes, sickly sweetness filled his nose and coated his tongue, white noise drilled into his brain, and acid ate at his skin.

He screamed and writhed. Perhaps being embodied and sense-ful was not so great after all. Part of him wanted to cry that he had any sort of sensation again, to beg for it to be taken away. The sensations left in a rush and he could feel the hard surface under him. Reassuring and cool his back. There were lights above him. His throat was raw from his scream.

A face moved into view above him. It was masked, and the hair covered. Was he in some sort of hospital? Had there been an accident? A coma? The eyes were dispassionate. A hand moved to hold his eye open and a light was flicked briefly into it.

“He’s survived the regaining of his senses,” came a woman’s voice from behind mask.

He tried to speak, to ask any of a million questions, but his voice was a dry croak. He realized he was shackled to the table.

“He’s trying to talk. He may even be sane.”

“Good.” He could not see the owner of the dull voice, but it was male. “Let’s just hope he can’t remember.” The man’s tone had been disapproving and that was more confusing than helpful.

The woman turned to look at something. The man he guessed, but she said nothing, only looked for a couple seconds.

Remember what? And in trying to answer that himself, he realized he could not remember anything, not even his name. Given what he had experience a few minutes ago maybe not being able to remember was a good thing.

“Finish your exam and send him over to Gorsky. They’re only going to give us so many more chances at this.”

The woman took blood, pulse, blood pressure, and so on.

He heard steps and a man (the man?) came into view. He caught the scent of his cologne. The scent piqued something, a fragment out of the blankness of his mind. With the memory came the excruciating sensations from earlier. He screamed. His back arched, lifting him from the table as much as the restraints allowed. More fragments of memories came. Dozens of them. He moaned pitifully, unable to make sense of them.

“What’s wrong!?” The man pushed him back down to the table.

“No, no. Fuck no!” There was desperation in the woman’s voice. He heard the clatter of metal against metal as the woman grabbed for something on a nearby tray. He saw a syringe in her hand.

He knew he did not want what was in that syringe in him. He heaved to the side and toppled the table away from the man and woman. It slammed into the floor with more force and noise that he had expected. The impact broke the restraint on his up-side wrist. He grabbed the woman’s syringe-wielding hand as it came into view over the edge of the table. His fingers cruelly dug into her wrist. She cried out and dropped the syringe.

The man was cursing now too and reaching in his pocket. The prisoner grabbed the leg of a tall, narrow cart and threw it clumsily at the man. The tray atop it slid off, scattering scalpels and more, but the cart connected with the man, who dropped the phone he’d pulled from his pocket. As he bent to retrieve it, the prisoner threw the fallen tray like a frisbee, which connected solidly with the top of the man’s head. He crumpled.

The woman was back now, with another syringe. He reached toward the surgical implements scattered near him. He did not look to see what it was he drove into her forearm. She screamed. It was in deep and he used it to yank her to him. The effort pulled it out, but she was close enough. He drove the tool into her temple, cutting off her scream.

Using a scalpel he freed himself from the table. He helped himself to the man’s badge and clothes. There must not be anyone nearby – someone would have come by now to investigate the noise. He stepped out into the hallway. He could almost remember it. Had he walked down it before? Tried to escape before? One direction seemed more familiar. He went the other.

Footsteps, many of them, echoed behind him. Someone was coming to investigate after all. He turned up a random hallway, and then used the badge on a reader to enter a dark room.

The door locked behind him. Stepping further into the room triggered the automatic lighting. He turned to see where he was and froze as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

Footsteps stopped outside the doors as someone called for the doors to be opened.

“No…” The people in the room ranged in age from toddlers to late teens. They had noticed him and seemed more curious about him than anything else.

“What the hell is–” The door was pried from its frame and men grabbed him. He was injected with something. It worked fast and within seconds, his vision was closing on a dozen and more copies of himself, each a little younger than the one before it.


The Meeting in the Produce Section

(This story is part of a series. Go here to see a list of all the posts in this series.)

—-

I awoke with a yell and the bitter taste of bile in my mouth. I fumbled at the cup of water on the nightstand and knocked it over. With a sigh I rolled out of bed, tossed a towel on the spilled water and made my way to the bathroom. I rinsed my mouth with tap water and spit it into the toilet. It was reddish. I flushed.

I splashed water on my face, scrubbed and rinsed. I kept my eyes shut and the water running. I did not want to see if there was blood on my lips too. I blotted my face dry with a towel and tossed the towel halfway between the pile of dirty clothes and the trash. I would decide later whether to trash it or wash it, but I was leaning toward trashing.

I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like hell. Continue reading


Hands in the Earth

Heavy-lidded, he crawled to the window. Outside, they still waited. Colorless and translucent. Sharp and immobile.

Back in the room, her scent lingered: cherries and tobacco mingling in the air. He breathed it in and the craving for a cigarette was sharp and sudden. It, in turn, made him want her.

Outside now, he breathed in the frozen air and shuddered. They danced around. He dropped to his knees, driven into the shards of pale bitterness by the weight of their gliding. The skin of his knees was pierced a hundred times. He looked down to watch his lapis blood color the shards. They melted as it coated them, revealing steel pins.

He clawed through the shards and found the dirt beneath. It was warm, welcoming. He sunk his bleeding fingers into it and sighed. The earth welcomed his fingers, coaxed them deeper. He pushed at the earth and its resistance became an embrace.

The dancers became frantic. They flew at him. Through him. Each piercing was excruciating, like bitter cold acid inside him. He grasped the earth and pulled himself into it. Maybe he would suffocate in the ground, but even that would be better than the alternative.

The earth drew him within. Still the dancers tried to stop him. Dirt had clogged his mouth and he could not draw breath to cry out. The earth’s pull continued. Roots and rocks shredded his clothes. Then he was falling. He tried to spit out dirt and yell at the same time, but only choked.

Someone caught him. Several someones. He opened his eyes, but could see nothing. Whether blinding by darkness, pain, shock, or dirt he had no idea. He coughed dirt as hands passed him to other hands. He heard and then felt water. Hands and water cleansed him.

Finally he understood. He was safe. He was home.


When Trans-temporal Messages Kill

In the end it was the headaches that did him in. Had he been asked to guess, he would have said an overdose of painkillers. For better or worse, the painkillers were very safe. It was all but impossible to die from an acute overdose, though long term overuse did cause chronic issues.

He did not last long enough to see what sort of long term effects twenty tablets a day would do.

People joked that he had tried to lobotomize himself, but that was putting it too politely. Lobotomies involve neither the opening the skull nor significant loss of blood or other tissue.

–From Proceedings of the 3rd Congress on Trans-temporal Information Science, “Effects of Unaided Reception of Trans-temporal Messages on Mid-Twenty-first Century Human Minds”


The Masks in the Trees

(This post the first in a series. Go here to see a list of all the posts in this series.)

I stopped and peered into the trees. It was the third time I thought I had seen something moving. The orange of the sunset was visible now that the clouds were breaking up. The trees were black against it. I saw a group of people passing between the trunks. Whether in actuality or by a trick of light, the half dozen figures seemed impossibly slender. I moved to follow them. I kept quiet as I closed the distance. The shape of their heads was wrong, too flat. And they had horns. Or were wearing tiaras I supposed.

Any number of vagrants and thieves bedded down in these woods and while I knew of the danger I was putting myself in, I was unable to stop. I at least needed to see what was wrong with their heads.

They had stopped now. Three of them were facing something or someone I could not see. The rest hung back. I paused and looked around, checking the ground for sleepers. Nothing. I started circling to try to see why they had stopped.

I was close enough now to see why the silhouettes of their faces had seemed wrong. They were wearing masks. I continued and finally the object of the attention of the front three became visible. At first I thought it was someone skinny like they were kneeling or sitting, but then I realized it was a young girl standing. I recognized her and felt fear pimple my skin.

The tall figures were dropping to their knees in front of her. My eyes left the girl to watch them. The front three sank first, then the four behind them. What the hell. I stared. Then I felt her eyes on me. The weight of them was painful. I gasped and squeezed tears from my eyes.

Her mouth moved, but I could not hear what she was saying. Two of the masked figures rose and came after me. I was riveted by the weight of her gaze, so I am not sure I could have moved had I wanted, but the sight of them running toward me sealed my doom. No human ever moved that way. No human has ever been so lithe. When they had turned and were running straight at me, they were difficult to see. Difficult enough and fast enough that I was still straining my eyes when they reached and grabbed me.

My mind was not coping, so I was dead weight, but they brought me to her effortlessly. Despite that my feet did not touch the ground I hardly felt the pressure of their hands holding me. They dropped me a few feet from her.

“Staring at me again. The first time made you puke blood. So much for learning from mistakes.”

I did not understand how anyone could bear to be near her. Maybe these masked people were different somehow. But her mom? Her brother? The clerk who had wrung them up at the video store? Why did bile not rise in their throats at the sight of her as it did in mine? I swallowed and swallowed and swallowed.

“Sick and confused. Less sick than before, but definitely more confused.”

She stepped toward me. The masked figures stepped back, though the one with the white mask hesitated. The hesitation earned a glance from the girl. As she bent to touch me I tried to scramble away. The effort cost me my control of my vomiting. My stomach was on fire. My body convulsed and flooded my mouth and nose with bile, blood and chewed food. My ears popped. My stomach was on fire. I sobbed and rolled away from the puke. Small fingers, wet with blood and vile touched my forehead. If I had been able, I would have felt even more disgusted. It might have killed me though.

I awoke with a yell and the bitter taste of stomach acid in my mouth.

(To read the next installment, click here.)


Silt

Dust swirled around my boots. Where a swirl passed over a crease it left a bit of itself behind. I imagined I could feel the weight of those motes weighing on the material of my boots and that of the material settling onto my feet. Feet my legs could no longer lift. I could taste it in my mouth too. I was surprised I could not feel its grittiness. It was too fine. I wondered how much was in my lungs. Were they slowly clogging? I felt short of breath, but I was afraid to breathe too deeply. I swallowed but it was difficult. My tongue and throat were so dry from the silt. I could feel my pulse in my arms, my feet, my head. A mote tickled my throat and I coughed. Gasps and coughs alternated. My mouth gulped and swallowed. I knew silt was filling my lungs. It passed leaving me bent over, gloved hands on knees. I realized I could no longer see my feet. Silt was deep around my calves. How had it gotten so deep so fast?

No. The sun had moved. How had it gotten so late so fast? How long had I been coughing? I couldn’t remember. My throat hurt. Precious liquid wrung from me as I coughed still wet my eyes. Surely, it would have dried if I had been coughing for hours. Silt was up to my thighs now. Any hope or point of moving on was gone. How long would it take to make even one step? Half an hour?

I did not understand. I cried fear and frustration. One tear rolled down my nose. Red with the dust it had collected it fell and the dust around my waist drank it. There was no more water to be squeezed from my eyes though. The dust’s thirst could not be slaked. There was too much. It reached my ribs now. I tried not to think about it reaching my lips.

I tried to scream when it did, but I had no voice and no breath to power it.


Notes from the 3rd Guam Xenoarchaeological Expedition

Today we discovered a remarkable passage on partially intact Guamish storage device. It appears to be from a personal journal or diary. (We argued about whether to call the author a blogger or not. It seems obvious to me, but everyone else called it ‘pre-mature as fucking hell,’ so I will bide my time for vindication.)

In any event, we agree that we know now the ancient Guamites did indeed use what some of us affectionately refer to as the “Easter Island guys” for defense. Only the details of how they operate and were moved between Easter Island and Guam remain to be sorted out. Fortunately I didn’t have to remind anyone they used to have hats to make the association of the term “sombrero turret” apparent to my colleagues. (Though I suspect Dr. Applebomber didn’t know and was just playing along to avoid looking any stupider than he does already.) Moving on, we also agree that it seems the training for such duty was highly coveted and rigorous.

Finally, let me present Dr. Zisselfraggen’s translation of the passage:

… and so what if a tree falls and no body hears it, the forests are gone!” I retorted.

The blow came fast and hard, a heavy whip that bruised my lips and made me snarl. My hackles, such as they were, were up and my fingers twitched, eager to make a fist to retaliate with.

He laughed viciously. “Oh yes. Do it. So us all you have the self-control of a pile of shit.”

That brought me up short. I looked at him with a combination of confusion and suspicion. What sort of weird metaphor was that? Shit seemed to have quite a bit of self-control. It just sat there and stank. Was he dumb or testing me?

He realized what a shitty (haha) metaphor he’d made and struggled for control. I struggled not to show the amusement I was feeling.

I failed.

Then, predictably, he failed. Or I’d fallen for the trick and what he did to me no longer mattered, and it was bye-bye sombrero turret dreams for me. Or, I supposed, both.

It wasn’t long after I got over being knocked semi-unconscious that I found out he was dumb and I was still in the program. Now, I just needed…

It’s also with noting the author’s use of scatological humor. I have made a note to investigate the universality of this. Certainly this must be the earliest example of its use.

We are hopeful that our tech, Bernie (I cannot recall his last name), can recover more data from the device, but it was heavily damaged and I count us fortunate to have even these few bytes. What a find!


Holy crap, Guam is real?!

I discovered something remarkable today. More than remarkable really. I mean, I literally fell out of my chair (granted I was sitting on the edge of it already, but still).

Guam is an actual place:

All these years I’ve been tossing around this Guam shtick. Make jokes about it, talking about my secret volcano headquarters there, how we’ve recruited the “Easter Island guys” to defend it (alien weaponry in their hats, though weakened since all the brims fell off, but still bad ass), using it as an interjection and/or greeting, and so on.

But, lo and behold, there, in the South Pacific (nearish Easter Island – quite a coincidence!), is an island named Guam. To add insult to injury, it’s part of the United States, a country in which I was born and lived for 4 decades.

I’m wondering now what the Guamites (Guamese? Guamians?) think – or would think, if they aren’t already aware of it – of my fixation and how I’ve expressed it. Offended? Appreciative? Bored? Will they hunt me down and rough me up, demand an apology and get me to stop? Send an Easter Island Guy to take me out?


Snippets

Heavy-lidded, he crawled to the window. Outside, they still waited. Colorless. Translucent. Sharp. Frozen.

A menina espiou por cima o ombro para ele. Temeroso, ele parou. Com um riso, ela pulou sob a ponte e para as sombras. Das sombras, ela chamou, e o menino seguiu, limpado de medo por sua voz.

Her scent was cherries and tobacco mingling in her wake. He breathed it in and the craving for a cigarette was sharp and sudden, it made him want her.

A caverna era sem fim, sem eco, sem som. Havia apenas escuridão e chão e o cheiro de terra. Havia sido perdido dentro da terra por semanas. Nunca tinha sede ou fome. “Por que sou ainda vivo?” se perguntou de novo.

He breathed in the cerulean air and shuddered. Around him, they danced. He dropped to his knees, crushed into shards of pale bitterness by the weight of their gliding. The skin of his knees pierced a hundred times, his lapis blood colored the shards. They sighed and melted into the ground.