Story Time: Seven Stars

It’s a Chuck Challenge! Here is my “Space Opera” with very strong influences from some rather old stories. Enjoy!

“Why should I help you?”

“You must! We have no-”

An aged, gnarled hand reached out from behind and firmly squeezed the young man’s shoulder. He bit off his words immediately and bowed his head to let the elderly man shuffle forward to gain audience. The young man wanted to run, wanted to scream and yell. He wanted to do anything to keep from watching his grandfather degrade himself into begging for a stranger’s mercy. With the ridicule and shame of everything they had endured, this was almost too much to bear. Of course, the only thing worse would be the shame of abandoning the elders and his grandfather.

No, he would be strong like them and swallow what pride he had left. It was the only chance they had.

“Let me apologize for my grandson, please. He is young and fills his lack of experience with spirit and vigor. Would we have more like him then our need for help would not be so great. But, alas, ours are a meek and timid people, not accustomed to excitement.”

Calmly, the stranger spoke.

“You paint yourselves as helpless. That does not bode well for me, should I help you. Those who cannot help themselves are a bottomless well for others to pour their charities into.”

The words of rejection stung the young man, but his grandfather smiled politely and nodded.

“So true. So true. One does not soar high being pulled at by the jealous hands of those who cannot fly. But as always, those who lead the way make a path for the rest to follow. So it was over a thousand years ago when the bravest and the boldest forsook their ancestral homes to forge a path into the stars. They cleared the way for the Empire of the Sun to rise into the heavens. They had the honour of enabling the survival of mankind itself. More so, they strengthened men for the rigours of living among the stars.

“So it was when the barbarians and godless men threatened to break apart the Empire. It was the boldest, the most honourable among man who pledged themselves to protect the Empire and its people. Those brave leaders embodied honour and strength, showing the way for others by the example of their lives, thus strengthening the people of the Empire. They became masters of their domains and their great presence drew in others who would uphold the same standards of honour, bravery, and strength. Thus grew the Shoguns, their great houses and their sworn lords.

“And so it is with those warriors who swear allegiance to the noble houses. Their strength, their bravery and their honour shine like stars among men to lead others out of squabbling darkness and pettiness. They keep us from falling back into barbaric ways. They keep mankind among the stars.

“This is who we seek. Not a seeker of fortune, for we have none to give. Not one hungering for glory, for we are insignificant and will not be remembered. Not a saviour, for we must learn to save ourselves if we are to survive.

“No. We seek a leader with the strength, courage and honour to forge our colony into a better people. A people no longer to be bullied by cowards.”

Hearing his grandfather speak with such solemn determination filled Rikuto with pride. This hadn’t been part of the original discussion when the four of them were sent out seeking help, but grandfather seemed to speak as though he had planned for it all along. As Rikuto glanced sidelong at Yasu and Tarou standing next to him with the same respectfully bowed heads, he caught the looks of confusion and concern on their faces.

The stranger, a very handsome woman with streaks of white in her auburn hair and tired lines beginning to form around her noble features, nodded slowly at grandfather.

“You speak well, Elder Gorou. Were you to speak at length, I think you would stir even this old soldier’s heart. But words such as ‘honour’ and ‘bravery’ are easily spoken, yet scarcely witnessed. Teaching others discipline and the means to fight is no easy task, even for the willing. Which, I gather by your associates’ reactions, you would have some convincing of your own people ahead of you. Perhaps a band of mercenaries is what you should seek.”

Grandfather firmly shook his head once.

“Gathering tigers to chase away the dogs would only invite greater trouble in the end. This is the better way. You and I know it. The others will come to see it.”

“And you assume I am the right person to help you?”

“Yes,” he said without hesitation.

“Why?”

“You base your decision on a judgement of our character. You inquire about our plight and the type of people we are before even considering a reward. Everyone else we have spoken with is primarily concerned with their fee. You have proven what you hold valuable with only a few words. That is why you will help us.”

The woman smiled.

“Very well then. Since you bring it up, what reward are you offering?”

“A hundred thousand kilograms of grain.”

Rikuto blanched, but held his tongue. He saw the other two men beside him visibly stiffen. Grandfather was offering more food than the raiders had ever demanded. It was far more than they could afford to give and would mean the starvation of their people.

“That is quite generous of you. I accept this task, but by the way you have described your dilemma time is short.”

“Indeed it is,” Grandfather said.

“Then I will need assistance. Fellow warriors that will strengthen and lead with authority. How many are in your colony?”

Grandfather looked to Tarou, who did not look very pleased with what was transpiring.

“About fifty men, mostly farmers and mechanics. Then there are the women and children. Will you turn them into soldiers too?”

“If it means their lives, yes,” she said evenly, “I will need at least six that I will recruit personally. Perhaps seven. Be prepared to leave for your colony within the next two days.”

They had, for better or worse, just placed the fate of their people in the hands of a stranger.

Story Time: The Rogue

It’s about time I come up for air from “working on my manuscript and totally not procrastinating the crap out of it all”. You know what that means: Chuck Wendig challenge! Luckily, this week is an easy one. One character. 250 Words. Here we go.

“So, you deny kidnapping the Princess of Briel?” The big man eyed the shackled woman sitting across the table.

“I was embarking on a well deserved holiday when I found her wandering the White Forest with Captain Viscetor. Well, sort of with. By day she was a lynx and by night he was a bear.” Her tone conveyed growing boredom.

“Right… and it was supposedly the three-eyed monks that perpetrated this?”

“Monks of the Order of the Third Eye, but mostly their High Preceptor, Count Dev…. Devillerus. Something like that. Creepy type fellow. Real baddie.”

“Count DeRovius. Found mauled to death in the King’s Treasury, where you were trespassing.”

“Oh, is that what this is all about? The Treasury holds the only Pearl of Purity to lift the spell. Or curse. I’m not really sure what the difference is between the two. Either way, this is really a waste of time. Any minute I’ll be pardoned and released by the Princess or the Captain.”

“Not this time. The Princess of Briel is a foreign dignitary with no authority in this jurisdiction and Captain Viscetor is under administrative investigation for his absence without official leave. He is thus stripped of rank until a judiciary committee has convened. Which leaves nobody to rescue you.”

She tucked her long auburn hair behind an ear as she grinned. The iron shackle was missing from her wrist.

“You should know better by now. I’m Cossima Renhaus and I’m not the type to need rescuing.”

Story Time: Gold Lion

Well, I learned that moving really puts a crimp in regularly putting my deposits down here on the ol’ blog. I get a back log of blog-bog.

Nothing quite like a Wendig flash fiction challenge suppository to get the blog words unstuck.

Go words, GO!

The world wanted to make prey of us. The adults said we were children. The strong said we were weak. The experienced said we were naive.

We were supposed to be scared.

But we didn’t listen. We laughed at their painted faces and ran out into the night.

We saw the drunks that couldn’t drive home, stumbling to navigate their way through the maze of arteries under the city. We saw the poor that just wanted to stay in the pungent, humid air until morning. We saw the cast-offs that would never fit in and the rebels that refused to.

And in our way, we loved them all. At least they were real.

During the day, everyone was always telling us who to be. We spent eight hours a day getting brainwashed and form packed into “productive members of society”. I mean, sure, we were born in a century that allowed us choices and life options, but everyday was a reminder of our limits.

I think it made us crazy.

Sure, blame it on hormones or youth or whatever. If it makes you sleep better, say it was “a phase”.

All I know is that we were invincible.

We were feared. We were hunters.

We were lions.

Sixteen year old girls aren’t supposed to ride the subway at night. Or drink whiskey in public. Or get in fights with wannabe gang bangers. Or lose teeth in said fights.

At prom, Samantha had the smile of a hockey player and a dress that she stole from Macy’s. She was happy out on the dance floor, even by herself. When the maths teacher told her that the slow dances were for couples, she told him to screw off. He kicked her out. I helped her light his car on fire.

Yeah, so we learned that there are consequences for breaking some of the rules. But we also learned that a lot of the rules are just handed down by the fearful. Like the gazelle telling the lions what to do.

We were labelled because it made them feel better. We were diagnosed so that it wasn’t really our fault. If there was somewhere to put the blame for our behaviour, then the system was still functional. God save the system.

Kaylee was expelled for continuously wearing a shirt on which she had printed with the phrase, “I like sex, but I don’t like you”. It was her favourite thing to say to guys when she broke up with them. She said it was the same thing guys were thinking when they broke up with girls.

We burned every bridge we could just to prove we could build our own. Some things worked out. Sometimes we failed spectacularly. But at least it was spectacular. We wouldn’t do mundane.

We roared like lions.

Story Time: A Man Unwoven

After a bit of an unscheduled hiatus, I jump back into the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenges. This one required I pick a random sentence to use in a story. Glutton for punishment that I am, (or maybe I just like threading together gibberish) I went ahead and used them all. Of course, that put me about 100 words over my goal but you can’t break a few omelets without making some eggs. Or something like that.

BZZZZZZZAAAAAANK! The shrill noise made Conner cringe uncontrollably. It wasn’t enough that this place was filled with the noises of metal doors clanging and the wailing of the insane, they had to make you jump out of your skin occasionally with alarms that jabbed at the primal part of your brain.

The part that screamed at you to run from places like this.

He took a deep breath and stepped into the lock-down unit.

The undecorated hallway was wide and rather mundane. Or it would have been, had Conner been able to keep from imagining what sorts of deranged and unhinged minds these walls had harbored. The feeling of being a lone, sane pilgrim in the land of madness made him feel a little light-headed. He wondered what it would take to push his own sanity over the edge and land him in a place like this. Then again, what would anyone say if he told them the real reason he was visiting? How could he explain the strange path of events that had led him here?

Hell, maybe he should make a reservation.

He reached the metal door marked with double sixes, hesitated for a moment, then knocked lightly.

“The bakery is closed!” a baritone voice rumbled inside the room. Or was it considered a cell?

“Hey, Christian…” Conner started, “it’s me.”

“Damnit man! I said the bakery is closed! Seek carbohydrates elsewhere!”

Conner gently cracked the door open.

“Christian? It’s your friend, Conner Oshiro…?”

There was a flurry of activity behind the door then a gaunt, wiry bearded face appeared in the slight opening.

“Oshiro? The musician?”

“Musician?… Oh god. You mean that dorky band in college? That was ages ago.”

“Rock music approaches at high velocity.”

“Close. The band was Rock=mc2.”

“Yes… I deployed the lower frequency harmonics.”

“Bass. We call it bass guitar.”

The wild ice blue eyes of the thin face seemed to find recognition.

“We… kicked ass. Come in Oshiro!”

The door flung open and with it came the smell of long unwashed body. The towering, stick built man beckoned Conner into the small empty room.

“Welcome to my sanctuary! I do apologize for the baked goods misunderstanding. Sixty-Four comes asking for bread. Terrible misunderstanding involving a discussion of bagel shops in the greater Manhattan area. He’s quite pedantic in his views.”

Conner shuffled about, trying to figure out the best place to stand a room void of furniture.

“A rather obsessive fellow, I admit. Lost in the minutiae of grains and ovens. Poor counsel in the debates regarding the fabric of the tapestry we consider our universe. It’s our pride, Man’s, that says this is our universe. Hardly. An unwelcome guest playing host. The stranger officiates the meal. Such self-appointed Maitre d’.”

Christian was getting very animated and it made Conner nervous. The psychiatrist had allowed the visit only if Christian didn’t get ‘too excited’ by the event. Conner did not want to test how excited was “too excited”.

“Okay, Christian. How bout we talk about the, uh, tapestry. Especially the strings. You were working on String Theory, remember?”

Christian regarded him dubiously.

“Of course I remember. Of all my short comings, this is not one of them.” he stated, tapping the side of his head. “The old apple revels in its authority. Woe is the body undergoing a slow death, but the crown of knowledge rules on.”

“That’s great, Christian. If I could just…umm… beseech that crown of… uh… knowledge.”

The tall man raised a bushy eyebrow.

“Confound it, man. Spit it out.”

Conner let out a flustered hiss.

“Fine. You were working with the particle collider before the accident. What were the parameters you were using?”

The tall, older man frowned deeply.

“It wasn’t strings. Strings are too linear. Pulling and tugging. They propose connections immaterial, when reality is far more permeating. But I won’t try to delude the concept to your level. Abstraction is often one floor above you.”

“Gee, Thanks.” Conner lifted his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Humor me, Christian. I have an idea of what you were trying, but I need-”

“A glittering gem is not enough! You would need a treasure trove of ideas pulled from my mind. An epiphany cannot be imbued upon another! A river of knowledge cannot be swallowed in one gulp! Especially this. Never this! The river… the river stole the gods! Divinity is cast from heaven!”

Christian’s voice was now booming in the small room. If this kept up, Conner knew his visit would be cut short. Very short.

“Jeez, man. You always assume, like an ass, that I won’t get it. Even crazy didn’t change that.” Conner paced the few steps he could in the confined space.

“I am not crazy!” Christian bellowed, spittle flecking his beard.

“Yeah, right. Gonna win my vote for sane with that!”

“You’re singular existence cannot fathom my experience! We are comrades no longer! We barely share the same plane of consciousness! The memory we used to share is no longer coherent!”

“You said it! No longer coherent. Nailed it! I don’t even know why I bothered to come.”

Conner made for the door.

“I was stupid for believing your diary.” Conner muttered.

“…I wrote nothing. What is this mysterious diary?”

Conner paused, hand on the doorknob.

“You’re right. You didn’t write jack. It was very helpful. The ‘mysterious diary’ records the voice. But then, turns out its no mystery, just pure psychosis masked as genius. Who was I kidding?”

Christian was no longer listening. He stared off and barely seemed to be aware of another presence in the room.

And to think, this man had been so close to the answer.

Conner began to step out of the room, but Christian grasped his wrist suddenly.

“The answer you seek invites danger, Oshiro. Inevitably. Every choice on that path leads to a finite branch. The shooter says goodbye to his love.”

Conner wrenched his wrist free, but Christian’s intense face closed in until their noses nearly touched.

“I have seen, I see and I will see. I succeeded, but at the cost of success. I broke through the tapestry and wove myself into the fabric. I have not traveled the river, but it has flowed through me. It has carried me away.”

Conner opened his mouth to respond, but could not find any words. Christian whispered something in his ear, then shut the door.

Sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Arlington Behavioral Health Center, Conner couldn’t shake the feeling that Christian wasn’t actually crazy. Unhinged, definitely. Crazy? Well, if Christian’s experiment had come anywhere close to success, then maybe crazy was inevitable.

Still, he couldn’t forget those strange, whispered words.

“I am a man in and out of time.”

Story Time: The Human Equation – Part I

This month I’m trying out another one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges. This one is a collaborative type that will find stories in four parts by four different writers. It will be very interesting to see where this goes. Here’s Part I of my contribution to the challenge.

“Dad, I think it would be best for my emotional growth if I moved into my own apartment. You are always pushing me to be more self-sufficient and independent, but I can’t reach my potential if I’m still relying on you for so much. Please, take a moment to think this through. Isn’t this the next logical step?”

The girl gave her best pleading look.

“Absolutely not! What’s to keep you from having drug filled sex orgies and becoming a delinquent? I’m not having my daughter get pregnant at sixteen!”

“Oh. My. God. You are ridiculous.”

“I’m your father! I didn’t raise you to-”

“No, Rory, I mean you’re being ridiculous. My dad would never react like that and you know it.”

“Hey! You’re supposed to stay in character!”

“Rory, I’m not a character! I’m supposed to be myself in this scenario! And you’re supposed to be my dad, not Leave it to Beaver’s dad. Come on… delinquent? Who says that?”

“Well…” Rory started, her large dark eyes glancing around her room sheepishly, “My mom says it all the time. She says if I keep putting up posters of guys on my walls, that I’ll get boy crazy and become a delinquent.”

“Ha! You already are boy crazy! You’ve been boy crazy since you were, like, ten!”

“Shut up, Chloe! I am not! I’m just looking for Mister Right.”

“Again, you are ridiculous. You should be looking for a driver’s permit”

“Whatever. Why are we even practicing this? We both know your dad is going to say yes. You have, like, the coolest dad ever. He lets you do anything you want.”

Chloe rolled her eyes. None of her friends ever seemed to understand when it came to her dad.

“First, he is like the farthest thing from cool. He spent my entire ninth birthday party explaining how the light photons from the candles worked. Everybody got so bored after two hours they left. I didn’t even get a chance to open my presents until the next day.”

“Well, nerdy is kinda cool now.”

“He wears socks with his sandals!”

“Well, he does let you dye your hair any color you want.”

“That’s because he tried to invent a nano-programed shampoo that styles your hair as you wash it.”

“That actually sounds kinda cool.”

“It made all my hair fall out! I spent all of fourth grade getting tons of ‘get well soon’ cards cause everyone thought I had leukemia. Yeah, he lost all rights to say anything about my hair after that.”

Rory grimaced.

“Yeah, that sounds really sucky.”

“Your family at least watches movies and TV together. When I try to hang out with my dad, he won’t shut up about String Theory and Quantum Tunneling.”

“I’ve never heard of those shows.”

“They’re… never mind.” Chloe slumped on the bed and ran her fingers through her green and white hair, feeling suddenly exhausted. She didn’t resent her dad, or at least she didn’t think she did. But the past couple of years had been so difficult. They used to laugh and talk and go on ‘scientific adventures’. Hell, she had paid such rapt attention to him during his diatribe on photons that she hadn’t even noticed that the other guests had left the birthday party. Now, they struggled to say more than a few words to each other.

“I should get going.” She sighed.

“You okay Chloe?” Rory asked, genuine concern showing in her large eyes.

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

“You gonna ask about the apartment?”

“Yeah. Probably tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

As Chloe drove her father’s ’79 Volvo wagon, which weighed more than a Sherman Tank, she couldn’t stop thinking about how much things had changed between her and her father. Deep down, she knew Dad hadn’t really changed. She had been the variable in the equation– she had been the one that changed their relationship simply by growing up. Part of her still wanted to just see him as the hero that knew everything. But a growing part of her was so frustrated at how little he knew about people, especially her. It was like he still saw her as that little girl that drank in his words and not someone nearly a full adult – a near equal.

She parked the Volvo in front of the brick apartment building she called home. Grandpa had left it to them in his will free and clear when he had passed. There were seven living units, but none of the original tenants had stayed more than a year after Dad had become the landlord. He had a habit of neglecting, well, everything. The last straw had been when he converted the basement laundry room into his own personal laboratory. Now it was just the two of them in Unit 1, and if he agreed to her request, she would get her own unit.

Swinging the front door open, she stepped into the main atrium stairwell. The large room was strangely dark, the only light weakly sifting through the glass in the ceiling. Her footsteps echoed loudly. She noticed the sharp smell of something burned wafting through the air.

“Dad?” she asked weakly.

Still no sounds but her own breathing.

The lab. Of course, he would be in the lab.

Walking to the metal door stenciled with the words “laundry”, she opened it and made her way down the concrete steps to the basement. His lab, normally a disastrous mess, looked as though a hurricane had swept through. A single light flickered in the corner, flashing distorted shadows across the room. Something glass shattered on the far side of the room.

“Dad? Is that you?”

She took a tentative step.

A hand gripped her shoulder.

“Chlo-bo!”

“Jesus H Christ, dad!”

He stood next to her, smiling broadly. There were dark smudges on his face and one of the lenses in his glasses looked cracked.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

She looked around the room as something metal clanged.

“Dad… what happened?”

“Something great! Well, probably great! Here, I’ll show you. Just…” he held his fingers up and started towards the far end of the room, “just wait there.”

When Jon Urquhart returned to his daughter, her eyes bulged and her mouth went agape. When she didn’t say anything for nearly a minute, he laughed anxiously and ran his hand through his receding hair.

“So…Chloe… What do you think of it?”

Finally, her mouth closed and with effort she planted her eyes on him and not the… other thing.

“Dad… I’m moving upstairs.”

Story Time: The Day of Reason

There are too many loud ones around.

This is not the right house. This is not even a house. This is a school gymnasium. And there are too many loud ones around.

It has been five days since I have slept in the right bed. The loud ones were not there then. Only James and Mother and Shadow, who is a Canis lupus familiaris of the Golden Retriever breed. On Thursdays at three in the afternoon there is Valerie. She says I am not organized in my head. But I did not see her this Thursday.

On Thursday at three in the afternoon we were running. I had the soft dress on with the good edges. I am supposed to run in the swishy pants that have shoe laces in the top. Mother said we are running from the noise, but sound travels at one thousand two hundred twenty-five kilometres an hour at sea level in fifteen degrees Celsius air. The fastest human has only run forty-four point seven two kilometres an hour. We run at point three thousand five hundred ninety-two hundred-thousandths the speed of sound. We cannot run away fast enough. I could run a little faster if I had the swishy pants on.

There is too much noise here, but Mother does not tell me to run. She says this is our home now, but it is not. It is a school gymnasium with too many loud ones in it. There is James and Mother and Shadow, who is a Canis lupus familiaris of the Golden Retriever breed, but there is no Valerie on Thursdays. Nobody tells me my head is not organized.

I have file cabinets filled with amazing things, but they are in disorder. Mother sometimes tells other people this. She does not tell the loud ones. She talks at them a lot and they are loud at her and James. Some are loud at me. They are always loud at the biters.

Thirteen days in the gymnasium and then Mother tells me to run. We are not running from the noise or the loud ones, who are louder than ever. I think we are running from the blood. Each person has an estimated four point seven to five point five litres of blood in their bodies. It is supposed to stay on the inside, but it is on the outside of people when we run. If it gets on the soft dress with the good edges then Mother will make me change. All of the good clothes are at the house, but Mother says we can not go home. Even for clothes. I do not want the wrong clothes, so I make sure to stay away from the blood. Even when James is getting his four point seven to five point five litres of blood everywhere, I manage to keep the soft dress with the good edges clean.

Twenty-two days since I have slept in the right bed. I do not even have a bed. The floor is for walking on, but Mother says the part with the blanket is for sleeping on. It is not a bed. The blanket is wrong. We are up in a building, in an apartment with watchers. They watch the windows and watch each other. The watchers try to take Shadow, who is a Canis lupus familiaris of the Golden Retriever breed. He can not watch with them. He is soft for me when I sleep and if they take him I will only have the wrong blankets and the floor for walking on not for sleeping. The watchers are actually loud ones too, but they are loud at me and Mother instead of the biters. They are quiet at the biters.

Eight days in the apartment and Mother tells me to walk. There is no blood this time. I am right. We walk from the watchers who are actually loud ones. We walk very slowly. We take many quiet times. We are quietest for the biters. I don’t think they like the loud ones either.

It has been Forty-three days since I have slept in the right bed. I do not sleep in a bed at night, now I sleep in a cot. A fighter gave Mother one and she has me sleep on it. It is not a bed, but it is not a floor for walking. A cot is a pick up and travel with you breed of bed. I think this cot can travel with me and Mother and Shadow, who is a Canis lupus familiaris of the Golden Retriever breed, while we walk with the fighters. The fighters are not very loud, but some of their machines are loud machines.

On the ninth day with the fighters, the loud machines get too loud. The fighters are also loud ones after all. Everything is so loud, it shakes me and the four point seven to five point five litres of blood inside of me. The biters do not like the loud. I am right. There is blood and we run. I think they are loud at the biters because biting is against the rules. We use words not bites. Mother and James said that when I was a little child. But she does not say it to the one that bites her.

I do not like the fighters. They made blood come out of Mother’s head and now she can’t come with us. There is blood on the soft dress with the good edges, but I hide it. They let the cot travel with me and Shadow, who is a Canis lupus familiaris of the Golden Retriever breed. It is Thursday and there is still no Valerie. I am not organized in my head. I think Valerie was an organizer. I think she helped me organize.

It has been sixty-seven days since I have slept in the right bed. When I lay in the cot at night, one of the fighters likes to feel my soft dress with the good edges. The edges aren’t as good anymore and it has blood on it. He helps me wash it when there is water so that I can still wear the soft dress, but mostly he watches me do the washing. At night he watches and touches the soft dress and his hands feel too loud. I don’t like them. Then all the fighters are loud ones and they are loud at the one with the loud hands. They are all so loud and some are on the ground being loud. Then there is blood on his mouth. I run. When there is blood, I run.

I am in the right bed. I am at the right house. Everyone turns out to be loud ones. I like this better. But loud ones turn out to be biters. And biters hate the loud ones too. Am I a biter? No. That’s against the rules. Biters don’t obey rules. They must be more disorganized than me. On Thursdays at three in the afternoon I had Valerie to help me organize a little. The biters need a Valerie. Then they wouldn’t be so disorganized. But they were loud ones before and loud ones are organized. Loud ones turn into biters. Organized becomes disorganized.

I have a mark on my leg from a biter when we were running that first day. Maybe you can’t disorganize my head since it’s already disorganized. I think I can be like Valerie. But help the loud ones disorganize a little. But only Thursday afternoons.

Prompted by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge here.

I liked the idea of a protagonist with a neurodevelopment disorder, like autism of some sort in a zombie type setting.

Most of those diagnosed with such disorders (not zombies) that I have met are very strong people and I do not mean for this story to be insensitive or offensive to real conditions in anyway.

Story Time: The Road to Darkness

“Are you awake over there?”

Abbigayle’s head snapped up from her desk.

“Uh, yeah. I just haven’t gotten a lot of rest lately.”

Abbigayle didn’t bother to wait for the look. Instead, she rubbed her swollen eyes in an attempt to suppress the dull buzzing in her head.

“Don’t worry, I’m okay. Just tired from all the legal stuff. The process takes a long time.” The line came out mechanically.

“If you’re sure you’re alright…”

Of course I’m not, but I’m not going to discuss this with middle management.

“Yep. Don’t worry, I’m not sleeping at my desk.”

And wait for it…

“You can always take more time if you need to.”

Bingo. What do we have for him Johnny?

“Thanks, but it’s good to be doing something again. Get back into the flow of things.”

A big vacation trip to anywhere but here, if only he’d cash it in.

Abbigayle pasted a smile on her face and endured the look from him. He nodded, flashed several variations of the look, then continued down the row of cubicles in the drab office space.

Why am I doing this? Where am I going? I am I just going through life on cruise control? I must be on the highway to hell.

“Oh my god Abbi, what happened to your eye?”

She startled again, feeling a flush of embarrassment at being caught off guard yet again. A thick set blonde stood in front of her, gawking.

“My eye? What? Nothing happened to my eye.” she replied, touching around her eyes reflexively. Still the blonde was a pantomime of horror. Her thick round face looked oddly stretched as her mouth gaped open around her short pudgy fingers ineffectively covering her gasp.

Hey look, it’s tubby what’s-her-name. She looks like she’s about to chow down on those fingers, suck all the fat right off the bones. Maybe if they were deep fried. Finger lickin’ good.

Abbigayle rolled here eyes as she realized the cause of the blonde’s concerns.

“Ughh, I must have rubbed my mascara. Do I look like I have a black eye?”

Her name is Tina… or Tanya… or Tammy. Something like that. Tubby Tina?

“No, you look like a raccoon!” she squealed.

Tubby Tabitha? That sounds better.

“Thanks…”

Abbigayle stood from her desk and squeezed past the wide-load blonde.

“I’m just gonna go wash this off.”

“Maybe if you took better care of yourself they wouldn’t have died.”

For a second she wasn’t quite sure she had actually heard the blonde say the words. That fat face had been smiling, red lips shiny as they spoke.

From all the bloody fingers.

Abbigayle was already walking away and couldn’t muster the will to turn around. She must have imagined those words, because nobody would have said that. No, people don’t say things like that. They say ‘I’m so sorry’ and give the look because they can’t put into words what they can’t feel. They don’t understand, so the look is supposed to say that they understand when it really just says ‘I pity you’.

She made her way down the long row of cubicles. It was like they repeated, the same people in the same little boxes that just blurred together as she walked down the lane.

People with no souls, that’s what they are. Just bags of flesh held together by their frilly blouses and branded polo shirts. If you opened them up, you’d see that they’re dead inside. Rotten and dead.

With a push, the heavy restroom door swung open and she stepped into the darkness. Ever since they replaced the light switch with motion sensors, you had to step into the pitch black for a second before the lights turned on.

This time, however, the door slammed shut and no light came. Just darkness.

If her eyes were open or closed, she couldn’t tell. Just the nothing of darkness and now the sensation that she was drifting, maybe falling. Her heart pounded in her chest and the buzzing in her head grew. She groped for the door or the wall or anything, but nothing was there. Moving her arms took so much effort, like they had just been turned to lead. The buzzing was worse, now like a roaring thunder in her head. It was so much that she saw stars and colorless explosions behind her eyes.

They’re in here with you. Just open your head.

The thunder had grown to an all consuming wail, a terrible screaming thing that vibrated in her skull. The pain was white hot and her eyes felt as though they were staring into the sun. She squeezed her eyes tighter closed but the burning brightness only grew. Instead of eyes, she now had hot burning coals that burned the inside of her eyelids and sent lightning bolts of pain through her brain.

She was screaming.

You banished the darkness with pain. How foolish. Stop the pain and let the darkness come back.

Abbigayle opened her eyes. The restroom stalls were empty. The lights were on, but they felt dull after the white hot that had tortured her. Her head had quieted down to a light buzzing.

Shakily, she went over to the sink and turned on the cold water tap. It felt cool in her hands, but when she splashed it on her face there was no feeling. her face was numb. She tried again, but still no feeling in her face. Not even the touch of her hand registered, like her fingers were touching someone else’s face.

Looking up in to the mirror, it was indeed her reflection. The same soft complexion, but more pale than it used to be. Her brown hair seemed wiry and messier than she had let it get before. She looked tired. She looked drained of life. There were dark blotches around her eyes.

Eyes that were closed.

Don’t look.

She stared at her face in the mirror. Still, the dark eyelids were shut.

Don’t look. Or she’ll see you.

As she leaned closer to the mirror, the reflection didn’t move. Standing. Eyes shut.

She sees you.

White hot brightness exploded from the mirror, driving Abbigayle back. The floor vibrated, the walls and everything. The room felt tilted, shifted on its axis and everything wanted to go sideways. The water was still flowing from the faucet, but now it missed the sink entirely.

Legs unsteady and heavy, she ran.

Run, run as fast as you can.

She made it out into the office, but everything was still tilted and shifting. People were working and walking and standing around. All with their eyes shut.

You can’t catch me.

In each cubicle she passed, more people with eyes shut and brightness coming from their computer screens. White hot brightness that sent searing pain through the middle of her head. Somehow she pushed her heavy limbs farther down the lane.

I’m on the highway to hell.

Her cubicle. Her desk. She sank into her chair, her chest pounding. Light was beaming from her computer screen, but this time she couldn’t look away.

That’s right. Look.

The pain was immense and the sound, the terrible sound was consuming.

Look. Just a little longer. Look.

Tears streamed down her face, but she couldn’t look away. She couldn’t move. She was strapped to her chair.

Abbigayle looked at the brightness.

This is how you die.

Then the brightness was gone. Something else was on her computer screen. A long, dark road.

You know where you’re going.

Everything around her grew dark, except the road. It was a dark, slick black road lined with the shadows of trees. There was a sharp turn ahead.

And then she knew.

How could you do this to yourself?

Her arms were so heavy. So slow.

Did you really have to work the overtime?

Eyelids like heavy weights pressed down on her eyes. She couldn’t…keep… them… open…

You should have known your limits. You just killed them too.

“MOMMY WAKE UP!!”

Story Time: Of Fruit Not Tasted

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by the challenge presented by Chuck Wendig at his blog.

A fruit deigned forbidden holds sway over the desires of man.

She examined the ruby colored, gold flecked apple in her fingers. Such a small, delicate thing to carve out the fates of empires. One day, when her work was done, she would taste one.

“Tempted?” a deep baritone whispered behind her.

“I hunger for a fruit far more satisfying.” She whispered in return.

“…mango?”

With a turn she faced him, the tall dark haired, dark eyed man whose crooked smirk belied his hard and scruffy exterior.

“I was more thinking the fruits of my labours.”

“Always comes back to labour with you women, doesn’t it? The pain and miracle of birth that men just don’t understand… cluck, cluck, cluck.”

“Cluck?”

“You know, a hen. Cluck.”

“Yes, of course. I have known a few. I am just questioning why I ever pried you away from the farm animals you are so obviously well suited for. Life must be so confusing away from the other mud wallowers.”

He shrugged nonchalantly, but his dark eyes never left hers.

“Sometimes. But the view can’t be beaten.” he slowly pointed past her.

She hesitated, then turned to follow his line of site.

Just at the edge of the horizon, where clouds and darkness had melded all night, light began to paint the gentlest of hues on the sky. The soft contours of the clouds they sailed above slowly grew more distinct with each passing second, as though the stars above were bleeding their light out into the dark blue sky to awaken the day.

The view was made possible only because they stood on the deck of an old wooden aeroship as it sailed silently through the sky.

“It never stops being beautiful, does it?” he asked.

“I used to imagine that each vista, each water-colored sunset and sunrise were just for me.”

“Rather selfish.”

“No… just desperate for some peaceful moments.”

They stood next to each other, taking in the vast open tapestry of blue as it brightened. And when the tiniest sliver of golden sun hit the horizon, she turned away.

“All eyes on deck!” She barked hoarsely. “Rigged for silent run!”

There was the shuffling of feet on the wooden deck as a dozen men jumped into action, making for the side rails. She held out her hand as she scanned the horizon, and immediately a brass cylinder was placed in her palm by the dark man. With a fluid motion she lengthened the telescoping lens and brought it to her eye.

“They should be dead ahead of us.”

“If the winds didn’t push us about too much. Or push them too much.” he replied gently.

“And if we calculated speed and course, yes, yes, I know. They are directly ahead. They have to be. The real question is just how daring was Captain Spurle feeling last night?”

“You mean, did he want to push out of the storm or batten down? Makes quite the difference.”

The icy wind gusted once more, but she didn’t even notice. Her eyes searched the expanse of sky in front of her intently.

“No… He pushed. He always does. The question is, just how hard? Surely, the king would be quite unhappy if his expected cargo arrived in a smashed mess because the fool didn’t know when to slow down.”

As imperceptible as it was, she felt him step away slightly.

“I always forget that you know these people.” he whispered quietly.

“Knew. I knew these people. Which gives me the advantage.”

“But they knew you too.”

“Who knows the other better, the horse or the rider?”

“Aren’t they symbiotic? They have to work together.”

“Big word, farmboy. They do work together, but while a rider must know how to direct his steed and estimate it’s limitations, the horse must know what the slightest movement means. The horse learns to interpret the will of the rider instantaneously and unabashedly. It lets the master’s will become its own.”

For a moment, he just watched her. The icy wind gusted and whipped her auburn hair around in a flurry, despite it being pulled back. The cold reddened the cheeks on her otherwise fair skinned face. Her stance was as still as a statue, clad in brown leathers with wool under layers, she was utterly focused on her search on the horizon.

He had never met anyone, man or woman, who had so much willpower and who seemed to make things happen by sheer power of being. Like a force of nature, nothing seemed to be able to stop her when her mind was set. Part of him was in complete awe of her, though he had never voiced it.

There were many things he had never put to words. Perhaps someday he would change that.

Suddenly, she was shoving the brass monocular at him.

“There. The edge of the pressure system, where the clouds are dropping off. There is our spot.”

“But that still… wait. I think…”

He handed the brass back to her.

“There. Follow the tip of my finger.”

He leaned over her shoulder, trying to line up their site lines enough, and pointed to the horizon. Still attempting to get her to see just the right place, he adjusted, wrapping an arm around her and moving his lips near her hear.

“Just there. Right where that patch is breaking off…”

She rested herself against his frame as she scanned. Then she gasped.

“I see it! It’s the Court Pendu Plat!”

Her body went rigid.

“Damn it! She’s already rising! She’ll fly past our ceiling before we’re anywhere close enough.”

In an instant she was racing about the old wooden ship, giving out orders and adjusting the course. It had amazed him that she had even gotten the Crow Egg in the air all those months ago, but to see it now he never would have guessed that she had discovered the old hull half buried on his farm.

The design was old, very old, but she had explained to him once that she had sought it out with an exact purpose. The Crow Egg was originally the creation of a wholly unique engineer named VanStutten. VanStutten had in his lifetime crafted less than a dozen Aeroships and eventually gone bankrupt on the venture. What was remarkable, however, were the designs he employed. They were decades ahead of their time and many features were still not fully understood.

To many, they were historical oddities. To her, it was the linchpin of the revolution.

He had never been one to idle away time with politics, but she had impressed him with a seemingly simple plan. Stop the flow of the cider.

The royal family maintained a private distilling venture that, by law, had no competition. The apples used in making the cider were prohibited from being grown anywhere other than on royal grounds. The legal precedence was jumbled in a lot of ceremonial… what had she called it… self-servicing. Needless to say the cider, named Husk Spice, was a huge part of the king’s treasury. Attempts to choke it off had been made before, but now that it was shipped solely by aeroship, it was nearly untouchable.

Not only was the royal fleet doubling as cargo haulers but the pride of the fleet, the Court Pendu Plat, was the largest, fastest and highest flying ship ever. And if that wasn’t enough, it was one of the most well armed.

And yet, on the seemingly half-wit plan of an impertinent woman, here they were trying to stop it. Not only stop it, but raid the Court Pendu Plat. Yes, they planned on pirating it.

It was a plan that was over five years in the making and they knew they would only have one shot.

“Damn it all. We were caught on our heels. The only way we can approach it is to come down on top of it, like we planned. We can still make it, but we have to ascend quickly.” She said to him, breaking him from his reverie.

“You mean we have to lose weight.”

“Fast.”

“How much?”

“At least… 40 stone… probably more.”

He grimaced.

“I’ll start looking.”

“No time.”

He faced her and saw the grim determination in her eyes.

“Jeran.”

“Yes.”

“Kell.”

“Yes.”

“Ben.”

“No. Best hand to hand we have. I’ll need him for boarding.”

“Roen.”

“No. He’s the best helmsman we have.”

“…Then I guess it’s me.”

Her mouth opened in protest, but he quickly shook his head. He gestured two of the crewmen over, grabbed them and pulled them over the railing, into the sky.

For a moment, all she could manage was to will herself to breath. Then the Crow Egg began to rise.

Someday, after all this was over, she could reap what she had sown. Some of it would be sweet. Some of it bitter. Unbearably bitter. But for now, there was the sky.

And it was her sky.

Story Time: “A Gift”

Started by a Flash Fiction Challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s site: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/10/03/flash-fiction-challenge-from-sentence-to-story/

The world ended, time shattered and the universe unraveled itself. At the frayed edges of existence, only the memories lasted.

She wished that she had made just a few more.

The metal skin of the capsule squealed and shuddered as it skipped into a solid plain of reality.  Again the nausea came. She was prepared for it this time, pushing her face into the plastic bag.

It struck her as funny that she had never been prone to motion sickness, but apparently when you move the fabric of the universe around yourself, you better do it on an empty stomach. She finished retching, wiped her mouth, and sealed up the bag. This time there was blood. That was new.

The pings of cooling metal echoed through the small confines of the capsule as it reacted to atmosphere once more. Or maybe it was warming. She couldn’t remember. Frankly, she didn’t care. If you brutally murdered someone, shoplifting an item didn’t seem all that important anymore. And she had brutally murdered the laws of physics. Big time. So, what was a little overlooked thermal conduction?

Small beans, babycakes. Small beans.

She extricated herself from the harness, an overdesigned series of straps that nobody had ever imagined getting in and out of without a team of specialists and a gymnast’s abilities. Why had she even put it on again? It wasn’t like the capsule moved. It was just one of those things she did to feel safer, and that was okay by her. Very few things made her feel safe anymore.

The capsule was safe. It was her cocoon. She could reach out and touch almost every surface, every panel without leaving her seat. She could operate the consoles with her eyes closed. It felt like an extension of herself. An embrace of the familiar in all this chaos. Of course, it was also a prison at times. After spending however many hours in it, if hours were even an applicable measurement anymore, she was ready to break free of its smothering embrace.

Time to leave the ol’ nest. Stretch them wings.

She grabbed her helmet and pulled the EVA pack from its spot, turning to secure it onto her back. A quick glance at the meter showed the pack was empty. No more air. She had forgotten about that too. Oh well. If her calculations were right, it wouldn’t matter. If her calculations were wrong, well, then it wasn’t going to be a problem for very long.

Discarding the helmet and air pack, she moved to the hatch. The red handle she pulled down, the yellow she slid up and the wheel turned clockwise. No, counter-clockwise. She rubbed her face in frustration. Just keep it together.

Follow the directions. When all else fails, follow the damn directions.

She took her hands off the wheel and stared at the small red arrows on the hatch itself. Counter-clockwise. And so it turned.

There was a slight hiss of hair as the seal broke and she finally managed to push the hatch open. A warm breeze gently washed over her smelling of burned wood, like an old campfire left to smolder out. Like the campfire that first night, the one he had built. When there were still a sun and moon and stars and an earth to lie down on. And of course, when he still… was.

She gazed out of the hatch, but there was no deep forest this time. Pointing her torch out at the surroundings revealed a neighborhood of closely built houses lining the street the capsule had parked itself onto. There were no lights in any of the windows. Nothing moved, just a thick layer of grey ash that stirred gently in the breeze. This was a dead place. Except for her. She inhaled deeply to reassure herself.

Nobody here ‘cept us, babycakes. Ain’t nobody in the big wander.

Grabbing the one thing she would need, the bonafide real printed paper manual that must have weighed fifty pounds, she tossed it out of the hatch and clambered out after it. Thank the geeks for redundancies like that. She had gotten more use of that encyclopedia of technical jargon and schematics than a bible in summer camp.

It was only a slight drop to the ground and her feet landed with a muffled whump. It was almost like stepping into virgin snow. Except it didn’t crunch the way it should. And when she moved her feet, her boots left greasy dark smears on the ground. And instead of a crisp, clean feeling, she felt as though she was just walking through a mass graveyard. So… not like snow in the least.

She picked up her manual, wiping off the grey smudges with her sleeve, and started flipping through the pages. After comparing some schematics and glancing at the capsule a few times, she set to work.

The capsule had started its life with smooth composite shielding and a slick design that had immediately been shredded apart like tissue paper once the thing had been activated. Now, it was a mess of pipes and wires and inner workings jumbled together in a mess that shouldn’t really be working. There were brass cogs she had installed and pressure tanks strapped on haphazardly. For all the technical sophistication and achievement it represented, the thing was a mess. But it was her mess. And it had gotten her this far.

Almost time to call it quits. Almost. Just a small bit of work first.

She climbed onto the side of the capsule, which she noticed was covered in patches of ice that were actually on fire, and began to pry some of the components off. The work was hard, but she persisted. She was tired, hadn’t slept since… no use in counting now. She was sweaty, her suit was heavy and cumbersome, and she was pretty sure that she was the last person in the universe right now. Nobody would ever notice if she just stopped and took a break. Or just let it all go.

Nobody but you, babycakes.

She could live with the disappointment of failure. It’s not like she’d be alive for a whole lot longer.

That’s all fine and dandy, but that’s not who you are. You’re better than that.

The destroyer of the universe. That’s what she was.

Maybe true, but also the only one that can fix it.

She pried loose a large metal beam and reached shoulder deep into the capsule. Her fingers found it, the heart of the machine. It came free of the wires with a quick yank and she lowered herself to the ground with the small black orb in her hand. The warmth came through her glove, as she knew it would. It was the radiation she felt coming off of it.

The exact spot she had calculated was maybe a hundred meters away. She already knew which house it would be in. The hole in the universe that only she could plug. Or maybe it would just start a new universe where they could all make the same mistakes over again and this was some sort of cosmic loop. Who knows anymore? Who cares?

Like always, his voice crept into her mind. The voice of reason, he would say. The voice of annoyance, she thought.

You think you’ve given up on people. It’d be easier that way, sure as hell. But you need people. Maybe not a lot. Maybe only one close one. But alone ain’t no way to go about life.

And she had thought he was just some dumb hick. That he didn’t know what he was talking about. Of course, that didn’t stop him from talking.

Takes two to tango, babycakes.

Alright. They had spoken to each other for hours. Talked until the fire died and the sun came up. And as different as they were… they clicked. It was a conversation that changed her life. Made her reassess who she was and what she was capable of.

Sometimes, all you need is just for somebody to believe in you. And you got that now.

The orb in her hand grew hot as she approached the house. She tried the front door, but it was locked. Of course it was locked. Why couldn’t just one thing go easy?

You got this, babe.

She smiled. On the dying edge of a universe dissolving into oblivion, she smiled. Someone, somewhere, at some point in the past or future had absolute confidence in her. She could do anything. She could save the universe. She knew that no matter how much space and time separated them, she would always cherish the gift he’d given her that one exquisite night.

Yeah. I got this.

Per the challenge, this story was inspired by the sentence by Ashley Kidd

“She knew that no matter how much space and time separated them, she would always cherish the gift he’d given her that one exquisite night.”