I have a real fondness for this story, just because I personally love the high concept of it. (Well, I mean, obviously I like the ideas in my stories or I wouldn't have written about them, but I particularly like this one.) It's an older tale and is definitely on the highest number of "almost but not quite" responses I've gotten for any story. (I haven't crunched the numbers, but I know it's up there, if not actual top dog.) I'm not going to talk more about it so as to avoid thpoilerth. ;-)
- You know how you said yesterday that his tongue was like sandpaper?
Did I say that?
- I believe you did, Burt.
Well, and it's true, now I come to think of it.
- It might well be, but as it happens, your cat was behind you at the time. I could see him because I was standing facing you, like I am now. He seemed... interested.
Interested how, Dave?
- Well, to be blunt, Burt, my belt sander is missing.
Changing the topic, Dave?
- Not at all, Burt. And it seems someone was trying some amateur carpentry in your backyard. Looked like a rough ladder to the bird feeder. Or half of one. Not coincidentally, your cat is behind you again today. I'm sure you can hear the belt sander warming up.
The cat's belt sander?
- My belt sander, Burt. Let's be clear. To return to the topic: your cat.
What about him?
- He looks angry, Burt. Mighty angry. You might want to skedaddle.
I don't follow, Dave.
- I'm saying, Burt, that he looks about as angry as a cat with splinters in his tongue.
"I do not understand aesthetic concerns about disfigurement," said Hawkins, sawing diligently. Flecks of red spattered his chin. "By definition, scars are something imposed upon you, something you had no control over. Why be ashamed of them?"
"Yet is it not so," the demon answered from its perch on the Tivo box, "that one's will exerts influence upon the universe, and so anything you receive is your responsibility in the end, regardless of its source?"
"That's true." Hawkins set down the saw and leaned forward. His new knees bent the wrong way. He dropped to all fours, smiling. "That's very true."
Bobby ignored the paparazzi and pulled his ratty blue bathrobe closed. His mismatched slippers flapped on the sidewalk. Flashbulbs went off with a machine-gun chatter. Bobby opened his mailbox and dumped the fan letters onto the pile of overflow. He retrieved his Lego collector's catalog and turned back to the house.
"Mr. Woodson! Please!" The cries were growing frantic as they began to realize he wouldn't speak today. Bobby slammed the door behind him.
The genie was hovering over the kitchen table with a smug expression. Bobby narrowed his eyes. "Don't even start," he warned.
They pass the dead forward. He slathers mortar down and adds them to the wall.
He doesn't mind the work. He knows it is necessary. Dimly, through the cracks, he can see another walled city scudding on the cold winds. But today it does not draw near to smash and crash, breaking the dead of both away to oblivion. Such things happen, too regularly to be only chance.
There are always more of the dead. Sometimes the wind blows hard or fester-demons come to pound on the shell and the walls grow thin. Other times he must push the wall out himself and listen to the dead outside fall away, their sacrifice wasted.
Somewhere far away, somewhere so distant that it might as well be a different country, his cousins and fellow citizens work to keep the city alive, work to build the ships that will carry the exploratory teams outward, perhaps to found new cities where they land.
He smears another layer of mortar. His joints creak. Soon he will climb up and sink into the mortar, join his wall and protect the city himself. But not today.
Today, they pass the dead forward, and he adds them to the wall.
There will be short stories and very short stories. The short stories will be from 1000 words up and will be rare. The very short stories are what I'm calling flitterfics. They will be posted whenever I have a chance, hopefully at least twice a week.
All material is under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Write your own, paint a picture, sing a song; just link back to me at some point and we're solid.