We count time by the cow. It calls out when it flies by our window. Jack counted his heartbeats once and we worked out it was about an hour between passes. The cow probably needs to be milked. I tried that once, went out in the vortex with my pail, but the winds snatched it away. Have to be careful not to drift into the eye, or you’ll fall back down to the ground.
It’s been a few hundred cows since the tornado picked us up. I wonder if we’ll ever land. I wonder where we’ll be when we do.
“Hey. Hey! Psst.” Ebbers snapped his fingers in front of 1.03-A’s eyes. The youth blinked languidly, but made no response.
“It seems to be a constant no matter what the mix,” said Ricker, punching notes into her palmtop. “Once they reach a certain level of enhancement, they just sit and stare. And lower dosages aren’t significantly different from the effects of a good night’s sleep and an energy drink.”
“The curves… everything flows…”
“Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way,” Ebbers said. “Maybe we should just market it as recreational.”
“Everyone wants to be a genius,” Ricker said thoughtfully.
The small shrine is heaped with new shoelaces. The smell of ozone underlies the musk of rubber and sweat. The acolytes bow and stretch before the shrine each morning as they complete their devotional run.
Beside the shrine is a fat man and a steaming cart. The fat man sells hot dogs, brownies, cookies, and chips. The acolytes curse him in gasping breaths as a servant of the grease-larded Sofa King. They do not see him pack the shrine reverently away each noon, muttering prayers for fortitude so he might continue his work.
Discipline is meaningless without temptation, after all.
She passes along the streets, ministering to her remaining followers. They huddle, soaked and freezing, on corners and under awnings. They do not smile when they see her. She wears a canvas coat with many pockets, and beneath the curtain of her hair is the glowing ember of a cigarette. That flame has never gone out, kissing each new cigarette like a baptism, passed on to one of the faithful to hold until she returns, a trail of fire and ash through the years.
They need her, and they also hate her. She accepts their bitter love and is gone.
No one got it (or if someone did, they didn't tell me about it.) I thought someone might figure it out; mostly I wanted the effect to be accomplished without a frame first because I hate things that have to have a frame to work properly.
If you didn't get it, here's a hint. Hopefully the seven stories slip into place...
Everyone thinks it’s red. Blood red. Fire red. Red flag to a bull.
Rage is white. Pure white. Snow white. White as my beard. White as my bones.
Without the rage, I am nothing, an empty bag of skin to flop on the ground. It is my structure, my core, the drive that keeps me waking up every morning. They try to calm me down, tell me to take it easy. They’re worried it will kill me, the burning white heat.
They’re right, of course.
But the rage is all I have left. Without it, I’m already dead.
So this week I'm going to do another Special Event sort of thing. That is to say, these next seven-ish stories all have a common theme to them. If you guess what it is and e-mail/IM/facebook/whatever the answer to me and you're the first one, then you win... um... a minor favor of some kind. Sure. Ask me to do something for you. Preferably something writing related and that doesn't cost more than a few dollars.
Rampant speculation in the comments is, of course, encouraged, but be careful about giving away your Brilliant Notion. (I actually have no idea how easy it will be to figure this out, in all honesty. Probably hard, but maybe not as hard as I think it might be. I didn't actually design this as a puzzle per se.)
People don’t listen to their bodies. There’s a lot of wisdom in you, wisdom you don’t even know about.
The problem is invaders.
When things come in from the outside and they don’t belong, the body knows. It tries to fight. The crazy part is that then we try to stop it.
I’m not crazy. I listen to my body.
I’ve got the gun in my hands – both hands, for safety – and I’m waiting. Something will come through that door soon, and it won’t belong here. I know; I smelled it coming.
It started when he put the last cardboard box of books onto the stack in the basement, their colorful covers sealed up in brown packing tape. His shoulder itched. When he scratched it, the cloth and skin peeled away like wrapping paper. It stung a little. He walked upstairs, peeling off acne and uncombed hair, ancient jeans and ragged sneakers.
His new friends were waiting for him outside, white teeth sparkling and pleated pants freshly ironed. They waved, and he waved back. Something clung to his heel, and he kicked it away with a moue of disgust. He stepped out.
"Mom! Mom! You won't believe this, me and Joey were down at the creek and-"
"Mikey, what have I told you? 'Joey and I were down at the creek.' Subjects use the subjective case."
"But Mom that stuff's not important right now! You gotta-"
"Not important? Without proper grammar, how would we communicate effectively? If we let the rules slide, then soon no one will know what anyone is talking about. You'd need a dictionary and a phrasebook just to talk to your neighbor."
I had a dream last night. I dreamed of gears and smoke and sharp edges. There was a clanging like the beat of a heart, if a heart were steel and heat and fire and fuel and as big as the world. I saw wheels, and I was above the wheels and beneath the wheels and inside of the wheels, and then the wheels started to turn and I couldn't stop them and oh God the screams...
This morning, I had a wrench in my hands and grease on my sheets. Something is rumbling down in the garage. I'm afraid...
They found the birds before the sun rose in the morning. Harker had his key in the library door when he noticed the first one. Then a second. A third. Six in all.
Little gray birds, lying on the low wall. Not neatly, like a butcher would lay them out. Haphazard. Fallen all at once.
“Like a sacrifice,” Harker said.
“Or an offering,” said the Gollimog.
“Same thing.” Harker unlocked the door and held it open. The Gollimog hopped in, squeezing his moist green bulk through the doorframe.
Harker started reshelving while the Gollimog read the news on the Internet. They had to keep up-to-date in case anyone had questions at the Reference desk. The Gollimog grunted and muttered to himself while he read, but Harker ignored him. Harker didn’t read anything new if he could possibly avoid it. That was why he and the Gollimog worked so well together.
“It’s begun,” the Gollimog announced around mid-morning. Harker barely paused his cart of books. He was getting a lot done with the library so quiet. The Gollimog continued, raising his croaking voice to chase Harker into the 700s, “We should prepare. It’s not going to stop this time.”
“The supplies are in the basement, where they always are,” said Harker.
“I can’t work the doorknobs.”
Harker sighed and set his cart against the wall.
The first refugee arrived twenty minutes later. Harker was wheeling a second cart of bottled water up next to the checkout. The Gollimog was in the basement, wrestling blankets and mattresses with his webbed forefeet and many a dire curse. Their visitor was Mr. Pemblesthwaite, clutching a satchel filled with a random assortment of clothing, a can of pitted olives, and three overdue books.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” said Mr. Pemblesthwaite.
Harker ushered him inside, casting a wary eye at the growing chaos out in the streets. With a strangled cough, a small hawk spiraled out of the sky to land, twitching, on the street. In the distance, sirens howled. Harker smelled smoke and frowned. Fires were dangerous, even with the Gollimog around.
There was no flood of supplicants; barely a trickle. It was a unique sort of soul that, in times of crisis, found itself drawn to the library. Some of them brought supplies. Some of them were injured. All of them brought their overdue books and some choice selections from their own libraries. Outside, the rising storm wailed and thrashed. Inside, Harker carefully sealed the windows and doors while the Gollimog gave rumbling, rambling sermons to his confused and frightened audience. They took comfort from his words. Later, they all had tea. Someone screamed when the lights went out. The Gollimog permitted no flames of any kind inside the library, and flashlights were immediately put on strict rationing to make the batteries last.
Without power or windows, the library was a dark and hushed place, isolated from the outside world. The Gollimog chafed at the lack of a computer and his daily wallow in various newsfeeds, but his own intuition provided a clear enough guide to current events, and he knew it. Harker permitted the indulgence of two hours’ reading aloud by flashlight each evening before bed. The books were selected by lottery, but Harker retained veto privileges.
The water ran out after three weeks. They endured on dregs and squeezings for seven more days, but at last there was no other option. Harker distributed masks and gloves from another of his carefully prepared packages. With some ceremony, he prepared to unseal the front door. The nails creaked as they came out, and there was a thump-thump-rustle as the wood and plastic sheeting stripped away.
Mrs. Offentreacle gasped when the door swung wide and the watery afternoon sun seeped in. The bodies outside lay in rows. Not neatly, like in a funeral parlor. Haphazard. Fallen all at once, in a strange pattern radiating outward from the library.
"Like an offering," said Harker.
"A sacrifice," said the Gollimog.
It took a long time to put things back in the right order, but Harker and the Gollimog were punctilious and thorough in their organizational talents, among their other skills. The Gollimog was most pleased when they finally got the power station running again, even if many of the news sites weren't updating anymore. Function, form, and content were all separate things, he would say, and we must make do with what we can.
Seven months after the first new website updates - the Gollimog's own, cataloguing the new additions to the library's collection and modestly revealing some of the other services they now provided - Harker coughed to gain the Gollimog's attention and pointed out the window. The Gollimog heaved himself up from his screen, peered out, and grunted approvingly. They snapped a photograph and included it in their update: a thin and ragged flock of little gray songbirds.
The rats were silent, which somehow made the whole thing worse. No squeals, no shrieks, just the thrum of hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny pairs of lungs all working at once. The alley reeked with their scent.
"What we need now," said Kristen, kicking at one bold climber, "is a really big cat."
With a sudden blaring of a horn and a halogen-bright flash, the car swerved into the alley. A series of tiny thumps punctuated its arrival. The rats shrieked then, swarming. At the rear, they were already circling back to gnaw at the tires.
The hives stood in neat rows, save for one. A gnarled, twisted thing it was, mottled and curiously textured. Every so often, a bulbous shape would wriggle out and lumber into the air, disappearing into the darkest parts of the forest.
Lorenzo pointed. “What about that one?”
“Keep away from that hive,” said Huber. “Those bees are wrong. They don’t gather from flowers and sunlight, but from rot and thorn and sorrow, and the honey they make is black as tar and reeks like a sewer.”
“Why do you keep them, then?”
Huber shrugged. “They love that stuff in Australia.”
They will call it a tragedy, an accident. My father will, I am sure. He never understood. He didn't really suffer; he was a valuable guest, and you can't truly imprison someone who lives inside their own head. He had paper and wood and glue and that's all he needs.
You can't know what it's like to feel the touch of wind on your face and know that soon you will have to go back, down to the ground, plodding like a beast.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love creates and sustains, and it draws communities together. When people love something, they want to emulate it. Fans love; their love sustains its object; their love inspires them to create. The lawn tractor forums were filled with tips and tricks for landscaping and grass maintenance, and everyone had beautiful lawns. The popular book's forums were filled with fanfiction and amateur story contests, and soon a new crop of authors was flourishing.
Tarantor the Destroyer felt almost guilty about how easy it was after DestroyTheEarth.com went live.
It slid through the traffic like a knife. Other vehicles slid out of the way, muttering to themselves in the language of cars, nudging their drivers to be slow, be silent, and avoid its gaze. They knew, in the manner of animals and gods, what it was, and they wanted no part of it.
The slender limousine, pale as bone, slipped along the road. Its tires made no sound. He was close by, the one it sought, but he was always close by. He would have his death, sooner or later. In the meantime, there was always some to spare...
I have acquired a good-ish pair of headphones with a microphone that doesn't suck. Accordingly, I have downloaded free audio software and recorded myself reading my own writing, thus spiraling ever further into narcissistic self-indulgence.
However, the files are now hosted at Podbean until I run out of space there and embedded here for your enjoyment. I will likely not record every episode; I already spend a half-hour to an hour every day on this stuff, and the record-tweak-upload-embed sequence adds another twenty minutes to that. However, I hereby swear a solemn oath that, if audio is considered a good thing, I will record any episode which achieves 5 or more "Cool!" votes via the handy-dandy little response checkboxes.
Please, speak up in the comments here. Tell me if you like this and if you think I should record more episodes. (Currently recorded and embedded: "The Nature of Wisdom," "After the Fire," Loren's prompt about the Avenger of Blood, Angelo's prompt about the flying snail, and Adrian's prompt about zombie paratroopers.)
Yes, I know about the quality. I had the gain turned up way high. I'll fix that in the future. Maybe one day I'll even get an intro. Anyone know a good free clip of music that fits the tone of Mirrorshards?
They wait, quietly. Five suitcases no one came to retrieve. A jacket and hat folded on the concierge's desk. A set of Mah-Jong tiles trapped in mid-game, unending.
The burned walls were patched where they could be and the rooms sealed where they couldn't. More extensive repairs waited, too, in potentia. There was no help for it. The doors were closed. The spiders and silverfish reclaimed the floor inch by dusty inch.
Only the caretaker remains, keeping the grass trimmed, making what repairs he can, and sleeping every night in a blanket of cobwebs, dreaming of the past.
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.