October 4, 2014
This once appeared on The Limitless, an online magazine, that has (it appears) since gone defunct. So I’m putting it here again so everyone can read it.
This is Us.
He’s never who you think he would be.
He was young, well youngish. Maybe late twenties. Perhaps early thirties. Not tall, not fat, not thin, not short, he was quite average overall. A bit of a paunch hanging over layered muscles, quiet business clothes poorly kept.
He had grown up apart from most. Good at math, good with words, did well in the Arts, the Humanities, the Sciences. Enjoyed English, studied history. Never had any friends though; when he would try to interact with others, whether peers or adults, he was always too visceral. Too intense. Too loud, too insistent, too focused. Many saw him and distrusted him; they all thought he was like a robot wearing a skin suit.
He went to a local college, didn’t follow his dream. People like him could never be successful dreamers, only forgotten dreamers. Instead he became an accountant, a numbers man, and was good at it. Enjoyed it. He would offer to do anyone’s numbers, to help them and to secure that desperately wanted social interaction. Such desperation lead him to the wrong groups, the wrong people. He fell in with tough “friends”, friends who taught him how to fight, how to argue, how to lead.
Now he worked with these friends. They ran a halfway successful boxing clinic to hide the thuggery of their day to day operations. He did their numbers. Some liked him. Some feared him. All respected him, and that is all he could want. He always arrives in the same way he leaves; black leather messenger bag, loosely resting in the small of his back, containing small laptop, power cable , cell phone, cell phone cable, two black pens, a blue pen, a red pen, a yellow college-ruled legal pad, small bottle of unsorted medications, all hidden under his business jacket. He didn’t need to hide it under his jacket but he did.
He had taken the bus home that day, as he always did. Two buses, one west three blocks, the other north four and a half. From there he had to walk another half-block north, as the bus turned. While this bothered him, it was of no consequence. That day was particularly jarring for him, with them sounds around him haunting him, following him. They hit hit him in waves of cacophony, unsettling him as the ocean throws a swimmer from his wave. When he walked off the bus he reached down to his belt, a small leather case with a metal clasp, and felt the edges of a balisong, a butterfly knife, through the casing. It was one of his small comforts.
The balisong was a gift from his boss. It reminded him of a yoyo he had owned as a child. A way of metering the world, a metronome for his thoughts. There was the click of it rolling off of his fingers, the swish of it falling, and the snap as it returned to his hand. Click, swish, snap. Just the tiniest bit of pain to solidify it for him, to make the object real. The balisong was like that. The click of the hinge opening, the swish of the knife sweeping open, the snap of it coming together just after his fingers glide out of the way. Click, swish, snap.
The knife was how he came to be feared, even respected, among his compatriots. While he was an accountant, whenever other boxing clubs had tried to rough him up, they had found that he was deadly with the small knife. Two men were hospitalized for one of these encounters.
He walked down the road toward his home, buildings looming above him, seeming to judge him. Everything seemed to warp toward him, as if being pulled toward him. A road became a cave, every wall pouring over him like falling glasses full of the darkest ink. Set apart was one electrical box, brazenly displaying itself like a man puffing his chest. Proudly labeled with a sticker, right across the front, the box inquired, “Do we really know what we think we know?” The balisong was in his hand, he knew not how it got there. Only that the click, swish, snap was keeping him level.
He was opening the door to his apartment, left handed, but this was awkward. He was normally right handed but, currently, his right hand was occupied. The knife danced over it, entrancing but, ultimately, ignored. It was his metronome for now, whispering the soft “click, swish, snap.”
His TV was on. He was inside. He was unsure as to how or why this happened. He was cooking dinner. In the background was the knife. Opening. Closing. Click…swish…snap.
Half eaten, his dinner has cooled near him. The knife is fevered now. Clickswishsnap, as if one word, and the man on the TV is leering to him, leaning over. He says, “You can do it. We can help.”
The phone is clicking onto the base, an old phone. Rotary. The knife blazes around his hand like steel turned to light. The sound is indefinable now, almost an emotion rather than a physical thing. He had heard their voice, the phone number from the sticker (was there a phone number?) they can help him (did they say that?). They knew everything (they did say that). He told them he saw it, the reasons behind everything (he’s always known the reasons, why the music hates him, why the building crush him). He told them that he was being followed (they follow him every day). He told them he has the answer (the only answer). They did not listen.
But he knew. He knew now. He could stop the evil inside of him, he just had to remove it. Excise it. Like his numbers. Slowly he lay down, and he cleared his mind. Readying himself.
May 30, 2014
A friend challenged me with writing a story with this title. This is what I wrote out in the half hour or so that followed.
The rain had been coming for three days and three nights, joined by parties of thunder and the soft music of wind through the city. Sorba stood facing the northern stretch of the valley, watching the great river swell and bloat while he ate simple grain cakes and drank only water. Woven between the drops of water came an errant ribbon of smoke tinged with the sickly sweet touch of roasted flesh. It was a smell that haunted Sorba and, in turn, haunted those below him in the ever-living city.
“The price is paid, man-thing.” The creature behind Sorba, who had worked tirelessly in his empty stone room, far above the ever-living city, turned back toward an empty black cask. It yawned outward, seemingly trying to eat all that was in the room, all that was in the world, and trap it within its blackened oak-planked domain. Cut into the oak were marks that were deliberate but unknowable, written in a language that was never real using a name that had never been said and written by a hand that couldn’t know.
“Did you hear me, man-thing? The price is paid. You may go.” The creature stalked around his small room, kicking what remained of those who had come before Sorba. Their bones were peeled and parted, split and sundered. The air was thick with their sorrow. Sown with their suffering and screams. Screams that had become hollow and meaningless. Sorba could no longer hear their voices. No longer could he see their names or faces in his mind. So he wept, his tears pouring down his face, spilling over his chin, and flooding the great, gorging ganges.
“Man-thing! You try Assarock’s patience! Begone from this holy site!” The creature rolled its shoulders and snapped its tail across the stones. The cackle was electric, as lightning skittering across the holy river. Another bone snapped beneath its great blackened nails. When it exhaled, the water fallen from the sky escaped and screamed. Great clouds of steam fled from it, seeking the pure embrace of oblivion. It growled in a way that no man could hear, no man could stomach. Its hands reached out for the seated man sitting in the rain. Crying and watching the great river swell and roll.
“Nothing stops me from feeding upon you, man-thing!” Sorba’s body was wracked with pain and fatigue but still he stared out at the great river. He opened his mouth and his body shook and shattered in fear. From deep in him his breath exploded, rolling out of his throat with the force of an explosive fire. There were whispers of sound and meaning deep within his breast but when they touched his teeth, they became numb and hollow. He soundlessly called out to the river, the great artery which his tears fed ever-flowing.
“As I have consumed completely those who have come before you, man-thing, I shall feed upon you! I shall eat upon your flesh! I shall gnash upon your heart! I shall chew upon your name! I shall crunch upon your memory! You will be forgotten! You will become as I am, hidden upon the names of men and unknown under the holy sun! Your violation of this holy place cannot abide the fierce Assarock!” The creature shuddered and shook, rippled as a pond angered by the impetuous youth who strike upon its surface. The names of gods and monsters piled upon the beast’s shoulders and gave it authority. The unspeakable strength of natural rite, the unknowable force of an order that knows both evil and good. As Assarock was created to Feast, it would Feast indeed.
Sorba looked up into the sky and spoke only once. “Look upon the river, Assarock. Even now it sweeps us up, it frees us from the bond of your forgetting. You have erased he gods and monsters. You have erased the pain and suffering. You have erased war and famine. But so great was your ego that you have now, in the eating of my own name, erased the last thing that fed your power in this world.”
The creature screamed and gnashed and fought. “Man-thing! Speak unto me the names of your fathers! Tell me why does your blood taste of poison and your flesh taste of deception! Tell unto me why your name tastes of dust and your memories taste of desolation?!” The creature fell to its knees. The weight upon its shoulders lifted, evaporating into the air. The stones around it grew cold and dry. It became dead and hollow inside its holy place. The man, his name forgotten, fell to the dust and collapsed. The stones beneath him grew cold and grey. Already sprouting from his body were the soft flowers and buds that would become the arms of the Dark Mother welcoming the body of her children to her last embrace.
“Speak man-child! By what name were your fathers invoked!”
The dead man’s blackened face and ashen eyes turned to the creature, slowly falling into deeper horrors than the even the creature could see. “We have forgotten.”
February 4, 2014
The wind whipped through my hair and coursed down my body in a way that I haven’t felt in years.
My hair danced madly, joyfully, and I couldn’t help but smile. When I stopped running, when I stopped being able to move with comfort, I lost the ability to let my hair dance and twist like this. I lost the feeling of the air caressing me, flirting with me, teasing me and pushing me as it tries to hold on to me. I flexed my fingers, rotated my arms slowly as the wind carried them. I closed my eyes and reveled in it.
It was a cold, biting kind of happiness. That feeling of flying, that feeling of escaping and finding joy in release. Joy in liberation.
Today was like any other day, granted. As it had been for years. Today had started with pain and sorrow, with stiffness and dreariness. I had looked upon my work as if it were foreign, constructed out of pieces I knew should fit together but I had no idea how. I stared out at the faces of those who knew me, who cared for me, and I saw them flinch before they smiled. They knew but they could hardly see. It pained them too much to know me, to see me, to watch me struggle at being who I was and yet falling short, collapsing, being hobbled by the very nature of my body.
I used to run, to swim, to fight, to love, to write, to sing. Now I sit, most days, and I wait. I struggle with placing simple competence in what I am able to do. I struggle with standing up, with clothing myself, and with crossing a room here or there to do simple things, basic things. I spend my days managing my pain and wondering when I forgot how to do things that used to come second nature to me, that used to dance at the ends of my fingertips without needing a second thought on how to do them. What they are. How they work.
Today, though, I found way to fly. To seek freedom, to seek liberation. That feeling of speed, that feeling of the wind coursing around me and propelling me forward while trying, futilely, to hold me back. Nothing could stop my escape. Not the pain I was in every day. Not my inability to be who I wanted or do what I wanted. Not the burden I placed on those who loved me, those who cared for me, those who looked at me with a mixture of frustration, affection, and pity. Not my decaying thoughts, plagued constantly by pitfalls and flaws that keep me from being anything more than a constant thing to fuss over, a child with adult impulses, a sick and fearful body cowering in fear of trying to do anything but putter on without challenge.
Today, I found a way to fly. Perhaps I’ll fly only once but, for now, until this ends, I have freedom. And, if it is the first and last time I can fly then, well, I’ll find a different kind of freedom when I land.
July 31, 2013
Mist clung to the floor of the world in thick, roping strands. It slithered through the trees, spilled across the meadows, and poured down the hills toward the gullies and rivers that filled then Ten Gorges. Bridges, lit by great torches and defended by ancient guard towers, seemed ablaze in the mist. Towns and villages lived between the distorted bonfires of the bridges, seemingly resting in torpor in the night. Occasionally the gorges themselves would sigh with the rush of the rivers that spawned them, blowing new bursts of mist into the air like silent whales, dissipating into space before they could crash back into the silver sea beneath them.
Smoke sat in one of the trees above the gorges and watched this war of light against the silent encroachment of water on the people of the Gorges. He listened as the animals of the forests and glades glided gently through the rivers of mist along the ground, finding food and shelter with blind precision. He smelled the wet yet fresh air, enjoying the feeling of life coursing through the very scent of mist and rushing water. He readjusted his silk robes and snapped his fingers, reigniting the tall silver pipe that sat with him in the tree, and inhaled deeply of the fragrant pipeweed’s smoke. Exhaling with a sigh and settling against the tree, he started to count the trees once again. Fate, it seemed, was patient.
Smoke had sat in this tree for two years, twelve months, and twenty seven days. He was sent here by the Glorious Magnate of The Moon’s Wisdom and his consort, the Seven Thundering Methods of the Sun’s Radiance. The Way of Changing had said to them that Smoke was needed to find a hero here, a hero that would put to rest an ancient enemy of the living upon the face of Galariel. He had crossed six continents and four seas to get to this tree, and had to learn the young and vainglorious tongue that was spoken in the Ten Gorges to find this forest, and find this tree, so that he might wait. Somewhere, north of his tree, was an old castle with an older order of knights who spoke a tongue even older still. There, a young woman had sought refuge and was about to emerge a hero. Then she would come through this forest, to the Ten Gorges, to help them with a problem only the Grey Paladins could handle. Here, Smoke would see her and offer his assistance, as the Way of Changing had instructed him to.
While Smoke treasured the Way of Changing for its uncounted wisdoms and impeccable accuracy on events, he was frustrated beyond this by how the Way of Changing seemed to have no concept of time. Luckily, however, he had befriended a young druid who sometimes came this way. She was sweet and sometimes brought him food, as well as entertainment. While he did not require either one of these things, being a master of the Timeless Body Methods, it was a wonderful diversion from waiting in a tree for a hero that he was merely a sidekick to.
“When you were a child, Smoke, you said to yourself that to serve in heaven is superior to living and dying a short and terrible life under the rule of the Khan of the Towering Fires. Perhaps that was true those three hundred years ago, but here you are, serving Heaven, and they ask you to sit in a tree like a squirrel, in a land of people who the Khans thought barbarians, waiting for one of these people to come save the world. Perhaps, though, we will be found in the Book of Changes when this is over. Then we will no longer be servants, we will instead be functionaries. With our own house and our own name again.”
Three hundred years of serving Heaven does not always leave one in the most stable of states. This is why Smoke waits, still, the coming of the Grey Paladin. A hero to save the world and, perhaps if he’s lucky, an old man trapped inside the body of a young monk.
The days come, the nights follow, and the world turns again.
July 15, 2012
So this is getting placed in the middle of NFTAP2 to establish a history for a few things I want to work with later. This isn’t the only large scale edit I’m going to be doing to NFTAP2.
So, here we go!
July 3, 2012
Here’s some more work for you in my Cattlepunk setting.
Please share my blog with anyone you know who might be interested! I could really use the views and the interaction of some new readers!
June 28, 2012
So, today I’m posting the beginning of the first draft of part 3 of Notes From the Abyss. This one’s a flashback about the thing that caused the Cataclysm and set up the Macguffin that the whole series so far rests on. So.
Anyway. I hope you like it!