Experience Your Life

May 12, 2017

“No, sir, everything’s been tested thoroughly. Let me explain how it works.”

The Nhanced Awareness clinic was clean and highlighted in comforting greys and blues, with each of the clinicians wearing smart, fitted lab frocks with the Nhance logo emblazoned over their hearts. An example of the device itself, a strange collar looking device with several spines protruding toward its center like a medieval torture device but in medical-grade plastics and platinum alloys, was suspended in a glass case in the center of the waiting room. Around it were hung posters of people enjoying the interface of the device suspended in the air infront of them, a layer of communications and news gently enhancing their everyday life.

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From Each Their Ability

September 2, 2016

A plasma spark between my fingers is the first element of the ritual that brings me relief. Then the slow, heavy inhale, the smell of rich pine tar mixed with burning sugar and cinnamon. Now the exhale, the thick black smoke that hangs rudderless in the air above me, waiting for the wind to take it away. Away with the ghosts of the pain in my joints, in my limbs.

The smoke thinned out into a weaving path over the evergreens studding the side of the mountain I was coming down. Like a dark spirit twisting and twining around the trees, searching for a home or hovel to hide in, it wove its way down toward Ikthardan. It’s a small town with no more than a few buildings other than the tall peaked wooden homes common in the Gertan mountains.

This was the last evening of a two week hike through the mountains to come to the town. They had summoned me, asking that I come as soon as I could. I was the closest of my order, and they needed our help before another new moon came and went.

I followed the river of smoke to the large longhouse that stood in the middle of the town, raised up on great oak risers and adorned with the hammers, mizran, and runes of the Order of Law. I rapped twice with my gloved hand and breathed deep, slowly exhaling. Townsfolk can sometimes be trying on my nerves.

A simple boy opened the door, unadorned by anything other than the light tunic and slacks, emblazoned with the small shield of Ikthardan. “Sir? Welcome to Ikthardan, what is your business with the Master of the House?”

I smiled, relieved. Young men are easier than stuffy majordomos or councilors. “I am Vala, I come as I was called. Speak to the Justicar, he will know of me.” I then reached out to him with my mechan hand, holding the forty-link badge of my order. “The Dranchae have come as we have been asked.”

The boy’s eyes widened and he dashed away, yelling for someone named Rozath. Probably the Justicar, the speaker for the Order of Law. The returning footfalls came with a large, barrel-chested man with a thick, braided beard and tightly coiled hair. He was, indeed, wearing a long tabard emblazoned with the mizran of the Law.

“Welcome, Valaryatha. I am Rozath, of the Claeve of Justicars, Lawbringer to this land and servent of the Silver Legions and enforcer of the Mizran, the Laws of the Righteous. We are in grave need of your help, dhallma.”

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.

Click.

Swish.

Snap.

 

A personal story

August 20, 2014

It was four AM again.

“I am…awake.” I don’t know who I was talking to. I knew I was awake. No one else was there. I stared at the ceiling fan, spinning lazily so as not to shake itself completely from its mooring in the ceiling. So it did not descend on me like a vicious dervish of dust and mechanical fury. I listened to the small insects outside, coordinating with each other to reproduce and eat before their short lives were swept into the sands of time. I marveled at the unique qualities of the air around me – it wasn’t hot but it was definitely too warm, the air felt dry but a peculiar kind of dry that made my skin prick and crawl slowly.

It was four AM again and I was spinning my limbs slowly against the strange, cooler pools on the sheet of my bed, hoping to find a momentary comfort while I talked to myself.

“Ugh.” Normally, I think, I’m pretty witty. But at four AM, while I’m in a kind of mild buzzing pain – not horrid compared to what I’m used to, to be sure, but bad enough to keep me awake – and in a distinctly uncomfortable state that is almost impossible to describe I lose almost all semblance of authority or majesty. “It’s too fucking hot.”

Granted, that assertion is not necessarily true. If it wasn’t so dry, or if I wasn’t always in pain, or if I were more high or more drunk or more something I probably wouldn’t notice. I would just sleep. Instead, like most nights, I was haunted by the shimmering, friendly specter of insomnia.

Insomnia was like an old girlfriend to me. Insomnia is like an old girlfriend to me. We know each other really well and when she visits I feel compelled to catch up with her but, honestly, my life would be easier if I didn’t have to see her again. She has her own life, I have my own life, it doesn’t help either of us to keep meeting and “catching up” as if we’re comparing scores to see who got the better of the breakup in high school.

It was four AM, I couldn’t sleep, and I was uncomfortable. As if on cue, my body started to sing the sweet symphony of stinging and burning pain that reminded me, constantly, that I am both a broken human being and probably a liar. It starts in my toes and knuckles, accompanied by a deep, wrenching throbbing in my lumbar region. It crawls slowly up my arms with tiny, shuddering cramps that felt as if my bones were twisting and trying to dance. The pain in my back, meanwhile, began to be replicated in my legs with on-beat and perfectly off-beat pinching and grinding. I could forestall some of this when I cracked my joints but it was only a temporary measure.

Within moments, my body was a study in pain and discomfort.

I’m not sure, exactly, how I located my pot in the darkness without my glasses on. It doesn’t much matter, really. What does matter is that a deep inhale of the chemicals swirling out of the cannabis freed me. The pain dulled, my mind cleared, my skin stopped crawling.

Soon, it was six AM. It was six AM and I was falling asleep.

Tonight, I finally won. Maybe tomorrow I won’t even have to fight, if I’m lucky.

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.”

The wind sounded mournful as it flew gracefully over the dunes and hills that made up the four miles of territory I had come to call home in the last five years. I had come here from far across the desert, from a town that still had a single, lonesome tower staring out into the darkness. Waiting and watching for the first rays of sunlight and dreading the coming cloak of night for generations. Thousands of eyes have lived and died in that tower, keeping watch so that the horrors of our world can be kept safely at bay. A tower that houses the relics of a bygone age. Gleaming steel swords. Armor made hard and fast. Shields of boughs bent to shape and sheathed in iron and leather. Relics left to be oiled by the eyes that watch now. Eyes that see the old ways and their safety but must watch, vigilant, on the new ways. On the Scourge that eats the steel, that brings diaphanous destruction where it goes.

A soft flutter, of wings beating against the wind determined to find somewhere safe from the dust and dirt, is all that it takes to alert the town to fear. That one little thing, creeping and crawling toward safety, eats steel and bone. Consumes all that it can touch with little exception. The worst of it, though, is when the damn things die. They break into a powder so fine that it seeps through denim masks, a powder that with just the right spark turns into a raging inferno in the blink of an eye. A powder that turned lush forests, rolling green hills, and verdant farmland into a desert of pain, misery, and fear.

Scrub grows now, and cacti. New plants, some engineered by alchemists and some that were here but didn’t have a purchase, didn’t have a way to get what they needed. Not until the fire burnt down all around them but left them standing. Uniquely built by the hand of fate, by the accidents of struggle and power, to withstand such intense fire.

From one of these mighty survivors, the towering trees that most call bloodwood around my little stretch of prairie, a man came down. I knew he was there. He let me know, subtly, several days ago. His name was Enrique Salvador. Most around here knew him as Abbot, though, or El Cazador. He finds initiates for the Marshals and brings them here, to the four miles of dirt and dust I call home now so that they can learn.

He climbed down slowly but carefully, not letting me see where the handholds were or where the traps were. This was his house and I was simply visiting. I heard him land with the soft whisper of well oiled leather and stilled iron. He sauntered over to me with the slow deliberation of a teacher, heavy with wisdom dewing on his tongue. He tossed me a flask, an old glass hip flask full of the damn near lethal stuff he called whiskey, and he sat down across from me by my cold fire.

A single flash, no more than a star blinking on then off in the haze of the distant sky, and he exhaled a single playful twister of smoke into the old fire pit. His fingers wove a jig for it, mixing it around to the silent waltz he heard somewhere in his mind.

“When you were a child…” His voice was old and cracked, like the leather he wore, but was measured. His tone even and thoughtful. “You learned of the gods and heroes, yes?”

The question hung in the air, pregnant like the moon. Full of possibility. Full of impertinence and childhood. Full of mistakes.

“Yeah.” I am not, as they say, good with words.

He nodded slowly and took a long drag, letting each syllable of his next sentence spin and sidle with smoke. “And what did you learn from those stories?”

I grunted, we’d done this before. We’ve had this conversation. “The big things, the things that make me, that make us, what and who we are. Honor. Bravery. Compassion. Dedication.”

He nodded thoughtfully. It was the same answer. We both knew. Word for word, pause for pause. Even the grunt was as tired as my boots.

“And when you were older…” More smoke, hanging in the air, writing out the script again. He knew what I would say. “You heard the stories again, yes? What about then?”

I sighed long and low. I let the silence fill between us again, let us both bask in the middle times, those times before the story got along to be getting along. “I learned context. Nuance. I learned that to be brave it sometimes takes sacrifice. I learned that to be wise it sometimes takes making mistakes. I learned that to have honor is to sometimes do something you never thought you’d have to do. It’s takin’ life one thing at a time and doin’ your best. Regardless of what the gods think of what you’re doin’.”

He nodded, an old sage nod like he knew the secrets of the words now that he’s heard them three hundred times. “Do you remember when you came here?”

Now this was new. Something I wasn’t expecting, not in a hundred thousand years. I shook my head, “’Course I do, you damn near killed me!”

He smiled, a knowing smile. “What did we damn near kill you with?”

I looked at him, bug eyes, from across the camp. “That big damn gun up in that keep of yours! Damn near took my head clean off and it was aiming at my hips! Killed my horse with fright, it did.”

He stood up, snapping his cigarette out, and tossed a package in front of me. “We are here to teach you something new. Things have changed.”

I unwrapped it slowly and there, in well oiled leather with a string of rounds, was my very own nine shot, single action revolver. The Big Iron. The thing that made you a Marshal.

“I’m gonna learn the creed?”

He chuckled and shook his head. “No, something more important. Something bigger than the big things.”

I looked at him as I belted the gun on. It felt good on my hip, already resting just right where I liked it. “What’s more important than somethin’ that big?”

He offered me a cigarette and took a drink. I whispered and my fingers danced, a spring of fire welling up between two of my fingers and setting the weed alight. “Nuance, Maria, nuance.”

With that he stalked off into the darkness.

Whispers From The Past

January 17, 2014

Keton jumped over the low wall and sprinted quickly across the barren courtyard. Wreckage of the Old World littered the place – too dangerous yet, it seems, for any of the Folk to retake it. He could smell his charge inside though – ink and paper books, still at least partially intact, despite centuries of languish.

He skipped over a bench, almost rolled into a ball, with some kind of message woven into iron fibers that it had once been made from. Some message in Latin. It was hard to read, with only the “EST” still visible on the outside of the mass. Respecting the warning, he unbuckled the grip for his aether emitter, a glove-like device that was used not just to project certain tools useful for spelunking in the ruins of the Old World but also for defending himself against the many threats that live in the ruins and feed and unwary travelers.

A Librarian, however, was no unwary traveler.

Keton crept along the outside of a massive building he had followed the trail of books too. Both the smell of binding resin on the wind, faint but enough to track, and the subtle comfort of the books themselves. He could feel the resonant song of the knowledge contained within them, that special talent that selected the Librarians from all other Folk. Taking care to not get lost in the ecstatic song, he carefully pushed the doors open with his right hand, left hand slipping into the aether emitter and pressing the lock combination. The bonds quietly folded around his arm, locking into place like a gauntlet of brass and light. He quickly tapped in another code on the buttons, lighting up the nodes on the gauntlet like a torch. He raised his hand, fingers extended so the light filtered throughout the room. Illuminating rows and rows of rotten but only just books.

A treasure beyond imagining, a wealth of information of the Old World waiting to be reconstructed. Recorded. Preserved.

He sprung into action immediately, whipping a brown leather messenger’s bag to his feet and pulling out a contraption of arms and plates, filled with tiny intricate clockwork and a thrumming aether engine, whirring and spitting tiny jets of steam. He then pulled out a bottle from within the bag, a strange shaped bottle filled with the cleanest water, and poured it into the machine’s fuel port and stepped back, letting the strange machine unfold until it seemed like an open book, two big copper plates with a spine joining them, with several spider-like arms that ended with various aether tools specialized in the reconstruction and recording of the printed word.

He quickly set about carefully moving the less decayed works to the desk he had set the machine up on and stacked them near a large, padded claw on the back of the machine. It slowly grabbed on book at a time and the arms went into motion. They peeled away filth and brushed away dust. They spun with light and flashes of lightning, carefully restructuring the broken chemical bonds that were once pages and ink. Then a large lens would scan each page in less than a second while the other arms continued their work on the next page. Each book was placed back on the desk looking as it did when the library first received it, carefully recorded into the machine’s internal aether matrix.

Keton grew more and more excited the more books he saw placed down. All were medical texts, ancient troves of knowledge that the Clerics of Forest Paths would pay dearly for. That may save people and bring him both glory and recognition in the Order of the Sheltered Bower.

He dreamed of sheltered promenades, a house in the High Hills, his own private library. Perhaps even an apprentice, a Secretary. He might even be made a full brother of the Order. A true Librarian, not just a Master of Acquisition.

The machine worked faster and faster, hitting a certain stride as it adjusted to deal with the images filling each of the pages. The books were from a later period as well, printed on high-reflection glossy paper, filled with bright colors and vivid images. It seemed wasteful to Keton as he flipped through one of the finished tomes. They left wide, bright white margins and took up entire pages with unnecessary images of men and women at sport or at play.

Flipping through the books and daydreaming let Keton forget the first rule of being a Master of Acquisition, however – The Library is not the only place that hungers for knowledge and feeds upon books. Be ware, be warned, be alert.

Unfortunately for Keton, he never saw the bookworm until it was too late, his fingers frantically stammering on the keypad of his aether emitter for his blade before finally going still.

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