Friday, January 28, 2005

Today's Word: Predator

They hobbled, for both had sustained injuries debilitating to their gaits, into the bright sunshine and cold, wintry air. A smell like rotting fish and potatoes made them clamp their mouths shut. Roman pointed to a narrow fissure in the rock. Putrid green steam rose from it in a relentless stream.

"I'll never go back in that place," said Kate. She held one grimy, oil-covered hand over her mouth and nose, trying to ward the smell.

Roman turned back, regarding the low cave from which they had recently come. No less than twenty green-gold eyes peered out of the darkness, watching him, willing him to come back.

"They don't like the light," he said, and wondered briefly if "they" was the correct pronoun. He hadn't actually seen the things chasing them; perhaps it was a single being -- a monster possessing hundreds of independent eye stalks like coarse threads frayed from a bobbin.

"Thank God. I was beginning to think we'd never see the light of day again." Kate picked up a rock, started to throw it into the cave mouth, thought better, and pitched it the opposite direction towards a long, sloping field of heather. It made a dull thump and disappeared.

"Well, on the bright side, at least we know we aren't the dominant predator on this planet."

"How is that a bright side? Human's have always been the dominant predator."

Roman shrugged. "This way we know our place."

Today's Word: Wait

Death comes to those who wait.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Today's Word: Sonorous

Dragons did not shit where they ate, but that was only by virtue of their length. Gorge, servant to her majesty the red dragon Stynaserian during the eighth decade of her life, discovered early in his career that dragon's ate much and shit man-sized mounds.

In fact, it seemed to Gorge, after only three weeks service to his smoldering queen, that his job of chamberlain entailed little more than removing waste from the rear of her cave and delivering food to the front. He spent half of every day just mucking feces, only to spend the second half hunting the great devil's dinner. And he had only taken the job because he thought all dragon's kept treasure and he might steal a bit over time. Only too late did he discover that such tales were wild; what use had dragons for gold or diamonds? Such things were the paltry inventions of man and carried no more worth to a dragon than the mounds at the back of Stynaserian's cave.

This unbearable and altogether unhealthy situation continued for some weeks before the man confronted his dragon master early on the summer solstice when he knew he might catch her drowsy.

"My queen, what boon have I earned for the services I've provided these long weeks?" He asked, trying to make his voice boom, though the cave and Styn's own sonorous breathing seemed to swallow up most of his bluster.

The dragon, her red scales glistening in a slant of sultry sun fallen through the cave mouth, opened her huge eyes and puffed a gout of flame at the floor. Her head -- it was the size of a small fishing vessel -- rose from the floor and she regarded her servant.

"Boon? What boon would you have, little insect? Have I not suffered to smell your man blood day and night without eating you? Is that not boon enough?"

Gorge steeled himself against the fear that now turned his knees to pudding and his bowels to cream.

"No, my queen. It is not enough. I have served well and hard these last days and for nothing save some small scraps of charred meat -- your half-chewed leftovers. A man needs wages in this world, even if a dragon does not. I have shoveled your shit and now I would have payment."

"You smell of shit," said the dragon. But was there a hint of amusment in her voice? Had he gotten through? Engaged her respect for him if only a bit?

Gorge thought so.

"I smell as I do, because I serve you, my queen. Your cave is clean as rain-soaked leaf."

Styn was quiet a moment, then she said, "Go to the river and return when you are clean. Then I shall give you your boon."

Gorge washed in the cold mountain water until every bit of filth had been cleaned away. And when he returned to his mistress he stood before her nude to show that every part of him was washed white.

Stynaserian, the great red dragon of the north, gobbled Gorge down in one swift flick of her neck and snap of her jaws. She did not even bother to chew.

In his first week of serving the dragon queen, Stynaserian, Elbert learned that dragons ate much and shit man-sized mounds.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Today's Word: Topsy-turvy

Jimmy didn't like the way Rob leered when he said the name, as if Rob had spent too many nights just a little too drunk, thinking of Nancy, killing her in his mind as bendy smoke rose about his face.

Rob was no killer, at least Jimmy didn't think so. But tonight, with the jarring and yet soft barroom lights in his eyes, lighting them like two little lanterns in twin lighthouses, Jimmy could see another Rob -- a callous Rob. A Rob who didn't care about office politics, writing his fantasy epic novel or the 50 cent goldfish he had been nursing the last six months. Tonight Rob was all hate. And the look of it made Jimmy's stomach turn topsy-turvy, the way the Ninja had at Six Flags when he was a kid.

Jimmy sipped his beer, belched silently, and said, "What did Nancy do to you that was so damn bad?"

Rob turned those two points of light (like old Bush's thousand points of light -- or had that just been a Dana Carvey skit? -- crystallized into two, piercing needles) upon his old friend. Jimmy shivered. He couldn't help it. There was death there, lurking so close to the brim that Jimmy wondered how Rob's insides kept from shriveling up and turning black.

"She's having my baby," he said, his voice even, his temper calm; and wasn't that worse? Oh, God, how that was worse than anger or malice or seething vehemence.

That even, clear tone turned Jimmy's heart to tar.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Today's Word: Alpo

Twelve angry men chased Hubert through the abandoned warehouse. Small arms fire broke the silence in booming coughs, but Hubert was not hurt, and so he ran on.

Outside the warehouse lay a defunct parking lot, grown through with golden rod and crab grass. Hubert's footfalls upon the cracked macadam were like the thrumming gaffaws of a madman, echoing off the empty buildings and across the very dark bay to the east.

"Stop, Mr. Reese. You've nowhere to run and we are many!" said one of the men behind him , but Hubert ran on.

He ran until his lungs burned, his head throbbed, and the soles of his feet felt tenderized. They caught him -- all twelve of them -- near a small, empty fish camp diner. He stood hunched over, panting, his mouth a wide O. Tendrils of clear spittle hung suspended from his lips like narrow little fingers.

"God, why can't you hosers leave me alone?" asked Hubert when he had breath to speak.

"Because your nation needs you, Mr. Reese, said one of the twelve; the one called Tom. Tom's mother was a lush. She had once left Tom and his older brother in the station wagon while she drank herself loopy in a downtown bar. It had been hot that day, and Tom had passed out. When he awoke, the police was there and Tom's mother was being hauled away by two of them. Tom's brother, Eddie, was being hauled away as well; laid flat on a stretcher, a very white sheet over his face.

"I just want to be alone, Tom."

Tom was nonplussed by the use of his name. He had been working telepath recovery for nine years.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Reese, but that is not possible."

"You're so wrong, Tom."

Hubert pulled a .32 caliber pistol -- a tiny thing really -- from his coat pocket and buried deep in the cleft of his chin. He pulled the trigger, splattering his oh-so-powerful brain, along with not a little bone and blood, across the diner's front window.

"Damn," whispered Tom. He lifted his radio, the one that could only raise Central, and said, "Bear-4, Bear-4, this is Hound-8."

"Hound-8, Bear-4, what's your status," said the tinny voice at the other end.

"Another soup dejour, Bear-4. The bowl is cracked."

A pause, then, "Roger that, Hound-8. Bring the dogs back in for Alpo, over."

"Roger," said Tom, feeling disgusted, as he always did, when a runner offs himself. "You heard him, men. Alpo."

He started back the way they had come, following the telepath, giving no eye contact to the eleven men that came along behind.

Alpo. A hell of a lot of paperwork and bullshit.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Today's Word: Gray

I never been one much for sci-fi. I mean it has its place and all, but I’ve always liked shoot-em-ups and the like when I go to the movies and I don’t read. So telling about this is like picking glass out of your foot, it don’t feel good, but it’s gotta happen.
The beginning was in my backyard; me barefoot, smelling wet grass and dog shit, courtesy of my neighbor who has a bumper sticker that reads: My other boyfriend is a pinscher.
But all that is boring, even to me . It’s just a bunch of lights I hardly remember and running and panting, side cramps and mud. Most of that first part is fuzzy in my head anyhow.
It’s easier to tell after the first part, when they had caught me, and the zookeeper had me hung out over a cliff face with just one hand, like he was freaking Hercules or something.
I should tell you about the zookeeper. That’s what I call him. He’s the one that dealt with me the whole time, though others were around, picking at me here and there, but he was my guide really.
He caught me easy. I had been running awhile, probably a mile and more, which is no small feat considering I don’t like to run unless somebody’s stole my watch or something. But he kept up with me all through the woods just loafing along there behind.
Then he had me, caught by the neck, and dangling over a cliff, those long gray fingers of his digging into my throat. I remember thinking how he wasn’t even breathing hard. I was panting like an old woman climbing stairs, and there was the little gray guy, just looking at me with those flat, black eyes. I couldn’t see my reflection in those eyes, nor the splatter of milky white stars above us. They seemed to suck all that up like tar.
I was having trouble breathing, but that didn’t seem to matter too much, with him holding me out over the edge like that, my bare feet dangling above a sixty foot drop with old tires, a rusted out car, and all kinds of trash at the bottom.
My feet were starting to tingle from and my head felt like it was going to explode. For an instant I imagined my brains all over that gray guy’s face, and I would have laughed if I could have breathed.
The gray guy was like you read about in the magazines. I’ve read a lot about them since it happened to me, but back then it was all new.
His head was big as a pumpkin, gray and hairless. His mouth was just a slit below two pin pricks for a nose and those flat, black eyes. My zookeeper, like all the rest I saw, wore orange pants with a white stripe down the right leg. They were shiny like satin, and though I never once touched them, I imagine they were soft. He didn’t wear a shirt, none that I could make out anyhow. His chest was gray as his face, and unblemished: no bellybutton, no nipples, and hairless.
The gray guy held me there a long time, dangling, before he spoke. He spoke to me, not at me; meaning his mouth didn’t move, and I didn’t hear words, but I knew exactly what he was saying.
He asked me a lot of questions, fast. I don’t remember all of those, mostly just where I was from, what my diet was like, how many females I had mated with at this point in my life. I held on to his tiny little wrist, sucking in as much air as I could, and tried to think back some answers, but there was no way with me hanging out there and him going so fast. So I gave up, and decided that if he tried to drop me, I’d pull him down with me. Wouldn’t that make a great headline: Local man found dead at base of cliff, alien body nearby.
My zookeeper got a flash of that newspaper. I could tell he didn’t like that one damn bit. He pulled me in, still just using the one scrawny arm, and lowered me till my bare feet touched the rocks.
He loosened his fingers, but I held on to his wrist. I squeezed it till I thought surely his hand would pop off. In fact, I thought all kinds of terrible things, like me choking him to death, or taking an axe to his bulbous head, and even me running him over with my car.
Didn’t seem to phase him much. He stared at me a minute and I could feel him working around in my skull. Then my hands just let go his wrist without meaning it. And I stood there, looking at him, looking at me. My hands fell to my sides. Then the lights came back into the sky, much closer, and that was it, I was on their ship.
That’s how things move when the gray guys come around. Time jumps. Sometimes a couple of minutes, sometimes worse.
I was on my back, looking up at blackness where I thought there should be ceiling. The zookeeper bent over me, peering into my eye. That’s all he looked at, my eyes. I never got a probe up the wahzoo like some I‘ve read about. I didn’t. Nobody did anything unnatural or sexual to me. Not ever. I swear. And I wouldn’t admit it if they did anyway. The zookeeper just poked at my eyes, and maybe my chest once or twice, with these little cold-light gadgets. It must not have hurt me. I still see 20/20.
Then he started asking questions again.
Who was your mother? Where was she born? Did she have heart troubles?
I answered, at first, but then it was tiresome. He asked a good many of them over and over. Pretty soon I was saying, go to hell, for every answer.
He didn’t like that.
I stood on a meteor. Now I’m no math whiz and I never liked science so much in high school, but I knew it was going fast and it was headed for a star. It wasn’t getting brighter or anything, we weren’t going that fast, but I could see it out in front of us every time the meteor spun around, like a big white fingerprint smudge on a blacked-out window. The meteor flipped so fast that night and day alternated about every minute or so. First the surface was black. I couldn’t see the zookeeper who stood right next to me. Then it would brighten by degrees, until the whole surface was brighter than daylight back on Earth, and the meteor was a riot of cracks, broken black rocks, and dust.
It wasn’t cold or hot on the meteor. I didn’t feel anything except a little queasy from the constant turning. My zookeeper took my hand in his and we looked off at the star for awhile. It looked like Haley’s Comet, all those years ago when it passed Earth, only no tail.
I felt the zookeeper reaching in and feeling around on the surface of my brain again. It’s like he was sifting out pebbles from sand inside my head. Funny thing was, while he sifted I could see inside his head too.
Hard to explain, that gray guy’s mind. It was like a centipede, I think, all squirming legs moving independent of each other, and then the body wiggling back and forth as well. And it was dirty. Dirty as sticking your hand down in a bowl of shit to fish out a twenty you dropped. In that big, dirty mind of his I was as small as a speck of lint on the Statue of Liberty.
He squeezed my hand when he realized I was in there, hard. Skinny the little gray men might be, but strong as grizzly bears.
Do you want to stay here? said the gray guy. Though he really didn’t say it, just thought it.
You have a will to fight. Fight and stay here. Be good and go home.
Well, that didn’t take a lot of contemplation.
We were back on the ship in an instant. And now there were a lot of others in the room where I had been laying down. They were all gray like my zookeeper. There weren’t any greens, reptiles, humanoids, or any of the other kinds I’ve read about in all the magazines. All the gray guys were of a size, except one who was tall as me. They must not assign station according to height, because it seemed like the tall one was being ordered around by the normal-sized ones. Maybe he was some kind of freak on his planet, and they banished him to serve on the earth expedition ship to get rid of him. Who knows?
These other zookeepers led five humans into my room. They were all men, all naked. I looked down and realized I was naked, but it really didn’t matter I suppose.
I tried to speak to a couple of the men, but my zookeeper gave me a little flash of the spinning meteor and I gave it up. Those guys were like zombies in the horror movies anyway. They didn’t move unless their zookeepers told them too and their eyes were glazed over and funny looking.
All of my zookeeper’s friends wanted to look me over and ask me questions. Several did, and they were all the same.
Who was your first girlfriend? Have you any children? Do you masturbate often? Do you like French vanilla fudge ice cream?
I answered and answered. Pretty soon my mind was tired and my zookeeper told the others to leave, which I thought was nice considering how he had treated me thus far. Once they were all gone he said, You are a strange human being. You can read my thoughts. Do you know why that is?
Do you?, I thought back to him.
No. Your kind are not enough evolved to communicate this way, and yet here you are. Never have we found one like you in all our research. Why is that do you suppose?
No clue.
A shame.
And so then I was in Britain. I knew it was Britain, though I wasn’t sure if it was London or some other big city, because the cars were all on the wrong side of the street, along with all their drivers being on the wrong side of the car. And I was standing next to one of the big, red public phones like you see in movies. Some cop started yelling and shaking a black stick in my face for being barefoot and dressed only in pajamas. Thank God the zookeepers put those back on me.
The story made all the big rags over there. For about a week my picture was splashed right up beside Prince Charles and that lady he humped when he was still married to Diana, back before she got killed in that tunnel by ultra secret SS men. Had something to do with the change from the original German royal name to Windsor. But that’s a different story.

The End

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Today's Word: Dwindling

The money stopped flowing and the prison ran defunct. For well on a year the warden kept his guards working for food, cutting prisoner rations down to 800 calories a day, killing not a few by slow starvation. But, when it came down to the add-lines on the warden's dwindling prison assets manager, such losses were beneficial -- more food for the rest, more time to push off the inevitable.

The warden killed himself in the early summer of 326 A.L. once the food was gone and most of the guards with it. Chaos reigned for some time before a king emerged. Through his noble leadership, the prison population, which had been dwindling under the warden and during the insanity after that one's death, began to grow. As a community, they ventured forth as if from the cradle, seeking arable land. The planet Resoq bloomed and gave forth crop under the former prisoners' coaxing hands. Likewise, did the first true settlers of that famed and tranquil world bear fruit and multiply their numbers, for the king encouraged marriage among the men and women who had once been deemed incorrigible by a far away society on a forgotten planet called Earth.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Today's Word: Smarmy

We looked out upon the gray sea, our hunger such that sand would have seemed a fine meal, but there was no sand, no harbor, nor even lone rocks jutting up from the gentle waves. There was only water, poisoned and cool and the smarmy look of the captain who, we all agreed, had surely horded a hundred day's rations in his sea chest under lock and key.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Today's Word: Unwieldy

The new story grows unwieldy even as I delve into its secret places. The witch is sly but caring, the mother is cruel but in love, the girl is innocent but murderous.

The baker prepares a poison pie. He too shall die.

-- david j.