Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Wheel


David Alan Jones

I am braced by the sound of the wheel turning, its jangle hammering on the soft, early autumn air. With my hands pressed hard into the pockets of my plaid coat, I watch the wheel, spinning in the harsh glare of upright floodlights. It is a monster, filled with monsters, and so it makes a monstrous sound.

Sometime in late summer, no one bothered to mark the date, the fair rolled into town. Center of the freak show stage, the exotic dancers' tent (shaped like a huge, red turban), and the hall of a thousand screams, a group of well-tanned and dirty laborers constructed a massive wheel. It was silver; thick aluminum, about the width of my arm, and the perfect length to accommodate a fifty gallon drum -- the kind you see bums using to contain campfires in the city.

The fair never began. Oh, there was an opening night, but no one rode the carousel, or the bumper cars, or even the flax sack slide which had always been so popular with the children. Everyone was drawn to the wheel; young, old, and hammered. The mayor was there with his wife and kids. Satchel Browne from the firehouse stood nearby. Several boys from the coal mine slouched in a black-stained gaggle near the floodlights.

A geek appeared at the great wheel's base. I say appeared, because he was not and then he was; a lank, thin man in a top hat and tails, his long white hair heavy on his spare shoulders.

"A goodly crowd we have tonight," he said, without benefit of megaphone or loudspeaker. But we all heard him. "My name is Marcus Paid, and this is the wheel of Equipoise."

"How's it work?" asked the Mayor.

Paid smiled – his teeth were crooked, yellow things – and said, "Step close Mr. Mayor, and let me show you."

"Have we met?" said the fat man.

Marcus Paid ignored him.

Two young men, both clad in overalls and nothing else, rolled a fifty gallon drum into the light. It was military green and looked heavy.

"The lid, if you would be so kind, Enos," said Paid.

Enos, the larger of the two men, prised the lid off with a crowbar. Every eye in town was on that drum.
"The wheel isn't a taker, it's a giver," said Paid, addressing the crowd, his eyes like two black spheres in his head.

He lifted a dress out of the drum, and I heard several women near me suck in their breaths. It looked to be silk, or perhaps moleskin, in the gathering darkness. It was purple and gold, its sleeves pricked with pearls, and its long skirts adorned with pleats.

"It was a favored thing, this dress," said Paid, showing those hideous teeth once more. "But the woman who owned this pretty ornament was a sad creature indeed. She had no want for material things, but her heart was empty as a well gone dry. Much like many of you."

Paid's last words hung on the air -- or perhaps on our ears -- creeping round our collective thoughts. And the longer he was silent, the more I knew he was right.

"This dress was her pride. It was the mark of her station -- her place above the masses. While she dined in solemn luxury, her neighbors starved. The day she gave this dress to the wheel, was the day she found true happiness. Now she is light. Now she is the same."

"Sir, I'll have you know we don't allow scams in our town. You may take us for rubes, but we have the might of law on our side," said the Mayor, trying to bluster over Paid's incontrovertible words.

"Give me your ring, Mayor. Put it in the drum. If you don't feel immediately lightened of your high station; if you don't realize in that very instant that we are all the same, then I'll return the ring to you. I'm promising you communion with your fellow man. Or do you think yourself so great compared to the common folk that you won't share in their plight?"

I wasn't sure what "plight" Paid meant, but I felt it all the same. The Mayor was being a stuffed pants bill grubber.

The crowd started to murmur, and the Mayor looked nervous.

"Alright," he said, pulling a thick gold ring off his thick short finger. We all knew that it was an academy ring, but I can't remember which academy. No one does, not even the mayor.

He dropped the ring in the drum and the young men sealed it up with the dress under the watchful eyes of Marcus Paid.

When they hoisted the drum onto the wheel I could hear other things, some metal, some paper, rattling inside. Even then I didn't wonder what those things were. It didn't matter.

With braided horse rope they secured the drum to the inside of the wheel's arching form. When it was done, Marcus Paid pulled a lever on the wheel's base, and the behemoth began to spin.

It was a slow thing, moving the little drum the way an elephant might move a tick on its sagging belly. We watched as the drum rolled up one side, across the upper curve (so like a slate sky), down the other side, and then back near to our humble place on the earth.

When the drum was even again, when it lay with its bottom facing our Mayor, Paid touched his arm and said, "Do you want the ring back, Morty?"

"No, sir," said the Mayor, his voice not so much sound as air seeping from his guts. He whispered something, but none of us could hear.

Paid leaned close, then turned, smiling at the crowd. "He wants to go home and get his bowling ball for the wheel."

We cheered. Our mayor had conquered his vice. It wasn't something anyone said; nothing we discussed later that night over coffee and cake. It just was.

And so the town lined up. Paid had no end of fifty gallon drums, and the wheel seemed like a voracious beast ready to eat up our pride like maggots on infection.

That night I was number thirty in line. I put my lucky quarter and a twenty dollar bill of no significance into an off-white drum. I've never had much to speak of, but money has always been my vice.

Days and weeks have come and gone. The fair is still in town, though it was scheduled to move out just two weeks after it arrived. Everyday we gather at the wheel, watching it turn afternoon into night into morning. It's finally filling up, as our good townsfolk empty out their prideful lives into the wheel's ready circle.

Yesterday the Ingles put their daughter, Maryanne, into a yellow drum. She was sleeping.

A beautiful girl, that Maryanne; her parents' greatest pride. I remember my own mother commenting once how she wished she'd had a little girl so pretty, with long golden hair, dimples, and striking blue eyes. Maryanne cried for quite a few hours, but she's stopped now. I guess those drums are airtight.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Today's Word: Suffer

I was thinking. . .

It's sad when you grow so old that people no longer laugh when you trip and fall. Better to suffer embarrassment than pity.

-- david j.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Today's Word: Speak

You don’t teach a dog to speak and then ask it if it still wants to eat cats. Of course it still wants to eat cats, only now it can have them delivered off the internet.

-- david j.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Today's Word: Square

My first idea would not fit into 1k words. I went back to square one and found a little tale up in the right hand corner, right there in a tiny crack -- I had never taken such a hard look at square one; its surface is uneven and rough and pitted.

-- david j.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Today's Word: Witty

Witty people don't have to cuss. If you aren't so witty. . . to hell with it.

-- david j.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Today's Word: Simulation

"So you see, we're not really on earth, though I don't doubt there once was an earth -- probably long since destroyed by its own sun," said George Trenlor, president of the Lucas Falls chapter of the Society for and Enlightened People (SEP).

"We're really in a big computer simulator," said Kaleb, a news reporter for the Lucas Fall Observer.

"That's right," said George with a genuine smile. I might have a convert here, he thought.

"Isn't that just like that Matrix movie?" asked Kaleb.

"Well, yes, but Dr. Provelmein, the founder of our society, put forth this idea back in 1949. So you see, we knew about the Truth long before some Hollywood-types stole it."

"Right," said Kaleb, making a note. "And your society claims we invented the computers running this massive simulation ourselves."

"Not us, our ancient ancestors. Humans once had incredible technology. We once harnessed the power of stars and traveled this entire galaxy. But our people saw that we were essentially a blight on the universe -- we polluted everything, everywhere. They were so disheartened, they decided to build a simulation that would care for us and give us the semblance of a new start while also protecting the environment from our harmful influence."

"Uh-huh. And you also claim that most associations here don't matter?"

"They don't matter. Our children are not real; they're just computer programs built to simulate humans. We --"

"Wait, wait," said Kaleb, holding up a hand. "You're saying my kids aren't real because some computer randomly generated them"

"Not randomly. They are made to look and act much like real children created from your own genes might."

"How long has this been going on?"

"Twenty million years."

Kaleb stared for a moment. "Twenty million?"


"Then are you a computer program?"

George looked perplexed.

"Of course not."

"Then how could you be one of the original real people? Human's don't live twenty million years."

"I --" George swallowed. "I. . . never --"

"Only the first generation would have been real people, right? After that we would all be fake."

"Twenty-five years," said George in a choked whisper.

"Excuse me?"
"I believed in this crap for twenty-five years and I never questioned it. I lost my wife, my girls. Oh, God, the kids -- my girls -- I thought they didn't matter. I thought they were just programs. I treated them that way."

Kaleb was scribbling frantically in his little notebook. After a moment he looked up into a face as broken as any he had ever seen in his twenty-four years.


-- david j.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Today's Word: Burn

The stomach burns only what the brain earns.

-- david j.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Today's Word: Cabal

Kristie's face was askew. Her pouting lips hung from the right side of her jaw. Her nose dangled from her left cheek. One eye was large, bulbous, and knobby like an overgrown yam. The other stretched around the curve of her temple so that the lashes spread out like blades on a fan. The rest of her head seemed normal enough, though her hair was dishevled from sleep. Her body too looked okay. Her pink PJs with hundreds of white covorting sheep clung to her small frame the same as ever. No strange bulges or inexplicable chasms maligned her torso or limbs. In her arms Kristie clutched the teddy bear her mother had made her last Christmas.

"Daddy?" she said from the side of her face. To Roger she sounded somehow electronic -- somehow modulated like an AM signal that has traveled just a little too far to reach your crystal.

Roger shivered.

-- david j.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Today's Word: Static

Roger sat before his computer, clicking away, guiding his screen through site after site with no real direction. He had nothing to do. Sharon was in the shower and the kids were in bed. He had plenty of time to potato-surf wherever he liked.

A sound came from down the hallway. It was a small and tinny like the squelch of a CB between stations. Roger lifted his head, listened, heard nothing further and went back to his aimless searching.

He had just found a site explaining the history of his favorite candy when he heard the sound again. It still sounded tinny and kind of drawn out, but this time it held the distinctive note of a child's cry.

He was up and moving down the hall for the kids' room in an instant. Oliver and Kristie were too old to cry for no reason. Usually, when one or the other did cry, it was because they had to pee but were too sleepy to get out of bed. Five-year-olds could be so lazy sometimes.

As Roger neared the twins' room, he heard the sound yet again. This close up, it sounded like maybe he had forgotten to shut the kids' TV off after their weekend movie. Sometimes the DVD's blue light would make the kids cry because it was so annoying.

The TV was off when Roger opened the door. Shadows obscured the happy, dancing bears parading across the walls and the myriad stuffed animals and plastic trucks on the floor and arranged atop every free shelf. In the center of the room Roger could just make out his daughter, standing, hands raised to her face. He blinked, not trusting his eyes.

"Daddy?" said Kristie. Her voice came out in a high-pitched squelch that echoed into the hallway.

"What's the matter, baby. What happened to your --"

Kristie stepped forward so that the hallway light spilled onto her face. Roger gasped.

To be continued

-- david j.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Today's Word: Fealty

Overn stumbled, nearly losing his balance to the morasse of blood-soaked earth at his feet. His enemy, the Martin King, rushed forward, trying to take advantage of Overn's misstep. He thrust his sword at the Stromerean warrior's side, but Overn was too young and too fast for the king. He gained his balance by pushing forward into the slide and then twisted his whole frame so that, for an instant, he stood at a right angle to the Martin King.

Overn struck with such force that his sword pierced through the king's armor. Its point protruded from the doomed man's back.

The Martin King dropped to his knees, his eyes wide -- pupils rapidly dilating -- and fixed on his killer.

As the king's last breaths rattled out his mouth, Overn bent forward and said, "You really thought I would swear fealty to you?"

-- david j.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Recommendation from the author:

If you haven't read David Brin's Kiln People then you should.

That is all.

-- david j.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Today's Word: Dam

Everything was silent.

Father was driving the old '42 Ford with both hands on the wheel. He wore his brown suit, derby hat, and an expression of mild concentration. Mother sat beside him in her blue Sunday dress, her hands folded primly in her lap.

Little Roy sat in the back alone, watching the thick forests that fronted the road pass by. The trees gave suddenly away to a waterscape far below as the Ford bumped onto a bridge.

"Look, Ma, a dam," said little Roy, pointing.

Mother eyed the bland cement structure across the man-made lake below.

"That's not a dam, Roy. It's a railroad. See the rails up on top? Their using it for a bridge."

"I know," said Roy. "It's a dam railroad!"

Father laughed. Mother slapped Roy.

Everything was silent.

-- david j.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Today's Word: Loafer

"And then there's the matter of your chef's shoes," said Mama Yont, the head cook at Echoes Town and Country Bistro.

"My chef shoes?" said Ray.

Mama Yont pointed at the brown loafers on Ray's plump feet.

"You wore them into my kitchen. You came here with the expectation of preparing food. Those must be your chef shoes."

Ray looked as his loafers and then looked at the nearly pristine white slippers Mama wore.

"Do you see a difference?" asked Mama, raising one arched eyebrow. She never bothered to follow his gaze to her own shoes.

"I sure do," said Ray.

"And what do you see?"

"I see there's dog poop on your left one."

-- david j.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Something I had forgotten.

Do a page search for "The Deal Closer" (no quotes).

-- david j.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Today's Word: Chary

The giant Toriean sloth is a chary animal. It spends most daylight hours suspended from high tree branches out of the sun. But at night, when most plains predators have retired, the sloth hunts in packs, wielding rudimentary spears and rough clubs. Far from docile by moonlight, the Toriean sloth is a ruthless, merciless killer of anything larger than a rat.

-- david j.
Today's Word: Mellow

Old King Card mellowed in his old age. He no longer frequented the brothels on Angel street nor did he often host great feasts to honor his brave knights. Instead, Card led a simple life of tottering about his ancient castle sentencing every third person he saw in a given day to death by torture. It wasn't much of a sport, but he thought it kept him spry and it did wonders for his servants' efficiency.

-- david j.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

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 dragons 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 you 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 sunlight falling 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 ground 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 amusement 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 a 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 cleansed 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.

* NOTE* An oldie, but a goodie.

-- david j.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I'm still alive. I'm still writing. I'll be writing here again soon.

-- david j.