Lake Vostok

The waters of the lake are cold and deep, and the sunlight never makes it through the ice.

 

 

Succession

A little tidbit to kick off the Holy Month of Halloween. I’m going to try and make a point of posting more often this month.

If it kills me.

 

The old King had fallen, beheaded by a terrified concubine who’d somehow managed to pull one of the ornamental axes from the wall. The palace guard, alerted, had managed to head off the Crown Prince’s escape attempt. Strapped to the throne, he was anointed by one of the Brothers of St. Lazarus, who, hooded, chained, and groaning, had been brought from their underground monastery to administer the sacramental Bite.

A scant quarter-hour later, the Lord Chamberlain appeared on the balcony. “The King,” he said, excitement shining in his eyes, “is Dead!”

“Long live the King!”

Final Hand

-a flash of something and he was…

Where was he?

At a black table, in a black room. It was all darkness, even the thing across from him, darkness moving in darkness upon the darkness.

We will play. The voice was not a voice, boulders grinding on bedrock in the depths of the sea, menacing.

“play what?” he tried to ask, but he had no voice, made no sound.

The figure reached into the blackness before it and a deck of cards came into being, a deck that shuffled itself in angles impossible, angles that hurt to try and focus on, planes without surfaces sliding perpendicular to perception until one moved towards him and

hurting hurting ow stop it please it hurts her arm, wrenched behind her back, pain as her older brother ground knuckles into the top of her head-

The memory was his sister’s. She was four, and he was the tormentor.

Play.

But how was he to play, what was the game? As he hesitated, the darkness in front of him seemed to grow and swell, he tried desperately to understand how to-

Suddenly a memory came, bright and unbidden. Young; his sister had had to stop trick or treating early, disappointed; she’d cried at how little candy she had, so without being asked, he’d put some of his treats into her Halloween bucket.

A small silvery coin dropped onto the sin, and both disappeared.

What had he done? Memory of- something?

It was gone.

But he understood the game now.

And its stakes.

So they played, and each time a fresh Card appeared and a fresh sin blossomed into his mind, he wracked his memory for something, anything, to make amends for it. Thousands, tens of thousands of slights, treacheries, cruelties small and not so small, each countered by a coin of charity, decency, respect, each pair vanishing from his mind as soon as it was played.

But the purse of his memory was growing light, and deck seemed undiminished.

Until the time when there was nothing left save another Card sliding towards him, a sin that made him weep though he had no eyes, sob though he had no lungs, choke though he had no throat. He knew he’d lost not only the game, but all of things that had made him whoever he’d been. As the darkness rose around him, the thought but wait, I forgot and a single tiny coppery coin appeared.

Not nearly enough to pay the outstanding debt.

But it was the last memory of goodness, the one thing left, not to spend, but to take with him.

The darkness would be incomplete.

Tuesday Night

It was a Tuesday night, and we were out drinking at the box. My days off were Wednesday and Thursday, so it was my weekend at that point, but it didn’t really matter much in those days; I didn’t start work until after noon most days, so every night was beer o’clock. On the corner, out front of the convenient store, there was this… I dunno, I think it was some sort of electrical or phone switching box, about waist-high, coated in some sort of hard, stippled green paint. There was a fence of aluminum tubing, just short of waist-high, on three sides of it, spaced such that if you were leaning on the fence, the box was the perfect height and distance away to put your beer and your snacks.

No open container laws, so we called it “the box,” and met there every night. Across the sidewalk, there was a trash-can that we’d sometimes use to play at “throw the empties away.”

Drunken gaijin playing beer-can basketball on the sidewalk.

I don’t think I’d been there long that night when my phone played the little section of MIDI Bach that I used to have as a ringtone.

“Ohmygod, are you watching the NYC live news?? Two planes just hit the world trade center. bush says terrorism”

Huh.

I really thought I had more to say when I started typing this, but we all know the rest of the story.

In a year, some young person in the United States is going to raise their right hand and swear away the next four years, or however much less is granted them, of their lives. Someone who has never drawn breath while the towers stood.

Yeah, that’s all.

Xzodis

This was written as a contest entry, with the theme: “Victims of Fashion.” It fared… poorly.

 

The Profesor, he’s a Greeter but he uset’a work at Misk-U, he say’s We should write down about what happenne’d before We go Outside to Start Fresh beacause it’ll maybe end up a Historicall Art-Fact, so here I go.

I was shaveing Konny from Autamotives’s back when We run clean Out a fresh blade’s and I still had the Crack and Sack to go. Konnys’ half-Greek and half-Wookie, if you ask me, so shaveing him was Quite the Chore, but the Profesor say’d Remembber Nano’s live on natureal fiber’s for Safetys’ Sake We all gotta shave all over Everywhere. The razor was getting pretty Dull so I told Konny Hey Konny I don’t know What Im’ gonna do about you’re Ass, but then Mizz Nugyen from Pharmacy say’d Do’nt you worry Bob I got this. She had them Brazillion Lady waxer’s she say’d Bob you probly do’nt wanna watch, and Konny, you might wanna bite down on this pencil so you do’nt Scream to much.

Let me tell you, Konny Screame’d plenty, but when she was done he was Clean as a Whissle down their.

Anyway the Profesor say’d Its’ ben a Month and the Foods’ all Gone, We gotta go Outside a the Store tommorrow, so We gotta impervise Bunny-Suits. At first I thought he meant like Playboy Girl’s but he say’d No, not like that, CleanSuit’s and I said Those CleanSuit’s are what starte’d all the Trouble in the First Place, are you Crazy!!!?

See, I should exsplain about that probly. Those Fashen company’s dream’ed up a fancey whachamacallit called CleanSuit’s what it did was allway’s keep you’re clothe’s Spick an Spann. It was these teensy-weensy robot’s like dust, called Nano’s, and they put them on you’re clothe’s, and once they was on, they would’nt let any stank or dirt mess up you’re stuff. They got they’re power from eating you’re dead skin right off a you’re body. Their was 2 problem’s tho, 1, they was hella expensive, like, a shirt would cost you a extra 50 buck’s, and 2, they only live’d on like Silk and Wooll, so the Result being was that only rich folk’s could buy them, typicaly.

We had the Last Laff tho when the Nano’s went nut’s and starte’d eating up all those rich fucker’s alive. Their was 28 a Us in Here when It Happenne’d, and Believe You Me we did’nt let nobody else inside. But its’ been 2 week’s since the last a the Body’s in the lot disappeare’d and the Profesor thinks its’ OK to go Outside now long as we make up the Bunny-Suit’s all out a sinthetic’s. Me, I’m wearing my Croc’s, 4 pair a Ladie’s XXL nylon’s, a Peek-achoo hoodey and dishwashering gloves. My junk kinda show’s but the Profesor say’s Bob you look Just Fine their’s No Way any Nano’s are getting passed That Much Sinthetic’s, so everyboddys wearing Pretty Much the Same.

We ain’t staying in the Wallymart no more, Wer’e gonna re-built the World.

Steeplechase

Just awoke on this Monday morning from a dream of running and scrambling through the fields, racing my good friend to a point we knew well. No euphemisms, nothing clever here, just a steeplechase in the old meaning of the word, where a man on horseback, out riding with his friends, would say something on the lines of “See yon steeple of St. Nyaralathotep’s? Race you!” and the game would be on.

We, of course, were dismounted, because this happens in very nearly the real, and the objective wasn’t a steeple, but a point well known to both of us, down at the bottom of the hill. He’s taller than I am, and has the advantage that way, but I knew a course through a field and sliding skittering down a hill through the backlots that gave me an edge, putting the contest at very nearly even.

One day two other professors, visitors from America, decided to join in and they were fast, so fast, so I showed my friend my shortcut. I marveled that he hadn’t discovered it before, as it was well beaten down with my footprints, and in the dream, I still wore the old “black Cadillac” combat boots, with their distinctive self-cleaning tread, and we ran, we ran down the hill, and this is when I knew it was a dream, because I was young enough that running was a joy, strong enough that jumping over obstacles was a pleasure, and supple enough that slipping sliding glissading down a hill was no cause for fear of the sprain of the ankle, the twist of the knee, the stumble and attendant impact that wreaks a life-changing crunch in the shoulder.

We didn’t win, and like most dreams, the memory of the joy of just racing is fading from my brain already.

Watching

Emma was a difficult baby. She’d fuss, but when I tried to get her to nurse, she’d just turn her head away. If I pushed her too long, she’d begin to howl, a sound that started out low and built into a scream of defiance, “ananananananaNANANA!” and when she finally ate a little, it seemed like she’d spit half of it back up when I burped her.

Still, it didn’t mean much to me at the time. She was my first, so I figured it was just a baby thing. There couldn’t be anything wrong with her, she was my perfect little girl.

She loved playing with her dolls. There was Parker the dog, and Runny Bunny, and a plush R2-D2 that was, inexplicably, named Tom, but the one she refused to be separated from was a big-headed, hollow-eyed terrycloth ragdoll named Annie. To this day, I don’t know where that damned doll came from, I just found it in her crib one day. Todd denied having anything to do with it, but when I took it away, Emma went ballistic, screaming like I’d never heard before.

So the doll stayed.

When she was four, she asked me if it was true that the pork chops we were having were “piggies”, and, upon learning that they were, declared herself a “vegabularian.” Annie had taught her the word, she said.

She said Annie would be angry if she ate piggies and moo-cows.

It was a struggle, but we finally managed to banish Annie from the dinner table. Emma said it didn’t matter, Annie was watching, and would always know.

When she went to kindergarten, I put my foot down and said that Annie had to stay home or she might get lost. On the forms, I left the “Special Dietary Requirements / Allergies” box blank.

She came home with a note from her teacher. She’d refused lunch, saying that Annie didn’t want her to eat it.

Every day, every meal, became a struggle. She went from being a vegetarian to a vegan by the time she was seven, and then, when she was nine, she learned about celiac.

From Annie.

Even the most carefully prepared meals went unfinished; we’d find hidden napkins full of things we thought she’d eaten. She grew dangerously thin. The counseling helped, but only for a while.

We did our best. It wasn’t good enough.

And when she died, we found her notebooks, notebooks going back years, full of drawings of big-headed, hollow-eyed girls, with a list of “The Thin Commandments,” a horrorshow of self-hating nonsense about starving yourself pretty, starving until your ribs show, never being skinny enough, and the phrases “Ana is watching me, Ana is always watching me,” written over and over on the pages.

Emma is gone now, but the little hollow-eyed girl is still there.

Todd tells me to eat, and I know I should, but I don’t feel very hungry anymore.

Because she’s watching me. Ana is always watching.

 

*I’m happy to announce that this story was the winner of the 43rd Flash Fiction contest at Writingforums.org

Reflect on This

Do it.

Get naked.

I don’t mean nude, I mean naked.

Take it all off.

Take off your clothes.

Take off your makeup.

Take off your jewelry.

All of it.

Even the wedding ring.

Even the piercing that only your lover knows about.

Even those little bits of tech that let you see clearly. Take off the glasses, take out the contacts.

Wash that shit out of your hair, scrub off those perfumes, scents, deodorants, essences, all of them, get them off of your body and just stand.

Stand in front of the mirror.

Stand and look.

It doesn’t matter if the mirror shows you from top to toe, or just reflects your eyes back at you, just look.

I know it’s cold.

I know you feel silly.

Look some more.

Keep looking until you can finally….

…see.

Reflect on this.

Harry Potter?

So (I assume) to promote the new live-action Beauty and the Beast movie, my local cable company ran all the Harry Potter movies over the weekend.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Harry Potter, but that’s not a crack against them, I’m just way outside of the target demographic, but I decided to give the movies another watch because why not?

Missed the first one or two, but I definitely saw Goblet of Fire from the start, and man are those stories messed up. I’m going on the assumption that they tracked the books closely enough, and I’m sure most of this has been said before, but…

The Tri-Wizard Cup. Tri. Three. Sure, evil baddy can put Harry’s name in somehow, but…

Wait a minute, this competition could be fatal. Shouldn’t you have some sort of security to stop anyone but the applicant from putting their name in? I mean, I’m afraid to enter writing contests, damned if I want someone slipping my name into the stinkin’ Hunger Games if I don’t have to try out.

And that speaks to another thing. I was only half-watching the movies, so I don’t know which one, or ones, I’m on about, but Hogwart’s is a mess. You’ve got a whole bunch of mischievous kids to young adults running around learning magic, and apparently no magical countermeasures in place. Hermione uses magic to help Ron cheat on his sky soccer tryout, his brothers nuke the underclass midterms, Harry’s dad was a magical bully, and no one ever seems to face consequences for anything. It’s like running a computer school and not investing in basic antivirus and firewalls. Plus, as a teacher, some would even say professor, I’ve let class out a few minutes early on occasion, but I don’t think there’s been a Hogwart’s lecture that’s lasted more than about ten minutes before either the professor or one of the students manages to catastrophically fuck things up, leading to a “class dismissed, and your homework is to try and put the flames on your eyebrows out.”

Right, back to that Tri-Wizard… Yeah, three. It’s a magically binding contract with a cup that can’t even count to three without taking a right turn at Albequoikey? RU serious?

And sure, I’m all for letting seventeen-year-olds make decisions that could lead to their deaths. Seriously; I turned eighteen in boot camp, it’s cool with me. But one thing that not even the Marines did to me was put my sister in a position where she’d be killed if I didn’t successfully complete a task that I’d had no instruction on how to do. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair to hold family members and friends hostage to a glorified best athlete competition, although it would make the homecoming game more interesting if it ended with the decapitation of the cheerleading squad of the losing team…

Changed my mind, that bit’s cool.

So before he goes swimming with the fish-chix, Harry’s gotta take a bath in Tony Montana’s tub, where he meets a girl who normally hangs out around the men’s room, and boy is she eager for a peek at Harry’s hairy Harold. Of course, she’s dead, so neither she nor Harry are going to get much more than an eyeful.

Or are they? She’s clearly not the “spiritual echo” kind of ghost that’s forever condemned to repeat the same actions; she’s got quite a bit of volition, and her interest in Harry suggests that she might be capable of…enjoying…herself, given the opportunity.

But contact is impossible.

So basically, she could become a camgirl for the male members of the student body.

Or maybe she already does, when she first showed up in that movie, she was halfway out of a commode.

Eeewww. Her fetish, not mine.

But anyway, nobody’s going to get pregnant or catch a social disease, like dysentery.

Ick.

Right, moving on. In one of the later movies, Voldemort tells the baddy high council that somebody or other was suggesting that wizards breed with muggles, and the whole table reacted with derision and disgust. You know what this means, don’t you?

Every year a certain adult site releases its stats on who, living where, is streaming what from their site. Like the folks at 742 Evergreen Terrace are super into movies featuring three or more….

Nevermind.

The data they release (as opposed to what they collect, and I swear someone breaks into my house every night around midnight, I’m fast asleep with my lovely wife in the other room, I can never catch the bastards) is at the national or state level, and one data point that’s been fairly constant is that interracial (which, I’m given to understand by my ex-roommate’s uncle’s cousin’s community college statistics teacher almost invariably refers to movies featuring African American men with Caucasian women) movies are most popular in the bits of America we now call the Southeast, but which were briefly referred to as the Confederate States of America, and were known for their somewhat divergent take on race relations.

So anyway, back to Voldemort. This means that in the wizarding community, there’s probably a small but dedicated group of men who like nothing more than the sickening thrill of watching a pretty young witch defile herself with a…dentist. There’s probably a muggle brothel in Hogsmead, and the odds that Snape and the boyz have spent some time tied up there being forced to say “Please, mistress, call me a customer-service rep,” while being flogged with a feather-duster are quite high.

Okay, that’s that.

Not quite, first a very short bit of fan-fiction. I’ve never read the books, so the tone is probably off, but what the hell, here we go:

Voldemort held his wand in front of him, a blast of purplish-blue lightning lancing out of it. It had nearly reached Harry when he raised his hand, pointed his wand, and yelled “EXPECTO PATRONUM”, which caused a silvery shield to form in front of him, blocking the dark wizard’s assault. Changing tactics, Voldemort began to fire a series of smaller spells, which the younger wizard parried while sending out his own attacks. For a few moments, the battle resembled a choreographed ballet, but then Harry summoned his last reserve of strength and sent a massive red beam from his wand, a beam which Voldemort blocked with apparent difficulty.

Suddenly, there was a new noise, a single, sharp “BOOM!”, and Voldemort dropped, his shield collapsing immediately. Harry approached the downed creature carefully, confused at how his spell had penetrated the Dark Lord’s wards so quickly. His wand at the ready, he peered down at the hole in Voldemort’s forehead, then spun as he heard a footstep behind him.

“Hermione! Don’t do that to me, I could have killed you. I..,” he didn’t know what to say. “I think I killed him, but I don’t know how.”

Hermione cocked her head and sighed. “No, Harry, you just distracted him; I killed him.”

“But, but how? His shielding spells were so strong, I could only tire him, he was going to ki-“

“Yes, Harry, I know. But I have a new kind of wand, a wand that uses spells that no wizard has the power to block.” She held up her hand, a curiously curved wand dangling from one finger by a loop fixed near its midpoint.

“What kind of wand is that? Dragon, unicorn, oh, oh, kraken?” Harry stammered.

“No, Harry, none of those. This has been passed down in my family for over half a century, since my grandfather’s time. It’s called a Webley.”

Yeah, I know, it’s crap, but I’m not going to bother to rework it, I’d have to read all the books to get the voice right, and… nope.

Thanks for reading, if you got this far.