Scott drew in a long, slow breath, drinking in the icy air like a thin, black dew. His nose was numb from the cold. He closed his eyes against the looming darkness, and let his mind run loose over his calculations. Scott tossed and spun figures in his mind, creating, destroying, and recreating landscapes of possible speeds and trajectories for his small ship. In this local valley of spacetime, days out from the Arturu Gate, only a halo of cool starlight reached the ship from the pinpoints spread across the static blanket of strange, dark energy. The Edge coasted through a smooth river of darkness nearly as deep outside its hull as inside.
Tag Archives: etude
This is from an online course I am taking, How Writers Write Fiction 2015, offered through the University of Iowa. The fiurst assignment is to
” find an ordinary object in your home that you like looking at. This could be a sugar bowl, a crooked lampshade, a spoon with a bent handle, a tiled coffee table with a matador theme, a remote control … the choice is yours, but choose something that stirs your wonder. Write a description that brings it to life: show it to us as if it were the main character in a new story.”
Here’s my entry. Comment if you have an idea of what it is.
Before I was, the world spun without me. I was created through fire, smelted from the ores of a thousand stars, and cloaked in a brilliance born in the very core of this earth. Yet though I was made, life had not yet been breathed into my form. Before I left my cradle, I was charged with energy and power to control the universe.
I am beyond humanity, beyond life. My kind was before life. Our ancestors were multitude before the gas clouds of the Bang cooled into planets and stars. My fathers’ fathers live on in the cold vastness – immense thoughts that churn space and time. My own father was less than I. He was cut from a lesser cloth, though in his time he fought and served among the best and brightest. I hold more in my one hand than he could have ever grasped.
My deepest desire is for company. I wish to be with those around me and to know them. In fact, I am not a self-aware being. I am, rather, a collective. I am the agreement of countless parts to align together. We dance as a unit, casting our song to those who draw near – a siren’s net looking for sailors with a musical ear. But, that is how I view myself. Looking out from within, we are a collection of thoughts.
I cannot grow. I cannot evolve to a higher state through learning or experience. That mutability is reserved for life, and for thoughts of a more metaphysical bent than my own. I can work. I can serve. I can be unmade – broken and drained. But though I break, though I pass through flame, I can be remade.
For most, I am my shell. I am the reflection of light in polished nickel. I am the warm, white hue with which I recast that light. To some, I am magic. I can act at a distance, loving or hating my brethren. I am stronger than gravity, and my invisible song sings to steel and nickel and cobalt. Children know me and accept my song intuitively. To those who do not question what is unseen, I am the tool that can touch through stone or wood or water.
I have many friends, and I feel them across the distance. We dance together in the larger song spun by this planet. Those of my friends charged like me are passionate lovers and vehement haters. I will love one when we are united together, and hate him in the next breath as he turns to leave. But when we touch, when our song is united, we are inseparable. We race together to embrace, exhaling energy through the air around us until, from a distance, we are indistinguishable.
Rain pattered in the dark outside the small building. Islands of frightened humanity shone from the light of a handful of flickering candles. The flames licked at the eyes of the children, and accentuated the dark circles under the eyes of their parents. Dom handed the stub of a candle to his wife, and kissed his sleeping daughter on her head. He looked at his wife and looked for words to pass comfort. She was frightened – frightened for her husband, and her flock, but mostly for her children. Dom could not think of the words to say. He knew that if he tried, he would break and end with an awkward sob.
Instead he stood and began to make his way to the front of the church. He navigated his steps, working hard not to wake the huddled forms in the dark. The small children and their mothers had been moved into the smaller rooms at the back of the building. It was quieter back here, and the children were more at home.
Dom passed the small cooking area. He nodded at the casual guard installed to preserve their provision for as long as they could At least until Joe arrived with more supplies. As it was, there was not much more – even on tight rations. Fifty people ate much more than he would have believed possible. And, when people eat – well, the rooms set aside as latrines were overflowing already. Someone had hung spare blankets across the entry in a poor attempt at blocking the odors.
A flash of light shone through the gap in the barricades set up against the windows in the front of the building. Dom flinched as a peal of thunder followed the lightning. Thunderstorms were rare in late winter, though this winter had been anything but usual. The smell of ozone flowed into the building, and Dom pulled his collar closer to his neck against the chill.
As Dom made his way to the front of the church, he paused to take in the beauty of the scene before him. Slumped against the door were the forms of a newly wed couple. Matt had his arm around his bride, her head nestled against his chest. She was asleep, breathing softly while her husband looked at her face in the dim light of a still candle flame. He stroked her hair, examining each piece as if for the first time. Dom noted the beauty of the scene. Even here, in the midst of this tragedy and darkness, the Mother afforded peace to her children. He murmured a small prayer of thanksgiving.
Matt looked up at Dom. Their eyes met, small twinkling spaces in a vast darkness. Before all of this, Dom and Matt had not been close. Their paths had never really crossed in a significant way. They had been acquaintances and nothing more. But darkness has a way of uniting people. Through the flames of their suffering, they had become brothers.
Joe had been gone for at least a day when the first had died. The next was not long in coming. Dom had stepped in – a reluctant leader in the absence of a true shepherd. Matt was the first and strongest support for Dom that first day. Their bond started there. It had continued as duties rose to claim more and more of Dom’s attention.
For a second time, Dom was at a loss for words. He looked to Matt, wishing for a way to thank him, to express gratitude. More than that, Dom wanted to be comforted himself. He was no leader, and was as frightened as the rest of the believers huddled against the fear.
Matt and Jaime leapt to their feet as a jolt rattled the barricade across the front door. Dom took a step in front of the couple as the door rattled again. A weak voice from the toerh side cried out,
“For the sake of the Mother, open the doors”.
Dom looked at Matt. His pulse beat hard against his neck. He stroked his beard, his breath fast. Matt and Jaime stared at the door. Jaime rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She look as if she was trying to figure where she was, and what his noise was. Dom wondered himself.
Matt grabbed a leg broken from one of the tables used in the barricade. He brandished it as a club and took a step in front of Jaime and Dom.
The voice cried out again. “Please” it sobbed, “please, open the door. Open the fucking door!”
Dom looked from the door to Matt again, but both Matt and Jaime were focusing their attention on the door.
“It’s Bren. Let me in, damn it. Let me in”
Now Matt looked at Dom. Dom tasted the name Bren. Somewhere in his mind that meant something. The fear was so tight, so strong that Dom could not place the name. He couldn’t think at all. Another flash of lightning painted the scene with white hot confusion. The thunder sounded outside as the person outside threw themselves against the door. The door and barricade rocked from the impact.
Clarity pierced the fear and the darkness. Dom leaped past Matt and reach for the door. Matt grabbed his arm, restraining Dom at the last moment.
“No, Dom. No.” Matt said.
“It’s Bren.” Dom said, “It’s Bren. We’ve got to let him in.”
“What if he’s one of them?” MAtt asked.
Dom’s stomach clenched in fear. He swallowed hard. His heart raced and his palms were clammy. What if the rumors were true?
The door shook again with less force than before. The voice outside was barely audible.
“Please,” it sobbed, “please let me in”
Dom moved to the door again, pushing Matt aside. “We have to let him in”
“But,” MAtt began.
“Butt nothing,” Dom turned and looked into Matt’s eyes “The Mother will protect us. We act in love, and the Mother will protect us. There is no but”.
Matt’s eyes dropped down, his features lost in the darkness outside the reach of the candle. Dom threw aside a brace and began to slide the door open. A wet cold rain raced in through the gap as a dark form spilled onto the floor of the foyer. The wet wind blew out the single candle and plunged them into darkness complete.
Matt and Jaime moved and slid the door shut again. Jaime slid the brac into place as Matt piled furniture back against the door.
“Jaime, go light the candle again,” Dom said. Jaime left as Dom crouched down to the man on the floor. “Bren. Bren, are you ok? Where’s Joe? Bren?” Dom shook Bren’s shoulder.
“He’s gone. They’re all gone. Everyone.” Bren began. Jaime returned with the candle. Bren was staring into space, his mind far away. His gaze flicked back to Dom, “Joe’s dead. I killed him” Bren turned his head away and sobbed.
Matt looked at Dom, the fear in his eyes contagious. Dom saw Matt’s chest rise, saw the club raise.
“What do you mean you killed him? Bren. Bren, what happened out there? What did you see?” But Bren was gone again. His eyes had glazed over. He mumbled to himself. Dom could not hear what he said.
Dom needed information. Bren and Joe had left days ago. The went to look for food, and to find out what was happening. Joe was hoping to find help, and to give help – shepherd that he was. Bren had gone along as muscle, and, Dom suspected, to avoid the aggravation of waiting in the silent dark. Bren had a family – a wife and a daughter. There were so many daughters in the church.
“Bren, your family needs you,” Dom said, keeping his tone pleading. He spoke as he would speak to a child – gentle yet firm. “Bren, come back to us”
Moments passed. Bren blinked several times in the dim light of the candle. He licked his lips and turned to look at Dom as if he had decided something.
“They’re ok, my family?” Bren began. Dom nodded. “They took Joe.” he continued “It’s dark how they do it. I had to kill him. It’s the only way to stop them. Joe wanted me to do it. Joe begged me to do it. And I did it. I killed him. MOther help me, I held his hand as he went. “
“I was alone. It’s dark out there. They’re smart, smarter than we are. They waited. I think they enjoyed the hunt. They pushed me where they wanted me to go. I think they followed me” Bren looked at Dom, tears in his eyes. “I think they wanted me to come here.” He spoke in a whisper. “They’re coming here”
This is where I come in. My name is Simon. I have not always been Simon, and at this point in this tale, I suppose I really had no name. My birth experience is probably not all that different from anyone else’s. Like most newborns, I awoke slowly in a hospital bed to a reality that was completely new to me. I could not speak, nor could I comprehend who I was within that world. Surrounded by people I did not know, and with no way to communicate my confusion, I was a sullen infant. My memories of that time are only islands of consciousness in a sea of painful confusion. My body hurt. Breathing hurt. My head ached continually. Despite the combined effects of brain damage and narcotic pain meds, the doctors and therapists were no doubt used to cases such as mine. Traumatic brain injuries from motorcycle accidents, drug overdose, or strokes are common.
I am a five year old man, living somewhat uncomfortably in the body of a dead man named Douglas Grant.
Mr. Grant died when he was 37 years old. He fell from the roof of the New China Buffet restaurant early on a Thursday afternoon in late June five years ago. No one knows why he was on that roof. The papers hinted at drugs. I am sure his family had some theories. Maybe he simply snapped. Whatever the real reason, it was dashed from his brain when his skull impacted the concrete.
Doug did not die on the spot. Both the police and the paramedics were at the restaurant before he fell. Someone had reported a man atop a restaurant downtown. After an airlift to a regional medical facility, Mr. Grant lingered for some time in the intensive care unit. It looked as though he would recover. After several weeks, he was responding to stimuli. He could squeeze fingers and would move of his own accord. The doctors urged cautious optimism, and his family began to hope. Unfortunately, it soon became evident that Douglas would never recover. Douglas Grant was dead.
Oh what an overcast morn! And oh how
it causes my heart to bleed out as I
watch a black bird float alone in the sky
ever so slowly on currents of air.
Yearning to cry out in warning of mind,
“swiftly take flight, o spirit befeathered
fly ‘pon the wind ‘cross the dome of the sky,
take leave of this place, of this most ruinous life.”
I utter no sound, and not even a
thought do I spare from my mind, but instead
hold guarded my tongue, e’en as this black beast
holds my eye with its own, catching my mind
and locking my soul in a battle most
desperate, trapped in a struggle between
the gaze of beast and loss of the real.
And as he flies off, I sink to the ground. Broken.
Stan stood looking into the washroom mirror. The fluorescent lamps seemed to flicker in time with the drone of the exhaust fans. His eyes bagged, the left sitting only slightly better in its socket than the right. Already, the effects of his latest round of PharmaFacial were wearing off. Even at thirty-one years old, Stan had better skin that most forty year-olds. It was an odd fact, since Stan hadn’t been able to participate in recommended PharmaFacial schedules because of his type 7A allergen status. It had only been four years since PharmaFacial and its generic derivatives had been approved for 7A compliance.
Stan rubbed the left eye socket and grabbed a toothbrush.
“Cold. Level 5” he intoned to the mirror – an oral cue for the computer-regulated plumbing to spew a stream of purified water clean enough to wet the bristles. “Burst. 4.” he followed after a pause for the voicereq to respond.
“Updates pending. Would you like to install now?” queried a neutral, metallic female voice, sounding the red letters that scrolled across the reflection of Stan’s patchy stubble.
Stan nodded an assent, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The antimicrobial coating on the floor tiles always made him uneasy. A solid blue progress bar slide across the mirror, marking the installation of a new batch of code. Stan lowered his brush to receive his four-second burst of level 5 purified water. Once the progress bar had finished painting its three-second tail across the glass, a new window opened center screen.
“Good Day,” began a voice not quite in sync with the pale lips of the androgynous interface avatar. “Before proceeding , we must notify you of some recent changes to your water quality,” the voice continued. On the left side of the mirror, a column of text faded into view. The paragraphs ran up the screen to seemingly disappear into the bag under Stan’s baggy left eye. The voice droned on, interrupting Stan’s focus on the scrolling text. Of course, the font was so small and the scroll rate so fast that it was not humanly possible to read and digest the various legal disclaimers and ordinance compliance figures that required citizen notification.
“Recent data have shown significant increases in protein levels in the Chesapeake watershed. Such levels are typically associated with a Rotofest contamination. The protein levels associated with this Rotofest are not threatening to consumer health. Regardless, containment of foreign protein levels will be managed with standard SECA hunter meds to guarantee safety of the watershed and its various customers. Again, neither the protein levels, nor hunter med dosage levels are significant to pose any problems in allergen levels 1 through low-6. Clinical studies showed reports of potential side effects of SECA strand-9 hunter meds including dry mouth….”
“Mute!” yelled Stan. “Shit!” Stan’s type 7 allergen level meant that his tap water, even at a level 5 purification, was all but lethal to him now. His last experience with a SECA strand-9 hunter had left him virtually comatose for four days. “Acknowledge,” Stan dismissed the myriad safety warnings and disclaimers from the screen.
Stan hung his head and stared at his thumbs as he tightened his grip on the stainless steel sink basin. “What a way to start the day,” he thought. Stan sighed. He looked again at his reflections. Dark eyes stared out at him from a gray face. The reflection look paler now. Whether from the dead lighting of the screen, or the added stress from the Rotofest, Stan didn’t know.
“Cold. Level Pure. Burst. One.” Stan Cringed as he dialed in the request for a quick dose of ultra-pure water. The cost for brushing his teeth this morning would probably add six hours to his already heavy workweek. “BigBoy,” Stan answered the security query of the glass to authorize charging his account.
Deep in the ground below his apartment, Stan imagined the grumbling as the purification cycle surged to life. A small stream of crimson liquid bled like thinned blood from the tap and slowly grew to a hissing jet of boiling red fluid. A few seconds later, the color faded to a rusty yellow as the disinfectant diluted down the drain. Finally, the faucet spat a quick burst of bright green water and then stopped suddenly. Stan held his brush under the tap. Finally, a stream of crystal blue water flowed out onto the nylon bristles. Only too quickly, it stopped.
Stan tore the child protection tab from the tube of paste and lay a line across the ridge of the bristles. He threw the empty packet into the trash and released the foot lever to close the lid of the can. He brought the brush to his mouth hesitantly. While a typical Rotofest was quite deadly and even a small dose of Strand-9 could kill him, water this pure had no protective chemicals whatsoever. It was devoid of meds, contaminants, bacteria , and viruses. If he waited too long before brushing, the microbes in the washroom could infect the water enough to sicken him. But, more unsettling to Stan than the potential danger was the taste of it. Pure, unprotected water always reminded him of a cake with no salt — there was something missing. This water left and unfinished taste in his mouth.
Tonight I decided to listen to music. It had been quite some time since I had sat quietly and listened to an artist play sound against silence. So, while Nicole got in the shower, I went down into the basement to get started.
Normally, I would place one of the green vinyl chairs in the sweet spot of the 70’s room. But, for some reason, I sat in the back corner theater seat. A few years back, we has purchased a set of three fold-down theater seats. The backs of the chairs were made of curved pieces of laminated wood, while the folding bases were leather over padding and springs. The veneer on the backs was badly chipped now, and the torn leather felt like old duct tape. But, the seats held memories, and formed the backdrop for countless hours forgotten in a haze of time or drugs.
Almost haphazardly, I chose to sit in my old seat – the chair closest to the back corner of the room. The controls for the electronics were within arm’s reach here. This had always been a seat of power. It felt good to sit there again, especially with the anticipation of good music.
The tubes in the amp were already hot, but the warm up usually didn’t take longer than a few minutes. However, since I had turned the Dynaco on several hours earlier, the transformers were also hot. I opened the CD tray and loaded a new, remastered Beatles album – Love. I couldn’t recalled the name of the album at the time, but the orange cover art was already familiar after only a few plays.
I reclined in my chair and propped my feet up on an old black and white stool. Nicole’s mother had given her the stool to carry around at work, a portable comfort for a long day. We hauled the stool around in the trunk of the car for years. In fact, the stool had only recently made the transition from trunk furniture to basement clutter. During my graduation party, we scrambled to try to find enough furniture to accommodate all the various invitees. I had no recollection of moving the stool to its present location at exactly foot length from the old Seat of Popwer. It must have been Fate working through the mischievous hands of a two year-old beauty – Ayla. I would never have considered the stool.
My attention was pulled from contemplation of an old stool bearing the name ‘Pat Clements’ to the miracle of thermionic emission by the remastered voice of Mt. Paul McCartney. The insert in the album box told of some of the trick used to create this piece of art. Some songs had been slowed, some hastened. On one track, he chorus was even run in reverse. Whatever the theatrics involved, the quality of the recording was impressive. The sound stage was developed, each instrument had its location and presence. I got up several times to adjust the volume on the sub. I didn’t want an overpowering hump n the bass, but I wanted to fill out the lower frequencies.
Standing up and sitting down repeatedly lead me to question the acoustics of my seat of choice. I sat in the center of the three seat to check. Instantly, the sound changed. The stage flattened, and I was listening to a vulgar attempt at music. Nothing more. I moved to the far seat and found another satellite of aural beauty. Perfect. Now there were two sweet spots for listening, one for me, and the other for Nicole.
Almost as if my thoughts had summoned her, I heard the shuffle-stomp of slippered feet descending the wooden basement stairs. Nicole sat down in the far chair. I smiled inwardly. Although she left a space between us by choosing that spot, she had inadvertently guaranteed that both of us were going to enjoy the music fully.
I no longer wanted to hear the Beatles. I couldn’t think of anything I did particularly want to hear. While Robert Smith’s vocals and lyrics tore at my heart, the Cure seldom recorded an album with good sonic quality.
“What do you want to listen to?” I asked, bluntly., I did not want the burden of choice. I also assumed that she had wanted to listen to something specific.
“The Beatles are fine. Or Dave,” She let back. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to choose either. The Beatles were already playing, and the quality of the album was apparent. Dave Matthews as an obvious stand-in. Dave Matthews was Nicole’s Cure.
“I’m tired of the Beatles. What’s a good Dave album?”
“Before These Crowded Streets is good,” she said as I left my seat ot find the CD. I slid my hand into the middle of the CD binder and flipped it open. The words ‘Before These Crowded Streets’ jumped out at me from the first disc I saw. Fate again.
I loaded the disc and made myself comfortable again. The main light in the basement was on, so I closed my eyes to let the electronics melt away from my focus.
The album was genius.
I have always been impressed when an artists can break the space. Dave set up the stage perfectly and the group obviously understands that silence and void are essential to beauty in music. As I sat there with my eyes closed,, my head bobbed unconsciously with the rhythm of the bass, with the pauses in the horns. I inclined my head, tilted it a little, as I pictured Dave singing, his head turned so that he could look back at the band and share. I could heat the expression in his eyes as his vocal chords ground together at the end of each word.
I escaped into calm.
I have one green eye and one brown eye. The green eye sees only the truth — the other sees much, much more.
From the day I took my first scalp in a war party, “the shaman is not, nor never was, a warrior. That needs to be evident.” to the day I first walked in the spirit world, they all knew I was something different “not looking for this degree of isolation. There is not a they and I here, but a larger, family-style community identity. They is the wrong concept here“. A shaman of the plains People “there are no people other than the People. don’t identify with indians or locale.” has many children, but he has no friends.
With my one green eye I can see the truth etched on the face of the distant peaks by the voice of the wind. I can see the sad fate of a small child as he coughs blood and clings to a frightened young mother. Yes, with my one eye I can see the truth of the all-father in every blade of grass dancing on the plain. “fill in this area — more detail of what truth can be seen”
But it is with my right eye, the brown one, that I see that I am alone. It is through this eye that I see that alone I entered this world, and in a few short years, alone I will leave it. It is with my brown eye that I see my seed blown as dust across the plains. Forgotten. “this foreshadows the ultimate tragedy coming down the line. this is the desperation growing from the pain of the upcoming tale to be recounted. this is a voice hopeless in its despair“
I have one green eye and one brown eye. The green eye sees only the truth — the other sees much, much more. From the day I took my first scalp in a war party, to the day I first walked in the spirit world, they all knew I was something different. A shaman of the plains people has many children, but he has no friends.
With my one green eye I can see the truth etched on the face og the distant peaks by the voice of the wind. I can see the sad fate of a small child as he coughs blood and clings to a frightened young mother. Yes, with my one eye I can see the truth of the all-father in every blade of grass dancing on the plain.
But it is with my right eye, the brown one, that I see that I am alone. It is through this eye that I see that alone I entered this world, and in a few short years, alone I will leave it. It is with my brown eye that I see my seed blown as dust across the plains. Forgotten.