Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trigger Events: The Phone Call and The Dark, 726 words

The Phone Call

Late one night just after moving into your current apartment, your phone rang. You didn't recognize the number on your caller ID, but you were still curious and bored enough to pick it up. The voice on the other end, which sounded oddly like yours, simply said, “Listen,” followed by a loud burst of static. Before you could pull away, it ended, and the voice picked up again, “Don't tell anyone what you heard, until you receive the password.”

“What password,” you demanded of the voice.

“You'll know it when you hear it,” the strange voice said, and hung up.

Less than an hour later, a fist began hammering on your door. When you cracked the door to check who was there, a heavy shove forced it open and left you stumbling back. Before you could recover, a pair of people in dark suits marched into the place and grabbed you. Both had your face, though one had obviously suffered a broken nose at some point.

They began interrogating you, asking you where “it” was. They beat you a bit when you wouldn't – couldn't – answer, and eventually left with warnings that they'd be watching you.

You woke up the next morning in your kitchen, sore from the night spent on the floor but otherwise none the worse for wear. When you went to check yourself in a mirror, you were completely unhurt. But the strange number was still in your phone's caller ID memory.


The Dark

Your parents really weren't the sort of people who should have had children. Certainly, you've wished more than a few times that they hadn't had you. It's not that they were physically abusive, no – if that had been the case, then a teacher probably would've called Child Services long ago. No, they never beat you... but you got very familiar with a certain dark closet whenever you misbehaved too much, or embarrassed them in public.

The dark, confined space frightened you a lot, especially at first. Over the years, though, you got more used to it. The dark became almost comforting, in a way – you learned there was nothing there, and it was a (forced, admittedly) respite from homework, chores, and your parents. You look back on it now and realize what a horrible experience it was, but at the time you just tried to make the best of a bad situation. The really bad times grew fewer and fewer, where you finally stopped having panic attacks and crying fits at the darkness.

You turned to your imagination to keep the boredom, loneliness, and growing claustrophobia away. You made up imaginary friends to replace the real ones, and created silly adventure stories to run through your head. And if you indulged in the occasional revenge fantasy where the shadows came and carried away your mother and father, well, who would blame you?

When you were twelve years old, you had a really bad night in the closet, the worst in a couple years. The place seemed to close in on you and the darkness grew oppressive and palpable, as if you weren't the only person in there. And then you were certain you weren't.

Some of the shadows seemed to take on a physical presence, an inky human-shaped blot distinct from the rest of the dark. And then it spoke, offering to kill your parents for you, just as you always wanted. When you refused, it grabbed you and began to take on your appearance and the sound of your own voice. You felt yourself fading away as the shadow took on more substance, until you found it in yourself to fight back with all your will. The last thing you remember was grabbing the shadow as it had grabbed you, and then you blacked out. You came to early the next morning when your father let you out.

You've rationalized it away, since then, as a hallucination of your traumatized, panicking mind. You understand how sensory deprivation chambers work, how if you're denied stimulation your mind will inevitably make up its own displays. Sometimes these hallucinations are beautiful and enlightening, other times they're horrible and damaging.

However, you still can't bring yourself to sleep without the flickering glare of the TV or the yellow glow of a streetlamp pouring in your window.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trigger Event: The Cat, 370 words

You were about five years old when your younger brother was born. You were jealous of the attention he received, but you also noticed that your mother turned almost hostile towards your family's pet cat. The cat was never allowed anywhere near your brother. When you asked why, your mother mentioned an old folk tale about how cats would steal the breath of sleeping infants – not that she believed it literally, no, but that what really happened was cats would climb on top of a sleeping infant and accidentally smother it.

Late one night, you got up from bed to go to the bathroom. Your brother's nursery was across the hall from your room, and you saw the door was cracked open. Just big enough for a cat to slip through. Worried, you pushed open the door. There, your cat had perched delicately on the side of your brother's crib. You rushed forward to pull her down, but stopped short when she leaped into the crib and back out in one swift motion, holding a tiny creature in her mouth.

The creature looked like a cross between a cartoon elf and some kind of beetle. Tiny jars, some filled with a strangely luminescent gas that swirled and twisted hauntingly, hung from its belt. The creature struggled against the cat, but was dashed violently to the floor for its troubles. The cat pounced upon it and tore it apart with her claws and fangs, until the creature disintegrated into a yellowish fog. The jars broke in the fight and you could see the luminous gas snake up and back into your brother's crib.

The infant suddenly gasped and began crying, loudly. You went to quiet him, but after a minute your mother came storming in. She yelled at you for letting the cat into your brother's room, and threw the cat out. As she yelled, you could see another of those tiny creatures, riding her shoulder and whispering into her ear. She wouldn't listen to a thing you said about the cat saving your brother, and made sure to lock the cat into the guest room every night.

Three days later, your baby brother was found dead in the morning.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Message in a Bottle, pt. 5, 656 words

And not just that. As I came closer, I saw that it wasn't some single pile being battered by the surf. Like some strange spit of land, the bottles continued out into the water, held stable by their sheer mass. I clambered over them, overtaken by curiosity, and they shifted little under my weight – there were just so many that they held remarkably stable, even if the glass wet by the ocean spray was also extremely slippery. I fell a few times before I made a slow, crabby crawl across the bottles.

My hand closed around a different shape, after a few painfully slow minutes crabbing across the bottles. I looked down and found, nearly buried by the bottles, a brownish jug – also glass, so far as I could tell, and also stopped with a cork. I squatted down to tug the cork free, and a scroll of paper fell out when I upended it. The paper looked older – more discolored, stiffer, tattered at the edges. Very, delicately thin. But still the same message.

The bottles mounded higher as I went, now safely above the waterline, and they compacted together to create a more even surface. I could walk over them, with a little care. Gradually, they changed from bottles to jugs, a rolling wave of green giving way to brown, like a healthy plain bleeding into drought and blight.

The brown glass jugs gave way eventually to old, dirty clay jugs. No fine ceramics, they were rough under my feet compared to the glass, and I kicked up a lot of dust. The ocean was a joke now, with no hope of cresting this mass. If I looked hard and carefully to either side, I could just make out a glimmer of silvery-gray light that might have been the setting sun reflecting off the water. The causeway – no, the peninsula of bottles and jugs stretched as far before and behind me as I could see.

Had I really been walking so long, that shore was out of sight? I shook my head, dismissing the question, and continued on.

Jugs became amphorae became wax-sealed pots, and eventually clay became leather. Waterskins, some rigid and others flexible, sealed with wax or pine pitch, plugged up with clay or wood stoppers. And even these disappeared at the last. Soon, I walked not on glass or clay or leather, but bone.

White surrounded me, like being caught out in the winter. And a ghastly, macabre winter, as a chill wind picked up from nowhere I could tell. The ground under my feet was composed entirely of skulls. Human skulls.

Many were bleached white, as if left out in the desert sun for years. Others looked fresher, with a more natural color than the glaring white, while others had the tarnish of time spent buried. All were intact, though none had their jaw bones.

One caught my eye. Where the thousands – no, millions of skulls around me were all about adult-sized, this one was much smaller. A child's skull. It had all its upper teeth, tiny little things that had yet to fall out and be replaced by permanent teeth. I remembered when my own baby teeth had started to fall out, and realized the skull's owner couldn't have been more than six years old when he or she died.

Something shifted inside the skull as I turned it about. I looked into the hole at the base, where the spine goes up to meet the brain, and shook another little scroll out. I don't think it was paper – it didn't have the right feeling, the right consistency. If I'd had to guess, it was probably a scrap of vellum. Incredibly old, and falling apart even as I unrolled it. Pieces broke off and fell away in my hand, leaving nothing but the tiny shred upon which had been written the words:

help me

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Message in a Bottle, pt. 4, 407 words

Now... now I was really beginning to get disturbed. I got up and looked back at the bottle I'd tripped on. My eyes were drawn along the direction its neck was pointing, and I saw another – not one of the others I'd already grabbed and dropped, those were clustered together a short distance away, but a fifth bottle. Involuntarily, I walked over and tracked my gaze in the direction that the fifth bottle's neck pointed. Number six poked out of the sand.

Just to be sure, I pulled number five out of the sand and forced the cork out. help, written in that same reddish-brown ink on an identical scroll of crackling old paper.

Wait...

I yanked an adhesive bandage off my elbow, which I'd scraped yesterday. A few hairs tugged loose with it. Holding the bandage in my hand next to the paper, I squinted in the failing light.

It was hard to be certain, but the ink could have been blood. The small stain of dried blood on the bandage looked almost exactly the same color. For all I knew, the differences in color could have been from fading with age, or something in the paper.

Slowly, drawn on by mounting curiosity, I followed the path laid out by the bottles. One led to another and another and another, up the beach an interminable distance. I lost track of time as I followed the line, convinced this was a horrible idea but too intrigued to stop. I wasn't sure that turning back would help me anyways.

The bottles came closer and closer, soon in groups of two or three. Sometimes more. Every once in a while I paused to check one, and the same note was within each. The beach seemed to go on forever, a thin strip of sand with the ocean on one side, and ever more trees on the other. I looked up, shading my eyes against a ray of light that broke through the clouds as the sun lowered in the sky, and the water in the distance looked different. The wrong color.

I stepped lightly, hurrying forward to see what was wrong. The discoloration came closer, and I soon realized that it was a mass of bottles. All of them that same cloudy green color, so many that they choked the beach where they gathered. Waves splashed futilely against their mass, trying and failing to reach the sandy shore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Message in a Bottle, pt. 3, 386 words

I picked up the bottle and turned back. It was past time to head back to the little beach house; my mother would probably be preparing dinner shortly. She was a professional chef, and hadn't missed a trick when it came to gathering recipes and ideas all last week here. Now she was going to spend the next week at this resort trying things out on us, while there were still some of the more obscure ingredients readily available. No doubt the little Asian food shop back home was about to see an upturn in business, too.

My foot whacked up against something else hard again, striking the same toe with which I'd hit the bottle. I swore a little more sharply, and leaned down to rub my toe and check what I'd hit.

I blinked, nonplussed. Another bottle. An identical bottle. Even a near-identical chunk of cork, cut in the same shape and jammed in hard. And, I could just barely see through the cloudy glass, another tiny scroll tied with a string.

Swallowing a nervous laugh that suddenly threatened to bubble up, I looked around the beach. Was someone playing silly buggers with the stupid gaijin kid?

But there was no one around to be seen. There weren't even many places around to hide that also offered a good view, unless you had binoculars. I sighed and grabbed the second bottle, if just because it was there, and went on.

When my foot hit the third bottle, I threw the other two down into the sand and marched on without checking for the scroll inside.

A strange feeling stole over me, after marching along for several more minutes. I'd gone beyond the bounds of the resort when walking out along the beach, but I should've come back to it already by now. None of the beach houses were yet in sight, though. The sun was already setting and the clouds rolling back in, but it wasn't so dark that I shouldn't have been able to see the white houses. I set off at a light jog, growing uneasy.

And I swear that the fourth bottle hadn't been there before I stepped right on it. It slid out from under my feet, skidding aside easily, and I got a mouthful of sand for my troubles.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Message in a Bottle, pt. 2, 403 words

Eyes half closed, not really paying attention to where I was going, I suddenly stubbed my toe on something half-buried in the sand. Muttering a quiet profanity, I knelt down and saw an old glass bottle. It had been stopped up with a tough old piece of cork, and dried salt and sand encrusted its side. The glass was a cloudy dark green, almost opaque – from age or by design, I had no way of knowing. It was absurdly heavy for its size.

Curious as to what might be inside, I tugged the cork out. It took a lot of work – I didn't resort to pulling it with my teeth, but I did have to wrap the hem of my shirt around the cork for some extra friction. The cork came out with a loud poonk, and I tucked it into my shorts pocket.

A low whistle escaped my lips. The bottle was completely dry inside – no ancient pirate rum, a fancy that had run across my thoughts in a moment of irrational imagination. Not that I was on the right ocean for that kind of thing. This was almost as strange, though: a small strip of paper, rolled up tight so it could fit through the neck of the bottle and tied with a string. I thought that kind of thing only happened in old stories and cheesy movies.

The string didn't want to untie, but it was easy to just slip it off the paper. I dropped it back in the bottle, set the bottle down in the sand, and unrolled the paper. The paper crackled with age, stiff and yellowed but not yet so old as to fall apart. I had to fumble a few times before it unrolled fully.

In a soft, delicate hand that had swept the letters out in broad loops, some faded reddish-brown ink made a single word, written in English.

help

I think I didn't breathe for a full minute after that. Certainly, I was light-headed when I looked up, blinked repeatedly for a few seconds as if something was in my eyes. I stared off at the dimming, cloudy sky and pondered what I held.

A prank? Maybe. What little payoff, though. They'd never see who had been gotten. And in English, for something found on the coast of Japan?

If it was a prank, it was a flat-out weird one.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Message in a Bottle, pt. 1, 403 words

The storm had passed, finally. I sighed softly, upset with the time already wasted, and slipped out of the hotel room where I'd been trapped for the past half-day with my family. A big trip overseas, which Mom and Dad had spent years saving up for.

We spent the first week playing tourist in Japan's big cities, the stupid white foreigners who had to consult a phrasebook to ask where to find the toilets. That got old fast. After that, we came to a small beach resort to spend the second week of the trip. Japan's got some lovely beaches, or so we'd been told, but our first day there hadn't been very exciting. A storm blew in from nowhere and spent the whole day shaking the little rented villa with thunder and rain. I took off the second the storm broke, determined not to be trapped there with my parents and sister any longer. Even if it started raining again while I was out, I'd rather be in the middle of a thundershower than play another hand of Go Fish.

After the rattling, crashing, booming storm the beach was almost silent. The waves lapped against the shore, but they were low, background noises, easily ignored. Nobody else was anywhere to be found, the other beach resort villas still closed up against the storm and the encroaching evening. That suited me just fine.

The sunlight piercing the clouds limned everything in a faint golden hue, like being covered in a layer of some fine, glittering pixie dust. I tromped down through the powdered-gold sand and kicked a few furrows as I went along, spraying light around me. Only where sea met sand did the illusion of gold give way to reality, as the sand went muddy and brown as the waves went back and forth over it, drenching it more steadily than even a torrential rain could.

The storm had left a lot of flotsam and jetsam on the beach. I kind of pitied the resort's employees, that would have to clean it all up by tomorrow and restore the illusion of pristine paradise.

I kept walking, up along the waterline. The waves lapped against my feet, sometimes engulfing up to my ankles, and I let the muddy sand squelch between my toes. The air was still thick with humidity, but a fresh breeze off the water cut through the worst of it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another Angel Down, Second Draft

After some extended thought, I'm taking another shot at "Another Angel Down." I really don't like how the first one turned out, so here's the second draft. Most of the characters will be... similar, with the same names and mostly the same personalities. But the world is changing a lot, as is the plot. I'm hoping to learn from my mistakes with the first draft.

Obviously, this won't go up every day. I'm taking more time at thinking it out, considering how the plot should go, so there'll be plenty of shots of other stuff -- more "Sword Gods," which I'm still liking so far (a rarity, this far into things), maybe more "Never Special" if I ever get the plot outlined further with my co-author, and other one-shots and ideas as they strike me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 8, 366 words

The smith shook his head dumbly. “I was a... a captive.” His thoughts came more easily now, but his tongue still lagged behind. He swallowed against a dry throat.

The other man paused for half a step before continuing on. His gaze slid along the wall, considering the dungeon doors, down there in the depths of the keep, and moved back to the smith in careful thought.

The smith managed to grab at the other's shoulder, shaking his head. “Not a criminal,” he said. “I live in Ordal. Blacksmith. Was brought in by force, to make swords. A sword.”

“A sword? Why wouldn't a Calland smith do?”

“Don't know,” the smith lied. His hands suddenly shook, and the tremor swept up his arms and down his body. He nearly fell out of the other's arm, still doubled over as the shaking went on. He gritted his teeth and tried not to bite his tongue.

“Hey– hey!” Hands on his shoulders held him steady. “Why didn't you say you have seizures?”

“I don't normally.” The smith bit back a sharp profanity. “I was just stabbed through the frigging lung. I think I'm allowed an unpleasant side-effect or two.”

“How are you even still standing?”

The smith squeezed his eyes tightly shut for a moment, and had to make a serious effort to straighten up. Taking a deep breath and letting it out before answering, he said, “With effort.”

“No,” the other man said. He let go of the smith and backed away, shaking his head. “No, no, no. That isn't – it isn't normal.” A pause, and then, “Are you... are you a god?”

Sighing, the smith again briefly closed his eyes. “Maybe,” he admitted. “Not sure.” He touched the ragged tear in his shirt, where the sword had pierced him. “Not much of one, it seems.”

“Swords...” The man shook his head. “I've never heard of gods actually making their swords – or any swords at all. I don't know, they just... don't.”

“Like I said, I'm not much of a god,” the smith said tersely.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 7, 400 words

Footsteps hurried to his side, and an arm slid under his shoulders and hauled him upright. A hand cupped his chin and forced the smith to look up. Blearily, the smith closed his eyes for a moment to stop the world from swimming wildly around him, then opened them to squint at eyes staring into his.

“Who... 're you,” he managed, barely, around a tongue thick and stiff like he had been sick for days.

The person holding him was a young man, late in adolescence and features only just taking on the full sharpness of adulthood. He had a narrow jaw with little chin, and soft brown eyes that, combined with the long black hair pulled back in a queue, conspired to make him look more feminine than masculine. But his features blurred in the smith's eyes, something recognizable in the shape of his nose and the set of his mouth, something in how his brows drew down over those brown eyes in intense scrutiny.

The smith physically recoiled from the younger man, seeing the knight in his features. He fell backwards out of the young man's arm and cracked his head on the stone floor. The ancient straw offered no cushion against the blow.

“...ohh ow...”

“Damnation... What the blazes was that about?” The young man knelt down beside him. Questions flowed in a babbling rush. “Who are you, and how aren't you dead? What are you doing here?”

“Stop,” the smith croaked. “Get away.”

“What? No, you're hurt. And in a place as filthy as this...” He shook his head. “Come on.”

The young man grabbed the smith and hauled him up with surprising strength for his small frame. The smith braced himself, but the pain he expected never came. Oh, his body ached and the wound still throbbed, but he was lifted carefully off the floor so he didn't pull at his hurts. He rocked unsteadily on his feet, but the younger man held him up.

As they shuffled out of the chamber, the smith managed to ask, “Who... What're you doing here?”

With a sideways look at the smith, the younger man said, “I should be asking you that. I live here.” He flicked a quick look around the dim hallway. “In this city, that is. I don't think anyone could live down here.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 6, 381 words

Air.

Choking, the smith flopped over onto his stomach and gagged a wad of blood and phlegm out of his throat. A thick film of drying mucous and blood coated the roof of his mouth and tongue, and his stomach heaved. He spat up a thick, half-congealed clot of blood nearly half the size of his fist. More, smaller clots followed. The smith nearly vomited again just from the feeling of forcing out the thick, stringy globs. Something crackled in his chest with every breath as air forced its way past something else in his passages. More blood, he felt certain.

But...

Lying on the ground, ancient straw crackling and squelching under his shifting body weight, face-down in his own bloody vomit and lying in a puddle of cooling blood... he didn't care. He could breathe. He was still alive.

Even the wound didn't hurt as much as he felt it should have. He had been stabbed clean through a lung, and now it hurt less than the time, during his apprenticeship, he'd stepped on an old nail that had been discarded carelessly. The nail hadn't gone right through his foot, but it had bit in deeply, and one of his toes was still numb to this day from some damage it had left behind. The bout of lockjaw he'd developed afterward, and barely survived, had been worse yet. In all, it had set his apprenticeship back by the best part of a year.

After a few minutes, he tried to move. His muscles protested, and the angry pain in his chest flared bright. He flopped flat against the floor, gasping. His desperate need for air made the only noise in the entire room.

The door creaked open, unutterably loud in the dark, silent chamber. Light from the hall stabbed in and at his eyes. He flinched away. His body screamed in pain at even that tiny movement, but he ignored it. All he could do was huddle on the ground in fear of what came now to do away with him.

“Bloody abyss...”

The smith froze. That voice– it wasn't the knight or the Blood God. He'd never heard it before. He tried to uncurl, to look up at whoever had found him, but his limbs refused to respond.