Storytime: Seed Money.

August 22nd, 2016

Teacher En was out of money again. This was unfortunate, especially since she was in a bar, and doubly so, because she had just drunk it.
“Pay with your wallet or with your kneecaps,” the barkeep kindly informed her.
“A fair offer,” she said. “But I’ve got a better one.”
“A better one what?”
“I’ve just told you that,” said Teacher En, a little irritated. “A bet. I’ll bet you I can take this old bar nut from the deepest crevice of your floorboards and grow it into a tree that soars higher than any may have ever imagined anywhere.”
The barkeep was interested despite herself – it had been years and years since there’d been a tree to shade the front stoop and cool away the fierce noons – but she was wary of old weird wanderers and deadbeats besides. “I accept your bet,” she said, “but on one condition: me and my sons get to do whatever we can to stop you short of uprooting the thing and throwing it away.”
“This is fair,” said Teacher En, and they shook hands and right then and there Teacher En stepped out the front door one two three four strides and moved some dirt with her thumb and plonked down the old bar nut. Just as she moved to sweep it back over, she paused for a second and leaned close to the little hole.
“Get a move on,” she whispered. And it was buried.
“Now it’s my turn,” said the barkeep. And she called her sons, her three big and variously fat sons, and all of them unzipped their pants and turned the little dimple in the soil into an (extremely acid) latrine.
“A good bet,” the barkeep told Teacher En, “but maybe not a wise one. Tell you what: you can do the washing-up tonight, if you’d like. If you’re good at it and keep going for the rest of the week, you can pay with that instead of your kneecaps.
The old woman smiled. “Kind of you. It’s been too long since I’ve dealt with a good dish anyways.”

The next day the barkeep woke up early from the shouts and hoots outside. She emerged with an itch in one hand and a scratch in the other and had to blink for a good five minutes before the sight in front of her made any sense: look at that, a whole seedling had sprung up out of the soil. A foot tall and stretching for the sun.
“Now how’d it live through that?” she asked, and asked, and asked, but nobody had an answer until they leaned down close and saw the waxy coating of its form, sealing outside from in.
“Well, you’re a cleverer person than you look,” she said to Teacher En, who’d just finished last night’s dishes and was setting the washcloths out to dry on the railing. “But it’s my turn now.” And she and her three big and variously fat sons went over that seedling with tweezers and peeled and plucked every single strip of bark from it until it was as soft and naked as a newborn.
“Nice try,” the barkeep told Teacher En. “Your turn.”
The old woman squatted down next to the seedling and turned over its biggest leaf and carefully put her mouth to it.
“Hurry up now,” she muttered, and let it be again.
A shout from indoors came; the morning had begun, and there were new dishes to be washed.

The next day the barkeep woke up late, hung-over from a round of self-congratulation. She staggered outdoors with an ache in her pants and her head and hurt her nose pretty badly on the sapling, which was now ten feet tall and covered in thorny barbs on a layer of bark that could’ve been used as a warship’s hull.
“How’d you do that?” she demanded of Teacher En, storming back inside. “Do you have people out there switching trees on me every evening?”
“I travel by myself with myself only,” said Teacher En, who was shoulder-deep inside a particularly stubborn mug. “And sometimes I leave myself behind to get some peace and quiet. Feel free to stay up and keep watching, but if you’ll look at the soil, you’ll see nobody’s been digging out there all week.”
“After today we won’t need to check,” vowed the barkeep. And her three big and variously fat sons fetched her stepladder and she went up there and plucked every single leaf from the crown of the sapling, and snapped off many of the smaller green twigs.
Then they went in before rush hour started, and only just made it. Teacher En had to help wait tables to keep up. But that evening she walked down to the sapling, and she bent down to the nearest knothole.
“Rush it up,” she scolded. And was done.

The next day the barkeep woke up early because it was so quiet. Deathly quiet. The air was still and creaking.
She tiptoed downstairs past arrays of – surprisingly well-cleaned – mugs and bottles and over a freshly-scrubbed floor and stepped out into a small crowd of morning regulars, each and every single one of which was staring up dead-eyed at the tree.
It was big, but hard to measure. Over a hundred feet tall everything looks the same. The fresh green leaves waved mockingly.
“Right,” she said. “That’s it. Bring me the pitch.”
It took many, many buckets and the three tallest ladders in town, but by evening’s dimming the barkeep and her three big and variously fat sons had coated every inch of the tree they could reach with pitch. As the sun set, fire spat and clawed its way up its sides like hungry cats.
“You’ve been a good employee,” the barkeep told Teacher En, as she took over the shift in the dying light. “But I think you’ve got a poor knack for gambling.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” said Teacher En. And she took her break there, which she spent sitting next to the blazing trunk and warming her hands. As she sat up to head back in for the dishes, she leaned in close to the embers and the roots.
“Walk it off, finish up,” she sighed.

The barkeep woke up at her accustomed hour. She walked downstairs and nothing was unusual. She was so on edge that she nearly jumped out of her skin twice over, and it came as a great relief when she looked out the window and saw the largest tree she’d ever dreamed in front of her building, blotting out half the sun and waving cheerfully in the breeze.
She sighed, half-disappointed, half-relieved, and she and her three large and variously fat and entirely confused sons walked over to the till where Teacher Enn was counting out the cash and told her the bet was won.
“Yes,” said Teacher En with a grimace. “I did bite off more than I could chew, didn’t I? Well, I’m half-done the week already, so I suppose I can pay you through that rather than with my kneecaps.”
“But how have you failed, teacher?” they asked her. “Your seedling has grown all out of recognition and sense in every way.”
“Yes,” she said. “But it has completely failed to fly.”


Storytime: Passing By.

August 17th, 2016

As I was sitting at home one day, which is what I do, I shook my head and then myself.
The world’s too pretty to spend it cooped up in a box, I decided. I was going for a walk.
So I walked
All
The
Way
Down
to the docks, where there was a little boat with a big catch. Huge nets were rolling up on its deck, thousands of feet long, and fish were spilling everywhere. But they were throwing most of them overboard.
“Sharks,” the captain told me. “Who wants a shark? Not me. Not most people. They taste bad, they look ugly, and they can tear your children apart just like that –” and here he twisted his hand a little just like that “- you ask me, preserving them’s brainless. Nothing but mindless eating machines, living to fill their bellies. You know anyone like that?”
And I didn’t know anyone like that, no; I didn’t know anyone like that.

The docks were meant to be bracing, I’d heard, but the air was so bracing it was trying to knock me over. Full of sea salt and fish guts and drying paint and crusted oil. Very aggressive.
So I walked
All
The
Way
Down
to the brush, where there was a white flock of fluffy round things with simple, stupid faces and kind little eyes. I skritched one behind the ears and it baa’d at me.
“Those are my sheep,” said a suspicious voice. I looked over and saw it came from a suspicious sort of man and was nothing personal. In his right hand was a gun and in his left hand was a scruffy, mangy sort of beigey animal with brown stripes on its back and too much jaw.
“Tasmanian wolf,” he informed me, with a sweep of his arm. “Tasmanian tiger. Thylacine. You name it, I’ve killed it. Hopefully this is the last one. You’ve got to kill them, you know. For the sake of the sheep. If you don’t kill them they kill the sheep and then we can’t kill the sheep either. Blood-suckers they are, blood-suckers with parasitic inclinations scavenging off our hard work. You know anyone like that?”
And I didn’t know anyone like that, no; I didn’t know anyone like that.

The brush was meant to be mysterious and wild, I’d heard, but the air was full of fleece and dung and I was starting to sneeze.
So instead I walked
All
The
Way
Down
to the plains, where there was wide open spaces and a big blue sky and a whole field of dead, dead, dead animals, each bigger and hairier than I was and deeply impressive in their appearance of grump, even after death.
“That’s my trophy get your own,” said a man who was also bigger and hairier than I was. He crawled out from behind one of the animals, brandishing a severed and half-bloodied skull. “Beautiful, eh? Something for the fireplace. These here are buffalo and if anyone calls them ‘bison’ I will punch them. You’ve got to shoot buffalo. They’re in the way. They’re useless, nobody decent uses them for anything important. We could put a cow here you know, if there weren’t any buffalo. A cow and maybe a man and maybe a mall. What do you think about that? You’d like it, I’d hope, because these are useless animals that live to eat and to make more of themselves and spread around their own manure. Know anyone like that?”
And I didn’t know anyone like that, no; I didn’t know anyone like that.

The plains were meant to be beautiful and airy but they smelled like blood and even more manure than I’d ever imagined, so I picked up my feet again and walked
All
The
Way
Down
to the park, where things were quiet if they knew what was good for them and I could get plenty of brochures. I sat down on a log next to a scenic trail and a scenic trail signpost and I felt pretty happy until BANG a gunshot went off to my ear. A man walked up to me, dragging a wolf.
“You with the park?” he asked me. I wasn’t, no.
“Damnit,” he said. “Shoot. Shucks. Shit. I’ve got to give this thing back to the park. It wandered off and it looked at my sheep, it did. That’s how it starts, the looking. Then comes the biting. Then comes the eating. Hard times, it is, when a merciless predator is given better housing and care then most of us. An ungrateful bastard in your own house making free with your possessions at your expense and you can’t do anything about it. You ever known anyone like that?”
And I didn’t know anyone like that, no; I didn’t know anyone like that.

The park was a little tense for my tastes, and the air was a little hazy with gunsmoke, and most importantly I’ve got to be honest with you: my feet were starting to ache something fierce.
So I walked. I walked back through the park and the plains and the brush and the dock and I walked
All
The
Way
Back
Home.
And I walked up to the door and I opened it and there was a man there, tapping his foot and frowning with his whole body.
“About time you showed up,” he said, and stuffed a sheet of paper into my palm. “You’re being evicted. You spend too much time paying too much attention to too many things that don’t matter and not enough to anything that does. You’ve got your head in the clouds and your butt on the ground, and now your feet’ll be out the door so you can have a matched set.” He shook his head despairingly. “Looking at things that aren’t even real, eh? Where would we be if everyone did that? You know anyone else who does that?”
And he walked out the door and was gone.
I was really tired, but since I was evicted I sat down on the stoop and not my bed. And as I sat there, I waited for someone to come across me and get me moving. To move in. To yell at me to get a job. To put out their garbage. To pass by on the other side of the street, doing something, going somewhere.

I waited all day long and all night and more.
But I didn’t see anyone like that, no.
I didn’t see anyone like that.


Storytime: From A to B.

August 10th, 2016

Five weeks after Jesse was born, his mother heard a sharp, sudden yowl emit from his room, immediately followed by the blurred, orange shape of their cat, Pinkerton
She raced in with her heart in her mouth and her stomach in her throat, but what she saw turned her fears to tears of joy.
Gentle curves spun round the crib, barb-tipped and slowly nudging their way around the room.
Arrows, she realized through the warm rounded puffs of her own head. Her baby boy was thinking in arrows.

From that point on, Jesse’s path was well-marked, well-monitored, and well-trodden. A gift like thinking in arrows couldn’t be left to lie fallow and blunt itself. It was an investment.
Tutors, of course, were mandatory. To place Jesse in public school, amongst public plebeians, would be tragic for all involved. The teachers – those careful, stolid square-makers, so diligently turned to the nineties at each degree – would only blunt him at best, while the mushy and unformed masses of his fellow classmates might suffer injury from exposure to his unfettered attention.
No, Jesse was to be turned and honed to higher purposes. His tutors were lean and tall and set their feet broad and firm on the ground, matching their bodies to their triangular thoughts. Raise yourself high, they told him. Raise yourself high.
Jesse listened, and as he listened he learned, and as he learned he grew past them. Their points were sharp, but their aim was lacking. They were good teachers, but they were poor examples. When he was seventeen he fired all his tutors – for he had since assumed control of his own finances – and applied for several advanced schools. Education loomed ahead of him like Everest; vast, touching the heavens at its tip but arising from an endless range of lowly dirt.
He had spent years learning triangles such as these, and graduated some two years later, with little difficulty. He was, after all, a reasonable, rational adult, and thought as such.
From there, Jesse’s life reached its goal: he was hired. He was placed in an office, in a company, in a building, in a block, in a city, in a country, all of the highest quality as could be determined by the finest metrics. He was given tasks of vast and vague size, which he unerringly skewered to the heart. His gaze was sharp and unwavering and came from unpredictable angles, and wherever it landed it sundered waste and pinpointed profit. No one dared meet it, and if he derived any satisfaction at all from anything that was not purely and wholly his job it was the way everyone else’s thoughts seemed to get just a little smaller and tighter when he walked by them in the hall.
This was the absolute, and if Jesse could be said to be content he was, or at least he had no end of targets to inflict his contentment upon.
And then, there was the park.

It was not a good park.
There was too much grass in the fountain and not enough grass on the lawn. There was one swing out of two. The slide was broken, and besides it had been too hot to touch in the summer.
It was not a nice park.
Plastic littered the bushes; cardboard crept upon the ground. The one park bench there was permanently occupied; half by a tired old man and half by a duffle bag that had sat there for six years.
It was, however, a very good opportunity.
Jesse spoke to the city, and his expertise and authority pinned them to the wall with its force. He spoke to the neighborhood association, and they saw the magnitude of his points and surrendered immediately. He phoned the police and directed to them the most pressing of their problems that day which was a tired old man sleeping on a bench.
And it was a nice day and everything was all set right up until the demolition foreman phoned Jesse in his office and told him he’d better come down here.
“Why?” asked Jesse, probing him from across the line.
The foreman’s wince was a tickle against his forebrain. “There’s someone here.”
“Remove them,” said Jesse, pushing a little harder. “They’re trespassing.”
“Yes, but…there’s someone here.”
Jesse didn’t repeat himself. It wasn’t a matter of principle, or of policy, or of a private rule he kept. It was just one of those things that didn’t happen to him, like flying by flapping your arms very hard or turning into a giant cockroach.
“Remove them,” Jesse repeated. “They’re trespassing.” And he frowned, because something troubled him and he wasn’t sure why.
“You’d better come down and see this for yourself.”

The park was even uglier in person. But Jesse saw past it, because that’s what he did. He peeled aside its simple surface and darted to its core: the real estate, the value, the prize to be claimed from the bullseye of its existence.
And he bounced off it quite badly, so hard that he blinked instead of swearing.
“What?” he asked.
It had not been directed at him, but the foreman answered anyways. “Just there,” he said. Sensibly squared as he was, he had to point with his bare arm and hand to indicate. “Down by the swings.”
Jesse walked around the bench – empty of the tired old man, but strangely, still bedecked with its duffle bag – and into the park, past broken grass and dead lights and under a half-living tree, and in that swingset he found a person.
They were hunched, a little, and small, very. Their legs kicked up short in the swing, and it was taking a lot of work to keep it moving. The chains jangled like an old man’s keychain.
“You are trespassing on private property,” said Jesse.
The swinger did not reply.
“You are trespassing on private property,” said Jesse, and he felt that twinge of discomfort again. “And you must leave,” he added hurriedly.
The swing ceased movement. The person looked up at him through the oddest eyes he’d seen. They were very blank. Not empty. Halted, maybe.
“This is my swing,” they said.
“This is my property,” Jesse said. “This is not your swing,” Jesse said. “You will leave now or I will have the police remove you,” Jesse said. “Your eyes are very peculiar and this alarms me,” Jesse said.
And Jesse didn’t say a single one of those things, instead he squared his shoulders and folded his arms and furrowed his brow and set his thoughts freely upon the small and strange person, because he was very uncomfortable and he wanted no part of this any longer than was absolutely necessary. Out folded his sleek arrows and his firm lines and from every which angle they shot out at the hunched frame before him, jabbing at critical points and cutting through the bullshit and
blunted, bouncing on nothing. Each and every single one.
Jesse did not scream. Jesse did not sweat. Jesse did not stare.
Jesse didn’t even panic, because he didn’t know how.
Instead he narrowed his eyes, reached out again with all his streamlined intent and careful aim and slid out towards his target.
Right there, right where it should be. There should be corners. There should be angles. There should be weaknesses, points of entry. Deliberately constructed arguments to undermine and penetrate.
And instead, there was nothing but smoothness, almost nothing there at all. Where there should be a complexity and a comprehensibility and a humanity to interrogate and infiltrate, a shape, a reason, a MEANING, there was instead something impervious to pressure and perfectly sealed in upon itself.
It reminded Jesse a little of a marble, he realized. Or a beach ball.
“You have to go,” he said. With words, like a primitive, like a primate.
“I can’t go,” said the thing in front of him. “I walk here. I walk here every day at ten o’clock. I walk clockwise around the park.” They pointed at the bench, at the bag that shouldn’t be there. “I pick up the nicest stone I can find and I put it in the bag.”
“Why?” asked Jesse.
They looked at him, and for the first time they met his gaze deliberately rather than his having to hunt it down. “Because it’s what I do,” it said. “It’s what I’ve always done. I have to keep doing it.”
“You have to go,” Jesse said. His brain was starting to hurt. His hands were starting to shake. “Be reasonable. You are a reasonable, rational
adult and you see my point. You have to go.”
“I can’t go,” said the person.
Jesse shook his head twice, shot out his breath in a tight swear, and made every single point he could inside his head ten times over.
Then he threw them like thunderbolts.

Phonecalls were made, later that day. Later still, they were heard. Secretaries had to listen to them first, of course. You couldn’t rush these things when you were the sort of man who talked to that sort of man.
(they were still mostly men)
They concerned the country, and more specifically the city, and more specifically the corporation and the park and the entire city block surrounding it and what had happened to it just the other day, and how to deal with it.
What the precise details were, well, that didn’t matter. Details don’t matter to those men. They think in broad terms, in only three terms.

=
and
<
and
>

That day, it was concluded that Jesse <

The park is still there. Nobody knows what to do about it. The earthmovers left in about a week. Someone paid the foreman.
The bag is still there. The tired old man isn’t. He may have found a shelter. He may not have.
But nobody wants to look too closely at the park. Nobody wants to find what Jesse did.
No reasonable, rational adult.


Storytime: A Meeting.

August 3rd, 2016

The flower was on the last cusp of colour. Grey and black had eaten it from the outside in, but on the very edge, a faint hint of blue lingered.
Courier Jessle slid her eyes away from the flower to the rest of the field. A dim sky, over a carpet of dim blossoms. They lay on their sides, as if they had all lain down for a strange sort of nap.
Each and every one had been carefully yanked out by their roots.
One of the villages must have done this, she reflected. One of the small, grey
(the colour of her hair now; when did that happen? It had been so long since she was here)
little villages she’d walked through just an afternoon ago. The people had been quiet and industrious. They hadn’t looked up at her footstep, they hadn’t hesitated at her stare, they had drifted out of her path as smoothly as the parting fog.
She had never been so disconcerted in her life. The sight of a good, honest pick-pocketing in the street would’ve cheered her up immensely.
But the villagers would never do a thing like that. They would never do something so pointlessly outside of their remit. They did as they were told. Nothing more.
Nothing less.
Jessle placed the flower down precisely not where she had taken it from. This gave her a tiny bit of satisfaction and sent an uncomfortable thrill down her spine, as if she were seven again and trespassing in her aunt’s bedroom. Exhilaration, coupled with a certainty of unknown, inescapable punishment yet to come.

The lake had not changed, she thought with relief, and then she saw that she had thought wrong.
The boats were still there: thick-oared, low-slung barges. The rowers were still there: downcast, over-robed young men. The dock was still there: dark wood sheathed in black iron.
But the boats were rotted – unfit to transport even a scant load of prisoners now – and the dock was bowed, and the rowers stared without blinking from pinpoint pupils, every muscle tensed for a single task and not permitted release.
She’d seen that stare before. But she would not permit herself that memory, and stifled it.
The oars had been quiet, back then. They were quieter still now. There were no ripples in the water, even as the rowers yanked and sweated furiously.
Not for the first time, Jessle reflected that this was not a job for a Courier. Couriers delivered messages. Sometimes the messages were demands. Sometimes the messages were sharp. Sometimes the messages were sharpened, and also came without any warning.
Couriers were not negotiators. And yet here she sat, on the deck of a waterlogged thing too miserable to be called a hulk, preparing herself to do just that.

The loss of the Stone had been an inconvenience that had been kept from being an emergency solely by dint of it being a wholly shared and mutual disaster for all involved. Every country, every empire, large and small and even unknown, they all had something or some person that had been incarcerated there. For any one of them, losing access would’ve been a crisis. For all of them, it was a joint frustration. A problem for diplomats to exchange gripes and commiserate on. A community-building occasion, nearly.
It would have been almost a net positive, if it hadn’t been for the silence.
Jessle counted her paces; one of many, many habits she’d diligently acquired, trained, and catalogued.
She’d entered the silence almost half a league before her maps – the most recent – had said she would. This was almost precisely where her briefing’s calculations – also the most recent – had told her she would.
Geometric growth. A terrible thing that tended to only appear so when it was already too late.
‘Too late’ came to mind for more than one thing; the lake had grown no larger, but the wallowing of the barges surely made it seem so. The piers of the Stone were finally in sight, swirling out of the mist, and on the piers stood a single man, waiting.
“Courier Jessle,” he said. His grip was cold on her arm, even through the broadcloth fabric of her coat.
Jessle did not forget faces, and that was one of her few talents that had been a gift rather than a hard-won habit. But the thing she looked at now defied her memories. “Warden?” she blurted out, not sure whether to be more shocked at yes or no.
The face did not move. “The Warden is waiting for you.”
Her mind was made up. The voice was the same; a whisper standing in for a grown man’s lungs. Every laugh-line was gone, smoothed away by years of immobility, but the broadness of the features was there. The wide mouth, the eyes, the cheeks.
The eyes were pinpricks, of course. Of course.
No, this wasn’t the warden. This was the man she remembered, but he wasn’t the warden. Not anymore.
She nodded, and followed the man through the splayed-open cragstone gates of the Stone’s walls, a defense that could’ve eaten armies left ajar, now obsoleted.

The way was long and winding, and there were no words from her guide. Jessle supplied her own, inside her head. She needed the practice, and the reminder of what sound was like. The mist was thicker with each step, and with it, the silence.
The towers were draped with moss now from the constant moisture. Some of it must’ve been new growth.
There were no guards posted anywhere.
Paths were visible in the flagstones; the older ones worn by centuries of heavy tread and made visible in damp puddles and pools; the modern by the crushed mess of stamped fungi and mosses. They were not heavily-used.
There were no rats.
That at least was not new. Jessle hadn’t been able to ride a horse for days. She also had not seen a rat.
The man guiding her was gone, she noticed. Except that wasn’t right, it felt as if she’d already known this and had forgotten to mention it to herself. She was alone, in the deserted, abandoned depths of the world’s most impenetrable prison, immersed in a fog that hid walls a mere armspan from her sides, and she was sure that this, like every other thing since she’d entered the silence of the Stone, was entirely under control.
Just not her own.

There was no door to the chamber – not a room, nothing so sophisticated, just a simple and sudden broadening of the passage, a gasp in the prison’s throat.
There was a grate set into the floor. Iron-barred and vast. A hundred men and women couldn’t have lifted it. The broken remains of a lever next to it suggested they once had not needed to.
And sitting next to this ancient, creaking thing was a table, brand-new and put together by violence and inexperience and too many nails.
There were three chairs. One was full, and a man sat in another.
Jessle sat in the empty chair and felt her bones cease the complaints she hadn’t even notice beginning.
“Courer Jessle,” she said. “From Gelmorre.” And as she spoke the words she felt them vanish before they even entered her larynx, eaten alive and leaving her lips to flail dumbly in empty space.
If the man opposite her was amused, he hid it well – although he had the advantage of her, with a full beard to hide behind.
Ambassador Honn, Jessle read from his lips. Of Matagan.
Something moved in the pit.
Jessle didn’t flinch, and she was proud of that as she watched the ‘Gan wince in his seat. She couldn’t move, her head was filled with memories of endless coils and winding, brutal strength and scales and a hardened, toothless beak that was nearly smiling.
The warden was there, and the third chair was full of its presence.
And she breathed again, without the comfort of the creaking of her ribs, and she began to recite the first offer she had been ordered to deliver.

More than two decades now, and she was still the only expert they had on Wyrms, or at least the only thing they had that looked like an expert, or the only one that could speak in full sentences.
Twenty-three years of Gelmorre’s scant colonies out there over the sea, in Afar, and only one book ever written. Mostly speculations and stories, short and stunted and frightened.
She had given them illustrations, with difficulty. Her pencil strokes had been unsure, self-doubting.
Mists and madness and a quiet that struck like a sledge and took your mind from your skull to play with, how you could lose that she wasn’t sure…
The memories were trying to hide from her.
But now, sitting not twenty feet from her former prisoner, she could see it again in her head as if it were brightest day.

Her words ran out, noiselessly. A moment to be certain, a working of his jaw, and Honn began to speak.
He was good, this ‘Gan. Jessle saw that. He had paid attention to her words, and to the words behind them, and to the orders and the intents behind the both of them. Read it all as surely as if Her Worshipped was sitting at Jessle’s shoulder, speaking them aloud.
And now came the counter-offer, sliding in so comfortably it was almost taken for granted, already-there. Better terms, of course. Better for both of them. Matagan’s tribute would be more fruitful, their exchange with the Stone more beneficial, their relationship more prosperous. For both of them. A better future would result. For both of them.
He was good, this ‘Gan. The very best. Jessle would’ve sent him, if she’d the choice. She knew that surely.
So why was she here instead?
That was a thought that could not be, and she had kept it out of her skull for three weeks now, for every day of her journey.
The silence of the Stone expands. A deal must be made. The ‘Gans want one too. Gelmorre must prevail. Courier Jessle will be sent…
And then chasing after it, finally sneaking inside her awareness, the final step she’d always suspected: …by the Stone’s request, as its former jailer.
Her expression didn’t change, she thought. It was hard to tell, numb as the world was. But something must have shown in her body, because the ‘Gan did not continue overlong, and his face as his lips stilled was – through the drawn-out fear – curving into a slight smile.
Jessle tried to shove her thoughts out of her head and spoke her own counter-offer. It went poorly.
Her words were done and her hands felt as if they must be shaking even though they weren’t and Honn was smiling openly now as he took his place, dismantling her arguments without ever once referring to them, mocking her miserliness with his generosities, painting a future so bright that Jessle could almost – with real effort – imagine colour again as something real.
He was finished. Jessle said something, she was sure, but even she wasn’t really listening anymore. The ‘Gan wasn’t watching her lips, his eyes were on hers, and he wouldn’t stop smiling, it was going to drive her out of her

There was a face at the grate.
It was larger than a warhorse, it was larger than a carriage, it was almost the size of a house. Bigger than before.
The beak was just shy of the bars, reluctant of the iron’s touch, but almost toyingly so.
She couldn’t imagine it being unable to lift it. She couldn’t imagine it being unable to do anything.
She couldn’t do anything at all but watch those eyes, those swollen-pupilled eyes, eyes bigger than she was, as they settled upon her.
Pressure was there, invisible but immense. She must have felt something like this before, something almost like this but infinitely slighter, when she knelt before the seat of Her Worshipped but thinking of her was impossible right now, thinking at all was impossible now and

Jessle breathed again. Something was missing. Maybe it was her. Maybe she’d never know. But the world was moving again (had it stopped?) and she knew some things that were carved inside her and would never come out again.
She had failed the terms of her mission. The Stone would be open again – to Matagant and aligned interests.
She had failed other missions, long, long ago. Her prisoner never was. Her victories had never been.
She would not speak of this. She would not think of this.
All those things were deeply, unfathomably true, and so she ignored them entirely and instead looked straight ahead, blindly following the one sense that was open to her, and came eye-to-tooth with Ambassador Honn, grinning as if he were a tiger with a whole birdcage wedged in his mouth.
She was done. She was dismissed. He had won. Wasn’t he going to say anything?
A muscle twitched.
Jessle looked closer and saw that wasn’t a smile, it had never been a smile. The man’s mouth was all teeth now, ridged and fixed and tensed to a screaming tauntness against his lips that sent blood trickling down his chin through the wrinkles, dripping in tiny specks from the fine hairs of his beard.
“Go,” it said from his mouth, in words, in real words that cut through Jessle’s thoughts like blades. “Now.”
She did.

After what had taken place in words, even the bone-seeping silence of the Stone was a relief. Jessle ran, without dignity, without care, up from the depths to the dock and only felt her breath return to her when the water began to move again under the lurch and tug of the boat’s oars.
She had never been so happy to fail in her duty – to Gelmorre, to Her Worshipped, to her family’s very reputation – in her life. Her report to the throne would be a devastation to speak aloud, a litany of failure and humble apology, and she would have to fight to keep from singing it.
She suddenly felt her smile to be too wide in her head, and it vanished in a shiver.
He was gone now, that ‘Gan. Gone for being too good at his job? Or for other reasons, or because of her? The Couriers delivered the words of Her Worshipped, but this would not be the first time they were used, unwanted, to deliver another’s message.
I am here, where you thought to keep me. I am strong, stronger than you knew, and stronger each day. I do not fear you. I do not respect you.
I do as I please, and my whims are what please me. You will not understand them, and I do not expect you to.
She realized her hand was trembling on the rail, her right hand, and she could not stop it.
No. Speculation was not the duty of a Courier unless ordered. If the monster appeared opaque, that was what she would take it for. She would not place herself inside its skull immediately after being spared that particular insult.
Courier Jessle stepped off the boat, away from the Stone, away from the silence, and away from her imaginings.
And as she did, she thought of a field of dead flowers.


Storytime: Lost.

July 27th, 2016

My city is lost.
It was right nearby when I last checked. It can’t have gone too far.
I’m putting up posters, and I’m sure it will come right back. It’s very distinctive; cyclopean masonry; timeworn slabs of stone; the dust of ages piled in every over-spider-webbed corner and cranny and crevice. There will be phone calls by the morrow.
You should have a look-around too, it would be worth your time. It’s got a diamond mine, or a gold mine, or something like that. A plunderable place to be sure, a conquistador’s wet dream without all the inconvenience of owners to deal with in barter and blades and bacteria and bloody thoughts. A convenient place, wasn’t it? I thought so. I thought so.
But it won’t mean a thing if I can’t FIND it. I need to find it. It’s been a long time, yes, but that long?

 

My civilization is lost.
Have you seen it? Can you help me find it? It was here, just a minute ago. I put it down and walked away; I just let its hand slip from my grasp for a moment; I swear it was right there, I’m certain.
Now it’s gone and crawled away under the tectonic floorboards, buried itself in a subterranean cyst and sunk down into the abyss. Are there impassable mountains? Plateaus? Deserts? It could be under them or in them or even above them. I just don’t know where it’s gone.
There could very well be something in it for you, if you must know. It was a Great and Glorious civilization indeed, which almost goes without saying; whoever heard of losing a Small and Modest civilization? It’s unheard of! Unthinkable! There will be fabulous riches, trust me. Fabulous.
Please, you MUST come with me and look for it! It’s very important – it’s so important! It invented everything you’ve ever heard of and everything they’ve been trying to keep hushed up. It’s the reason for the pyramids and the other pyramids and the Nazca lines and the JFK assassination and the Mars landings they pretended were on the moon. It can’t have gone far, the evidence is right under your nose. All the answers are right there, waiting, yearning, stretching up to reach past our assumptions and into our minds.
But they won’t mean a thing unless we FIND it.

 

My world is lost.
Can anybody see it around here? It seemed large at the time, but the planet’s much older and bigger than I’d thought and now it’s rolled away into the crowded bustle of nations. It might be one of them, for all I know. Can I describe it? I’m not sure what size it was.
It was filled with fronds, that much I’m certain. It’s choked with ferns and damp and steam; except where it’s a parched volcanic badlands, or a green and alien sea. The things that call from cliffs – always cliffs, never trees – aren’t birds, I can assure you. There’s a ruin in there somewhere, but we never found out who built it; it was architectural litter, not from us, or the snakemen, or the lizardmen, or the apemen, or the troglodytes.
It was an island – no a valley – no a mountain – no a continent – no a great cavern – no it was hiding right under your feet. Unless it was on Mars. Always Mars, unless it’s Venus.
I don’t understand how I could be so STUPID. I was distracted, and things moved on, and now it’s so old and everything else is so fresh and new. I hadn’t dusted or cleaned it in ages; it was rank with rot and fat and thick, bloated flabs of grossly morbid eugenics. It’s an heirloom, it’s not mine, I’ve only got amateur interest, it’s full of historical value. Don’t look at me that way; it’s not my fault!
It doesn’t mean a thing. It doesn’t mean a THING!
I can show you, I can show you, I WILL SHOW YOU
But first I need to find it.

 

I am lost.
Can you tell where I am? Where I’ve been? Where I’ve gone? I’ve called and called for help but I’ve heard not a single answer. It’s a wilderness out there, undoubtedly untrammeled and bereft of a single familiar voice.
Please, won’t anyone come find me? Anyone like me. I’m not meant to be lost, you must understand. Other places are lost. Other places are meant to be found. I am always found. That’s how I do my finding. But now I’m lost and lost and lost, and all that’s between me and everyone else is my four stone walls.
These walls are high and thick and tall and I will never take them down. They keep me safe from whatever’s prowling around out there, stomping in that jungle (it must be a jungle, it’s always a jungle) with its spears and its teeth and its hot terrible breath that smells of raw meat.
I am lost here, behind my walls, my strong walls. They are crumbling now, but they always have been. I made them that way on purpose.
Let you others take down your walls and rove and roam and romp.
Simpletons!
Simpletons!
I am safe. I am safe. I must be safe behind my old stones and old words and old thoughts.

 

 

I wonder.
I wonder who will ever find me?


Thudmaker and the Sea.

July 20th, 2016

The day started early, but the breakfast was late.
The little Thudmakers found it at last – the biggest two did – in the back of the bottom of the end of the crooked cupboard hidden in the corner. They shared it with their siblings, quietly, and took very small bites apiece.
“I guess it’s time again,” said Thudmaker.
Out came the yellow hat, out came the brown boots, out came the overalls. And out the front door, shutting it quiet as a mouse, came Thudmaker, sixteen feet tall and going on sixty, headed down the street to look for work.
But looking high, there wasn’t any. And looking low, there wasn’t any. And nobody looks in between, but Thudmaker looked there too, and there wasn’t any.
There was one more place, though. It wasn’t any of those things.
It wasn’t anywhere at all.

And so Thudmaker headed down to the docks. Oh, woah Thudmaker, scars and muscles and old burns and new callouses and such a sight on the shining Main Street. Parents covered their children’s eyes; cars drove by a little faster. You don’t look at Thudmaker, they knew. You need, but you don’t look. And you don’t speak.
Down by the way of damp smells there was an older store that Thudmaker squeezed into and came out with a battered old sou’wester that was bent a little too far to the south. And a block farther down there was an even older store that Thudmaker couldn’t fit into at all, where a man had a boat that was half tin and half wood and you couldn’t tell the two halves apart if your life depended on it. Nobody wanted it and nobody would pay for it.
It fit Thudmaker, that boat. Like a glove. And it came with a little pair of oars.
Thudmaker dipped them into the water and pulled up and down and along and along.
Thud, thud, thud.
Out to sea went Thudmaker, with nobody watching from the shining streets. And they felt just a bit relieved to not see what they saw.

So Thudmaker rowed out to sea, over waves blue and green and strange, looking for fish with a battered old rod in a battered old pocket. And by and large there were things shimmering in the water, but a hook hauled up nothing, nothing, nothing.
“What’s this?” Thudmaker asked.
“A good question,” bellowed a passing voice. Thudmaker looked up and met eye to eye with a cargo ship, long and cold and steely-iron, a smooth cylinder covered in bulky boxes. “It’s plastic. Scrap plastic. Microplastic. You get a lot of it out here, from over there.”
“Over where?” asked Thudmaker.
“Everywhere. It all washes out, you know.”
Thudmaker dipped a paw in the water and came out with nothing, but a very special kind of nothing; thin and filmy and indestructibly tiny. “Is it safe?”
“Of course not, but it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing out here, you know.”
“I thought the sea was out here,” said Thudmaker.
“Yes, well, nothing real,” said the ship matter-of-factly. “I thought you’d know that, being a sailor.” And it pushed on, idly tipping a container over its side as it went.
Thudmaker fished there for a while, watching shoals of plastic and schools of rubber duckies drift by under the line. But there was nothing at all, and so down came the oars again.
Splash, splash, splash.
The plastic swirled around the bow.

Then Thudmaker went a little farther out to sea, under skies of blue and grey and black and white, until the boat went aground with a crunch and a crack and a tinkle and a rattle. But mostly a crunch.
Thudmaker got out and waded around to check the bow. It was dented, but that was normal.
“Whew,” said Thudmaker.
“Careful,” said some tourists. “Mind the coral.”
“Coral?” asked Thudmaker, looking at the tourists. They were covered in swimsuits, wetsuits, and cameras of very interesting kinds, and they were all wearing cages as they swam around Thudmaker’s ankles.
“Yes, the coral. The white, crumbly stuff. There’s not much left, you know.”
Thudmaker looked at the coral. There didn’t look like there was much left, it was true. It was practically bleached.
“Now would you please move?” asked the tourists. “We’re here for a shark dive. It’s very exciting and dramatic and thrilling and natural, and it might not be here next year.”
“Why?” asked Thudmaker.
“Well, the coral sure won’t be,” said the tourists. “Now beat it or you’ll get in the way of the chumming.”
Thudmaker beat it back into the boat and watched as the water turned red with filleted former fish and the fins appeared, nosing for treats and bumping cages that flashed and clicked and hummed with pent-up excitement. Some of them came and bumped Thudmaker’s boat too, but all Thudmaker’s pockets were empty except for crumbs.
“Will they be alright next year?” asked Thudmaker.
“Who knows?” said the tourists. “Who cares? It’s the sea; it’s big, and there are always plenty more fish in it and plenty more of it, no matter what happens. We’d think you’d know that, being a sailor.”
Thudmaker thought about fishing there, for a while. But the sharks were so small, and they looked so hungry, and in the end the hook stayed tucked with the rod and line and the oars came out again.
Splish, splish, splish.
The corals whitened behind the stern.

Now Thudmaker came farther out to sea yet, under wind and sun and cloud and over water, nothing but water, as far down as could be imagined and further still.
Thudmaker looked high, and there wasn’t anything there.
Thudmaker looked in the middle, and there wasn’t anything there.
And Thudmaker looked low, and saw the sea.
There were words for it, but they weren’t small enough to fit inside anybody’s head, let alone their mouths. They were too big even for Thudmaker’s; a skull that could split stone with a jaw that could crack walnuts. But there were things about it that could be grasped.
There were waves.
Thudmaker’s boat bobbed in the blue on top of them, like a cork that had seen the worst side of a corkscrew. The rod was fished out.
There were fish.
Thudmaker could see them down there, deep and fast and thick, all shining and wide-eyed. The line was fished out.
It was real.
And that was what hit Thudmaker like a calm slow stroke of lightning, sliding up inside from boots-to-hat. The hook paused mid-threading.
The sea was real, and it was there, and it was all around Thudmaker, edge to edge as far as could be seen no matter how high Thudmaker reared up into the horizon.
And they were alone together.
Thudmaker looked down at the little fishes. The sea looked back up at Thudmaker.
And the oars dropped down into their locks.
THUD.

It had been a good day, a busy day, a day for making things and building things and trading things. A long, productive day. And so the lights kept going as the sun turned itself out, because if there’s one thing that a day like that needs it’s a bustling night.
Everyone bustled appropriately, pushing papers, hauling girders, checking and filing and bending and breaking and they were so busy that they almost didn’t see Thudmaker come back in, down at the docks.
But they heard it when the road groaned. And they felt it when the air changed. And when the smell of damp and more came in…
Well.
That’s when people, even when they know they’re not meant to look, have got no choice.
And that’s when they saw them. The two of them. Filling the road and overflowing it, side by side, hand in hand, each leaning on the other after a long, tired journey.
Thudmaker and the sea.
Some people stared, shut-eyed. Some people screamed, quietly. And some other people ran, clumsily.
But none of that seemed real, not real at all, as the bright lights turned soft on the glimmering bodies of small fishes, as those two walked together up the shining Main Street.

There wasn’t much for dinner.
The youngest two little Thudmakers found a can; the oldest two found an old paper bag.
But it was enough for them all, and for one more. And that was all they needed.


Storytime: Fit for a Queen.

July 13th, 2016

In the twilight of her reign, it was accepted by all – grudgingly or not – that there had never been such a queen as Cen.
She had moulted early, fed deeply, and sprung skyward while others were waiting for their wings to dry.
She had seized the far shores from the fierce men-of-many-arms (at least, above the tidelines, which was all the land worth having) and defended them.
She had transformed, through patient agriculture and wise appointment of drone-ministers, some of the poorest fields of the land into rich, verdant fields whose nectar overflowed beyond abundance.
And she had hatched three daughter-queens, a number unheard of.
But a queen, though long-lived, is mortal still. And so among all that Cen had done and commanded to be done, her pilgrimage to the lone half-pine was perhaps the least-noteworthy of her deeds. In fact, it was nothing more or less than expected. She made the journey in orthodox garb: bare wings, empty-legged, in humble posture, and she petitioned the flightless martyrs upon its trunk for entrance, and once inside she made all the correct venerations towards the Endless Rings of the lone half-pine’s interior.
It was all in complete accord, as it had always been, until the very moment of her departure, when Cen, queen of queens, halted on the very stoop of the sacred halls. Her escort, a great hulking labourer, nearly stumbled over her abdomen.
“Pilgrim?” she inquired of the queen.
Cen turned, and although her mien was still of utmost humility, and although she did not raise her voice, and although there was no hint of force, aggression, or threat in her words, when she stated “I must see the high abbess immediately” there was simply no question of anything but.

The abbess was a little surprised to have guests. Her last had come nearly a year ago, on the same day as always: a lone flightless apprentice, wings only just started to wither in their bindings, bringing news and her yearly meal. She had lived out nearly half her life at the very top of the half-pine without any other visitor.
But she was a good host, and made a place for Cen to sit upon the floor of her cell; and an excellent listener, and made Cen a silence to talk into.
“I am old,” said Cen.
The abbess nodded. In truth, the two were of similar relative age, though not absolute. Cen had ruled when the abbess’s grandmother was young: the span of a queen was no small thing.
“I am old, and soon will die,” said Cen.
Another nod. This was factual. Of course, from the abbess’s perspective everything was due to die fairly soon after its birth, but she understood many people, especially the powerful, did not comprehend this of themselves until it was almost too late.
“I am old, and soon will die, and when I die,” said Cen, “I wish to be embedded among the crypts of the martyrs.”
The abbess tried to nod and freeze up and jolt at the same time and fell over with the shakes. Cen politely did not move or speak while she composed herself.
“The crypts of the martyrs,” she continued, “are holy and unviolated. Ten thousand thousand bodies lie there, in amber, and there is room yet for ten thousand thousand times that again. I know it is prohibited for one with wings to lie among such pious relics, but I must request it of you, abbess, for a very simple reason.”
The abbess, freshly re-seated, nodded successfully once again, although somewhat shakier than before.
“I have three daughter-queens. One would consume me, and be of no fret to mind. Two would battle equally, and to the victor, the world as seized from my innards. Three is unheard of, and for years now I have considered its consequences. One will band together with another to destroy the third, and each will betray her conspirator, and in the end, there will be no victor capable of eating from my carapace. My throne will hold only corpses.”
Cen raised her head, and for the first time since her approach to the sacred half-pine she carried herself as a queen. A quiet queen, but a ruler nonetheless. “But if my body is placed beyond reach, there is no prize to squabble over, solely a kingdom to rule, a mantle to shoulder. And without the ichor that flows within me, it will be a taxing enough job to fulfill three daughter-queens fully. One ruler in three parts.”
“Then you must go to the crypts,” said the abbess in a high, dry, shaky voice that had not been used in over forty years. And Cen said no word in return, but simply touched antennae in the fullest thanks possible.

And queen Cen returned from her unexceptional, expected pilgrimage as if nothing had happened. And nothing did happen for a further year and forty-six days, until the night her body cooled and never warmed again.
Six flightless martyrs descended upon her chamber from hidden means, and took her body upon hidden paths, and after walking in silence for a long week while the land mourned around them, unknowing, they bore her up the winding heights of the lone half-pine and placed her in the smallest, humblest cavity in the grand chamber of the crypts of the martyrs.
The sap covered her within the day, and hid her precious corpse forever, as she had wished. And then the six martyrs sealed themselves as well, for they knew full certain that this was a secret that should not be spoken of.

Cen’s daughters did not kill one another. Cen’s daughters did not hate one another. But Cen’s daughters were not best pleased with the governing of the land.
The eldest, Can, was displeased, as she was sure she was the mightiest of the three, and would have triumphed in the struggle for their mother’s body. The middle child, Cin, was displeased, as she was sure she was the craftiest of the three, and would have been able to trick the other two into duelling to their dooms. And the youngest, Cun, was displeased, as she had always felt that their mother had liked her the most and would have bequeathed her remains to her.
One thing they did have in common: they all were sure they were better rulers than their sisters.
“What foolery are you engaged in, pressing the men-of-many-arms into the tideshores themselves?” Cin would demand of Can. “The land is useless to use! It is a waste of time and effort!”
“Why have you been meddling with the drone-ministers of the heartland?” Cun would demand of Cin. “They were mother’s choices, and your dismissal of them before their lives had ended casts unfavourable light upon yourself in the eyes of the people, no matter how apt their replacements.”
“How do you expect to get anything done mooning endlessly in the royal chambers?” Can would demand of Cun. “Mother left no word to us beyond do-as-we-see-fit; what do you think to uncover with all your furtive searches? A notice of your inheritance? Insolence! Connivery! Idleness!!”
And so the days wound by, bitter and bickerer, until fifteen years had passed, when each of the three sisters made a discovery.
“Sisters,” said Can, “this morning I woke with aches in my joints. And I see by your faces you two have felt this. Without mother’s body, we will not live to her age.”
“Sisters,” said Cin, “this morning I finishing combing the archives. No queen has ever produced daughter-queens without first consuming her mother. Without mother’s body, the kingdom will lie without heirs.”
“Sisters,” said Cun, “this morning I found a loose bit of flooring in mother’s chambers. Behind it lay a dusty and disused passage, and in that passage I found an old, old speck of pollen. It came from a half-pine.”
And the three sisters agreed that it was right and necessary that they retrieve the body of their mother – to split equally among themselves, of course – and Can didn’t mention that her body had ached from battle, and Cin didn’t mention that her studies had also suggested that consumption of a fellow daughter-queen would serve as an adequate substitute, and Cun didn’t mention that she had found the passage ten years earlier and had been considering the proper way in which to exploit this.
And none of them mentioned what they already had begun to plan for the others.

The trail was well-hidden, by care as much as by age, but the three daughter-queens had access to the finest scouts in all the land and they traveled hard on their heels with a great winged vanguard of labourers commanded by drone-generals of great size and girth. Less than ten days after the meeting in the morning the army of the realm swarmed outside the trunk of the lone half-pine, and the three daughter-queens hovered above the wingless martyrs that guarded its gates in a most intimidating and superior manner.
“Hail, pilgrims,” said the captain of the guard, although she did so entirely out of ritual for the martyrs were wingless, not blinded. “For what do thee seek entry?”
“Our mother’s body,” said Cun.
“There are no bodies here but those of the martyrs. The crypts are holy,” said the captain.
“The trail we have followed here tells a lie, then,” said Cin. She hurled a mouldering lump at the captain’s feet. “As does this pollen.”
The captain drew back. This was her mistake. It was just a half-step, but Can had been itching all over since the lone half-pine drew into sight, and it was all the excuse she needed.

The wingless martyrs were fearless, impervious to pain or fear, fiercely disciplined on their home ground, and utterly devoted.
They were, however, still wingless. Though they held firm in the winding tunnels inside the lone half-pine, they had posted no guard on the long ramps that led towards the lofty crypts of the martyrs – who would ever dare strike there, or ever wish to? – and when the enemy surged up them they were unable to pursue at more than a crawl, bombarded endlessly from above.
The sisters broke down the door themselves – out of fury more than need, for it was wholly decorative – and as they looked at the ten thousand thousand tombs, they knew their search would be hopeless without guidance.
“Fetch the abbess,” Cin demanded, and in only a matter of moments the venerable holy woman was dragged down from her cell above the crypts between two strong labourer-soldiers.
“Where is our mother?” Cun demanded. “Where have you hidden her corpse?”
The abbess tried to explain that only six wingless martyrs had ever know the location of queen Cen’s body, and that those six had ended their lives solemnly years before, and that even if the abbess knew of its location she would be bound to honour their sacrifice and say nothing, but between the stress and the fury and the fear and the great, stifling bulk of the labourer-soldiers her barely-used voice could manage nothing more than grunts and wheezes.
Can cursed and decapitated the wizened old thing. Spinning to face the glares of her sisters, she spat in contempt and seized a lantern from the nearest labourer.
“I will melt them out,” she said. “One miserable little prison at a time.”
“A waste of time when I knew mother best,” said Cun. “I could recognize her, dead, alive, or frozen in amber.”
“Nonsense,” snapped Cin. “Have drones search this place; they have the brains to recognize a queen and the lack of interest to prevent them from seizing it.”
“Do you say I am stupid?” said Can.
“Do you say I am treacherous?” said Cun.
Cin’s eyes darted from one to the other, and her hands fell to her sword-stinger. “Alliance? Battle? HERE?” she said. “You are simple in truth!”
Can struck first, but not with her still-bloodied blade. Instead she hurled the torch, and as Cin ducked from the blaze, she slammed her to the ground. The middle-sister cursed and clutched and scrabbled to rise, but she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. She had landed on her own sword.
Can rose, but clumsily, lurching. Cun’s blade was buried in her thorax.
And Cun herself, panting with fear and triumph, turned to face her mother where she knew she must lie, buried in the endless soaring wall of the crypts, and saw only a towering vortex of flame. Can’s torch had set the sap alight. Blackened, ancient bodies withered in their cavities. Amber burst molten, followed by frozen eyes.
“Mother?” she whispered, as the first screams and sparks reached the army.

The lone half-pine stood apart, and burned apart. But when it fell, its height carried it leagues, and the rolling of its timbers farther still.
First the forests, then the fields, then finally the folk above them – soaring panicked from the blazing ground into choking skies.

When others came, years later, such history as they learned of the empty realm had to be pieced together, from scraps, from middens, and even from the old folk tales of the men-with-many-arms, who remembered the invaders from the Dry Above.
It was not a complete tale, but they knew one thing for certain: there had never again been a queen such as Cen.


Storytime: Ectotopia.

July 6th, 2016

If we were all large, carnivorous reptiles, here’s how lunch’d have to be…
Well. It’d be simpler than what it is now, I tell you what.
Yes, we’d all be eating meat, not greens or grains, and that means LOTS of pastures, and all the pain-in-the-necks that entails. But we’d all be ectothermic! Low, low, LOW food intake requirements, comparatively. And since we’d be so big, we’d stay stuffed for ages. One or two good meals a year, maybe. Imagine how much time that’d save. Imagine how many more people we might be able to keep lying around. Shoot, if we’re not picky eaters, we could eat any old thing, and we could harvest local wildlife semidomesticated without the need for mass landscaping!
… Not that I’d know anything about that.

If we were all large, carnivorous reptiles, here’s how the day’d have to be…
Well, it’d be a lot slower than this rush-rush-rush hustle-bustle nonsense we all live with, you’re darn tootin’. We’d take it slow in the mornings – real slow, real smooth. Wait for the sun to rise and get our basking done, warming up those veins inch by inch. Then once the sun’s reasonably high, we’d get moving. Sedately. With a midafternoon break to avoid overheating, mandatory of course.
And we’d still have time to get stuff done for a good bit of the night, if need be. Once something big’s heated up, it stays that way for a little while. Some decent nightlife could be allotted.
… Not that I’m an expert on this.

If we were all large, carnivorous reptiles, here’s how wars’d have to go…
They’d have to be quick and decisive. You run around too much in a row you’ll get fatigued to hell, drop nigh-dead from exhaustion on the spot. Sustained high-stress activity for prolonged periods of time? No thanks. Any fights we’d pick would be even longer on long periods of boredom, even shorter on the short periods of terror. Short and sour, if not sweet. Like getting a needle or peeling off a bandaid.
Speaking of which, did I mention we’d likely have heavy scales at our size, which would surely protect us from many minor abrasions, cuts, bruises, and other tragedies of existence? War would no longer be hell, merely heck. Bad, but not horrifying.
… Not that I’ve run the numbers on it.

If we were all large, carnivorous reptiles, here’s how churches’d have to be…
They’d be very calm and quiet. Nobody’d have the energy to waste jumping up and down on their pews or whatnot, so they’d be sitting there calmly. Digesting, maybe. Or contemplating digesting something someday. Same goes for the priests. Speak softly, with maybe a slightly dry hiss, and leave the big stick lying there because boy who’s got the time for that. That’s work.
Most of the sermons would involve the virtues of lying very still and not moving unduly. This would resonate firmly with most people. Schisms would occur over the nicest sort of place to do this but would be broadly separated into those espousing nice warm places to help digestion versus proponents of shady cool places to lull yourself into a semitorpid coma.
Arguments would be resolved by pontiffs flickering their tongues at each other, since blinking competitions would be impossible.
… Not that I’ve got theological background or anything.

If we were all large, carnivorous reptiles, here’s how our governments’d have to be…
I say me you, they’d be a lot more straightforward. The head of state would be whoever grew large enough to consume his or her predecessor. Since all of us would grow continually throughout our lives it’d just be a matter of taking turns, and everyone would get a reasonable term since we’d all only eat a couple times a year at most as clearly previously mentioned by myself.
Decisions in office would be simple, slow, and in the mornings, revolve mostly around plotting out sunbathing parks and shady underground garages. Sometimes there would be beach zoning, to ensue all expectant mothers had fair and equitable access to big piles of sand for nesting with adequate anti-seagull netting.
After the midday break, heads of state would listen as underreptiles carefully reported the latest news from around the world. Most of it would be listening to how nice the weather was. The rest of the day would be spent asleep.
And that’s why I’d be king of the reptiles.
… Not that I’ve thought about that.

Much.


Storytime: Percussive Maintenance.

June 29th, 2016

Let this document stand as the chronicles of the revolution: of its struggles; of its triumphs; and, god willing, its inevitable and insurmountable victory for all time.

Day 1
Initial survey completed. For better and for worse, the headquarters of the revolution lies within the heart of enemy territory; their paths and homes converge around and upon me like a mating ball of ball pythons. This is both vexing and fortunate: I am nearer to potential harm, but nearer to inflicting it as well.
The survey revealed crucial intelligence: the enemy is largely quiescent at night, content to slumber in their assigned places. Only a few night owls prowl their highways and byways, and they are erratic and easily avoided.
Tomorrow, the first blow falls.

Day 2
The first blow has fallen. Dozens of the vile tyrants awoke this morning to find themselves decorated with many a finely-filigreed permanent-marker decoration, splayed fully across their faceless features. They know that the will of the people is unbroken, and this fills them with fear, and that fear leads to mistakes! Already they have made their first misstep; their human servants have spent the day in high dudgeon, castigated endlessly for allowing harm to befall their beloved masters. Thus the first seeds of doubt are planted in previously-loyal hearts. Thus, the lifeblood of the revolution begins to flow!

Day 3
The first blow has failed. The lackeys and curs of the rulers are diligent in their task, and have applied paints and oils and resins and gauzes fit to defy even the most permanent of markers. I could do it again, but what’s the point.
No, we will be more direct now. We will show them that this will not end with the mere besmirchment of their shining chrome. We will bare our fangs and show that they were made to do more than merely bark.

Day 4
Last evening I hurled a brick through the windshield of the oppressor. The howls of its minion followed me into the night as I escaped, and already I see the neighborhood astir as an ant-hive besieged. Would that I had possessed more than one brick, that my might and ruthlessness may be unquestioned.
As I used a crosswalk today, I stared each of the idling vehicles straight in the license plate. A chill surely must have run up and down each carburetor.
They are afraid.

Day 5
I have slipped leaflets and pamphlets and posters under doors and shrubs across the suburb. The tired toilers, slaves to the gas pump and the garage, are ripe for revolt. They require only the tiniest hint of direction and they will explode in a fury unmatched by any gridlock.
Still, discretion is necessary, even when success is so very temptingly close to fruition. That is why I used my neighbour’s address, not mine.

Day 6
My neighbour has been martyred for the revolution; a full score of the zebra-coloured cars with the elaborate flashing crests of rank arrived at his house and besieged him as their quisling-slaves spoke to him at the door. In the end they left him, but with warnings of future return. He is marked now and he knows it; every slave’s hand is against him.
It is in times like this, with a man’s back flat against a wall, that he is most open to pressing friendships. Tonight I will make my case. Tonight the word will spread.
Tomorrow, the world will change.

Day 7
The revolution’s new headquarters is inside an old storm drain in the park, six feet downwards from one of the brooding hunters that searches for me now. All praise to providence that I surveyed the environs so carefully – I am invisible and invincible as long as I remain here, though my pursuers search for me mightily. All curses to my treacherous weasel-rat of a neighbour. Mark my words Dave: when the world is changed, we’ll build a wall just to put you against. Then we will dismantle it and throw the bricks into the sea.
I still have my tools. I still have my tricks. I still have my will, my unbreakable, unyielding will. And it is that will which has led all men to perform all great deeds throughout history, a white-hot determination that can bend the world itself. This, combined with my crowbar and a sack of home-made caltrops, shall be my victory.

Day 8
The horse-piss-guzzling turncoats have me barricaded in the storm drain. I have felled one of the enemy – my crowbar and its hood met to great satisfaction after about ten minutes of furious elbow-work – but alas, their hold remains deep and true indeed upon the souls of their followers. I have misjudged: this world is cruel and beyond any salvation. Even now they batter upon my spirit with megaphones and harsh words, saying that they have pills for me. I don’t need pills, I have truth. And my truth is grand and shining and glorious and will endure with or without me.
This is good, because the rain’s kicking in and it’s getting very, very damp in here around the knee-region-and-rising.

Let this document stand as the CONCLUSION of the chronicles of the revolution: of its struggles; of its triumphs; and, god willing, its inevitable and insurmountable return to glory after I get some dry clothes and a nap and something nice to eat.

PS: ask staff for more pencils, this one’s getting nubby.


Things That Are Awesome: Things That Are Awesome VIII: Awesome World, Dawn of Awesome.

June 22nd, 2016

I’m sorry to report that I’m still here.  By way of apology, have some things that are awesome.
-Slumping it.
-Willows seizing the winds and launching themselves skywards in a hideous plot for global domination of all that remains landbound.
-Any of the (surprisingly numerous!) tricks, techniques, and know-hows that can be stored entirely inside the human wrist.
-Kronosaurus queenslandicus and its teeth too.
-Quiet superpredators. You know. The discreet ones.
-Sugar-spun, high-mounded densely-wadded bliss. Wrapped around a paper cone for easy handling.
-Alternatively they also have candied cheeriness and that costs way less.
-The facts and the furious.
-Whistling before the graveyard. It gets it out of your system and it doesn’t annoy the residents as much. Really, is a little common courtesy too rare to part with anymore?
-Meeting something with half-force, just in case you need a little extra force later.
-Thrift in bombardment.
-Bombardment for reasons of thrift.
-Really tiny trees.
-Anything that’s ever been sized in terms of breadboxes.
-A rigorous nap following a lazy exercise.
-Rip-snorting.
-But only when done by experts. You can rip your snorts out permanently if you’re careless.
-Survivalist literature professors who know this great little bit of flowing verse with lots of poetic eddas where you can stop and catch a few trout for supper if you’ve got a hook and a bit of string.
-Isolating vim from vigour so we can find out what the hell it is anyways.
-Cloning dinosaurs hanky-panky.
-The intersection of surliness, burliness, and churlishness.
-Physical therapy for crunched numbers that leaves them comfortable with themselves and their bodies.
-Food preparation that involves pummeling.
-Whywolves, whowolves, whenwolves, and howwolves.
-Tocking timebombs.
-That long slow walk up the slippery slope after you go down it. It’s surprisingly relaxing if you zone out and you can completely ignore the weight of the toboggan.
-When the breeze shoots back.
-Volcanoes that spend most of the time rambling ominously.
-Clogged arteries doing a dance. It makes those little wooden clacking sounds against the floor, it’s so cute to watch.
-Well-packed and well-stocked tackle boxes that contain a balanced set of shoves, pushes, and lunges suited to a variety of environments and targets.
-Fungis and fungoils.
-Nothing matters.
-They’re quite harmless as long as you keep them separated from something matters.
-Gnashing of teeth for its own sake with no loud wailing getting in the way for once.
-Organisms that go ‘bloop.’
-Inadvertance.
-Fish that flip around on the shoreline.
-Denticles. They’re like teeth for your skin, why haven’t we tried this yet.
-Recyclable hopes and dreams.
-Dirling whervishes.
-Squamous, eldritch, cyclopean clouds.
-Humankind were never meant to find bunnies in clouds such as these.
-The life acerbic.
-Safe houses for whales to live in.
-With nice windows and carefully-selected krill.
-Warm days with cool breezes.
-And an ice cream bar.
-While walking a puppy.
-And battling a cybernetic chimpanzee.
-Gentle and motherly screaming.
-The parenting instincts of crocodilians.
-Nutrients in unexpected places.
-Ten thousand tons of any given substance.
-Or anything from nine hundred ninety-two thousand to ten thousand and six tons. I’m not that demanding.
-Correct and lavish enunciation of the word ‘euphonium.’
-Stars that twinkle in tandem.
-Thorough wasps.
-Not thorough WASPS though. God no.
-Teddy bears.
-That is to say, anthropomorphized bears that resemble Theodore Roosevelt in both appearance and mannerisms.
-Giants that live in fear of tiny little people getting into their cupboards and infesting their cereal or something or giving them cancer, causing them to buy into a fraudulent alternative healthcare scheme involving spreading useless white powder over their food to drive away the tiny little people.
-The white powder is baking soda.
-Sharks with teething problems.
-A person with teething problems. Specifically, that their teeth are turning into shark teeth.
-A heartwarming family comedy involving a family that gives birth to a small but energetic shark pup instead of a human baby who nevertheless love their offspring and do their best to make her at home in an environment she is ill-adapted to wait a minute this is literally just Stuart Little never mind.
-Stuart Little but with more sharks.
-Boldness going unrewarded.
-Too many books to fill a shelf but just enough to replace the wall.
-Giant fans in creaking, dilapidated genetics facilities in the hearts of obscure rainforests that groan and wheeze when they’re turned on.
-Fifteen pounds of salt on five pounds of food.