Archive for February, 2017

Storytime: Old Sprouts.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

The show had stopped.
It was right there, right in the middle of the pitch, and it had eaten itself up, motion-first. Now there wasn’t even a picture, and the cold beer felt lukewarm in his hand and the half-bag of old chips he’d saved were stale in his mouth.
The show had stopped.

Jack hauled himself out of the chair with difficulty; it was a little more him and a little less furniture every day. Maybe it’d stick to him for good soon, like a surplus vertebra. A tail-bone for his tail-bone, cushioned and padded and sickly old curdled floral print turned rotten from spilled food and drink and too much tobacco smoke. Even as he turned the door his back missed it; there was a stoop in his spine that hadn’t been there before.
The sun was bright. Too bright. How long had it been since he’d been out here? The mailbox was overflowing with books of fast-food coupons and brochures of Bahamas cruises and announcements for half-priced refrigerators.
Then a whimper from above reminded him of where his priorities should be.

There was a giant on his television antenna. A small one – a ten-footer, a giantlette. Not more than a century or so old, by his reckoning.
“Hey,” said Jack. “Get off.”
“Stuck,” whispered the giant, the echo bouncing down the street and up again three or four times.
“You aren’t stuck,” said Jack. “You’re an obstruction to my entertainment. Now get down from there.”
Jack sighed and squinted up the antenna. It wasn’t terribly tall, but Jack didn’t have a terribly short house, so it evened out.
But it still made his back hurt.
“Stuck,” whispered the giant again. Its breath was hot in its face, and its eyes – a bit smaller than they should be in that way particular to giants – were just a little wet around the edges.
“Not anymore,” said Jack. And he shoved.

He dragged the giant into the hedge, where its feet wouldn’t quite fit. It’d had a chocolate bar in its pocket – a cheap brand, but unopened. It must’ve been too scared to take a bite.
Typical giant. Climbs up the wrong thing to get back home, then can’t climb back down. Worse than cats. It was very unfair, thought Jack, that everyone agreed stray cats were a nuisance and a pest – bleeding-hearts aside – but the animal control people got nice paycheques and he barely got a moment’s fame for a storybook. It was unfair. It was improper.
He thought of that giant’s face again, as it fell. And he smiled a little, but it crumpled at the cheeks when he tried to think of the first giant’s face.
It was missing. All those years with that memory sitting there in the center of his skull, and now he found it with a big hole drilled through the center.
He wanted to scream. He wanted to curse. He wanted to kick over his half-rotted armchair and throw his beer through the window and stamp on the chips until they were more grease smear than solid – which wouldn’t have been a long trip.
But instead he took a long, deep, shuddering breath, then walked over to his closet.
Inside there was a small cardboard box.
Inside the box was a folded bundle of parchments.
Inside the parchments was an old axe, of that standard household size that was meant to chop logs, rotten furniture, small trees, and the odd fowl’s neck.
Jack looked at the axe.
That was normal.
Then Jack reached out and touched the axe, and that was where things went a bit awry.

Mrs. White didn’t answer the doorbell the first time, second time, third time, or fourth through seventeenth times.
It wasn’t a very new axe, but it wasn’t a very new door either, and it was lousy wood. The mailslot logjam was a far bigger obstacle for Jack; Mrs. White had been even less diligent about picking up her postage than he had been.
She was upstairs when he found her. In front of the dressing-table, in front of the mirror.
“Hello, Snow,” he said. He put down half of the chocolate bar on the table. She didn’t look at it.
“Hello, Jack,” she said. “Do you know, it won’t show me anymore?”
He squinted the mirror. It squinted back at him. “Looks fine to me,” he said.
“Fine, yes. Fairest, no. It used to show me all the fairest, Jack. At first it was just me, then it was someone else, and then it was two people, and now it won’t stop. See it spinning, see it whirling. No end to the thing. They’re all so pretty now.”
“Well, age before beauty,” said Jack vaguely. “Listen, I’ve got an-”
Mrs. White turned her face to his for the first time and Jack felt a very strong compulsion to flinch himself back home and lock the door. It was a fine enough face, but there was a set to the eyes and the mouth and the brows and the chin and the brain behind it that said exactly what it was thinking, and the only reason he didn’t shudder on the spot was that he thought he recognized it, just a little bit, from inside-out.
“Shut up,” Mrs. White said. And then she turned that expression away and he could breathe again.
“You should be. What are you doing here with your axe and your bad manners?”
Jack looked down. He was still holding the axe after all. Well. Who’d have thought?
“I’ve got an idea,” he said, and was surprised to find out he did. Was it his idea? It must’ve been, he just hadn’t bothered to speak it yet. Or think it.
“Miracles never cease.”
“I saw a giant.”
“I see.”
“I killed it.”
“Nothing new there.”
“And nobody cared.”
“When was the last time anyone cared about anything you did?”
Jack brought the axe down.
It didn’t hit the mirror, because he wasn’t suicidal, but it drove three inches into the wood of the dressing-table besides Mrs. White’s left hand, and that made her look at him again.
“When was the last time you were the fairest? We’ve let them forget about us, and we’re owed better. I kill a giant, folks should be singing stories! You look in your mirror, it should be showering you in praise! We should be in the papers, on the tv, on the interwhatever. The computers. They’re letting us rot away!”
Mrs. White’s face didn’t move but her fingers were tapping in a sort of slow syncopation; one against the axeblade, the rest against the tabletop.
“Will they bring me another prince?” she asked.
“You’re owed it, aren’t you? Why wouldn’t they?”
“Will they give you your riches?”
“I’ve earned it, haven’t I? How could they not?”
Mrs. White’s fingers stopped and the room barely had a breath in it.
“We’ll call the police first thing,” he said. “Get them on that giant from this morning. Let them know the proper people are doing their proper jobs again and they should be grateful for it.”
“Do you think we could make them dance?” she asked.
“The pretty on – the ugly ones. The ones that aren’t as pretty as me that the mirror lies about. Do you think we could make them dance again, in the red-hot irons? In the shoes?”
“I very much think I would enjoy that.”
Jack smiled for the first time since entering the house. “Well, then why not?”
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.”
“No. This is my house. Come along.” Mrs. White peeked out the window and squinted. “You phoned them much too early, Jack. I would’ve liked to have more time.”
“Who?” asked Jack. Then he looked outside too, and saw the flashing lights. And next door, the ambulance.

The giants were on the lawn. Big and tall and sober as stones, hand in hand. They weren’t looking at him, though; they were crouched low over the ambulance, speaking to its contents in soft slow voices.
That was what made him the angriest, thought Jack. They wouldn’t even look at him.
Second place went to whatever that measly runt of an officer was speaking at him. He was barely a baby. Fresh-faced. No stoop in his spine. No rot in his heart. And he was standing there and there were GIANTS standing there, and he was telling Jack some nonsense about laws and rules and other things for the young people, the fake people.
Mrs. White was standing beside him. He wondered what she’d do.
The officer was asking him to come down to the station.
Jack raised his axe, felt a sting in his arm and his chest and his thigh and tumbled down freer and easier than he’d moved in years. Light as a feather. Lithe as a beanstalk.

It was a very straightforward trial. Fair, and fast.
The fingerprints on the candy bar, the testimonies of child and neighbours.
The rants from the defendant.
Fair and fast. That was how these things were meant to be, hopefully

Mrs. White went home to her mirror. The door was never repaired, but the maildrift grew to fill it.
The giants went home. The cast came off within a year or so.
And by the time Jack came out again, older and more bent than ever, someone had taken his chair.

Storytime: Getting Warmer.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

She’d been sitting there a long, long time before the speck came. She’d been sitting there longer still before it turned into a boat, drifting in from the edge of the eyeball’s reach. And it was longer than that again before it finally docked, bumping and bruising and cursing and splashing.
May always did have noodle arms.
“You’re late.”
“Or early,” said May. She scratched at long, pale, sweat-rank hair. “It’s so damned hard to tell these days. Especially up here. Are we at the geographic?”
May squinted up at the sun. “Huh. The magnetic, then?”
“Are we at any sort of pole at all?”
“No. I had to take what we could get.”
“And what could you get?”
“The last chunk of ice in all the arctic circle.”
May whistled and kicked the bile-speckled surface underfoot. A rotting chunk came off at her heel. “Nice. Real nice. Don’t suppose we could steer it to the right spot?”
“Wherever it is, there’s the spot.”
“Right, right, right. I guess so. You know best, of course.”
“No. I’m just making it up as I go.”
“Well there’s a fucking terrifying thought, pardon me very much.”
She shrugged. “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, we make it work. That’s the rules.”
“I don’t remember ever agreeing to any rules anywhen in particular.”
“You’re walking. You’re talking. Breathing. Rowing. Sweating. Arguing. None of that’s necessary, is it.”
“No, guess not.”
“None of that’s free, is it.”
“You want to fit into that shape you’ve got to make some allowances for symbolism. And once it’s got its hooks in you, the only way to get out is more of it. And this is it.”
“It what?”
May looked around the world. A blue horizon against a blue sky stretching all the way around in every direction except for the immediate: a miserable little ice floe barely bigger than the dinghy she’d heaved for hundreds of miles.
“My arms hurt.”
“Will they stop hurting after this, y’think?”
“Well, hell, it’s not all bad then. You do what you’ve got to do, cousin.”

There was a little rise in the center of the rotting berg; a sad mirror of what lay beneath them. They’re always larger where they can’t be seen. What’s that going to mean when there’s none left?
“You bring a knife, or we going to do this bare-handed?”
“Stainless steel?”
“Well, fair enough.”
May draped herself over the lump and squinted up at the summer sun.
“Too damned hot.”
“Yes,” said June.

The human ribcage is sturdier than it looks. May wasn’t human, but she was a human idea, and that was close enough. Scratch one of their imaginings and however pretty it looked on the surface, underneath they were all the same.
Her heart was warm against the cool air. Condensation forming on its gently-steaming muscle.
It was a tough thing and it took June almost as much sawing and chewing to get down as her bones had.
She stared up at that midnight sun and missed her already. She’d always been closest to her, May had. April had whined, February’d pouted. January had kicked and screamed and raved.
But May had slipped away without so much as a complaint, and she’d miss her the hardest for it.

June washed the blood from her hands in the warm, warm water. And then she stepped away, to see the rest of her world.
It was going to be a long summer.

Storytime: Layers.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

We will began at the top and work our way down.

The upper atmosphere is empty.

Below, there are satellites. One of them is much more expensive and silent than its friends. It is watching very carefully.

Down beneath that, where the clouds brew, there is an unusually high-flying bird, on its way up to see its own kind of god. Its wings are clotted with condensation and ice crystals. It is moving extremely quickly and does not wish to slow down.

Under the ugliest clouds and above the scenic ones is an underpriced plane filled with overpriced tickets. One of them is not mediocre, and is watching their phone carefully. It is much more expensive and silent than all the others aboard.

The scenic clouds are billowing in a surprising new breeze coming up at an angle that is very nearly absolutely ninety degrees, stained with burned dust and ashed stone. It’s red and black and is turning them sunset colours far ahead of schedule. They don’t mind. They are peaceful clouds, and will accept this change as they have all others. A restful nature.

Beneath the billowin – no, no, no, they’re BOILING now, surely – underside of the scenic clouds is a scream. It began on the planet’s surface and was followed immediately by several lesser screams, but it is so much larger and faster and stronger that it has outpaced them all by leaps and bounds. Unlike its predecessors, it was never constrained by living lungs and hot dead air.

Rising rapidly comes the shockwave in the scream’s wake, frightening birds, scalding clouds, and burning away at seventeen different frequencies. On one of them, the expensive and quiet satellite can almost detect it as something more than nothing, or less than that.

Rising up is the rubble. Tons of rock now lighter than air, and tons more that’s still heavier but being made to forget it, for a moment, a minute. There is debris in there that’s not natural, crafted by clever little hands. Shovels and spades, laptops and toothbrushes. A jeep, or derivative thereof.

Under the rubble and in the rubble and around the rubble as it floats are the lighter things. The birds, mostly. There are still many more of them around than they are given credit for and they are moving very quickly because they would like this number to increase rather than decrease which it is in immediate danger of doing. As it were. They know what’s at stake here.

Clinging to the remnants of real, solid rock below the wingbeats and panic-song are a few diggers. Most of them are innocuous, as far as scientists can be. The worst they’d planned here was to sneak an extra can of beer if they felt they’d done an extra good job that day. Their heads are full of geological strata and their pockets are full of rock samples. One of them has an expensive and silent phone in their pocket instead. It is not as helpful as the rocks.

Underneath them, trampled by sun and sneakers and a few hundred years of fearsome wind and rain, are the mineral-hardened remains of the carcass of the far-flying bird’s great-great-great-great-ongoing-great-aunt. In her day she was queen of most of what she surveyed, and that’s never quite changed. She’s definitely still the prettiest thing on the mesa. Assuredly. She is dead. Assuredly. She is not pleased. Assuredly.

Farther down is stone, the planet’s abraded, hardened scabs. Rehealing eternally as surely as it is picked over. Shoved into the mantle and born again. Ground down from mountains and built up in estuaries. The kind of immortality that’s more fleeting than being alive at all.

Far beneath is a newer wound, where hot fiery blood burned out and cooled to a smoulder. It was guided there by something more determined than chance. Once-liquid lava, now a casket.

Below that, more basal than the basalt, is the exterior carapace.

Beneath that is the upper epidermis.

Beneath that is the start of the flesh and the blood and the long, slow booms of the heart that drives it.

Beneath that is another heart. Hearts. Too grand a frame for just one.

Beneath that is a long slow dawning confusion and an anger built out of fear.

And just above that, of course, is the scream again. Breaking barriers. Breaking up.

It’s all about to go quite out of order.

Storytime: A Ruckus.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

It was good.
It was good.
Bing bang clash crunch BAM!
It was VERY good.
The High Mangler walked slowly atop the shaking floorboards, as befitted her station, with her head rotating a little like a tank’s turret. And everywhere her eyes swept, what she saw was good. The production line was bustling today; a cacophony that would not pause, a roar so endless that the notion of it having a beginning was as impossible as an end.
And it was precisely because of this perfection that the error almost escaped the High Mangler’s gaze. In fact – despite her later claims to the contrary – it did so altogether. Rather, it was a single errant footfall atop a discard noise-nozzle that turned the High Mangler’s stride into a slide, then a spin, and finally a desperate clutching topple that slid her to a halt directly in front of a workstation. Still falling, her hands grabbed at moving parts by reflex while the upper functions of her brain screamed at them to stop….
But they didn’t. But she didn’t bleed. But…
This was because the parts were not moving. The screamaphone was muzzled. The grinder was static. The noise-nozzles were disconnected from the thumpers. And the clang – the beautiful, central, loudest of them all – was placed on its side, on its sounding-side, as if it were dead in a ditch.
“WHAT?” shouted the High Mangler at the world, terror replaced instantly by incredulous rage.
“Shh,” said the worker, mistaking the general for the specific.
“WHAT?” shouted the High Mangler at the worker.
“You’re being too loud,” said the worker. “I’m trying to listen to something.”
The High Mangler had worked in the Soundfoundry for all her adult life, and apprenticed there besides. Her shifts were the noisiest, her workers the most furious, her yells the loudest in all of the Clangdom of Clash – not a single throat atop its cliffs could boast as fiercely as her own.
And for the first time, she opened her mouth and was unable to make a sound.

Trials were not common in Clash. Typically everyone was too busy to get up to any mischief, and if they did and got caught usually someone just punched them until they yelped loud enough to make up for it.
This, however, was a matter of a different magnitude.
“TREASON,” yelled the judge from her perch atop the pandepodium. “HIGH TREASON, WITH INTENT TO…” – and here the judge shuddered, fighting the urge to WHISPER of all things “…MUFFLE. HOW DO YOU PLEAD, REPROBATE?”
“Shh,” said the defendant. Her lawyer buried his face in his palms.
The courtroom did not descend into silence. This was impossible. It was located directly about the eighth of the always-beating Upper Drums of the Grand Din and any trial worth having here was worth having in front of a crowd of hundreds, all of whom were encouraged to speculate at full volume.
But there WAS an unusual lull. The judge’s eyeballs expanded during it, and grew slightly bloodshot.
“Shhhhh!” said the defendant. “I think I’ve just heard it again! Can you be quiet for a-”
And at the sound of such horrifying prevarications the entire court had no choice but to descend into a more normal, safe and sane chaos. The judge bit the front off the pandepodium in a rage, the prosecutor and the defense lawyer grappled with one another while screeching maniacally, and the jury simply screamed at escalating pitch until their water glasses exploded.
But despite this outer veneer of normality and civility and sanity, the disquiet would not fade. And so when the verdict came, it was of no surprise to see its harshness made manifest.
The defendant opened her mouth again, but her lawyer was watching, and as soon as he saw her lips begin to purse again for that awful ‘shh’ he quickly punched her in the back of the head.
The court roared in approval. Repentance was the first step on the road to reintegration.

The orderlies stood outside the cell. Each of them was about one and a half times the height of a normal Clasher, and twice to thrice as wide.
All of them were sweating.
“YOU FIRST,” suggested the head.
The second orderly gave his head a dirty look and cracked the cell door open.
It stuck.
It was a strong door. Reinforced. Padded. Hardened. Reinforced again. It would’ve taken a professional safecracker and a jackhammer days to break it. The burliest maniac could claw at it for decades without so much as leaving a scratch. They were stuck in there, alone with a mere eighty decibels of sound – barely a roar, let alone a din.
Inside, someone had added to it. Torn sheets had been jammed in every crack. The mattress was wedged against it. A pillow had been jammed in the food slot.
And in the corner, with the calm, worried eyes of the truly insane, stood their prisoner.
She looked annoyed.
“Shh!” she said. “I almost had it! You’re being too noisy; shut the damned door!”
The second orderly screamed in terror and slammed the cell shut as loud as he could and quit on the spot in that order. Then he ran out of the Bed And Lament Prison For The Silent so fast his toenails came off.
Unfortunately, his coworkers chased after him. And more unfortunately, no-one had bothered to turn the lock.

Word of the prison break spread like breaking glass through Clash, from the lowest crags to the highest crests of the cliff. In the Grand Din’s Regal Echo, embedded just beneath the foundations of the eight Upper Drums and suspended just above the giant skins of the sixteen Lower Drums, the Lord Yowler consulted with her High Mangler.
The Mangler considered this, drumming her fingers on the small timpani she kept strapped to her thigh for that purpose, in case the ambient volume dropped too low. “RUN,” she decided. “HIDE. TRY AND FIND SOMEWHERE…” – and she shivered at the thought – “…QUIET.”
The Lord Yowler blanched like overcooked carrots. “WHAT IN GONG’S NAME COULD MAKE SUCH A MONSTER?”
The High Mangler shrugged and accelerated the tempo of her drumming. “DON’T KNOW. SHE KEPT SAYING THAT SHE WANTED TO HEAR SOMETHING.”
The High Mangler suddenly realized that the drumming of her hands was the only sound in the room but their voices.
They looked down. The Lower Drums were silent.
They looked up. The Upper Drums were mute.
They looked at each other, then looked at the door.
It opened and shut, noiselessly.
And in the room with them stood the worker, the defendant, the prisoner, the maniac, clutching a battered wrench in her hand and trailing noiselessness in her wake.
“Shh,” she whispered.
The High Mangler’s heart skipped, and in that moment of horror, against every instinct that she had, every skill, every belief, every value, her fingers halted.


“There!” said the maniac triumphantly, in the wake of that awful, awful quiet…that SILENCE… “D’you hear? It sounds like something creakin-”
And the Clangdom of Clash, in all its sound and fury, fell through its own basements and through the Cliffs of Clash all at once, its vibration-ravaged foundations finally giving up for good.

The dust plume soared for miles, and, to what doubtlessly would’ve been the gratification of its former inhabitants, the noise didn’t die down for days.