January 2017 Competition (Can't Fight the Future)
RPGX Short Story Contest #83 - January 2017
Submissions & Details Thread
Open to everyone. Please post your entries as replies to this post. At the deadline I will gather all entries and put them forward for voting in a separate thread. The winner of each month's contest will, in turn, choose the topic for the following month's contest.
Genre: Any Original Fiction
Topic: Can't Fight the Future (Any Interpretation or Rephrasal Valid)
Challenge: Somewhere in your story include: a broken accessory, peach fuzz, and a bad connection
Suggested Word Limit: 500 - 3000 words.
Deadline for entries: February 1st, 2017
There is a maximum of 16 entries total in this contest. If there are more than 16 entries in any one contest I will decide which are entered into voting based on adherence to the suggested word limit and relevance to the theme. This will not necessarily be on a first come, first serve basis.
When posting your story, please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets at the top of your story. And please remember to include your name/username!
If there are any questions, please PM Aethera or use the Coffee Shop. Please do not clog up this thread with questions or comments. This thread is for submissions only.
Thanks and good luck!
This is an example of how your submissions should be formatted before posting them for review.
One Last Time by Klazzform [2,329 Words]
He sat in his tent, sheathed in sweat and steel. His squire had left a few moments earlier to ready his horse for the competition. The smell of polished steel hung thick inside the humid canvas dwelling, but he did not seem to notice it as he sat, head down, elbows resting on his knees with hands clasped together in front of him.
“One more time.” He told himself. “Just one more time and you can leave it all behind. Kaolin and the boys can live the lives they deserve and I can sit on the porch and watch the corn grow in the fields.”
Outside the crowd roared as someone took a fall or gained the upper hand on his opponent. Thoughts of his family drifted through his mind as he prayed for the strength to triumph once more. He was getting up in age, nearing his mid forties, and competing against men half his age. The new techniques applied to the art kept him on his toes, but nothing could save him from his failing reflexes. Experience maybe, and pure determination, but even those two things would only take a man so far. Sooner or later there was always someone just a bit faster and just a bit more cunning.
He had been the court favorite for two decades, ever since winning the joust in the Winter Fields Tourney where he had met his wife, Kaolin. He had seen her in the stands there, and as any young knight would have done, he rode over two her and asked her to favor him with a trinket of her support. She had blushed at his attention and if he had not been in love with her before, he fell for her then. He rode the entire tourney with her scarf tied to his arm and he had gone undefeated.
They had been married soon after. The king at that time had awarded him a small piece of land, and with some of the gold he had already managed to squirrel away, they built a small house on top of a hill and lived happily ever after. His first son was born a year later and Kaolin had insisted that he bear his fathers name. It was the proudest moment of his life and even to this day he cannot think of a fonder memory, unless it was the birth of his second son, Tampson.
Both of the boys were home now, taking care of their mother. Cordan was twenty and Tampson was fifteen. He had seen to it that they stayed out of the family business only with threats of physical harm and bribes. Still it had been a hard thing to do, for what man would not aspire to ride gallantly into battle with king and country looking on and cheering his name? It was only after Kaolin had stepped in and put her foot down as well, that Cordan had agreed to go to school and learn the law. He was now working at court, arguing cases with skill that was known throughout the land. He still came home, though, when his father was away and tended to his mother and the farm.
Tampson was the easier of the two, and although he also shared the knightly gene, he had a more scientific mind. He could often be found out in the fields, staring intently at an insect or a plant and cataloging specifics about them in, what now amounted to, a library of notebooks. He would be a great one, Cordan knew. Such men changed the world in which they lived in and he looked forward to the day when his sons name was spoken by the masses.
Outside the tent the crowd was working itself into a frenzy. He knew the two knights who were now battling in the ring. They were good men and nothing serious should befall either of them, but accidents did happen even in this day and time. He had seen more than his share of blood shed in two decades to last him the rest of his life. While the crowd thought of the tourneys as mock battle, the steel was still real and you had to be a little bit insane to ride against another man in the lists. Cordan himself had been struck unconscious on more than one occasion and had the scars of a hundred battles to prove his metal. He had also killed in a man with a lance when he had been young and foolish. It was deemed an accident at the time, and well it had been, but looking back on it with the experience that he now possessed, he knew that things could have gone differently that day.
His squire appeared at the door. He was a young lad, not much older than Tampson.
“Their almost through, Sire.” He said. His face was flushed with the excitement of youth…and ignorance. One day he will learn, Cordan thought. “Sir Flagon has dismounted Sir Lacier and they’re going at it with the blades now! I don’t think Sir Lacier is going to last much longer, Sire. When he was dismounted it was with a wicked blow and he still seems off his guard.”
Grunting with the effort, Sir Cordan rose from his bench and picked up his helmet. “Then shall we see how it plays out?” He did not enjoy dampening the youngsters spirits and indulged his youthful ignorance whenever possible.
“Aye, Sire!” The boy was practically chomping at the bit. “I have General Kenzy saddled and ready to go. He’s right outside…and with a mean look in his eye I might add.”
Cordan smiled. “Then run along and see that you don’t get into too much trouble. And keep yourself handy when it is our turn.”
“Yes Sire!” The boy dashed off so quickly that he left behind a trail of dust.
With one last thought to his family, Cordan stepped from the tent and out into the tourney grounds. All around him were other tents, all of different colors and all flying the flags of the knights that were sponsored within them. In front of the tents was a long arena where hundreds of people were seated, screaming like lunatics and enjoying every minute of it.
Taking General Kenzy’s reigns he led the massive horse around to the starting position where several other knights were standing, watching the battle that was unfolding on the floor of the arena. Sir Flagon did indeed appear to be holding the upper hand as he repeatedly pounded Lacier across the heavy armor that incased his shoulders. Lacier appeared to be badly winded and a giant dint marred the surface of his chest plate. His face was deep red and he was sweating profusely as he attempted to ward off the other knights blows.
Cordan had seen it before. The knights armor was inhibiting his breathing. The dint that had been put there by the blow of a lance was exerting pressure on the mans ribcage and was not allowing him to take a full, deep breath. As he watched Flagon moved in fast, feigning a blow to Lacier’s head and when the knight went to block it, Flagon hooked an armored boot around the back of Lacier’s knee and brought the man to his knees in a cloud of dust.
The roar of the crowd was too loud to hear anything, but Cordan saw Sir Flagon’s lips move as he asked for a yield and Lacier tossed his sword down into the dust. Reaching down to his defeated opponent, Sir Flagon lifted him from the ground and raised both of their fists into the air. The crowd went wild and even Cordan applauded the sportsmanship of the move.
Now there would be a pause as the crowd settled down and the arena was cleared. Several of the knights that had been standing with Cordan clapped him on the shoulders, wishing him luck. Mounting General Kenzy, Cordan placed his helmet on his head and adjusted the leather straps. Looking around he was pleased to see his squire was already there with his lance and he took it from the boy, winking at him through the eye slits.
One more time, he thought and rode out into the arena with his wife’s scarf tied to his arm. The crowd, who had quieted down to a dull murmur, erupted at the sight of their favorite as he made his way into the arena He did a slow circuit around the ring not even bothering to lead the General. The horse knew the way and Cordan would have bet the homestead that the animal loved it even more than fresh oats and young mares. When he came to where the royalty was seated he doffed his faceguard and bowed in the saddle. The king and queen bowed back to him while the princess, with her ladies in waiting, giggled behind concealing hands and blushing cheeks.
His fans appeased and the royalty seated he rode his steed to the starting area and faced his opponent. The list field was nothing more than a circular dirt track about fifty yards long with a wooden fence about four feet high erected down the center. Each opponent started with their shielded right arm closest to the divider and their lances in their left hand. The lances were long, wooden poles, about twelve feet in length and made of soft wood that broke on impact. They were tipped with a blunt end which, in turn, was covered by a small bag of sand. When charging an opponent the lance was crossed across the body and tucked into the pit of the left arm. The object, of course, was to dismount or equally disable your opponent by striking him with the tip of the lance. Once this was accomplished, if the dismounted party did not yield then and there, then both men met on the field to let their blades finish the dispute.
Cordan’s opponent was a knight, newly dubbed by the same king who was now seated in the stands. Cordan did not know him, but he knew the type and unless he was far off his mark, the boy would be out to make a name for himself. It was going to be brutal. Lowering his faceguard, he raised his lance in a salute and the man across the field from him did the same, signaling his readiness.
“Lets do it boy!” Cordan hissed and the General leapt from the starting position, charging like beast of half his years across the field to meet his foe.
When they met in the middle both men scored hits, their lances shattering against the other mans shield. Cordan was staggered and almost went out of his saddle, but managed to hang on and circle around to the starting position again.
His squire was waiting with a fresh lance and he took it from him with some small effort, his ribcage protesting loudly. Once more they charged and once more they struck. This time it was the young knights turn to feel the power of the blow as he was knocked back onto his mounts flanks and barely managed to hang on. He rode back to his starting position clutching his chest and glancing warily at Cordan.
It was on the third charge that disaster struck. Whether it was a faulty lance, or perhaps the young knight wanted the title more than Cordan had believed, no one could tell, but when they met in the center once more and their lances struck, the young knight’s did not break properly. Instead it flexed like a bow, exerting enormous pressure on both riders and when it finally broke it sounded like a cannon shot. The forward piece flew off into the crowd, knocking a spectator unconscious, and the jagged end, angled sharply upward pierced Cordan’s chest plate and embedded in his lung.
He was laying on his back in a cloud of dust. The crowd was screaming and he tasted blood. Get up, he told himself, but something felt wrong and when he tried to rise, his fellow knights were all around, holding him down. One of them removed his helmet and he saw the jagged piece of wood sticking out of his chest. He knew then that this was indeed his last tourney.
He coughed and felt blood rising in his throat. Someone called for a physician and one came, but he only shook his head and made discouraging sounds. The crowd was silent for once and he gestured to his squire who was standing back from it all with an ashen face. When the boy came he knelt by his lord in the dust and Cordan could see tears in his eyes.
“No tears for me boy.” He said, clasping the youngsters hand in his own. “You’ve been a good lad and I’ll not have you wasting tears on some old fool that didn’t know when to quit.” He smiled. “There’s a chest in the tent and a key in my pocket. Take the contents to my family and tell them that I love them. Take a bit for yourself as well, or stay on with them if you like. You couldn’t do any better, I can promise you that.”
The darkness was falling now. He knew it for what it was and he did not fear it. Only sadness pierced his thoughts at the end and as his life flashed before him in the last moment, it was Kaolin who was there at the last.
The squire rose to his feet when the old knight was gone and walked to the tent. Opening the chest he withdrew the gold that he knew was there and loaded it onto General Kenzy. Without looking back they walked away to a far off place and a house on a hill.
Uninhabitable by Wrathryder
Three men stand, naked, on the rocky shore of a mountain lake. Each man stares in a different direction, gazes flitting here and there. Mountain peaks enclose the small lake, reflections of the snow-capped peaks so clear that it is hard to tell where the mountain end and the lake begins. The sky is blue and cloudless and the erratic warbling of loons fills the silence. The underbrush joins the birds with a chorus of insect chirps. A wall of evergreens encircles the clearing like pillars of a great hall. The men seem to be surveying the land around them. Admiring it, maybe. Their bodies and stances give them away. They are stark naked despite the cool mountain air and their shoulders are back, bodies completely exposed without care or shame. They stand awkwardly, skeletons arranged as if they were wearing them for the first time. They moved around the clearing like physical therapy patients, stilted and halting. Although the wind blew cold and they were miles away from the nearest town, there was no fire or camp in sight. Each man changes the direction of his gaze methodically, no man’s gaze crosses that of another. All at once, without a word or sign of communication, the three of them turn and walk towards an outcrop of boulders. They disappear suddenly and are gone.
Moon Phase I – Star Rise 1
We have landed and established a base camp. The Syndicate’s instructions stressed the importance of establishing a base in isolation of the planet’s inhabitants. They are an aggressive race with a dislike for difference, even among themselves. I have spent most of my adult life studying this planet, and still I am in awe of its beauty. We have chosen to land in a northern quadrant. We are surrounded by white-capped mountains on all sides as if we rest in the mouth of some great beast. There is a water source nearby and we were amazed by the clearness of the water. We were prepared for a planet plagued with pollution but so far we have not seen much evidence of this. The air is hotter than I was expecting. I must review my climate logs.
We are spending this first moon phase acclimating to the environment and getting used to our disguises, and learning the language. This planet is the last of the known humanoid races that has not yet implemented a universal language. The climate is not what I was expecting from my studies. It may take us longer to acclimate than expected but I remain optimistic.
The three men are seated around a small metal table in the middle of a large windowless room. Their bodies are limp, as if they are asleep. Thick wires protrude from the back of their heads into the chairs. Behind the comatose men, three figures stand around a small pillar protruding from the metal floor. The first figure is simian. It is of short stature, covered from head to toe in fine silver peach fuzz. His long arms gesticulate frantically at the figure across from him. He speaks in harsh, angry syllables. His body is animalistic but his eyes are clear and intelligent. The figure across from him tall and silent. Hairless and sleek. He is more humanoid in stature than his simian friend. The skin is the same colour as the angry simian’s hair, silver and metallic blending in with the wall behind him. The face could have been a human face, painted silver, except for the eyes. The eyes are large and grey, blank spots in an expressive face. They betray nothing. The figure stands calm in the face of the simian’s anger. The final figure is also humanoid in stature although she stands as short as the simian. Her skin is dark blue, like the night sky, with an hourglass torso and short powerful legs. Long hair, as dark as her skin hangs down over one shoulder in an intricate braid. She remains quiet awhile, but soon joins the simian in its protests towards the tall, sleek one.
Moon Phase I – Star Rise 15
Rhea-Thip-Xan, codename Cleo, and Thyrallegian, codename Ajax, are infuriated. They wish to abandon the mission immediately, claiming they were led under false assumptions of the climate of the planet and the difficulty of adjusting to the disguises. Cleo is unable to leave the ship without her man suit as her natural skin will absorb too much of the star’s energy. Ajax complains one moment of being too hot and the next too cold. I am not sorry for them. They were briefed with plenty of information and paid a large sum of money to accompany me here. I will not tolerate any more complaints, we have barely skimmed the surface of our objectives here.
There was a hailstorm last night and much of our outer communication equipment was damaged. We were unable to move it inside the ship on time. One minute the sky was blue, the next we were pelted by hail the size of small rocks. I remain optimistic. I will have to be more prepared in the future. The equipment and accessories can be repaired and my companions will soon grow used to their suits. Once we are experts at functioning in our suits and masters of the environment we can begin the journey towards inhabited lands and make contact.
A massive brown bear stands in the clearing. It stands on its hind legs, batting its powerful forearms against some invisible barrier. The force of the bear’s forearms creates resounding metal bangs. The lake and mountain line flicker more erratically with each bang until there is a piercing metallic screech. The bear tears a sheet of metal from the hull of a large ship that now sits in the clearing. The bear tears packet after packet from the compartment, gorging itself. After ten minutes of eating it begins to roar and wobble on its hind legs. It drops to all fours and tries to run. It doesn’t make it out of the clearing.
Moon Phase III – Star Rise 3
A bear caught a scent of our food storage through a ventilation shaft and managed to tear down one of the ships compartment doors. It was already damaged by the hail but the strength of this creature is astounding. It died of course, and we are unable to move the corpse because much of our electronics are still down. The smell of rot assaults us each time we leave the ship. My companions are not happy. They have already tried to start up the ship while I slept but the damage has grounded us here until we can repair it. We have almost depleted our supply of food. The bear took much of it. We have attempted to eat some of the local foliage but there is no telling how our digestion systems will react.
A fire blazes in the middle of the clearing and acrid smoke fills the air. Two men stand near the fire holding their noses. They are clothed in thick white jump suits with hats and gloves. They stand more naturally now than they did before, at ease with their bodies and dressed for the weather. The third man sits on a boulder near the edge of the clearing. He is doubled over, grasping his midsection. The seat of his jumpsuit is stained a dark colour and vomit stains the chest.
Moon Phase IV – Star Rise ???
It is cold. The kind of cold that chills through the body and seeps into one’s very being. We are trying to stay inside but we must leave to hunt and fish. The meat has proven to be easier on our digestion than the plants. The animals are scarce and the lake is frozen. If only I could have foreseen this. Communications still down, there is some feedback here and there but it boils down to a bad connection.
Another fire blazes. Only one man stands before it. A filthy white jumpsuit is barely visible under a cloak of animal skins. He is alone.
Moon Phase V – Star Rise ???
Rhea-Thip-Xan and Thyrallegian are dead. I don’t know how long I have. I spend so much time ensuring that I will live, hunting, insulating the ship that I do not have enough time to spend on repairing the communication satellite. Some days I think it would be easier to give up. I am trapped in a frozen wasteland. At first, the animals were easy to catch, they approached the ship out of curiosity. But now the last of the curious creatures has abandoned me, they learn quickly. If I could just make it until the change of the seasons I might have a chance to get home.
A lone figure stumbles out of the ship. The tall silver captain without his disguise. All caution and secrecy lost. He stands out blatantly against the landscape. Even the ship, battered and dull, has been claimed by nature, just another rock in the background. He trembles violently. The wind drives snow and sleet through the clearing. He stoops over to fill a steel bucket with snow but drops it several times. Poorly prepared animal skins and scraps of clothing hang from his body in disarray. He manages to fill the bucket with snow and hobbles back into the ship with his prize.
Moon Phase ??? – Star Rise ???
I do not have much time, and I do not care. This mission- my life’s work- is failing before it begins. I need more time.
The captain sits before an electrical panel. The outer panel is cracked and discarded. He fiddles with this wire, then that wire. He works intently but erratically, frantic. Chairs are scattered. A mattress covered with filthy blankets lies near his feet. He looks up to a light bulb above the panel. It is dark. The ship is dark. He works until exhaustion and falls onto the mattress. He writes something in a stained notebook and then is still.
Moon Phase ??? – Star Rise ???
The lightbulb above the panel blinks red. Once. Twice. It glows steadily, casting a blood red lens over the motionless figure on the dirty mattress.
Honor in the Face of Defeat by tomplum
Bright light streaming in through the forest boughs brought him out of slumber. Looking around the camp site, she was nowhere to be seen. Where has that elf gone now, he thought. Always flitting about, never still. Standing and stretching he listened to the sounds of the forest for any indication which way she had gone, he heard nothing as usual. She always chastised him for his disconnection with nature, with the world around him. A curse of mankind she called it. Too busy plotting tomorrow to pay any mind to the present. What did the elves know anyway? Weren’t they the ones being pushed further and further into the forests by the progress of man? Clinging to traditions of the past and frolicking amongst trees were no way to prevent the progress her people so desperately despised.
Walking down toward the creek, he heard the laughter before he saw anyone. There she was, splashing in a deep pool acting as if she had not a care in the world. She trusted him too much. The last of her line putting all hope in the protection of a human. “To allow such a noble blood line to die would haunt me to the end of my life and yours as well I should think. If that is not the case, I would say I have failed you miserably as your mentor.” The words and images of his late master flooded back into his mind. Was it only three weeks ago the old man had sprung the elf maiden from the castle dungeons and entrusted her to him with a pledge to see her home? Treason to the crown. Betraying his own race. All in the name of a romantic dead man. He’d never be welcome home again. Perhaps the northern villages would offer him refuge. The Crown rarely enforced its will there.
“My cloak if you will.” Blinking back his surprise, he reached for the grey hooded garment hanging on a tree branch and covered the young elf. Water ran off her shaven head down between the peach fuzz on the back of her neck. They had cut her hair in an effort to break her will, make her reveal the location of her people’s refuge. She had not broken. He remembered seeing them bring her in to the capital. A giant procession snaking through the streets, the elf Princess in a cage being pelted with various rotten vegetables. Her hair then was the most beautiful golden blonde one could ever dream of witnessing. Even by elven standards, her hair was said to be prophetic. Intoning some sign of fate. Maybe it had been bad luck. Perhaps now her fortunes would change without it.
He walked back up away from the stream to allow her to dress in solitude and began packing to continue their trek. She had said it wouldn’t be far from here. That they would be found by scouts before reaching the refuge camp her people had set up. Folding the last bed mat, he heard an anguished cry from the stream. Running down to the water’s edge, he found the Princess holding an elven man who was bleeding from numerous wounds across his body.
“They’re all dead. The camp was discovered by the King and everyone in it slaughtered. The women. The children. They came in the night with no warning.” She finished relaying the dead elf’s story and quietly began sobbing. She was truly all alone now. The last elf. A simmering rage filled the man’s mind. The death of his master, his own treason, an entire race killed by a cruel and paranoid monarch. “Did the King lead the assault himself? Was he there? Did he say if the King was there?” Pleading for a response he pulled the elven warrior out of her arms, set him on the bank and cradled her face in his hands. “Was the King here?” he asked again.
“He said a silver chariot lead by a black mare tore through the unprepared ranks.” The King’s personal chariot. He was here.
“Run away, Princess, run away and never look back,” he urged her to action. She only shook her head and replied, “I see the desire for blood in your eyes. Know that this desire also fills my mind. There is nowhere I can run. Nowhere I can hide. I will fight with my last breath to see this King fall.” With that she took the blade and scabbard from the fallen elf and began into the woods.
“Then we are settled,” he replied. “For death and glory.”
Following the trail of the dead elf back to the scene of battle, the pair came across the human army’s camp. There in the midst of hundreds of tents was the King’s own, large, silver, and conspicuous. What did he have to hide from? His foe was defeated. All but a young elf left of a great and noble race. Pulling his wand from his sleeve, the man pointed it at a nearby tent and spoke the magic words, “Facere Incendium.” Fire shot out from the wand and instantly lit the tent in a blaze of flames. Once more and another tent was lit. Scrambling the other direction, the duo dodged panicked men running to fight the inferno. Closing ever closer to the King’s tent the pair ran as fast as they could. A whirring sound and a rush of air were all the warning of the axe flying for them. Instinctively raising his hands in defense, the axe contacted his wand, shattering it into thousands of pieces, a puff of smoke and it was gone. Standing before them was a beast of a man. Easily over six and a half feet tall, covered in tattoos and sporting a giant beard hanging down below his chest. A large axe in each hand and a blood-thirsty grin on his face, this was the King’s elite bodyguard, Berserker.
The she-elf pulled the elven blade from its scabbard and whispered a prayer. The giant man charged, his axes swirling before him. Cupping his hands together and focusing all of his powers, fire began to swirl in the mage’s grasp. Calling forth powerful magics and thrusting his arms forward, a flaming sphere shot out toward the giant, exploding in a burst of flame and smoke. Through the ash came Berserker’s axe cleaving deep in the mage’s shoulder and into his chest. Falling to the ground he could catch glints of light shining off the elf maiden’s blade as she cut delicate wounds into the large man. Dancing in and out of his axe swings and striking her own blows, he marveled at the grace of her movements. Finally, the big man fell in a smoldering pile of blood and smoke. The Princess looked over at him and for a moment, he thought he saw the very heavens in her eyes before she too fell to the ground, an arrow protruding from her back. There behind her stood the King, a wicked smile across his face. With a nod, he lowered his bow, turned round and marched toward his tent, content in what he had accomplished this day. Feeling the life rush out of him, the man looked once more to the fallen elf maiden and as his vision slowly faded. He too felt content in what he had accomplished this day.
I have taken the Oath.
Lost and Found by GeneT (2845 words)
I was glad it was winter and that I lived in Wisconsin. Even now, there is no real winter in Florida or South Carolina, no matter what anyone says. You can argue that these places don’t really exist any longer, at least under those names, but I’d still be right. Sure, it may rain and the temperature may be cooler, but it’s not the cold of a Wisconsin Winter. And, as long as my feet touch ground, there still is a Wisconsin and it still is damn cold. I know the cold. And so do my people. We have been here since the Muskrat saved us and the Great Hare rebuilt our house. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. There are no heroes, no transformations, no animal spirits. As it always has been, there is just us and them. Which is why I’m happy for the cold. It let’s me hide the steel cap I’ve fashioned to fit against my shaved head under a knit beanie and the hood of my coat. I don’t remember making it and the steel never warms against my skin but I don’t mind. I’d rather shiver than have them take me.
At first, when they slipped into our spaces and more and more of us acted erratically, it was a disease, or a virus, or inequality, Fascisms, religious extremisms, and because of ‘the degeneration of our society’ from the principles of its founding. But that was a load of crap. People are stupid and terrified people even more so. Explanations don’t need to be reasonable when day after day more and more are taken and turn murderously on those left. It was only a matter of time until the whole thing man had made came crumbling down and we returned to the wolf and rabbit, the strong versus the weak. And there were few, if any, wolves who had good spirits and shining coats in those days. It was the year of the mean and ugly. The first few weeks were the worst. The collapse wasn’t gradual or slow. It was like a nuclear ballistic missile that scorched the ground for miles and shuddered the heavens until burning rain sizzled against exposed flesh. It was an abrupt and bloody scream. Society didn’t go waltzing into the dark. It consumed itself, neighbor to neighbor, city to city, nation to nation. By the time we realized the truth, that they were here, it was much too late. By then, none of us were brothers and sisters. We fought and fell unconnected or in small groups which sacrificed the weakest for a few more days of breathing, letting them take more of our lives and land while we dwindled until there was only solitary rabid ones like me left. Too smart to die and stupid enough to believe I could last it out. Hide from them. Resist despair. Feed myself. Find some woman and restart mankind. That sort of schizoid dreaming.
In the end, I was alone and I tried not to move out in the open much, but I had to scavenge and hunt to stockpile stores or starve. I had to be careful. A steel cap didn’t make me Superman. They would know I was not one of them even if they saw me from a distance. I think they somehow shared their thoughts or were linked like those Borg people on Star Trek. I imagine that’s how they took our minds, stole our persons, bore into our souls and hollowed them out so they could take up residence. The steel cap protected me. As did the fact that we weren’t made to scavenge and hunt in the dark and luckily neither were they. Perhaps because when they stole our skin they suffered some of our limitations, which is why they weren’t physically stronger or faster and could be killed just like us with a hatchet or even a heavy stone if one was caught unaware while taking a sh** behind a burned out gas station. I think things would have ended different if I had had my hatchet close or found a large piece of brick when she found me. But probably not, as I preferred to run. Besides, all I had was a little bit of paper.
She appeared suddenly, vaulting over the remains of the cinder block wall and crouched low, hiding, breathing hard through her nose trying to make little noise. I was as quiet as I could possibly be, but my efforts were fresh and the smell gave me away quickly. Her arms made a small arc as she scrambled away from me and brought the end of a small pistol even with my head. There didn’t seem much left to do and I didn’t really favor dying dirty with my pants down. I started to clean up figuring my ride was about to end.
She whispered, her words seething steam let free in airy bursts across her lips.
“Quiet. They’ll hear us,” she said.
I went rigid against the cinder blocks, naked butt peaking from the edge of my shirt, pants bunched up around my ankles, my legs eventually starting to shake from the effort and the freezing cold. After a while, she glanced over the edge of the blocks looking for them and then stood while backing away from me, keeping the gun’s mouth at my eyes. She didn’t speak at first, so I didn’t ask and pulled up my pants.
I nodded my head. She sighed and peaked over her shoulder, doubt flickering across her forehead in wavy lines that pulled her eyebrows together. I knew she couldn’t kill me, at least with the gun. It would be too loud and they would find us. So I stayed put as there was no reason to force the issue and waited for her to make a decision, one way or another.
“Where’s you stuff,” she said after a while.
I pointed around the corner where I’d left my pack. She edged past me in a wide circle, gun unwavering. After putting my pack across her shoulders, she picked up my hatchet and, after a short moment of consideration, during which I held my breath, secured it in a loop of her belt.
“Where’s your hiding place?”
I nodded east and she mimicked the motion with a flick of the gun. I started walking and she kept a usable distance between us. After a while, she asked for my name. I pretended not to hear and kept walking. She didn’t ask it of me again. I think my name didn’t really matter.
We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.
I didn’t take her to one of my temporary hiding places. I took her home. A place I rarely went unless scared or tired or sad. I don’t really know why because it is a sacred place. My sacred place. A place I had not visit more than three times in the last month. I had stocked it with tins of cat food and beans. A few boxes of crackers, some flimsy and wafer thin, others thick and seedy, lined a single wall. I had wrapped them in any plastic I could find so that they stayed dry, or mostly so. It was dark in my place as little light filtered in from above through the piled remains of what had been civilization and past the grimy back window of a school bus that was buried nose end deep into the silt of our collapse. We had to crawl thru a warren of debris to reach it, layer upon layer of twisted rusting refuse and damp crawl spaces.
It was safe. Even if they had seen us enter, the path was impossible. Living on a thread made one’s sense acute. Our eyes had accustomed to the dark quickly just as our noses had accustomed to this life. We could see easily enough and she still held the gun high, level and steady. She kept her distance, sitting precariously on the back of a bench row in the middle of the bus while I laid in the rotting driver’s seat. The gun eventually wavered as she ate, the smell of cat food permeating the half-light, the sound of our teeth breaking crackers a pleasant staccato to our breathing. I lit no candles. Even here, deep in my place, we feared them finding us despite the impossibility. We attended any sound, even small, with exquisite attention, halting our chewing until sure it was something natural, something safe, something that did not clutter the sound of our eating and breathing. The days and weeks of our heartbeats had taught us such things, such vigilance, such skittishness.
She watched me as she ate, green eyes hidden in tight narrow folds of skin. Once she had eaten her fill, her eyes were worse on me, brighter and difficult to weather. I pretended to scrape the last bits from my tin with a broken plastic spoon and picked crumbs from my beard. Anything to avoid looking into them, those green eyes; bright, narrow, soft, understanding, probing.
“What’s that there? Under your hood,” she said.
The gun came up, wary and smart, watchful. She rose up on her legs and braced herself straddling the seat. I shrugged trying to change the subject but a shadow crossed her face and her eyes flashed as she scanned for the exits of my place.
“Show me,” she said.
I eased back my hood and removed my beanie with one hand. My steel skull cap gleamed even in the dark and her eyes widened in fear.
“You’re one of them,” she said straightening her arm rigid as if the gun were a shield.
It had been a long time since I had seen another person. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so close to one let alone have one speak and share a meal. But I knew the danger of company well enough. I had come across its remains in the past. There is a point that survival dictates the availability of compassion. And from what I had found, compassion had died out with the weak. I showed her the palms if my hands and waited. There was little that prevented her from letting the gun speak. Down here, in my place, the sound would echo indistinctly and fade away as my blood leaked out. Even they wouldn’t be able to pinpoint its origin.
“Take your clothes off. All of them. Slowly,” she said.
I was never good with people anyway, which is probably why I had survived as long as I had. I didn’t understand them most times. They confused me. I found their words often at odds with their bodies; the angle of their eyebrows, the smoothness of their cheeks, what their shoulders and hands had to say, the brief, tiny, nearly imperceptible twitches of their lips that ghosted their words. But I understood her in that moment. She was looking for something. Something I was not. So I undressed, slowly, with the gun as a voyeur.
With each layer that I discarded, the Wisconsin cold eased closer to my skin. It was nearly a nuisance after a while, especially after I discovered what was left of me. It was as if I had been remade, cobbled back together like some old car from donor parts scavenge in a junk yard. My skin was a field of mismatched pieces varying in color and composition. Pale white skin bordering irregular areas of dark brown. Skin peppered with tiny hairs, peach fuzz mixed into animal fur and plastic. A glint of metal over the sharp point of my joints. Nothing real. Nothing me. After a while, I looked back up at her and waited until I watched a flicker of change on the wisps of the corner of her lips. She wasn’t aware of it, but I was even as I was struggled with the revelation and the lies I had told myself - of what I really was. That I was one of them. Another voice inside me woke.
“Get dressed. We’re leaving,” she said.
It would have been simpler if I had lunged at her. Defining. But whatever change had been amended in my mind was not in charge and, with each layer that covered what I was as I put my clothes back on, I remembered who I had been. I regained the calm assurance that not everything I wanted to do was what I wanted and that I had a choice. As if the shock of the discovery unhinged the door shutting my memories away, I found it hard to breathe and harder to look into her green eyes. I had shut and locked that door long ago. A defense against that other who I wished was not part of me, but was there none the less. I shivered under its sudden freedom and striving after such a long dormancy. Seeing myself, the parts me of that were not flesh and blood, but were none the less part of what I was, began to let loose everything inside the whole of me that I had denied.
I led the way out of my special place. She followed, crawling a suitable distance behind me, gun held tight in one hand. Part of me knew that the gun was useless. That any retort from it against what I was could do me no lasting harm unless it pierced my skull. I could have turned and trapped her there in the narrow confines of the tunneling that led to my special place until she had exhausted the gun’s capability of argument. I could have, but I would not. Outside, in the light, she quickly got her bearings and made me walk. She would have taken me back to her people if the journey had ended her way. I wouldn’t have struggled. I couldn’t have struggle. No matter what I saw in her when she looked at me, her green eyes held onto my insides and pulled at them until I resigned to do as she commanded.
When they attacked, I fought by her side. They had waited for us to return, hiding until the time was right. Hungry for her. They cared little of me. I was one of them in flesh, infected and changed. I tore at them in their initial confusion. I dismembered their parts, both flesh and metal, wood and plastic. I unhinged their arms and legs so they could be no more. I let go of that thing I did not want to be. I let it out. We had come to an agreement, that thing that had infected me and the part of me that was still left. A truce and balance. It was not all what I had been nor what I had become, but something in between. We, I, tried to protect her, shield her from danger and harm. I, we, caught those that had attack us, attacked her, by surprise and rended them incapable. Some of them were new and healthier. Some of them had let themselves degenerate and rot, not protecting the flesh that remained from decline and eventual failure. But neither her gun nor I was enough in the end and only I was left amid the scattered remains of the others. I made sure they could not return and walk or breath again.
She lay on her back upon the ground, breathing haphazardly in that scattered way one does before death. I knelt and brushed the blood from her face. Her green eyes never left mine. They held me as they had done all the hours since our meeting, but now they were truly open even if fear pricked the edges of them. Gone in them was the monstrosity of what she had thought me to be and the gentleness that replaced it slowly faded with her breathing.
I stayed there until night. It started to snow again, a thick haze of fat white flakes. I warred against it, me, us, until a decision was made by what I was becoming. Leaning over her, I touched her flesh for the first time. Even cold, it was wonderful. My lips pressed over her open mouth and I lingered there, one hand cupping the side of her head. I gave her a little piece of me. Something small. Something microscopic. It eased from my lips to hers while I remained lost in the touch of her skin.
It would take time and I carried her to our special place. Days of waiting during which I would fashion for her a metal cap like the one I wore. But I didn’t think I would have to teach her who she was or unbury it from what she could become. So I spent the time dreaming of what may be and it didn’t seem so crazy anymore. When her green eyes opened, I smiled and told her my name.
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The forceps of our minds are clumsy things that crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it.
Last edited by GeneT; 02-03-2017 at 05:41 PM.