Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Remarkable Insight of Jellybeans

They sit on the lounge they bought together, curled up in opposite ends while the TV blares. He sounds like the TV, droning on, talking with monotonous fervour about his job, his friends, his bike—and she can’t make herself care. It’s like ads, like prime time, like seeing the same reruns month after month after month, and what was clever and funny once is now mundane. It makes her think of canned laughter and dishes, taking out the garbage and catching buses. Forever, it’s been like this; he talks, she listens, never interrupting, never interjecting, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect listener, perfectly selfless, an empty vessel just waiting to be filled—and he’s never asked about her day, not once.

He pauses for a breath and, carefully, she lifts the jellybean jar from where it has been resting against her tucked-up ankles, out of sight but not out of mind, cool glass pressing against bare skin, ice in a desert storm. She unscrews it with perfect, measured movements, not too quick, not too loud, not wanting to interrupt his train of thought.

He glances over. “Can I have some?”

He hadn’t wanted her to buy them, called them a frivolous waste of money, and as soon as she got them home she felt like he was right; jellybeans had no   place in their pantry, nowhere to sit that didn’t highlight their out-of-placeness, garish in the cool dim company of potatoes and garlic, practical tinned tomatoes and stockpiles of penne pasta. He hadn’t wanted her to buy them, but she’d known all along he’d finish most of them, because that’s just how it was, and she’d never interrupted.

“Sure.” She peers down at a jar full of sugar, bright colour and empty calories, flavour that kisses the tongue then vanishes, leaving the mouth cloyed with generic sweetness. Bright colours, like fruit, or hummingbirds, or hope. She chooses a dark brown one speckled with white and twists around, arm extended so she can pop it into his mouth, a sugar pill, a placebo. His tongue brushes her fingertips, bird-like, here-and-then-gone, and she returns her fingers to her lap and rubs them on her skirt.

“Yuck,” he says, screwing up his nose, eyes never leaving the TV. “I hate the coffee ones.”

“Sorry,” she says, and fishes a second bean from the jar, brown, with white speckles. “Another?”

He nods, and stares glazedly at the telly; he has exhausted his supply of conversation topics, and she is unsurprised, because every night they are the same, and they are limited, and they are never hers, like the books kept on display to impress the neighbours or the ornaments that line the hallway. She presses the jellybean against his lips, a tiny act of rebellion, and he takes it without looking, and again she scrubs her fingers on her skirt.

He makes a face and spits out something that was perfect once, but is now half-chewed and mangled, its clear, worthless centre exposed: a shot of glucose, an empty hope, a painted, hollow corpse. “I just said I don’t like the coffee ones,” he snaps, shooting a sideways glare into her temple where it pierces, lodges, and she can almost feel the blood trickling down.

“Sorry!” she says defensively, resisting the need to rub her temple. “I didn’t mean it.” But a thrill stirs inside her stomach. He’ll believe her, of course he will, because she never interrupts—but this time, she meant it, and she hears alarums sound and horses neigh, and the clash of sword on shield.

“Hmph.” He reaches into the jar and scoops out his own handful, multi-coloured like the eggs of a rainbow, then scoffs them down all at once, chewing indiscriminately.

What’s the point? she wonders. Why have different flavours in the first place, if you won’t stop to savour them? She closes her eyes and selects one bean,        just one, its sugary surface smooth and slightly sticky. Without opening her eyes, she places it delicately on her tongue, closes her mouth around it like a secret, sucks it close and concentrates. Sharp, sweet but acid, tart—not lemon, but something close. Grapefruit, she decides, and rolls it between her teeth, trying to make the flavour last—but of course, the flavour’s gone and she’s left with that same inevitable, generic sweetness.

She feels the same; just a generic sort of sweet, a hollow-caloried person-shaped lump, valueless, worthless but for fleeting gratification that weighs heavy afterwards on the tongue. Does he feel that way about her? Although she listens, does it satisfy him? After the first flavour of their relationship is gone, is she still enough? She watches as he grabs another handful of jellybeans and sucks them down, swa-llowing them like liquid, concentration on the sitcom never faltering. Yes. He is satisfied with bright colours that smack of hope. Empty nutrients comfort him.

She remembers the man she saw earlier this evening, dark and tall, striding between the rows of the fruit market with confidence like a million-dollar cruiser amidst dinghies. He’d confronted a seller over her bruised nectarines, their blushing skins marred by brown stains of abuse. He’d caressed ripe lady fingers, inhaled sour green mangoes, savoured a dark burgundy grape. Not everyone is satisfied with hollowness, she realises. She is not satisfied.

He shifts beside her, mindless, and she knows that any moment now he will ask for his nightly cup of coffee—supermarket coffee, over-roasted coffee, old and dull and cheap coffee. But she is sick of crappy coffee; it reminds her of days spent under the flickering eye of fluorescent light bulbs, walled in by partitions covered with geometric patterns in sensible colours meant to detract from the fact that really, they are padded. A shiver touches her spine and she stares at the jellybeans, wondering.

And of course, “Coffee?” he says, and she wraps her fingers around the neck of the jar and decides. Generic sweetness is not inevitable. “No,” she says as her heart tries to break open her rib cage, or burst her veins with blood flow. She touches her fingertips to her temple.

He tears himself away from cued laughter and crude humour to give her an incredulous stare. “What do you mean?”

She shakes her head, lips sealed against the weight of what she has said. She can’t repeat it, it’s too heavy, it will break her jaw with its passing—but she has said it once, and maybe once will be enough.

He raises an eyebrow. “Bad day at work?”

And there it is, the very thing she’s been waiting for all these months, the thing she thought she needed to hear—only now, she realises it’s not enough. It’s jellybeans, with the gloss of hope on top hiding emptiness inside, and he, who is satisfied with handfuls of sugar and cheap, dirty coffee, will never be enough. She thinks again of the man in the markets, of sun-ripened strawberries made sweet with heat, of apples crisp and fresh so the juice runs down her chin when she bites into them, and she turns to him with eyes full of tears, with hands full of jellybeans, and a heart full of fruit. “I’m sorry,” she says, and catches his arm before he can turn away, before  he can dismiss her words as platitudes. “I can’t stay here,” she whispers, begging him to understand and knowing perfectly well that candy and cost-saving never can. “I’m leaving. I’m sorry,” and she’s not.

While he sits there in stunned silence, she passes him the jellybean jar and stands. “You’ll be fine,” she says, and smiles. “What we have is replaceable.” Gaping, he watches as she walks to the bedroom, where she picks up her blackwood jewellery box that holds the antique necklace she asked her grandma for when she was twelve, empties the single drawer in the dresser that holds all the clothes she’s ever chosen for herself, slips on her favourite shoes and rummages in the depths of the wardrobe for the pale blue fake-crocodile handbag she’d fallen in love with at the county show, the one he hated so much she’d never dared use. It smells of feet and old carpet, pencils and overripe bananas. A smile spreads across her face as she gathers up all the decisions she’s ever made, and carries them to her car. “I’m sorry,” she says as he stands on the porch, still speechless.


But she’s not, and she drives away with the satisfying sweetness of mangoes on her tongue.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

From Two Comes All

There was a goddess who pulled two points together
Unconnected
Unrelated
They were nothing
They were something
She held one in each hand
Lifted above each shoulder, as if in blessing
Brought her palms together
Not enough to touch
She didn't need to
She knew
The points only needed proximity
A moment
Before pulling her hands away
And an entire web expanded between them
A world, created on two poles
A world, created
By two points
Two hands
And the possibilities have never stopped growing

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 7


 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?) 
(Part 4!)
(Ooo, Part 5...)
(6! It's Part 6!)


I was still fuming when I got back (having successfully devoured a Mc-Bigger-Than-My-Head Burger and two large fries), so much so that I rounded a corner and ran smack into someone’s back. Said someone swore and rounded on me.

“Watch where you’re going, Private Boy,” he said, looking me up and down. “Private Parts.”

I flushed, hands fisting at my sides. “Piss off,” I snarled, with what was fast becoming my usual astounding genius. Master of Wit, that’s me.

“Piss off yourself,” Public Boy – Pubic Boy? That seemed fair – replied, vicious grin lighting up his face. “Especially since you’re, oh, I don’t know,” he looked at his watch, “five minutes late. That little pocket rocket you have on your team, she won’t be too impressed about that now, will she. Been giving you the cold shoulder all morning. Think what she’ll do now.” He tsked and shook his head.

My cheeks felt hot and my jaw and fists hurt from clenching. How dare… I mean, it’s not like… And seriously! But most of all: what the hell? I inhaled, long and slow, and forced the tension away. “You know what?” I said, wrestling my voice towards normal. “You’re right. I am late. I should go.” I turned and walked away. Megan should be proud.

Pubic Boy snickered. “Oh yes,” he said. “Don’t let me faze you. I’m only a public student. My words should just… pass right through.”

I froze, heart jolted. He knew. He’d seen me phase through the door earlier and he knew. What else could that mean?

He snickered again. “Don’t let me detain you, though. I’m sure you’re just dying to straight-line back to your little friends. After all, they clearly need you.”

I flexed my fingers and worked my mouth, trying to make my dried-out tongue function. “What do you want?” I said slowly, wondering if I could just walk away from this. A chill ran over my shoulder, skin contracting and shivering as something fluttered over it.

“That depends,” Pubic Boy breathed against my neck. “What’ve you got to give?”

Abruptly I realised what the strange feeling in my shoulder was: his hand. The feeling wasn’t on my shoulder, it was in it – which meant that his hand… I gagged, and the motion jerked on his arm, which sent panic spinning through me. I gasped for air and forced down the chants of ‘Chris-fit, Chris-fit.’

“Easy now,” Pubic Boy said, steadying me with his free hand. “Stand still!”

I tried, fighting to stay upright against the whirling in my stomach. The world blurred and I tasted bile, panting, gasping. Breathe, breathe, breathe! I shouted at myself, covering my mouth and nose with my hand. I sucked at it, slurping in the air, but it forced me to slow down and I gulped, swaying.

“Dude.” Pubic Boy sounded concerned. How touching. He shook his hand free with barely a second of effort and grabbed my shoulders, spinning me to face him. “Seriously?” He wrinkled his brow at me. “Just chill, okay?”

I nodded, releasing my mouth and inhaling myself fully upright. I squeezed my eyes closed. I’m fine. I’m fine. “How did you do that?” I said with my eyes still closed.

I felt him shrug. “Same way you walked through that door.”

Guilt surged in the pit of my stomach. Megan would be livid. Crap. I was late. She was probably already livid. I exhaled shudderingly and opened my eyes. Questions. I’d been about to ask him something. I stared at his arms, still propping me upright. Oh yeah.

I dragged my gaze upwards to his face, just registering the concern in his frown before it vanished and he was sneering. “But,” I forced out. “Can’t you only do that with inanimate objects?”

“Inanimate?” His sneer deepened back to a frown.

It was my turn to sneer. I shook him off and straightened my tie. “Inanimate, doofus. Not alive.”

Anger flashed through his eyes. “I know what it means, Private Parts. But why should that matter?”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, I don’t know: maybe because living things are complicated. Their molecular structure is irregular. Doesn’t that make it harder to phase through?” I bounced a little on my toes. In spite of myself, I was intrigued.

Pubic Boy shrugged again. “Glass is irregular. Wood is irregular. Didn’t seem to stop you with the door.”

I opened my mouth to retort – and stopped. Damn it. He was right. I blinked and close my mouth.

He snickered at that. “So, going to break that one to your dear little friends? They are your friends, aren’t they? You all looked like you were having such a good time.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Funny. No. I know them, that’s all.” Which was true: they weren’t my friends. They were the League of Extraordinary Losers, and sure, they’d invited me in when the rest of the world had shut me out but that didn’t mean I liked them – except maybe Megan, because hello, hot and intelligent.

So why was my heart pounding like I was trying to convince Dad that it had been Mitch that had wrecked the car that time, and not me?

Pubic Boy raised an eyebrow. “That so.” He paused, then continued in a rush. “And do they… you know.” He flapped his hand ineffectually. “Phase.”

I shrugged, trying to ignore my still-pounding pulse and the tiny voice that was whispering that this was a guy who’d pretty much attacked me just a few moments ago. “Maybe.”

“Of course they do,” Pubic Boy murmured to himself. “That’s why you’re with them.” He hesitated again, twisting up his mouth, then stuck out his hand. “Evan,” he said. “Evan Frampton.”

“Chris,” I returned, shaking his hand after only a fraction of an instant. So he’d tried to muscle me; the rivalry between public and private schools was as old as their existence, and he’d let up pretty quickly. “Chris Webb.”

He nodded. “Well, Chris Webb. We’d better get back inside, or your Pocket Rocket might just murder us both with her eyes.” His tone suggested that he wouldn’t be surprised if that turned out to be a real possibility, and I chuckled. Well, why not? We were a bunch of people who could walk through walls, after all.

[Continued next month...]

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Alone

He lingers over his approach to the front door, breathing deeply, filling his dry, creaky lungs with the scent of home. Stone and damp, old tomatoes and dust. His life encapsulated by a perfect smell.
And he’ll never smell it again. The soulbond is drawing to an end, he can feel it, feel the weight lifting. Two days, he estimates. Two days and the bond will be gone. He’ll be alone for the first time in years.

He casts his gaze over the two storeys of the little house, crammed in at the end of a high-walled alleyway—and yet the only place he’s ever been able to breathe. The gang—his family, the ones he chose and raised—are like that. They kept him going when there was nothing else to live for.

He winces. What is he thinking? They need him, his protection—and he needs them. He pauses stiffly on the front step, rubbing the age from his knuckles and the pain from his face.

He opens the door and Tara storms out into the hall. She attacks the stairs without even a glance in his direction. His mouth bunches tightly as he suppresses a laugh. Oh, yes. This is home.

He steps inside and closes the door behind him, smoothing a hand over wood more worn than he is. He takes another deep breath, basking in the warm smells of oak and brass polish.

A sigh, from the living room. Is that her? Fortuitous, if so. The more of them he can avoid today the better. Dying is hard enough without having to say goodbye. Especially when one must die alone.

He creeps across the hallway, floorboards gently protesting, and pauses for a moment in the doorway to drink in the scene. The bay window to his left lets in the little light available in this bottom storey of a back alley, softly illuminating the furniture older than he is—and probably in better condition. His lips twitch in a half smile.

And there, curled in the single armchair by the fireplace, bathed in flickering firelight, sits Jessana. He smiles at the contradiction of the literary novel in her hand and the assassin’s knife lying on the table next to her, loving it even as he hates himself for nurturing the killer in her. But it had been necessary, a choice of her life, the life of his almost-daughter, against the lives of faceless, impersonal others. He’d kept her alive by teaching her his skills.

He tenses, thinking of what he is about to do; it feels precariously like abandoning her. Pain stabs at his ribcage. He sucks in air that tastes like age and smooths the mask over his face. They will never know about the pain—but the goodbye he can’t delay much longer. So he straightens from the wall, squares his shoulders, and enters the room.

Jess glances up and smiles. “Hello!” She unfurls her legs to get to her feet, but he waves her back down.

“No need for that.” He lowers himself into a nearby chair and nods at her clenched fist. “What have you got there?”

Jess sighs and rolls her eyes, putting down her book and offering her other hand. “Tara found it.”

“Unusual.” The glossy black ring seems the antithesis of Jess, shrouded in darkness as she is haloed in light. For a moment he feels as though it tugs at his soulbond; but the moment passes, and it is just a ring, if an unusually deep black one.

“Very,” Jess responds. “And I don’t even want to know where she got it from, especially if it’s where I think she did.”

“And where might that be?”

“A dead body.”

“Oh, Jess,” he says, laughing. “You’ve got your hands full with that one.” He grins; Jess grins back.

“Is there any hope?” she asks in mock despair.

He sobers. “Funny you should say that,” he murmurs. “I was just thinking the other day that she reminded me of someone.” He shoots Jess a significant look.

She responds with a wry smile. “Okay,” she says. “I give in. I’ll persevere with the little monster.”

He chuckles. “Good girl.”

The silence stretches. Jess glances at her novel, then back at him. “Did you want something?”

It’s time. It has to be done. His mind races for things to say, anything other than what needs to be said. Nothing comes, so he inhales and begins. “Yes, Jessana, I do want something.”

Her body language changes, becoming more alert. “Is everything all right?”

He smiles. “Everything is fine. In... in a manner of speaking. You see, it appears that I have...” He swallows, almost choking on the lie. “I have a son.”

Jess jerks in surprise.

“Yes,” he continues, finding his rhythm. “I was somewhat shocked myself to discover it. But the main point is, he is quite unwell, and his mother is unable to support them with all his medical expenses.” A slight pause before the climax of the lie. “I loved his mother very much. I... I have found a job.” He stares at the floor, sick to the stomach. “I'm going to live with them, and support them.”

He risks a glance at Jess, whose shock is written on her face. Shock, but not disbelief. That’s a good sign. He presses on, the hardest part behind him. “The house will need a new leader, Jessana. I want that leader to be you.”

“Me?” she says, incredulous. “Why me? There are others much better qualified. River is the eldest, choose him! Or Patty, she knows how to get everyone moving. Or Alek, or...” She flounders. “Why me?”

He smiles gently. “It has always been you, Jessana. From the moment you arrived. Don’t you notice how they follow you?” The whole world worships the ground you walk on, he doesn’t add.

Jess squirms. “I suppose so...”

He takes her hand. “They will support you. Never alone, remember? Do it for me?” He blinks back the tears that threaten to clog his eyes. Their motto, everything they live by—but he has to throw it away. He can’t cling to false hope, can’t risk having the bond transfer to someone he loves when he passes on.

Jess nods, exhaling. “Okay,” she says. “For you.”

“Then good.” He claps his hands once together and smiles. “That’s settled.” He makes to rise.

“When do you leave?” Jess says softly, and he feels her eyes probing his facade for the truth, pinning him back in his chair.

He shakes off her gaze, stands and closes his eyes; turns away from love and comfort and joy.

“It’s today, isn’t it?” she says.

He nods.

“Oh.” And she is there, beside him, wrapping her arms around him, and the tears that he’d promised he wouldn’t shed are coursing down his cheeks, making rivulets to rival his wrinkles.

Slowly, her soothing works its way into the crevices of his soul and the tears subside like dust settling to the ground. Jess pats him on the shoulder. “You should go, then,” she says. “Wouldn’t want to be late, now, would we?”

He smiles, a false, brittle thing that he erases before it cracks his fragile exterior. He flees to the front door and jerks it open, determined not to look back. He steps out, pulls the door—but Jess catches it and props it open, standing to watch him leave.

He walks away down the alley. Midway, Jess calls. “Wait!”

He steels himself, knowing he can’t deny her the chance for goodbye. He tenses as he meets her gaze, so piercing he thinks it might kill him there and then.

“Wait,” she says again.

“Yes, Jessana?”

“How much longer do you have to live?”

And there it is, the very thing he’s been trying to avoid, the reason he’d concocted the story of the job and the family in the first place. And despite it all, in spite of all his acting and plotting and planning—she knows. She still knows.

He works his tongue to moisten his suddenly dry mouth. “Not... Not much longer,” he says in a voice that rasps like dead leaves.

“How long?”

Those eyes. Stars of Fate, those eyes... He presses his own closed and forces the words out. “Two days.”

The silence and curiosity opens his eyes. Their gazes lock, and she nods. “Two days. Stay nearby. I’ll find you.”

“You can't!” he says, hands clenching. “I won't have the bond jump to you!”

Jess smiles sadly. “It can't. I'm already bound.”

He reels like she's slammed the door in his face. Jess, his precious, perfect Jess, is soul-bound too. No wonder she'd seen through his lies.

He nods. “Nearby.” She deserves that much. He turns to leave.

“Wait.”

Something thuds into the ground behind his feet, and he glances down. Her knife. His gaze flicks to Jess.

“For the pain,” she says.

He nods and picks up the knife. “For the pain.” Tucking it into his belt, he walks out of the alleyway for the last time.


Behind him, words echo down the street that smells like home. “Never alone, Guiro. Never alone.”

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Opening to "Star and Ice" (actual title TBD)

Sema didn’t sleep as well as she used to. Her back ached, the house creaked, and her mind would rise full of thoughts and memories when the stars shone on the ice, which was every night. So, this night, when the crash against the door that made the house shake intruded around the edges of her sleep-muzzed consciousness, she only wrapped the blankets around tighter and curled up on the bed. There was a voice in the wind, she thought dreamily, almost a wail. But such thoughts came from her grandmother’s generation. The immortal world needed no help from mortal beings, was not even immortal. Nothing left but the too-tired mind playing tricks on a lonely old woman.

Pink pearled the horizon after a night of swaying from asleep to not-quite-asleep, wanting to fall, but never quite managing to. Overcast again. For a brief moment, the sun stared dully down at the glacier, but it must not have liked what it saw. Sema brewed a pot of tea from the supply her son had left before his voyage across the sea. Almost gone now, it was, but with only one person drinking it, it would last a while yet.

Rain had come down last night, rain mixed with snow, and it occurred to Sema that she ought to see if the mat had frozen to the front step. Odd weather, that, it now seemed to her in the daylight hours. Too warm for the season. Too wet. She built the fire back up to a cheerful blaze and laid the horsehair blanket on the rocking chair, that it might be ready for her after her morning exertion. Tea ready, she covered the pot and set her cup by the chair that it might cool. Then, finally, she took the worn wooden box with a broken lock from its place under the window and placed it next to the chair, in front of the funny table with three legs — built that way — upon which sat her tea. The window had streaks on it, which she frowned at and tried to rub away with a corner of her sleeve, but they were on the outside, and would not leave.

Then, to the door. Snow fell in small, dry flakes on the other side of the window, so she wrapped herself in several layers — shawl, coat, parka — before touching the handle. It was warm, warmer even than the inside of the house. A trick of the senses only, reminding her to put on her fur-lined mittens, which she did. Prepared in all ways, she opened the door.

The air should have nipped at her nose and cheeks. White flakes should have swirled, sticking to her face and clothing. She should be regretting that first breath after the door is wide open and the worst is over, so you stop holding your breath and let the cold drill down into the lungs. But the air was mild as mid spring, the snow turned to water the moment it came within four feet of the door. That first breath went down easy, if a bit dry and, before the front step, lay a young woman naked as the day she was born, surrounded by a puddle of water mixed with blood.

Note: I'm not sure when/if I'm going to finish this story. I rather like Sema, and I find the mystery surrounding the young woman she stumbles upon fascinating, but I'm thinking that I'll need to change a LOT before I hit on the right form this story needs to take for me to be able to finish it. Maybe Sema and the young woman need to be in two different stories?

Hm. I'll ponder that.

In the mean time, I'll leave this unsolved mystery to rattle around in your brain a while. :D

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 6


 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?) 
(Part 4!)
(Ooo, Part 5...)

I mooched into the room five minutes late with my school blazer itching unbearably at my neck. I ran a finger around my collar, feeling like I was going to choke at any second, and scanned the room for Megan. She was the only thing that would make this stupid day bearable. She was nearly the only thing that made joining the League of Extraordinary Losers worthwhile, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fracking cool to be able to walk through a door without opening it or, you know, rummage in someone’s schoolbag without unzipping it.

Not that, you know, I could do that around anyone but the Losers, because if anyone else saw me do it I’d a) land a detention (big woop) and b) probably be examined to within an inch of my life. Such was the joy of being a teenager with superpowers, even if they were ‘absolutely ordinary’ ones. I sniffed. Ordinary my arse. The other misfits could try to pretend they were ordinary if they liked, but I for one wasn’t the least bit afraid of being an individual.

A group of kids sans uniforms and ergo from one of the public schools crowded past me, sniggering as they went. I shrugged self-consciously inside my blazer. Stupid uniform. Stupid public school kids. Stupid Maths competition.

There you are.” Megan grabbed me by the elbow before I even realised she’d appeared and dragged me forward through the crowd. “Greg thought you’d chickened out.”

“Of the E. James Downward Mathematics competition? Now why would I do a thing like that,” I said, grinding my teeth as Megan towed me past the public school contingent who’d sniggered at me before.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Megan said with the air of explaining something simple to a very stupid person. “Maybe because you’ve missed every practice we’ve had this week?”

I pulled my arm away and shook my sleeve back in place. “Yeah? And?” It was Maths, for crying out loud. I could do this crap with my arms tied behind my back, and wasting every lunchtime with the Dorkazoids in some musty classroom had lost its gloss once they became more concerned with practice Maths questions than the freaky cool things you could do with some basic scientific knowledge. Create wind currents, for example. School uniform skirts looked heavy, sure, but a well-placed draft could lift them like a tissue.

Not that I would do that. And definitely not to Megan. That one time, it was the draft from the window, I swear it. Because, like, I’d tell her if I discovered something else awesome that we could do. Truly.

But anyway, she dragged me over and plonked me down at our table up the front right as the presiding teacher tapped his microphone and launched into a long-winded and unnecessary explanation of what today was about, why we were competing, and who gave a fig in the first place. Which clearly wasn’t me. Greg muttered something under his breath at me, no doubt his usual charming hello, and I settled down to the serious business of ignoring him.

After far too long, just as I was about to die of boredom, Head Teacher who fancied himself Great Orator finally shut up, and the first round of questions was handed out. I let the League of Losers stress over it for a while – though Matt wasn’t doing a half bad job – before I snatched the question sheet out from under Greg’s elbow and began dictating.

Greg tried to protest, Megan launched into a tirade against both of us, Pip put her head down on the desk, and Matt, the only sensible person at the table other than myself, wrote down what I was saying.

“…and then it all equals seven,” I finished, putting the page back down on the table and nodding at Matt. “Right?”

He nodded back, capped his pen, and placed it on the finished answer sheet. “Right.”

“See?” I said, leaning back in my chair and folding my arms. “You lot just need to learn to chill.”

Megan angled her chair away from me and pointedly struck up a conversation with Pip. What was that all about? I’d done what she wanted, hadn’t I? Here I was, stuck at this stupid Maths day when I’d rather be doing just about anything else, and I’d given them all the right answers and everything, and now she was mad at me?

I shook my head. “Women,” I muttered under my breath.

Greg, sadly, heard me. “You’re a moron, Chris,” he said as he shoved his chair back. He grabbed the answer sheet and stalked to the judges’ table.

I rolled my eyes.

Three rounds later and I was just about comatose from the sheer excitement of it all. Problem after problem after problem, and they weren’t even that challenging. I mean, sure, a couple of times one or two of the others got the answer before I did, but I was distracted. It’s not like I was trying.

At long last we broke for lunch, and I hurried out of the room as fast as I could. Megan had barely looked at me all morning, and there was no way I was going to sit around with the Losers for forty-five minutes while everyone looked on and sniggered.

I was nearly to the exit when someone grabbed my arm, spinning me around.

“Where are you going?” Megan demanded.

“Out,” I said.

“You know we’re not supposed to leave the premises.” She put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. Good thing she wasn’t a real superhero; a laser stare on her would be dangerous.

“I’m not,” I said, smoothing down my blazer and heading back towards the exit. “I’m getting lunch.”

“There’s lunch at the canteen,” Megan said, not following.

“I want real food.” I reached the door. Stupid Megan and her stupid morals. Stupid Maths day. Stupid lunch. If I wanted to go eat some real food, why should anyone care? It’s not like I was nipping out for a spot of vandalism before returning to win the Maths trophy, was it now? I set my jaw and phased through the door, knowing it would make Megan furious – maybe furious enough to come after me.

But I strode away from the building, shrugging out of my blazer and stuffing my tie into my pocket, and no one followed.

[Continued next month!]

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Aish of a Grey Lion: A Storm-Dance Short Story (part 2 of 2)


Read part one here.

Aish of a grey lion,” he said. “Where are your claws?”

They stared at each other, Niobe sick to her stomach. He had done it. He had gone out into the eseteij and cried out for change. Why now?

No, she knew why. Either the Teeshlawat Fyareng had survived or one of his followers continued in his name. Which didn’t matter. They were recruiting again, both children and from the old ranks of child-soldiers. Even if she rescued the child, she couldn’t let this soticheij live or else he would tell the others about her. It didn’t matter how they would use that information; they would destroy everything she cared about, everything she’d built since her escape.

Except, without the other knights, her and her sword would not be enough to fell the beast. Wound it, yes. Scare it off, yes. But, to kill it…

“A samyot for the child,” she said. In a secret pocket, she still carried the one possession that remained from that part of her life.

He sneered. “We’re not children anymore.”

“A samyot.”

The soticheij sighed, but nodded assent and stepped back. Niobe sheathed her sword and retreated behind the dogwood. Off came her coat. Then the leather armour. Inside the coat was her identification as a knight of the Royal Militia, at the back of which was a pocket. With a nudge at the pocket’s spell, an oval of red jasper wrapped in a criss-cross of pale leather emerged. Her talisman. This Niobe held in one hand as she removed and put all her clothes but the coat into the pocket, the enchantment shrinking each to fit.

Beneath the surface of the talisman was the silken feel of common magic, of an incomplete spell. Niobe returned her identification to her coat and clutched the leather-crossed stone tight. She manoeuvered a key of magic into the spell’s lock and turned.

The talisman’s intricate power flowed over and through her body in waves. Fur sprouted, her back lengthened. Claws extended from hands and feet that morphed into paws. Her mouth filled with the teeth of a predator, her pupils became black slits in a field of yellow. The magic contorted her limbs, reshaped her muscles until, only heartbeats after the spell had begun its work, she stood on all fours. With her nose, Niobe nudged the talisman under her coat.

From behind the dogwood, a grey lion leapt at the soticheij.

He lowered his antlers.

When Niobe landed on them, he brought his head up to throw her to the side. She twisted to land on her feet and swiped at his forelegs. They weren’t her target – her aim was to get at his neck – but he didn’t move them. Instead, he brought his antlers down.

So, he still over-relied on his headgear.

Niobe leapt into the cedar behind the soticheij. As he turned to face her, she dropped and slammed into his side, enough to make him stagger. His antlers swung to the side and, while moose are agile, he wasn’t a moose. Not in the way she was a grey lion. She could see his very human Adam’s apple under that thick neck.

Darting under his belly, Niobe escaped the antlers to his other side. With a snarl, she clamped her jaws on the underside of his neck.

Now he remembered his limbs. As she tried to crush his windpipe, he grabbed her with thick fingers to wrench her off. This only served to cause her teeth to tear his skin. He squeezed her ribcage – that was how he’d broken bones and almost killed that knight before she and the others had intervened.

When she felt the crunch of his larynx, Niobe let go. She twisted in his grasp, clawing at his face. The soticheij threw her. From the wounds on his cheeks, she could tell she had almost gouged his eyes.

He put a hand to his throat and tried to speak, but his voice was so hoarse as to be nearly unintelligible. With each laboured breath came the harsh vibration of broken cartilage.

“Take-” he said. “Take the child.”

Left in this condition, he would seek out another eseteij and let the icewater hold of storm magic return to him his strength. The samyot may be over, but Niobe’s work was not. She sprang at him, the top of his neck now between her teeth. Using her claws to keep hold of him as he struggled, she repositioned her grip to just under the base of his skull and bit into his spine.

The soticheij screamed; the sound was stomach-churning with his maimed throat. As it faded, a chipmunk chattered. No, not a chipmunk.

Niobe let go and retreated from the soticheij. Though she hadn’t managed to break his spine completely, his movements had become clumsy.

With a dash behind the dogwood, Niobe signalled the knights with the jays again. Come, be ready to fight. She fitted key to lock and the talisman returned her body to its natural form. Hands shaking, she dressed herself and hid the talisman in its pocket.

The other knights arrived as she stood over the soticheij, sword drawn. He had fallen, succumbing to the injuries of his spine and larynx. Niobe directed two of them to attend to the child, who still lay huddled in the cedar.

“She was in – the cult!” said the soticheij to the knights. “She fought for – for…” he coughed blood. “The Teeshlawat Fyareng.”

But the knights didn’t speak his language. Niobe, Champion of the Royal Militia that had defeated the cult of the Teeshlawat Fyareng eleven years ago with ease, didn’t translate.

She decapitated him instead.

The Storm-Dance is a planned four-book series in which the people of the country Asebei uncover, over the course of their history, the secrets of the eseteijo, the magic storms that plague their continent. The first book will be about Niobe. The second will be about Vjaited.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 5


 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?) 
(Part 4!)

The next day we met in the same classroom to plan our ‘attack’ for the stupid maths trophy. The room was empty when I arrived, so I grabbed a chair by the window and closed my eyes.

Footsteps made me open them again, and Megan entered the room, tanned legs flexing under her school skirt as she walked. Very deliberately, I turned away.

“So,” she said, dropping into a chair and leaning forward over the desk. “Belief that things are possible – that’s one major element of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

I nodded. I’d spent most of last night holed up in my bedroom, practising phasing my hand through various objects; sinking it into the mirror was the coolest.

“But I have another theory, as well.” She stared at her hands. “See, it has to be more than just belief, otherwise why couldn’t anyone do it? Why haven’t people done it before now?”

I stared out the window at the basketball court where Nate and Horse were tossing a ball around – not playing, you understand, because cool people don’t actually commit to anything, including learning the skills it takes to actually play anything. Cool people just learn the most impressive-looking moves and string those together with a bunch of nonchalant poses designed to say, ‘Look at the awesome stuff I can do without trying.’ Which is the perfect excuse for not trying, right? Because if you’re that good without trying, clearly you’re so good that being good isn’t a challenge, so you’re not not-trying because you’re scared to fail, but because the whole idea bores you, because, like, whatever, man, I mastered that years ago.

Just sayin’.

Anyway, needless to say, I wasn’t exactly paying attention to Megan, so when she jabbed me in the arm I first of all winced – “Ow! Hey, what was that for?”

“For not paying attention, numbskull.”

And then I wondered what it would be like to phase through something alive. I shuddered. Ew.
“You’re still not listening!” Megan reached over and smacked me on the arm.

It hurt. “Ow!” I glared at her, rubbing my stinging bicep. “I’m listening!”

She rolled her eyes. “I said, what do we have that they” – she waved at the playground generally – “don’t?”

“You mean other than being ridiculously intelligent?” I said, still glaring.

“Well obviously that.” Megan squeezed her temples in one hand. “But that’s not enough, either. There have been other smart people in the world before us, you know.” She shot me a look that would have melted icicles.

I stared at her. “You’re really worked up about this, aren’t you?”

Megan shrugged. “I hate not understanding how people work.” She glanced at me and a faint blush coloured her cheeks. “I’m usually pretty good at it.”

I didn’t realise it then, but man, is that the understatement of the year.

“Yeah, but seriously, does it really matter? We can do it, yay, awesome, moving on. Why waste brain power stressing over why? Isn’t the whole point of this little group to figure out how? Saving the world and all that?” I laced my fingers behind my head and leaned back in my chair, sneaking glances at the guys not-playing basketball.

“You sound so convinced.”

I dragged my eyes away from the court. “So sue me,” I muttered. “I having friends, you know.”

I was saved from Megan’s response by the arrival of the rest of the little crew, and they quickly set about the business of boring me to death. Oh, sorry, I mean planning for the Maths event. Thrilling business.

After five minutes I’d had enough. I snatched the study sheet away from Greg and scanned down it. “Seriously, remind me why we are wasting time preparing for this?” I said as I calculated the answers to all but the fifth question.

Greg smacked me over the head and stole the sheet back. “Moron.”

“Because we want to win, Chris.” Megan sighed. “I know actually caring about things is a foreign concept for you, but—“

“But some of us actually give a fig about the world,” said Greg, interrupting loudly.

“I care about things!” I shot back.

“Oh yeah? What?” Greg folded his arms over his chest.

“Guys, can we just concentrate, please?” Pip waved the scribble paper in the air. “Please? We’ve only done three questions and the halfway bell--” The bell rang, and Pip sighed. “Is about to go.”

“Just a second,” Greg said, guiding Megan back into the chair she was standing up from. “I want to hear what Loserboy here has to say. So, tell me.” He stood with arms refolded. “What do you care about?”

I shoved myself out of my chair and stood, fists clenched by my sides. “I care about plenty of things, thanks.”

Greg snorted. “Yeah, like whether your tie is just loose enough to broadcast ‘rebel’ without being so loose you’ll get detention. Or, you know, whether or not your hair is perfectly ruffled. Here, let me help you with that.” He reached towards my head and I ducked.

“Boys,” Megan said warningly.

I shoved Greg aside and straightened out my shirt, self-consciously ignoring my tie. “Look, just because I don’t happen to be as passionate as you about some stupid Maths day doesn’t mean I don’t care about stuff. I care about stuff!”

“I’m still waiting on examples, numbskull.”

“Oh, come off it Greg. Just leave him alone and let us get back to studying, will you?” Megan pulled out the chair beside her and patted it. “I need your help with this one.”

Greg’s jaw twitched and I knew Megan had gone straight for the soft spot.

Excellent. Thank you, Megan, for showing me his weakness. “Aww, did you hear that Greg? Megan needs your help. You like to help, don’t you, tough guy? Like to feel all manly and protective and needed?”

His jaw worked furiously.

“Let it go, Greg,” Megan said softly, eyes sharp. “It’s not worth it.”

I tensed, expecting Greg to lunge at me again and calculating which way I could throw myself if he did.

Instead, he exhaled forcefully and relaxed his arms to his sides. “You’re wrong,” he said, turning to Megan. “It is worth it. Because if he can’t care about anything, he can’t be part of a team. If he doesn’t care about what we’re doing, why risk his neck? And if he doesn’t care about us, how can we trust him?” He shot me a sidelong glance before plonking down into the chair and grabbing the paper Matt had been writing on. “Here, where are you up to?”

Megan gave me a look as though wondering if Greg was right.

I do care, I wanted to say to her. I care about everything, more than anyone. But it’s too much and I can’t do anything about it anyway, so I have to lock it all away or I’ll drown. I care. I just don’t want to.

Instead, I shrugged, and walked away.

[Continued next month...]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Aish of a Grey Lion: A Storm-Dance Short Story (part 1 of 2)

The sharp scent of pine a stab through her nostrils, Niobe kept her eyes on her target as she wound her way through the trees. Uneven ground lent itself poor to graceful movement, but Niobe had the uncanny knack of keeping her shoulders level even as her feet crept across the fallen logs and moss-covered rocks beneath the underbrush.

There, only twenty paces ahead and to the right was the soticheij, the monster that once was a man. Back to her, his antlers outlined an undulation as his head swayed. With a deep breath, almost a sigh, he pawed the ground with his forelimbs, thickened and lengthened to support his weight in quadrupedal movement. He could no longer stand upright, his back having hunched at the centre, his legs having contorted to a shape like that of a dog’s. Everything about his massive body suggested strength, a ponderous strength Niobe had already seen fell trees and break a knight’s ribs.

The aish of a moose, judging by the antlers. That’s what she would have called it, back when… but no one talked about that anymore. Or, at least, no one acted on it. This man had been merely unlucky and gotten trapped in an eseteij long enough for the storm’s magic to twist both bone and humanity. Still, the bodies of usual soticheij were more chaotic. His had a focus to it, enough that it rested on the line between what it should be and what it must never be. It gave rise to old memories Niobe would rather not think of.

She raised her pistol.

Where were the other knights? They had separated to surround the brute, but none had given the signal that they had arrived at their position. She sent the magic upwards and it caught in a tree, releasing the back and forth of jays before dissipating. No response yet.

No matter how many times she went on hunts like this, Niobe wondered what kind of people soticheijo had been before they’d changed. Common knowledge held that nothing remained of their former selves. If only. Niobe had known people who sought this change, and it had only amplified everything they already were and wanted to be.

Its antlers finished their undulation, the soticheij drew back from the tree it had pawed at. A large cedar, almost dead, and no wonder with the hollow in its trunk the soticheij had just uncovered. There was something inside. Niobe couldn’t make out what it was.

A chickadee’s call rang out, one dee, with an odd lift of pitch at the end. One of the other knights had called an alert. She responded with a chipmunk’s chatter from about five paces behind. The chickadee came again, five dees this time, accompanied by the squawk of jays. Immediate danger, come to aid.

Niobe shifted her weight to help, but she caught sight of what was in the tree. A child. As the other knights signalled that they would go to the one in distress, Niobe drew her sword and approached her quarry.

With its thick hands, the soticheij picked up the child, who hung limp in the monster’s grip. Not dead, Niobe didn’t think, but unconscious. She crouched behind a stunted dogwood. Only eight paces away now.

The child opened its eyes. It cringed, but didn’t struggle. In a low, distorted voice, the soticheij spoke to the child. Though unintelligible, the cadence and sound of its words suggested to Niobe that she should understand it. She almost understood it. But it eluded her and she couldn’t see why. The child didn’t listen to its captor. Its eyes stared off at nothing, an expression Niobe recognized with a thud of her heart. This angered the soticheij, who yelled and slapped the child, drawing blood with jagged fingernails. Two of its words came into deadly focus:

Teeshlawat Fyareng.

All at once, the rest of what the soticheij said cleared like ripples giving way to still water. The language she had not heard since childhood…

“He chose you, as he chose me, and I will take you to him when it is safe. His call is an honour, an honour-”

Niobe shot him.

His roar filled the air as he dropped the child and turned to face the threat. The child only retreated into the hollow of the tree and curled up.

No one had said anything about a kidnapping. The soticheij had been spotted, too close and too wild to be ignored, and so the Royal Militia had come to dispatch it. But no one had been hurt yet. Or missing. Which meant the child must have been taken from another village, taken here as the soticheij took it with him. Took it to the Teeshlawat Fyareng.

She had shot him in the shoulder, which bled, but his hide was too tough for much more. More shots rang out too far away, the other knights in their battle. Niobe returned the pistol to its holster. Bullets wouldn’t help here.

The soticheij scanned the forest, nostrils flared and breath heavy. Stepping out from behind the dogwood, Niobe brandished her sword and made as if to approach. She would have, too, if not for the moment his eyes met hers and she knew him. It had been years, but she knew him. And, as those eyes of gold-scratched grey widened, she knew he saw past all that time, too.

Aish of a grey lion,” he said. “Where are your claws?”

Read part two here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 4

 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?)

I did it. Holy crap, I did it. My hand is part of the desk. My hand is part of the desk. Sudden and irrational panic gripped my chest and I tried to jerk my hand away – and the desk jolted.

Megan cried out, closed her eyes briefly and extracted her own hand – but mine wouldn’t budge. I pulled again, breaths coming shallow and fast, but the desk moved too, wouldn’t separate. I was trapped, I couldn’t get away, and it was like primary school when they caught me in the finger trap that first time and wouldn’t let me out and they all crowded around and shoved, and it was gentle at first until they realised I couldn’t get away, and then it turned mean, and they sang ‘Chris-fit, Chris-fit, Chris-fit is a misfit!’ and I had to hide the bruises from my mother and I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think…

“Chris!”

Megan’s voice cut through the panic and I realised she’d called my name a couple of times, and that the hands on my shoulders weren’t hurting me, but were trying to catch me, trying to prevent me from thrashing. “Steady on, man.”

Greg. I stiffened, gulping in air.

“Chris, you have to calm down!” Megan’s voice was high-pitched, distressed, and she looked close to tears.

I closed my eyes, trying to ignore my hand, and drew in a deep, shaky breath. “I’m calm,” I said, forcing my shoulders to relax. “I’m calm.” I’m not Chris-fit anymore, I reminded myself.

Greg held me for another second, fingers digging into the soft skin between collar bone and shoulder, until I shrugged him away. “I’m calm.” I opened my eyes and sought out Megan’s. “Get me out of this?”

“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head.

Panic rose up again. Hell of a finger-trap. “What do you mean?”

“You have to do it yourself. It’s just the same as getting it in there. But you have to relax.”

I nodded, exhaling. I could do this. I got myself into it, I could get out again. It wasn’t a finger-trap. The shock of seeing my hand in the desk had set off the panic, nothing else. Anyone would freak out at the sight of half their hand missing. Anyone.

I took another deep breath to steady myself and closed my eyes. Once again, I imagined the miniscule structure of my hand, the electron links between atoms and the way the connections danced around the connections in the table. I could do this. And then, suddenly, I could; I was no longer just imagining the atomic structure of my hand, I could see it. And the table, too.

Slowly, slowly, I forced the table away from my hand, and my hand moved fractionally upwards. I resisted the temptation to jerk away all at once and moved steadily, atom by atom by atom. I opened my eyes and stole a glance, and relief flooded over me as I saw that my hand was almost free. I couldn’t help myself; I tore it away the last little bit, wincing as I broke some of the atomic bonds and left skin behind.

I sat still, nursing my hand, too stunned to process what had happened.

“You okay, man?” Greg said quietly, hand hovering like he wanted to put it on my shoulder again.

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging away. “I’m cool.”

Greg shrugged too and sat back on his desk.

I stared at mine, at the place where my hand had sunk.

“So you see it is possible,” Megan said quietly.

My gaze flicked to her for a second, then back to my hand. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”

“Are you in?” she said, voice still soft.

My brows twitched as I questioned her with my eyes. “I have a choice?”

“Of course you do.”

“You said I couldn’t walk away.” I searched her face.

“I lied.”

I clenched and unclenched my jaw, rubbing the spot where my fingertips lacked some of their skin. “Yeah,” I said at last. “Yeah, I’m in.”

The bubble of tension that had been building unnoticed in the room burst, and everyone leaned back in their chairs, breathing deeply. I felt like I’d passed some sort of critical test or something. I guess I had.

Megan smiled. “Welcome to the L.A.O.S.”

I wrinkled my brow. “L.A.O.S.?”

Her smile broke into a grin, but it was Pip that answered my question. “League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheros,” she said.

I got it. Grinning back, I repeated back the words she’d said earlier. “Saving the world through science.”

Pip nodded. “Saving the world through science.”

Feeling like my cheeks might crack from sudden elation, I leaned back and surveyed the group. “So. We’re superheros. We don’t wear spandex, do we?” I added, frowning. “’Cause spandex is just wrong on so many levels.”

Matt frowned. “Spandex is aerodynamic, flexible, flame resistant and helps maintain body temperature. In many ways, it’s the perfect hero fabric.”

 Megan sniggered, probably at the horror on my face.

“However,” Matt continued, “for aesthetic reasons, no. We do not wear spandex.”

“Though for you, Chris, we’re always willing to make an exception,” Greg threw in. “Unless, you know, you have image issues.”

“Shut up,” I said. “So. Non-spandex-wearing superheros. Do we have, like, missions? Who are we rescuing next?”

The group exchanged glances and I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “We do actually do stuff, right?”

“Well,” said Megan, with the air of someone carefully considering their words. “We do have something that needs rescuing.”

“Yes?” I said, still suspicious.

“You know the E. James Downward Maths trophy?”

Dread bubbled up inside. “Yeah…”

“We have to rescue it from St. Joseph’s.”

I groaned, and the bubble burst. “You’re kidding, right?”

But of course, she wasn’t. In less than one hour, I’d blown my cover as a normal human being, discovered I had what basically equated to superpowers, and joined a superhero club – and my first mission was to win the fracking inter-school Maths competition.

Damn it all. Didn’t I say they’d be planning extra credit work before three?

[Continued next month!]

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Eseteij (A Storm-Dance poem)

Chorus
It comes, the wild storm.
It comes, it comes,
The wild storm, it comes.

Man
What, ho, is this
That churns the trees
And chills the air?

Chorus
The wild storm
It comes, it comes.
The wild storm, it comes.

Man
And what wonder is this,
The soft edging of the breeze?

Chorus
It comes, it comes.
The wild storm,
It comes.

Man
I must go to it, awe-of-all.
One foot I step
Forwards
Into what I have heard but not seen.

Chorus
Don’t go, don’t go;
The wild storm, it comes.
It reaches forth it find you.
Hide, and you will be saved,
Or else it will hold you
Until you are no longer man,
But beast
And the ocean and hills
Will mean no more to you
Than earth’s song
And earth’s pant,
For the wild storm, it comes.

Man
The winds have embraced me
Soft through with magic
No longer threads
Tiny arms, hands, fingers,
But a woven fabric
And the sinuous limbs
Of the liquid spell-stuff
That caress my skin.

Chorus
It comes, the wild storm.
The wild storm, it comes.
It comes with teeth and claws and sword:
Not a caress, but the whispered edge of a blade
Drawn from its sheath.

Man
But, O, how the wisdom of my forefathers
Has turned to ash.
There is nothing to fear
But the snapping and fall of branches in the gale.
Gladly, I go forward.
I find no danger here.

Chorus
Don’t go, don’t go,
The wild storm is here.
It rasps your skin and grows your claws
Sprouts fur and feather, twists your limbs
From square to round to inverse*
To a knot.
Can’t you see?

Man
Oh, God, I see!

Both
Eseteij!


About this poem

Why would the foremost expert on the most dangerous natural phenomenon in the world walk right onto the path of that phenomenon?

Magic storms with the ability to change humans into monsters plague the continent containing the country of Asebei. In the country's language, Abei, they're called eseteij in the singular, eseteijo in the plural. Defending settlements from these storms used to be little more than a hit-and-miss, with no one knowing why what they did work, or why it failed (as it invariably did, sometimes more than others).

Vjaited Roz changed all that when he invented a reliable defense against these storms that could keep entire cities safe. For this he is praised. Of course, he's also considered a madman, because the last thing he ever did was walk straight into a magical storm.

This Asebei poem, meant to be performed aloud, is about him.


*This line refers to the cursive form of the Abei writing system. Some characters have an overall round shape, others have an overall rectangular shape, while others cross themselves and are referred to as inverse. The line is saying that the man's form will be changed and, eventually, twisted beyond recognition

(This poem is in the same world as Aish of a Grey Lion.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 3

 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?)

“Right,” she said. “So it’s like this. Hand.” She held her hand up between us. I’d never noticed how long and slender her fingers were before – not that I’d had the excuse or opportunity. “Desk.” She laid her hand on the smooth surface of the desk. “Both made of atoms packed together in a dense but regular structure, right?”

I shrugged. “Yeah. And?”

“In theory,” she said, stressing the word far more than normal, “if you aligned the atoms perfectly and were able to make sure that you didn’t lose electrons in the process, and could account for the electro-magnetics going on, you could pass one through the other. Right?”

“Yeah,” I said warily. “I suppose. In theory.”

“So do it,” she said, leaning back.

My eyebrows knitted together. “But I can’t. It’s impossible.”

“No. you just said yourself, it’s theoretically possible.”

“Yeah, but—“

“So do it.”

I stared at her for a long moment. “You’re crazy, right? That’s what this is actually all about. Either this is the Insanity Club, or you’re all having a big joke at my expense.” I glanced around the room. Matt and Pip seemed pretty incapable of having a joke full stop, so they were obviously the insanity contingent. Greg and Megan, though? They were capable of anything, and the way Greg was peering intently at me, arms folded over his chest and lips pressed so tight you could barely see them, did nothing to allay my suspicions.

Megan gave an explosive sigh. “Look, I really want you to figure this out on your own. Heaven knows, you’re smart enough. But being smart isn’t enough; you have to believe things are possible, too.” She caught my eye and held it. “You saw me walk through the door.”

Her face gave nothing away, but my stomach flip-flopped. “What do you mean?” I said, unwilling to admit to anything.

“You know what I mean.” Face impassive, gaze unwavering.

I held my own for a second longer, then screwed up my nose. “Oh, all right. I give in. You win. Yes, it’s theoretically possible. No, I seriously doubt anyone can do it. Yes, I’ll try anyway, and if I find out any of you have a video camera hidden somewhere in the room, I swear, I will make your life a misery.” I pressed my hand against the surface of the desk. “Here goes nothing.” I pressed against the shiny melamine-coated wood, heart racing nine to the dozen.

Nothing. I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. “There. See? Nothing. It’s just not possible.”

Megan huffed. “Idiot. You’re not really trying.”

“I am!” I protested. “See?” I pressed my hand against the very solid desk until the tips of my fingers went white.

“I don’t mean physically,” she said. “I mean mentally. Up here.” She tapped her temple.

Behind me, Greg snorted. “Oh, just give up, Meegs. He’s not going to get it. He’s been hanging out with the cool kids for five years; he might have some intelligence left in there somewhere, if you say so, but there’s too much attitude in the way.”

Says he, king of arrogance. “Look, shut up, all right? I’ll get it. Just tell me what I’m supposed to be getting.”

Megan studied me, eyes wide. “Are you really sure about this?” she asked eventually. “Because once you’re committed, there’s no going back. This isn’t the kind of thing you can un-do, or un-see.”

Nerves and frustration and anger and impatience warred for control. “Look, I can handle it, okay? I’m not stupid, and my attitude” – I glanced at Greg – “is fine. Just tell me what I’m trying to do, or how it is I’m supposed to do the impossible, or whatever.”

Megan placed her hand on the table next to mine and contemplated it. “It’s about belief, you see,” she said slowly. “Knowing something in your head and knowing it are different.” Her eyes flicked up and found mine. “Sometimes it helps to see it first.”

I was too busy staring into her ocean-blue eyes to notice at first that her hand was disappearing into the desk – and then I noticed, and flinched away.

“Anything’s possible, if you can just figure out how,” she said, still staring wide-eyed at me, almost like she was begging me to believe her.

Slowly, I moved my hand back onto the table next to hers. I swallowed. “I… I believe,” I whispered. I closed my eyes and imagined the atoms in my hand aligning perfectly with the atoms of the desk, imagined the dense structures relaxing and expanding, sinking and meshing into one another until the two were interlocked, meshed – but still separate, still different structures.

My eyes fluttered open and my gaze rested on my hand, only half visible, fingertips fully integrated with the desk. A smile softened the tension in my jaw. I did it.

[Continued next month]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Evergreen


In any daily weather
without design
or desultory portent
they let fall
leaves of fire and gold.

Naked they stand
illuminated
by sun
showers
age

In time
new buds will come
but for now the
ravages of winter they face
naked
stripped bare.

To let leaves fall
requires courage
more than I have.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Virtual Girl (excerpt)

(Note: This is all I have so far of an experimental sci-fi story code named Virtual Girl. Expect it to be confusing.)

Faded chalk art makes me think of the things
that could have been
and might be again.
Does that make sense?
I don’t know what does
it should have been so simple
But here I am again
thrown back
Blackness
Immobile
The beeping of machines that can never
Never
Wake me up again
When will I see again?

Must be programming
Must be the code
I hide out on the waves again
A digital ocean
‘Tell me, tell me’
I say
‘Why didn’t it work?’
But they don’t know
they never know
But they have the luxury
of being able to feel their fingers
Stop.
Stop
Not knowing
Not seeing
There was rain yesterday
And the dragon on the concrete
Has turned to shadow
And all I want
are my legs back.

‘We’ve never done anything like this,’
he says in Korean.
I translate for my brother and add
‘I hate this’
‘I know Korean,’
my brother says
‘Oh
Sorry’
Who thought astral projection
through the internet
would be so hard?
Easier than owning my body again
it seems
but both are supposed to be impossible
and here I am
why can’t I have this, too?
‘You’re thinking out loud again’
my brother says
The Korean scientist is confused
‘Tell him it was a mistake’
I say to my brother.
It seems I can only use the translator
when I’m emotional.

‘I think I found something’
my brother’s excitement does nothing
How many times have I heard it?
Each time, I settle
I move
I see
I say
‘Now’
He pulls the plug
and I come crashing down again
until the beep resumes
and machines fill my lungs again
tell my heart to beat again
Either way, it’s life by machine
Either way I die
But better my body than me
Right?

Humanoid, humanoid
it had to be humanoid
fully functioning
They were all big dogs here
and arguments about alien refugees
(granted, there had the aliens, too
but they also had better robots)
‘No, no, I’ve really found it’
‘So tell the scientist,’ I say
‘I can’t, that’s the problem
They know I know’

‘I swear, if you put this—’

‘They sent someone to the house’

‘Who?’

‘Them’

‘Why the hell are you researching them?
They can’t even remember’

‘Ever wondered why?’

‘What do you mean?’
I swim through the file
‘It’s got to be a conspiracy theory
How did you get this?’

‘You did’

Seems I use more than translators
when emotional

‘They want to know more about you’

A freak of technology

‘You’re a vegetable
They know
They know it’s impossible’

‘Do they know I want to live?’

‘They can’t wake you up’

‘So what good are they?’





‘What happened?’

‘Don’t yell,’ I tell my brother.

‘But what happened?’

‘Someone turned me off.
Wait
What the hell
What the hell’

‘What?’

‘Look’

‘I’

‘He’s them, isn’t he?’

‘They sent him to me’

‘I need to talk to him’

‘What—’

‘Get him back. I’m moving my body
before they mess with life support
again’

How do you find the right scientist?
Search engine?
Stalk universities?
No
You know someone
who knows someone
who knows someone
who knows a guy in Korea
“who’s working on something like that”
How does that even happen?
How am I even here?
But they don’t know
They can’t know
They want something
Here I am, run from
concerns of the day
only to be thrown
Right back into them.
How convenient, though
that he would know
who knows
who knows
How convenient

He’s at the apartment
My brother isn’t sure
He didn’t like last time
But how else to scare them?
(And he did like it last time
liar
I could hear him composing papers
in his mind
papers he could never write
but he would, anyway)
‘Wait’
My brother texts him to wait
I see through the webcam
I anticipate this “friend”
his shock
as I speak to him
I relish this
I just want to live
with privacy
with absolute privacy
‘Okay’—my brother’s voice betrays
his nerves
he hesitates
but puts it on
connects his brain to my reality
funny how the thing
that stuck me in the hospital
now gives me so much power
Here goes
Here
goes
I
in
in
in

The first thing to do when I’ve settled in my brother’s body is to take off the virtual reality interface and orient myself again. He mutters under the surface of me—it’s so weird having someone else’s self-talk in your head. But each movement of his body reminds me how different it is. Shorter, thicker. Male. I tell myself what I’m doing as I do it to get used to speaking with his voice. My own body, miles away, want to do the same. I can feel it moving to obey, but powerless to rise and communicate.

Ready, I text my brother’s friend. Acquaintance? What do you call someone who’s likely been using their relationship with you to exploit you? I think his name is Jason. I check the phone. Yes. Jason.

The chair beneath me squeaks as I stand, a little wobbly, but more steady as I walk across the apartment to the door. Moving through cyberspace is never so grounded as this. I have physical space around me, light through the windows, footsteps and the shift of clothing on my body with each movement.

I open the door.

“Hey!” says Jason.

“Hey yourself,” I say in poor imitation of my brother—I can hear his scornful undertones. Jason’s eyebrows draw together, but he comes in and takes off his shoes. I close the door.

“What did you want me over for?” he plops on the couch, limbs outstretched in comfort. I consider playing the charade a little longer, but this is better.

“I’d like to tell you…” No. That thought dies before my brother’s vocal cords can shape it. “I’m not particularly fond of people who cut my life support.”

Jason’s eyes bulge. He reminds me of a fish. “Your sister’s life support, you mean.”
I sit down exactly like myself and smile. “No, I meant my life support.”

“Do you have multiple personalities or something?”

“Look, Jason, or whoever you really are, I’m going to make this really simple: You’re looking at my brother’s body, but you’re talking to me. And, last night, you snuck into the hospital, shut off my life support, and turned it back on. Moreover, my brother informs me you came by the other day about some files I dug up that it seems you and quite a few other people have an interest in keeping hidden. What would people think if they knew these refugees came to Earth not because they were fleeing anything but because they were very, very interested in… what was it? ‘Harvesting latent potentials in the human populace for the improvement of our own abilities’?”

The following bout of stuttering is most gratifying. Jason peers at me.

“Why did you shut off my life support?” I ask.

“I didn’t—”

“Do you want stills from the security cameras, or should I stream the whole feed?”

“Is there some medication you should be taking?”

“Jason. Think. You interrupted my life support. No one at the hospital noticed. No one said anything about it. I’d love to know how you managed that, but that’s not really what’s on your mind right now because you know the only way I could be telling you this is if I wasn’t the vegetable you thought I was and, at the very least, I could tell my brother what you did. After all, outside of whoever else you’re working with, only I would know what you did. That’s how you set it up.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 2

 Catch up on Part 1!

Rolling her eyes, Megan pushed the door open and walked into the room. I hung back, not quite sure what I was expecting. A fanfare, maybe. Rabid applause. Maybe rotten fruit. But when nothing especially unusual was forthcoming, I stuck my head warily around the corner and peered into the room.

Four kids, two pretty normal looking and two looking like the King and Queen of the Geeks – glasses, ties, the pale, washed-out, pasty skin of people who spent too much time indoors, you know, the works – perched variously on chairs and desks, deep in conversation.

I stepped into the doorway, and they all completely ignored me. I forced my fists to unclench, shoving aside memories of my Chris-fit days, and cleared my throat. Nada. I cleared it again, louder this time.

The normal-looking guy lounging on one of the desks turned and nearly lost his eyebrows as they shot upwards. “What the hell?” he said, turning to Megan. (The other normal-looking kid. Not that anything about Megan is normal. It’s not normal to be super smart and wicked hot, is it? I mean, it’s just not fair on the rest of the gene pool. Never tell Megan I said that. Ever.)

“Easy there, mate,” I said, grinning my trademark bad-boy grin and raising my hands. “We’ll find your eyebrows again, don’t stress.”

“Greg.” Megan shot him a warning glare, which he kindly returned. She turned to me. “Guys, this is Chris. I told you he was one of us. Chris, this is Matt, Pip and Greg.”

The geeky guy and girl, who now I looked past the apparel were clearly related, nodded in a nonchalant sort of way. Greg, on the other hand, looked like he might fall off the desk. “What the hell, Megan?” he said. “You invited Chris? Are you insane? The guy’s fifty kinds of dick just on Mondays!”

“Thanks,” I said, shoving my hands into my pockets. “Nice to know my reputation precedes me.”

Megan rolled her eyes. “Seriously, can we put the testosterone away for like five second please? Greg, you should have heard the circles he ran Mr Hang-me in just now in maths. It was awesome.”

I totally didn’t glow at that. Totally.

Greg eyed me suspiciously. “He could’ve memorised it, or something.”

I raised an eyebrow, but Megan came gallantly to my rescue, shaking her head. “Nuh uh, he knew what he was talking about. He’s the real deal, Greg.”

Okay, I confess: I grinned. “Real deal, huh, Greg. She ever called you that?” I bounced on my toes.

Greg made to scramble off the desk, settling for killing me with his scary, scary eyes when Megan laid a restraining hand on his arm. I snickered.

“Oh, go wank yourself,” Greg muttered, and turned away.

I figured that was as good an invitation as I was going to get, so I strode into the room and pulled up a chair, flipping it around so I could lean on the back. “So,” I said. “What’s the deal?”

“Nothing,” Greg muttered again, but this time I had the distinct impression the angst wasn’t directed at me.

Sure enough, Megan shot him a filthy look before turning to me. “Officially or unofficially?”

I shrugged. “Whatever. Both.” I wouldn’t have admitted it for fifty bucks, but my heart began to pound. I was about to learn their big secret, and despite the fact that they were geeks to the max and the secret was probably about how they planned to finish extra credit homework before three pm, I was curious. And I hadn’t been curious about anything in a long time.

Megan’s lips twitched. “Officially,” she said carefully, “Greg is right. Nothing. Yet,” she stressed, shooting Greg another Look.

“And unofficially?” My palms itched and I rubbed them against my thighs.

Matt shifted in his chair. “Unofficially, we’re investigating the real-world effects of extreme scientific theory with the aim of utilising these theories to create an environment more conducive to justice, equity, and compassion.”

“We’re saving the world through science,” Pip added, smiling. She actually managed to be kind of pretty when she smiled – it was the contagious kind of smile that had me smiling back before I even realised what she’d said.

I shook my head. “Hang on, wait. What?” Again with the Confused Brethren act. Would I ever feel in control of a situation again?

“Justice, equity and compassion, dimwit,” Greg said helpfully. “Surely even your old band of miscreant friends have heard of the concepts?”

“Piss off, numbskull,” I countered, drawing on my superior wit and intelligence. Greg’s like that; he brings out the best in everyone.

Megan made a grumbling, growling sort of noise and tossed her hair. “This is going to be impossible if you two can’t get over yourselves.”

“Hey, you invited him,” Greg said, holding his hands up in defence.

“And it’s not my fault Greg’s insecure about having another male around,” I added, lifting an eyebrow. “Um, no offence,” I said quickly, nodding at Matt, who just shrugged.

“Oh, would you shut up,” Megan said, voice full of exasperation. “Do you want an explanation or not?”

I hesitated for just a second, then swallowed the bickering and nodded. “Yes.”

[To be continued next month!]