Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Fifth - The Path

So many stories of dark woods warn of the dangers of straying from the path. The allegorical meaning can be all too obvious, but it's still possible to find a little twist.

This was another tough image for me, because it at first looks like just a monster. Monsters can get boring if one isn't careful. To my way of thinking it isn't  the monster which is interesting, but what the monster says about us.

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You've always been warned that when crossing the woods you need stay on the path. You wonder if that still applies after you're dead.

Because dead you are. One moment there was the crunch of snow under rubber tires, muted by windows. Your lover's voice on the speakerphone  - hands free, of course. Headlights casting a bluewhite ribbon of illumination before, taillights dragging a bloodred ribbon after.

Did you see a shape to the side and behind, or is that a post-mortem imagining? Was the last thing you heard the sickeningsolid thump of horn on metal as your vehicle was thrown sideways, your head slammed against the window, twisted metal broken glass piercing you... did you scream? Did your lover on the otherside of the phone now the other side scream, or was that the imagining of a ghost? Of what must have been?

What might have been a shadowy shape (and perhaps nothing) stands at at the woods' edge, between you and your body. Without words it calls you to stop, to stay on the path.

You've never been once to listen. You flee the path.

There are other shapes in the wood. Furtive foxlike things, big shambling buffalothings with glowing eyes. And behind you, the stag. The antlered thing which drove you from the road. Which killed you.

So you break the rules and flee the path, something warm and sticky in your hand. The shambling shapes lumber away from you slowly, awkwardly. AS you near them they shimmer and dissolve, leaving a cool emptiness. You pause, your panic fading. The wood away from the path is teaming with shadowy unlife, but not near you and not along a red-streaked path you made from the wreckage. You turn your hand, examine the nearly forgotten object you are unconsciously carrying. A beating heart.

We Should Take The Other Road
by Nacho Yague
You suddenly realize the reason for the rules against leaving the path. It isn't to protect you; it is to protect this world FROM you.

You walk on.

Someday in the distant future, a mother will warn her child to not stray from the path.


She'll be warning about you.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Fourth

Heading into the home-stretch of this project with a quick science-fiction trifle. I like the ideas here, but feel that the execution was a little heavy-handed. It's another story which could benefit from some more time, but the train ride only takes but so long.

Yes, this is another reference to The Little Mermaid. Remember, stories are culture.

See what you think, and enjoy.

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She's the first one through the doors when the store opens. Not just any modshop - this is the good modshop, the superpremium one with the real licensed, goods, genuine trained technicians on hand to make sure the transition goes well.  It's the day after Andrea's seventeenth birthday, the second day that she can legally shop here.

"May I help you? First time?" The attendant, a woman not much older than Andi, swishes her tail around the air in complex patterns as she approaches the day's first customer, her ears twitching gently in the air-conditioned shop.

"Yes. Well, not my first. I mean, I dress all the time. It's just my first... well.."

The stranger smiled and touched Andi's arm. "Yes, I do know what you mean. I dressed for years before my first mod." Her tail twitches a bit as she speaks."It's not too long ago that's all there was. If you were otherkin... well, you dressed up, and that was that."

Andi nods. "But these are real, right? I mean, you really feel them."

The shop attendant gently took Andi's hand, put it on her tail. "Feel." It was furry and warm and alive in her fingers. She wrapped her fingers around it and squeezed lightly, causing the cat-girl to playfully yelp. "Gentle... tails are sensitive. Are you also a cat?"

Andi shook her head, walked to the display case. "That one." It was a black sheath dress, the inkyblack of the deepest sea. Inklyseablack fabric melding seamlessly into treelimb-thick tentacles with dark purple suckers. Catgirl frowns.

"The Ursula? It's nice, but most girls who go for the Ursula are more... you know..."

"What?"

The catgirl's ears flip backward, flat against her head. "You know.. you have the figure to be an Ariel." She points at a classic single-fin design. "the fin even splits in half. You know, so you can have legs and what comes with them..."

Andi shook her head. "I'm not an Ariel. I'm an Ursula. I need tentacles. Lots of tentacles. OK?"

When Andi finally tried it on, it fit like a dream. The dress - really a colony of nanobots, but it's nicer to pretend it's a dress - clung as if it were tailored just for her (because it was nearly alive and, in a sense, was). As the ursuladress dug its way into her body, to her nervous system she felt the tentacles, all pins and needles like extra legs that had fallen asleep. Two tentacles wrapped her legs, the rest splayed out around her, reaching towards the floor, lifting her body. SHe thought it would be awkward to walk - it always was in costume - but these felt vibrant and alive, part of her. It helped that her center of gravity was lower,  her body more stable. She walked out of the shop.

She even managed to climb up onto a bus on her own, proudly, feeling more comfortable in her movements by the second. She saw the cute hip boy checking her out, gave a flirty wave with two of her tentacles. He smiled. "Lookin' good. Lose some weight? Going to graduate to an Ariel? I LOVE Ariel's." He winked. Andi felt her tentacles involuntarily tighten, like a whole-body fist. She turned her head away.

"Leave her alone," she heard another man respond. "And stop objectifying. Besides, Ursulas are hot. If she put a few pounds on, she'd be perfect."

Andi fled the bus a stop ahead of hers, took the next one the rest of the way home.

The next day she left her Ursula dress at home, already feeling a tingle of phantom limbs where her tentacles should have been.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Third - The Escaped Artist

This is another little experiment. One of the neat things about social media is that it gives us a number of windows through which we can see the world, each of which is an individual perspective. As a writer, it can create a natural way to view the same event through different points of view.

Not much else to say about this, except that the picture is my own from lower Manhattan (no image prompt yesterday, for some reason), and the TimeTravellerSanger character is, of course, a nod to real-life time-travelling anarchist Steampunk Emma Goldman. Yes, I just referred to a "real life" time traveler. 

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Event Invite:
In the spirit of the Great Houdini, see Great Escape
The Artist will be Manacled, Straightjacketed, 
SUSPENDED in a STEEL CAGE more than 900 FEET over
bustling Downtown Manhattan!

Will she break free, or fall to an untimely death?
Come one, come all, and see!

[Shared to Past Futures by TimeTravellerSanger with the following note:
"Anyone with me for this? As odd as it is to travel all the way to the twenty-first century for an old-timey escape act, I'm never one to deny the chance to see a woman free herself of chains. If only she could as easily slip the chains of the patriarchy! ]

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Now trending #TheGreatEscape [Selected posts from social media regarding The Great Escape]

#TheGreatEscape is a ripoff of #Houdini and waste of time. I like my women to STAY tied up.

@EscArtist is so brave! Good luck to her!

@EscArtist is doing #TheGreatEscape in #NYC. Bring binocs and hope she escapes from her clothes!

#TheGreatEscape looks fun. Why doesn't anyone do things like that anymore? Yay for @EscArtist !

  Traffic alert: Street closings , parking restrictions Friday for #TheGreatEscape. Watch with the rest of #NYC, but take the #MTA.

Should get a great view of #TheGreatEscape from behind the Buddha statue in my meditation garden. Maybe  Buddha and I will wave toher

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Editorial - The Path Well Travelled (excerpt)

What the female escapist calling herself "The Artist" is embarking on is nothing more than the time-honored tradition of a minority mimicking a task already done perfectly well by a male and calling herself a "groundbreaker". While it may help her feel good about herself, the only ground she'll actually break is the Vescey Street sidewalk if her escape stunt doesn't go as planned. Even her fans can agree, she's no Houdini...


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[Escaped Artistry Blog]
live blogging this with speech-to-text.

Straightjacket is snug, chains in placed. Door closing with a solid clunk.

So glad to see a nice crowd here.

Hope the live stream is running.

Now going up. ...

[Live blog ends here]



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[Excerpt from The Daily Post]

... but excitement turned to confusion and to concern as the crowd witnessed absolutely nothing from the steel cage. The Artist's liveblog had long since stopped, and the few observers with binoculars could see the Artist's unmoving silouette through the steel grate. After several hours, rescue teams were dispatched.

What they found may be a mystery for the ages. What observers took for The Artist was her straightjacket, still tangled in the steel manacles.

As of this time The Artist has not been seen.
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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-Second. Meeting Minutes.

The challenge with image-prompts is that sometimes they speak to me and sometimes they quite honestly don't. 



Today we'll back away from narrative and play with the idea of what a story is. I originally conceived this differently, and might return to a similar form at some point. 


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Meeting Minutes

Date: -6 (tentative)
Attending:

Name                           
T                      
H
M
Y
G
B
Z (observer)

Agenda:
  • Review of schedule
  • Verification of termination date
  • Demolition plan
  • Discuss next steps

Discussion
-Note: Participant names to be redacted from official record.
  1. There is lack of consensus as to schedule.
    1. Y pointed to disparity in scheduled reign of lizards vs mammals
    2. T contends that rate of physical advancement is faster, spiritual slower.
      1. Points to overall ecosystem damage, mass extinctions, etc.
      2. Concerns re: extraplanetary spread of mammalian ethos
      3. High projected time to repair especially aquatic ecosystems
    3. Z is concerned data is obsolete
      1. Worst projections re: use of worldkiller weapons not met.
      2. Geopolitical situations appear to have broadly stabilized.
      3. Z reminded of emeritus observer status. Further opinions will not be welcomed or recorded.
    4. B, G concerned that current project isn't "finished".
      1. Point to ad hoc philosophical/spiritual improvements.
      2. Offer no clear schedule as to when enlightenment condition will be met.
      3. Y is not convinced that this state can be achieved unassisted.
        1. Suggests third manifestation. This suggestion is denied due to schedule constraints.
  2. Overall project state at this point is not indicative of a successful finish.
    1. Mechanical/temporal advancement far surpassing spiritual advancement.
      1. No signs of this trend abating.
      2. M considers temporal/mechanical advancement in and of itself a success
        1. B considers it irrelevant. This point was sharply disputed.
        2. Broad consensus that risks of mechanical versus spiritual disconnect too great to accept M's position
      3. This project is not to be considered successful.
Next steps:
    1. Y petitioned for a closing-day manifestation. This is under consideration
    2. Apocalyptic Methodologies to be reviewed, field tested
      1. Plague  in equatorial continent
      2. Fire in low spirit/high population areas
      3. Madness in high temporal wealth areas
      4. Meteorological methods in lightly populated areas
      5. Repeat of meteoroid impact not considered at this time due to potential damage to successors.
    3. Following review, demolition to begin.
    4. Detailed plans for next phase to be developed concurrently, reviewed at next meeting.




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twenty-First.

As I said earlier this month, I love fairy-tales. These kinds of stories are our cultural heritage, but only valuable if we keep them alive with constant revisiting, re-imagining, and retrofitting into a world much changed over the centuries since they were first penned.

I'll leave you with a question about the cliche: do you fear the sheep because it might be a wolf in disguise, or pity the wolf for having to dress itself as a sheep? 

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Yeah, I know it looks overdone, but there's really sheep that look like this. You should know by now; the pictures are all over the internet. And really, why the hell not? If you're gonna look like a sheep you want people to relax, to get to know you and to not be scared. So you don't just look like a sheep, you look like the most adorable damn sheep there is.
Image shared from the "1 Million Women"
Facebook group http://on.fb.me/ZGmud5

You know they aren't really that nice. Oh, they look all fluffy and cute like kids' toys, but they have a mean streak. Not really mean, but more cliquish than a gaggle of middle school girls. Even if you look like one of 'em and smell like one of 'em, if they don't know you you get that cold shoulder of mutton. Another drink?

Yeah, I guess they would have their reasons, but you know I'm not like that. Not really. I really am a nice guy, even if I hunger sometimes. We all get hungry, but that's all anyone ever says about me. Yeah, I've heard the stories. It's OK if you tel them sometimes. Everybody does.  Some of them are true, some are stretched so far that the true part gets kinda lost in all the extras people add. The bit with the three builders was like that. You'd think that nobody had seen a thatched roof before. Or that they saw it and just kept going because a thatched roof isn't quite crazy enough.

And for the record, I only took the tiniest bite out of the sun. It still burns sometimes, but we all burn sometimes. If you could look at it without going blind you could even see the corner that's missing. I still have that in my belly.

I knew you'd ask about her. Everyone asks about her. I'm not proud, but not for the reasons you think.  It's another story everyone gets almost all the way wrong. It's one of those stories people tell so much that they don't even see that it makes no sense. The path is the shortest way. That's why it's the path. When a girl volunteers for a chore that takes her away from home for a while and she takes a shortcut that's really longer, don't you think she has something else in mind? Girls get hungry too, especially  young ones just growing into their hungers.

I really liked Red, OK? I don't admit things like that but... she was special. She had style, just enough of an edge to be really interesting. Not enough edge to keep her safe, of course. It's a real shame.You could see it in how she walked, how she dressed, in her voice. The sweetgirly innocence was as much a costume as I'm wearing now. Really it was.

Yeah, I know the stories. The stuff with me and her granny is an outright fabrication. Really it is. And with her... well, not to be vulgar, but you know that "to eat" can mean more than one thing, don't you? Yeah.

They always like about the grandmother, but they always leave out a bit about the woodsman. Didn't it ever feel weird to you that he just  happened by at just the right time? That's some coincidence there that Dickens himself would be embarrassed to write. Yeah, I know who Dickens is. Lupine don't mean stupid, you know.

Anyway, like I was saying, the woodsman isn't just some random guy.  I'd never met him, but could see the resemblance even if he didn't call her "Daddy". That look in his eyes.... I know they say that I'm big and bad, but that's a look I'll never forget. More animal, more wild, more cruel than even my brothers.

I don't know. I really don't. The stories say he killed me, and maybe that's what he thinks he wanted to do. Maybe I ducked and that's why it ended like it did.

I don't think so.

His eyes, in that moment in the woods, weren't really on me, but on her. She'd grabbed that red coat she loved to cover herself, but it wasn't his gaze she needed to hide from. There's a lot of the story they make up, but it was true that he had an axe.

I'm not proud, but you'd have run too. You may as well admit it. I could hear the blade cutting the air, hear her scream cut off by the thunk of steel on flesh. Did he miss me because I ran? Or did he hit his target?

I don't know.

There never will be another Red, but there will be other girls curious to explore what's beyond the path.

I'm not wearing this for the next girl.

I'm wearing it for the next huntsman.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Twentieth

A rare afternoon post as I catch up to make up the one I missed.

I tend to be smarter in the morning, so we'll see how this one goes.

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He's at one of those between ages. Your kid is a toddler, no longer a baby. He still has that wobbly toddler walk, could sometimes make those two-word sentences little kids do. Sometimes you even understand him. Sometimes.

The season is late fall - also an in-between time. It's too late for apple-picking, to early to huddle inside by the fire. A day for the park, for toddling through fallen leaves, dried brown and crunching underfoot. That's the  kind of day it is when you see her.

Photo by Andrea Trask
You don't think much at first; it's a nice grassy park, one of the last days still pleasant enough to frolic outside. Truth be told, you don't even  notice her. What you see is the stroller. It's weird that she left her stroller in the  middle of the lawn, between trees. No kids are playing near it, but that's not weird. Strollers are boring. You'd think she''d have pushed it against a tree and out of the way (you're sure it's a she - men almost always hover near their strollers and bags and kids' bikes. It's one of those things), but you might be adding that later. It's hard to know.

You sit under a tree to check facebook on your phone, perhaps post a picture or two of the glorious fall day. It's OK, your kid is nearby, you're surrounded by other parents, and he needs a touch of freedom to run and play. It's the right thing.

Everytime you look up you see that he's a boundless bundle of energy, kicking up what seem to be literally impossible clouds of leaves, toddle-running around. You go back to your phone.

Minutes later he's toddled back to you, energy and attention span exhausted. You glance up and see her, a woman about your age, pushing the empty green stroller away from the lawn. She's leaning into the handles, pushing hard as if against a great weight. The stroller's wheels dig deep into the leaves as mother and stroller move away. Your boy looks longingly at the empty stroller, says something that might be "new friend".   

He can walk, but you carry him back to your car to bundle him in for the ride home.

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Nineteenth. In the Cellar

No battery. This is modern horror
I've slipped a day behind after missing a morning's writing to a dead tablet battery. Now, to work on catching up! 








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All these years later, they're still there in the basement. It's a different basement, but they're still here with me. Maybe they followed me. Or maybe they live in all basements, at all times. In the secret parts of the basement where nobody goes. Behind the boiler. Under the oil tank. In the cracked parts of the foundation where tree trunk-thick waste pipes snake off to the underground. If I ever live in house without a basement - and that seems certain now -  I'd miss them almost as much as I'll miss her.

I first heard their voices when I was very young, when the unfinished cellar had a powerful draw. Other kids had their rec rooms and foosball games and even the glory of an air-hockey table, but I had a secret. A little nook under the workbench, smelling of sawdust and oil layered over damp, earthy secrets. Sometimes, if I lay very quiet, I could hear their whispering. Low, languid, earthynoises, deeper even than my father's bellow but so soft and gentle. I knew instinctively that those voices knew secrets, and if only I could learn their language all the secrets of the earth would open to me.

I never did learn their language, but I gifted them my secrets, adding myself to the trove lying beneath the earth. Such small secrets in hindsight! That it was I who dropped the flower vase, replacing it chipped-side back to hide my infraction. The skipped homework assignments, the voice raised against my younger brother. They became my confessors, to the point that when I was old enough to enter the slender wooden box in the rear of the church, I'd whisper through the screen that I had no sins to confess. Why would I? I'd given them to the very earth, and from the very earth was shriven. I'd later think of it as grounding a lightning rod; the earth is big enough to hold all the lightning from the world. Surely it could hold my little guilts.

I didn't think of them until years later. The usual. College, dating, wild parties (and what secrets I could have told of those!), eventual setlling down, marriage, children. You stop going to church.

Then a baby and the nights without sleep. You know how it is. Your job doesn't change, but there's suddenly this screaming little being that won't stop  screaming no matter what you do, and your wife makes you wake up in the middle of the night because she says it's your turn this time even though you wake up a full hour earlier than she does.

So, you finally get the screaming baby back to bed and, though you'd not done so in over a decade, you tiptoe to the basement, to the dark corners smelling of oil and mildew. That's what I do. It takes time to hear it, but the slow, languid earthvoices are still there, still whispering secrets. I added mine "I'm mad at her. And I'm mad at the baby."
Found on Tumblr with no attribution
I slept the remainder of the night peacefully.

The voices below heard more secrets. Most about anger, about disappointment, about thinking this was a mistake.

About my secretary.

Is that how she knew? Did the voices below tell her? I'm not stupid and I'm not uneducated. I know the tale of the king with the gold-touch and donkey-ears.

So I end up sleeping in the basement, on the spare couch. It's not too bad. I'm closer to the voices, and have some time to  myself. It's been some weeks, with not much of a thaw. Sometimes at night I crawl to the dark corner, listen to the secret voices whispering their indecipherable whisperings, and offer one last confession:

"I still love her. And the baby."

I look up from the dark corner to see her at the top of the stair, backlit by the kitchen lamp. I can't see her face.

WIthout a word, she closes the basement door, leaving me alone with the chorus singing my secret sins.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Eighteenth

Sunday Nightmare Fuel is always shorter. The image inspired this fragment.



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Outside the decaying cathedral is a plaque. It is written in a language nobody who worshiped there would understand.
This was one of the last buildings taken in the liberation, after the remainder of the city had been freed. The figures within represent celebrants in mystical ceremonies which would take place herein, in which a supernatural being would be praised and petitioned for boons. 

Despite the obvious fact that their myths weren't true, a number of these "worshipers" remained in the building, after the fall of the city. Their last words were a repeat of the myth that they would live forever.

It is to our everlasting shame that we failed to keep any alive for cultural
Image by Niki Feigen Source:
https://500px.com/photo/10964415/church-of-the-9-ghosts-ii-by-niki-feijen
study. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Seventeenth: So you Decided to be a Ghost

I don't write many ghost stories, but I perhaps should. Ghosts are inherently interesting. What would you want to see, do, or experience if you could reach past the veil of death? What would it mean to the living?

In some ways ghosts could be more interesting than vampires or zombies, the latter of which I find especially boring. 
One side note: today's prompt comes from fellow participant Erin Vataris, who has written on some of the same prompts as I have this month. See her work here for a glimpse as to how a different writer can see something else in the same image.

For now,  Read on!

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So you've decided to become a ghost.

IT isn't easy; death isn't what you expected. Oh, there was the predictable anger at leaving too young, but there were no pearly gates, no lake of fire, not really much of anything you'd have expected. Death was like a giant mute button. One year for Halloween you'd actually dressed like a ghost, with a semitransparent hood covering your head. Death was amusingly like that; the world was there, but everything was muted, darkened, far away. You could almost see, hear, smell, but just barely.
Image Courtesy of Erin Vataris

You could go anywhere, but you choose to go home. Through the haze of death you can see her, of course. Still muted, but less than the rest of the world. If you squint, you can almost see her face.

Almost.

She's like a hint of a beacon in what is otherwise darkness, but no matter how you yell - that you love her, that you miss her, that you're still there -  she doesn't hear you. So you wander.

In some places, the world seems a bit closer. Cemetaries. Churches. Baseball diamonds. Wandering to and from these places, you learn something. You can move forward and back, left and right, as you always did, but there's something else now. You think of it as to and from; back towards the world, and ... away from it. Towards the next step? Towards oblivion? You don't know. But you learn the feeling.

You exercise. It's like it had been to hit the gym, except that the ache isn't in a muscle group. It's all-over, as if you'd done every body part plus your brain in one go. It hurts, but you don't mind; it's the only time you feel anything.

You push through hard, and can sometimes see other people. Once you watch a whole inning of a baseball game, as if through a haze.

You feel ready. You go back home.

You push through, feel the ache through your ghostbody and arms, and soul. It mainly hurts in your eyes, or what your eyes had been.

You pause.

No, she isn't with someone else, or back in love, or anything like that.

She's in bed, reading a book. You always read together, often going so far as to buy two copies. You were always a bit slower than she was, but she'd pace herself so you'd catch up at the end of the night, talk about what you'd just experienced. Then leave your two identical books with two matching bookmarks together.

Even at your strongest, reading a book is beyond you. Even now, the hardest you push, you can barely finish a page. You move backwards, away, until you see out the corner of your eye:

On what had been your nightstand, an identical book to the one she is reading, bookmarked midway through.

Straining against the membranes of the world, you push forward.

Maybe she'll tell you about it. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Sixteenth - CLowning Around

I don't understand the meme that clowns are scary. I take that back: I understand that exaggerated features, and a hidden face can be scary to some, but I've never felt it. To me, a clown is not only a figure of fun but, at best, the narrative thread at the center of a performance. It's the archetype of the fool which can reflect reality through a funhouse mirror.

So, today's prompt was a clown picture. The story is a callback to my earlier "We Can Cure You" 

The image was presented without known attribution.

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They cured me. You probably heard about that. It doesn't matter how. If it's magic leeches, mystic chants, or twelve steps of surrender to a higher power, it's a cure. They cured me.

What nobody tells you about a cure is that it doesn't take that part of you away. The wanting a drink part. So they cure you, they take away the drink, and leave the wanting. The hunger.

So we wear masks to cover up the hungering beasts. They could be satin, silk, steel, or leather. Or greasepaint.

IT started with a book, the way such things always do. No, not a magic book, not a dusty tome with no author and no apparent source. I've learned my lesson about shops that weren't there yesterday, and disappear when you aren't looking. No, this was a nice, reliable, Complete Idiot's style guide to clowning. I loved the makeup. Wearing it, I feed different. I'm [name] the clown.

There are places you can practice if you look hard enough. I found a group just outside the city, in an abandoned old church. The furniture has long since been stripped out, the plaster walls are riddled with holes, but it's at least rainproof. It's a good group. Amateurs who love to work on the craft. We practice makeup, practice pratfalls, practice skills like juggling. Not like the "real" jugglers; cascading seven balls is damn hard but doesn't look impressive in a showy enough way. It's just throwing and catching. No, when we juggle it's tricks. Spins and pirouettes that look sloppy-drunk but pull out the catch at the last second.

Yeah, my clown-character is a bit of a drunk. Don't worry, I still don't touch the stuff. And even though the pounds have melted away after hours on the unicycle (another important skill) the veins on my nose show just a bit too much. It's OK, really. The makeup hides it.

So yeah, I came to look forward to the afterwork clowning hour. Then two. And a quick unicycle circuit at lunchtime. And yeah, I was late for dinner a night or two. Sometimes I'd pretend to be late at the office. Look, it's a calling. I wouldn't judge yours? The amazing thing about the clowning club is that someone is always there. Always. I've never come to the church and found it empty.

I came home one night to an empty house. She'd stuck with me through the drinking, but left over the clowning. How fucked up is that?

And here's the crazy thing. The makeup, I swear, is just regular clown makeup, like the way the book got me started was just a regular book. I didn't get it at a magical store, or for an old gypsy woman, or trade my last cow to a mysterious stranger for it. It's just a tube of makeup, ordered over the internet, OK?

So why won't it come off, no matter how hard I scrub?

Why has the mask become my only face?

Must I wear another mask over it, when I'm not clowning?

Do I even want to?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Fifteenth - Throwback Thursday

I'm not really a big hard-science fiction reader anymore, but have to admit that it was my first literary love. So, for today's Nightmare Fuel, I present to you an homage to one of the giants of American twentieth-century SF. He wasn't not an author whose politics resonate with me today, but was one of the figures who drew me to my love of speculative fiction. Enjoy.

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TV Preview: Out of this Real World

If one TV producer has his way, humans will walk on Mars not in the spirit of exploration but as a desperate gimmick to breath life into the rotting corpse of the reality genre. Decades after would-be space cadets were first bilked out of thousands of dollars for a "one-way-ticket to Mars", fledgling streaming service RAHStream seeks to make the ambitious "Survivor in Space" the centerpiece of its original programming. Technical details remain to be worked out, but tens of thousands of hopeful space survivors have already signed up....
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Application for Participation in "BarsoomHouse" Project [excerpted from criminal court documents]

Name:
Gender:
    Male
    Female
    Other
Orientation
    Straignt
    Gay
    Bisexual
    Other (specify) __________________________
Ethnicity:
Religious Affiliation:
List all social media usernames and passwords for background verification




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Mogul to Join Barsoom House Cast - On his Own Terms
Promises his own ticket will be "one-way" as well

Billionaire Ansom Roberts revealed plans to join the starlost "survivors" of his reality franchise "The Real Barsoom" in a one-way trip to Mars. More accurately, they'll join him. Roberts plans to leave in the single-passenger rocket Harriman one week before the remaining castmembers, allowing the flamboyant mogul  and financial backer of the project to greet the interplanetary castaways at the landing site.

"We're looking back at the history of reality television, nodding to that," a spokesperson explained. "...

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[Excerpt from Screams into the Dark: The Personal Blog of the One who Sees]

You all remember my proof of how the selection process for Real Barsoon was rigged, don't you? Well, if they wanted to silence me they rigged it wrong. Maybe they thought that my death on the launch pad would bring too much attention, get the wrong people reading this blog. Well, they miscalculated, didn't they? I'm still here, and still exposing them.

Remember, Roberts' endgame is nothing more than the hegemony of his secret Hindu faith over the world. The very name of his ship, the Harriman proves as much. Harri ... Hari ... Krishna. Wake up Sheeple! Does he need to spell it out in mile-high letters?


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Feature: The World's Loneliest Man
No return trip for Ansom Roberts

He never planned a return trip.

That much we knew, but last week's incident on the launchpad - one still being investigated - drove the point home in an unexpected way. Ansom Roberts continues toward Mars, not as the ringmaster in a made-for-streaming-TV circus but as the loneliest man to ever live, doomed to die farther from his fellow humans than anyone has ever been.

Scenes of his preparation are that much more poignant; the row of compressed air cylinders, still labelled with broad paper tags. A utility knife, some freeze-dried food, a few tools. Enough to have lasted him until the  Star Minnow was to arrive with passengers and supplies for long-term survival, if not comfort...


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Final Words of Lone "Martian" reach Earth
Over a year after his ill-fated launch, Ansom Roberts' final transmission reached a record audience of RAHGlobeStream's subscribers. The ironically-live feed of his dead body is still available, and will remain so for as long as the transmitting camera functions - this may be years. Viewers can see his spacesuit against the backdrop of empty space, with earth sadly missing from the background.

A sharp-eyed viewer can see the torn-off tag from a compressed air cylinder, pinned to the Martian soil at his feet with a knife. On it are written his final words, from British poet Robert Louis Stevenson

"Under the wide and starry sky
"The Astronaut" by Devin Francisco,http://www.loverofdarkness.net/pictures/picture/294

dig the grave and let me lie
glad did I live and gladly die
and I laid me down with a will. 

This be the verse you grave for me
"here he lies where he longed to be
Home is the sailor, home from the sea
and the hunter home from the hill"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Fourteenth

Dialog is fun. I sometimes like descriptive texts, and sometimes like to play by setting a scene with nothing but dialog. SF writer Terry Bisson is terrific at that; he has some classics (the beautifully titled "They're Made of Meat" comes immediately to mind) which are nothing but all-dialog flash pieces.

I didn't even use dialog tags here, but I think it's clear who's speaking at which point.
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"We're lost. Can we please ask for directions?"

"We're not lost and we don't need to ask for directions. You always want to ask."

"Admit it. You have no idea where we are or how to get there. Why do yo always think you know where you're going, even in a city you've never been to?"

"I know where I'm going. I read the map beforehand. Look, there's the bridge."

"that doesn't look right. I'm checking."

"Don't check. I know where we're going."

"CONTINUE ON GRAND CENTRAL P-KWAI FOR THREE MILES"

"See? We're supposed to continue. Not get off here." "No, this looks right. Trust me. It will be an adventure."

"STAY LEFT AT THE FORK TO MERGE ONTO GRAND CENTRAL P-KWAI WEST"

"You're not listening."

"The damn thing doesn't even know how to say 'Parkway'. This looks right. I can see the bridge."

"...RECALCULATING..."

"Where? I can't see anything."

"We would see the bridge if it weren't for this fog."

"...RECALCULATING..."

"Turn that useless thing off. If it's just going to say "recalculating" it's no use."

"If you won't listen it's no use. I really think this is wrong."

"...RECALCULATING..."

"It's fine. Let me pay attention. Look, there's the bridge, right in front of us."
"...RECALCU... ERROR. ROUT TO DESTINATION CAN NOT BE FOUND. PLEASE SELECT ANOTHER DESTINATION."

"See? Useless. You can't even use the thing right. Where does it think we're trying to go?"

"It still says the hotel. It just cant find it. Honey... the map is gone."

"Like I said, useless. Things like GPS are a crutch. We keep relying on those we forget how to walk. Now quiet. I can barely see."

...

...
Fogged Bay Bridges by Toby Harriman
Source: 
http://goo.gl/Gu0Y3T
...

"This bridge is going for a long time."

"GPS SIGNAL LOST. SEARCHING"

"Great. Now we can't use it to get back even if we tried. Why is the bridge so long"

"I don't know. Please... let me drive."

"I don't see the road."

"I know."

"I don't see any cars."

"I know that too. Look, we're on the bridge. It has to get us somewhere, right?"

"You never listen."

"GPS SIGNAL LOST"

"I can't see anything outside."

"SEARCHING"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Thirteenth. We Can Cure You


I was going to muse on immortality again, but this went a different way. Consider it a modern-day fable of sorts. This one feels like a bit of a throwback to me. 

Have I mentioned that I love magic shops? 
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"We can cure you."

That's all it says. That and an address. No phone number, no email address. Just a street address not too far away.

Maybe you're desperate. Maybe you're still carrying a bit of that buzz from last night, and not in a good way. Maybe your breath smells like last night's vomit and maybe your wife is about to leave you.

Maybe you're desperate enough to go somewhere, sight unseen, hoping that the "cure" is for what you need curing.

The shop is small and cozy behind the simple wooden door with a discrete bronze plaque. "The Cure." The doctor - you can't help but think of him as a doctor - is a kindly man of late-middle years with a warm, trustworthy, Norman Rockwell kind of face. You stammer that you know he promised a cure, but didn't say what.

"What ails you? We can cure you. I promise."
Image from WBIR

Your face hot with shame, you mutter something about drink. The man smiles and nods, not unkindly. You almost run when he withdraws a plastic screwcap bottle, about three inches long. A clear bottle, so you can see inside.

You know what leeches are from a TV show about the history of medicine. You'd run if the idea of turning around didn't turn your stomach. Instead you collapse in the chair, close your eyes, feel it latch onto you.

The pain in the back of your stomach fades, the dizziness fades. The room gets sharper, clearer. Maybe the leech drank the alcohol out of your body (Only the alcohol? You know that's crazy). You're no longer hungover.

Six months later is six months without a drink, but a few extra cigarettes a day to compensate. OK, maybe a pack. You're not desperate this time, but still you want a cure. And you remember, after the revulsion, it was easy. Very easy.

You come back. The same kindly man is there, behind the same counter. This time you don't feel shame as you ask if he can cure your smoking. After all, everyone has trouble quitting, right? You still recoil at the jarred leech. This one seems bigger, but lean an hungry. As it latches onto the skin on the inside of your wrist you can feel the nicotine leaving your blood, feel your lungs open up as the creature grows fat. You walk out, feeling better than you have in years.

The pattern repeats, the cures multiply. You no longer smoke, no longer drink, no longer overeat. You don't even waste time with the sports pages. Some days you wonder what came of those leeches, made fat with your vices. Some days.

Some days you just feel sad. There's a bit of emptiness, there's something missing. So you go back, one more time.

"What ails you?"

You try to find the words. It's not as easy as saying that you want to quit smoking, or drinking, or overeating or bad television. "I feel...sad. Kind of empty. Lost."

The smile fades from the doctor's lips. He stands, walks you towards the door. Silently, you follow. You've come to trust him.

Gently but quite firmly he leads you outside, steps back into the shop and closes the door behind him. The sound of the door locking is like a gunshot.

You stand there for a long time, not knowing what to do.
 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Nightmare Fuel, Day the 12th, In which Nobody Dies


We'll discuss immortality again today; it seems to be a theme of this year's Nightmare Fuel for me.

This vignette was loosely inspired, of course, by a scene from Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels.

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"So... How was your century?"

I sighed. "fine."

"Just fine? Can't you at least make an effort?"

I took a deep breath. It's always like this. "I created three new identities for myself, juggled the money around the way you'd taught me. Lived in six cities. Learned to play the harmonica; it's nice and portable. Tried the piano again, but it doesn't really fit me. Too hard to move a piano. Took a vow of silence, spent about ten years in a monastery. Married twice. Watched one die of old age, just walked away from the other." I looked back at him. "It's been a century. A lifetime, for some. What about you?"

He sighed. He looked no older than he had the last time we'd met, a hundred years before. Or did he? Were the lines on his face a bit  deeper?  I often have the same speculation about my own face, staring into the mirror for hours on end.

He shook his head. "That's it? It seems ... small. I expected more from you this time."

I felt my face flush, my stomach tighten. "You say that every century. Not everyone needs to fix the world. It keeps getting better on its own."

He gives me a long look. The kind that makes me feel like a bug in a jar. The kind he was always good at. "Really? The world will get better? Around you? When will you learn some responsibility? I can help. We can plan your next century together." I sip my drink before answering. "No, you're right. I'm sorry. I'll", I pause for a deep breath. "I'll do better next time. Maybe learn some medicine."

He laughs, a cool laugh that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Nanotechnology. That's where the future is at. You'll study nanotechnology?"

I nod. "Sure," knowing that we're leading to a long lecture on the right schools, the right resources, which palms to grease to get that nanotechnology education he wants from me. We both know I won't do it, but we have to go through the motions. Thing is, maybe he's right. Maybe I will make something of myself this time.

In any event, this is going to be a long, long day.

I'm just glad it's only once every hundred years.

Nightmare Fuel, Day 11 (plus 2!)

On the train is when I write, and I don't ride the train on the weekend. So, here is your daily-dose of flash-fiction. For certain generous definitions of daily.


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I came armed and armored. Even today I think back, wondering if that is a mistake. Armed only with two waterbuckets, yes, and armored in the garb of my order. Not the plainspun habit worn for day-to-day ministry, but the fine woolen one suitable for a high mass or visit from a governor. The garb which proclaims that my faith is a fine thing, to be honored with fine things.  Did I put too much of that faith in the trappings of my calling, and not the spirit itself? Or was I destined to fall from the first, too weak for what came after?

It seemed simple at first, simple and wise. To walk from the town just past dusk with two empty buckets, as if on a simple errand for water. If the townspeople found anything amiss with my taking my solitude just outside their borders none said a word. Surely they'd not know that the young goodman's journal had found its way to my order, that I was sent to learn the truth about the corrupt heart of an outwardly nice and pious hamlet?
screencapture from American Horror Story S2.

Perhaps they were accustomed to old women living alone near the wood. That thought gave me chills.

I'd waited, biding times and  before journeying into the wood. Waited for the goodfolk of the town to first accept me, then ignore me. Waited while performing my ablutions, saying my madrigals, preparing my soul.

Waited for Him to ease my fear, and grant me the strength.

So the time came for me to walk. I saw in the woods no magics, no staff-wielding warlocks, no witches aloft on broomsticks. Naught but the whispered footfalls in fallen pine-needles. I began to doubt that Brown's journal was anything save a hallucination, a fever dream.

Until I reached the crossroad.

He was waiting for me there, a bit balding with a bit of a paunch, his plain, homespun  priestly robes putting my finery to shame. He greeted me with an easy smile. "Good evening, sister."

I was sent because I'm no fool, because I have courage to go with my faith. I dipped my hand into the water bucket, cast a sprinkly of blessed water at the stranger, "In His name, show your true form!"

He stood straighter and taller, the homespun robes appeared of finer stuff. The face, the face didn't change much, if at all. He shook his head. "So rude. Do we not all wear masks? Do you ask your sisters to shed their habits, and appear as on the day they were born?

I'd not be drawn into debate with him. I had courage and faith, yes, but also learning. Not the learning of scripture alone, but of folk stories, legends, myths. To be drawn into debate with the Devil was not a game I'd play. "You know why I am here. You'll no longer hold the goodfolk of this town in your thrall."

He touched one hand to his chest in a gesture of outrage. "In my thrall? Is that what you think of me? Look!" He snatched the bucket from my hand, cast the water to the ground. It pooled on the floor at my feet, in the pool images formed. I crossed myself against this sign of sorcery, but found myself drawn in by the image. A small knot of mostly women and young boys gathered in a woodland clearing. Other than that, what I expected. An old woman stirring a large, cast-iron cauldron, contents unknown. Two young girls dancing shamelessly to the music of a young man playing a pipes. 

I turned to the stranger - to the devil - shocked and angered. "Have you no shame? Are you content to let these goodfolk burn for these nights' revels?

He shook his head. "All is not as it seems. They," he indicated the young girls, "are beaten by their father. The moonlight dance is the only time they feel peace. He," the boy playing the pipes ,"has a gift for music, but the pastor only lets his brother-in-law perform in the church. They all, in fact, have gifts which they are forced to hide. Would God want to deny us those talents which with he gifted us? What do you deny in yourself?"

I turned briskly from the crossroads, leaving the water buckets behind. I walked back to my hovel. 

Something should be done for their souls. 

And something should be done with the paints my superior tells me are a frivolity. 
 
 Perhaps tomorrow I'll return to the crossroads and decide. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

NMF Day the Tenth


Poetry this time. It's the weekend, so this one will be brief.

-

In the child's hands, a berry.
ripered raspberry,
that deep red color they get just before they turn from sweetperfect to
sweetrotten.
Cradled in that carefulprecious way a child holds a treasure.
Cradled the way a child holds something
Special
Precious
Fragile.

Then after.

The image in my head
Cradled in that carefulprecious way
the mind holds a treasure

Still life
With pavement, broken raspberry, and no child.
The fruit broken under its own weight on slick asphalt
Deep red bleeds out
Stains my fingers as I scoop some up

Not even noticing that it is delicious
So sweet
And so cold.

Nightmare Fuel, Day the Ninth: Fear.

Not all horror is supernatural. Today's quick sketch, mostly dialog, takes a different and more domestic direction.


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"...and see their sharp beaks, ready to tear you apart."

"Bradley! What are you doing?"  Her voice was sharper than the talons of the imagined bird. I dropped my hands.

"we were playing. He's fine."

"That's mean. You're torturing him."

I took a deep breath, spoke calmly. No need to lower myself to her level. "No. we're playing. It's a game."
 Image source: http://thepsychic.tk/tag/nightmare/

"A game for you. Where you torture him."

"A good startle is healthy. It gets his heartrate up. Besides, my dad played games like this with us all the time. It didn't do anything to me."

"Your dad," her voice took that whisper-scream tone she uses when she's mad but doesn't want to make too much  noise. I saw the muscles on her neck tighten, her nostrils flair a bit, "is an ogre. If you were anything more like him I wouldn't have married you in the first place. Sometimes -" her voice trails off. We've moved away from his bed as we argued.

"Sometimes what?" I keep my voice low, but it's hard to keep the pain out of it.   My hands tighten into fists, fingernails biting against my palms."

"Nothing." She is sullen, contrite. I know she knows she's wrong, but she won't back down. "I" a pause. "I think you should sleep on the couch tonight. And stay out of his room."

I lie awake a long time, I see his hands above me, tightened and flexed into claws, reaching ever closer, yet not touching me. I can hear his breath, the hint of memory of his voice.

I'm never alone.

Nor will my son be.

Quietly, I step out of bed and walk to his bedside, my hands raised like claws.