January212013

Writing Exercise - 1/19/13-1/21/13

The sound of the Challenger slamming on its breaks was the cry of tires squealing on smooth pavement, echoed around the hollow concrete skeleton of the parking structure. It became the shriek of a chromed banshee, all summer heat and the stench of gas fumes and the lingering promise of rain that was never going to actually come. The car idled, trim glowing under the fluorescent lights. Down the straight line of a dozen lights meant to reveal everything in the most security-conscious and unflattering detail, was a nondescript Civic that had just rounded the corner. 

The Challenger’s engine rumbled, and the whole car crouched in front of the path out like a tiger in front of the only door out of its cage. The Civic crawled to a stop, the sound of its tires crunching over gravel strangely alien in this echo chamber of roars. It edged forward, as timid as prey that had wandered into the predator’s den, knowing full well that it can’t escape but ready to bolt if the unthinkable occurs. 

The Challenger flashed its lights. Once. A long pause, and then again. When the Civic did nothing, the Challenger roared one more time and then settled back into its low growl. The passenger side door opened, and out stepped one pointed black boot, shined to a high gloss. Another followed, and out stepped a man in a suit that looked too nice to belong to a car that menacing. 

The man stepped past and from the back came another man, this one dressed in a nondescript blue track suit that barely covered his mountainous frame. The car shifted as he moved through it, and visibly sprung up as he crawled out from the back. He towered over the man in the suit, and followed behind him closely like a giant puppy.

"Come on out," the man in the suit called, reaching up to adjust his slicked back hair with a carefully practiced air of ambivalence. "You’re not leaving until we talk to you, and we’re not going to talk to you until you come out."

The Civic lingered for a second, and then settled as it was put into park. The driver’s door opened, and from inside climbed what could only be described as a kid. He was in the twilight months of his teens, but he had a gangly youthfulness that seemed out of place with the fear on his face. He climbed out of the car, but stood behind the door as if it would shield him. 

"I’ll talk to you, not your dog. Put him back in his kennel," the kid said, trying hard to sound cool and barely able to contain the cracking of his voice. 

The big man stepped forward, but the man in the suit held up a hand to block him and leaned back to speak into his ear. The huge man glared at the kid, but then stepped back and quickly got into the passenger seat of the Challenger, filling it up with his bulk. He stared straight ahead at the kid like he was trying to figure out just how fast he could bound over there and tear him apart.

"All right, Hiroki. It’s just you and me. Now why don’t you come up here and talk to me like a normal person?"

"And have your thugs run me down while you leap out of the way? No, thanks. You come over here where it’s safer."

"Safer for whom?" The man took a few steps towards Hiroki and the Civic anyway. "You could have a weapon."

"You don’t?"

The man smiled, his thin lips splitting like a wound. “I wouldn’t go that far. You can’t be too careful. Never know what kind of monsters lurk in a city like this.”

"My thoughts exactly," Hiroki answered, trying to look composed even as sweat stood out across the flush of acne on his brow. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen, and small for his age. Even the school jacket he had on seemed too big, swallowing him up in green and yellow. His name was sewn onto the back—SUGOI—but it would be a stretch to guess he got a jacket like that from playing sports.

"At least step away from the door so I know you’re not hiding a shotgun behind there," the man said. "A show of good faith. I could just have my men come out and cut you down before you could get out of this lot, but I figured I’d give you a chance to parlay first."

"Sporting," Hiroki said as he stepped away from the door. His hands were empty, and he took a few steps towards the man. "I don’t think it’s going to change anything, though."

"Maybe not," the man said as he took bounding steps down the path towards Hiroki’s car. "But I like you, kid. You’ve got iron in you. I’ve had cops and congressmen take too long a peek at what I do and turn for the hills. You’ve stuck around long enough to not only get caught, but make yourself an actual nuisance. I never would have thought for the life of me that I’d be threatened by a kid."

"I’m not a normal kid," Hiroki said, defiant, his Adam’s apple bobbing as if to betray him. 

"No, you most certainly are not." The man stopped several feet in front of Hiroki, and reached into his pocket to pull out a handkerchief, with which he patted his own sweaty face. "You remind me of me, once upon a time. I was just a kid in this city too, wanting things I couldn’t clearly articulate and meddling in things that were too big for me."

"Yeah? How’d that work out?"

"I got caught, and stood where you’re standing now. I remember it like it was yesterday, sometimes. I had a boat… my father was a fisherman, you see. And I had slowly rowed out in the night to the yacht where Vinny Spicane was holding one of his big regional soirees. I made too much noise, as children are wont to do, and found myself facing a dozen men with machine guns and one very intrigued Spicane. He had been expecting me, because I had been lurking around wondering how I could use the knowledge I had to my benefit."

"Always a crook," Hiroki spat.

"Don’t pretend you know everything, kid," the man said, frowning. "I actually had thought if I could get that information I could sell it to the cops, make some money and wash my hands of the whole ordeal when they shut him down. I just wanted to clean up the drugs in the harbor. A noble goal. You got a noble goal?"

"Keep you from ruining my home. Maybe get some recognition."

"You want to be a cop?"

"Detective," Hiroki said. "Freelance."

The man nodded. “Smarter than I was, at least. Not by much, but smarter. The problem is, son, that detectives don’t really detect anymore. You see, they work for whoever pays the most, and it’s never the guys with the badges or widows spending the insurance on recently deceased husbands. I’ve got whole stacks of cash just waiting for guys like you to show up and make themselves known.”

"I wouldn’t be much of a detective if I looked the other way for some cash."

"You wouldn’t be much of a hero, you mean. But detectives and heroes ain’t quite the same thing, in my experience. So let me tell you some more about my story. There I was, shitting my pants on the Spicane yacht … that motherfucker was called The Cannoli, if you can believe it. Anyway, I’m on the yacht, guns pointed at me, and Spicane himself comes over and lays one big meaty, greasy hand on my shoulder and says ‘Kid, it’s time you were given a choice.’

"Now I’m not saying that I’m giving you much of a choice, because I knew then like I knew now, that this was a pretty shit deal. But consider it something of a legacy. Passed down from one crook to one child over and over. Hell, look what happened to me: I went and offed that fuck, took over his game, and made sure that we stayed out of the harbor. Maybe someday you’ll get that shot, too. Ain’t never heard of a Japanese mobster in this part of the world, but times do change. Be nice to get a little flavor in among all these guidos and banditos."

"You’re right about one thing," Hiroki said as he looked up at the Challenger still idling ahead of him. "This isn’t much of a choice at all."

"You’re a smart kid, or you wouldn’t even be here. I trust you’ll make the right decision." The man went to stick out his hand, and took another few steps towards Hiroki.

Hiroki hesitated, and then took another step towards the man. In that moment, right before they shook each other’s hand, something passed between them. To Hiroki that moment would always be described as a knowledge of fate, that here was a brick wall where someone would be ending their entire way of life. In that moment, he decided that it couldn’t be him. What the other man thought was anybody’s guess, though Hiroki at his meanest assumed that he didn’t want to let Hiroki grow up to be as evil as he had once been.

Whatever the reason, the man’s other hand slid into his jacket almost imperceptably and came out fast with a butterfly knife that was already nearly folded open. He reached out to grab Hiroki’s arm and pull him in close, undoubtedly to sink the knife into Hiroki’s ribs. But Hiroki was smart, and far faster than he looked, and his jacket was baggy enough that he was hard to hit within it. 

And it wasn’t like he hadn’t come unprepared. He shifted his arm in his sleeve and the tire iron that he had secreted up in the arm of his coat slid into his palm. It wasn’t quite the baseball bat he had in his car, but he didn’t know quite how to hide a bat yet. Besides, it could be used for other things besides. When the knife came for him, the tire iron swung above it, following the path of the knife slash all the way up to its point of origin. Metal collided with the other man’s jaw, and the jaw visibly gave way as the man landed hard on the ground. Blood was pouring out of the open wound that had been his mouth, garbling his already incomprehensible cries of rage and pain. Maybe they were words? 

Hiroki didn’t bother to find out, because he already heard the Challenger roar to life. He reached into the window of his Civic and wedged the baseball bat against the gas as the car roared to life and peeled off towards the Challenger. He didn’t have time to make sure it went straight, but all the careful planning of rigging his kamikaze system paid off when the Civic met the Challenger head on as that car leapt in defense of its owner. The crash destroyed the Civic, but the Challenger faired nearly as poorly as the driver’s side crumpled and the Civic tore off half the roof, taking the driver with it. The car then slammed into the nearest concrete pillar, a hollow crumpling that spelled the end for whoever had been in it.

Hiroki was turning back to the man sprawled on the concrete, though, who was currently trying to reach for the knife he had dropped when he fell. Hiroki kicked it away and then stood over the man, brandishing the tire iron. “Let me tell you a new story,” Hiroki said. “One where there is no choice. Because you were never going to give me one, so I made sure that the outcome wasn’t reliant upon you.

"Now, I’m going to do something very unpleasant, and not because I want to. You see, I don’t have a choice. Either I take you out, or you survive and get me back for crossing you not just once, but twice. The kid who not only blew the lid on your organization but also actually hurt you? You couldn’t afford to let me live. So I can’t afford to let you do the same. 

"I want to. I really do. Because I don’t just want to be the detective. I want to be the hero. But sometimes that means doing things I find distasteful. Not really an apology, but then, I’m not really sorry."

With that Hiroki brought the tire iron down against the head of the increasingly frantic body underneath him. Once. Twice. Three times, until the spasming of the limbs had stopped and what he was looking at barely resembled a human being at all. He sighed, crouching down and wiping off the tire iron on the silk shirt where it wasn’t stained through with blood. He then reached into the jacket pocket and pulled out the handkerchief, which he used to wipe off some of the spray that had gotten onto him.

He was taking off the jacket, now ruined with blood stains, when he heard a moan and the heavy thump of something hitting the ground. He turned around and saw that the goon, the mountain that had sat in the passenger seat, had managed against hope to not only escape the wreck of the Challenger, but to seemingly be mostly unharmed outside of a head wound that at the moment was blinding him as he lay there, gasping for air. 

"Well, shit," Hiroki said softly to himself. Killing one person had been hard enough. And now he had to do two? But he couldn’t afford to leave witnesses; not when he was nearly free and clear from this mess. The car wasn’t his. He could burn the jacket. Nobody had to know, outside of this one monster here. Slowly, regretfully, Hiroki slid the blood-stained jacket back on and zipped it up. It wouldn’t do to get blood on the rest of his clothes. 

As he walked towards the last survivor, his foot collided with something that skittered across the ground. He walked over to it and looked down. The butterfly knife gleamed in the harsh lights of the parking garage as if winking at him. Hiroki smiled at his good fortune. He wasn’t sure he had the arm strength to swing that tire iron like he had more times. But this? This would be easy. He reached down and picked up the knife, before turning back to the matter at hand.

January72013

exercise 1/7/2013

a moment of stillness

pregnant with possibility

the translucent sound of anticipation

the hammer falls

the hollow crunch of shattered hope

sparks fly

moments in time

briefly flaring into your vision

only to fade

forever

how quickly what was constant is torn asunder

and what was known made absent

until there is nothing but void

and the memories of what once was

lingering in your vision like an echo

gone aside from that vision

which shall one day also

fade

forever

August262012

I’ve always believed that words have power. Ideas and thoughts and emotions have power, and language is the way in which we most directly express them in modern life. Thus they have to have power, or they’d be poorly equipped to handle being the vehicle for such important aspects of our inner, isolated lives. If they were meaningless, they would just be baubles of sound, hung on some formal structure of interaction meant to keep us happily social animals.

This is why I’ve always been distrustful of people who try to say that words don’t have to mean anything. Yes, this is usually done in defense of some sort of bigoted stance; but more importantly, it seeks to divest language from its innate power. Long ago, to name something was to know it or own it, an irrevocable bond. Now, people toss about words that are packed with meaning and try to claim that it’s fully harmless. If these people want to cheapen words, what does that mean for the ideas that these words could represent in smarter, wiser minds and mouths? 

If we don’t respect language, how can respect ideas? If we can’t respect ideas, how can we respect anybody—including ourselves?

August82012

summer

The heat was oppressive, the air heavy with the kind of burnt-air smell of ovens left on in houses too long and wood ready to burn if only someone would give it a light. Even at night, when the sun finally fled and left everyone a few scant moments to remember times when they weren’t living in an over, it would remain hot to the point where just being exposed to that air was choking. It would reach inside of you, taking any moisture you could give it, substituting our bodies for the unyielding skies. 

It was the summer of tyranny, the summer of passions. Of furtive treks between air conditioned oases where we kept the rooms very dark and very quiet, the daytime that was our basic animal tendency revoked in favor of the sort of caves that we used before we even had words for things much less internet connections where we could put those words onto cool blue electric screens to send across beams of light to other people also hiding from the angry star and the arid planet that were our birthrights.

It was the summer where it was hard to even approach rational thought when all we did was huddle in these cool placed and dream of water, fear for our futures, give in to all of the fevered emotions that rolled in our sun-addled heads. It was a summer of madness, emotional and pure and irresponsible, where we clung to dreams and darkness like we owned them, instead of simply had them for the fleeting moments before we gave ourselves back up to the suffering of the season.

August62012

For once it wasn’t mysterious phone calls or strange dreams about falling into endless voids that woke Ian up, but the simple act of the sun cresting above the nearby buildings enough to pour into the bedroom window, horizontal slants of warmth that stirred him from sleep. That, and the small yet insistent creature that had hopped up into bed next to him. Groaning at the intrusion, Ian opened his eyes.

Ramses stared down at him, somehow managing to appear both accusatory and somehow unruffled. It was like this every morning, with the black cat going out of its way to question Ian’s whole being: his surprising maleness, his intrusive daily presence, the disruption in feline routine. Ian reached up to scratch Ramses behind the ears, which the cat suffered with gentlemanly grace, as a token peace offering.

“Yeah, I know,” Ian said as he pulled back the sheet and swung his legs out under him. “You might never get used to me, but believe me the feeling is more than mutual.”

He dressed to the apathetic audience of Ramses perched on the pillow where he had been sleeping, undoubtedly still wishing it smelled and felt like Donna. He didn’t blame the cat, the sense of dim alien weirdness that had settled over the tidy, quiet rooms the past two weeks had driven him to distraction. Even as he went out to dump a bowl of food for Ramses and brew a cup of coffee for himself, he couldn’t kick the idea that him being here was something wrong. It wasn’t that he was intruding, but more a vague sense of unease, something lurking at the sides of life only to be felt in quiet moments.

And lately, Ian had a surplus of those—a plethora.

By the time he made it out onto the stoop where he had been spending as much time as he could stand, the morning work time rush had mostly died down, leaving little more than the few children with stay-at-home parents and old folks who had been here for decades making their way up and down the street. Sitting on the steps, he found that he was invisible to them, able to people watch with impunity. Everyone was so oblivious, going about their day with a pair of blinders. He wondered if that was him, before, unseeing of even the acute interest of someone who was outside of his world view. He assumed he was. Even friends had managed to be neglected in the life before this, how was he going to notice a stranger who perceived time on a whole other scale?

As he sipped his coffee he looked down at the phone he had brought with him, glaring at it as if daring it to chime up again. He never got those strange calls in the light of day, but he worried that maybe they might start. Maybe they would never stop. He thought about checking the text messages for the thousandth time, even if he had them committed to memory. It was obsessive, but what else was there to focus on? He picked up the phone, pressing the button to pull up his texts, when he hesitated. He suddenly felt something, no someone, on the edge of his awareness.

He turned and found himself face to face with a young woman from the stoop over. She was standing across from him, leaning against the railing, seemingly intent on watching him in the same way that he had been watching the people going by. How long had she been watching? Unlike the rest of the neighborhood, he didn’t recognize her at all.

“Hello,” he offered, terse but not unfriendly.

“Hi,” she responded with a smile. She gestured with her chin to the phone in his hand. “What you doin’ there?”

Ian looked down at the phone he still held in his hand, not realizing he had been compulsively switching between the various texts he had saved, the chronicle of his midnight mysteries. He put it down like it was on fire. “Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s dumb.”

“Uh huh,” she said, climbing slowly down the stairs of her stoop as she talked. “I’ve seen you out here for days now. You sit and you check that thing and you never talk to anybody on it. What’s your deal?”

“For days? I’ve never seen you around here before.”

“I like to remain inconspicuous. So what is it? You a drug dealer or something? You know they can tap cell phones, too, right?”

Ian laughed and put the phone in his pocket, momentarily forgotten. The company, even if she was too curious for a stranger, was welcome after a fortnight with Ramses and his own thoughts to keep him entertained. “No, it’s not that. It’s … something else.”

“Job stuff?” She stepped off of her stoop and walked over to stand in front of his, leaning against the railing. She didn’t seem in a hurry to go anywhere, and the light foot traffic seemed to pass them by with the same strange, dreamlike disinterest he had noted before. Nobody noticed the lingerers.

“How’d you guess?”

“You’re new here, and you’re new to this sitting outside thing. You look dazed, you people watch, you never go out anywhere. Sometimes you bring a laptop but you never seem to be doing a whole lot on it. I figure you’re out of work. Lots of that going around. I’ve seen the type.”

“You don’t know,” Ian said, suddenly feeling insecure about being so rapidly pigeonholed.. “I could be a day trader. I could have just come back from the beach I own where I make millions of dollars, come to visit my girlfriend who lives here.”

“Not likely,” the woman said, snorting once in what Ian suspected was laughter. “You don’t have the phone for day-trading. Nor the computer. You shave erratically, and you’re just getting over a sunburn bad enough to peel but the skin underneath is tanning nicely. Which means that you’re not used to being in the sun, but you’re doing it a lot over the past … oh, week or so. Am I wrong?”

Ian shook his head. “How’d you do that? Do you know Donna?”

“Is that who lives here? No. I’ve seen her, but she’s a very busy person. Gone a lot. Not like you. Who is she to you?”

“My sister,” Ian admitted. “Now you have to tell me how you did that, or else I’m going to assume you’re just stalking me.”

“It’s not magic,” the woman said, smiling. “Ever since I was young I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes. Deduction, good sir, is elementary. And you are a very easy read.” She paused and then, seemingly making up her mind, reached out and extended a hand. “My name’s Leah.”

“John Watson,” Ian answered, extending his own hand in return.

She barked out a real laugh at that, loud and surprised, as she took his hand. “Really?”

“No, it’s Ian, but given the look on your face I wish it had been.”

“Wouldn’t be the weirdest thing that had happened to me,” Leah said as she settled back against the railing, a little closer this time, relaxing in this strange timeless bubble that seemed to define Ian’s life now. “So was I right about the rest of it?”

“Like you had read the book,” Ian said, settling back against the stoop and taking another long drink of his coffee. “What about you, Sherlock? How come I’ve never seen you around here before, but you seem to have seen me? You a student or something? A master of disguise who drifts in and out with the tide?”

“I might be,” Leah answered. “I was very into Sherlock Holmes.”

“Why?” Ian asked bluntly, and then realized that he was being rude and shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t mean to interrogate you. My only friend these days is a very standoffish cat, so it’s just been talking to myself and putting up with his ‘fuck you’ vibes. I’m not usually so rude.”

“Don’t worry about it. Comfort of strangers, and all,” Leah said, turning and looking at the street as a gaggle of kids all tethered to an array of leashes like balloons on a string walked by, dragging a bewildered looking man behind them. “What’s wrong with Sherlock Holmes? Super genius, outsider, master of dozens of interesting hobbies, and commentator on the whole human race he was barely a part of.”

“Well when you put it that way,” Ian said with a shrug. “Still didn’t answer my question about what you do.”

“Oh, I don’t work,” she answered with a shrug.

“Fabulously wealthy or artistically poor?”

“I … can’t work,” Leah answered. “I’m on disability. I get by.”

Ian raised an eyebrow and looked her over, trying to spot why she might be on disability. She caught him watching, though, and turned to face him more fully. “Not every disability is obvious. Don’t be a jerk like that. Gotta have some secrets.”

“Sorry,” Ian said, feeling appropriately chagrined by her admonishment as he sat up straighter and thought about a good way to change the subject. “I didn’t mean to be a jerk. Glad you’re not actually Sherlock, he probably would have punched me.”

“You’re watching the wrong Sherlock,” Leah said. “The real Sherlock Holmes would have just walked away after deciding you were totally droll. But I’m trying to be neighborly, since we seem to be stoop mates and it’s not often I see someone else whittling away the days people watching. So don’t prove me wrong by being boring.”

“Yes ma’am,” Ian said, raising his coffee in salute. He took another long sip of it, and mulled it over. He didn’t mind the company, and having someone to call him out was a nice change from Donna’s increasingly pitying voice mails and Ramses’ mute disapproval. He didn’t have much, but if she wanted something that wasn’t boring, he had an ace up his sleeve.

He pulled out the phone again, and handed it over to her. Leah took it from him and looked at it curiously, inspecting it. “What about it?”

“I got it when I had to turn in my company phone. New number, everything. Thing is, I keep getting weird text messages and even weirder phone calls late at night. Unlisted number, no messages, saying all sorts of strange things. Take a look at the saved text messages.”

Leah turned it on and paged over to the texts, and Ian turned them over in his mind along with her. He knew what they would say, alternating one of two messages every other night. The first, the one that started all of this, was simply: HELP ME SO ALONE, and the second one, the one that had started keeping him up late at night when it would show up or he would think too hard about it: DONT TRUST FEELING IMMUNE THE EMPTINESS COMES FOR YOU TOO.

“The phone calls are like that, too, but it’s some woman’s voice. She sounds upset enough I went to the phone company. They don’t even have records of someone texting or calling me. The man I talked to helpfully suggested that my phone might be haunted. My sister thinks I’m making it all up, some sort of psychosis to deal with not having a job.” He looked up at her. “They are there, right? I’m not imagining things?”

Leah hesitated, flipping back between the two messages that repeated over and over, before shaking her head. “No, they’re definitely real. Have you … tried replying?”

Ian shook his head. “I answer the phone calls sometimes, but when I say something they just hang up. The number doesn’t even seem to be real, so how could I reply to a text from it?”

Leah frowned, her brow furrowing as she went back to the page and then rapidly started typing on the phone. Curious, Ian stood up and walked over to her, standing beside her as he read over her shoulder.

> Who are you? You can talk to me. How can I help?

She hit send before Ian could protest, and he took the phone from her and looked down as the icon spun and spun on the screen. Suddenly, the screen flashed, and ‘Message Sent’ flashed on it. He looked up at Leah, incredulous. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“You have a mystery,” she said, her look of concentration breaking out into a broad grin. “What else are mysteries for if not to be solved?”

August52012

- a sonnet -

As long night dies in answer to the day
the world rolls back its secrets once again 
with poignant seconds fading to the grey
for night time passions never can sustain.
The whispers once so fervently produced
become the seeds of dreams for restless hearts,
the heights of feeling darkness had induced
fade quickly as intimacy departs.
But midnight’s creed can turn to noon’s resolve
when waking stirs the memories now sown;
and sunlight’s doubts are quick now to dissolve
when faith now rings this truth: I’m not alone!
Where once these quiet moments fed on fear
my soul now rests in new truths held most dear.

August22012

From my earliest memory, I’ve always had a dream that I called ‘the banging’. It would come to me in the quiet moments, where I settled down between awake and asleep, the fuzzy moments where reality slips away but before that thing where you jerk awake as your body fights letting go. It was a constant companion, something so uniform in how it presented itself that I thought in my youth that it was a vision of some kind.

Unlike other dreams, it was never different. It was never something I saw, but only something I felt. In the darkness, everything disappearing around me, it would come. It wasn’t a sound, exactly, but I felt it strumming throughout my body like a sound, deep and powerful and profound. It was short and repetitive. THOOM THOOM. THOOM THOOM. 

I always perceived a shape from it, because a sound-feeling that large must be attached to something. In my childhood I envisioned it as a Q-tip, some sort of fuzzy rounded shape spinning at me, swish and swish and swish as the tip passed close enough to me that I felt it passing but not close enough to touch. It would have been the world’s largest Q-tip, something so massive it would swab up not cuts or scrapes, but entire pools. It wouldn’t clean ears, but streets and alleys and whole canyons clogged with trees or people. It would be the monolithic god of cotton swabs.

There was a time, back when I was more mathematically inclined, that I thought it was a giant clock. This was deep into the visions phase, where I thought that I was—in some fleeting moment of transcendence much like death—seeing through the fabric of the universe and reaching a vague sense of the machine that runs all things. THOOM THOOM was simply the machine of whatever system or being was behind all things, and my vision of it was a moment of clarity. 

As I grew older, and it returned again and again like an old friend, my perception of it changed once more. Now, wiser (or at least knowing more things), I knew a giant Q-tip made no sense. No, obviously it was a giant centrifuge, the kind of thing that was used to train astronauts. Why it was in the darkness was beyond me, and why I was constantly tormented by it was still a mystery, but it fit more. Because when I was honest, the THOOMs were not uniform. It would be THOOM-thoom, THOOM-thoom. The passing of a deep massive thing in the blackness, followed by something lesser-but-also massive. Over and over. Thinking of it as technology, as some sort of ride, was terrifying. Whatever was on something so relentless had no hope of survival. Even an astronaut would die at those speeds and that size. The sound was too much. It carried danger on it.

Now? I feel it less. In part because I sleep more fitfully now and those moments right before sleep are often fraught with anxiety or exhaustion. But sometimes I feel it. And in the clarity of two decades (or more) of thinking about it, I feel like I’ve come to some determination of its origin. What could the THOOM-thoom be but a memory, deep and fundamental and ingrained in my very sense of being? And if that’s true, what would it come from? Tracing down the pathways of thought even before my earliest memories, I came to only one reasonable conclusion:

What I was experiencing was an echo of the heartbeat I felt, the first outside sense I had, from the time in which I was nestled in the womb. 

Which seems silly. Maybe it is. It’s probably just a dream, and if it’s a vision it’s a very small and weirdly focused one. It can’t be a memory, because I don’t have memories from that far back. But at the same time, if I was to carry one fundamental memory from my earliest moments of existence, wouldn’t that be it? Wouldn’t there be some deep connection to the sound of another’s heartbeat ingrained into the minds of all people, born out of the blood and life of another human being and nurtured first on that before even milk or food. 

And if that’s the case, then I was always right. It was monolithic, bigger than I could ever understand, comforting and warm. It was the machine behind the universe, the reality of an endless series of generations of life, down from the moment our most distant ancestors being beings with hearts and blood and babies that grew and became aware inside of the body of their mother. And it was the machination of our doom, for no person could experience that deep, all-encompassing noise withing living, and to live was to die, and the two would always be inexorably and fundamentally linked.

Right or wrong, that is what I’ve come to understand. And even if it’s wrong, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, on quiet nights when the rest of the world is quiet, I hear it creeping up towards me again: THOOM-thoom, THOOM-thoom. My first memory, my first dream. My last memory, my last dream. Life and death. Awake and asleep. 

Nothing.

July302012

Below decks, the creak of the hull managed to be louder than the sound of the waves through which it cut, but only just. Once the sun had retreated and the scant crew of the Margot headed below to the broad berth that served as part hold and part quarters, the ocean noises would swell in the imagination to become a great roar that would threaten the sanity of even the most resolute of sailors. When it was just the three travelers in this tiny ship, it was enough to test the soul.

That, at least, was what Ravi thought to himself as he settled against the sacks of grain that he had fashioned into a makeshift sitting area. He remembered tales, dimly remembered, of his father saying that during his own journeys he would come across men at sea who had been cast adrift singly or in small numbers who would go mad from the sounds of the ocean. A rational man might blame the sun or the salt water, but some men simply couldn’t take the isolation. They were born in the dirt, and without a reminder of the dirt they would lose themselves.

But his companions seemed to care little about the siren’s call of madness that lingered out in the breathe of the ocean. Atrius, that craggy lion of a man, seemed to have no emotions that weren’t parceled out with such meager greediness that were they rations, no crew could help but mutiny. If he even noticed the loneliness of the waters, he never spoke of it. Perhaps he was already mad. Once, he had been alone on this boat, sailing for who knows how long in waters mysterious and treacherous before he had picked up Ravi and Lorinae. If he was water-mad, it would explain much, though it would mean doom for his erstwhile companions. 

Lorinae, on the other hand, seemed to always be listening for the call of the water just beyond the wooden walls that made up their home. Ravi, even in his most imaginative moments, couldn’t begin to imagine what she might have heard in those waters. She often would spend the night out among the stars, listening to the waves. Eventually he had asked her if she wanted to join them, worried that maybe she thought their intentions untoward, and she had acquiesced as if it were no great issue either way. But he could see even know, as she sat with her skirts pooled around her and her body half-pressed against the starboard side of the hold, that she was listening more to the water outside than the half-hearted snatches of conversation going on as Ravi tried to rouse Atrius into some sort of talk or storytelling.

"What are you listening to?" Ravi moved from his chair over to where she sat, kneeling down beside her. She looked up at him, distracted as she shifted her weight away from the wall, as if trying to listen to both the ocean and him at the same time was too much.

"The water. The waves. What else?"

"You seem so intent on it," Ravi answered. "Your affinity for the tides, the waters, I don’t know … I assumed that you hear something I cannot. The voices of the ancient Sea-Gods, perhaps."

She laughed, shaking her head and leaning against the wall again. “I know of no such gods, sailor, though I have heard as many stories of them as you have. No, I hear nothing but the water, just as you do. The difference is that where you hear noise, I hear the language of the elements, the whispers of change that come on the sea-foam and the rumblings of disquiet deep in the belly of a rolling wave; the fear we leave behind us in our wake.”

"Fear of what?" Ravi pressed his own ear against the rough wood, as if he could translate whatever strange language she heard in these mundane things. All he heard was more crashing of waves, felt only the faint tickling of the wood grain against his beard.

Lorinae looked over suddenly at Atrius, who was busy whittling away at a chunk of wood with his whale bone knife. The older man seemed to know she was looking at him without lifting his eyes and nodded imperceptibly. Lorinae gestured up to the stairs that lead out onto the main deck. “Come, let’s go topside and I’ll show you what I mean.”

Ravi stood and extended a hand to help her to her feet. She rose with the fluid grace of the waves he always thought of as being hers by nature, her dress swirling around her with the soft hiss of water on the beach as the two of them climbed the wooden stairs up onto the deck. Standing above, they seemed totally adrift in the world, the Margot’s sails furled for the night and the ocean featureless and black around them. The water, which seemed so calm and pleasant under the sunlight, now seemed dangerous and shadowed. Whatever lurked in the waters of the night was unkind to those who traveled on its surface, greedy predators of the deep that would pull any unsuspecting hand or foot down into a cold, sodden grave.

But above them, the stars were still alight in a dome of twinkling gems, and the moon hung heavy above them half-full and waxing, lighting the surface of the boat with its strange silver light. In this gleam, Lorinae’s dark eyes glistened like gems, and when she beckoned him to the bow he followed. They were totally silent, and Ravi suddenly felt exposed, as though someone were out there in the water watching them in the darkness. A chill passed through him, even though the nights were still as warm as they ever were this time of year. 

"Look," she whispered to him, her voice low and conspiratorial. She gestured up at the sky, where the moon and stars shone above. "You know how to navigate these waters by constellation, right?"

"Of course," Ravi said. He leaned closer to her, his head brushing her shoulder so he could look down her arm at where exactly she was pointing, finding the bearings of the constellations he had trained in his whole life. He knew them before he knew how to read, his father teaching him maps before he taught him letters. "That up there is the Great Cart Malgrethes, and just south would be the hunter cat, who…" He stopped as he looked up at the stars again, and then stood up and leaned forward, squinting at the night sky. 

"Do you see it?" Lorinae asked quietly. 

"I don’t see the ear of the hunter cat. That’s strange. There must be some passing cloud." 

"There is no cloud," Lorinae said. "I have checked for many nights and observed many of the constellations. That hunter cat, as you call it, has been missing its ear for a week now. And look," she took his hand in hers and guided his finger across the sky over towards the other end of the sky, where low over the horizon to the north the serpent Buul should have been. "This is the snake for you, too, correct?" 

"Yes, but…" Ravi was reeling at the implications of what she was showing him. How could he have been so blind? In their single-minded voyage and long stretches of nocturnal drifting, he hadn’t looked at the stars in many weeks. "How could this be possible?" 

She guided his finger over the parts of the sky where the first five segments of the serpent were supposed to be, pinpoints of light that simply didn’t seem to exist anymore, constants of the universe that were gone, leaving void in their wake. “You see? Every night, one goes out. Every night, somewhere in the sky, one more fire is extinguished. They aren’t clouds, because they never come back, and we’ve had clear skies for a fortnight.” She traced the line of the serpent once again with his finger, and then released his hand. “What I hear in the water is what I see in the sky. Something, somewhere, is eating the stars. And in its place is a darkness. Not a lack, but a tangible darkness, full of terror and pain.”

2AM

I’d call this a reminder, but since this tumblr is still just a baby, I figure I should announce that I’m happy to take all sorts of prompts for whoever wants to subject me to them. Will work in some capacity on literally ANY prompt someone gives me, so … put them in the ask box.

2AM

The Butcher

"Can I get three pounds of ground beef?" 

The butcher looked over the top of his glasses at the customer on the other side of the glass and flourescent barrier that separated them. He looked over down the line, where the meat department kept a legion of prepackaged rolls and sterile Styrofoam packages of meat pulped into thick strands of spaghetti. little packages like bloody brains waiting to be picked over by people just looking for meat without being very particular.

The customer, at least, was smart enough to follow the cue and tracked the butcher’s eyes down the counter to the meat display, and then back. He had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed, but he didn’t hesitate. “Yes, but I want it fresh. Ground up one of those steaks.”

The butcher looked down at the meat that was actually worth a damn, slabs lovingly chopped up fresh by him just this morning and laid out for people to pick up. Each one was unique, each one was whole and intact and would be the pride of whoever’s plate it crossed. There was real work put into those steaks, no matter how uniform they looked laid out under the glass. There was only a moment’s hesitation, and then he reached in and picked up one of the best cuts under the glass and fed it into the grinder nearby.

"Sorry about this. I’m very particular," the customer said, not actually sounding very sorry but ready to defend himself under the cloak of refined taste.

"Don’t worry about it," the butcher grunted. "Part of the job, right?" The steak turned into just another pile of ground beef, which he packed up in paper meant for smarter, more elegant cuts of meat. The motions were automatic, the package that came out the other end as neat and tidy as the dozens of ready-made packages that were available down the line at a cheaper price and less effort. 

The customer took the package and left without thanking the butcher. He watched him go, tracking him with only the barest of interest. He was alone, then, and turned from the cool counter back into the small office tucked away behind him. It was more closet than any sort of official space, but he had turned it into a tidy place to stay with a tiny desk and rickety looking chair that looked far too small for him even before he settled his bulk down onto it and stretched out across the length of the room.

The room was unadorned, save for one decoration upon the wall. It was simply a careworn objet d’art, a four foot long plain piece of metal, a thin flat plane pitted and scarred in dozens of places. On one end was a notched point, and on the other the flat, stained leather of a handle gripped smooth by sweat and effort. The butcher seemed oblivious to the jarring disruption in the otherwise cleanly pedestrian environment, and leaned back into his chair to take a nap.

By the time the next customer walked in, the butcher was snoring away in his little office alcove. The woman approached the counter, and upon seeing nobody there went over to the office where the butcher often was doing paperwork when he wasn’t selling meat. She hesitantly walked up to the door frame, and knocked softly on the wood. 

"Um … excuse me?"

The butcher’s eyes opened immediately, and if he was surprised at the intrusion he didn’t show it. He just looked up at the woman expectantly, as if he had been interrupted while doing a crossword puzzle instead of snoring the afternoon away. 

"I’d like some meat, if it’s not too much bother." 

"No, course not," he answered, already pulling himself up from the chair. When he stood to his full height, the next customer moved to step back into her designated customer zone on the other side of the counter, but even as she did her eyes darted over to the piece of metal on the wall. 

"Is that … some sort of weapon?"

The butcher looked over to the battle-scarred sword that hung up on the wall. Nobody would ever confuse it for decoration, and it certainly didn’t look like any sort of replica that you would find in hobby stores or online, meant to look like the sorts of ornate facsimiles one would see in a movie. This was much more utilitarian, to the point that it almost stopped bearing a resemblance to the way people like this woman would think of a concept like ‘sword’. 

The butcher looked over at it as if he was just noticing it for the first time, pausing as he considered it and then shook his head. “Nah, of course not. That’s what we have insurance and security systems for, right? That’s just some old junk that I don’t have the heart to take down.” 

The two of them stepped out of the office and back up to the counter, once again taking their assigned places in this ritual of commerce. The woman looked down at the array of meat cuts, not once bothering to think about the man who had cut them or what such an artistic stroke could do with something like the mangled mess of metal hanging on the wall. It wouldn’t even cross her mind what it might take to shear the tip off of such a weapon, or how the edge becomes pitted like the surface of the moon. Not when so many cuts were laid out so effortlessly before her, the safe public face of mighty, cleaving capability.

The butcher picked up the cleaver. It was sparkling clean, its edge razor sharp and perfectly straight, a tool that in the bright lights of the meat counter looked more like a scalpel than a cudgel. 

"So," he said. "What can I get you?"

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