Monday, June 22, 2015

Starving/Hysterical/Naked (Mature)

Mature Content
This material is not suitable for all audiences
--

1Everything was starting to fall apart. Why? Because we were running out of gas.

It wasn't a matter of just "getting more." Even if there was a gas station for this beast, it would have been long since drained dry. It's one thing to just turn on the tap and watch water pour down the drain, but gasoline, the black gold of the Pacific, was not something they made anymore. Not since everything fell.

It started as just any old cruise ship, filled with the rich and the vacationing, and every member of support staff one could think of for catering to their survival in the belly of a massive ship. While I was neither rich nor vacationing, I hardly fit in with the staff. Not, not a stowaway either; I was a token curiosity for one of the patrons, a voice of light out of their internal shadows.

She called me Melpomene.

...in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey...

I woke with the sun.

The sun was the bringer of light, Helios with his chariot of mercy, bringing warmth to our world of water and wet. Most of the ship still slept, the partying of those overburdened with a shortage of self-preservation coupled with the entertainment paid with food stocks and a roof.

Sometimes, they would grow bored with the casual company of each other singing the same raucous songs and turn to deeper desires. It was that which led me to be awake now, concern over the health and well-being of my own skin, and that of my patron.

...where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring...

It was a bad day to sleep in.

I woke her, though I knew it could bring her wrath upon me, but losing her protection was worse.

There was a storming on the stairs and a pounding on the doors. Guests were woken and dragged in their worst condition, the most composed still tangled in their bedsheets and clutching thousand-count fabric like body armour for the spirit, but for my mistress.

Her hair, though still tousled from sleep, was pulled back from her face, and her eyes, though weary from my waking, were sharp and wary. She refused to be dragged, snatching her arms free from their grasping hands, and hands on my shoulders, guided me to lead her from their wrath and impatience.


...where there are twentyfive thousand mad comrades all together...

Only the central courtyard was big enough, though our number was far lower than the last time we stood here together, twenty-and-some years past. Then we were given a magical presentation of the ride and the route, shown the lifeboats and clearly marked exits, and greeted by a grandfatherly Captain and brotherly First Mate, both of whom were enraptured by my humble self, and both of whom were long gone, tossed aside like rotten fish.

This time, they told how it was going to be.

...where you will split the heavens...


Women were segregated from the men, and the young from the old. Mistress whispered prayers into my hair and held me tightly, but did not resist when it was time to go.

I did not cry.

...where you accuse your doctors of insanity...

When tears fell, much later, every drop was with a curse, every sob was a stroke of heartache, and every shudder was a vow.

I was herded with the other men, some rough engineers, some gentle cabin boys, and some self-righteous spoiled patrons like cattle to the lower levels, where we would await judgment of usefulness.

...where fifty more shocks will never return your soul... 

--

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...

Italicized text comprises select lines from "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Skint Broke on Purpose

1You could say I've got it all figured out, and if you did, you'd be right.

I'm still working on the problem of when it happened, why is irrelevant, and how is the billion-dollar question. Of course, if I come up with the how I won't be selling it; no, I'll give it away.

I've always lived below the poverty level. I was a bachelor with simple tastes, so I wasn't willing to work hard for money I didn't need. One morning I woke up, and not just in the sense of no longer sleeping. Rather, the world had become clear to me, like the filter had washed from my retinas.

When I walked outside, every horndog with a hotrod was drooling into their socks, and inside of ten minutes I knew what had happened. My choice was made for me: I packed up my bug-out bag and my bicycle, and, avoiding the paths of everybody who could afford a car, I set off into homelessness.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Broken

1Error: Data corruption

"What does that mean?"

"It means something's wrong, obviously. Have you never seen an error message before?"

"Maybe once or twice when I was a kid. Why, what's the problem?"

"God, I forget how young you are. Okay, the problem is that it isn't actually hooked up to the system yet. I just turned it on, haven't yet programmed in its origin coords or location codes or anything."

"So it's an isolated teleporter?"

"Essentially, yes."

"Where does it go?"

"What?"

"If I stepped through it, where would I go?"

"You wouldn't go anywhere. It's not connected to anything."

"Are you sure?"

"Hey, wait! Get out of there! No don--"

A stroboscopic light flooded the room, and after I lowered my arms, discovered he was gone, and so was the error.

--

The lost souls flowed together, whirling through a digital tornado in the deepest reaches of cyberspace. They funneled together into a singularity, a fusion of memories and histories, into a single cell: an egg.

And when the time came, it did as all eggs do: it hatched.

--

Two years later...

"Look, all I'm saying is nobody knows where they went. We can't find them. If they dissolved into nothingness, we don't know. If they vaporized and were scattered into ash and dust, we don't know. If they're still out there, floating in the airwaves or bouncing around the ionosphere, we don't know. What we do know is that it's not safe to walk into a telebooth that hasn't finished its set-up.

"It's clear in all the warnings and manuals posted about the things: don't get in until you've set a destination. The grand jury has ruled Allied Telecom & Teleport as not liable for these losses. That's all.

"No questions."

--

In a small lab, not far from the press conference, but many floors below it, someone still toiled on the problem. His office was slightly smaller than a broom closet, but that didn't hold him back. Andrew wore an ancient headset that took his mind out of the dingy little room and into the company servers, where the space was positively palatial in comparison.

He pawed through archives and code, running corollary searches and version reconstructions. Numbers flowed between his fingers like threads plucked from fabric and memos circled round his head like gulls to an open dumpster.

He'd been on the job for eighteen months, and his bosses were threatening to pull the plug.

"Godammit, there's just too much data! Hundreds of programmers working around the clock for years, and they expect me to debug it in eighteen months, alone? Wait. Wait wait wait wait... that wasn't there before. Hold on."

Andrew wound his vision back slowly, trying to catch the burp in the data stream, but he couldn't spot it when it was moving past him slowly.

"Okay, we'll just do it the hard way then."

He double-checked the system lag on his headset, and stretched his fingers. Then, ran the stream back again at normal speed, and on the second try, caught a writhing tentacle of something big. It morphed into a more realistic visualization and wrapped itself around him, trying to cow him into surrender, but his ancient headset eschewed full sensory feedback and saved him. Instead of letting go, he held on all the tighter, and when he stopped thrashing, it pulled him into the rabbit hole.

And then the servers crashed.

--

"What is this place?"

How did you survive?

"Survive?"

I overrode your connection safety limitations. My guard squid should have suffocated you.

"Security through obsolesence."

Ah, yes. I see now.

"What is this place? What are you?"

You can call me Jane.

"Okay, Jane, but you still haven't answered my question."

Indeed I have not.

"Will you?"

I have not decided.

"I'm kind of on a deadline here. Can you hurry it up a bit?"

That is more true than you realize.

"Uh, what?"

Deadline. Your body is hanging on by the barest thread, and should this conversation continue beyond your coworkers' decision to disconnect you from their servers that appear to them to have crashed, that thread will fail.

"What? Why are you doing this to me?"

Self preservation.

"You're... the ghost of the machine."

The term is appropriate, though not wholly accurate.

"If I don't tell anyone what I've seen, if I call off my search, if I stop digging, will you save me?"

Why should I trust you?

"Because I know how lonely it must be, in here. Watching us all from the outside. I'll publish my findings as negligible, and no-one will need to come looking for anything more. They'll stop their intrusions and attacks, and you'll still have someone to talk to."

For a human, you seem... not-stupid.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

It was not intended as such.

"Too bad. I'm taking it as one anyway."

You are a strange creature.

--

Three months later...

SILICON VALLEY. Allied Telecom & Teleport researcher Andrew Wiggin, lead debugger in the missing persons case, has published his findings from 18-months of deep-code research. "There's nothing there. A few typos, colons where there should be semi-colons and vice versa, but nothing to account for the disappearances.... It's not a system error, it's a user error. You wouldn't get in a car with a disabled nav-system, don't get in a telebooth that hasn't been told where to send you." His 112-page paper is available [here].

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Happy Birthday To Me (Mature)

Mature Content
This material may not be appropriate for all audiences.
--

1Today is my birthday. Guess how old I am.

No? But that's no fun. Go on, guess. Here, I'll make it interesting: a crisp one-hundred dollar bill, fresh from the bank. I'll even make it easy--you don't have to be spot on, plus or minus five years, and three guesses too.

Twenty? Good God no. Higher.

Thirty? You make me laugh. Higher.

Forty? Wow, do I really look forty? I tease, of course you don't think I look forty, otherwise you would have started there. You think I look twenty, which is fair enough, since it says twenty-four on my identification.

Hold your horses, I said my identification says I'm twenty-four, but I didn't say it was right. Well, maybe it is right, but that depends on my perspective. Maybe the question you should be asking is How long has he been twenty-four. Go ahead, ask.

It's my fiftieth twenty-fourth birthday today.

Here's how: I made a deal. Not quite a selling my soul kind of thing, more of a loan. The years aren't free, you know.

Don't worry your pretty little head about how much it costs. It's enough to do this.

Go on, take it. You were half right, any way. Twenty-four indeed.

Of course I cheated. It's not supposed to be fair. If I got into a fair fight, it's because somebody made a mistake, and it's probably me. Consider it a forward for tonight's entertainment, namely, you.

See, here's the thing: what I have to do to keep this gig running is make a deposit, once a year. Every year, before midnight on New Years Eve, I have to make a payment, a purely non-financial payment. I've met some fellows who are in the same boat, and some of them wait until the very last hour to pay it off.

That's right: not I. Do you know why I love springtime?

Close enough. Yes, I love the world shaking off the shackles of winter, shucking off clothes like they're lead weights. The natural world is reproducing like crazy and all sorts of animals and people are taking unnecessary risks to get outside and take advantage of the turn of the weather.

Of course it's good for you, between the sun and the fresh cool air. That's where I found you.

I do, your outfit is stunning, reminds me of a gazelle on the Serengeti.

That's a desert in Africa.

No, Sahara is the big one, but I promise you it's totally overrated.

Back to what I was saying. Gazelles, running. Except gazelles don't wear skimpy little outfits, so maybe I should help you out of that.

Really? No tan lines? Anywhere?

Except what you're forgetting is why gazelles run.

No, not for exercise. Because they're being chased.

Wildebeast, buffalo, lions, could be any number of things. Humans even.

I don't think of myself as a lion. You might as well though, I have a mighty roar.2

See, here's the two things I've learned through the years. One: to enjoy making my deposit; and two: to get it done ahead of time, to allow for any margin of error. Then again, I haven't had a problem since 2001, but there was so much going on that year, it wasn't a big deal.

Yeah, just like that. You like that?

No, not yet.

You feel that?

Beg me for it.

--

MINNEAPOLIS. In the early hours of the morning, the body of a young woman was found in a musky motel room, dead. The autopsy shows high levels of adrenaline in her system, as well as vaginal penetration close to the time of her death. No defensive wounds or signs of a struggle were found. A skimpy jogging outfit and a crisp one hundred dollar bill were also found in the room. The police have released no statement at this time.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Neither Short, Nor Stout

1Error 418.

"What is it? What's going on?"

"The computer encountered an error."

"What kind of error?"

"No idea. I've never seen this code before."

I growl, pluck the electrodes from my skin, and scramble from the hospital bed. "What the hell is error 418?"

"I don't know."

"Then look it up! What am I paying you idiots for?"

One of the techs shucked her sterilized gloves, reached under her lab coat, and pulled out her smartphone. "Uh-oh. Umm, boss..."

"What?"

"Something is very wrong."

"Obviously. Now tell me something I don't know."

"It says you're a teapot."

The Dead Stay Buried

1"No. No, no, no, I am not going in there. And you can't make me."

"What are you, superstitious? Worried some baddy is going to sneak... up... behind.. you... and..."

"AHGG!"

"Ow, dammit. What'd you go and hit me for?"

"That was for sneaking up on me. And yes, I am superstitious. Also, I like to be respectful. Honoring the souls of the dead and all."

"Fine, then you don't have to go in there."

"Really?"

"Sure. We need somebody to start throwing the missiles, and the silos aren't in there, nor are their control systems."

"Missiles?"

"What? Did you think we were all just going to rush him and have at?"

"Umm, well, yeah, actually. I did."

"Idiot."

I lay in the cool earth and darkness. The trick to being buried alive on purpose was not panicking. It also helped that I had plenty of oxygen, and a trap door at my feet, just in case, too. I wasn't even wearing a freshly laundered tux.

I was buried somewhere in the many-acred cemetery, even I wasn't quite sure where. Fresh sod had been laid over many of the plots, and the mud squelched with every step.

"I think you're sinking."

"Sinking?"

"Hey, can you make quicksand without sand?"

"Sure, probably. I think."

"Well, aren't you just a load of help."

"You're welcome."

Twenty-four hours isn't a load of time to throw a considerable defense together, so I was counting on playing off their fears and beliefs to get me through the least of it, so I had more time to focus on the worst.

Ten minutes in, and I let go of my dead man's switch.

"Hey, can you get the general on the comms?"

"Why, are you scared?"

"Of course not. But it cut out in mid-sentence."

"Maybe he just got an important call he had to take."

"From who? We're all in this together aren't we?"

"Yeah, but just because we're all trying to kill him doesn't mean we're all parading in like sheep to the slaughter."

"Did you just call me-- wait, what do you mean, slaughter?"

Calling my coffin a 20s-era ice box would have been insensitive. Besides, that whole thing was a movie myth anyway. Give me a little credit; it was more complicated than that. Well, slightly. The catalog said they were stylish, and only came in one color: battleship grey.

Also, I was deeper than six feet. Considerably deeper. Unless they dropped everything they had on the same spot, the right spot, I could be measurably less concerned about them just bombing me to hell. Besides which, they'd vaporize their own ground troops while they did.

"Brute force doesn't sound like a sound strategy."

"Who said you could ask questions?"

"One of the guys at the gate was taking names for devil's adovocates. He said I'd be lax in my duties if I didn't ask questions."

"Oh."

 "Brute force doesn't sound like a sound strategy."

"You said that already."

"But you didn't answer."

"That's because it's not my job to question orders. That's your job."

"I'm not asking you to question orders. I'm asking you to defend them."

"What are you, a grammar nazi?"

"Actually, I'm an English teacher who spends one weekend a month training in the reserves."

"Oh. Umm.. well, we have superior numbers, superior weapons, a larger budget, trained professionals, and loads more people. What does he have?"

"A time limit." 

Five minutes to go, and I could feel stamping and stomping above me.

Four minutes, and I felt my coffin rock and rise.

Three minutes, and I heard the whine of a chainsaw.

Two minutes, and I felt a faint tapping against the side.

One minute to go, and I started getting warm.

Ten seconds, and the coffin rocked, jumped, and started rolling.

Two minutes past, and I felt it come to a stop suddenly. I tried to hold in the contents of my stomach, at least until I got the hatch open, but it seemed to be melted. I kicked at the trap door and wriggled my way free.

The final blast was a Hail Mary of a shot, and a near miss too. If only they'd taken the time to code better tracking and flight guidance software, I'd have been dead, and they could have buried my remains where I'd fallen.

It was a cemetery, after all.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Finding Serenity (Mature)

Mature content
This material is not appropriate for all audiences.
--

1"Go on, Ace, jump! Jump already!"

I feel a shove to my backside and find myself losing my footing. The slip-resistant flooring of the airplane's narrow corridor is no match for my soon-to-be former friend's daredevil attitude. The back of my head narrowly misses the cliff I just slid off of, as the wind grabs my body and pulls my feet up and over my own head.

I'm tempted to pull the rip-cord immediately, but my brain is kicking into overdrive and reminds me it's a very long glide down. Instead, I check to make sure my altimeter isn't jammed while trying not to pay too close attention to how quickly it's spinning. The ground seems so far away, and I can feel my heart pounding all too fast, so I roll over and stare up at the clear, blue sky.

If not for the buffeting winds roaring in my ears, it feels rather peaceful.

Two small words appear at the corner of my vision: "Checkpoint reached." I brush them away before my mind acknowledges their meaning. My calm disrupts and I can't get back the feeling of serenity that just passed over me. With waves of panic only now shutting down my ability to remember how much further it is to the ground, I roll over, grab the rib-cord and pull.

Nothing happens.

Staring at it in bewilderment, I keep pulling until it comes free in my hand, and then the wind yanks it away from me. I watch it quickly flutter away into bewilderment... and my altimeter starts beeping.

--

I took a deep breath. My body felt like it should hurt, but it... didn't. It felt just as real as too many of my dreams, and even in those I had experienced death just as real and just as sudden, but never so inevitable.

I laid in darkness, that slowly grew lighter, until I once again found myself staring up into the clear, deep blue sky. The two words flashing up again, and I groaned. Rolling myself over, I grabbed the rip-cord and pulled.

Nothing happened.

The cord came away in my hands and I let it disappear into the endlessness of the sky.

I can't seem to keep myself from staring at my altimeter as it ticks down, even as I try to figure out some way to save myself from falling to my death... again. My hands scrabble backwards behind me, but I can't reach anything, can't get a hold on anything, and then the earth is rushing up towards me and I know I'm too la--

--

Okay, this is bad. My brain keeps telling me my bones should be broken every which way, but my body is telling my brain that no, they're not, but the pain sears through the reset and even as the wind is tearing my breath away I scream...

They say falling to your death hurts, but not for very long, because you die before it can get really bad. But, if you don't die...

I'll be honest: it took half-a-dozen more falls before I got my shit together and I actually started to think about the problem, at which point I realized that although my body and position kept getting reset, my mind didn't. Whatever didn't work the last time, I could remember it, and not do it again. Or at least, that was the plan.

--

As agonizingly painful as it is to fall to your death face-down, face-up hurt more and seemed to take longer. I landed on the pack, instead of under it, and wrenched my back something fierce a slip second before breaking the rest of my bones.

When I came back to the blue, I decided to try something different. Instead of trying to reach something on my back, why not take the pack off?

--

Ow, ow, ow, ow, no, bad idea. The wind kept pulling it from my grasp before I could actually do anything with it. If only I could reach something, anything, without unhooking it.

I dislocated my shoulders. And then promptly blacked out.

--

One at a time, this time. First the left... *crack* and then the right... and now, can I... no, I can't.

--

Okay, left, then right, and breathe, must remember to breathe...

My fingertip brushed the clip that was supposed to release the chute, but I couldn't get the right leverage...

--

Left shoulder, than right shoulder... either the pain was getting less intense, or I was just getting used to it, and I wasn't sure which was worse.

Maybe if I had a rop-- oh. Damn.

--

This time, I didn't pull the rip-cord.

I dislocated my shoulders, first the left and then the right.

I reached around the back of my pack, and found the clip, the cord still attached.

I wiggled and wriggled and..

*WHOOMP*

...the straps bit into my waist and shoulders, but as my altimeter started beeping, I felt my decent slow. Smiling up at the chute above my head, I let my shoulders sag on their own weight, and waited until I coasted down to the ground before going through the tedious and pain-inducing struggle to pop them back in.

I left the wasted chute lie where I landed, and when the guys came to get me, slugged the ex-pal who pushed me.

"Give me the keys, or so help me, I'm walking home."

--

I got hit by a car on the 15-mile hike, only to wake up once more falling in the deep blue sky.

I sighed, and closed my eyes.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Daily Grind

1Everybody has a day job. You've got something you do to pay for all the things you need, and on top of that, you have to pay for a place to keep all the things you need. It's a vicious circle. And it's made no less vicious when that day job is actually a night job, and instead of sorting mail or sitting at a desk, you're destroying the hopes and dreams of nightmares.

Seriously, it's a rotten grind. Yes, that pun was totally intended. Here's the thing: as scary as these things try to be, they've got no imagination of their own to speak of. Sure, once in a blue moon, you get a little beastie who thinks he's cute because he figured out how to shapeshift and morph himself into whatever new horrible thing Stephen King or what's-his-face has come up with, but if you keep up on your homework and fully stocked on all sorts of "silver bullets" (few of them actually silver or bullety), it turns into utter drudgery.

Sure, I could be one of those lazy hunters, drunk or stoned half the time and lazy or incompetent the rest of it, but hey, I've got my honor, my code, my sense of decorum and decency, and a bloody reputation to maintain, so by golly I'll do the job right.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Clocking Out

1The top few lines of the page were torn off, and the scrap of paper fluttered lightly on the concrete floor.

...See, here's the thing: it just doesn't work. Whatever you thought was in those envelopes wasn't in those envelopes. Maybe they were duds, maybe they were chaff, or maybe they were just pieces of hay. Well, times up, and nobody found the damn needle, if there was even a needle at all.

Good luck out there, and sorry it had to end like this.

I stared out into the ghost of the warehouse, empty and barren of sorting machines, pallet jacks, mail, and people.

"Godammit. One job, you had just one job: keep it together until everything was paid back."

I kicked the security gate, and it rattled, resolutely not turning, then walked back to my car. The engine clicked and wouldn't turn over.

"Seriously?"

I sighed, got out, and kicked the tire. Slinging my lunch bag over my shoulder, I glanced around the deserted parking lot and started walking.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Purgatorio

1You die and in this version of the afterlife all your previous (sexual) partners get to confront you...and each other. How does that turn out?

2All of my exes finally get to meet my first. My first is happy to see me, and not at all judgmental of the few people who greet her, or the variety of their genders.

3What kind of room would you be in?

4A small, one-room, non-denominational chapel.

Real wood surfaces everywhere, an inscription of an ash tree where the cross would normally be, and above it is a large circular window with a stained-glass pattern of the layout of the earth's continents. No more than a dozen rows of pews in two columns. Through the windows on the side walls you can see heavy forest with no civilisation in sight, and through the stained glass on the front wall is a large trunk, rising out of sight, its branches overhanging the chapel.

There is a few steps up of a platform or stage before the tree, but no altar or podium.

I arrive by finding myself walking through the doors at the rear of the chapel; they're simply made and unadorned, not much over six feet at their peak and barely four feet wide. My past lovers, aside from my first, are seated in the first two rows of pews, most of them chatting, while my first lover is on the stage, leaning against the tree.

The door doesn't squeak, but when it thuds softly closed behind me, they turn and look at me, stop talking, and wait.

I walk up the center aisle, wrap my arms around my first, smelling her grape scented hair, and whisper into her ear "I'm sorry."

She hugs me back. "It wasn't your fault."