Esmeralda


by

L.P. Stribling

 

Keeping one step behind her godmother, Esmeralda stared at her red shoes as she entered the train station. She loved the way they clicked on the cobblestone under the grey morning sky.

“Esmeralda?” Her godmother spoke into the air as they walked into the building. She was a tall lanky woman who never let her chin drop below her jawline.

The girl lifted her gaze away from her shoes and looked up. The lights were giant stars hanging in tight clusters high in the decorative iron works of the station ceiling.  Giant stars, but small in the dark station air.
“Yes, godmother?” Esmeralda answered dropping her head back down to watch the red of her shoes. Her fingers were interlaced in front of her. Both hands bounced a little. She liked her hands. They were perfect. Pale, yes, but not so much that they were offsetting, and certainly not malnourished. There were lines running across the knuckle of her top thumb, but they were small.

Bounce, bounce, bounce. She liked that.

“Do not hesitate when I call you, girl. You must answer at once. ‘Here, godmother.’ Say it crisply and smartly.” The woman looked back over her shoulder to see the red of the girl’s new traveling dress. She still kept a suitable pace. “We’re nearly there.”

“Yes, godmother,” Esmeralda responded quickly. Her eyes rose from her bouncing hands and watched the woman as she walked. When people see you in the world, you should look as though you don’t mind being seen, she had told Esmeralda often enough. The woman’s dress was formal, a deep elegant white, almost creamy. It wrapped her body so tightly, the veins bulged across her forearms until they found escape at the wrists. Complementing the outfit was a hat – the smallest Esmeralda had ever seen. Matching the owner’s dress, it could have fit comfortably in the hollow of her own bouncing palms. She didn’t know how it stayed in the woman’s hair all pulled tightly to the back and greying as it was, but there it stood, as if gripped to her scalp for fear of falling to the ground.

Before today, Esmeralda had counted the number of times she had been to the station. Nine. Not that she travelled anywhere, of course; she just went to look. The place nearly always made her giddy with wonder. The first time was before her parents left and she had to stay with her godmother. From the outside, it was another grey factory – bland brick on all sides.

She remembered wanting to walk around it; naturally her father allowed it. The walls around the building all moulded together into a solid stone covering, tapering as it climbed into the air. Greyed windows around a large iron-framed entrance open to the Penrith public. As drab as every building she had seen in the town before.

The inside however – another world completely, one she fell in love with. The dark on the inside of the iron gates certainly changed the way she felt about the day, but that wasn’t what kept bringing her back. it wasn’t the people either. In as magnificently interesting as she found them, all their different voices and glances. Some of them shouted, some listened. Young, old, boys and girls, The unhurried had just as much a destination as those who rushed. It wasn’t the beautiful clicks on the floor either, as happy to be there as they all were. For Esmeralda, it was always the color – the vibrance of the shoes, the gloves, and the travel hats and scarves which sprinkled her vision. She could stand there, right in the entrance, wherever, and watch them all. Teeming as they rushed in and out in a flurry of sounds and a wash of colors. Travelers, workers, and train staff alike strutted across the polished cobblestone with a symphony of clicks and taps, each with their own decidedly appropriate way to dress to meet the day most suitably. She remembered walking to the middle of the station, being surrounded by it all, and gaping, tickled to be afloat in a rainbow of human energy.

“We must be sure of our pace, Esmeralda.” Her godmother’s voice snapped her out of another daydream. “Do we remember our train’s departure?” the woman asked, still looking ahead. With each militant step the woman took, the miniature hat shook on her tight hair with jagged flits.

“Five thirty sharp, ma’am,” Esmeralda said. She stopped her hands bouncing briefly; she had to be careful about what she said next.

“And what time is it now?” asked her godmother, looking off to the side.

But again she was drawn away.

From a prominent wall near the center of the station, the glow of a pearly moon-sized clock face wrapping itself around her. As far as Esmeralda knew, it was the only moon on earth, the guardian of Penrith, guardian of the whole station, guardian of her. One of her favorite things. In the shower of the clock’s moonlight, Esmeralda closed her eyes, craned her neck and opened her arms wide. The warmth of the guardian held her. I’m at the center of the world, she thought.

“Esmeralda, the time!” Her godmother had turned and stopped, her creamy dress drab now as she stationed her feet just outside the light of guardian’s embrace.

Inhaling and allowing her eyes to open just enough to see the clock the way others saw the clock. The numbers against the glow of the pale backdrop were a pretty swirl of dark bronze and teal. She could stare at them the whole afternoon if she were allowed. The long hands were heavy sticks of woven iron twirling from the clock’s center to pointy arrowed tips.

“Five seventeen, ma’am,” said Esmeralda.

“Move, girl,” the woman snapped again. “We musn’t get lost in things that are not part of our destination.”

Behind her a billowing cloud of white topped the large iron mass of a train at the far end of the station, slowing before it’s final puff of a stop. The girl’s eyes twinkled. What a gorgeous hunk of black metal. The smoke above looked likea marshmallow hat;  the front of the train seemed to have a big metal face. It was very happy to see her coming.

“Well, well! If it isn’t the prettiest girl in the station!” A squat elderly man with a puffy white mustache waddled up to the duo with bright eyes and a worn smile. He had on the familiar grey and white uniform of the train station staff. Doffing his conductor hat, he approached Esmeralda in the light of the moon.

“Good morning, Mr. Gibbons,” the woman sighed from the shadow, a feigned smile straining her lips, “so nice to see you.” Her eyes never met his. Instead they darted about the station awkwardly, blinking with every switch of direction.

“Good morning, Mr. Gibbons!” Esmeralda smiled.

“And a good morning to you, Your Highness,” he said removing his hat and tucking it under his arm. He made a slight bow. His head dipped over his protruding belly allowing several wisps of white hair to unfurl and fall languidly away. He straightened and knelt at her front. “And what brings you to my fine station today?”

“I’m going on a trip!” Esmeralda said.

“A trip?” the man’s eyes widened into saucers of concern. “But, but…who will lead the nation in your absence, my Queen?”

Esmeralda placed her hands on his shoulders, her forehead and nose touched his own. “I’m placing you in charge, Sir Gibbons.” The touch warmed the old man’s soul.

“Count on me, Your Grace,” he said, lowering his head

“Come, child,” cleared the woman still standing and looking away, “it’s time to go!” Her head was up and the learning of her throat was forced . “Say good-bye to Mr. Gibbons.”

Mr. Gibbons  straightened up at the shake of the woman’s voice. “Very well, Your Majesty. Duty calls. Here.” He reached into an inside breast pocket of his coat. “For the journey,” he said filling Esmeralda’s hands with a small trove of chocolates, each individually wrapped red.

Her big eyes shone on him with a grand-daughterly love. She opened her mouth to speak.

“Come girl!,” snapped her godmother. “You will not miss this train. Now, thank the man and we move.” She reached down and grabbed Esmeralda’s hand and pulled into movement. Esmeralda shoved the chocolates into the open pocket of her red dress as she was lifted into motion. She liked that she had pockets. When she bounced, things could stay with her.

“Thank you, Mr. Gibbons!” she had to speak it while being hastily turned and rushed into motion.

“Thank you, Mr. Gibbons,” the woman sighed sharply as she kept her head up and away, hauling the girl along.

“Ah, of course, ma’am!” the conductor said, standing and waving his grey hat. “Be safe, child. Enjoy your tr~”

“For nothing,” she continued, her voice low as she cleared her throat. She continued toward the terminal, her head straight, nose up. Esmeralda missed the end of his words as the raucous animation of the train station enveloped her again. The bold colors of it whirred by her as she and her godmother strolled along the central red-bricked center of the walkway. Passengers, restaurant workers, booksellers, and ticket agents all played a part; whether standing in line or racing from one wall to the next, they formed a wave of colors in the tapestry of the moment. Passing by the forest green of the empty or half-empty benches, or waiting in line at the striped black-and-white newspaper kiosks, and the blue food stands, the colors of the people painted their own masterwork in front of her.  Esmeralda sighed in a wish to walk more slowly. It was dark – the train station. But it was her own personal cave of colors, her very favorite place.

Her free hand dashed to her pocket. At least I have these. She allowed her fingers to count each wrapping as they jumbled in their quiet compartment. Bouncing in their own way, the chocolates kept pace with her.

Two loud whistle calls piped out of an already-steaming locomotive up ahead. Its roll was slow at first – almost unnoticeable upon the well-kept orange of the iron tracks beneath it. Small puffs of cloud sprung from the stack of the lead car.

 

puff—Puff—PUff—PUFf—PUFF 

 

Each bloom of smoke a bit larger than the one before.

A slender man in a perfectly-pressed blue uniform stepped out from the shadow of a nearby pillar, cupped his hands around his mouth, and hollered into the crowd.

“449, All Aboard! — second call!”

The low guttural grumble from the woman came then from a wan wrinkled throat. “No! No! Move girl, this is your train! I will not have you here one second longer than need be.” She tightened her grip on the girl’s arm and hauled her closer as the train’s goliath body began to pick up pace. Ahead of them, several passengers were showing their papers and jaunting up the steps into the iron body.

The whirr of the station had become a collage of colors on both sides and Esmeralda’s head swiveled. There were creams, lavenders, blues, whites, and easy yellows.

And then a purple.

So odd was it to see such a neon hue of purple that Esmeralda stopped mid-stride, ripping her wrist from her godmother’s grip to fully allow the observation. She heard the woman’s yell, but the strain of the noise swept by her.

The rich glow in the middle of the train station drifted playfully amid the hustle of the crowd a dancing light of a broach on the soft lapel of an elderly woman. Her curly white hair matched her jacket and shoes. Her figure moved slowly as she maneuvered a thin cane at her front to make her way across the vast train-station floor. A younger woman stood at her side, her hands around the woman’s arm to help her along. With her the filigree-cushioned stone passed by Esmeralda and out of sight.

How pretty, she thought.

“…here right this minute, young lady! This train will not wait for you!” Her godmother’s voice descended on her, sonorous, scolding, snapping her back to the forced quick pace of dull necessity. Esmeralda spun in time to see the green coat of another man walking headlong into her. He was checking his watch and did not see the girl before he barreled into her. Together they tumbled to the unforgiving cobblestone of the station floor, green and red mixed in a downward fall.

She winced in pain and let out a cry as she rolled onto her back. A scattering of ticking pattered across the floor around her, and through teary eyes, she found the chocolates Mr. Gibbons had given her. strewn about in a spray of red dots  on the cobblestone.

“You get up this instant, you wretched thing! Dawdle along is all you do! I’ll not waste one more moment looking after you and your nonsense. GET UP!”

She was just rising into a seated position when she felt the woman’s icy wrist on one of her own. The man in green had already hurried back into the crowd.

“No!” She shouted then, flipping back over, waving the woman’s hand away from her. “No, wait, my candies!” Behind her the steam billowed, the body of the iron beast picking up pace.

puff-PUFF-puff, puff-PUFF-puff, puff-PUFF-puff

“449 – last call. All aboard!”

On hands and knees, Esmeralda crawled about in a panic rushing to pick up wrapper after wrapper, her knees rubbing the lower edge of her red dress into the well-worn concrete of the train-station floor. “My candies,” she continued to yell. “They match my dress. No, please, ma’am. One more minute!”

She had five collected when her godmother’s claws snatched the back of her dress and clasped her around the front of her neck, lurching her up onto her feet. “Now!”

Esmeralda’s eyes quivered behind watery gates. She sniffled and tucked in her lips before feeling herself ripped toward the train. “Wait!” Her godmother shouted at the moving iron wagon. Her white-gloved hand clutching a paper ticket and waving it wildly in the air.

“Wait, please. Oh, please wait! One more.” Behind her, the grip she held on Esmeralda’s wrist began to pool with small droplets of blood on the underside. Esmeralda grimaced and bit her lip as her red shoes fumbled to rush along.

“I’m sorry, madam,” said the man looking down to mark notes on a ticketing pad. “You’ve missed this one, I’m afraid. Next train to London runs in three days’ time, same hour.” He jotted two more quick strokes in his book, tipped his hat without eye contact, and walked off.

Her godmother turned on Esmeralda with bitter rage.

“This is your fault!” she growled. She shot a gloved hand high in the quiet station air, palm open, eyes wide.

Esmeralda’s eyes squinted and she dipped her head into her shoulder and waited.

In the span of several hard breaths, whispers began to flutter into the air around them. The woman’s eyes darted from one side of her powdered gaunt face to another. Reluctantly, she slowed her breathing and lowered her forearm to her hair. The other hand came up to assist with the ruse. She straightened as she checked the stability of the small hat.. It remained rigid; it knew its place.

“Ma’am?”

As a slender man in a grey traveling suit, and matching bowler approached, her face immediately regained composure. He offered a nod a smirked a greeting before holding out a palmful of wrapped chocolates. “I believe these belong to your daughter?”

The woman’s eyes moved only, falling to the red scattering in his hand. Then to him, to Esmeralda, and back to the candies before she gave a lugubrious sigh.

“No,” she said clearing her throat. “No, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I don’t have a daughter.” Her eyes rolled obligatorily to Esmeralda. “I came to the station alone today.”

The man’s face slacked as his eyes slid from her to Esmeralda.

“You’re speaking of this, I presume.” she gestured to Esmeralda open handed. “No, this one’s homeless. A vagrant. Do you see the red dress?” She sighed. “There are so many ways to beg these days; awful.” Esmeralda’s furrowed brows seemed to go with the scratches at her wrist and scuffs on her knees. “Let’s hand these to a deserving child, shall we?”  She grabbed the candies from the man and shuffled past him. The woman strutted through the busy station crowd then, mixing herself in with the kaleidoscope of hurried hues. Esmeralda followed her hat until she couldn’t see it anymore.

“Miss?”

Esmeralda turned her head from the colorful confusion back to the man at her side.

“Miss, are you traveling today? Do you have somewhere to go?”

She thought for a moment, looking back to the bustle of passers-by. She looked for the tight white dress, the thin gaunt face, unbending velvet hat. She even took two steps to be sure. May she just needed a couple of steps. Seconds later she shook her head and turned back to the man “No,” she said.

“Come…umm, ..why don’t you come with me. I’ll see you to the Conductor’s Office.”

She nodded and stepped past him, following his gesture.

 

Through the colors she walked, one step behind the nice man with the grey suit. His socks were the perfect type of yellow. It made it easy to follow. The other colors passed her by as they made their way to Mr. Gibbons’s office. In the middle of the station, Esmeralda slowed her steps again as they came upon the moonlight of the station clock.

From her periphery, the colors of the station drifted and she opened her arms as she walked into the light. The face of the pearly moon covered her completely, her smile grew with the light’s embrace.

When her red shoes stopped then, Esmeralda closed her eyes and opened her arms wide as her neck craned back. At the center of the world the warmth of the guardian held her.

 

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Balls


by

L.P. Stribling

    “Okay, now do you believe me? She had me by the balls, Frank. And I mean that quite literally. Balls. All of my balls in all of her decrepit granny paws.” Bart took another chomp of his double-bacon cheeseburger and chewed while he spoke, symmetric specks of grease glistened on either side of his mouth under the neon pulse of the late-night Burger Bobby joint. The blue bill of his Pepsi hat seemed to bob upon his forehead as his animations grew. Frank sat across from him smoking, his eyes half closed, blinking mildly to keep out the easy wisps from a fresh pack of Kools.

    “Seriously. I don’t have to tell you now because you know, and I don’t want to keep talking because it’s a waste of my breath and a waste of your time, but no shit, that’s the girl.  That’s the fucking girl!” His eyes bulged at Frank as he rapped his index finger several times firmly on the cheap plastic of their table. They were the only customers in the Burger Bobby at 3:00 a.m. According to Bart, it was the best time to go. Best lighting, best place for conversation, best food (if you knew what to order), and the best place to talk about why you should not listen to anything a devil grandma waitress tells you about going home to meet her daughter.

    “Okay, again, and I know this doesn’t really make a difference, but I was drunk. Frank, don’t you roll your fucking eyes at me. I know you’re judging me right now and that’s bullshit because you’re not giving this a chance.” He waived the last quarter of his double-bacon concoction stringently at his best friend as he promulgated his most recent date. “I was shit-faced so hard that I probably couldn’t have walked, seen straight, or pissed in a mega urinal without hitting the floor, but goddammit, Frank, what happened that night is not some made up bullshit drunk story. She fucking!…” he shot a glance at the register to watch the woman there look up at him and quieted. “She could have castrated me with her nails, Frank. FOOMP! Gone!” he made a sharp slice through the air; a tomato flew from his burger and partly stuck to the plastic of his tray.

    “Go head,” he leaned in to Frank who shifted his lips to exhale a misty white into the quiet air of the burger joint. “Go ahead and look at the girl, Frank, and tell me that your balls don’t want to duck and hide inside pelvis when you look at her. Look! …”

    Frank made to turn.   

    “Wait! Wai – wait, wait! Not now,” Bart said.

….

    “Okay now, look, now!” Bart said with an obvious air of trying to be inconspicuous.

    Frank turned to look.

    The woman in the slender tan Burger Bobby uniform was old. There was no getting around that. Really old. She was Egypt old, I-opened-the-first-Piggly-Wiggly old. She was Jesus-was-my-pen-pal old. Her curly hair was white from where they were sitting, but it seemed so in an unkempt manner. Some of the curls shadowed her face, others seemed to twist with others, ending up in knots. Even as she counted money in the register, Frank could catch a quiet glimpse at her eyes, and the salient hollows behind them.

    “Yeah! Picture that, my friend,” he said popping the last bite into his grease-ringed lips.  “Picture her at around this time in a dark room with her sarcophagus breath dusting your drunk ass, and she starts playing with your happy trail with her plastic nails, which, by the way, if you listen carefully enough, are also screaming to be away from her. Picture that girl right there with her hair all fucked up, wispy, and haggard and shit, and her wiry tarantula meat claw nails around your testes. Fact!”

    Frank turned back around to face Bart and shrugged before taking another sip off his current Kool. “Don’t look that bad,” he muttered.

    Bart’s mouth eased open in disbelief. Then he let out a giggle despite himself. “I cannot believe you just said that. Do you – No,” he said and but his hands up in surrender. “Nope, I give up. You know why? Because you’re being an asshole, and you know that kind of behavior, or whatever, bothers me.” He his same table-stabbing finger was in Frank’s face now; Frank smirked.

    “What’s the big deal, it’s not like your balls had any other plans that night.”

    “No other plans!? You serious right now? Frank, I was going to go back and bang her daughter silly! I was going to be a king that night Frank, a rex, the goddamn Pussy Prince of Peoria. But -“

    “She has a daughter?”

    “No!” Bart said, and again lowered his voice as well as his hat brim to his eyes while he slid down in the booth. He turned back to a whisper. “No! But I thought she did and, AGAIN…” he said the world emphatically, stretching his lips to their full extent. “I. WAS. DRUNK!”

    Frank nodded, took a drag, and nodded to Bart’s empty plate. “You done?”

    Bart sighed and looked at the same. “Yeah,” he said.

    “Let’s go.”

    The two walked up to the register, Frank held the bill in his hands.   

    “That be all for you,” said the woman. Her voice was a whisper of someone plotting on escaping their coffin. Bart turned and casually walked out of the Burger Bobby. A small bell chimed when he pushed the door open into the cool black morning. when Frank stopped at the register,

    At the register, the woman handed Frank his change and thanked him. Frank nodded and turned toward the exit.

    “Excuse me, son?” Frank heard the woman’s voice from behind him.

    “Yes?”

    “Should your friend want the same treatment as from the other night, you tell him I’ll take half off.”

    Frank cocked his head in response. He imagined it was much like his dog, Jasper, when he heard the microwave sound. “I’m sorry? Half off?”

    The woman nodded. “Yep,” she rasped. “And I’ll do whatever he wants. What ever.”

    Frank left without responding.

    Bart was leaning against the car, an old beat up Ford, when Frank walked out. He adjusted his Pepsi cap before straightening. “Weird shit, right?” He said.

    Frank didn’t really know how to answer at first. He walked to the driver side door and unlocked the passenger seat from his seat. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, weird shit. Get in.”

    The engine cranked over and grabbed the car. Frank put it in reverse, backed out, and strapped his seatbelt on. They pulled out of the Burger Bobby and their headlights blasted the night.

Superhero Dick and the Brave Cat


batmen

Superhero Dick knocked at the door of the unsuspecting nameless civilian with an unfamiliar and uncomfortable rapidity. He stood there in true stoic velvet uniform – all deep red from the cowl down to his painted toes. The golden SD monogrammed insignia was an extra bold glow against the white pine door.

“Sir or Madam!” he said. “Please, it’s urgent that I use your facilities!”

The last time he recalled his voice being so nervous was when he faced off against the Hank the Glimmering Shrew back in August. It wasn’t the most common of scenarios, but what was done that night was what had to be done – the sixty seven windows, the boxes of sugar, the eggs, and leftover butter rolls. All of it had to be done. The civilian population recalls what it recalls – usually the story is twisted and tweaked, but still, what happened was certainly necessary.

Moments after the second rapid knock, sounds of unlocking from the other side of the large wooden door floated though the wood and then, the seal loosened and the door opened several short inches, then stopped. 

Peeking between the gap was a gaunt man. The ladder of wrinkles on his forehead aged him twofold. His eyes squinted behind his spectacles and his voice was both a shriek and a grunt.

“Who in the -“

“Please, kind citizen,” began Superhero Dick, throwing up a palm in the face of the unknowing homeowner. “It is necessary I use  your facilities.”

The wrinkles on his nose flared up at Dick’s response.

“Whaa? Why in the hell for? Get the hell outta here, you goddamn homo vagrant!” the man moved back behind the door and made to close his home.

“Sir, please,” Superhero Dick blocked the closing door. “If you truly value your home, you’ll need to let me use your restroom.” Without waiting for an answer, Dick pushed his way boldly into the man’s abode, gently-but-firmly allowing the man to back up into the depths of his own entryway.

“Now, first I’ll ask you to look here,” said Superman Dick, lowering his hands right in front of his package, making his fingers into parenthetical shapes around his junk. There was a huge bulge there.

“Now! The primary reason there’s such a huge issue here is because, again, I need to use your facilities. Suffice it to say, sir, that it is a matter of National Security. The size of what you see here has nothing to do with my personal sexual preference, sir, but with how I’m about to save you. Your life, your house, your family, husband, girlfriend, and possibly your pets. Everything is currently in danger.” Dick stopped and looked around. “Got any pets?”

The man’s eyes frowned and confused, shook his head first slightly.

Dick eyed him and leaned in.

The man nodded.

“Spot! Here boy!” Dick bellowed through the house.

fatcat1

A slow meow accompanied a fluff which leaned and fell over itself several times. It approached Dick, but several feet away, it fell to the hard wooden floor and collapsed into sleep.

“That’s Spot?” Dick asked.

“I’ve always called him Sylvester,” said the man.

“No matter!” said Superhero Dick. “Tell me you have a porcelain bowl!”

“The man eyed him with one eyebrow cocked high above the eye. “What?”

“Your facilities, sir, your toilet, is it porcelain?” Superhero Dick leaned in more and raised his voice to ensure that he was getting his point across.

“I don’t know what they make ‘em out of nowadays, but this house is old, Red, pretty damned old. I would think that everything from the flusher to the pipes is porcelain. Isn’t that what they’re all made out of?” Realizing he had gotten off track, he shook his head and again focused. “But that doesn’t matter. You are not using my head!”

“Quick! We must away!”

In one swift movement, the superhero snatched the feline from the floor and dashed through the house. The cat slunk from it’s new perch in the crook of the muscleman’s arm as it was whisked away.

Superhero Dick rushed into the bathroom and locked the door. He turned to the sink and dumped the sleeping cat into the shallow water basin.

“Don’t worry, Sylvie; it’s for all of us. All you have to do is stay out of the way.”

Superhero Dick unbuckled the neon yellow Ultra Belt at his waist and dropped the spandex of his lower extremities to the faded yellow tiles of the bathroom floor.

“Hey!” a pounding came from the outside of the door. “You cannot be in there without my consent, you! This is my house and you are a smelly…odd-looking..fellow,” coughed the old man. “You come out of there at once or I’m calling the police. You hear? I’ll report you, dammit. Don’t think I won’t.”

Superhero Dick turned to face the door, his feet shoulder-width apart and his fists neatly rested on either side of his hips. “Have no fear, kind citizen, Superhero Dick is here for the safety of all!” He turned back to the sink and placed the cat softly therein. With his other hand, the superhero snapped the lid from the toilet with a crack and  placed it over the cat.

He exhaled. “Spot, you’ll be remembered for saving your nation. Be brave.”

The cat gave a acquiescent purr of confusion.

While holding the toilet lid on the cat, the superhero looked at his large blue-faced INVICTUS watch and counted down. “Five, four, three, two….”

The ground beneath him began to rumble and the house shook.

“What the hell! You son of a -“

KRREEEEEAAAAAAA~

SLOOOP

The lid fell as the Spot was sucked through the sink and the underground pipes of his once comfortable kitty abode.

Seconds later, the rumbling stopped, and for effect, Superhero Dick flushed the toilet and replaced the lid after washing his hands. Several handfuls of old long unwashed fur dusted the once white water basin.

When he opened the door the old man stood there, his eyebrows hovering over full-blow balls of confusion. “What the hell happened?! Where’s Sylvester?”

Superhero Dick placed a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder and kept his tone low. “Sir, be proud today, for today your pussy has been sucked into legend. He’s a hero, sir, your pussy.” He dipped his head for a moment of silence. “I’ll make sure the name ‘Spot’ is remembered, here, now, and forever.”

With nothing more and leaving the old man looking through his bathroom and the house calling for his cat, Superhero Dick left. Once again, he had saved the day, the nation, and possibly the planet, from total annihilation. And no one save the old man in his wake would know.

Maps and Attics


Maps and Attics

by L.P. Stribling

pent

       Six maps in total were found on that day back in November 1882. Five were thrown to the sea, as the rumor has it, and the final one is still somewhere in the attic of my grandfather’s house. It’s not something I’m proud of – especially considering that the maps were to show the direction to Hell. Every day since I released that information to my best friend during my sophomore year, David’s Travis has been asking me questions about the issue – asking relentlessly.

“Well, have you at least gone up and tried to see it?”

“Of course I’ve tried to go up and see it,” I told him. “Are you kidding me? Yes. I’m not that much of a loser. I mean, I have my moments, but not to that degree. The map might have information to the souls of Hell.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Imagine what you’d be able to do with that.”

“What?” I turned my head and regarded him incredulously. “And by that you mean that you agree with me that you’d burn it if you ever found it. Why does something like that need to be floating around the human world? It’s not like it’s healthy or anything.”

“Oh, no,” he said, and shook himself out of it. “No, actually, I think you should take me with you the next time we go.”

“’We’ go?” It was a sarcastic retort, but he deserved it. The last time I stepped into my father’s attic was about three months ago, and I didn’t want to do it again. It was creepy enough to ward off the devil himself.

David, through some weird aspect of space-time decided to take my sarcasm and bitch-slap me across the face with a monetary value. “I’ll give you two hundred dollars,” he said.

He moved his head closer and raised his eyebrows – Hello? It read. I realized I hadn’t moved, probably still stuck on how ridiculous of a proposition I thought it to be.

“Oh,” I said, “sorry, yeah. Money? Okay, yeah let’s go.” That was Monday. Thursday after school we were up in my grandfather’s attic.

 

The lights within the attic had never worked since I had known about the place. And by since I’d known about the place, I mean they hadn’t worked for my entire life. David wanted to bring some lighters and matches. I reminded him we were going to a small room above my ceiling made entirely of wood and was wasn’t used to human activity. I told him that although I appreciated his concern, flashlights would likely do the trick.

Boxes, chests, thingamajigs, stacks of newspapers and magazines, and all manner of the unclassified had long found their home in the upstairs landfill. I never wanted to call it htat, but the few times my father spoke of the place, that was the word he used. He had never had a good relationship with my grandfather, and he generally avoided speaking about the man. But when he had to, he would carefully choose belittling titles to speak of the man and his habits.

We had spent the first four hours covering as much of the area as we could. The process would have mbeen much easier if my house were big. Unfortunately my grandfather had to have space which would increase cardiovascular health. We started on opposite ends of the place and began to dig, move, lift, and scan. David told me he would be sure put everything back just the way he found it.

“Oh damn,” David said.

“What?” I asked, dropping my third stack of 1970s National Geographic magazines.

“Check out these tiddies!” He unfolded a blatantly 1980s Playboy centerfold and turned it around to face me – some blonde anorexic girl wearing snow boots and a weird feather necklace.

“Eskimo, cool. Is that it then? We started with a map search and you’re going to settle out of court for her? You know she’s probably in her 80s now; I don’t know, some people are into that stuff.”

“Wai-wai-wait, Jake….I found it. Holy shit, seriously. Come’ere.” He was frazzled, his eyes scanning the backside of the confused centerfold.

I walked over and stood next to David as he turned the tri-fold page around for me to see. Even in the seconds I spent walking over I didn’t think I would be looking at one of these maps. David wasn’t the biggest humorist of the world, but I sdid still think it was a joke. Besides, what were the odds? And in the middle of an obscure girly magazine, no less? But, the truth was, it was there. It was oddly there.

If we weren’t looking for a map, we would have discarded it, because honestly, if we were looking at this magazine (my grandfather’s vanilla porn stash), we would be doing it for some sick adolescent purpose, and not to uncover the secrets of hell.

The backside of the centerfold was completely black save for three white circles lining the center of the page from top to bottom, each equidistant from the next. In the center of each of the circles was a different colored pentagram the size of a penny. Each of these shapes touched the inside of the white circles at different places.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“There’s nothing to say, man,” David said, “the game’s won.” David rubbed his hands sanctimoniously over the black page once before tearing the page out of the magazine and tossing the publication to the dusty hardwood floor again.

“Hey, man!” I said. It was a gut reaction, but these weren’t his things.

David kept his eyes on the black page while reaching into his pocket and letting two Franklin’s drop to the floor at my feet.

“Thanks, Jakey,” he said. He ran his fingers over the page again. This time the three pentagrams spun eerie opposing paths of their respective inner circles. He turned to me and smirked. “I’ll take it from here.”

 

Summer Reads


Not sure if I’ve ever really come down to it and said, “Yes, this book (these books) is going to be read this summer.” I did just check my Goodreads list and found that I actually do read during the summer – cool. So, I thought I’d toss out a little bit about what I’m reading now and what I’m planning to read this summer.

What I’m reading now –

Armada, by Ernest Cline.

armadaIf you know me, you know I’m into all-things video gamey. After going through Ready Player One, I was hooked on digital/video game fiction (Before I go on, if you are into video games, you MUST read Ready Player One). Okay, back at it.

I’m currently reading Armada, by the same author – Ernest Cline. Talked with my brother and he said he looked it up and it’s basically just like The Last Star Fighter
, which I wasn’t sure of at all. I haven’t read it. Here’s the thing with me and reviews – I don’t really read them. I will read them every once in a while, but mostly, as cliché as it may sound, I read books based on their covers. Yep. This one just looked cool and it had to do with video games, and it was written by Cline, so that’s what I’m doing. I am currently about 80 pages in (somewhere around Chapter 5) and It’s great.

This Summer

Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton.

whetonI have no idea about this book other than it was written by Wesley Crusher. I like Wheaton; don’t know what it is. He did read the audiobook for RPO (above) which I listened to for the first time (which, by the way, I thought was very well done). He is now the host of several different things going on regarding geek culture. He’s on the Geek and Sundry channel often. He was (and still is, I think) the host of Table Top – a show about table-top gaming. I also watched a great role-playing game that he hosted called Titansgrave. I didn’t really get into Star Trek as a kid, but I do remember young Crusher. I watched Stand By Me as well, but didn’t realize it was WW until much later. Who knows. It will be good to have a look at the book and see what Mr. Wheaton has to say.

2. One Piece – Vol. 42.

I believe the most up-to-date volume is 78 and the adventure with Luffy and crew abord the Merry-Go is fascinating. Can’t wait for this to continue.

And that’s where I am.

What are you reading?

The Touch Comes Second


daemon

   The heavy loose folds of the daemon keeper’s robes, silvery black with hints of a deep green sheen, hunched over the plain moldy basin necromancy center. The white marble of the bowl’s shallow veneer seemed dull, and Arch the Demigod had never seen it quite in such a poor state. He paid particular attention to his breath, and made a choice to think heavily about the air he was breathing in. The room was cold; it was dark in this place (perhaps a darkness he never quite put a finger on); he was alone – still, after all these years, so very alone.

   “Minns,” he croaked. Seconds passed before the sound of a loosening chain around a metal gate clanged into the room from what seemed like several hallways. The slow slides of an old pair of leather sandals scraped across a worn clay floor. Small specks of earthen detritus cracked underneath the feet, and louder and louder they approached before they stopped behind him.

   “Master,” the listless voice of the Demigod’s aged servant drifted into the room. “Your orders.”

   The Demigod took a deep breath and exhaled into the basin. “The child,” he whispered into the . He turned to face the sickly manservant and asked, “do you still have it?”

   The servant began to speak, cleared his throat, and started again. “We do, my liege; it’s still held in the second cellar – the frigid one.”

   A soft growl of approval crawled from the Demigod’s throat. “Mmm, the hour is close.” He stared into the basin still further, tilting his head, looking for remnants of sheen – the sheen that can only come from a soul of the infant. “Bring it,” he said. His voice ended in a guttural slur – a signal of growing tired. Behind him, his servant bowed. The demigod didn’t have to see it. He gave the man an order; it would be carried out.

   The footsteps left his presence, and the metal gate sounded in the back.

   “All this time,” the Demigod said to himself. “All these years, these millennia, and it’s all now. Here. This second.” He stood erect again circled the basin. The light from within had faded immensely over the years, the many years of his kind. “But no longer,” he said looking into the empty dry bowl. This was the bowl within which his kind had once had a reflection, the power of which was used to control them – the masses, the underlings of the Demigods. This power was harnessed within the water. They were a powerful kind; all beings knew that. They had at once known, at least. But the flaw of their kind, given by the Great Fiend, was that only with the reflection could their power be made manifest.

   “….and then it was Garling – the human,” He hissed. Reaching up, the demigod grasped his metal head shield, that which was the source of stories – the stories which made most cower, freeze, and bend in their own fears. A metal skull, masking the true face of death that was his own. When the mask was removed, the demigod looked into the basin with the bones, rotten flesh, and almost-nothing which he had become because of the humans. “But it will not be again, sire,” he said. “Not ever. For when in our kind’s history have we had the blessing of Him to wrestle away one of their kind.”

   A cackle rose from within him when the gate in the backdrop of the darkness was manipulated again.

   “A gift,” he continued replacing his mask and ensured his cowl was set in the appropriate position for the ceremonial act.

   When the servant approached, Arch retook his position at the north side of the Basin of Three. A cooing nuzzled the air behind him.

   “Place him before me, Minns. We’ve waited far too long.”

   The skeletal and withered hands of the servant placed the naked babe into the icy surface of the greying and aging basin and the hand of the demigod stilled the child when it cried out because of the cold. Minns stepped away then, fully aware of the procedure.

   It wasn’t even a handful of receding steps and the prodigious iron claw of the master rose into the air and thundered down into the basin.

   A gush of wet red infused the air and splattered circles across the millennia-old marble floor, pockets of dust jumping into the room as the droplets dropped lazily upon it. In a simultaneous howl, both the demigod and the child roared, the one calling out an exuberant rejoicing at a renewed life, the other a lugubrious cry of it’s own life’s end.

   “Come, Minns!” cried the masked operator. “Come lay witness to our rebirth.”

   The servant crept up to the edge of the basin and looked down.

   Within the small vermillion pool of a shredded child and a thick primordial confusion, the body began to release steam.

   “Sir?” Minns said with question.

   “Yes, yes,” said the demigod. “Can you see it?” The body within the basin began to shrivel and turn, the meat, the skin, the organs, all began, in magnetizing formation, to clump, twirl, and intertwine.

   Minns hurled over, bent, and held his stomach.

   The demigod cackled even more loudly, holding his iron claw over the rising steam produced by the flesh and offal of the shriveling infant once pure human form. A ball of mist, exotic, and colored began to hover there by his palm.

   And in seconds, the inner basin, glossy and beautiful, held a calm violet sheen. In its center a globe, palm sized, lifeless, and dusty.

   The master turned back to his servant. In his hand, now upturned, a pure glow, hovering there, quiet and whole.

   Minns looked at the face of his master and saw no longer an empty withered skull of bone and despondency, but skin, muscle, and sinew. There were now pockets of eyes, brown and intent, and a smirk. He saw a man, young and virile, with blood flowing within him, and a life flowing about his physical aura.

   And then, his human voice loosed from his strong throat.

   “It’s time, Minns. It’s time for payback on what they’ve made us. It’s time to reclaim what is ours. It’s time for their end, and again, our beginning.”

   He clenched his now stronger iron grip around the soft glow, extinguishing it. And in a new brighter darkness. Blood drops, new life, began to fall upon them.