It Sleeps


by L. P. Stribling

Under a little known bridge somewhere in the hinterlands of the city,

Safe from the cloud of sound created by barges, klaxons, and steel,

Out where farmers are want to let the children roam free in the wild,

It sleeps.

 

By day it sleeps, slumbering to the rhythm drone of the working day,

It’s hunger on a timed cycle, the acids of its stomach race as the sun dips past noon.

And just as the moon yawns from above a midnight horizon,

It sleeps no more.

 

There in the gasping dullness of cool 1 a.m. breeze,

It walks, guided by its carnal clock. It hunts.

It sleeps no more.

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Cyber shorts


Cyber Shorts

http://needleinthehay.net/synth-209/

That’s the link. If you’re at all inclined to read a good cyberpunk short story, you’ll find this one pretty on point. It’s a nice piece of flash. I chuckle as I say that – an interesting turn of phrase.
When I first heard of the term Cyberpunk, I’m not sure where I was, but it was a handful of years ago. I wondered how it differed from Steampunk. As I understand it, the differences lie in the characteristics of the worlds that these two genres portray.
Steampunk has to do with a quasi-fantasy world in which there exist airships, weapons, fashionable items which all pay some degree of homage to steam as a driving power. Steam is the main focus for all engines, machines, and technology. You may have done a Google search on a Steampunk watch. All the gears clicking and ticking and switching back and forth. Steam is the main point of all technological working in this world and all of the stories all sort of come back to this.
Cyberpunk, on the other hand, takes place in a world (also fantastical) which is very dystopian in what we may think of as scientifically horrific. The world is dark, and there is a lot of moroseness, seemingly. Oftentimes the world is overpopulated and the god here that we all pay homage to is technology, science, robotics, artificial intelligence.
I bring this up because I was searching for some good cyberpunk short stories, and found this one (above) as my first.
Wow. What a beauty.
When I think of synths, I think of Fallout 4 – one of my favorite games. Synths are robots which are very strong and anthropomorphic, it turns out (always helpful in dealing with creatures that look a bit more like you – makes it easier to relate, I guess).
It’s been a long time since I posted, I know. But that’s what’s been going on with me. Writing’s going well. Reading also going well.
Check out some cyber shorts.

-lp

Field Trip into Limbo (a Wendig Flash)


Chaz already had the classroom stunned with his temerity of walking in smoking a cigarette.   “Young man, you cannot just walk in here and -“

Chaz waited for Mr. Huggis to get close enough before he blew the smoke from his first two puffs right in his face. The math guru (and he was at that – it wasn’t a rumor that the mayor had offered the man the key to the city after his fifteenth year of teaching) closed his eyes but did not back away.

Chaz kept blowing until every drop of smoke was in the teacher’s face. “Now look here, Mr. Numbers, time is just not on our hands today. You can lock me up and toss the key if you’d like, but I will request that you wait until after I’ve done what madness this occasion has graced me with first. And, my god, what a glorious position we have placed me in today.” He flicked the cigarette out of eyeshot somewhere off to one of the inactive areas of the classroom before Mr. Huggis’s eyes opened.

“Now listen up,” Chaz went on. “There’s some shit about to go down and I think it’s high time you all know about it.” If the classroom had ever experienced a quieter moment, it wasn’t in the record books.

“I’ve decided we should have a field trip today.”

“Oh, you decided, did you?” Mr. Huggis coughed out his contempt while still waving away the smoke. He stood now on the other side of the room and crossed his arms over his chest. “No, this is ridiculous. Insane! We’ll see how Principal Davis approves of your field trip.” He used air quotes as he rushed back across the room to ht other side where the main door of the classrooms was.

“Nope, nope,” Chaz said. “Sorry, Mr. Huge; can’t do that right now. Not really what the message was.”

Mr. Huggis reached the door and yanked in frustration. In one motion, the door handle flew off and the instructor flung himself several steps back before he tripped over the metal mesh rubbish can right by his desk and landed with significant lack of grace face-down across his wooden floor. When his body stopped, the classroom roared with laughter.

Chaz let the natural reaction play out before he gave a clap and turned back to the class, exhaling another puff from his cigarette before tossing it behind him, the butt of which smacked against a well-washed blackboard and fell to the floor, rolling to stop underneath Mr. Huggis’s ear.

“So, check it out, we’re going to be descending into one of the sub-pits of Limbo today. The bossman wants us to come down, have a chat, ask some questions; he wants to meet you is what we’re going for here, so if there are no questions…”He reached into his left jean pocket and extracted a small BIC lighter as a hand shot up from the back of the class.”

Chaz nodded in the direction. “Yes?”

“Don’t you mean, Hell?”

“Ah, no it does not. It means Limbo. Limbo means Limbo. Hell is different. Hell is Spanish; Limbo is Portuguese. They’re different things, but it’s easy to confuse one for the other. You with me? Now, let’s get to it.” He held out his hand and flicked the lighter with another hand shot up from the front row. “Umm…” Peggy Dawots always wore a perfectly-pressed school uniform. Golden curls bounced in pigtails and braces flashed as her hand went up.

“Yes, Peggy.” Chaz said, dropping impatiently the hand with his lighter.

“Okay, so my best friend, Carey, his grandma saw someone once do what I think you’re going to do right now.

“No shit?”

“None,” said the girl. “And, umm, I was wondering if it’s safe.”

“Is what safe?”

“The trip? I mean you are playing with fire, and you know what the rule is about playing with fire.”

Chaz smirked and pointed at her. “Great point. And, yes, of course I know what the rule is for playing with fire. It’s don’t-forget-to-add-gas. Right? Okay, here we go. No more questions? No one else is gonna piss on my campfire, here? Let’s just get down there, snap some Instagrammies, and come on back to the classroom to have a great rest of the day with,” he looked back. Mr. Huggris steadily rolled onto his knees. “With this guy.”

The lighter came out again and Dusty Banes’s hand shot up from three seats back from Peggy. He sneezed loudly, covering his mouth, but missing the excess which was lost in Peggy’s curls.

“Yes! Christ, for shit’s sake, Dusty, what is it? Just ask when we get down there. What?”

“Oh no,” Dusty said quietly. “No, I just sneezed.

Chaz pulled back and slouched, giving Dusty a look of incredulity. “So you didn’t just raise your hand?”

“No, I did,” Dusty said. Freckles on his pale fat face seemed to sprout more just from being in the conversational spot light.

“Well what?!”

“No, no,” Dusty said giving a humble smile. “No, my arms go up when I sneeze.”

Chaz simply stared at the kid for several seconds. Giggles bounced around the room.

“We’re going,” Chaz said.

In one quick motion the lighter was out and Chaz held it over the center of the room. “Chaal’am Taeku!” He yelled. Then let the lighter fall.

From below the floor, orange winds rose and consumed the wood from below. Within seconds a circle of heat ate the room’s floor and howled in a circle of fire and wind. The hair on the children’s heads rose and flailed about. Chaz stood there, shielded his blinking eyes with his arms and yelled to the class.

“Don’t worry; it’s not hot. It just had to get through the floor.”

“Everything’s burning!” Peggy yelled. Dusty’s wide cheeks filled into a smile and he was already volunteering before Chaz asked who the first volunteer would be.

The class stood from their desks and lined up behind Dusty one by one.

On three, here we go!” Chaz said.

“But it’s scary!”

“No, it’s not, Violet. Just looks scary. It’s cozy. Just…just go.”

Dusty jumped. The class followed.

The fiery hole into the nether sucked in on itself and closed. And Mr. Huggis stood and looked upon the quiet empty classroom. He coughed and turned toward the knobless classroom door.

Field trip indeed!

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.

 

Stones


Dawn reached through the sky as though it had ripped its way across a league of fetid grey – a lonesome stagnant pond which had stood for years waiting something, some speck of color.

Carl’s eyes seized the stones as soon as the sun waned upon them, his hands loosed thanks as they grabbed the hardened chunks of earth.

“Here!” he spat. “The stones are here.”

His father turned from a damp inlay of soil, his legs making the small mud puddles which held his feet swish a bit.

“Quick, boy,” he said. “Before any of them wake.” He moved quickly past the icy statues, their frozen positions stuck in the twisted and lifeless clutching motions from the night before. They had just barely survived. He fell to his knees by his son and helped him grab at the stones.

They tossed the rocks from the small hole and discarded them with small thuds into the wet dark earth.

Sweat showered each of them, sweat and languor. Neither had slept. They remained awake through the cold and the fear. His father had told him to stay moving. He didn’t know how, but he did it. He clawed at the rocks. Not another night, he thought.

“Here!”

His father pulled out from down behind the rocks a dust-covered pouch. Carl’s tears were lost upon the mud of his chest. “Open it,” he said.

The sun fell upon a wider patch of ground. The sky was clear. And below smiles as his father pulled open the cloth of the pouch, there was a twitch from somewhere lost amid the tall still bodies.

Tourmaline (a serial story)


 

Dear Reader,

Happy Sunday…night. I hope your weekend glistened as mine did. I wanted to bring a story to the space, but I wanted to do it in parts. The following story is called “Tourmaline,” and it comes from of the Chucky Challenges from Mr. Wendig’s space. I guess, that being what it is, it could be called a collaborative effort.

Nah.

Sorry, Chuck. This one’s mine.

-lp

—-

 

Tourmaline

By L.P. Stribling

Part I

 

Constance ran toward the quarry with the last vial of the drug clutched in the prison of her palm. The dirt and rock, dry under her sneaker soles, kicked up after her feet rushed down the hard-packed plane. The day was mild, very little wind. The sun was out looking over her from the center of a healthy spring sky, and she knew that if she were to stop and look behind her, she wouldn’t see anything. It would seem that she were alone. But all illusions were easy here. And dangerous.

 

There are no breaks here.  Not in this world.  Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Alaster’s word’s ricocheted in her head amid a steady rising pace of breath and the thrum of her sneaker soles on the hard-packed dirt became the metronome which somehow kept her alive. Yeah, well, look what happened to him. Even the best of us fall. The sad voice of reason always appeared at the most inopportune of moments. Try as she might, there was no exorcising herself of him. He was along for the ride. She gave a shout then, a noise to bring her out of possible decline into the hole of his reality.

When the beat of her steps slowed, the closer she was to death. Ten minutes ago, things were explosive. Ten minutes ago she wouldn’t have been able to hear it. Not with the gunfire.

She topped the next hill and saw the easy ochre glow, the pulse in the distance. It could only be the fountain. She stumbled a bit in the sharp slip of her footing. Her feet swerved off course awkwardly for a couple of steps, but she caught herself when her vialed fist touched the rough ground and rebalanced her.

Fuck! She thought. Don’t slip up now.

The shouts behind her seemed to push the thumps of her foot pounds to the side and found their way to her ears. Instances of voiced guttural cringing – armies of it. They were gaining, the fiends and the sand dogs. How many of them were there this time? This would be the last time, the end. She would die for eternity. No rebirth. She smiled at the thought and dug into the packed dirt, jolting herself for the glow of the fountain. There was a mild shake of her head then. Inside she laughed despite the voice of her body that it needed rest.

How funny is it that when I die this time I won’t be born again?

Under the thump of her feet now, she gave the world a glinted minor smile and quickened her pace.

The fountain closed in and gave itself to her with more detail. It was taller than she imagined. She could see the central spire calling to her in its coruscating outer shell. Like barrels of sand had been sugared with diamond powder and spread on the outer wall of this tower, the structure demanded that she approach it.

The growls of the dogs behind her had no doubt caught her. Her grind was slowing, and as her pace began to lessen, she could not help but hear the monster growls over the dogs. Even with her head focused, she could hear them. There were masses of them. More than she had ever seen or known before. She was on her 309th life. Each of those had not truly been deaths, of course, but resets. And each time brought more of them. They worked for Him, the central man. All of his commands were treated without question and executed. When she had finally learned of her own bounty – an executive order to eliminate her code, she ran, and they followed.

Cocksuckers, she heaved as her feet brought her form into the bastion which was the fountain’s umbrage.

The waters of the round pool sung in quiet laps as they meandered among themselves. Just what she had been told of what it would look like – it was all of that and more. It held a central tower encompassed in the smaller replicated fingers of itself – all of them a stunning mild amber. The natural pores of the stone blistered the skin of the structure with a beautiful sizzling texture. The outside of the structure glowed, pulsing in richness from a medium light to an almost sunlight golden, which lit up the sky around it.

Constance heaved, her body doubling over from the exertion. She had run long and far enough. She would be out of time soon enough. Now was not the time to catch her breath. What did her breath matter at this point? The sounds of her pursuiers were still there and they would be upon her soon. They would be there to eliminate her., and this time , again with a smile she touhgout about it., this time they would succeed – in a sense.

“But not they way they think they will,” she said to herself. “Good, I love you.” Her hands loosened and the vial rocked in her hand, steady and sweat painted. She could feel even then her heartbeat thankful for the encasement of the titanium vial. No matter how hard she squeezed, at least that area was secure. Through the greying small circle of transparent glass, the green fluid lulled back at her.

A bark echoed across the arid ground and her ears brought her eyes back to the hill in the distance – the same hill she had just left and darted here. A million other voices streamlined across the ground and their forms en masse bubbled over the bumpy horizon.

“Nope,” she said to herself. “Not today.” She plopped the vial in her pocket and knelt to pull off her shoes. With a quick toss, she disposed them and took a mental breath before stepping over the beautiful fountain barrier and into the cool crystal water.

Art or Craft – which matters?


It’s rounding on ten o’clock at night and I just saw this:

23. Storytelling Is The Art, Writing Is The Craft
Writing matters. It has rules. It can be artful or utilitarian, it can be languid or merciless. But it’s just the vehicle. We keep coming back to the authors we love — Atwood to Gaiman, King to Morrison — not merely because of the quality of their prose but because their stories are engaging. It’s the stories that matter. The art lives in the story. It’s the hardest and most essential part — you can write beautifully, but if the story there doesn’t sing, fuck you. The opposite is also (usually) true: the writing can be execrable, but as long as the story grips us by the nipples, we’ll buy the ticket and take the ride — and we’ll beg you for more when we’re done.

Chuck, you’re right.

Damn.

I talked about this with my brother several weeks back. We both came to writing in our lives, but for different reasons. I came to writing because I am in love with language. He came to writing because of story. We both write, but for disparate areas of focus. In this regard, I must confess that I disdain the fact that people with ugly prose still get the girls because their stories are the hit of the parade.

Don’t get me wrong; it makes sense. If Harry Potter just opened up by talking about a guy named Harry who wore glasses and was almost a teenager and wasn’t sure what to do with his life or who his friends were and was mediocre when it came to school, but he was okay at it and……

… If that were the case, that book would end up in someone’s fire or toilet paper stand. There has to be progression. Yes, I get that. You have to have something happen. In fact, it’s best if you have a whole shit ton of things happen, each one throwing the reader off, but still making sense. And on and on et cetera..

Yeah, I get it. I just think there should be something said for good writing as well. Not that it can only be good writing, because again, if your “good-writing” about nothing, then you’re giving you’re giving your keyboard a hand job, and yes, you write, but what’s the point? I’m talking about writing a good story AND you know how to write good prose. There has been a sizable handful of books which I have put down (against the raging applause of the masses on how good the story is) because I just couldn’t take the writing anymore. My go-to story is always Sanderson’s Mistborn. I got 400 pages into that book and I had given a liberal dose of grammar and good prose passes (subjective, yes, but aren’t all books subjective when they’re in individual hands?). I had to put it down.

The masters out there are masters of both. They know how to use their craft and make (as Gaiman says) good art.

I agree with you, Chuck. I don’t think it’s right necessarily, but c’est la vie. The point is, write. Writers write. As much as my readerly self doesn’t like shit prose, my writerly self lauds the fact that at least they made it to the shelf of readership. What does that say about the masses and literature? I don’t know. No, it’s not England in the 1800s anymore and this is not the literate society Simon Winchester mentioned in the beginning of The Meaning of Everything.

They want story. You’re a writer. Give them a goddamn story. Even if it’s not the story they want. Your job is to make a story. Write like a cracked-out booknana-lovin’ monkey, and give them a fucking story.

-lp

Decisions


      by

L.P. Stribling

 

Her face was no longer something she could feel; the wind, the ice had made sure of that. Carla still pushed through the biting slices of nature’s army toward the wooden structure on the hilltop, one high step at a time. The snow reached well past her knees, and beyond that with the ground dipped. On the inside, her legs began to ache.

Almost there, Carla. Push through.

She tried putting her mind elsewhere again. That seemed to work at the bottom of the hill, at least for the first half mile, until the frost winds began to howl. One of the thoughts she found was more of a memory – one from when she was six. It was the first time she recalled hearing the howl of the wind. Her sister, Dari, had run back to the bedroom after the power had gone out to jump under the covers with her.

“What’s that?” she remembered her sister saying. The pause lasted for seconds, until the low curling of the wind’s howl came through the windows. Dari disappeared under the blanket and gripped on to her sister, preferring clearly to be inside her twin’s body.

“Chill out, girl. It’s just the wind,” she had told her.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Dari said. “Just the wind.”

The words ran through her mind with each slow step up the hillside. “Yeah,” she echoed her sister’s voice. “Just the wind.”

The snow depth shortened and the steps became easier. The last few she pushed into a stride of three as she tried to make hasty cover behind the walls of the wooden building.

“Dari!” she screamed at the door as she pounded on the cheap wood. “Let me in!”

Sounds came from beyond the wood. Tapping and shifting. The door fell open and Dari’s hand reached out and pulled her sister in. “I thought you said one o’clock?” Dari said. Her short frame was covered in a parka and ski pants over heavy green socks. “ I’ve been waiting for two hours!” She pulled Carla inside and shook the snow from her back. “Sit,” she said. “I have tea.”

Carla walked to the table in the living room where two steaming mugs of tea sat waiting. A small dish of cookies was at the table’s center, and a fire burned in the gated fireplace. Carla sat.

“Now,” Dari said, sitting and raising a tea mug. “Why don’t we talk about how badly they want you, and how much we stand to gain with the right decisions.”

Carla held the mug between her freezing palms and inhaled the scent deeply. She clinked her mug against Dari’s and took a small sip. Jasmine. It went down warm. She cleared her throat and reached inside her pant pocket, removing a thin vile of neon orange fluid. A solitary air bubble dipped back and forth as she tilted it. “Here’s to making our first decision right.”

Chasm


by
L.P. Stribling

Wicked games they played back then,

Childhood trickery (painful trickery), all masked in fun,

One was called the Sin of Chasm,

And she was the lucky one,

The chant still sticks –

First comes Faith, at the end, Reward,

Don’t look down,

At the Chasm of Gore,

The chittering teeth, the rot of the pits,

Lose your wits and they’ll ask for more,

But think of the reward!

The rope was taught between the rooftops,

And night around us – starry and cold,

The schoolyard dirt was the chasm below,

But naught to be seen in the frosty chill

of those evenings.

“Next Walker, Next slave!”

“Fallers force the Daybreak!”

Erma was a friend that night,

A friend of a friend,

She came not to be seen, but to watch,

Last girl in sight,

But the Chasm hungered, and forced a growl,

“Next Walker, Next Slave,

Chasm’s Worms on the prowl!”

She shook her head, shook her legs,

Tried to shake herself from their icky hands.

They pulled and prodded and forced her to stand,

Feet on the edge, and pushed up her hands.

She balanced and shook, and tears filled her eyes,

And the first step she took held our breath in the night,

Three steps across, we could hear her sniffles, her whines,

Though not a word did she yell, when her feet missed the line.

Not a second passed then,

Plop – crack, plop.

She was still.

I looked down at the rope,

Eddie picked his hands off the line,

Wiped them on his outer vinyl.

His words loosed a gasp of smoke into the air,

“Nope!” he laughed.

“The Chasm claims another victim!”

Victory hit him and his arms darted

Over his head, Over his head.

He cheered in the night.

It was cold, so cold,

And under the stars, who knows how long she lay,

Before they found her,

Dismembered, I imagine,

A quiet girl, a lonely fall,

Victim to the Chasm.

The Man Behind the Mic


by

L.P. Stribling

    The man who stepped onto the podium in the middle of the last quiet moment of humanity wore a suit which suggested he was the true face of patriotism. The small two-cent flag on his black suit’s lapel was tilted slightly, but would pass for centered for the majority of those he met. His eyes flashed hard at the center camera below him, his gaze rocketing into every living room of the nation; in the following seconds, those same eyes would release into every living hollow on the planet that contained a pulse of human life.

    He smiled and began.

    “My fellow World Order people, today we have shown that…”

    From the back corner of her living room, Dena Metrin’s heartbeat brought itself to her attention as she watched the screen, almost panting.

    “Please tell me you’re close, Rick.“ Her eyes darted over to the man hunched over his computer at her left. His fingers ran across his keyboard as if he were epileptic. White text sprayed across a blue screen. The pencil in his mouth had a body lined with bite marks. He had been rolling it around in his mouth clamping his teeth down slightly as he worked. As long as Dena knew him, it was his own peculiar way of dealing with stress. When he bit all the way through it, he would spit it out and pull a fresh pencil from the pack next to his keyboard and begin anew.

    “Err,” he said through his pencil. “Ah depfinilhee feek ahm gehng crossr.” She reached out and threw the pencil out of his mouth to the ground.

    “What?”

    “I said,” he repeated, still looking at the screen, his fingers not slowing, “that I think I’m getting…closer!” The last word erupted from him as the screen began raining white text as a full download of something was coming in.

    “Good,” Dena said, “because I think we’re about to get to the pretty bad part.”

    “…it’s not that often, and we all know this, that we have an opportunity in our history to really change everything that we’ve done – all the mistakes, all the backwardness, all the evil and wrongdoing.” Pause. “Well now, ladies and gentlemen of this beautiful moment. Now is that time, and you should feel a tingle run through you in knowing that you are alive here to witness it, because..”

    “Okay, so now how long? Remember, we only need the microphone. That’s what he’s going to use.”

    “Eah,” Rick said, another pencil in his mouth being gnawed on at breakneck pace. “Uss a fsheew mor sekns.” The keyboard sounded like each key was being hit with hard rain.

    “…and with that I’d like to begin by saying ‘so long’ to our past.” The man motioned off camera with a nod of his hands. The building behind him, almost half a mile away, the backdrop of every presidential speech in the history of the nation shattered as a missile came from the sky and blew it directly from its center outward.

    The sound rocketed the people; the cameras shook, and screams were heard from every angle off camera. The man’s beady eyes focused on his audience without any emotion; he nodded as if this was the reaction he had expected all along.

    “Okay, I’m going to need you to make those magic seconds happen right now because…”

    “…and you can see,” he went on, his voice stern and heavy, “that we are on the precipice of greatness! We are ready for change, for tomorrow, a bright tomorrow. We are ready for…ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready for a makeover.”

    “Got it!” Rick yelled.

    In their room, the only sound came as the pencil dropped from his mouth and clicked a bit as it hit the floor and came to a roll and then stilled. Three hundred miles away, HBC’s main camera shook slightly as the man behind the mic grabbed it from the podium and tore it free to hold it aloft in one victorious hand.

    “Behold!” He yelled. “Our makeover!” He turned the mic upside down and pressed a button on the bottom.

    The nation, the world watched. Nothing.

    He pressed again twice, three times. Nothing.

    “Fucking thing!” He slammed the microphone down and stood back from the podium reaching into his vest under the pin of the nation.

    “Welcome to the new you!” He yelled, drawing the revolver out and aiming at the audience, pulling the trigger faster than the audience could comprehend.

    BAM! BAM! BAM! “Welcome!” He cried with each shot. BAM! BAM! “Welcome!”

    Bullets riddled his body and the man dropped to the stage. All camera screens went black then.

    Dena slid to the floor and loosed a sigh. She and Rick said nothing for a long time. Rick’s box of pencils lay untouched.

    “Well,” she said breaking the silence. “There’s that. Take us home, Rick.”

Seconds passed before the rain started again.