Tourmaline – Part II


There was a tickling sensation which grabbed her then – a lovely gripping coolness which sprayed giddy chills across every pore of her. She smiled, wanting almost to cry at the same time. The flooring felt soft and her toes curled to feel what it was made of – it seemed a mass of miniature cushioned fingers, each welcoming the weight and feel of her feet. Her legs moved through the coolness, her nose catching the weightless blips of spray as the water from the fountain’s center fell into the pool. It was dangerous here, an easy place to fall and not wake up. But she was here for a purpose.

Quickstepping to the center of the fountain, her toes digging into the fingered flooring beneath, she ducked into the cascade, her body covered by the raging water. Once inside, she grabbed onto the center column, from the feel, made entirely of marble. As grip-less as it was, she managed to pull herself up the high column, one step at a time, steadily going up the pillar. She was happy for the raging sound – up this close, she felt it was just herself and the water. This close she could near nothing but the water’s raging speed as it welcomed her to be a part of it.

Yet, she knew they were there on the outside and she knew that they were coming for her. The raging water as peaceful and comforting as it may have been, was not going to simply keep them out. Steadily, one step at a time, she climbed. As there were branches which came out of the center shaft of the pillar of the fountain, so there were also some handholds, areas for her fingers, at least for some time.

Some of the water came in droplets which seemed to pepper her cheeks as she climbed and there was the other water falls of the water which came at all times, cascades of it, endless pours as she climbed. Several times after areas of solid footing, she would have to turn her head to catch her breath. It was on one those times that she happened to notice two things. First, how high above the ground she had climbed (and not even made it have way up the spire). Second, that there was a darker cloud of insidiousness which was rolling toward her. Sand dogs. Another deep breathe, and she turned her attention back to her climb.

Once out of an area of high water, she looked up again, The sky was blue, just as she had remembered when she was running up to the fountain – out of breath and with pained heels digging into the sand. Beyond the highest point of the spire a small glow found her eyes.

“Cruan!” She muttered to herself. It is in the light of Cruan that you’ll need to make the pull. She had never meant to count how many time Alaster’s voice had come to her. It was almost as if he had never died.

It was a giddiness that she felt which helped her jump up to the next step of the the long central pillar. She could see the next handhold clearly. In the cool water of the falls she left her footing with a smile. Whether she wore that same smile on her face was something no one would ever have been able to say.

And it was when she felt herself leave, that she slipped.

It was her footing, or the water, or the thought of almost making it all the way to her goal, to the place where Alaster and the team had placed all of their training and faith. Even in the small seconds that passed that told her she was going up, she felt herself falling.

On the descent, she had somehow made herself face downward – if not to see them coming, to see where she would fall and die.. One of her first thoughts was more of a wonder than anything else. Will it be in the water? The water was there below her, certainly, but her body wasn’t entirely over it.

She yelled, and did nothing. There were too many thoughts in her to do anything else. Eve the thought of berating herself for the pride of the jump was lost in the sea of the other thoughts. No clawing; no cursing at herself, no saying good-byes. Last time. I won’t reboot after this. None. Nothing. Of anything. All that was there and all that came from her at that time was as cream. It was all that she could think of – all of her thoughts combined into this one sound. Not even one for help or anger. It was simply the only thing that her body knew how to do.

Before she hit, her eyes took in the black mass that was the army of Sand Dogs, the hunters – those who had been sent after her – her the traitor, the runaway. She couldn’t be upset with them; they had been given their orders and it was something she could understand. No. She wasn’t upset with them.

She closed her eyes before she landed.

All she felt was the force of the ground, half mixed with the ledge of the fountain’s water basin, crack into her.

“Take her!” The voice of the rider from somewhere in the back, commanded the high energy of the esurient animals.

Pain fled through her system; it would have been easy to say that it was something she was used to. She had been through a series of varying degrees of pain in her lives. Death was always easier. Somehow, in as many times as she had done this, it just wasn’t anything she was used to. The ground rippled through her and the voice in her wanted to scream just as she had done when she was several tens of feet in the air several seconds ago. But, it wasn’t there – on the outside at least.

The current of the pain staggered its way through her limbs and rattled ;her bones and it rippled through the small several cubic meters of ground that she covered in her fall.

“Decode!” His yell came to her then and there and it was as though he was coming closer. She was surprised she could hear his yelling commands over the wild beasts as they came upon her. It was just as she had expected after slipping form the top, well nearly the top of the spire. She was right there, and after all of her lives, this was how it was going to end.

The dogs individually were unsightly. Vermin which had no qualities of civility. Their coats were disheveled and matted for the most part. They subsisted on carrion or smaller creatures in the sand. Their snouts were malformed almost all of the time, and with their lips hanging down only halfway to the bottom of their chins. Their gross teeth were always exposed and no part of them where white; the color of them had decayed with their diet of feeding on the dead and the exposure to the air and the sand. She remembered at one point wondering why the grains of sand never whitened their or at least made them softer. These were the thoughts she had they came upon her.

Like an untamed virus, they came on her to feed.

“Decode and dismember!” The voice of the hunter was softer now, somewhere off in the distance. She could feel their warmth, and their snouts rubbed upon her with a coolness. It was the entirety of the pack at once. All of them, seemingly came to feed on her. It seemed unlikely that it would be all of them; there were thousands. Only the first who got there would be able to take her. If there was any of there left over within a few seconds, it wouldn’t be much.

Pain. Her back groaned and, with her own cognizance, she realized that she could feel nothing from her legs down. Her eyes only caught colors here.

The dogs’ snouts were more now; they growled and shredded the clothing from her body. It wasn’t much to work with, however. Her body never had enough meat to give.

Her blouse, the white snap-on, and her shorts were ripped from her person. The snouts of the animals continued to sniff her and the sounds became to get softer a bit and there were more growling from the three around her body. Pain.

She prepared as best she could for the pain. This would be the last time.

She watched the clothes leave her body as she let go. She saw something odd as they left her vision, there was a spot there – in the shorts. A green lovely circular spot.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

“Tourmaline,” she smiled. There was no pain, and her questions were answered. There was no pain because there would be no pain. The drug. Left in her back pocket had shattered upon the drop.

Her eyes fluttered and watched as the dogs walked away. They walked away slowly against the yells of confusion and discontent of their master.

“Get the code, NOW!” he yelled. “Rip it from her! No! No! What are you doing?”

Constance turned her head (no pain) and saw him in the background. She saw him there way off in the distance. He was there in black with dust swirling around him. His image swirled and rolled with the hazy distance as his limbs jerked wildly. The dogs were growing farther and farther away from her. They steadily walked from her, panting. They had run so far and with so much energy that they seemed to feel they had all met their objective. It was though they had crossed the finish line, had their fill of whatever treat, and decided to head back. They had dropped her clothing just feet from her. No longer interested

In the distance, the dog master had given up yelling his whips and his orders. He decided to run toward her.

No pain.

Her neck had not hurt when she turned it. The drug. Tourmaline.

Constance smiled and lifted her head before pushing herself up on one elbow. She looked in the distance after a quick rub of her eyes. She felt her breast softly dip down and rub against her upper stomach . The man was coming toward her wildly and with a knife drawn. The blade flashing with each cycle it completed in his hand. Her nakedness felt good then. There was a sun in the sky – a large golden globe, and a cool wind found her cheeks.

She lifted herself to her feet and for the first time again heard the water. She turned back to see what she could still see, where she should have been buried had she not stuck the vial in her pocket. The water fell as though a tipped flower vase from the heavens, emptying upon the dry land in endless drips, showers and hails. She stood there looking at the pool at first, the stem which she tried to climb. She noticed where she was when she fell. Almost made it. She needed to finish her task.

There was blood of course. Her soft skin on the back side had been cushioned by the hard sand and punctured by the titanium vile. How can titanium break? She was glad it did.

“AAAhhh!” The man was behind her, but everything happened slowly form that point. Everything was slow; time was all hears. She was becoming more powerful; she felt it. It was inconsequential to watch the man or to worry. Facing away from him, she could almost see him.

She focused on the water. His hand was raised above him, the knife high pointing down. There was a glint upon the blade that no human eyes would ever notice. It was a shame as it was very pretty. It came down, but only fell half way before the man was taking down by jaws by the thousands. His own pack. Their growls were just as heightened and powered as they had been when digging into her the first time.

There was a clank at her feet and she looked down seeing the knife, just as it was supposed to be – for her taking.

“Thank you,” she said and walked again into the pool in front of her as the echoes of his screams were lost in the raging of the waterfalls. She stepped in the water and focused on her steps. On the water, on the cushioned flooring of the pool. This was the whole of the last vial of Tourmaline. In her mind she knew the dogs were behind her, all of them. Sand dogs. She did not have to look at them or for them. They were quiet now, the ones in the front, eight of them or so, were stained with the neck blood of the man they had before then obeyed. She walked on the floor; she twirled. The knife in her hand gleamed with more of a magic than it had seen ever, more than they had seen in years.

When she was ready, she returned to the spire and climbed. The army of sand dogs sat and watched.

Up through the raging of the water she climbed. This time taking her time. The coolness of the water, the splashes, the dumps, the sprinkles, the sprays, all of it, the entire ocean of the water of her childhood fairy tales; she wanted all of it. Yet, she did not dither here. The drug was in her inner self. She was the last one to use it. She was the last one to have snapped the vial.

Open the vile over the Cruan, and bring then the green to feed the land.

 “Yes, Alaster,” she said, water filling her mouth, her pores, her face and all of her. Her hair was the wettest it had been. She shook her hair and answered. “I will do as you say, just as you have taught me. This is the last of it, you know.” She climbed farther upward and as she climbed, she rotated her body around the spire of the fountain in the middle of the desert. A quick glance at the army of those below. They had all sat eager for something. For her to return?

The water pouring of the fountain lessened as she got higher and as she gained more ground. This was the time. At the end of the spire, she found two perfectly wide and flat points for her to stand upon.

The Cruan. Its surface… just the surface had filled her head with all manner of childhood stories and questions. She pulled herself to a standing position.

“I’m here, Alaster,” she said.

For a moment – the only moment she would have here, she took a breath and straightened to look up and about the land.

The desert. She began from the backs of the sand dogs and followed it back. In the distance far off, beyond far, she saw the thick grey walls of the Institution. The ominous place where they told her that her parents didn’t want her, where they told her the existence she led was nothing – that she was nothing.

That was enough. Again she looked around once more before getting back to the task.

She held her wrist over the top of the spire, the Cruan. Before she began to cut, she looked around the top of the pillar for the halo, the glow. Nothing. No, it’s here. Of course it’s here.

She held her free wrist above the top of the Cruan and cut with the blade. Blood, dark and thick, moved as though it had just been awoken form a long slumber. It dripped down the last mote of skin and fell through the air to the top of the pillar. One drop, then two, then fifteen, a stream of blood.

The structure began to shake and a pulse of light lit the entire structure. Once. Again two, three times.

Constance cut herself again twice more, the tears in her eyes were blurring her vision.

The blood ran from her in heavy streams and the top of the pillar was covered. Her footing began to weaken and she saw chunks of the pillar fall away from the main and into the water below. What was standing in its place was a patch of light burning more brightly than the sun in the sky. Patches and patches they fell from it, more and more and quicker and quicker. They fell. As her footing gave way and the placeholders for her feet fell into the water below, Constance jumped to the hold on to the top of the spire.

The heat shook and seared her. Her eyes, her skin, her spirit burned from within. The structure shook more and more violently and from within the voice came to her.

AAhh, I thank you. Here is were it begins. Here and now.

Constance did not scream with the pillar of the fountain exploded outward in a far-reaching burst of white light.

It rocketed across the sand dogs, the desert whole and for leagues afterward in every direction. Every mote of life of every plane where the light touched was burned and changed from whatever it’s color was to a n easy meditative sort of brown. And then there was quiet and the light died down, easing itself from its reach into the sky, in competition with the sun, and it pulled back from its tracts along the desert.

The sun dogs were quietly decimated below; they went without disagreement. It was her they were following; her, the keeper of the drug.

When the light slowly pulled all of its reaching fingers from all places anid reverted into itself, it crumbled.

There was no water, no fountain, no life. Nothing remained. Nothing yet.

 

Somewhere else, somewhere behind the veil which separates this world from the next a long-white haired man looked at the spot where the Tower had lain. His eyes, blue and silver, surveyed the image. He nodded and recovered his tea and saucer from the table at his front.

“Good,” Alaster said. “You’ve done well, child.” He lifted the cup to take a sip. China, it was called somewhere else. She had heard it before. “Green will be restored and the good civilizations will be back here in a few millennia. That’s sadly what happens when you incur an Ice-Age in the middle of history – especially one they’re not ready for.”

“I just want to keep going,” Constance said.

“What do you mean?” Alaster said, his loose white robe folding with predictable movements as he walked She was used to his walk.

“I mean I want to be somewhere else. Another planet, another time. Something.”

He set his teat down and gave her a pat on the knee. “Well, I for one, am very happy to have you back, I’ll have you know.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Alaster.”

“You were always good at listening.” He smiled back. “Now cheer up. I happen do have a new destination for you. But first, supper. We’ll speak after that. Oh, and Constance.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Mmm?”

“May I suggest that we not involve ourselves in drugs on this next run?”

“I wasn’t supposed to be brought back in the first place; seems like drugs are working out perfectly for me.”

He nodded. “Your point, although taken, is irrelevant. You drugging yourself accidentally doesn’t really count. Yes, the drug gave you another life, but ~”

“Nope,” she said, “no ‘buts’. I’m here, and if drugs keep me alive, I will do it. Now, supper please.”

Alaster nodded and continued forward. “As stubborn as your mother. Come, come.” He moved through the doors and let it slam behind him.

Constance stared at the screen for a few more seconds. The brown hold where the fountain stood, the fountain she had climbed. She turned the screen off and followed the man. Tourmaline in her blood.

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.

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.”

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.

Pleather


by L.P. Stribling

    There was wind, light wind, upon the hillock that night. Wisps and whips of it at least. Yet, in the middle of the near-lightless twilight. The only color to the distant sky was a slow-waking maroon. Both women held each other clenched in the an unbroken gaze, unaffected but bonded by that wind.

    Holsters were hollow, their contents barren as the tempered steel of the women’s barrels languidly locked on the center points of the other’s face. Cobra revolvers – the starry glints of each hollow-point tip hugging the triggers faded slowly with the passing seconds

    With her free hand, Kumiko flicked her head and repositioned the long stray tuft of black trail hair that stood apart from the rest of her buzzed brethren. Before jumping behind her, it ran down the glossy full-body red pleather she wore opposite her enemy.

    “Smoke?” she asked.

    Maiyu shook her head, a slow concentrated shake. “Nah. But please, take what you need.”  Maiyu’s eyes were an almost-emerald dark as she motioned her gun for the girl to proceed.

    Kumiko holstered her gun, took out a worn packet of cigarettes and, after a moment of selection, lit one before scrunching the pack back into her leg pocket. A lighter appeared out of nowhere, served its purpose, then vanished.

    The girl drew, blew a burn of smoke into the air and looked back at her rival.

    “Why didn’t you shoot?”

    Maiyu cocked her head with the girl in her sights. “Excuse me?”

    “You could have shot me. Plain and simple. Reasons?” She took another drag as if giving the girl a chance to answer.

    “Do I need reasons?” Maiyu said. “Regardless of what happens here, the cycle is broken. All you need to know before one of us dies, Siranes and her people will be loosened from your shackles and there will be no repeat this time.”

    Kumiko took a drag and nodded in easy understanding. “I see,” she said, exhaling into the night. “And you’re certain this time will be far different from every attempt in the past century? You were sure of yourself countless times before. Well, no matter. That’s my opinion, anyway.” Another drag she took then, easy, calm.

    “I know some things,” Maiyu said.

    “Like?”

    “Like what will happen to you if you return to your lord empty-handed.”

    Kumiko thought about this and exhaled. “Mmm,” she nodded. “You’re right . I don’t know exactly what he would do, and yes, the consequences would be disastrous. That’s why I’ve ensured that I will not be going home empty-handed.”

    Maiyu cocked an eyebrow and steadied her aim on the woman. Lightening pulsed behind the overcast evening and in a matching of drums, the neon ashen end of Kumiko’s cigarette spewed her opponent in a fiery burst of orange trails. Maiyu’s lithe body dropped in quick reaction, and she rolled as quickly as she could, but she wasn’t fast enough. She felt the irate claws of the liquid fire before the smoke had a chance to rise from the glossy pleather of her suit.

    The streams of lava roared into her skin and Maiyu cried out. Tears rushed from her face and began streaming downwards as though they were racing one another in competition.

    Maiyu continued to roll – her only attempt to stop the burn, somehow managing still to hold the Cobra in her hand. The hillock sloped and after the initial tumble, she managed to slow herself, dragging herself painfully toward wide boulder – one of the night’s black giants, one quiet and without judgement.

    The steel of the gun tip clanked on the rock before she scooted behind it. She ducked then, evading another wave of heat.

    “I thought you were so sure of yourself?” She heard Kumiko’s voice, it had risen as the woman stepped toward in a lazy obligatory approach. How many more waves within that cigarette did she have? Why did I allow her a smoke? How many times had they fought? How many times had she lost, been killed of her own folly? She was always so sure of herself. Why continue to trust “always?”

    There would not be another chance. The time was now. She peeked around the stone wall of her cover, her head shaking. Kumiko’s mini molten glow still hung between her fingers as she approached. The sky was darkening. Dark misty swirls high above began to fall. Rain. How long until I feel it? Kumiko pulled up the cigarette again and flung it at Maiyu.

    “How’s that for some confidence in the end?” Her tone was pretentious. Cocky. She strutted as if she knew she had won.

    No. This would not be the way of it. The true way had already been spoken for, had been foretold. All she needed was a window. And there, through the haze, the blur of it all, she saw it. Kumiko brought the cigarette to her mouth and Maiyu crouched to brace for another shower of lava. But no. She just wanted to take one more victory drag. She saw Kumiko pull her head back and empty the smoke into the air. It seemed as though the puff of her own smoke was going up to meet with the rain clouds that were coming down. When will I feel the rain? It must be soon.

    Window.

    Maiyu raised the snake and took aim. Kumiko’s face in her sights was unnoticing.

    The first drops of rain fell upon her skin just before she pulled the nickel-plated trigger of the snake. A blessing in black.

    If there were stars out then, they would have burned out.

    The lift from the gun almost lifted her prone body off the blackened earth. Her eyes shut with an automation that came from her body’s (her spirit’s) desire for protection. She would look back at the moment as a small fraction of a bliss she would have loved to indulge in – the frame-by-frame of the red-pleathered body going limp as its command center shattered and fed the dark grass with the nutrients of blood, cranium meat, and a fragmented globe of haughtiness.

    Nor did she hear any of it. Maiyu simply remembered her body’s confusion in the thoughts of almost. It was just as it was destined to be. It almost wasn’t. It almost was me.

    The rain sheltered her then. That was the next thought, the only thought that she was able to carry into her future – the beautiful dark rain, feathering her there in the field, easing the lava away from her wounds, lending good-night kisses to her skin.

    It was there that she melted. Looking up in blinks, the sky was dark. She lay there in a field of pain and falling angels. She no longer felt the wind.

Beta Readers Wanted – SF/F short story


Happy Friday to all.

Wow, is it the end of July already? The time always eludes me. Right when I think I have it, that I can do what I want with it, that it’s all mine, it vanishes.

Today’s a day for planning. For getting rid of the old and getting ready for the new. Even if it’s just the end of the week (in preparation for a new week), the story is the same – ditch the old, bring on the new.

One of those notes for me is to search for beta readers. I’m looking for beta readers for my story tentatively titled “Portal Hunters” (3700 words). If you’re not sure what a beta reader is supposed to do, let’s go on a little detour and find out together.

The Task of a Beta Reader

If you’ve ever heard of any project, any medium (film, game, book, etc.) said to currently be ‘in beta,’ it means roughly that the project is almost ready to go to the public, but it still has some tweaks/bugs it needs to fix. There are still several weeds in the grass, so to speak.

Every author has different criteria for how they want their readers to respond to the piece. Some don’t want negative criticism (which, why?), others want the readers only to focus on one aspect of the story (i.e. dialogue, narrative, plot arc, etc.), while others still just want their readers to tell them why or why they didn’t like it. I prefer the way sci-fi/fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal sets up her criteria – something like this.

So I ask my readers to tell me:

What bores you.

2.   What confuses you.

3.   What don’t you believe.

4.   What’s cool? (So I don’t accidentally “fix” it.)

One thing I would ask that you DO NOT DO, is say simply, “I liked it,” or “I didn’t like it.” What I’m asking you to do in Beta Reading is to help me. Words like those above, while they may be true, don’t help me. Please tell me WHY you did/didn’t like it, and leave it to me to decide whether I think I should take that criticism.

If you’ve already read the story and have given me feedback, I thank you very much. I must thank my wife, Kerrie, for always asking me to share my stories with her, even though the genre may not be something she’s totally into. She’s always willing to read and help. Thank you.

Here’s How: 

Go to my web site: http://www.lpstribling.com

2. Scroll down to the post that says Portal Hunters Beta.

3. Click on it and enter the Password (below)

4. Start reading and enjoy!

If you’re up for the task and are willing to leave me some feedback, I appreciate it.  The password is below. Thank you and have a productive weekend and a damned fine Friday.

lp

Password:  PortalH

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.