Friday, January 24, 2014

Flash Fiction: The Call of the Bremen Town Musicians

Another one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenges, this one is Fairy Tales, Remixed. I chose The Bremen Town Musicians as my fairy tale, which I picked because it might have given me a chance to write something whimsical and different, and I rolled 17...Lovecraftian.
Okay, whimsical? Not so much. I actually had two ideas for this rewrite, and I might do the other one later, but I'll have to see if I finish all the things I need to work on over the weekend first.

In at 630 words I give you...

The Call of the Bremen Town Musicians

It had only been moments since they'd fled their cabin, but the sounds from which they'd run would not be easily forgotten. It had been more than sounds, though. Screeches, braying and howls so loud that the window by the wood-burning stove broke. Glass shards sprayed across the room, followed through by the wind, and a creature that none of them had stayed long enough to get a look at.

Light still flickered through the dingy windows and shadows played upon the sackcloth curtains. The group of bandits watched their cabin from a distance. But didn't talk about what they had seen because they couldn't. They couldn't reveal those secrets that they were still unsure of for fear their sanity would be called into question. But they couldn't let the others know what they hadn't seen—all the while assuming that at least one of them had seen it. They'd at least heard it. And it was still in there.

The bandits' leader wasn't willing to call the whole thing a loss at this point. So they stayed at the treeline. Moonlight drifting between the clouds brightened the clearing just enough, but the warm orange glow of lamplight intermixed with shadows remained in the cabin. Time passed at a length they could not measure, but the end of that length was marked by the extinguishing of lanterns.

The newest member of the group stood up first. Elbert. New enough to be both bold and foolish, and looking to impress his new family. He held back a while longer, and then crept toward the darkened building. After pulling a long knife from its sheath, he moved soundlessly across the field. He placed his hand on the door, which was open just a crack already, and nudged it inward.

Silence. Darkness. Something glowed on the table. Perhaps a withered wick. Elbert set the blade down so he could strike a match. As he held the flame near the wick, he saw fur instead, and then it moved.

It leapt at him, tearing at his face with its talons. When he fell backwards, the screeching started all around him. He covered his ears, and headed for the back door. A loud howl startled him, and he tripped as teeth set into his leg seemingly from the floor itself. He flung the door open, falling outside just to be struck in the hip by something he could not see in the darkness. The force hit him, reversing his momentum. He grabbed the door frame. Whatever unseen thing he'd encountered outside the door, it was trying to push him inside the cabin where he knew he'd certainly be torn apart by all the teeth and claws rising from the darkness.

As Elbert staggered a few steps from the doorway something screamed down at him from the rooftop. The screeching, crowing and howling peaked. Different shaped shadows circled around him. Darker than the night's natural darkness. They twisted as a group, disorienting him as they closed in. He saw his opening, moonlight and stars showing between the frenzied figures, and escaped.

Elbert had barely made it away, and dragged himself back to the treeline. His condition gave each bandit pause. The leader issued her decision. They would move on from this cursed cabin.

Upon further investigation they found all manner of tracks in the muddy trail leading through the woods. Obvious paws, scratch marks and the heavy imprints of cloven hooves moving in close formation. Each of the bandits agreed that they'd made the right decision. They might have lost their their supplies and hideout, but at least they had their lives for now. They'd rather face the kinds of animals they knew might be lurking in the woods, than confront that unknown creature in their cabin.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Flash Fiction: Niloufar

Yes, the blog colors have changed although they're still well within the realm of "ugly sofa." But that's not the point.

I have another piece written for a flash fiction challenge that is all ready to share. Once again, from Chuck Wendig's blog, this challenge is The Who, The Where, The Uh-Oh. My random numbers 9,1,2 netted me:

Who: Android
Where: Nuclear Wasteland
Uh-Oh: Left for dead, out for revenge!

Oddly in the process of writing this and naming the main character Niloufar, I fell into a YouTube hole listening to the song "Niloofar." My favorite version was this one by Martik. And here is Pouran's version of the song as well.
I was pretty sure I had heard that song before, but I'm not sure where. Maybe I found it in some round about way while listening to Umm Kulthum. And if you haven't listened to Umm Kulthum...

Anyway, I wrote a little story about an android. It comes in at slightly under 2000 words.


All are whole. The world has been made Whole. The world is Whole. We are The Whole.

Niloufar. She has a name. The Whole left her here. But she is Whole because all are Whole now. She doesn’t recall why.

She knows where, though. The place where darkness never allowed another day. Shab. She hadn’t fully realized that Shab was not only a time period, an event really, but also a place. It had to be, though. When the explosions happened, all light pulled toward them, turning everything to darkness. Even people became drawn as shadows on the tile-worked walls. She’s heard the stories, but she knows them even better than she’d want to.

Because she was there. Not in this body, though. Part of her had been there when it happened. Part of her knows only that brief life before. Part of her knows everything after. And the dark space in the middle.

Char marks the near-center of her chest, arcing toward the right shoulder of her yellowed ivory tunic. They had tried to shock her heart—short the circuit. She doesn’t have a heart in the traditional sense anymore. They thought they’d tripped it. Or else they wouldn’t have left her here like this. It doesn’t line up, though.

She sits up, brushing dust off herself before pulling her paisley-printed scarf over the crown of her head in a movement more familiar than her memories after the dark space. There’s a rust-red spot, faint, but there in the paisley pattern. The blood of who they thought she’d be. She drags together an identity with threads of memory and built in knowledge of her rebirth, but it hasn’t quite come together.

The skin has peeled back on her arm, revealing the workings underneath. It doesn’t bleed. She presses it flat and stands, steadying herself against a brick pillar. Her memories turn back. Clicking over to the day she was made Whole five years earlier.

Behrouz Ghazali, her father, perhaps ten years older than when she last saw him. She knows him, but can’t explain it. He’s the same, but different. One ruined eye closed over in tightened scar tissue. His beard is speckled with grey.

The space around her seems different. Her body is different. A slight ten-year-old frame replaced with an adult form. Had she somehow slept through all of her awkward adolescence? No, this was the standard build.

There are others in the room like her. All the same basic shapes, but different faces, hair and clothes. The faces don’t move quite like they should, but the emotions are very close to perfect. People hug. Some cry.

All Baba can say at first is, “You did not survive.”  

She remembers her last day before this one. In a school room, kicking her feet under her desk. Green chalkboard. White hijab and navy school uniform in a room of similarly-dressed girls. A teacher in a black chador. And then everything blinked to darkness. 

They embrace. She sees herself in a mirror along the wall, and rushes over to examine her too-perfect face. She looks how she thought she’d look. Her smile doesn’t open wide enough, but it’s close to feeling right. The newly Whole come over to examine their faces. Doctors in lab coats and suits talk about the procedures. They used what they could. There will be some holes in the memory, but the remaining brain tissue might locate some of them as time goes on.

Niloufar doesn’t care. She touches her face, watching her movements in the mirror. The sensation is the same as she remembers it, but the surface is thicker. Everyone smiles, laughs or cries as they are able to. Even the doctors seem proud of the reunions they’ve orchestrated. The faces of The Whole are there too. They were constant. Watching everything, even the insignificant every day workings.

And she remembers the significant moment that brought her here. To Shab. The bronze mask’s distorted features and wide inset mirrored eyes glare down with preset conviction as only a faceless assailant hiding behind The Whole can. They have an agenda. Burned into her memory. It was her first image upon waking in the ruble.  A leftover glimpse lingering before her vision flickered back on.

The vaulted ceiling of the wide passageway points to the hole in the roof. The hole she fell through, and others. Some portions of the bazaar have collapsed. Columns demarcate separate stalls. Broken shutters hang open in pieces. Some items remain.

Wide, flat baskets spill from a broken table. Whatever they held has spilled as well. Most of it is gone, but a few cardamom pods, dried peppers and cinnamon sticks remain scattered right at the edge of the fallen table. Other booths are similarly broken and cleared out. Tattered garments in a row wave from the highest level of one shop. Blue signs with curling calligraphy announce the names of different vendors. Everything within easy reach is gone or damaged. She stares at a tulip-like motif on a group of tiles, but the memory doesn’t connect so she moves on.

The bazaar still smells like spices, perfume and incense, but also smells of smoke and blood. She climbs over the contents of several shops spilling across the aisle. Broken paintings and furniture. Half-crushed baskets. Green and ivory prayer rugs, and larger rolls of carpets. Everything past this spot is burnt. The gutted remainder of the bazaar takes away her chance to imagine that the people have just gone home. This is Shab, of course. Everyone always says that word as though their breath has gone out. It probably sounded different before.

Another memory.  She knows where she came from. At least where The Whole had taken her from.

Loosely assembled partitions covered in yellow and black symbols block the exit. Establishing such a boundary seems wrong.  Or useless. The symbols don’t make sense yet. A yellow field and a black circle with three black marks around it. Danger. Radiation. She looks around, expecting to find the source. It doesn’t matter as it will have little impact on her body as she is right now.

She tips the warning partition over, and stands in the street. A few cars line along the curb in a  haphazard assembly. Abandoned. Many buildings stand in disrepair. Collapsed buildings point away from the epicenter. Ruins. Another piece falls into place. The ruins are significant. Maybe not these ruins—older ruins. She walks close to the buildings, looking into the broken windows as she goes.

Baba would tell her old stories. History of long, long ago. When the shahs took over they let the old families keep some power—not real power, but the illusion of power. The shah took their power and lands little-by-little emboldening himself as he went, but kept a close eye on what the families were doing.

She felt like his impromptu history lessons treated her as though she were still a child.  And she didn’t know why he did it. Now she did.

The Whole was always watching. Shifts of bronze-masked figures. Their protectors. Their guards. Their captors.

She stops at a newsstand where magazines and newspapers have turned to browned confetti in the racks. Pressed against a section of glass is a logo that looks like a flower. A little bit like a distorted tulip. It had been on a magazine that is now an image fused to this glass. VE. Variegated Energy, but she knows it as Variegated Electronics. It’s still around. They built her. Made her Whole. She reads the remaining text fragments.

Nuclear power plants. Clean. Efficiency. Innovation.

All spoken of as a plan, and not yet a reality. She knows the face under the glass, but not his name. That part is missing. After picking up an abandoned cane near the shop, she breaks the glass away from the display. Set against the backdrop of near-silence the crash startles her. Dogs bark in the distance. They don’t sound quite right, though. Rasping. Congested.

A travel agency is the most intact storefront she’s found since leaving the bazaar.  And she hides in there. In a back room. It’s dark, but at least the door closes and locks.

When they had a chance without The Whole watching over them, Baba said, “We are Whole because we survived, but never believe we are part of The Whole. They want us to think that.”

“But if we are Whole, then who are The Whole?”

He shakes his head. “The Whole are responsible for all of it. They worked for the others, brought them here. Found a place that was expendable—remote—enough. They did what they wanted to out there, experimenting and testing, and thought no one was watching, but they were. We all faced the consequences. The world did, all for one global venture, and now the world is Whole because we’re all in this shit together. But The Whole watches anyone who knows any of this.”

He leans in close and whispers a name. He did that a lot. Never forget. The King of Ruins. He is one of The Whole, and there are others. She can’t remember, but now she knows something else.

Baba is dead. He wasn’t in poor health, but he is dead now. The Whole killed him. Not in an obvious way, but a murder all the same. She struggles to unearth what she’s seen. What she really knows, but it’s not there.

The dogs have moved on, so she opens the office door. The King of Ruins is not a title. It’s a name. A coded name. Baba told her the real name a couple times, but the code was there so she could remember it. She holds her head in her hands, trying to remember. The Whole tried to kill her too. The electrical jolt and the fall have done nothing for her already vague memories.

A glimpse of her mother. She was sick from radiation-related cancer. They were reunited, but only briefly. All the while, being watched over. She joked about how instantly Niloufar had grown up.

For the first time in her new life, she realizes that no one is watching. No one is really looking for her. She’s dead to them, which means she is free of The Whole. Now what?

Visit Perseoplis. It’s printed in several languages on a large faded poster, and on some brochures. Stone pillars and walls that look especially faded now in the photos, but have always been faded from age. Griffins. The Gateway of All Nations. Palaces and tombs. And carved figures with stylized robes, their beards and hair in repetitive coiled curls. This one on a throne. Darius the Great. Her memory pulls together. Takht-e-Jamshid.

The King of Ruins? No. Darius. Takht-e-Jamshid. She holds up the face under the glass panel she brought with her. He’s responsible for all this.

She drops the picture.  Darius, King of Ruins. Darius. Takht-e-Jamshid. Darius Jamshidi. Not Darius the Great. Darius Jamshidi, he’s on the Board of Directors for Variegated Electronics—was Energy. Now part of The Whole because the world is Whole because of them. Darius Jamshidi must be held responsible. Now, she just doesn’t know how…

Another flashback. Her father again. “The biggest fraud of all. They wanted the world to come together after their accident led to all-out nuclear war. Not just Shab, the ruins are everywhere with survivors rebuilding in their own enclaves. Of course Variegated Energy wouldn’t claim responsibility, but they’s tell survivors what to do. Once so little was left, they were more willing to listen. They said that they had to be unified. They had to be Whole. It was a great PR stunt. Who really knew the truth?”

Behrouz did, and Niloufar still knows. She wonders how many others are being watched by The Whole. Who else knows? How much time does she have left before no one else knows?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Flash Fiction: Accursed Encyclopedia

I'm challenging myself to participate in more writing challenges this year and so I'm finally getting around to posting this even though I wrote it the other day. 
Formatting. So difficult. Very lazy. 
(Also, hating all the words. That was going on, too.) 
At this rate I'm just happy that I finished something.

This was from Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog Flash Fiction Challenge: "Roll for Title"
I got 3 and 12, Accursed Encyclopedia...and here we go.

Accursed Encyclopedia

Marlisa passed by the first row of shelves in the theater’s old storeroom. With her hands on her hips, she gazed into the near darkness. Her usual outfit, baggy jeans and black tank top, played up the harshness of her buzz cut blonde hair.

“You know they have this thing called Google.” Penance used her cellphone as a beacon to lead to the light switch.

“Too much work. I was told that if I find this book it will tell me all I need to know. So I can do this term paper without really doing it, and focus on getting my drink on the rest of the night. I just have to open it, and—” Marlisa closed her eyes as the lights flickered on all at once. “Magic.”

“Good luck.” Penance turned for the stairs. Her dyed black and red hair and short black slip dress caught her momentum.

“Don’t go anywhere, cookie pants. I got the magic words.”

“If you think you can call me—”

Marlisa clapped her hands. “Enkuklios paideia.”

Something crashed in the distance and Marlisa ran for it. Penance pursued her. They hopped over sagging cardboard boxes and darted through the maze of shelves. Marlisa hoisted up a downed shelf to find several dozen books and a couple spilled boxes of miscellanea. One book sat open, shimmering like its pages were sprinkled with phosphorescent glitter. They stared at it. Marlisa knelt by the pile, reaching her hand just over the book’s pages. The shadows of her fingers grazed the surface. And it was gone.

Penance looked up. Glass shattered. The book had flown away, bashing through a blackout-painted window. She peered outside through the hole. “It’s on the sidewalk across the street. You know…I don’t think we should let anyone else get ahold of that book.”

By the time they exited the building and crossed the street, the book wasn’t where it had been, and the street was relatively empty except for the occasional passing car. Most of the storefronts were dark or abandoned.

“Fuck, man, now what?” Marlisa peered into an alleyway. “Where can a book go?”

“You saw it. I’d say it goes wherever it wants.” Penance lit a cigarette, and motioned towards the café tables further down the block where a couple people sat outside. “We could ask them.”

As they walked, they looked for any sign of the wayward book. The gutters were all rocks, trash and greasy splotches. But once they got within sight of the café Marlisa’s steps slowed.

Penance was more enthusiastic. “Hey, is that—

“I’m not talking to that asshole. Plus, he already thinks I spend my free time banging rocks together.”

“Well, maybe if you say you’re looking for a book he’ll change his mind.”

“I don’t need to impress pretentious Goths.”

The man in question had shoulder-length black hair and black eyeliner. He wore a charcoal suit with a grey tie. He read a newspaper, not paying attention to them as they approached. Penance saw it first, turned back to Marlisa and said, “You might have to.”

On his table under the demitasse of espresso sat the old leather-bound book. Worn letters in Greek visible on the spine. It no longer shimmered now that the pages were closed.

Marlisa wasn’t going to waste time with formalities as she approached the table. She pointed as she said, “That’s my book.”

He lowered the newspaper and looked at her. “The gutter is a funny place to leave an antique book.”

“Well, I’m an avant-garde artist. It’s part of a project. And you’re just—“

Penance stepped between them and put her hand on the table. “Hello, Alistair.”

His expression lightened, no longer prepared to scowl and escalate as far as possible. “How are you today, Penance?”

Penance smiled. “I’m good.”

“I doubt that.”

“Yeah, yeah… that’s sooo funny after the fiftieth time.” Marlisa butted in. “The book’s not yours.”
He tilted his head, resting his chin on his hand. “Perhaps I can be persuaded…”

“I don’t got time for this shit. Here you go.” Marlisa grabbed Penance by the shoulders and pulled her down to sit in the chair across from Alistair.

“I think trading people for goods is illegal.”

“I’m trading services for goods.”

“Hey, I don’t think so.” Penance glared at Marlisa.

Alistair smirked and looked back at his newspaper. “Some friends you have.”

“I was just talking about time, not services. And at least she has friends, freak.”

He crumpled the newspaper closed on his lap. “You’ve convinced me. Now, I really want to give you this book back.”

“It doesn’t belong to you anyway.”

“Maybe I like it, and I did find it. Besides, Penance would sit with me anyway, so you’ve pretty much given me nothing in exchange for what you want from me.”

Penance forced an exaggerated frown. “Do you really think I’m nothing?”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

Marlisa threw her hands up in exasperation. “Gah…such a dick. You better give me that book and buy her dinner and flowers and a pony to make up for being so mean.”

He sighed, moved his espresso cup and held up the book with an indifferent flourish. Marlisa reached for it, and as the book changed hands, it was gone again. Alistair stared at where the book had been. Marlisa did too. They looked like they were bewildered by each other. Glass shattered in the distance.

Penance clapped her hands. “I am so nailing these magic tricks today.”

“Yeah. Right.” Marlisa looked down the street toward the nearest crash. “Waste of fucking time!”

Penance yelled after her, “I think all you needed to know was that you need to do your own homework. How’s that for magic?”

Marlisa held her hand up over her head, issuing a one-finger salute before following the book.

Penance slumped back in her chair and mumbled, “Some friends indeed.”

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New...wait...when was that?

I'm around, but have been lazy recently. I guess not "lazy" but just not blogging. I've been planning things and sending out poetry submissions to clear out every piece I have that is finished but sitting around on my computer still. (And I have a new laptop because my old one finally lost its mind) Clearing out some of that poetry makes way for finishing some short fiction. And continuing work on my NaNoWriMo novel. I wrote over 50k on that story in November, so yay! But I need to add about 25k to finish it out.

In December I was trying to finish a different novel, but didn't. I decided to split the story between two characters. The main narrator is left in the dark a lot, and I figured getting her "I'm new to this and don't know what's going on" narrative too often would get annoying. So I'm giving the other part of the story to the character who has the most power and knowledge, but throws away some parts of what is going on because it doesn't fit with what she thinks is useful. She's a fighter, no time for whimsy. Take no prisoners. Ever.

Other than writing, I have some art projects I've been working on. More about those some other time.

I'm attempting to take some edX courses. Poetry in America: Whitman, and Intro to the Music Business start this month. Also starting in January, Coursera has Roman Architecture and Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences. I should know enough about Roman Architecture between all the Art History, Ancient History and Classics courses I've taken, but wanted a refresher on locations, engineering and terms.
I think the most interesting course will probably be Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. That one starts in early February. In late February there's another intriguing course offered through edX called Library Advocacy Unshushed. Once those courses start I'll probably have some comments on them.

So, there's an update. I hope to get back to regular posting in the near future.

One last thing--Steampunk World: A multicultural Steampunk fiction anthology has a couple days left in its Kickstarter campaign, check it out.