Friday, January 28, 2011

It's the End of the Net as We Know It (And I Feel Hope)

Explosions and protests in the market didn't scare Ebony. But, the conniption of Haji's eyes -- pupils rolling like spilled marbles -- left her mouth dry. She murmured words he ignored as his limbs spasmed until his body scooched to the floor.

Moments passed. Haji's eyes focused on Ebony. "No net."

She wasn't wired like him. Haji had the full immersive subscription. She searched for Al Jazeera's digi-avatar, but the janky ghost had disappeared from the corners of her vision. "Isn't possible."

Haji leaned against Ebony as he stumbled to the door. "The president fears us."

"Impossible." Ebony adjusted her hijab's drape. "The academics proved like-protests are mere feel-good symbolism and subject to flash crowds."

"Theory can't rule our passions, our fears."

"Maybe it's a glitch."

Haji pointed at LED billboards blinking with random noise. "No net."

Out of hundreds of net providers, she knew at least one of the billboards should have worked. "What do we do?" Ebony felt lost even if she didn't need the digi-avatars. She couldn't imagine Haji's pain.

"We add our skin to the game. We join them." Together they stumbled towards the market.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mount Tamalpais

The only life haunting the slopes above Marin's mists are the flies that buzz Booth and his brother Judas. The chainsaw hangs from Judas's backpack, teeth slapping against the leather protection wrapped over the pack. Black trunks contrast against the golden hills where the grass has dried. San Francisco Bay hides beneath the clouds.

"You sure about this?" asks Judas.

Booth shrugs from under his pack and stares at the Druid King's trunk where two limbs crisscross together to create its frozen foundation. An utter damnation, but Booth knows that he's been chosen. "God's glory."

Judas raises an eyebrow. He doesn't understand. He is merely a tool, and Booth knows that you use tools even if they are your brother. Judas spins around as his nostrils flare. "You're right. I needed fresh air." He shakes with the shuddering of letting go. "Amazing. The view and the smells. We are too busy to visit."

Blood can be tricky. It flows thick and hard in one man, but lies shallow in the other so he can't see. Booth licks his lips. Thousands of strands of power stretch from the forest of coast live oaks into the Druid King's crown. Blacks specks scar the strands where sudden death fungus poisons the power. "We have a job to do."

Judas pauses with the chainsaw in his hand. "Booth, something about this oak."

"No, nothing. It's best to get it over with quickly. It'll help you forget her." Booth's words are too fast, too defensive. He breathes deep.

"It's noble."

Nobility is a poison that makes you believe it is needed. A drug that leaves you dependent as you fall into the spell of its abomination. Booth will save his brother. "Didn't Brianna forbid you plowing her fields? Whose baby you think she bore?"

Livid spots spark across Judas's cheek. The chainsaw roars as Judas pulls the starter and steps to the Druid King's trunk. The air sparkles with a golden light. Booth prays his brother won't see the magic. The chainsaw bites into the druid's flank to spew canker, coagulated globules, that spiral over the bark.

The Druid King sucks power into himself, drinking the forest dry. Coast live oaks collapse to the ground, the noise as loud as thunder rolling over the hills.

Judas retreats and droplets of black sap spatter the fields until the saw splutters to a stop. "What?"

"Hallelujah." The Druid King's rot will end here.

"This... wrong."

"Not wrong," says Booth. "You, we, finally purge the blight. Nature over nurture, I say."

"I don't understand," says Judas.

"False gods." Booth smears the druid's ichor on his cheeks. "From the dawn of time they've lorded over these hills and stolen the life essences. No more. No more."

Tendrils of mist stretch higher up the flanks of the hills. They pass like ghosts between the brothers. A cry escapes from Judas and he flees down the slopes. A wicked smile stains Booth's lips. His brother won't get Brianna. "No more." The words whistle over his teeth. "Just the beginning." He chants as he sinks his fingers into the fungus.

This is an expansion of a 100-word script/drabble that I wrote for Lily Childs' prediction (check the comments, many good drabbles can be found there.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Healer's Prison

Part fourteen and finale in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.

Merph's back spasmed as he sat against the pavilion's pillar hidden in the woods outside Lord Calle's tower. He frowned, but his captor, Mortok, was silent as he stared into the forest where the first light of dawn began to lighten the clouds. The silence had stretched for minutes once Merph had finished answering Mortok's questions about what had happened to Healer Kluvenstrom.

A giant crow stood within Mortok's circle of runes. Merph would have worried more, but Whitey slept at his side, the dog's rib cage swelling with long breaths.

"I have never heard a more bumbling tale. Yet, it is the haphazardness of your methods that leads me to question my views." Mortok returned to the chest on the far side of the pavilion and removed more runes and placed these on the floor around himself. "Your story counters what Tvinnrun has told me. You swear what you've told me is true?"

The hair on the back of Merph's neck felt clammy and a droplet ran down his back between his shoulder blades. Whitey opened his eyes to look up into the boy's eyes. Merph found compassion within them and a sense of strength. "I've told the truth as far as I know."

"The first piece of wisdom I've heard from you." The rune furthest east lying on the ground around Mortok began to glow brightly. Moments later the next rune caught light as well as if an invisible fire spread between the blocks. "Do not disturb me."

Merph nearly laughed, how would he disturb Mortok. He'd been discarded against the pavilion walls with his arms and legs tied. Resigned, Merph watched as the rest of the blocks lit up, light cascading into the forest lighting it as if it was midday. Mortok froze. The body ceased to move, almost no breath filling his lungs.

Whitey whimpered and moved away from the inanimate body of the runeworker.

The light from the blocks faded until there was just a trace of color flaring around the shapes of the carved runes. When the sky lightened, Merph discovered that the giant crow had disappeared. He waited as time passed. He pulled at the ropes that bound his wrists, but the rope was tied tight and he couldn't force any slack into it to free his hands. Whitey barked and ran into the woods.

The rune-carved blocks flared once more. _Not as brightly as the first time_, thought Merph. _Or at least once the sun had risen, daylight made the runes seem weaker._

Mortok rose from the center of the blocks holding a runelock that looked identical to the one Merph had found on the cliff edge where Tvinnrun had hidden it.

Merph squirmed from his position trying to push himself away as Mortok approached. He didn't get far from the pavilion. Dirt rubbed against his skin.

"For Othinne's sake," swore Merph. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Merph stared at the runelock. "No!" He kicked one more time. A twig stabbed into his back. "You won't trap me."

Using both hands and a smooth motion, Mortok placed the runelock on the ground. He walked forward to the no longer evading Merph and lifted him over his shoulder again to return to the pavilion. "I've retrieved the runelock you described. If you're telling the truth, we'll release Kluvenstrom from the runelock. If you're not, I'll turn you and the runelock over to Tvinnrun. He'll know what to do with you." Mortok settled Merph against the pillar again.

"How do we free him?"

Mortok selected some branches from the chest and returned to sit with his legs crossed in front of Merph. "He is locked in an astral plane --"

"Astral plane?" Merph remembered the healer speaking those words before, but he didn't understand it that time either.

Mortok shook his head. "It's complicated. Don't interrupt me. Kluvenstrom is locked in an astral plane and I'll need to find the thread that links him to our world. I'll need you to be quiet." Mortok's eyes squinted at the boy. "And don't move, or I may lose the thread and we will lose Kluvenstrom."

Merph waited while Mortok lit the branches and then reshaped the rune-carved blocks around him and went into another one of his trances. He tried not to move, but it was hard as the ropes cut the circulation to his feet and hands. The sun punched a hole through the mists that covered them and the light felt warm on his flesh.

Mortok blinked.

"Any luck?" asked Merph.

The runeworker glared. "It is too late and the trail too distant. As for you --"

"No! Don't take me to Tvinnrun."

"I trust you," said Mortok. "Too many days have passed and I can't locate the trail. I don't think we can rescue Kluvenstrom. You've done all you can do. This isn't your place, you should return to your family."

Merph was amazed at the pluck of the runeworker who was willing to quit trying so soon. "There must be a way."

"I tried." A darkness flashed across Mortok's face before he continued. "I hear a whisper, but can't tell from which direction it comes."


"Of course, hear. It would be impossible to find the thread, so I'm looking for the body in the astral plane. Kluvenstrom answers me, but it comes from every direction and none."

"I think I know how you can find the healer," said Merph.

"You're not a runeworker. What can you know?"

Whitey barked as he returned from wherever he had gone. Merph twisted to look over his shoulder and saw the dog emerge from the forest. Katja followed Whitey and held two of Merph's pig bladders in her hand.

Merph closed his eyes and a smile crossed his lips. _This would work_. "Remember what I told you about creating the bat powder? Perhaps it will help you pinpoint Kluvenstrom's voice."

Katja unknotted Merph's bonds as the runeworker scowled, but he didn't move to stop the girl. Merph sprinkled bat powder over Mortok's ears and waited with Katja while the runeworker revisited the astral plane.

A pop announced the return of the healer as his body coalesced out of nothing. Merph hugged the healer. "You're back."

"Yes, thanks to you." The healer faced Mortok. "Do you perceive Tvinnrun's handiwork?"

Mortok looked into the forest. "He was my teacher."

"I know. It breaks my heart when one abuses their power. You will join me in confronting Tvinnrun?"

"I... I can't," said Mortok.

"You must. If you don't, Lord Calle will suffer. Without you, it is just my voice against his. With you," Kluvenstrom waved his arms to include Merph and Katja, "and my friends, we can stop Tvinnrun."

"No," said Mortok.

"Aren't there ones you care about? Friends you've made here? They will suffer if you refuse to speak."

Mortok met the healer's eyes. "You speak the truth. It feels wrong, but I will help."

Friday, January 14, 2011


She waited at our table in the corner when I entered Starbucks. I bought a grande latte with hazelnut syrup and slid into the seat across from my first reader. I bit my lips as she pulled my manuscript from her pack. Her red marker had bled through the pages staining parts with thick dots. It didn't look good.

"How's the job going?" I asked. It was hard to contemplate an office job when my work had never consisted of more than typing up stories on my studio's futon. The ideas were hard, but that wasn't office work.

"Same old, same old," she said. Her face twisted into a frown as she blew a strand of hair out of her face. "Actually, it's worse after the holidays. All the work backs up."

"I know."

The look in her eye revealed she didn't believe my words. "But enough of that." She pushed my manuscript across the table.

"How was it?" I bit my lip.

"Better." She stretched the words out too long. It wasn't a good sign. "Your ideas are really improving. The originality blew me away. Your New Year's resolution is really working for ya."


"The execution needs work. Here let me show ya." She flipped through the manuscript pages, but I didn't hear her. I should've had a perfect story. There shouldn't have been any flaws in my technique. "What surprises me the most, is how much your voice has matured. You make each of these stories come across so vividly and in such a different way. It's almost as if different people wrote them."

I rolled my eyes. Of course, different people had written them. I never could get more than one story out of a muse. The ripping and shredding as the idea was born left the muse in tatters. Unfortunately, my basement was filling up with the authors who seemed to die once their muse was gone.

"As I said, the stories have improved. You just need to revise."

A response to Deb Markanton's Flashy Fiction prompt, "What Do You Know about That?": "I see that New Year's resolution is really working for ya!"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Boy's Honor (A Knack for Powders, Pt. 13)

Part thirteen in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.

Merph carried a dozen slats that had previously formed the bottom steps into the tower's cellar. He wasn't sure what he would've done if the aging powder had failed to turn the nails into gnarled shapes loose within the boards. Yet, it'd worked and would be ready to trap Mortok in the cellar once he read the message Katja had sprinkled on his floor. A beam in the cellar's roof creaked, but it couldn't be someone awake. It was the middle of the night. He guessed that the tower settled as the wind pushed against it. Excitement shivered through Merph as he climbed the final steps with Moon powder sprinkled over the floors so he wouldn't miss the steps. He would return to sweep the Moon powder into one of his jars and replace it with some gelid powder. The latter powder would freeze the stairs and cause water condensation in the air to leave a slick coating.

At the top of the stairs, his footsteps echoed against the wood and the doorway opened before he reached it. A strong arm yanked him from the cellar and the slats tumbled from his grasp.

"I knew it was you." Mortok's voice was a husk above a whisper. "I have some questions for you, and here is not private enough." Mortok removed a length of rope from one of his pockets and tied it around Merph's wrists. "Don't yell," Mortok said as Merph opened his mouth. "You'll wake the guards and they're looking for you, not me."

With Merph's hands and ankles bound, Mortok lifted the boy onto his shoulders and staggered towards the tower's gate onto the courtyard. Light flickered down the hallways from the guard's station. Mortok left Merph against the wall and moved into the light.

"Sleeping while on duty?" Mortok's voice rang through the halls. "I should tell Lord Calle."

"No, no," said the guard in a high-pitched voice. "I swear my eyes only closed for a breath."

"No matter," said Mortok. "I need your help to carry some tools for Tvinnrun from the stables."

"I can't leave my station."

Merph should have known that Mortok was working with Tvinnrun. Of course, he'd suspected that, but it must've been the evil runeworker who had seen through his plot.

"And you were doing such a good job while sleeping, weren't you? Help me and I won't mention your slip to anyone. Besides, we'll be in the courtyard and no one can sneak past us."

Merph listened to the two men disappear and squirmed against the bonds that held him, but couldn't get loose. He thought about how friendly the healer had been and how he had failed the healer. He doubted he would get another chance to rescue Kluvenstrom.

Slow footsteps reentered the tower and stopped. "Leave the crate outside my rooms and I'll deal with it from there," said Mortok.

"What about the door?" The guard's voice whistled from exertion.

"Don't worry," said Mortok. "I'll watch it while you deliver and I won't fall asleep."

The guard's footsteps moved up the stairwell and when they faded, Mortok returned to Merph and lifted him onto his shoulder again and walked into the courtyard to dump the boy against the side of the stables. His head hit the wall hard and a tear came to his eyes. "Stay here," said Mortok.

Mortok returned to the tower and the door closed, leaving the courtyard in darkness. Nails clicked on the stone and Merph bunched his legs up in front of him to fend off the creature -- his imagination created an image of something bear-like and ravening with foam dripping from its lips.

A wet tongue licked Merph's cheek.

"Whitey?" Merph's eyes adjusted to the darkness and he saw the white splotches on the dog's coat. Perhaps, the dog would help free himself from the ropes. He pushed his wrists towards the mutt's mouth, but Whitey evaded and laid down to rest his head on Merph's knees.

"Come on," said Merph. "You've got to help me escape and help Kluvenstrom."

Light splayed across the courtyard, creating long shadows across stones, as Mortok moved towards them. The door shut behind him and he stopped when he saw Whitey.

"Your dog won't save you." Mortok drew a knife from under his cloak and the edge glinted in the light.

Whitey stood, withdrawing from the runeworker, and hung his head. Mortok fumbled with the knife to return it to where it had come from and sidestepped while watching the dog to approach Merph. The boy felt abandoned by Whitey as Mortok carried him into the forest.

It seemed like Mortok walked forever, but the heavens remained dark. They stopped beneath a pavilion. Strange marks -- runes -- glowed on the side posts and Mortok propped Merph against one of the pillars. Whitey had followed them through the woods and laid his head on his outstretched paws.

Mortok opened a chest on the far side of the pavilion and removed an armful of carven blocks. He placed them in a circular fashion until they began to glow and lit the darkness with a pale green color. The runeworker chanted under his breath until a flash occurred and roiling black smoke, pierced within by red lightning, filled the center of the circle.

When the smoke subsided, a giant crow stood within the circle. The bird blinked an eye larger than Merph's head. Mortok approached.

"Now, you will tell me the truth," said Mortok. "If you don't, this spawn of Muninn will remember your lies." Mortok indicated the crow which bobbed its head. "Now, tell me the truth about what happened to Healer Kluvenstrom."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Archaeologists' War

The wind scurried sand even in the neighborhoods away from the desert. Mansoor watched the darkness coveting Silwan's ridge. He rubbed his hands together for warmth and wished he wasn't a cadet. Khirbeth, squad leader of the firebreathers, claimed that protecting territory from the archeologist's propaganda was more important than front line fighting. But there was no glory in his guard duty. Mansoor dreamed of his first kill and promotion. How difficult could it be to kill an infidel?

Blinking away sleep, Mansoor poured himself another cup of khiv. A stone rattled as it slid down the graffiti-strewn walls. Mansoor spied the out of place shadow. He ignited his fires; pleasures suffused his belly.

The darkness hid the man's features. Yet, he knew from the way the man hunkered against the wind and the shape of the cupped hands holding tools. He faced an infidel archaeologist. "This place is forbidden." The fires licked his esophagus. He should spark and kill the man inside his five meter range.

"Wait." A woman's voice.

Mansoor retreated, but he kept her within range. The air felt cold when he gulped it. "You're an archaeologist?"


"A woman?"

"Of course." She moved forward out of the shadows, the moonlight catching the swell of her breasts.

"It's not allowed." The crevices around his words hissed as saliva dripped into his stomach.

"You would deny knowledge?" She kept her arms wide, the hands in fists, where he could see them. "Our history is a blessing, but it was never meant to be a mystery. You must understand that I am not different than you."

"You would claim Silwan's walls as your own." Mansoor's words were sour.

"Only if they were ours."

"The propaganda of your ways lie, they will cheat us of our birthright. Our homes."

She opened her palm and a shadow fell from it skittering to the street below. She leaped into the air to levitate for a second during which Mansoor breathed fire. Her face was beautiful as the flames consumed her flesh. Bones clattered to the pavement below.

Her porcelain cheeks stared at him. Accusing afterimages. He fumbled for more khiv. He never forgot.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mortok (A Knack for Powders, Pt 12)

Part twelve in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.

As the bakers fired the ovens to begin baking their loaves, chimneys creaking as the hot air forced them to expand, Merph crept to a trap door that led to the rafters above the great hall. It was one of four hiding places that Merph had found. He moved into the spot hidden from the floor and pulled his cloak tight around him. Until the servants started the hearth, the room would not warm. Merph curled into a ball to sleep.

He woke in the afternoon, his joints stiff. At least, his leg seemed to have finally healed although it hurt him before the rains came and if he tried to hike too far, as it had the time he'd hiked to the market to get more supplies for the powders. He wore four separate pig bladders around his neck, each filled with a different powder: bat, ash, gelid, and moon powders. He caressed the moon powder necklace, proud to have deciphered the proper ingredients and technique to create the whitish powder.

Merph shook his head, he had spent so much time alone the past couple of weeks that he found himself falling into daydreams. He didn't have time for that. He unknotted the bladder holding the bat powder and sprinkled some over himself. Sound overwhelmed him and he concentrated on a voice.

"Come on Starmount, don't prance around. It's your fault that I pull your hair when you move around like that."

Merph grimaced. Sometimes, he spent hours before eavesdropping on someone useful. He released the focus searching for another voice.

"That's not how the runes work."

Merph concentrated and leaned back on the rags he'd collected for a bed, trying to place the voice. It wasn't Tvinnrun, but someone who was speaking with confidence.

"It doesn't make me better at swordplay. It's just a tool, like your sword, or your father's name."

Of course, Merph had forgotten about Mortok. He didn't dare approach Tvinnrun regarding the abduction of Kluvenstrom, but the apprentice might prove to be easier. Merph rubbed his fingers together as he let the plans gel in his mind. He ignored the sounds inundating him from every side.


Pans crashed as the cook yanked the soup pot from the fire and broth splashed over the edge to hiss. Merph poured a handful of saffron into an empty bowl on the counter and then sauntered to the bench where Katja sat. The cooks stared at Merph and the kitchen became quiet except for the pop of the fire. Merph slid into the bench next to Katja and raised a finger to his lips and looked at the head cook.

The cook glared at him but moved to the bowl and sniffed it first and then pinched a stigma and ground it to a powder between his finger and thumb sniffing the result and nodding at Merph. "Get to work," he grumbled to his assistants.

"You're causing a lot of trouble," said Katja.

Merph grabbed Katia's wrist and turned her hand over and dropped a small knotted tube into her hands. "You're hard to find."

She yanked her hand away from his, but didn't release the powder he'd given her. "What's this? A new way to get me in trouble?"

"Moon powder." Merph grabbed a fried pie from Katja's plate.

"Is that what left the glowing marks outside of Mortok's rooms?"

"Yes. It glows in the darkness."

Katja said, "I'm not feeding this to anyone."

"I don't need you to do that," said Merph. He pushed a piece of paper across the table. "I need you to sprinkle it in this pattern on the floor of his room."

"Why?" Katja slid a strand of hair behind her ear.

"I need to make people think Mortok trapped Kluvenstrom. I think that's the way to get the healer free."

Katja shook her head. "You're sure about this?"

"I'm out of other ideas."