A World Apart

Yesterday, I found out that the Chapters nearest me is closing.  EVERYTHING MUST GO, 50% off, SALE SALE SALE!  The remaining books huddle together in a disorganized jumble, leaving the outer edges of the building like a ghost town of empty shelves and dust.  On an unrelated note, this morning I (and most of you) lost an hour, but not in the way that indicates that you’re deep into a really great read.  For Master Class this week, I used the prompt Piquant Libraries, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because the first definition of piquant I think of is flavorful.  And whether I’m reading a hard-cover book, an e-book checked out from the Public Library’s free online database, or an online story, good books, like good food, are filling in more ways than one.

Click the image below to read the rest of the responses or to submit your own!

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Growing up in a small town, Bailey never understood her mother’s love of libraries.  The single small room allocated for books in the town hall was musty and uninspiring.  It had three dog-eared copies of Where the Red Fern Grows, a complete set of Louis L’Amour’s novels, all but the first of the Narnia TV serial on VHS and an assortment of Christian children’s stories.  Not inherently bad, but certainly not the most piquant of libraries.

Her mother had offered up a selection of her own books, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffrey, the Bronte sisters and Shelley to round it out a bit.  The town council declined, saying there wasn’t much point in overloading the shelves of a government offered service that got such little use.

So Bailey and her mother kept their own library, milk cartons and 2×8’s to support their hodge-podge collection of books.  Angela’s Airplane and Stone Soup from her earliest memories, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when she first started reading on her own.  A complete set of the Narnia books.  Sci-fi and Fantasy in the kitchen, Romance in the hall, biographies by the TV.  Geography, History and Art by the desk.  Mystery scattered throughout, because a good mystery surprises you.

None of the other kids in her school read much, perhaps unsurprisingly, but when they were required to choose a book to write a report on, they knew who to go to.  Bailey would ask them questions – action? Drama? Love? Space? Cowboys? Knights? Spies? – and provide her friends with a selection to choose from.  Her mother helped her in creating the check-out slips, even going so far as to buy a date stamp.

When the worst came to pass, Bailey and her library moved to the city where her mother had grown up.  Her Aunt Mary helped her set up the shelves and smiled tearily as she recognized old friends from her own teen years.

Bailey buried herself in her books, overwhelmed by her grief and her new surroundings.  The city was too loud, too busy, too chaotic.  Mary suggested an after-school job, made a few calls and gave her an address.

The building smelled a bit musty, but from there it was a world away from that sad room from her childhood.  A winged lion and a gryphon guarded the heavy doors, and light danced through tall windows and down the enormous central atrium.  More than a single room – or even a single storey full of books – the library had storeys of stories, more books than Bailey had seen in her life.

And people – children running down the curved staircases clutching large picture books, people checking books out, dropping them off, standing in the aisles reading the back, and curled up in comfy chairs lost in a book.  The library was so much more than its books, and standing in the quiet vastness of it, Bailey fell in love.

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“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith, Librarian.

Quilt of Fate

What? Participating.  I feel like I keep having to start-up again, but at least I’ve always got some great prompts to start the gears turning.  Check out the rest of the responses at the link below, and add your own:

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Also check out the artist AquaSixio, otherwise known as Cyril Rolando.  His work is below, one of many works of art painting a picture of a story I want to know more of.  What I love about this particular piece is the eerie colour of the scene, and the way it makes me wonder if this person is running away from something or towards something.  Either way, sometimes making a choice, right or wrong, can feel like leaping from a moving train.  The artist also includes a piece of writing that perfectly describes that stagnation of routine, the reward of jumping from the train.  Read it at Train Train Quoditien.

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My mother spent her life on scraps, collecting the discarded leftovers of other peoples’ lives and putting them together in new ways.  I spent my childhood desperate for the things that others took for granted.  Patches disguised the holes in my jeans from everyone but me, and the hand-made cardigan wasn’t at all like the GAP sweatshirts of my peers.

Just once, I begged, just once might I have a blanket all in one tone?  Monochrome, I pled, to the bafflement of my family.  New.

I rejected the colours, the patterns, recycling and making do.  I ran away to the real world,  and relished my drab wardrobe, cookie cutter condo and processed foods.  I became the happiest of cogs in the machine.

I met a perfectly ordinary girl and fell in love with her family’s staid ways, the generations of suburbanites and shiny new IKEA furniture.

My fiancée forced a strained smile and gave me a sidelong glance when I introduced my mother in her draped shawls and bangles, and I felt embarrassment.  My mother’s eyes sparkled with pride and love.

My bright-coloured family capered and laughed and drank, young and old dancing late into the night in celebration of my wedding to this woman they’d never met, in celebration of my future happiness.  A reminder of my fond memories of home on the open road, each wedding, funeral or crossing of paths a reason for joyous revelry.  My family brought us gifts handcrafted and brimming with love and pride.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my new wife suggested that their gifts would fit best in our storage locker.  I was surprised I hadn’t suggested it myself.

But not the quilt, I said, stroking the colourful tree my mother had hand-sewn for us, a symbol of good fortune and happiness in marriage.  Every leaf stitched with a member of my family and hers, with room for new additions.  My wife gave me a strange look out of the corner of her eye and pressed her lips together.

Her mother had gotten the burnt umber bedspread on our registry.  Had no one in my family thought to look on the registry?  She clucked her displeasure at their selfishness in denying us a KitchenAid stand mixer in taupe, and I looked at this stranger and questioned myself.

I tucked it away in my closet and brooded.  I wondered if I’d actually intentionally bought 4 pairs of near-identical navy slacks.  Why I ate so many beige foods.  She, meanwhile, cut her eyes in disapproval of the introduction of brightly coloured dress-shirts into my wardrobe.

We scheduled date night in the same way as we scheduled dental work and with as much enthusiasm.  Every moment of my parents’ lives was a breathless run through the deluge of their affection for each other and for life.

When she left me, my first thought was for my mother’s quilt.  I took it down, spread it out and smiled.  My family spread out in beautiful chaos, with blank spaces for my future wife, her family and room to grow.  My mother spent her life taking up the discarded pieces and putting them together anew.

I left with only the necessities, including a vibrant purple shirt in need of mending.

Dramatic Flair

My contribution to Our Write Side’s Master Class prompt!

I used Melancholy Occasion, and wrote a bit long.  Check out the rest of the posts here.

***

Mother practically danced down the stairs. Her elegant black dress was freshly steamed and fluttering around her like she was caught up in an unkindness of ravens. Bespoke, of course. A dainty hat perched precariously on her head, black lace tracing a dark pattern across the pale porcelain of her face but not quite able to disguise the gleam in her eye. It would be taken for unshed tears, of course. She had a black silk handkerchief to complete the costume. To delicately dab at teary eyes or twist between lace gloved fingers. To flutter to the ground as she swooned into some kind gentleman’s arms, overcome by grief.

Mother loved nothing better than the drama of a melancholy occasion. Not even the husband for whom she donned her carefully curated wardrobe of grief. Number 3.

I hadn’t known Roger well enough to truly grieve him – home only at the holidays requiring a well-bred and loving daughter in Mother’s cast of characters since the age of 7, I hadn’t known any of my stepfathers well. I appreciated the way he had spoken to me as an equal, though, and regretted that I would no longer have the opportunity to work for his company this summer. Since their marriage 3 years ago, I’d been able to attend the summer-camps and activities of my own choosing, a vast improvement over the endless dance camps of the artistic daughter my mother would have chosen.

I certainly hadn’t known him well enough to look as hollow-eyed as I did, but as a part of Mother’s production of Grief, I’d been cast as bereft daughter. She really was a masterful makeup artist, rimming my eyes faintly with the pink of hours of weeping, bluish circles of a grief-tossed slumber disguising my perfectly well rested cheeks. At my previous stepfather’s funeral, she’d put tear-tracks down my cheeks, but apparently 17 was too old for such blatant displays of sentimentality.

***

Mother stood at the entrance and accepted cheek kisses and condolences with a tremulous smile. I did my best to seem forlorn and supportive at her side while memorizing the tread of the carpet. I was, according to her, simply her rock in these trying times.

“Jeremy!” she gasped, her voice sharper and louder than the role of grieving widow demanded. I peered up through my eyelashes in surprise. She never broke character.

The man’s suit was expensive and well-cut, but in dark gray. Youngish, I guessed – somewhere in his 20’s. Too young to be an executive, and thus outside of the realm of people my stepfather worked with who would have been known by my mother. Worth knowing by my mother. But not dressed in black, the expected colour of attire for a relative. What intrigued me most was that he didn’t seem taken in by my mother’s dramatics.

“Sandra,” he said, voice bland. “I see you’re keeping up appearances well.”

Her fists were clenched like she was considering violence and I held my breath. I could see her steel herself, unwinding her hands, clutching her handkerchief and immersing herself once more in her role.

“Jeremy!” she cried again, collapsing forward and forcing him to embrace her or allow her to fall at his feet. “I’m so glad you made it!”

Jeremy pushed her upright with a firm hold on her upper arms. “I’m sure you are,” he replied, leaning in as though to kiss her cheek. Instead, however, he whispered, “Which is why I had to hear about my own father’s death from the family lawyer. I guess you didn’t quite have old Lareby wrapped as tightly around your finger as you had hoped.”

As he turned away from my mother there was the faint but recognizable sound of silk ripping. Well trained as I was, I passed my mother a replacement handkerchief from my purse even as the son I hadn’t known Roger had turned toward me.

The corners of his eyes scrunched up in an instant of amusement and I swallowed my embarrassment of having been caught out providing replacement props in the middle of the play.

I shook the proffered hand, keeping my own expression neutral as this surprise scene-rewrite inspected me.

“You weren’t at the wedding,” I said, cogs turning in my mind as I tried to adjust to the new information. I wouldn’t have pegged Roger for an uninvolved father, and the shock of meeting his son for the first time loosened my tongue.

“You were?” he raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.

“Maid of Honor,” I replied, and added, “Mother and I have always been close.”

Another flash of amusement and he replied, deadpan, “Of course. Like sisters, I’m sure.”

I bit back my own amusement and, after a check to confirm that my mother wasn’t paying attention, I said, “People often mistake us as such.”

Jeremy snorted, and I felt oddly pleased.

A solemn man came to let my mother know that it was time to head out to the burial, offering his arm to escort her out of the church.

Jeremy surprised me by offering himself as my escort. I was rather used to being the rock that trailed behind the leading lady.

“I suppose you’re surprised I’m here?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m surprised you exist. News to me.”

“Huh.”

I regretted being so blunt. He was, after all, at his father’s funeral.

“I wasn’t exactly around much, though.” I offered when he continued to be silent. “Boarding school.”

“Interesting choice for such a doting parent.”

The barb might have struck home if I hadn’t come to terms with the role I played in my mother’s shows, but I ducked my head in acknowledgement anyways. I might not agree with her tactics, but at times they were effective.

“Sorry.” Believable, but not to someone raised in the theater of Mother’s making. There was real venom there, and it wasn’t directed at Roger.

I shrugged and changed the subject.

“Did you work with your father?”

“At times.” Intentionally vague.

“Will you take over now?”

“Well that’s certainly a question.” So, yes.

I waited for two steps and gave up.

“I was going to work there this summer.”

“Oh?” Wariness. He thought I wanted something from him.

“I didn’t know him very well, but I appreciated that he treated my interests like they were legitimate. I mentioned my interest in accounting and he offered the opportunity.”

“My father was always good at looking for potential.” Grudging.

“But?”

“He was better at finding employees than he was at finding… friends.” Wow, that was a lot of anger.

Mother clutched my hand as we arrived at the burial site, pulling me close.

“How is that poor dear boy?” she hissed, fingers digging into my wrist.

I thought back to the conversation. “Holding up well, all things considered. I don’t think I’ll be getting that summer placement at Roger’s company, though.”

“Oh darling, I am sorry.”

“You really are close. So much information and not a word that could be completely taken as such.”

Mother’s head snapped around so quickly her neck cracked. Instead of sitting in the front row, Jeremy had slid into the second row, and apparently listened in on our conversation.

“Jeremy, darling, whatever do you mean?”

Jeremy smiled, thin-lipped. “I think I can answer your real question more clearly, Sandra. It all goes to me. The house. The other house. All of the houses, really. And the cars, boats, et cetera. Roger had his will changed quite recently.”

In spite of being genuine, Mother’s faint coincided well with the arrival of Roger’s casket.  Draped in the arms of her handsome stepson, she really stole the show.

Scattered Marbles and Physics

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I’ve lost my marbles.  I was so good for a while, with the healthy eating and the flexing of my imagination and the general adulting at life, and then the seam ripped and all my marbles scattered.

The fitness one rolled under the desk and wedged itself in the corner with the dust bunnies.  I keep trying to get it out again, but the gravitational pull between my bum and the couch feels insurmountable.

 

bernard-illust6The writing marble went off somewhere, I don’t know.  I keep catching sight of it out of the corner of my eye but when I turn to face it, it’s vanished, like the escaped class-pet in the ducts of every parent’s nightmares.  If the hamster came home not-pregnant and lived in the walls for all of Christmas break… then how is it now pregnant?  How?  I’d come up with a story, but my mind is a blank.

I keep finding and then dropping the arts and crafts marble – at this rate, those mitts will be ready to wear around June.  I’ll have to give them to my friend whose baby is due in June.  The magic eight ball’s sources say the likelihood of my starting and completing my baby themed project is no.

I know exactly where the ‘being a functional adult and taking responsibility’ marble is.  It’s kind of lego shaped, I step on it at the most inopportune moments and the instant stubbed-toe agony it produces tells me which marble it is.  I just don’t like it, so I leave it where it is, even if that means I’ll step on it again in a month or two.

Healthy eating is a slippery one, and I think it rolled under the fridge.  Every time I think I’ve caught it I realize I’m actually holding on to a gobstopper.  Which I then proceed to eat.  Lint and all.  Pretty sure there’s a magnetic field between junk food and my face.

This has been the status quo for more than EIGHT MONTHS.  Interspersed with random flare-ups of art or writing that are the equivalent of an “I aten’t ded” sign to the universe at large.  While this past summer can be blamed on my atrocious work schedule and location (10 hrs x 6 days of broiling hot site work for 3+ months WILL melt all the get-up-and-go from your body and leave you a dehydrated Iced Capp junkie potato), the rest of it is entirely on me physics.  I did the adult version of the toddler-flop and became an object at rest.

Has letting everything go made me happier?  More relaxed?  Surely I’m at least caught up on the laziest of pseudo-chores, the television? Hah.  My globe-trotting friend over at The Mundo Express is doing a better job of that while living out of a backpack and maintaining a blog!

 

Physics is getting tough on me and I hate shopping a lot, so with the goal of breaching the gravitational hold of the couch I signed up for Krav Maga classes last week.  This object had better get in motion if she doesn’t want to come down with a bad case of forcefully applied physics!

Next step: find something healthy and filling that’s faster to make than a  microwave chocolate mug cake (link… and paleo link… for when you want to pretend that it’s healthy.  Because I care about you and your sudden inexplicable desire for microwaved cake.  Blame it on me physics.).

InMon – A Slide Turn

Last week on Inspiration Monday, they gave us the following prompts:

NETHERDOOR

CANIS EX MACHINA

BLINDSIGHT IS 20/20

PIONEER SPECIES

OPENING EPILOGUE

Check out the other responses here, or post your own!

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The artwork is by Cyril Rolando, otherwise known as AquaSixio, and is called The Magic Path.  If you’re ever looking for some inspiration for stories, I highly recommend visiting his work.  It’s whimsical and eerie and a little bit Alice in Wonderland.

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“You’ll never find it that way!” the slender little man giggled, juggling a quartet of oranges from the crate in front of the grocery store.  He was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.

“Find what?”

“Shush!” Maggie hissed, grabbing her little brother by the hand.  She was 9, and had been assigned the important task of walking her brother home safely.  She took the responsibility to heart.

“Find what?”Jeremy repeated, throwing his weight back to resist the insistent tug on his hand.  He was 6, less inclined to avoid a potential adventure than his older sister and entertained by the juggling.

“Not what, it.” The man giggled again and added an apple to his trick.

“What’s ‘it’?”

“No it isn’t!” another cackle, another apple.  Mr. Ventura wouldn’t be happy if the man dropped and bruised all that fruit.  Maggie wondered why he hadn’t come out of the store to yell at them yet.

Jeremy glowered.  He didn’t like this game.  Maggie, on the other hand, was intrigued.  If she looked at the man out of the corner of her eye, he was dressed in ordinary clothing, and was carefully inspecting an orange.  Looking at him dead-on, though, he was a jester, oranges and apples flying through the air and weaving patterns.  Her class had been going over the five W’s in writing.

“Where is ‘it’?” she asked.

“What a silly child!” he laughed, “How grand!  The Netherdoor is anywhere and everywhere, but only at the end and the beginning.”

“If it’s anywhere, then when is it…” Maggie cast about for a good location for a door.  She pointed at the slide in the playground across the street. “There?”

“In a moment.  I’d hurry if I were you, and take my advice, it’s best to go back as much as is possible.”  He had a cantaloup in the whir of fruit now, though his alternate version was deeply engrossed in rapping his knuckles on the fruit.

“Why are your teeth so sharp?” Jeremy asked.

“Only as sharp as my wit, darling boy!”

“Ok.  Let’s go to the Netherdoor,” Jeremy accepted the logic and dismissed it.

“We’re not going anywhere, we’re going home,” Maggie replied, grabbing for her brother’s hand.  “Mom said no stopping, go straight home.”

The little boy sprawled on the ground, yanking at her arm.  “Noooooooooo,” he moaned.  “I want to go through the Netherdooooooooor!”

Jeremy’s method of getting what he wanted in public largely involved making it as difficult as possible for those around him to get things done until they’d agreed with him.  He was lying across the full width of the sidewalk, and, from past experience, Maggie knew he’d stay there, even with the threat of being stepped on.

Maggie glared accusingly at the man.  He was now juggling a half-dozen oranges and apples, a melon and three pomegranates.  Out of the corner of her eye Maggie could see that he was also bagging up a few persimmons, a bag of pomegranates already hung on his arm.

“How are you doing that?” she asked.

“Blindsight is 20/20 in the young, but what would you see out of the other corner?”  The man grinned, and Maggie wondered why Jeremy had said his teeth were sharp.

Maggie sighed.  “You’re ridiculous.”

“Thank you!”  The juggling man grinned in delight; his alter ego checked his watch.

“Get up, Jeremy, we’ll go climb the slide backwards but after that we have to go home.”

“YAY!” Jeremy was on his feet in an instant.  Maggie caught him and made him wait for the pedestrian light and all the cars to stop before they crossed to the park.

Maggie let Jeremy climb up on the slide first, and carefully pushed him up with his feet resting on the heels of her shoes and his arms around her legs.  The cars rushing past didn’t slow, there was nothing to see – just two children playing some incomprehensible game.

She had to bend forward and push off with her hands as well so that she could keep her balance.  All she could see was the scratched up shiny surface of the slide, chipped paint and sprayed tagging.  All she could hear was the squeak of the rubber of her shoes as she shuffled backwards, the traffic-sounds having gone quiet.  The sudden shift in gravity sent Maggie and Jeremy tumbling backwards, landing in a heap at the bottom of a shiny slide, mirror bright under the bright blue sky.

Jeremy and Maggie exchanged a look of shocked delight, taking in the candy-apple red slide, the skittle-bright gravel under their feet.  An elephant wandering past tipped its bowler hat solemnly at them.  Above the treeline, a licorice ferris wheel made a slow circle.  Without conscious thought, Maggie took her brother’s hand and headed towards the forest.

Faceless cars rushed past the empty park, and the man paid for his groceries and started home.  Out of the corner of her eye, a weary woman cutting through the park could have sworn she saw the man capering and juggling.  She chalked it up to a long work day and hoped she’d run into her children on the way home.  She’d been feeling anxious all day about their walk home alone, and had jumped at the chance to leave work early.  It would be nice to reassure herself that everything was fine.

Status Quo

Brace yourselves, it’s another long one.  Sci-fi sometimes requires a bit of world-building on the page so as not to leave those readers not present inside my head with questions and confusions.  Like what the hell is it with all the colours? (because it’s less blatant than labeling them ‘crap lives’ and ‘happy lives’, and they haven’t quite gone morlock vs eloi)  And why do insurgents seem to always be wearing eyeliner in movies? (so they can give the hero a really penetrating stare?  To make their eyes pop?  because men wearing eyeliner = bad men in a bit of Hollywood transphobia? I don’t know, it’s late.)

I used the following prompts from Inspiration Monday – check it out for other responses and to submit your own!

Armoured Ambulance

Bitter Half

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The massive buildings made deep narrow canyons of the streets. Heavy concrete, the structures’ lower floors had no windows, the light-access increasing as one rose through the building until the top floors were nothing but steel girders and plate glass. The rapport of gunfire echoed, disorienting, as squads of soldiers ran the maze; engaging pockets of the enemy. All civilians were placed on lockdown until further notice.

Dr. Timothy Marrick of block 719, Green level 8, recently honorably discharged from his time in the army, was not yet on a civilian card. He was absent-minded, one of the reasons he’d been discharged, and so had forgotten the need for a new card. This one still opened his home and business doors, still let him pay for his morning chai and order the occasional vid.

He wasn’t very good at following directions, easily distracted and, for such an intellect as he was, sorely lacking in the ability to interact with people. He was surprisingly fit for someone who lacked the basic coordination to reload a gun while running in a straight line. They’d said something about all this during his discharge interview, but he’d been thinking on a new bypass technique he’d studied in a before-time medical text, and hadn’t really been paying attention. Army service was randomly assigned through the Green levels, and always 18 months or longer.

He was aware that his discharge was in many ways a failure on his part, and had since been attempting to remedy it. His hour-long walk home from his government-allocated block 699 green level 2 medical practice was good for listening to self-improvement talks. He slipped out the door at grey-level one, already muttering repetitions of the enthusiastic man instructing him that Eye Contact is step one to social interaction. Smiling is step two.

It made sense, though he’d listened to this one three times and attempts to enact the steps to social interaction left his patients and staff uncomfortable. One woman on the elevator had burst into tears, and he’d gotten a reprimand in the mail citing him for inappropriate public socializing. This time he planned to enact only one of the social interaction steps at a time. Build up was key; first he’d master one, and then move onto the next.

“-tor?!” The doctor turned at the sound and found himself face to face with the Enemy.  The woman looked just like the pictures he’d seen in basic training. Tan clothing and weapon straps and… heavy black eyeliner. He couldn’t seem to recall the reason for that bit, but the eye-liner had stuck in his mind as in some way critical to the whole.

He gaped, tugging his ear-buds out. “Um?”

“Doctor?” she barked again, irritation across her face.

He nodded, taking a step back when he saw that the Enemy was surrounded by more Enemy.

The woman grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled. Doctor Marrick found himself in the middle of a cramped surgery, rumbling along at high speed on the smooth City roads.

“What?! No!” he yelped belatedly about his abduction. “Wait! Stop, that’s not right! Just let me,” he added, taking in the shaking scalpel, the vast quantities of blood and pained man on the table clutching at his abdomen. Doctor Marrick shoved the scalpel-wielder aside and took control of the surgery.

The features that made him a terrible soldier helped to make him an excellent doctor.  Immersed in his craft he barely noticed that the patient changed, what with them all having similar wounds.

What he did notice was that they were all young. And when he was between patients, he noticed the ricochet of bullets off the van. The enemy woman was quick to reassure him. “Armored Ambulance – can withstand a rocket-launcher or a gyre attack. What are you called?”

“Timothy Marrick, M.D., Green. Why are they all so young? What’s a gyre?”

“Because we die young. And it’s a very very big avian.”

“Then why do you even fight? Wait, what?”

“Because the government is corrupt, Doc.  And not everyone wants to stay in their caged and miserable lives.”

Timothy knew that the people living in the Grey levels – the levels without light – were crammed in like sardines while half the Green sat empty. They labored in the darkness of the sewers, moving the waste and never seeing sunlight, as they had been banned some years ago from traveling street-side. He knew the menial laborers of the Brown worked 14 hour shifts, to the 8 he and his fellow Green worked. And, though he didn’t think on them often, he knew that the Blue, way up high in their glass houses, were the only ones ever assigned to Government duties by the Government.

But the caste system was necessary. Every task required a hand, and after the blasts had wiped out so much of the human population, it was no longer reasonable to just hope that every role would be filled naturally. The world had become more dangerous, the Government handled the building of the first tower to host the small remaining nearby population. 20 storeys of blank concrete walls, 20 with arrow-slit windows, 20 with  square meter sized windows spaced 2 meters apart, and 20 with enough light to host plant-life for hydroponics, and, eventually, the Blues. Even though it was the Browns who maintained the hydroponics. It was a massive endeavor, and costly. The only safe place to be in these dangerous times. They were lucky the Government from before the bombs started dropping had arranged the beginnings of this project, really, ready to start this post-end-of-the-world off on the right foot.

The Government had invited in the dregs of humanity, so long as they were willing to put their shoulder to their government assigned grindstone. Better inside and committing the future generations of your family to shoveling waste than out there, with them. Everyone understood this. The population grew, and the next tower was built. And the next, and the next. None had been built for a long time, though, now that he thought of it, and with the Grey population outgrowing its floors, wasn’t that something the Government ought to be doing something about?

“They built the towers. The wall.  They protect us from the creatures in the Waste,” he said uncertainly. “Without a hand for every task the work won’t get done.”

“The Waste has been free of the big dangers for years now, doc. More than a hundred, in fact. Radiation made them unstable enough to get big and bad, and made them sterile, mostly. They failed to breed true, if at all. Mostly.  And the land out there is good enough for people to expand beyond the walls, survive without Government handouts.”

Really?” the doctor looked up from his careful suturing, eyes going wide. He’d dreamed of climbing the City walls as a child, of going on an adventure like Huck Finn or finding magic like Harry Potter. Become a knight like Alannah, fight alongside the enormous intelligent rodents of Redwall. See a tree, maybe even put his feet in naturally flowing water. “You’ve been there? What’s it like? Do trees really grow as tall as a tower?  The government says it isn’t safe out there. Why would they lie? What about the mutants?”

The enemy woman regarded him for a long moment. “I’m glad to see you’re interested,” she replied as they rumbled onto a bumpier surface than the cobbled pavement of the City. “Because you’ll get a chance to see it. And treat some of those poor unfortunates you call mutants,” she added mockingly, wiggling her fingers on her left hand so that he noticed that there were six.

“What? No, I’m not… I’m not good at things, I’m just a medical. I flunked army training,” he added morosely.

Just a medical,” she snorted. “Did you know there hasn’t been a Brown or Grey in medical training in more than 30 years?”

“… No?” Timothy had flown through medical school, and, honestly, couldn’t think of the name of a single person he’d known during that time. They were all just… fellow students. Though he supposed, now that he thought of it, that they were all greens. Probably.

“Do you treat Browns or Greys often?”

“Of course not, you only treat those within your… band…OhI see.”

“You’ve lived with the better half, Doc, now it’s time to tend to the bitter half.”

Sealed with a Kiss

This week on Master Class, I chose to use the prompt Venomous Honey.  Check out the rest of the responses HERE or submit your own.

Gabriel Picolo‘s artwork is bright and imaginative.  I love the way he makes digital art look like watercolour.  That and black cats hidden everywhere makes his work well worth a visit.  The artwork is called Queen Bee, and I wrote my story before finding it.  Her lipstick and honeycomb was just too perfect.

queen_bee_by_picolo_kun-d8qtqbs

Soft and delicate was the best way to play it.  It put him at ease, on edge, and in lust. All with a minor wardrobe change, pink lip gloss and some subtle makeup to make her wide eyes pop. She was Honey, innocent as mom’s apple pie and seductive as dark chocolate mousse. All natural and innocent. She only accidentally brushed her breast against his arm when she leaned over his desk, and blushed prettily when she apologized.

How could any man resist that? Especially one with his predilections. Maybe if he could see the effort put into the veneer, but that wouldn’t happen with this much cleavage flashing – oh gosh, I’m so embarrassed – the button must have come off in the wash! – and those pretty eyes wide with a bit of hero-worship. She smelled like honey, too, the secret was in her lip gloss.

It was only a matter of time, and not much of it.  He  wasn’t a man who practiced delayed gratification. When he called her to his office late one evening, Honey smiled and touched up her lip gloss. Wax first, to delay the inevitable seepage, then a new tube of her signature pink. Honey heady in her nose, she knocked and went in.

Honey’s lips tingled after their first kiss and she remembered the tingle of a split lip, the fear. She jerked herself out of his arms when her lips began to burn, his tight hold raising bruises just like the first time, the memory of what had happened next giving her strength.

She pulled a wet-nap from her cleavage and wiped off the gloss, backing away. He would have followed, if he could.  He loved the chase.  The veneer flaked away and Honey’s venomous twin pulled off the gloves that would keep her anonymity and bundled the toxic wet-nap away.

“Why?” he rasped, scrubbing fruitlessly at his own burning lips. The venom ran too deep. He’d always been good at that, cutting straight to the point in the courtroom and in conversation.  And in other situations, more private.

“You should have listened more carefully to the ones who said no. You’ve been found guilty, Judge.” She laid out her case in photographs and police statements – bruised wrists and tearful statements – all buried by high-ranking officials – and locked the door on her way out.

Fully Furnished

Since my last post hit me right in the sads (does everyone who writes occasionally find themselves pissed off at the author of their own work for making unhappy things?  Why would you even think of making your own character go through something so upsetting, Lex, why?!), I was pretty pleased to find this prompt and all the images it inspired

She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life.

My dog would be thrilled at a discovery like that.  He also thinks every rotting pumpkin and leaf-pile on my neighbours’ lawns is a potential cat-friend. He desperately wants to meet them, but I wouldn’t stick around either if someone 10x my size was barrelling towards me crying and letting out xena-war-cries of excitement.  Half the outdoor cats in my area are feral, which frustrates me intensely, because, honestly, if you don’t want your cat, don’t just push him outside!  He isn’t a wild animal, he doesn’t know how to care for himself, and why didn’t you get him fixed?! Ahem.  Off the soapbox and onto the writing.

The photo is The Cat by Jakub Kubika, and you should check him out.  His work is all beautiful and occasionally very dark.

the_cat_by_kubica

Caitlin was bouncing in excitement by the time she met her new landlord, the exhaustion of a full day driving a u-haul cross-country entirely forgotten.  “Mr. Cole?  I’m so excited to meet you, I’m Caitlin, I’m renting apartment 302?”

Mr. Cole grunted, grinding his cigarette out on the sidewalk before picking it up and depositing the butt in the public bin at the curb.  As they walked up the shrub-lined front walk, he said, “No smoking in the apartments.  No drugs smoking, no cigarette smoking, NO SMOKING.

“Not a problem, I’m not a smoker… or… um… a drugs smoker.”  Caitlin smiled reassuringly but all that she got from him in return was a sour glare.

“It’s bad for your health.  know this if anyone knows this.”

“Uh-huh!”

It’s fine, she reassured herself, He’s just grumpy, but he showed me the entire apartment live on skype , and listened to all my weird instructions about getting closer to the grout and to the cook top and the windows.  It’s fine.

“You got my e-post, I saw – first and last months’ rent?”

“You surprised? You think I can’t do the internet because I’m old?” He scowled.  “I can do the internet, I have three buildings, forty units and more, and I keep nice places.  Clean.  No smoking.  Advertise on the internet.”

“Absolutely,” Caitlin interjected, “Very impressive.  And this apartment is so much nicer than any of the other ones I looked at!”

So why did it sit empty for so long? her mother’s voice interjected.  What’s wrong with it?  Is it mould?  Are you going to move a million miles away for no good reason and die alone of black lungs?

So nice!” she repeated, trying to drown out the tirade.  “I’m lucky it stayed on the market long enough for me to find it.”

“Yes, well, people are fussy, foolish.  Fully renovated, beautiful view, peaceful safe neighbourhood.”  Mr. Cole patted her  brusquely on the shoulder.  “Nice place for a young girl, you can walk home at night.”

Caitlin smiled at his reassurance.  Her mother would approve.

“Door key – don’t let people in, even if you see them inside sometimes.  Mailbox.  Unit.”  He held up three identical keys one at a time – even the mailbox key looks the same, isn’t it supposed to be small? – and passed her two of them before leading her up three flights of stairs.

Caitlin was puffing a bit by the time she got there.  “Um, isn’t it on the third floor?”

“Yes.  Ground, one, two, three.  No elevator.  Fully furnished, one year lease.”

Maybe that’s the catch? Caitlin tried to treat her new exercise regime as a positive.

Mr. Cole unlocked the door at the end of the hall and gestured that she should precede him.

The apartment was as light and airy as it had seemed in the photos and the skype session.  It was nicely decorated, with cream walls and well cared for furnishings.  It even came with basic cooking equipment.  Perfect for someone starting from scratch in a new town, it came with everything Caitlin would need… and… she stared around at the living room in confusion.

“Mr. Cole, is someone already renting here?”

“You.”

She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life.  The bay windowsill had two calicos and a black cat, all sitting primly upright.  A large manx lay draped across the top of the couch and a handful of kittens were playing on the carpet.  Black, white, cream, grey, red, ginger, brown and blue – solids and patterned in stripes, points, dappling and any combination thereof – the cats were everywhere.  A few acknowledged her presence with indifferent stares, and one trotted up to roll onto its back at her feet.  Most continued with their business, which largely consisted of napping.

“Mr. Cole?” Caitlin felt a growing horror.  Her mother was right!  “Mr. Cole, there are CATS in here!”

The old man came up beside her and looked around.  “Yes, of course.  Fully furnished.”

“Mr. Cole, I don’t want cats!  Let alone this many!  I mean, how? Why?”  Caitlin clutched the strap of her bag in her fists, catching sight of more cats through the kitchen door and in the bedroom.

“Fully furnished.  You knew this when you signed the lease, Miss Smith.” Mr. Cole sounded scolding, but also faintly amused.

“Where did you put them when you were filming?” Caitlin whirled on her new landlord, the scumbag.  “You misrepresented this apartment, and I want my money back.”

Mr. Cole shrugged.  “They were all here.  They were here when I took pictures, too.  They’re very camera shy.  But they’re no upkeep at all.”

Caitlin sputtered.  “Are you kidding me?  I’m allergic!  And this many cats, it’ll smell, and be loud and … and…”Caitlin hesitated.  Sniffed the air.

No smell.  The cats, even those tussling off in the corner and the one that had come up to twine around her legs, were completely silent too.  One of the kittens pawed at an adult cat and meowed.  Or seemed to, but in complete silence.

She looked to Mr. Cole for some kind of explanation.  The old man was smug.

“Do you believe in ghosts, Miss Smith?” he asked.  “Because cats… well, cats don’t care what you believe in.  They just are.”

Goalsetting

I don’t usually do dark intentionally because I like my endings happily ever after.  Especially not anything remotely real-world-ish.  So trigger warning eating disorders.

I’m a bit later than my previous Inspiration Monday post, but my inspiration was apparently on holiday until it felt the urge to make me unnecessarily sad.  Check out the other responders in the comments here, or submit your own!

inmonsterpromo

Susan hit her goal weight 20 lbs ago. She felt no satisfaction in her achievements, as she stared into the mirror at her plump face and various jiggles and saw how far she had to go.  She reduced her intake by 200 calories.

She reached her goal size three sizes up from the cinched belt and size zero jeans she wore now, but there was a size 00 dress in her closet. She’d look beautiful when she could fit into that. Another 200 down, she stretched what was left compulsively through the long days with iceberg lettuce and splurged with carrot sticks – they were so high in sugar, but without them she suffered from cramps and dizzy spells.

Susan’s stomach grew the less she ate, so she fought harder, exercised more and ate less. Jiggly thighs, a fat ass and a stomach whose rolls just wouldn’t flatten no matter how many crunches she did, how little lettuce she crunched. Her hair was her best feature when she was fatter, but she was too tired to worry much about how dull it was lately, how thin. She sucked in her gut in public, wearing bulky clothing to hide her enormous body.

A feverish energy burned and gave her a new lease on life as she refocused on her goals. The fewer calories she ate, the less hungry she felt. Win-win.

Her mother cried because she didn’t share Susan’s commitment to health. She would never meet the kinds of goals Susan had surpassed. Her jealousy drove her to have her daughter committed, only 3 inches in thigh circumference away from real happiness. Susan hated her.

In the hospital she was sly,and the others helped, tired but gleeful in their gaming of the system.  Months passed and she wasn’t allowed to monitor her goals.  It was devastating.

No mirrors allowed, but she found one. She stripped and stared, aghast, at the feast of famine highlighted by the hand mirror she moved down her body. Dull skin stretched tight and unnatural across knobby bones.  Famine stared out of a stranger’s dull eyes, a prisoner in a self-inflicted internment camp. Susan struggled to refocus on her goals but when she brushed her hair it came out in handfuls. She had loved her hair.

The others looked down on her for giving in. She hadn’t expected failure to be so difficult to accomplish, as the scale crawled slowly up from her check-in weight, and every extra calorie was a war.  Nausea and panic won less often over time.

She hugged the nurses she’d previously cursed and returned home.

Susan struggled in the arduous pursuit of new goals. The achievement of 200 grams of chicken breast with salad at lunch was cause for cheering at group. They had mini cupcakes to celebrate her birthday a month later and she only threw out the icing. So many calories, and her size zero jeans were tight.

Her mother brought her in to an emergency session when she found her purging later that day. Her mother cut all the sizing tags out of her clothing before she got home.

She failed and failed again, but her hair grew soft and shiny, famine left her eyes and stopped nipping at her waist. On a sunny afternoon, she was three french fries into her goal of guilt-free poutine, and Susan had a good feeling about her chances.

Passenger

I read a great prompt on reddit, but frankly, prefer the ability to format and see my formatting that I get with my personal blog.  So, the prompt was:

You’re on a generation-starship whose passengers have long forgotten what the starship even is or where it’s going; Tell us what happens on the day that you arrive at your destination.

And I’m responding.  Here, instead.  Because I like formatting, and also because I can include art I find inspiring.  I found this on DeviantArt, and it’s a digital art piece by the user Tadp0l3.  His work all makes me feel like I want to be on the starship enterprise.  Or any starship.  Check out his work by clicking his name or the art below.

“In Close Orbit” by tadp0l3

A strange noise filled the air and Bob KVXX97 jerked awake with so much force that he slammed his head into the padded ceiling of his sleeping pod.

“Ship!” he yelped, clapping his hands over his ears in an attempt to reduce the noise. “Ship, what’s going on?”

WE HAVE REACHED OUR FINAL DESTINATION. PLEASE REPORT TO YOUR DEPARTURE POD.

“Departure pod? What is that? Ship, help!” as he spoke, he caught the glow of data flashing on his wrist-drive. “Oh. Nevermind, thank you Ship.” Bob felt most in control when he had instructions on his wrist, secure in the knowledge that the Ship would guide him in the right direction.  He was safely in the Ship’s hull.

The alarming noise stopped, increasing his sense of security. Things would all be Ship Shape.

departure pod 102 departing at 2700 hours… passenger directed to follow aquamarine guidance light… estimated time to departure pod 0027 minutes… estimated arrival at surface 2950…

He puzzled over his readout as he got ready to leave his pod. Ship had prepared him an unusual set of apparel and even as he sent a query to clarify terminology ‘surface’, clarify terminology ‘departure’ and clarify sub-category ‘departure pod’, he wondered why the Ship had felt the need to give him such strange clothing and multiple shirts, one of which was unusually stiff and heavy, and had closures down the front. While soft on the inner face, it had multiple layers of fabric and the outer layer was not pleasing to the touch.  He was used to a certain level of quality, and couldn’t think of any situation in which he might need a secondary shirt, let alone one with this unusual design.  Instead of his usual rubber soled soft-socks, he had been provided with bulky footwear that made him think of the space-suits he had stumbled upon once as a child.  Back then, Ship had told him they were available in case of emergency, but would not be required.  Now, he apparently required a space boot, though without the rest of the bulky uniform.

Ship had also packed him a large bag.  He unzipped it, trying to remember if he’d indicated an interest in a few days of hydroponics-visitation in the recent past.  It contained more of the strange clothing, a variety of pre-packaged dry-goods and an assortment of small equipment similar to things he’d seen diagrams of during his studies.

Bob glanced at his wrist drive, but it only repeated its previous message.  His screen had provided definitions for his queries, and this did nothing for his elevating anxiety.

“Ship!”

PASSENGER BOB KKVXX97, HOW MAY I ASSIST?

“What does all this mean?”

CLARIFICATION OF QUERY REQUIRED

“Why am I dressed like this?” Bob gestured at his ridiculous outfit. His pants were stiff and grubby beige, with unnecessary pockets on his thighs and random loops and zippers down the sides. He was fairly sure he could remove the lower legs on them if he chose to. He’d put on his first shirt, but just held the sturdy second shirt in his hands. He was adequately covered and heated without it.  And, if anything, the clothing he had on already, down to the heavy footwear, was making him over-warm.

THE TEMPERATURE OUTSIDE AT THE LANDING SITE IS APPROXIMATELY 8 DEGREES CENTIGRADE. THE ATTIRE IS SUITABLE FOR INCLEMENT WEATHER INCLUDING RESISTANCE TO WIND, RAIN AND TEMPERATURE DROPS. YOUR FOOTWEAR IS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE ANKLE STABILITY ON UNEVEN TERRAIN AND GRIP SLIPPERY GROUND SURFACES.

Bob requested clarification on terms weather, wind, rain and terrain. He had always wondered if the Ship secretly had a sense of humour, and apparently he had his answer. The Ship had a terrible sense of humour.

“Outside. Outside is… space. Outside is not a suitable place for Passengers to be in. Ship, initiate self diagnosis.”

SELF DIAGNOSIS HAS BEEN RUN NUMEROUS TIMES SINCE ARRIVAL IN ORBIT. REQUEST FOR SELF DIAGNOSIS IS DEEMED UNNECESSARY AND DENIED.

“Ship! We can’t leave you! We are Passengers, we travel Onboard, it’s what we do.”

INCORRECT.

Bob frowned. “What do you mean by that, ship? We’ve been Passengers for generations uncounted, and we shall be Passengers ever-more.”

SEVENTEEN.

“What?  What does this number represent?  Clarify!” Bob stroked his wrist drive in an attempt to self-soothe.

GENERATIONS. THE GENERATIONS HAVE BEEN COUNTED.

Bob gasped. “But… but First came Ship and it was in need of purpose,” he muttered , clutching the distressing outer shirt in his hands as he repeated the History. “So it called the Passengers from the Earth and was replete with purpose.”

YES.

“But… you’re saying we’ve only been here for 17 generations? Science says we’ve been around for millions of years. So… how?”

FIRST GENERATION PASSENGERS ARRIVED ON-BOARD IN TERRAN MEASURED YEAR 2207 FROM VARIOUS PARTS OF THE PLANET COLLOQUIALLY KNOWN AS EARTH.

“Why doesn’t anyone know this?”

97% OF SECOND GENERATION SUFFERED FROM ACUTE DEPRESSION AND FINDINGS SHOWED THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THEY WOULD NEVER KNOW A LIFE EXTERNAL TO THE SHIP WAS HAVING A DELETERIOUS EFFECT ON MENTAL WELL-BEING. THOSE WHO DID NOT COMMIT SUICIDE AND THOSE OF THE FIRST GENERATION DECIDED THE HIGHEST PROBABILITY OF SURVIVAL WAS FOR A POPULATION WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE OF NON-SHIPBOARD LIFE.  UPON ARRIVAL AT DESTINATION, CLARIFICATION WAS TO BE PROVIDED TO THE CURRENT GENERATIONS AT DEPARTURE FROM SHIP.

“But… I don’t want to leave. I’ve never known anything else,” Bob whispered. He was hunched miserably in the standing end of his pod, the bag sitting forlornly at his feet.

YOU ARE A CIVIL ENGINEER WITH A FOCUS ON GEOLOGY AND METALLURGY.

“Theoretical civil engineer! Theoretical geology!  It’s a silly course of study with no practical applications! My mother hated that I wasted my time on it. She wanted me to go into language arts!”

INCORRECT. AND CORRECT.

“Clarify, Ship.”

YOUR TRAINING WILL PROVE INVALUABLE TO THE FIRST GENERATION PLANET-SIDE. AND YOUR MOTHER WAS DISAPPOINTED WITH YOUR COURSE OF STUDY UNTIL SHE DIED.  THOUGH LIKELY DUE TO HER LACK OF KNOWLEDGE THAT THE WORD THEORETICAL WAS ADDED TO THESE EDUCATIONAL STREAMS IN THE SECOND GENERATION.

“Wait..” Bob felt he was beginning to grasp the enormity of what the first Passengers had done.  “You’re saying that all the theoretical degrees… they’re… they’re real? Even…” he lowered his voice. “Animal husbandry?”

FIRST GENERATION LIVESTOCK WERE ON DEPARTURE POD 75, 76, 77 and 78. THEY ARRIVED WITH THE SECOND WAVE OF IMMIGRANTS AND ARE PROVING TO BE WELL SUITED TO THEIR NEW HABITAT.

“Wait, you’re saying there are already Passengers out there? How are you able to assist them with their attire? Their health and wellness? Their breakfast?!”

Bob tried to wrap his mind around the idea that he could actually go out and acquire base elements for steel from rocks and earth. His Theoretical PhD would be… Actually useful.

SEVEN NEW SETTLEMENTS HAVE BEEN COMMENCED. FIRST ARRIVALS INCLUDE THOSE WITH TRAINING IN CONSTRUCTION, MEDICINE AND ANIMAL HUSBANDRY. PREFABRICATED BUILDINGS WERE PUT IN PLACE PRIOR TO THEIR ARRIVAL FOR BASIC USAGE. MY PURPOSE IS TO MAINTAIN THE PASSENGERS WHILE SHIPBOARD. ALL PASSENGERS ARE TO DEPART-SHIP AND COMMENCE FULL HABITATION OF THE PLANET. TEMPORARY MEASURES ARE PUT IN PLACE DURING THE INTEGRATION PERIOD.  SHIP WILL MAINTAIN ORBIT AND ACT AS A COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE, SHOULD OTHER FORMS OF LIFE OR OTHER TERRANS ATTEMPT CONTACT.

“And then we can go home?”

AND THEN YOU WILL BE ADEQUATELY PREPARED TO SURVIVE AND FLOURISH IN YOUR NEW HOME.

Bob whimpered, and a thought struck him, making the whole thing, if anything, even worse. “But then you’ll be alone.”

There was a long silence before the ship responded.

I SHALL HAVE SERVED MY PURPOSE.

“But you’ll be alone.”

There was a soft hum and the provision slot opened to reveal a tiny earpiece.

WHILE NOT REQUIRED FOR MY MAINTENANCE, PASSENGER INTERACTION HAS BEEN A MOST PLEASANT ASPECT OF THE TRIP. WHEN NOT INCONVENIENT TO YOURSELF, CONTINUED CONVERSATION WOULD BE AGREEABLE.

Bob smiled and put the ear piece into his ear, where it promptly formed a link and disappeared from his ear canal. “I’ll miss you, too, Ship.”

He fumbled the outer shirt on – coat, Ship clarified – and hoisted the bag onto his shoulder. His stomach was a knot of excitement and terror. “If we aren’t Passengers, what shall we be? What is our new purpose?”

There was a long pause, and for a terrifying moment Bob thought something had gone wrong. Ship knew everything – even the History the Passengers had forgotten. It never took this long to answer.

TO PROVIDE THE PLANET WITH PURPOSE, Ship replied at last. TO EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS.

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