Thursday, December 31, 2009
There was no sound of running water; the creeks, rivers and even the waterfalls having frozen solid many months before. Each crystal clear drop was bound to the next in mid-motion, creating otherworldly arrangements of frozen spires and spikes straining to meet.
No animal seemed to move, no birds sang and no wolves called to one another. Even the wind appeared reluctant to break the deafening silence, puffing only in small gusts, none large enough to disturb the freshly fallen snow. It felt as though the world were holding its breath; waiting. Waiting for what?
I walked slowly, my steps deliberately tentative to ensure my own footing. The leather and fur of my boots were slowly absorbing the moisture from the snow, letting the coldness leech into my feet and my toes were starting to go numb. The chill didn’t bite anywhere else, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself and count each gold coin well spent on the thick leather armor I wore; sadly the boots hadn’t been finished by the time I had to leave. I was on edge because of the quiet, the forest was never so quiet and it didn’t bode well for me. Despite my sense of foreboding I pressed on, searching for game.
When the silence lifted I could almost feel my ears pop, the abrasive sound of cracking wood, thundering earth and a menacing roar poured over me like water, chilling my blood. Spinning on one heel as I reached for the twin swords sheathed on my back, my eyes widened when the form of the largest bear I’d ever seen filled my vision.
It charged me and I dove to the side, feeling it brush against my leg as it passed. The snow cushioned my fall and I rolled to my feet, spinning to find my target, my blades glinting in the diffused sunlight. The bear had slid to a halt, spinning as I had and locking its dark eyes on its own prey.
We charged each other, Viking and bear, each completely certain of victory.
I swung my swords, slashing downward in an X, trying to penetrate the thick fur and layers of stored fat to reach something vital. It swiped at me with one massive paw, black claws longer than my finger catching in the leather of my cloak and ripping it from my shoulders, throwing me to the ground.
I jumped to my feet and carried the motion through my blades, bringing them up high before slashing downward, the steel cutting deep and the bear cried out, taking a step back. The thick black fur was matted around the wounds where blood was running freely.
The bear lunged at me, snapping its huge jaws, trying to gain purchase on a mouthful of my flesh. Its long teeth distracted me from the swinging of one paw and I suddenly found myself on the ground, my face burning with pain and my own blood polluting my vision. I gasped, trying to catch the breath that had been knocked from my lungs when my body met the frozen ground, the cold air stinging my throat as I drew it in.
The shadow of the bear fell over me, and I rolled to the side to avoid its driving forelegs. Wiping blood from my eyes with the back of one hand I found my target, rushing the beast. Crossing my arms over my chest as I moved I swiped my blades horizontally past each other, the razor edges slicing deep and the bear rose up onto its hind legs to loom over me like a massive tree.
The bear dropped its head to roar at me, the sound echoing off the ice and snow around us, and I seized the opportunity it presented. Running forward I braced one foot on its knee and launched myself up to land on its shoulders, kneeling on the broad muscle and driving one blade into its neck.
The bear howled, folding itself at the waist before rising back up in an effort to throw me off. I let the momentum of the bear’s action carry me skyward, tucking my arms and letting my body make one full rotation before reclaiming my perch and striking the killing blow, blood arcing from the steel tip of both swords.
As the bear fell I jumped, landing a foot from its nose, the steam from its dying breath momentarily warming my toes.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
My day had started like every other: shower, dress, breakfast and then head off to work. My 45 minute commute took me past the usual assault of billboards, marquees and bus stop bench ads, all of which were visual white noise to me at seven in the morning. The bus stopped at a red light and as I sipped liquid energy provided by Starbucks my still sleepy eyes focused on a small sign wedged between a dry cleaner and a bagel shop that read “Demonic Dentist Drills for Jesus.”
As if the phrase itself wasn’t enough to get my attention, the image of Jesus in his long white robes holding a dental drill that was sporting a sinister smile and horns made me frown in confusion; what were they selling? I pulled the cord to notify the driver I wanted off, and slinging my backpack over one shoulder I pushed my way through the sea of my fellow drones. Score one for marketing.
Stepping off onto the curb I serpentined my way across the sidewalk, crossing the two lanes of foot traffic and ignoring the grunts and grumbles directed at me for impeding progress. I stopped just below the sign and stared up at it, my nearness skewing the perspective of the characters and giving them bobble-heads proportions.
I lowered my gaze and peered through the ornate wrought iron gate, down the narrow alley, the end of which disappeared into the gloom. What did this place even sell? Pushing on the gate it begrudgingly moved, the hinges groaning in protest and finally binding up when there was just enough room for me to squeeze through.
Brushing the rust flakes off my coat I walked slowly into the shadows, the neighboring buildings feeling like looming guardians of a secret treasure as they pressed in around me. My feet were silent on the damp asphalt, the crisp wind unable to blow dry autumn leaves this far away from the trees so nothing crunched under foot, only my breathing broke the silence.
The alley ended abruptly, opening into a small courtyard of red brick pavers, the edges worn smooth and visually softened by the moss growing between them. A small brick cottage stood in the center of the courtyard, the pavers around the base of the walls pushed up as though the house had sprouted from underneath.
Tall buildings soared on all sides, and yet no shadows fell on the tiled roof, stopping just shy of the foundation as though afraid to touch it. The rising sun covered the house like chiffon, thin and light, and I felt like I could actually see the light swaying in an undetectable breeze.
I approached the door slowly, the cobalt blue paint looking fresh, almost wet, and the brass handle gleamed enticingly in the liquid light. The metal was warm to the touch, and the latch made a satisfying click when I turned the handle. Pushing the door open I ducked under the low doorframe and into the gloom of a single large room.
The room was void of all furniture, the dark wood floor bare and the walls naked. The only thing in the room with me was a small black goat that was staring at me with strange red eyes. He stood in the center of the room, his head cocked to one side and his face managed to convey an expression of surprise at my arrival.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” it said in the kind of voice you’d expect a Billy goat to have. I glanced around myself in the lame attempt to verify it was talking to me.
“You have?” I asked, frowning as much at the talking goat as at myself for talking to said talking goat.
“Of course I have. I’ve tried several times to reach you but nothing seemed to get through. You’re a tough customer.” His voice bleated a cadence that was easy to understand while still managing to be annoying. “I finally had to resort to something absolutely ridiculous just to get your attention.”
“Who are you? Why have you been waiting for me?”
“Why, to steal your soul of course,” it said as though that was the only logical answer.
I thought back to the sign I’d seen from the bus, the words and imagery drawing me out of my normal routine, tempting me to investigate and try something new, and now here I stood having a conversation with a goat about the potential theft of my soul. Marketing, for the win.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I’d seen photos of my family’s 1849 Colt revolver since I was a child. My father had a photo album that had been passed down for generations, and within the fragile, aged pages were faded photos of the men in our family with it. Some of them posed with pride and purpose, chests puffed out and serious expressions on their faces while others were candidly captured, a chorus line of expressions dancing across their faces.
The weapon was fairly non-descript: steel barrel, cylinder, hammer and mechanisms with a brass backstrap and trigger guard and a dark walnut grip. The only thing that made it stand out from the rest of the weapons of its time was its infallible accuracy; all who had wielded that gun never missed what they aimed at… ever.
I was the first woman in the family to inherit the pistol, well; I would have been if it hadn’t been stolen the day before my 18th birthday; the day before it was to come to me. In this, the age of energy weapons, it wasn’t valuable for its designed purpose, but I wanted it; I wanted it based on principal and family honor.
For five years I chased my Colt. I followed every lead I ever had, no matter how dodgy, unreliable or far fetched it may have seemed. Over the years it passed through many hands, always moving onto the next pair just days before I would have been able to reclaim it, and each person who had touched it, died.
My father had told me stories about the gun, stories about it being bound to our family by magic, but I hadn’t started believing those stories until I came across its second or third casualty. Who believed in magic anymore anyway? Science had an answer for everything, and had advanced technology far beyond anything I thought magic could claim to accomplish, but with each close call and each new dead body I began to question more and more what force might be surrounding my pistol.
As I stood watching the well dressed, elegant and filthy rich crowd milling around the lavish ballroom, I found myself hyper-aware of every noise, scent and movement around me; I’d never been so close to my goal.
The fabric of my floor length gown moved with me as though it was a living thing, the deep red fibers gently hugging my curves and shimmering in the soft light; people staring at it as though waiting for it to breathe. I’d pinned my heavy black hair up and was wearing the ruby choker and earrings my mother had given me, and had even applied some make-up, something I never bothered with.
My heart jumped when the auction began, the auctioneer’s voice booming over the low din of mass conversation, and I moved to my seat, bidder’s paddle in hand and ready to fly. A wide array of antiques from furniture to random knick-knacks paraded past, and was claimed by an enthusiastic new owner.
When my Colt was carried onto the platform my heart leapt as though seeing a long lost lover, and I felt it staring at me, asking me where I’d been. The bids rolled almost faster than the auctioneer could acknowledge them, and before I knew it the price was out of my range. The bids began to slow, the barrage dwindling until there was a victor and the crowd applauded his acquisition. The man rose to his feet and turned, his dark eyes zeroing in on my blue stare, and with a wink he made his way out of the ballroom.
To hell with discretion. I jumped to my feet and ran after him, erupting through the heavy double doors as though I’d been fired from the gun I was trying to reclaim. I stopped and scanned the lobby, my eyes shifting toward his movement just in time to see him disappear down the hallway opposite where I stood.
As I ran I discarded my shoes, my bare feet silent on the thick carpet, and I followed the glimpses I caught of his long dark hair just before he disappeared around corners. When I reached the door to the penthouse I turned the knob in stride and burst into the posh room to find myself face to face with the stranger who bought my gun.
“Selena.” His voice was rich, like a decedent dessert, and I wanted to roll it around on my tongue. He was wearing a tailored black suit punctuated by a dark red tie, and his long black hair was in a loose pony tail that hung between his shoulder blades.
“How do you know my name?” I asked, my brows drawn together in confusion. “Do I know you?”
He smiled as he walked toward me, his gait predatory. “The last time you saw me I was a gangly boy.” His approach backed me up, step after step I moved away from him until the barrier of the door prevented me from going further and still he came closer. “You were my love, and because of that love I was sold, your father disapproved.”
I felt my eyes go wide as I stared into his face, seeing the boy he’d once been like a shadow within him. “Ian?” My voice was a whisper, and my heart was pounding almost painfully against my sternum.
We stood staring at each other, frozen and humming with tension, our adolescent passion flaring back to life after a decade and a half of dormancy. In unison we reached for each other, hands touching, groping and seeking while hungry mouths fed at one another.
I almost didn’t hear the knock at the door, too lost in the feel of Ian against me, and I whimpered when he stepped back. Taking my hand he guided me to the side and opened the door, stepping back to allow the delivery of his purchase, which I watched wide-eyed.
Closing the door behind the delivery man Ian turned and walked to the glass case in which my gun was nestled. Lifting the lid he turned with the leather belt hanging from his hand, the tooled holster cradling my Colt and he held it out to me. “Wear this for me,” he said, his voice touchable.
I reached for my birth-right with trembling fingers, feeling the hum of the weapon calling to me, and when Ian pulled it back out of my reach I frowned at him. “Just this,” he clarified, a lustful smile spreading across his face, which I returned as I unzipped my gown and reached for my gun belt.
Friday, October 23, 2009
I was handed the file only moments before I was pushed through the Window. I’d been woken from a dead sleep by the persistent warbling of my cell phone, muffled by the stratum that always seems to build in a woman’s purse. I fought my way free of the dark red sheets, the soft cotton having wrapped itself around my legs like amorous serpents.
Stumbling across my room I grabbed my purse and up-ended it, the black leather disgorging its contents all over my pale grey carpet. In the diffused sunlight that was fighting its way around the edges of the heavy curtains I sought the phone, zeroing in on the blue light of the screen with sleepy eyes.
“What?!” I snapped after flipping the face up.
“Ruby, Jump in 20.”
“It’s Diamond’s turn,” I argued, shuffling back to my bed, “Call him.”
“Now.” That one word left no room for further argument, and the line went dead.
I closed the phone and dropped it back on the floor, scrubbing my hands over my face with a low, frustrated growl. With a resigned sigh I flipped on the lights and made quick work of preparing to Jump, leather head to toe: pants, jacket, boots and gloves. After much trial and painful error I’d found that while I might look like a wannabe rocker in my layers of dead cow, it was the perfect material to withstand the friction of Time.
I hadn’t been called for a Jump in months, and I’d been happy to lead a normal life. As I drove through streets that filled with cars as quickly as they filled with sunlight, I couldn’t help but wonder why they were calling on me now.
I entered Sector C3, housed behind an imposing façade of glass and steel, and I rode the elevator down to sub-level 7. The shiny doors slid open and I was assaulted with a cacophony of sound and motion. Stepping into the midst of the strangely organized chaos, my whiskey colored eyes found Dawson and I headed in his direction.
Dawson spoke to me without turning around, his uncanny ability to always know who was within earshot as evident as ever, “Here.” He shoved a file into my hands, the Kevlar envelope thick and heavy.
“What’s the job?” I asked as he took me by the arm and pulled me through the sea of faces I’d come to know, however, as each one passed I became more and more aware of the fearful stares I was getting from wide eyes. “What’s going on, Dawson?”
Dawson remained silent, his brusque demeanor reaching a new level of annoying. I opened my mouth to snap at him, but he beat me to the punch by stopping and spinning to face me, his blue eyes as wide as everyone else’s, worried and angry.
“Miss the mark, Ruby.”
I frowned at him, “I never miss.”
“That’s what may end our world as we know it.” Dawson said cryptically before turning away and continuing to drag me toward the Launch Relay.
I caught a familiar scent as I climbed the three metal stairs to the Relay platform, turning and finding Diamond’s annoyed gaze locked on mine. He was being led by his handler Amy; her long fingers fisted in the Kevlar sleeve of his Jump coat, and despite her leading, his long legs carried him to the platform ahead of her.
Diamond stopped and stared from Amy to Dawson to me and back again before speaking, “What the hell is…”
“No time,” Dawson interrupted, grabbing both me and Diamond by the arms and pulling us toward the Relay Window. Normal protocol is to harness the Jumpers together so they aren’t separated in a wrinkle, but I saw no harness on the platform, and fear suddenly reared its ugly head.
Dawson turned and fisted one hand into each of our coats, pulling us down to eye level, “Don’t let go of each other,” he whispered, and before either of us could question what he was talking about we were pushed into the Relay Window.
The warm blue light of the idle Window held us suspended like amniotic fluid. I watched as a small army of Black Suits flooded into the control room, but Dawson didn’t spare them a single glace, he focused on his programming. I sensed something was very, very wrong so with movements slowed by the Relay Energy, I stuffed the file into my coat and reached out toward my Jump partner.
Diamond had been watching the same events, and I knew he was processing them as I was; it was how we were trained. He reached out and took my hand, pulling me toward him as the sound of gunfire erupted, muffled by the Relay Energy, and as I wrapped myself around him I watched Dawson’s hand hit the Launch switch a split second before a swarm of bullets ripped him to pieces.
I loved the Jump. The sensation of moving faster than light while standing still, of swimming while flying, or of being full and empty all at the same time. Nothing else could compare, and even the searing heat when we hit Entry Point didn’t diminish the elation the journey brought me; it was the reason I became a Jumper.
Diamond’s arms were like steel bands around my ribs, my own arms and legs locked around him and still the force of Time pulled at us, trying to cast us separately into the waves of minutes and millennia. Just as my grip started to slip we hit Entry Point, heat blasting our bodies and scorching our exposed faces. We cried out, the sound lost in the heat, and with an almost audible pop we tumbled across wet asphalt and came to a painful stop against the side of a tall brick building.
“Mother puss bucket!” I cursed as I untangled myself from Diamond and rolled onto my back. The leather of my clothes was smoking, and I watched with foggy eyes as the smoke swirled up into the darkening sky that loomed beyond the tips of the tall buildings.
“Mother puss bucket?” Diamond asked as he climbed to his feet.
“I’m trying not to swear so much,” I snapped, getting to my feet.
“I fucking love swearing, it adds spice to the English language.” It would have been funny if he'd been joking.
Reaching under my coat I extracted the Kevlar folder that Dawson had given me, pulling the sheaf of papers out and thumbing through them in the fading light. I felt myself frowning, brows drawn together as I shook my head.
“What’s the job?” Diamond asked, folding his arms over his thick chest and cocking his hips to one side.
“This can’t be right,” I said, “The name on the form is wrong, is has to be.”
Diamond moved to stand behind me and peered over my shoulder at the name of our target, and I felt him go rigid at my back.
Turning my head I met his green gaze and spoke softly, “Hitler?”
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
As he sat motionless she paced and waited, speculated and guessed at what he was thinking or feeling. Anxiety. Fear. Surprise. With each passing day she felt more and more sure that she had shaken the very foundation of his traditional upbringing and he was paralyzed with uncertainty.
It was certainly uncommon, what she had suggested, but even at that she had expected some kind of reply. “Are you crazy?” “Flattered, but no thanks.” “Sure, that’d be great.” Something, anything, would have been welcome.
She’d been patient, a virtue she always struggled with, but finally after three weeks she tested the waters with a tentative toe. She reached out now as she had before, electronically, forming words on a tiny screen with the hope he would finally reply to her.
His reaction was surprising, turning away anything that would link him to her. He refused to help her with her work, which he had always readily helped with in the past. He even severed all on-line ties, removing her from his networking pages.
The weakness of his character was exposed as her feelings had been, and her disappointment was like venom, and that venom burned like fire. In her rational mind she knew that his reaction was rooted in his own issues, and in truth had little to do with her. This didn’t keep her feelings from being hurt, however. She was hurt that he didn’t respect her enough to talk to her, and she was sorry for the narrow view he had of life.
With a deep breath she smiled, knowing she was a resilient woman whose wounds healed quickly, and knowing that there were others who would be open to the joys locked in each possibility.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Whoever said silence was golden had never heard the sound of an anxiously beating heart. They had never paid attention to the sound a clock makes as it reminds you that time is fleeting – tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…
Years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds; all an agonizing jumble in the face of the unknown. How can seconds feel like days, or days feel like years? With each heavy thump of my heart against the resistant wall of my sternum, I wonder if I was right. Was I right to tell you? Was laying myself bare within the confines of my own words the correct thing to do?
A collection of letters formed words on an electronic page in an attempt to shape my thoughts and feelings into something easily understood. Did I arrange them correctly? Did I use too many; too few? Which ones did you find frightening, and which ones shook the foundation of your traditional views?
I’m open; open to questions seeking understanding, if you would just talk to me. Send your own collection of letters and words back to me and I will drink them in, whether bitter or sweet, I only want to quench my thirst.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
She was no taller than four feet; her cotton dress was trimmed with eyelet lace at the hem and sleeves and tied high with a large bow. Once white, the red of his blood now sprayed across the front like a scream. She wore white patented leather Mary Janes and was clutching a tattered Teddy Bear in one hand.
He was tied to a chair, his arms pulled painfully behind him and tied to the back legs, while his ankles were bound to the front legs. He could barely remember everything she’d done to him: burns, cuts, beatings; acid, knives, fists.
After three days at the mercy of the child who was out to destroy him, he could almost feel his sanity slipping away; the shell in which the demon was hiding conflicted with how he understood children behaved. Five year old girls didn’t drip acid onto your toenails; they didn’t ram metal rods through your wrists and then hook them up to a car battery… they just didn’t, did they?
He had no idea why he was there. Four days ago he’d been an accountant, calculating payroll for a deli chain called Mr. Squid Pickle, and barely making ends meet. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened on his journey home, until the bus came to a screeching halt and the metal side peeled away like burnt skin.
The child had been standing there in an apple red dress and pigtails, holding the Teddy Bear in one arm and smiling the most disturbing smile he’d ever seen. She walked very calmly toward him and took him by the hand, dragging him from the bus seat, and his skin began to blister from her touch. No matter how hard he fought or resisted, she was stronger.
One whole day had passed before she even spoke to him, at first simply tying him to the chair and wordlessly inflicting small torments: deep pinpricks and steam burns, and the more he struggled the bigger her smile became.
When she finally spoke, her voice was small and playful, punctuated by frequent giggles whenever he screamed. He slipped in and out of consciousness more and more frequently as time went by, and the sudden appearance of a tall slender woman wielding a sword was enough to bring him around.
Without a word she cut his ropes while watching for the child with keen green eyes. He crumpled to the floor the moment the ropes fell away, lacking the strength to even remain in the chair, and when the child’s laughter echoed through the room the woman spun to find its source.
The little girl walked toward her fallen captive and his would-be-rescuer, idly petting the Teddy Bear’s head as she peered at them through a thick fringe of lashes. “Did you really think I wouldn’t know you were here, Grace?” she asked, “I could smell your stench the moment you crossed the threshold.”
“Nice that you let me get this far, Sadira.”
“I wanted you to feel like you were doing well.” Sadira replied with a smile, flashing her tiny white teeth. “He doesn’t even know why he’s here,” she added, gesturing at the crumpled man at Grace’s feet. “He has no idea that the fate of mankind rests with him, and frankly I was surprised I found him first.”
Grace narrowed her eyes at the child, knowing she could not win a hand to hand fight with the demon housed in that tiny shell, so she opted for surprise and hurled the knife she’d had up her sleeve. To her own surprise the blade hit its mark, sinking hilt deep in the soft tissue and Sadira’s eyes went wide as she began to silently cry.
The man watched from where he lay on the floor and the child’s tears made him smile weakly. He watched as Grace strode to the child and without hesitation removed her head with one powerful sword stroke, and the black mist that pulsed from the open wound didn’t faze him, nothing could faze him anymore.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
She was fortunate enough to have been born into a wealthy family so it was easy for her to travel so as to commune with the world’s seas and oceans. In her travels she’d experienced her fair share of ocean related incidents: coral cuts, jellyfish stings and run ins with barracuda, but nothing could keep her out of the water.
Sharks, however; sharks spoke to her spirit and she tried to spend as much time with them as she could. For her there was nothing more magical than sharing one small sliver of time swimming with these powerful creatures. Petting the rough skin of a blue shark as it moved past her, feeding a bull shark by hand and even going for a ride on the dorsal fin of a whale shark; such moments had been hers, and she wouldn’t trade them for a single drop of the blood that was now seeping out of her.
The open ocean was like a liquid desert, vast and largely lifeless, and she had sailed into the heart of it on her way to Cape Town South Africa. She had seen the jumping sharks there before, and cried at the beauty of it, amazed and speechless that something so large could be so stunning.
She had stopped for a swim, diving into the blue depths over and over and even played with a pod of dolphins that had happened by. Close to sunset it had been the arrival of the Great White that had surprised her; in such an endless realm it was amazing that their paths had crossed.
She had done everything she was supposed to do: she began moving back toward her boat, not panicking, not splashing, just swimming steadily. When he made his first pass she could feel his coarse skin against her leg, and she was torn between wanting to wait for the chance to feel it again and continuing toward the boat. She wasn’t stupid, she kept moving toward the silhouette of her boat.
She knew that sharks investigated things by putting them in their mouths, much like infants, but infants weren’t armed with rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. It was just bad luck that his first exploratory bite severed her femoral artery.
She floated on her back, arms stretched wide as she stared up at the blanket of stars passing slowly overhead. At that moment the ocean smelled of salt and death, her death, and she waited for the sleek predator to return to claim her; now she would never have to be away from the ocean she loved.