Thursday, December 31, 2009

Viking and Bear

The forest was still. Too still. Winter lay over the landscape like a God’s hand, powerful and heavy and impossible to ignore. Thick blankets of snow draped the trees, turning their branches into quilted arms reaching out toward each other, fingers occasionally intertwined.

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

Demonic Dentist Drills For Jesus

Sometimes marketing is everything. How many people bought Pantene products because they wanted to look like Kelly LaBrock? Shoes that can make you jump like Michael Jordan, cell phones that have perfect reception in the deepest parts of the Amazon and jeans that will make you a rock star. It wasn’t the manufacturer that imbued these items with that kind of power, it was savvy marketing firms and people buy into it every day.

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.