Caught

She makes terrible coffee. It runs, heavy and choked, like muddy water through alluvial swamps. She cooks badly too – burnt offerings that bring the blessing of Chinese takeout. The gas flame on the hob, blue and flickering, endlessly fascinates her.

In the day, she paints her toenails electric blue and meanders through the city, weaving, circling, losing herself but never losing her way. She returns, fragile but triumphant, glowing with the setting sun on her back. At night, she curls into my arms.

My dreams light up with alien beauty I can never describe.

I should never have caught her.

Ascending

Take 1
I have no weight. I rise like feather on hot air, higher and higher. The air grows cold but I don’t feel it. The ground falls away, strange and foreign to me, bleak and fading like a memory. Between high branches, the stadium winks at me, like a blind eye. Waters recede. Buildings stand, meaningless like broken teeth, artefacts of a test I have passed. I don’t look around me; in the corners of my being, I know I am not alone. Ahead, celestial birds, imagined and beautiful, swoop and play. Their song is a silver path. I follow.

Take 2
“Is this lechery?”
“Larceny. There’s a sign.”
“Sorry.”

“Excuse me, repentance?”
“There’s cubicles set up in the stadium. Bring own water.”

“Look, I’m not supposed to be here.”
“You’ve never sinned?”
“I’ve been preparing for this all my life. I’ve not touched women, or liquor. I’ve not done any of these things. I’ve kept myself pure.”
“Ah, I see. Pride is on floor six. Prepare to wait. Next!”

Take 3
It’s a Saturday, right, beautiful day, here we are. Rover ‘n me, the ball, the park in spring. God, things are just sprouting, aren’t they, little parcels of life, just goes to show, that’s just the kind of day it is. Well, I gotta tell ya, I never really thought about it. I mean, I didn’t think it would happen, right, and if it did, which it wouldn’t, but if it did, well, I wasn’t gonna cut it. I knew that. Hardly an angel, me.

But here’s the thing I didn’t expect, the thing that runs through my mind as they all rise into the sky, the chosen ones, the ones that made it:

Damn, I’m gonna miss that dog.

That’s when he wags at me, from up high. I swear he does.

Communication

“This one.” I show him a blank sheet of paper.
“Fish, in a balloon.”
“This one?”
“The funeral of an astronaut.”
“Hm. This one.”
“Fingers with angry faces.”
“Angry?”
“Scowling. Little noses, twitching.”
“Right. What about this one?”
“Cat, lying on a bed of money. It wants to talk to you.”
“Oh. Good.” Progress at last.
“The bills… sort of… flutter up. Fold up. Wait, they are spelling something out. In origami.”
“Spelling out what?”
“L – I – V – E – R. Is that good?”
“It’s… not bad. It’s not too bad.”

Casey was a good receiver, if new. I liked a fresh mind for a new project. Give me a Jack Keller and we will get there, sure, but the guy is primed. He’s top notch if we are talking to the Centurions, or the Glue. If one can ever really talk to the Glue, there’s some debate about that. But all that just gets in the way when you’re tuning into something brand-frigging-new.
Behind the screen, things like mandibles twitched. I shook out of it. We had to move on.

“Casey, can you try and – change something? Affect the picture?”
“Um… Okay… There: the money’s on fire. I think that was me.”
“Good. What’s the cat doing?”
Casey stared at the paper. “The cat is… it’s throwing up.”
I thought that was a good sign.

From what I can tell, we’re the laughing stock of the Galaxy. As far as that can be established, what with the whole concept of laughter being pretty much untranslatable, and us having only met seven species so far. Eight, if you count the mandible guys we were all trying not to call anything yet because those nicknames stick: just look at the Fishfingers. But anyway: mother Evolution has not been kind. Humans were at the wrong end of the wrong queue when they handed out telepathy.

Well, most of us.

“Casey, you’re doing great. Keep talking.”
“It’s hacking something awful – ah, there is something. A furball… no, it’s a little guy, a tiny, furry man.”
“And?”
“He says…’We-come-in-peace.’ In, like, a robo-voice.”

I was right, Casey Wheeler was a wiz. Six months later, there’s still no other telepath who can understand the Mandible Guys.

I know, I know. But I swear I never said “Mandible Guys” out loud. Bloody psychics.

The Third Task

She wore brown angora and carried folded paper bags from Macy’s. A shawl cascaded down her back, a profusion of warmth. She peered at me over oversized sunglasses. “David?”

“Ma’am.” She was magnificent, in an Audrey Hepburn sort of way.

“Would you…?” I took her bags and held them as the elevator creaked its way to the fourth floor, her shoulder pressed softly into my chest in the tiny space. Her flawless skin smelled like powder.

The apartment was stylish, furnished in dark woods and dusky velvets. Intricate lanterns cast complicated shadows, revealing little of the cabinets which lined the walls. Behind their thick glass, darkness moved.

The woman settled into a deep armchair with a sigh. “How are you getting along so far then?”

The bags smelled like mushrooms and fresh bread. I set them down, careful not to look inside. “It’s… not bad. You are the third – “

“David, David. Never tell a lady!” Shadows deepened around her as her brow creased. My face fell, but she added: “You are sweet. I will take you on.”

And so the third task began.

* * *

I looked after her moths.

After the first week, my eyes adjusted to the perpetual twilight. The glass terrariums, alien and strange at first, gleamed with dark colours: blue like starlings’ wings, red like dried blood. Moths are a glory of muted tones, of subtle expression, impeccable taste. I learned to discern their moods, to tend to their whims. I brushed them and stroked them, carried their messages; sorted discarded scales by colour and size. They were pleased with me, taught me their ways: to disappear in darkness, to discern certain scents.

* * *

The woman came and went in her own ways. She did not speak to me, but the moths said she was not displeased with my work. One day, without warning, she looked at me.

“That will be all, David.”

I shied away, surprised at the sound of a voice.

“You have done well.” She held out her hand, gloved in silk. Two emperor moths fluttered from her fingertips into my cupped hands. “They will be your guides. Beware: the fourth task is hard.” She smiled at me.

I did not know what to say.

The moths, familiar friends, wove through my fingers, whispering wise words.

All I want for Christmas…

… is a pair of fuzzy moths, and a tiny extension.

Because it’s late and it’s lots of words and it’s holidays so time is weird and it’s a public holiday tomorrow and how did this happen? But really, there is never a good enough reason for making exceptions… but for those of us desperate enough to need it, here is an extension until Monday.

Those lovely ones of you who have already posted, or are about to post, you are true saints! There is stars and fireworks, and awesomeness.

For the rest of us, nose to the inkstone tomorrow, and have a lovely sleep full of soft moth wings.

New Theme

Helloes!

New Theme is this picture:

It is a cc licensed photo from the flickr. I tried to make a link to the source, let’s see how it goes.

Edit: Didn’t, so here is the link.

Submission deadline: Sunday 1 May.

Word Limit: We have a lot of holidays, so let’s go for a generous 350 (300 – 400).

The Ancient Path

The basket was well packed, with sausage and fine mead. But Nan still looked concerned.

“Where does she live, your cousin?” asked Kirsjan, taking charge. That was his way.

“Oh, you are good children, helpful and well raised. Follow the road that starts by the west gate.”

Lily was rapt: “The misty road, the road that calls your name?”

“Hush, Lily, now. Your nonsense is amiss.” Kirsjan was stern.

“Your sister’s right, that road is full of wiles. Mind you don’t stray, don’t dally or detour, and you’ll be safe.” But Nan looked unconvinced.

Kirsjan sensed this: “That misty road, winding between the ancient sycamores, smells of good mushrooms and of partridge nests. Were we to stray, we would be quite safe.”

“Kirsjan, my boy, you have your city ways. But mind my words: that forest is not mild. The vapours hide mysterious things and stuff from fairies’ tales. Creatures that weave their mounts from morning dew; that harness foxes and sing to fallen stars. An ancient path it is, agreed and safe: but step outside and you are fairies’ prey. They’ll turn you into starlings and teach you how to fly.”

Kirsjan and Lily were thoughtful then. The words rang true. The path was of our world; the woods were not. They looked upon each other, and a choice was made.

And to this day, upon the ancient path, you may still hear a starling’s crystal laugh.

Best Friend

– I’d like to help you.
– I don’t need your help. I’m fine. Go away!
– I can carry your bag?
– It’s my bag! It’s mine, you don’t get to – I don’t need you, the bag is fine, go away. Go away!
– It looks heavy. Let me help you. I’m strong.
– What? Is that a threat? Are you threatening me? Leave me alone, you thing, leave me! You disgust me.
– I’m sorry.
– Don’t – It’s not your fault. Just go away.
– Is it my face?
– What?
– The dog face, does it upset you?
– It’s freaky, ok? It’s wrong. It’s not your fault, ok, but that doesn’t make it –
– I just want to help. I’m built to help. I need to help.
– Look, go talk to a young mechnik, or one of the facelift brigade. They love this sort of shit. I – I’m not your target market!
Master (Pty) Ltd says all humans are the target market. Humans love help. Rovers help humans.
– That’s wrong. It’s all wrong. One corporation should not be able to make – you. Things like you.
Rovers?
– Living, breathing, thinking things. New things.
– I’m just an advanced dog. I’m a pooch plus. I’m man’s best friend… Don’t go!
– Just leave me alone!
– I’ll wait for you here then! I’ll be here tomorrow.
I’ll be your best friend tomorrow.

Warning

Oh, you should not have come in here, with your curious eyes. Don’t start with me, don’t go ogling my stuff, don’t go touching anything. You’re defiling my perfection, the settee just so, the curtains so fine, all mine. You reek of sweat, and what is it – fear?

It’s dawning on you now. You’re reading the wrong story.

What was it? Idiot curiosity? Watery eyes mindlessly running down a page? I cannot be more clear: you are not wanted here. Fuck off.

There’s a girl on the chair, looking at you now. This is all your fault, you know, you should have gone away. Last chance: stop reading now. No one needs to get hurt. She’s pretty, isn’t she? Straight as a bone, sharp as an arrow. If you stop here, she will be just fine. Just fine.

But no. Well, it’s all on your head now, I’m not enjoying this one bit. Look at those ties, what is it – fishing line? Oh, cutting into her flesh, so sharp, so fine. Blood wells onto stretched nylon, drips onto my lovely rug. You’ll pay for this.

She cries. Such pain. And fear: she knows (I know what she knows) what a sick, sick fuck you are. She knows you’ll never stop, you’ll let her die, just for the sake of some dumb story. A story you won’t even remember tomorrow.

Tell you what: go now, and I’ll free her. I’ll stop the blood. I’ll give her a puppy, true love, a happy ending. I can do all that in here, I’ll do it just to get the stink of you out of my world.

Do we have a deal?

But no. Here you still are.

Well, it’s all on your head now.