Yes, I Actually Think I’m Funny…

I just sent in my story for the annual Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. I decided to go with “funny” this year, because I don’t have much “heartfelt” left in me, right now.

And I did manage to find an idea. And it was the kind of idea that I was chuckling over the entire time I walked home, so I have the sense that it has some mileage left in it. (Home is about three miles, so at least that much.)

So, I got home, and I started writing, and that’s when it stopped being funny.

Or maybe, I just stopped being in the mood for that brand of humor.

Either way, the doubts kicked in.

A thousand words of “funny.” Wow, that’s a lot. And I do have an off-beat kind of sense of humor. And, quite frankly, between a long day at work, and a long walk home, I was really just too grouchy to tell whether anything was funny or not.

I went to bed.

Thought about it.

Sent it in, anyway. (I did send a note with it, saying I’d send something else, if it’s not up to snuff.)

I’m still not as confident about the piece as I was, when I first came up with the idea.

Idea’s great. Or maybe not. Or possibly, I should be in insurance sales, and not a writer in the first place. At any rate, there we go. One holiday-themed, semi-funny, worst-gift-ever type story.

I’ll be checking my email with great trepidation in the morning.

Maybe I should have sent something with elves.

The Waves At Midnight

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The screams died down faster than you would think; the icy water took most of our sacrifices before the drowsy demons woke to notice the men struggling against the tide. Here and there, a marked warrior swam back toward the ship, but none reached it, and the priests did not have to scrape their clawing hands off the timbers.

When the demons did come, the sea boiled gently, and the few survivors were brave. The demons dragged them fast and deep. Afterward, the Death Lamp caught just a trace of blood on the waves.

It was a good sacrifice, and by every known portent, it seemed to be accepted. The priest declared the blood valid quickly, and the sailors weighed anchor almost before the words were out of his mouth.

We had turned back.

We should have made it to port before the bars stopped serving, and we would have celebrated with abandon. A good sacrifice, and another year of calm waves and sleeping demons.

The cabin boy laughed, and no one noticed.

The cabin boy laughed. A simpleton, admiring the trail of bubbles in the ship’s wake.

A simpleton, who fell overboard, reaching for the moon’s reflection on the water.

By the demons’ breath, the fool kept laughing, until the water around him boiled. The demons were on him in a second, but half satiated from the sacrifice, the monsters toyed with him.

On board, the priests and augurs scurried to dream up answers. The portents had been so clear… so positive. The demons had taken the sacrifice. The transaction was complete.

Surely, what happened–what was happening–to the cabin boy was a misunderstanding. Perhaps, they thought, the sea-demons thought the simpleton was one final offering. He certainly thrashed enough.

Again, the ship sailed homeward. This time, there was no celebration, and the high Priest stood beside the Death Lamp, searching the water behind us for the demons, or their boiling breath.

Time stopped, or time sped faster, and the assembled priests and the silent crew barely breathed in the darkness. No one could see the ocean outside the light’s narrow beam, but we could all hear the waves whispering against our fragile ship. We could hear the splashes, and the ripples. We listened for what we could not see, and imagined what we already had seen.

Every man on board counted heartbeats. How long had it been? How far had we gone? How much further to land and the safety of home?

They counted.

And the wordless night held them. That was not a bubble. Just a splash. Not a bubble. No. Just the ship cutting through the waves. Just…

A slithering, leathery body, sliding, slithering along the hull.

A second, screeching, not loud, but indescribably shrill, and yet watery, like a razor blade being sharpened on an endless and grainy strop.

The Priest made his decision, and fast. “Throw them overboard.” He gestured to the cluster of sailors closest to the edge.

The captain raised his revolver… cocked it… aimed.

And the men did not move. Better a bullet than boiling in the waves.

But the Captain could not shoot; the demons demanded a healthy sacrifice. The sailors knew that.

“They’ll follow the ship. They’ll hound us all. And the blood won’t stop. Not without a clean sacrifice.” The Priest rallied and coaxed, but the men stood firm. “Don’t you have wives? Children? ”

“Cowards!” The Captain bellowed, but he didn’t move.

The demons would have taken any of us, or all of us, and maybe they would have been content, but no one moved. No one thought about moving.

The ocean all around the ship was boiling. No one could mistake the bubbles for anything else. And the demons’ scales raked across the ship’s sides. We only had one thought between us: how many? How many? There could be one, or thousands.

A moment of distraction. The Captain forgot the helm, and the ship split open on the forgotten rocks. The force threw men and priests off the deck and into the water; it threw me hard against the crags.

The demons had their sacrifice. I dropped my head, and uttered the true sigh of relief: It wasn’t me. Chance had me on solid ground.

I stayed there, until morning, relieved and exhausted, and ashamed to be alive.

And in the darkness, I heard a new sound. Quiet, next to the men’s screams, and even calm, against their thrashing, but getting closer I heard the splashing of demons at play. As gleeful as the dancing of water sprites, and as terrible as death. And something else, that could only be described as laughter.

The demons were laughing.

I trembled in terror and understanding. Whatever happened there, that night, the demons liked it.

With my compatriots dead, I watched the last of the demons frolic in the surf just off shore. Now, and then, their scales caught the beam from the light house above the rocks. And for a while, they seemed to move steadily along a course that would take them out to sea. Then, one of them turned back, rose up onto the land, and lumbered toward the lights of the village.

PARTICIPANTS:

You are Here–> Karen Lynn The Waves at Midnight

Sherri Conway Ants

Elizabeth McCleary Over James Henry Wilcox Dead Body

Canis Lupus The Picture

Peg Fisher All In the Fall, a Fractured Fairytale

Bill Bush Trapped

Benjamin Thomas Autumn Cascade

Crystal Collier Emily’s Ghost

Viola Fury 911

Juneta Key All Hallows’ Eve

C. Lee McKenzie Beautiful

Erica Damon Penance’

J. Q. Rose Sorry

Elise VanCise Lady In The Woods

Barbara Lund Spooky Space

Angela Wooldridge Quiet Neighbours

Katharina Gerlach Australian Dream

Mrs. Willoughby’s Heart

There were still a few pieces of Mrs. Willoughby on the slab, after the master finished his do-it-yourself project. All of the intestines. A bladder. No one wants the hassle of taking a monster to the toilet, after all. And there were other things. Odds and ends the monster wouldn’t need. A pair of emerald-green, sling-back pumps. Her right hand, still clutching a worthless can of pepper spray. The master had replaced that with spare parts from his Jeep. And Mrs. Willoughby’s heart.

The monster, you see, ran on propane and electricity, and a beating heart was just a relic.

Igor was supposed to clean up.

He was supposed to sweep the leftovers into the bin, and carry them down to the incinerator. He was supposed to hose down the lab, and empty the filters on the floor drains.

But the whole process had been horrific.

Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. She wanted to be a second grade teacher. And when Igor finally did get her back to the lab, it turned out the master didn’t want a second grade teacher. He wanted a Woman. Not a woman. A Woman. Not a woman. The master repeated himself with curse-words and fury, and in the end, Igor pretended to understand.

Then, there was the dissection.

Igor threw up four times before the master threatened to dissect him.

By the time they got to the electro-ressurrection, Igor was a little dizzy. He could barely stand up, and he would have gone home, if he had any sick-time left. He didn’t have any sick time left, though, so he pushed himself forward. Willed himself to keep going. He was careful. Slow and careful, and if he took his time–
The master threw the switch.
Mrs. Willoughby’s body convulsed. All at once, her muscles contracted, and then… The master cut the electricity. Mrs. Willoughby’s fist shot out, and hit Igor in the face.

And the Master threw the switch again.

And again.

And again.

Igor was black and blue before the thing that had been Mrs. Willoughby sat up and started to recite the times table.

By the time the monster got to thrice eight, the master cut out its vocal cords, and there was silence. Then, the monster began calisthenics. And the monster wasn’t content to do calisthenics alone. Oh, no. It grabbed Igor by the ear, and made him touch his toes.

The master just laughed and watched, and by the time calisthenics were over, Igor was black and blue, and out of breath, and exhausted. None of the other monsters had been that much trouble.

Then, the master took his new monster and left to do whatever peasant-chasing, village-burning things mad scientists and monsters did together.

Igor did intend to clean up. He intended to put things away, and tidy up the lab, but he dozed off.

Mrs. Willoughby’s heart was the first thing he saw, when he opened his eyes. She had a beautiful heart. It was perfect. Big, and warm. And it was his favorite shade of red. It quivered a little, as if it had been crying, and didn’t want him to  know.

He still knew. He could feel the heart sobbing in his brain. And he knew why, too: Mrs Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster, and her heart didn’t want to go in the bin.

The mess was still there, too, but the master could clean it up, himself.

And while he was at it, the master could get his own Women. He didn’t like the way Igor did it, anyway.

Igor put the heart in his knapsack and hefted it over one shoulder.

He was leaving. Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. Her heart didn’t want to go in the bin. And he didn’t want to be a laboratory goon.

On the climb down the mountain, Mrs. Willoughby’s heart chirped encouragement. Sometimes, the sound was lost in the waking songs of birds. And sometimes, he got distracted by flowers, or the rising sun. But by the time he made it back to the village, he knew what to do.

He was going to teach second grade.

Dragon Smoke and Wind

The morning the Dragons came, the cat was in a questionable mood at best. That was understandable. When he was a kitten, and Mr. and Mrs. Dragon were still very young, Mr. Dragon pulled his tail. And Mrs. Dragon set him on fire. Simultaneously.

After all, he’d just fallen in the pig sty, and didn’t their own mother burn them clean, when they got dirty? In retrospect, even the cat could admit it was an honest mistake.

When his fur finally grew back, it had an iridescent sheen, like dragon smoke and wind. His tail—where a young Mr. Dragon had grasped it—was unchanged. Garden variety gray tabby.

Of course, the cat came out to greet the Dragons; that much was common courtesy. He and Mr. Dragon bowed to each other, and he even deigned to let Mrs. Dragon scratch his ears. He shook hands with each of the hatchlings, and commented on how big they were getting.

It was a compliment: none of them was any bigger than a baby goat. The hatchlings remembered their manners, and thanked him.

After that, the cat disappeared. He stalked off into the hydrangeas in the corner of the garden, and stayed there.

Mr. and Mrs. Dragon made themselves at home, and chatted with the hag on the veranda. The three of them—kept half an eye on the hatchlings—and drank cold tea and lemonade for more than an hour.

The hatchlings were bored. The green hatchling and the brown hatchling sat in the grass and made long chains of daisies, and answered the hag’s questions, when she thought of asking any, which wasn’t often. She wasn’t interested in children.

The red hatchling roamed the garden. He wandered past the roses, and the violets, and the little pond with the big goldfish. Then, he went to look for the cat. The cat moved fast—from the hydrangeas to the lilies, to the big evergreen at the end of the lot.

The red hatchling followed; boredom and mischief, and just a hint of excitement. He caught up, and tunneled under the spreading green branches.

Mr. Dragon looked away. The hag raised an eyebrow, and Mrs. Dragon forgot what she was saying, and turned to watch.

And then, they saw the cat emerge from under the burning fir tree. His back was still smoking, but he was only half-bald this time. From the waist down, his iridescent fur was unscathed.

Cats do not stoop to laughter, but the cat did smirk at Mr. Dragon. “Your kid’s smarter than you are,” he said. “Only took him two minutes to figure it out.”

The red hatchling crawled out from under the tree, and collapsed on the grass. He was out of breath, and the fact that he was panting for air did nothing to hide the shock on his face.

“You didn’t tell me he was enchanted.”

Mr. and Mrs. Dragon glanced at each other. “Of course, we didn’t,” Mr. Dragon said.

“If we told you, you wouldn’t have learned anything,” Mrs. Dragon said. “But, yes. Mr. Whiskers is enchanted. People, themselves, feel whatever pain they inflict on him.”

The cat licked his bare paw, and did not stoop to laugh.

“It hurts,” the red hatchling said. He trembled, with pain and humiliation. Without the enchantment, he would never have felt fire burn. As a dragon, he couldn’t.

The hag shrugged, as if the pain was nothing, but the brown hatchling looked worried. Mrs. Dragon took a jar out of her purse, and rubbed the salve on her son’s back.

“It doesn’t matter whether the cat’s enchanted, or not. It’s a cheap lesson,” Mr. Dragon said. He produced a gold coin from his bag, and gave it to the hag. Mrs. Dragon thanked her and the cat for everything they’d done. “In a few years, you’ll be as big as a house, and if you don’t learn to think and treat others as they want to be treated, they’ll come after you with spears.”

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Be sure to visit my friends to read more stories:

Katharina Gerlach Lobster One
S.R. Olson Malakai’s Gift
Wendy Smyer Yu Into The Light
Emily Plesner Time Stops When I’m With You
Barbara Lund Separate Space
Shana Blueming A Melting Heart
Juneta Key Don’t Drink The Water
Angela Wooldridge Midwinter
Lee Lowery All Aboard
Elizabeth McCleary OverWhelmed
Viola Fury The Day The Cat Got Out
Karen Lynn Dragon Smoke and Wind

W is for Williams

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Short Speculative Fiction Stories

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Double dipping again, this time with the Storytime Blog Hop, and a great bunch of Speculative Fiction Writers from Holly Lisle’s Writing Classes.

Williams

“What about the ethical implications?” The old journalist glanced at her notebook, shifted her weight, and smothered an impulse to look at the boy, instead of the crippled man. Looking at Williams was difficult. Always had been. Tubes, wires, atrophy. The impossible angle of his permanently crooked neck, and now this. “To put it delicately, the ethical implications are…”

“What ethical implications?” The scientist’s words were jarring in the young boy’s voice. “There are no ethical implications. It’s not a person. It never has been.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Then, what is he?”

“Legally? It’s a very large mass of cells. The neural connectors were implanted before you could differentiate organs, not just before the law recognizes personhood. I assure you, there’s no gray area, whatsoever.” The boy shrugged, and wiped a thick strand of spittle from Williams’ chin. “Why go back and rehash questions that were settled two hundred years ago?”

She wasn’t prepared. She wasn’t even dressed.

The biggest story of your career, his secretary said. Come as you are, and meet him in fifteen minutes.

Her eyes strayed again—the boy was so young, just eleven or twelve, and solemn.

“Go ahead and look at it.” Williams’ face and mouth were as immobile as ever. The boy moved forward to be inspected. “I’m proud of my invention. A lot prettier than this old carcass, isn’t it?”

Her silence wasn’t tact. She was still staring at the boy, still looking for some hint of autonomy. He was clean, of course. Neatly groomed. Dressed in slacks and a vest. And he was flesh and blood. “He looks like a little boy,” she said. When she stood up, the boy wasn’t taller than her shoulder, and his hair was cropped close to his skull. “There are no scars.”

“Of course not.” The scientist’s amusement rippled through the boy’s voice. “There was no surgery. The brain and skull developed around the device.”

“So, he does have a brain.”

“In some form.” A sage nod from the boy. “Obviously, the autonomic nervous system is the same. I control its motor function with magnified brain waves, and the device transmits back a very rudimentary version of sensory input. It’s an assistive device, like my wheelchair.”

She didn’t understand the details that made such a thing possible. Maybe she wasn’t capable of understanding. She wasn’t a scientist, herself, and maybe that was why Williams chose her. “What do you call him?” she asked.

“A Bioautomaton. That’s what we wrote on the patent.”

She decided to focus on the human element. “He doesn’t have a name?”

“Not officially. My lab assistants call it William, when they think I’m not listening. Some of them like to talk to it. Tell it secrets.” The smile that twisted the boy’s mouth was Professor Williams’ smile. She recognized the cynicism from years earlier, when the man’s mouth still moved. “One of them insists on reading it stories, when she puts it to bed.”

She caught a thread of understanding, and pulled. “And you can hear those stories?”

“If I’m within range. Otherwise, she’s wasting her time.”

“Let’s get back on track, then.” She took a final glance at the Bioautomaton, to be sure it was truly indistinguishable from any other twelve-year-old child, and sat down. “Tell me about your invention. What all does it do?”

“It speaks for me, of course. You’ve been seeing that. I use it to perform self-care tasks, as well as professional, administrative work. Anything a personal attendant would usually do for me, and just about anything else I can think of. I can do those things for myself, now. With the automaton, my typing speed is back up to sixty, seventy words a minute, and I’m more productive than ever.”

She made notes. That much was automatic. She used it to buy herself time to think. “And the mother? How does she feel about that?”

The Bioautomaton shrugged. “The surrogate relinquished any interest she might have had in the product in exchange for a generous fee.” Professor Williams’ words, again. She couldn’t identify any expression or movement that belonged to the boy alone. The boy’s lips twitched. “She’s—“ A short in the connection, maybe. And then, again, more fluidly, “She’s well taken care of.”

“People are going to call it human experimentation. They’re going to call it immoral. They’ll want to know what made a mother sell her son for experiments.” She sat back, and watched; the man in the wheelchair did nothing; the boy’s back stiffened, and his right arm jerked, as if Williams had forgotten the exact signal to send, after years without his own muscles. “I’m going to have to tell them something. Because that’s the story.”

“The story is technology.” The boy’s voice rose with shrill rage, and the full force of a man’s will. Oh, yes. She remembered Williams’ temper. “It’s about what Bioautomatons can do for society. For science. For the paralyzed and crippled. It’s the kind of miracle transplants were, centuries ago.”

“You call that science?” She couldn’t look at the boy; she couldn’t look at the man. She grabbed her bag, and got up. “It’s slavery.”

“Go, then! I’ll find another reporter. It’s not hard. Finding you only took a phone call.”

“Don’t think I didn’t get my story.” She turned her back on both of them, and raced for the door. She had a deadline. She had the story of a lifetime. Mind control. Zombies. The readers would be rioting in the streets before Williams next reporter got the call.

She looked back—she wanted one last glimpse from the pinnacle of her career—and froze.

Williams—even though he hadn’t spoken a word in two decades—was red in the face, as if he had been shouting with his own voice, his own lungs.

And the boy… the Bioautomaton… smiled.

Hope you enjoyed it! Tell me what you think, and don’t forget to visit all my brilliant friends:

Katharina Gerlach Wet Kisses

Marie Lee Grandpa

Barbara Lund Changing Space

Juneta Key Instinct

Elizabeth McCleary Window

 

My Story

By Karen Lynn

Deep in the mines, under the Jansen lift, where the miners’ families lived in darkness sat an ashy Peacock. His spun glass feathers stretched above him, and he held his head high. Now and then, if one of the miners forgot–or chose–not to turn off his lamp at the door, the moving light flashed against the Peacock, against his onyx eyes or his sapphire breast, or tickled against his sweeping tail, and that was all. A glimpse. A fragment of a hope.

Then, as if he’d stolen something far more precious than a drop of oil or a ray of light, the miner would smother the lamp, and return to his cot to sleep.

The darkness was absolute, and yet, even the children knew–to a fraction of an inch–where the Peacock stood. When I shone my light around the cavern, I could see where years of tiptoeing feet had worn down a path around the Peacock, so he stood on a raised platform of dirt.

I was there, but I wasn’t one of them. I was raised on the surface, in the countryside. My family owned real Peacocks, and the glass ornament in front of me seemed out of place and strangely idolatrous. The thing was a distraction, and worse, a waste of resources. And however that impossible thing had gotten to the bottom of a mine, I knew it was stolen.

I handed the lantern to my assistant, and considered. The Peacock was a nuisance, of course. It took up space, and time, and lantern oil, but the real question was morale. I would have to judge whether the company would lose more money by removing the Peacock or by leaving it.

I walked the path around the Peacock, and the assistant followed with the lamp. I circled the bird twice… three times, slowly, and stopped.

By then, the children and the wives, and whatever miners were off shift had gathered. They stood in the cavern, and watched. Looked. They looked at the Peacock in full light for the first time in their lives, and I could not be sure they knew I was there.

The dust dulled the Peacock’s surface. I took a cloth out of my pocket, and wiped the glass. Carefully.

I would have left the ornament. It didn’t take much space, and the reverence they had for it was obvious. A beautiful thing in their dismal lives. That was my decision; the Peacock was invaluable for morale. I would not have smashed it.

The cave-in we’re discussing began in some other part of the mine. The sound of breaking timbers and falling rocks was distant. No one considered evacuation. The ground shook a little under foot, but that cavern was still safe. The walls rumbled. In a practical sense, that was all.

The Peacock’s feathers vibrated, just at their tips, in the beginning. Then, the sound grew louder, and the bird shook, from his brass feet to the crown of his head, and the feathers cracked. One by one, they split at the base, broke away from the body, and shattered in the black dirt.

The light from my lantern lit their faces, one by one, and although that cavern was still intact–and would be intact for another day or longer–they were gone. The miners and their women, and the children who had been raised in the mine were dead. Nothing had touched them. They stopped breathing when the Peacock shattered.

Their empty faces tipped up toward the place where the Peacock had been. The only thing left of the bird was two bronze feet in the coal dust. There’s no chance of survivors.

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Angela Wooldridge Uninvited Guests
Barbara Lund New Space
Kris Bowser Smithereens
Justine Ohlrich Two Deaths on My Birthday
Rabia Gale House Bound
Juneta Key Consequence
Mel Corbett If It’s Not Yours
Elizabeth McCleary Essence
Katharina Gerlach Scars

Lepterian Creation Story

I’ve been pretty busy lately.  So, this is something a little different.  I think this probably winds up getting cut out of the book, but I thought you might enjoy it as a side-story.  Just a few small spoilers (nothing you wouldn’t be able to see coming, anyway.)

“In the beginning, before the oceans filled and before the mountains rose, the Lonely God created a woman.”  The Lepterian exhaled, like a little boy who had just faked his way through a scripture lesson he was supposed to memorize.  “And she was beautiful and good, and when he saw her, he wanted to create a whole universe for his masterpiece to play in.”

“That’s nice.”

“But the universe would need dangerous and terrifying things to keep the balance.”

“Keep the balance?”

The question made him smile. “The old priest in my hometown said that keeping the balance meant avoiding being overrun by rabbits and skunks, but that’s not in the scripture.  Keep the balance is what the scripture actually says.”

“Poetic.”

“So he created a male to protect her.”

“And the male?”

“The male was everything the woman was not.  He was blue and hard and rough…”  He lost track of his place when she sat down by his feet and ran a finger along his calf from his ankle to his knee.  “Everything the woman was not…”

“You left out hairy.”

“And hairy.” He couldn’t remember if hairy was one of the differences the scripture mentioned, but he said it, anyway. “And the woman saw him, and she was terrified.”

The Basillea leaned her head back against his thigh, and looked up at him.  “Not likely.”

“You’re ruining the story.”  He heaved a sigh, and stretched to show off the elegant muscles under his skin.  “And she was taken with his beauty.  She grabbed him by the ears and ravished his body with a ferocity that startled even the creator.  They lived happily ever after.  The end.”

“Okay.  Fine.  She was terrified.”  The Basillea pressed her cheek against the Lepterian’s knee.  “What happened next?”

“For just a second, she stares at the man.  Then, he takes a step closer, and she runs.”  He paused for comments, but none came.  “So man spends his first day trying to catch up to the woman he is supposed to protect.  That night, he returns to the creator, and says to him, ‘The woman is too fast.  If you want me to protect her, make her slower so I can keep up with her when she runs away from me.’  And the creator tells him, ‘But I didn’t make her for you.  I created her to run with my wind through the fields.  I cannot make her slower.’  So, he goes away and spends the whole night looking for the woman.”

But the woman knew he’d be looking for her, so she doubled back, and employed trickery to hide her tracks, and he never found her.

And the man went back to the creator a third time.  He told the creator what had happened, and said, “The woman is too cunning.  Fix her so she won’t trick me into looking for her in the wrong places.”  By now, of course, the creator is getting tired of the complaints.  He looks at the man and tells him, “I didn’t create the woman for you.  She is what I want her to be.  If she outsmarts you, that’s your own fault.”

And day after day, he tries, and fails, and every day, he goes back with some request. Fix this. Fix that. Make some change that would make the woman easier to protect, and every day, the creator refuses to change his favorite creation.

So, at last, the man goes to the creator, and says to him, “If I were smarter, the woman would not have to change.  If I were the color she is, she would not see me coming.  If I were faster, I would be able to keep up when she runs.  She would not have to change.  Change me, instead.”

And the creator refuses.  “I created the woman for my own reasons, and I created you for my own reasons.  If you despise each other, that’s not my problem.”  Then, the creator threw the man back out into the still-empty world and slammed the door.  “Go,” he said, “and don’t come back alone.”

The Basillea listened to the end. “You believe that?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“So, how do they wind up together?”

“Oh.”  He nodded.  “More or less as you’d expect.  The man sits down in the middle of a field, distraught that he is unable to do his job, and destined to be alone.  He falls asleep thinking about how he has failed.  And eventually, the woman’s cunning drives her to investigate.  She knows she’s swift enough to escape, and plain enough to hide, so she sneaks out, and…”

“And…?”

“In any event, they live contentiously ever after.”

 

The Family Book

I ran away from home, the summer I turned ten. And I packed for never coming back.

If there was a reason, I don’t remember. With three older brothers, there was enough reason. Too young, too short, too girl. Whatever the reason was, it carried me out of our apartment, through the endless steel corridors, and a mile or two down the nearest freight elevator.

I stuffed my backpack with jeans and t-shirts, and three changes of clean underwear. I took all the money out of my piggy bank, and a couple of stuffed friends I wasn’t quite old enough to leave behind.

And then, in supreme rebellion, I snuck into the library, collected the travel cable out of the desk, and took The Book off of its carved oak charging pedestal. For a moment, I hesitated. The Book. I wasn’t allowed to use it without supervision, and in truth, I’d never been alone with The Book before.

Before I ran, I made a nest between my t-shirts and my underwear, and tucked The Book into that hollow.
And that was what got the Police’s attention.

What kind of kid takes The Family Book, and leaves the virtual reality headset, the speakers, and the vibration motor? Without all that other stuff, the only thing you can do with a Book is read.

That’s what made them so certain I was kidnapped, so sure something horrible had happened.
The only thing I took with me was The Book.

Outside the City-building, the noise faded, and the silence began, and after a while, I found a place in the shade, where the only sounds were crickets and the mechanical drone of robotic pivots. I read until I fell asleep, and read again in the strange red light of natural day.

I sank so deep into the luxury of time and words that I didn’t hear the sirens until the police were nearly on top of me.

I left everything but the Book, and ran, stumbling through the corn.

I looked back, saw the big, blue machines coming, tripped over something, or nothing, and fell. My skirt caught, and tore, and one of my shoes fell into the water in the ditch, but I kept the Book safe. I crawled into a culvert to hide, and cut my hands on the snaggle edge of the rusting tube.

The police robot secured my ankles, and pulled with the calculated force necessary to get a foolish little girl out of a culvert before she drowned. I clutched the Book against my chest, and slid across the corrugated steel. An hour later, I was standing in front of the child advocate and my mother.

By then, the nano-bots had repaired my skinned knee and the cuts on my hands, and the only evidence of my fall was mud and the ripped skirt I had to hold shut with my hand.

“Can you tell me what happened?” the advocate asked again.

I repeated the truth. Nothing. Nothing happened. Still, she kept asking, and my mother asked.

Nothing happened. I held the Book tighter. I’d taken care of it, hadn’t I? Not a scratch on it. I was in trouble, but at least that was in my favor.

“What happened?”

I looked up at them and said what grownups always wanted to hear: “I’ll be good,” I said. I held the Book out to them, a peace offering. “You can have the Book back, I said.

The dispatcher winced, and my mother stopped being brave. She hugged me and shook her head no. “Darling, it’s okay. You can keep the Book.” I pretended not to notice the tears, and she pretended she knew how to fix whatever had happened.

Thanks for visiting! I’d to hear what you think, or just leave a comment to say hello.

If you’re interested in reading more of my work, my bigger science fiction project starts here. I’m adding chapters as I go along.

Be sure you visit the other writers in the blog hop for more short stories:

Angela Wooldridge: An Alternative to Frog
Thea van Diepen: Are You Sure It’s That Way?
Paula de Carvalho: Body Double
Kris Bowser: Tantrums
Virginia McClain: Rakko’s Storm
Grace Robinette: Georg Grembl
Elizabeth McCleary: The Door
Dale Cozort: Two Letters In A Fireproof Box
Katharina Gerlach: Canned Food
Rabia Gale: Spark
K. A. Petentler: The Twisted Tale of Isabel
Shana Blueming: Paper & Glue
Amy Keeley: To Be Prepared For Chocolate
Cherie “Jade” Arbuckle: After I Died