M Drive – The Sludge, Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

The entity blinked, and nearly went insane.

For a moment, the universe, all of that lovely sensory input, simply vanished.  The entity was cut off, back in its prison outside of reality!  It had been thrown back out, rejected, trapped once again in its indeterminate and everlasting hell!

When the entity opened its eyes again, it was screaming.

“Oy!  Sconner, what the blazes!  You in there, boyo?”

These words bloomed inside a previously blank mind, automatically translated from the pulses transversing the air.  The entity ceased screaming, instead paying attention to the photonic inputs.

Concrete below, a hard floor covered in a spiderweb of cracks.  Above, a roof of wooden slats, some looking half rotten with age.  Girders crossed the space, the exposed skeleton of the building.  And standing in front of it, a sapient, a creature with four limbs, a flat face, and a concerned expression on its face.

“By gods, what was that thing?” the other sapient asked.  Its lips moved, producing the sound waves that crossed the air to be interpreted by the small trumpets of tissue on either side of the entity’s new flesh-clad shell.  “One second, it’s sludge on the ground, next one it looks like it soaked into you, right through the skin!  You feel okay?”

Ah.  An inner respiratory sack provided the flow of air, shaped to control vibration by muscular cords at the narrow neck.  Simple enough.  “Yeah, I’m all right,” Sconner replied, reaching up and rubbing one hand slowly over his hair.  “Stuff felt nasty, but seems to be gone now.  Must have drained away.”

Memories, stored information cleverly tucked into the pattern of connections between bioelectric signal generators.  Easy enough to read.  The other man was named Clancy, in his late forties and divorced.  He spent most of his time complaining about his ex-wife, when he wasn’t helping Sconner haul around the bundles of newspaper.  The entity didn’t know what most of this meant, but it was engraved in the structure of its new shell.

Right now, Clancy still looked apprehensive.  “Drained away, you say?” he repeated.  “Dunno, boyo – looked like it soaked right into you, it did!  Maybe we ought to drop you at the sawbones, get you checked over.  No one knows what’s in all these warehouses, but it could be something dangerous.  Don’t want to see you killed.”

Sconner shook his head.  “Really, it’s nothing,” he insisted.  “I feel fine.”

“You sure?”  Clancy squinted at his younger shift partner.  Was it just him, or was the fellow not blinking nearly as much as he ought to be doing?

“Yeah,” came the reply.  “In fact, I feel… hungry.”

The man didn’t seem quite right.  But for Clancy, a man who had spent years settling into his groove and was reluctant to leave it, this didn’t seem to be worth the questioning.  “Well, we’ll hit up the diner on our way into the city,” he decided.  “Here, let’s get the last of these reams all loaded up into the truck, and we’ll be on our way.”

Not waiting for an answer, Clancy bent over to scoop up one of the heavy stacks of bundled newsprint.  Lift with your legs, the doc kept on telling him, but it just felt more natural to use his back.  Even if it sometimes wheezed a little.  Sucking in air, Clancy pulled upright.

When he turned towards the truck, Sconner was only a few inches away from him.

“Hungry,” Sconner repeated, right into Clancy’s wide eyes.

A moment later, the bundle of papers hit the floor.  But Clancy didn’t.

The entity didn’t waste a single bite.

Advertisements

Adventures in Home Brewing, Part II of II

Continued from here.

“Yeah, you sound sober!” I pointed out.  “Weren’t you drunk just a moment ago?”

Dan looked back at us, blinking a couple of times.  “I am!” he insisted.  But then, a moment later, he shook his head in wonderment.  “I mean, I was…”

For a moment, we just all looked at each other.  Ari, perhaps because he’d been sober from the beginning, was a little quicker on the uptake.  “No way,” he said, and he grabbed his own cup of coffee.

Dan and I both watched as he lowered the cup from his lips – and screamed.

The scream went on for quite a while, until Dan slapped a hand over his mouth.  “He’s gone too far the other way!” he cried out at me, as Ari battered at the bigger man with flailing arms.

I stared back, wide-eyed.  “What do I do?”

“I dunno, find something with alcohol!”

I spun around, staring at my kitchen.  We had (well, Dan had) finished off most of my beers.  In desperation, I grabbed the jar of vanilla – distilled in alcohol.

We shoved the bottle into Ari’s mouth and forced a couple gulps down his throat.  As we watched, holding our breaths, the man finally calmed down a bit.  “Holy crap,” he gasped, staring at us.  “That stuff is strong!”

“What happened to you?” I had to ask.

Ari shook his head back and forth, searching for words.  “Okay, you know when you take a shot on an empty stomach, and you just feel the world lurch as the alcohol hits you?” he finally stammered out after a minute.

We both nodded.

“Well,” the man concluded, “it was just like that, but the opposite.  And way worse.”

After that ordeal, we all needed a drink.  And not of my brewed coffee concoction.  Dan scrounged up some more beers, and we sat around, staring at the still mostly full jug of black liquid.

“Could make a fortune outside bars at last call,” Ari finally offered.  “Sobers people up with a sip, that stuff does.”

“Yeah, but one wrong sale and you’ve got somebody screaming,” I retorted.

After a minute, Dan just shook his head.  “Damn, man,” he finally said.  “You definitely brewed something, that’s for sure…”

Adventures in Home Brewing, Part I of II

Dan and Ari were both watching as I revealed the bottle from the refrigerator, struggling a little with its weight.  The three-gallon jug was nearly full of dark brown liquid, sloshing back and forth with a bit of foam cresting the tops of those waves.  The liquid inside was dark, murky, the brown of bloodsoaked mud.

It didn’t look especially appetizing, I had to admit…

Staring at the big jug, Dan lifted his silver can of beer up to his lips and chugged the rest.  “Dude, arr you sure you mmrade this stuff right?” he slurred, his breath probably high enough proof to be flammable.  “I mean, it kinda looks like ah beer…”

“Yeah, if you close your eyes,” Ari cackled.  He was the designated driver, and thus his wits were somewhat sharper than his sloshed companion.  There was a reason why I’d waited to reveal this until fairly late into the evening, after all.

I shook my head at them as I fumbled in the cupboard for a couple of cups.  “Look, I might have taken a couple liberties with the approach, but I’m sure it can’t be that bad,” I protested.  “I mean, people have been making beer for thousands of years!  How hard can it be?”

The cups were out, and I carefully poured a couple fingers of beer into each.  The liquid swirled into infinity, dark and mysterious.

The three of us gathered around and stared into it.

“Tryy it,” Dan whispered, waving an elbow vaguely in Ari’s direction.

“Heck no,” his friend returned, not taking his eyes off of the dark miasma.  “You’re the drunk one, you’ll taste it less.”

I waited, trying to seem as innocuous as possible.  I mean, sure I brewed it, but that didn’t mean that I necessarily wanted to try it!

And to tell the truth, I wasn’t really sure about this batch.  I’d tried my hand at brewing a couple times before, strictly following the recipes that came with the yeast, and it had turned out decently acceptable.  But this time, I’d decided to experiment, take some liberties, just tossing things in.

I had been expecting something nice and full-bodied, with a taste of coffee.  I hadn’t been expecting the blackness and consistency of motor oil.

Finally, all eyes on him, Dan picked up the cup and took a gulp of air.  “Screw youse, I’s not afraid,” he announced, and took a sip of the oily liquid.

When he lowered the glass, he looked as though he’d just taken a big bite of lemon.  His whole face puckered up.  “Wow, that stuff is bitter!” he exclaimed, lowering the still half-full cup.  “My god, man, that stuff is strong!  Tastes like the most concentrated coffee I’ve ever had!”

Dan shook his head back and forth, but Ari glanced over at him.  “Hey, what happened to your voice?” he asked.

“My voice?” Dan repeated.  “What, is something wrong with it?”

To be continued on Friday!

M Drive – The Sludge, Part I

Formless wasn’t quite the right word to describe it.

The entity had shape, of a sort.  If shape was the right word to describe a writhing, roiling mass that seemed to defy any attempt to corral it into a set form.  It spasmed and twisted, trying to seek out some sort of definition for itself.

Blind, sightless, tasteless, earless.  The entity was trapped in a hell of sensory deprivation.  Every second was a million years of confinement, of lack of any awareness except for itself.  It threw out filaments, twisting tentacles of blackness, but it encountered nothing that brought it relief.

That was almost the end.  Perhaps, in another story, the entity would have simply gone completely past the realm of madness and into the peaceful valley of catatonic slumber.  In many stories, that did happen, and nothing was left behind except for a small puddle of ever-shrinking sludge, just one more meaningless deposit in the middle of nowhere.

But that didn’t happen…

Instead, nearly dead from exhaustion after countless failed attempts to define itself, the entity felt something else.  Something outside itself, a bit of reality onto which it could latch.

It was a boot, pressed down into the center of the darkness.

“Cor, what the hell is this?”  The entity had no ears to hear, but it could sense that vibration, a ripple in the air.  “Disgusting, I’ll tell you that.  Someone spill some sort of muck around here?  Blighter couldn’t even bother to pick it up.”

These vibrations meant nothing to the entity.  Speech?  Conversation?  Until this point, there had been no one with whom to converse.  But this boot was connected to more, to a realm beyond itself.  The entity craved that reality, strained with every fibre of its twisted and insane being to get out into it.  To take it.  To absorb it and make it part of itself.

“Ugh, stuff is sticky,” the vibrations continued.  “Thing’s got my boot.  Oy, Johnny, mind coming over here to give me a hand here?”

The entity felt that connection with reality pulling away.  No!  It couldn’t go back to the formless darkness!  With the speed of desperate thought, it lunged upwards, trying to cross the bridge before it was broken.

The vibrations were getting much sharper and louder.  The entity couldn’t understand these, so it dismissed them.  It kept on climbing.

Now, here was something.  There was a structure to this reality, the entity realized.  Flesh and sinews over a structure of brittle bone, interlaced with electric and bio-organic connections carrying waves of binary information up and down in modulated bursts.  This was organization, a form that could be adopted.

Why innovate, when such melodious design was available for the taking?  The entity didn’t hesitate.  It infused the structure, the reality on which it climbed, to which it clung.  It was easy enough to pour itself in, to take on the shape of this most delicate structure.  The other bits were replaced, absorbed, supplanted.   There was no need for them any longer.

The vibrations had abruptly stopped.  How odd.

The entity stretched its limbs, exulting in the sensation.  There were so many other inputs!  Dense clusters of receptors tucked behind focusing lenses to provide a way to interpret the flowing spectrum of photonic energy.  Other receptors, just below the surface of its containment, offered immediate feedback to resistance.  Funnels collected and distilled vibrations in the air, converting them into a traceable signal.

For the first time in its existence, the entity blinked.

To be continued!

Lucifer’s Gift, Part III

This story begins here.  The last entry was here.

…and bumped against one of the fallen cherubs, who was now sitting on the floor.

With his fat, baby-like fingers, the reached out for the apple sitting in front of him.  The apple was gleaming, shining, looking perfect.  It definitely did not belong in the grasp of this chubby little imp!

I went diving out of the booth in which I had been sitting, lunging for the apple.  The angel clearly intended to do the same thing, but he was currently sprawled across the table, and so it took him some time to turn himself around and re-orient himself.

From the other side of the diner, there was the sound of very sharp, very pointy high heels clicking across the vinyl floor.  I glanced up as I hurried forward, and realized that the succubus waitress had just re-entered from the back room.  Her eyes went wide as she realized what was happening, and a moment later, she was also hurrying forward, reaching down for the apple with a clawed talon.

We were all lunging towards the cherub as fast as we could, and it was anyone’s guess as to who would get there first.

The baby sitting on the dirty floor looked up, and I saw him look from me, to the angel, to the succubus.  He lifted the apple up towards his chest, towards his face.

“Don’t do it!” I shouted.  I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew that it would be bad.

“For the sake of your soul, resist the temptation!” the angel called out.  “You’ll be damned!  Damned!”

“If you eat that thing, I’ll split you in half myself to get it back out!” hissed the succubus, snarling in a manner that was extremely un-ladylike.  “I’ll rip you limb from limb!  Give it up, and I’ll grant you the mercy of a quick death!”

All of our words must have blended together into an indistinguishable babble of noise for the cherub.  He looked up at us, paused-

-and then lifted the apple up to his mouth.

There was a slight pop.

And the cherub – and the apple – vanished together in a puff of smoke.

As the target of our lunges vanished, we all skidded to a stop.  There was a moment of mutual near-awkwardness as we tried to avoid running into each other; I especially wanted to avoid the clawed talons on the hands of our demonic waitress.

As we stopped, however, none of us wanted to make eye contact with the others.  “Erm, well, I guess my job is done here,” the angel sighed, keeping his eyes down.

And with a pop, the angel vanished.  Only his paper cook’s hat was left, drifting down lazily to the floor.

The succubus turned to me, and I could see an angry fire burning in her eyes.  She raised her claws and hissed at me, but she didn’t take a step towards me.  Clearly she was angry, but attacking me wouldn’t help, and I could see that she probably wasn’t supposed to kill me herself.

Finally, with one last huff, the succubus also vanished, leaving behind a cloud of foul-smelling yellow smoke.  And I was left alone in the diner.

I settled back down at my table, leaning back and enjoying the silence.  I assumed that I would wake up at any point now.

But for the moment, I just relaxed in the peace.

What a weird dream, I thought to myself.

I wondered what it meant.

Lucifer’s Gift, Part II

Continued from Part I, found here.

Like I said, I knew that this was a dream.  And as I looked around, even if I hadn’t thought so before, it was now abundantly obvious.

I appeared to be standing in a diner, looking like it was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  That is, except for the cherubs.  And the devil.  And as the waitress sauntered over to me, I noticed that she was dressed in ripped tights, a strapped-up leather bustier that looked to be covered in nasty symbols, and sprouting a pair of batlike wings hanging off of her back.  As my eyes fell on her, she licked her lips at me with a curiously long tongue, in a manner that can’t possibly be considered anywhere below PG-13…

Quickly, I kept my eyes scrolling onward.  There was a cook behind the counter of the diner, his eyes cast down as he industriously mopped at the counter with a rag.  He seemed normal enough – until I squinted my eyes at him.  I could just make out the ever so faint aura of a glowing halo bobbing above his head.

What a strange dream.

In front of me, Lucifer made a grunt of triumph, and reluctantly wrenched his hand up.  “Aha!” he cheered as he held up the newest fruit.  “Now that’s what I’m looking for!”

And he lowered his hand down to hold out an apple to me.

A part of my mind was telling me to politely decline, to say no thank you and walk away.  But there was something captivating about that apple.  It seemed brighter, more colorful… somehow just more *real* than the rest of the room – or the entire dream.

I stretched out my hand and picked up the apple from his palm, feeling the weight.

As soon as the apple was out of his hand, Lucifer leapt up smartly to his feet, clapping his hands together.  “Well, great!” he said, reaching into one pocket.  “That’s all taken care of, then!”

From his pocket, the devil pulled out what looked like a very full billfold, and peeled off a couple of bills.  He dropped them down on the table, gave me a very obvious wink, and then spun around, snapping both of his figures.

Halfway through the spin, he vanished.

Just like any devilish waitress, the succubus was nowhere in sight.  Instead, as I sat there and gazed at the apple, I saw that the cook had come out from behind the counter and was sidling over to me.  His eyes were darting between me and the apple in my hand.  “You’re not going to eat that, are you?” he asked in an undertone.

I shrugged.  I honestly hadn’t thought that far ahead.  “Er, I dunno,” I replied.  “Does it matter?  This is just a dream, right?”

The angel (and despite the dirty cook’s jacket and the white paper hat, I was pretty sure it was an angel) winced.  “Dreams can have effects that resonate far beyond them,” he said with ominous portent.  The effect was spoiled a minute later, however, as he darted forward and grabbed for the fruit.

I yanked it back, out of his reach.  “Hey!  What do you think you’re doing!”

“Give it to me!” the angel grunted, trying to crawl over the table to grab it from me.  I couldn’t help but think that, for a Heavenly being, he wasn’t super adept in a physical sense.  “It’s evil!  I need to save you from it!”

“How do you know it’s evil!?”

“Because it came from the Devil!  Now fork it over!”

Finally, with one desperate grab, the angel managed to knock the fruit from my hands, and we both watched as it went tumbling down, off the table and down onto the floor.  With wide eyes, we watched as it rolled, rolled…

To be concluded!

Lucifer’s Gift, Part I

As the little cherubs flapped around my head, making rather annoying bleating noises, I stared back at the man in front of me and became absolutely, completely certain of two things:

First, this was definitely a dream.

And second, this man in front of me was the Devil.

That second fact wasn’t too hard to deduce.  The man was dressed in a rather smart black suit, double-breasted and well fitted to his figure.  He had a rather handsome face, and the two horns poking up from his forehead were little more than cosmetic nubs.  I didn’t see a tail curling out from behind him, but perhaps it was tucked into his well fitted pants.

Also, he was wearing a small plastic nametag that read “Lucifer.”

“What are you doing here?” I gasped to the man, absentmindedly raising up a hand to try and swat away one of the cherubs ducking in around my head.  They were making quite annoying cooing noises at me.  “Is this some sort of vision?”

Lucifer looked taken aback, as though I had said something offensive.  “Don’t flatter yourself!” he snapped at me.  “Look, I’m just here to give you this.”

And the devil’s hand came out from behind his back – holding a banana.

I stared at the fruit.  It was rather brown, and looked a bit like it had been sitting in the back of someone’s hot car.  “Really?” I asked, feeling a little skeptical.  “Are you sure?”

“Am I sure?  Of course I’m-” Lucifer paused for a moment, looking down at his hand, and stopped.  “Oh.  Wait, no, that’s not right.”

Almost lazily, he tossed the banana overhand at my head.  I ducked, and the fruit instead collided with one of the cherubs, sending it down into a crashing dive-bomb with a dismayed squeak.  The devil reached back behind his back once again, looking slightly uncomfortable as he reached around.

“Er, just give me a second,” he said to me after a moment as he rummaged around.  “I really thought I had it.”

Most of the other cherubs had dived down to see to their fallen companion, and I was glad for the peace.  “Take your time,” I shrugged, looking around. while I waited…

To be continued!

Let’s Take A Walk

“So listen, I’ve been thinking, and I think I know what we need.”

“What, like a new coffee table?  Mine has a lot of stains, since you keep on forgetting to put down a coaster.”

“Nah, dude, not like that.  I mean what we need as a race!  As part of humanity!”

“Ugh, one of these again…”

“I promise that it’s really good.”

“…fine.  Okay, tell me.  What do we, as members of the human race, need?”

“We need something to tell us when we’re almost there!”

“…what.  You mean like GPS?”

“No!  Well, kind of.  But for tasks!  Goals!  Achievements in our lives!”

“I’m really feeling lost here.”

“Okay, well, think about this.  Haven’t you ever wanted to become a best-selling author?  Or a famous actor?  You know, some big dream like that?”

“Of course I have!  Everyone has.”

“Well, so why’d you give it up?”

“I mean, I dunno.  It’s tough, isn’t it?  You try and you try, and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere.  Eventually, you just stop.”

“Yeah, exactly!  But don’t you wonder sometimes?  What if you were almost there?”

“You mean like I was about to make the big time?”

“Yeah, exactly!  And maybe you were just one book, one gig away!  But you don’t know, because you quit before covering that last little step.”

“Ah, I see.  But if there had been a voice to tell me that I was almost there-“

“Then you would have pushed through, and you might be famous by now!  Or rich!  Or successful in life!”

“Hey!  I think I’m doing okay in life!”

“Oh, okay, sure, but not amazing, right?  Because we give up too fast!  So we need someone to tell us that we’re almost there!”

“Or even better, a progress bar.”

“No, not a progress – actually, wait, hold on.  That does work better.”

“So it’s agreed.  We need a progress bar for all of our goals in life.  I’ll draw up the paperwork so that we can submit it to God for his signature.”

“Come on, dude, you don’t have to be sarcastic about it.”

“I’m just saying – it’s a cool thought, but it’s not just magically gonna happen.”

“Whatever.  I thought it was creative.  Anyway, it’s getting chilly out.  We should probably turn around.”

“But what if we’re almost there??”

“Almost where?”

“I dunno.  Whatever our walk goal is.”

“Just for that, I’m not gonna use a coaster on your coffee table tonight.”

The Best & Worst Days of My Life, Part II

The doctors told us that the chance of it happening was low.  Exceedingly low.  She’s a very rare type, they’d tell us.  The organ in question is very sensitive, easily damaged, and doesn’t last long after death.  These organs, of this type, almost never came on the market.  Sarah was at a high spot on the list, but the list meant almost nothing.  Most people left it through death, not through a happy ending.

And then the call came…

As soon as the doctor told her, Sarah had me on the phone.  “They found one!” she all but screamed, and I could hear her excitement as clear as day.  “I’m going to get the transplant!”

Of course, we were a bit concerned, as well.  This wasn’t a minor surgery, after all.  Sarah was going under the knife, and sometimes, we knew that patients didn’t wake up.  And yet, we were determined.  We were the perfect couple, with the perfect story.  We were going to make it.

That was yesterday.  The happiest day of my life.  Of our lives, perhaps.

And now, today, it was all different.

Once again, I looked down at the note in my hands.  I had read it so many times, I probably had the words committed to memory.  But still, I couldn’t stop myself from bringing my eyes back to those lines, hand-written on the sheet of loose paper.

Andrew,

I’m so sorry.  I know you deserve more than this.  More than what I could give you.

But I have to go out, to see the rest of the world.  There’s so much more that I want to experience.  When I met you, I thought I wouldn’t have any chance, and you were my breath of life, my touch of the outside world.

Now, though, I can go see it all for myself.  And I can’t pass that up.  Maybe one day, we’ll meet again.

Love, always,
Sarah

I crumpled the note up in my hands.  For a long time, I just sat there, on the empty hospital bed, staring off into the distance.

How ironic, I couldn’t help thinking.  The best day of my life, immediately followed by the worst.

The Best and Worst Days of My Life, Part I

I stared down at the piece of paper in my hands, sitting on the edge of the bed.  I could feel my suit wrinkling, crease lines forming in the fabric, but I didn’t care about it.

It didn’t matter.  Nothing else mattered.  Just the words on that sheet of paper.

I reached up and rubbed one hand across my face, hoping that somehow, when I reopened my eyes, things would have gone back to the way that they were.  That she’d be back…

With a couple fingers, I absentmindedly twisted the wedding ring around my finger.  That was a habit of mine, one that I’d had for many years.  I guess I still wasn’t quite used to wearing the thing.  Our marriage hadn’t exactly been… traditional.

I wondered whether I should just take the thing off.

I could still remember our wedding, now several years previously.  It hadn’t been super well attended, of course – there are only so many people that can squeeze into a hospital room, even the largest one.  And with Sarah still needing to be constantly hooked to all of those machines, well, moving her really wasn’t an option.

But despite that, we still managed to squeeze as many people in as the room could hold.  More than was recommended, probably.  And even though Sarah had to struggle for each breath, I could still see her eyes shining as she pulled away her oxygen mask long enough to repeat back the priest’s lines.

And her eyes never left mine.

What a weird story, huh?  Guy visiting a hospital falls in love with a patient.  Sounds like one of those crazy stories that you read on the internet in a forwarded email.  But I promise you, that’s what happened.

And Sarah loved me back.

(If you’re paying attention, by the way, you probably caught that past tense.  Just read on.)

Living like that, as we were, was definitely a challenge.  But somehow, incredibly, we made it work.  I’d head over to the hospital after every day of work, and we’d laugh away the hours, me perched on the edge of her bed, one arm around her shoulders.  We’d compare our meals (mine from the cafeteria, hers from the nurses), and sometimes, after I slipped the nurses a folded bill or two, they’d close the door on our room and give us some time alone.

And throughout it all, we never gave up hope…