From the ice

I could spot the thing from the air as the little ship swung overhead, dropping like a stone amid the swirling, blowing snow.  I clutched the armrests of my seat tightly and tried to ignore the flip-flopping of my stomach.

Instead, I kept my eyes glued to the window, trying to assemble the glances of the creature into a coherent picture.  Not the biggest we’d found, but decently sized.  Probably a young male, I guessed,  They tended to push the hardest north, looking for new spawning spots to claim.

This one must have not noticed the falling temperature until the ice closed in, trapping him.

The plane banked to the side again, turning into a tight spiral and giving me another look at the beast – and sending my stomach into tight convulsions.  Fifty feet, I guessed.  That fit with my original prediction of a young male.  I’d need to examine the thing on the ground to know for certain.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, the plane’s wheels sat on the ground, and my breath came a little more easily.  I gathered my things, pulled my coat around my thin shoulders, and stumbled out into into the open air.

The chill of the place hit me like a knife, slicing straight through the thick weave.  I hissed in shock but clenched my teeth together, refusing to let them chatter.

Fortunately, a car waited at the bottom of the plane’s steps to carry me over to the thing.  The man behind the wheel hid most of his face beneath a balaclava, but he still flashed a big, brilliantly white grin at me.  “Evening, doc.  Here to see what we’ve found?  Gonna make all of us rich?”

“Here to take a look,” I agreed, although I didn’t address his second point.  Fortunately, my tone was enough to make the driver shrug and turn back to the wheel.

Truth was, there wasn’t too much money in the big beasts any more.  Sure, some big trophy hunters would pay for unusually large specimens, and the research universities still bought up eggs from the females, but those were both pretty rare.  The males, especially younger ones like this guy, had saturated the market.  Everyone who really wanted one already had one.

And given their size, one was enough to provide research samples for decades.

Still, I kept on agreeing to fly out to all the new sites, all the new discoveries.  I guess I felt a bit like a treasure hunter, forever hoping to find that glint of gold amid the dross.

It wasn’t going to be here, of course.  I already knew that.

The car pulled over, and I braced myself against the cold before sliding out of the back seat.  I stepped over to the hide of the massive fish, reaching out running one gloved hand over its side.  No scales, of course – the things had a thick, rubbery hide that produced some sort of cold-resistant mucus.  Even now, I felt a little bit of the slime clinging to my gloved fingers, and I shook it off.

A single lap around the uncovered fish told me everything I needed to know.  “Young male, probably in its second or third spawning,” I told the driver, heading back towards the warm lights of the car.  “Nothing unusual about it, unfortunately.  Xenopiscus vulgaris, just like I told you from the pictures.”

“So what do we do with the thing, doc?” the driver asked, still sounding a little hopeful.  “We gonna get any payoff from it?”

I paused for a moment, but decided to be blunt.  “Not from us,” I replied.  “You could list the whole thing, but it might not sell for months, if ever.  There’s already too many of them on the market.  You’d probably get more if you hack it up and sell the organs separately.  The bones’ll fetch a bit, and lots of places still buy the gametes.”

The driver faced forward in the front seat, but I saw his grin fade in the rear-view mirror.  “Well, sorry to take up your precious time, doc,” he replied.  “Hopefully our next find will be worth more.”

“There’s always more out there in the ice,” I offered, trying to sound optimistic.  My voice couldn’t keep up the necessary tone, however, especially as I considered the long flight back to my more southernly research post.

“S’pose,” the driver allowed after a minute, as the car pulled away, into the blowing snow.  “Always more in the ice.”

He didn’t know why she died.

“Oh… Shit.”

I stared at the body, my eyes frantically searching for some sign of movement.  “Come on, come on,” I murmured to myself, needing to see some tiny little sign of life.  Was the chest rising and falling?  A little twitch of a leg, I prayed.  That’s all I needed.

Behind me, I heard footsteps, the eager, quick little footsteps of a child.  Shit.  Timothy was coming down the stairs.

I spun around, dashing over to the stairs, trying to spread my arms wide.  “Timmy, wait,” I said, hoping to catch him before he came around the corner and saw the body.

He stopped, bouncing up and down on the step.  His eyes looked bright, filled with an eight-year-old’s happiness.  “What, daddy?” he asked, already trying to look past me.  He already wanted to play with her, go see her.

I felt my heart ache as I realized that, at some point today, I’d need to tell him.  As bad as I felt, I knew it would be a hundred times worse for him.

“Um… listen, please go back upstairs for a few minutes,” I said, stalling for time.  Did I need to call someone?  What should I do with the body?  Move it?  Leave it?  “Just play with your toys for a bit.”

Timothy frowned.  I could see the little gears in his head turning; he was a smart kid, and he’d soon figure out that something was wrong.  But I needed to buy time.

“Okay,” he said, less excited now.  He turned and headed back upstairs, glancing back at me.  I made sure to watch until he turned the corner into his room.

As soon as he’d retreated, I hurried back to the living room, my heart rate increasing once again.  “Shit, shit,” I muttered to myself, running my hand through my thinning hair.  What in the world could have happened?

I’d last seen her before I went to bed last night, and she’d looked just fine.  Exercising, I recalled.  Not a care in the world.

Now, she lay by her water bottle, and I could tell clearly now that she was dead.

A hundred thoughts fought inside my head.  I’d have to call the school, contact Timothy’s teacher.  I considered that maybe I could find a replacement, but I didn’t think any of the kids would buy that.

I’d just have to be honest, I realized.  Timothy would need to learn about death at some point.  It would break my heart a little to see some of the childlike innocence fade from his eyes, but I just couldn’t see any other option.

Before I called Timothy back downstairs, however, I ducked into the kitchen to grab a brown paper bag out of the cabinet.  Once he’d seen the body, I would stick her in the bag, and then put the whole thing in the freezer.  That would at least buy me some time to dispose of the thing.

God dammit, I cursed to myself one last time as I headed upstairs to bring down my son.  Why did Harriet the hamster have to die during my shift to watch her?

[AGttA] Chapter 1.1: Shelter

Continued from Chapter 1.0, here.

Axiom 1: Remain calm.

When I next opened my eyes, it took me a moment to remember why I was waking up in the back of an unmarked passenger van.  But as I lay back on the thin, scratchy carpet, I felt the wave of memories come rushing back to me.

The explosion at the mall.  The sound of people dying.  The angel, majestic and deadly, hovering in the center of the destruction.  That Furby’s wide eyes before it exploded into shards of half-melted plastic.

I briefly wondered whether I might be able to find a Starbucks that still had some coffee.

With a grunt, I hauled myself up, reaching out for the handle of the van’s back door – but I paused for a moment as my fingers rested on the plastic grip.  What if that angel was still out there?  I didn’t doubt for a second that his flaming sword would cut through me just as easily as it had sliced and diced that Furby.

So instead, I crawled to the front of the van, wincing and biting my lip as I stubbed my knees and toes against innumerable little sharp corners on the inside of the van.  Battered and bruised, I managed to haul myself into the front seat, looking out through the cracked but mostly still intact windshield.

The destruction of the world hadn’t stopped with the mall, I observed.

A few hours previously, the mall had been surrounded by parking lots, most of them empty. On the other side of the parking lots, the highway passed by, filled with zipping cars and trucks.  A couple of satellite shops sat in strip malls on the other side of the highways, each with a big, brightly lit sign to attract hungry, thirsty, or bored highway travelers.

Now, cracks ran all across the parking lots, turning the asphalt into rubble.  On the far side, the highway looked like broken teeth, the concrete pillars shattered and the road itself split into giant shards.  I saw cars caught in that rubble, crunched and smashed like crushed aluminum cans.  Dust from the broken roadway filled the air, obstructing my long distance view.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this new world, I realized, was the silence.  All of the sounds that I usually ignored as background noise – the rumbling of car engines, the humming of electricity through overhead power lines, the occasional honk of a horn or squealing of tires – were missing.  I could hear nothing, not even the cries of birds.

A little part of my mind still gibbered in fear, wondering what had happened.  Was this some sort of attack from a rogue nation?  Had North Korea finally snapped and gone around the bend, shooting missiles across the ocean at us?  Was this some sort of terrorist attack?

Somehow, I didn’t think so.  Despite the threat of a rogue nation, I couldn’t reconcile the opposing ideas of a terrorist attack and a floating angel.  Did North Korea even believe in angels?  Why would they send over Heavenly beings, and why would they tell said Heavenly beings to bother with destroying Furbies?

Maybe Furbies were the ultimate symbol of Western decadence and needed to be destroyed.  But that idea seemed purely silly.

In any case, I told myself, clamping down on my wildly fretting thoughts, I needed to do something.  I couldn’t just sit in this broken van forever.

I glanced over at the driver’s seat of the van.  Unfortunately, the previous owner of the vehicle hadn’t been kind enough to leave his keys in the ignition – and now that I looked at the crunched front hood of the vehicle, I doubted that the van would even start.

Looked like I would have to huff it on foot.

I peered forward, scanning the dark, stormy looking skies.  No sign of the angel, I noted, although those roiling storm clouds didn’t bode well.  If I wanted to move, to find a better hiding place, I ought to go now.

I reached out, opening the side door of the van, but then paused.  Where was I going to go?  I scanned the dusty view around me, searching for a possible shelter.

Not back into the mall, that much was for certain.  Even if the angel wasn’t still prowling around, I remembered how the other shops were destroyed, flattened under the collapsed roof.  I could head the other direction, away from the mall – but where?

My house – well, my parents’ house, but that minor little unimportant detail didn’t matter – was too far away.  Five miles between the house and the mall hadn’t seemed like much distance at all when I had a working car, but I didn’t want to walk all that way back, especially with those dark clouds looming overhead.  I needed to find someplace else, someplace closer.

And then I saw it.

Across the shattered highway, in the strip mall area.  Most of the lit signs had gone out, the buildings either dark or entirely destroyed, but I saw one sign still glowing, a savior’s sign through the swirling dust.

Starbucks.

The calming green and white reached out to me, a single familiar sight amid the madness around me.  Almost without thought, I climbed down from the van’s seat, starting across the sea of destruction between me and that faintly glowing sign.

I soon found the passage tough going.  I had to pick my way across the cracked and half-shattered parking lot, dodging around broken cars.  Thankfully, I didn’t see any dead bodies anywhere, for which I uttered a brief but fervent prayer of thanks – I didn’t know if my fragile mental state would be able to handle finding another person, injured or dead.

When I reached the highway, my progress grew even slower.  The concrete highway had been shattered into huge chunks, big spikes of roadway pointing up into the sky.  I found myself picking my way between the big boulders, occasionally having to turn sideways to scrape through narrow passages or scrambling up over flat boulders.  I felt my jeans tearing as I pulled myself across the rough terrain, but I couldn’t stop now.

And then finally, after what felt like ages, I stood on the other side of the highway, in the long grass.

My eyes were drawn up, as if by strings.  There it was, just ahead of me.  The glowing green-and-white sign still hung over the entrance.  I had one more parking lot to cross, although this one looked much more difficult to navigate due to a higher number of cars.  Still, I felt a surge of energy.

Nearly there.

Gasping for air, I stumbled forward, through the maze of cars in the parking lot.  My eyes remained glued to that sign, the one constant in a world that suddenly made no sense.

Please, I prayed, let there still be some coffee inside.

To be continued…

Missing Brains: 2016 Edition

New Year’s Goals

That’s right, it’s the new year!  2016, baby!  And there’s going to be some changes around Missing Brains (here).

Schedule

First off, scheduling.  Missing Brains, the blog, is sticking with a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule.  Three posts a week!

However, since I beat the 52 book challenge last year, I’m going to be doing something different with the Monday posts.  Instead of providing a book summary each week along with my thoughts, I’ll be keeping to the following schedule:

Monday: I’m going to be telling a serial story, called The Amateur’s Guide to the Apocalypse, in segments.  I’ll post a new segment, about a thousand words per update, every Monday.  Hopefully, the story will end at exactly 52,000 words.

Wednesday: Wednesday will be a short story, with a theme focusing on real life.

Friday: Friday will also have a short story update, but Friday’s theme will focus on the fantastic, science fiction or fantasy themed.

Other improvements

Twitter: Missing Brains is going to have a twitter handle!  Of course, it won’t be @MissingBrains, since that’s my personal handle – but maybe I’ll make @MissingBrainsBlog into a channel.  I’ll hopefully attract a larger audience through Twitter.

RSS: I don’t really know how RSS works, but I’m going to try and use it.

New Website Design: In the works, probably not coming for a while.

Patreon: This is a new thing – when I’m not writing, I’m a graduate student.  Notably, neither graduate students nor writers make much money.  That’s why I’m going to see about setting up a Patreon, so that readers (you) can fund writers (me!), to help me afford to keep on writing!  I’ve never set one of these up before, so we’ll see how it works out.

The future

Can I keep this up?  Will my well of inspiration run dry?  We’ll find out – together!