SepSceneWriMo #3.28 – Corpse

“Jenna, this one busted, too. Can you find another, I hate to say it but, more recent one?”

“These are like mirrors you know. That makes seven years bad luck.” She accepts the broken shoulder blade.

“Luck? What do you call this?” I wipe the grit from my face. “How much further, you think? Two feet? Twenty?”

I’ve been digging for hours. The landslide that has trapped us inside the crypt has upset even Jenna. I say crypt but really, the pocketed cavern, riddled with alcoves full of bones, resembled a formal crypt in function only.

“Could be a hundred feet for all we know. It was foolish coming in here.” She turns off her phone to save power. The blackness feels like ink poured into our eyes.

“I seem to recall this ad hoc spelunking adventure was your idea.”

“As suggested by your sister.”

“Yeah, well, ya got me there.”

With all this digging I worry that our air will run out or that the collapse in the ceiling will continue and bury Jenna and I alive. “I need another tool.” And I sure as hell hope the owners of these shoulder blades don’t come back to haunt me.

Jenna wanders off using her cellphone’s screen as a lantern. Mine has already gone dead.

“Hey,” Jenna’s voice comes from deeper within the cave, “come take a look at this, um, body.”

My first thought is that she’s just mixed up different terms for the dead, all we’ve seen so far are bone piles. But, Jenna wouldn’t make such a mistake. “Jeeze, that one looks kinda fresh.”

“He’s, newer, I guess you’d say.”

“Does he stink? Why doesn’t he stink? I mean, he’s all wrinkled and powdery.”

“He’s desiccated. Dried out.” Jenna is an EMT. Our whole three month-long trip feels like we’ve been bouncing from local emergency to emergency. If somebody is suffering, she’ll drop everything and help. Me, I’m useless that way. I can program your phone or fix your laptop. But I see blood and I’m gone. She starts prodding him.

“Oh, jeeze, he’s gonna fall apart, Jenna.”

She gives me a look, hands me her phone and proceeds to pilfer his clothing. She finds some silver dinar, and a few brass coins in a drawstring purse. The guy’s hair is shaved close, his beard is grey but well manicured and his stature seems like he would have been husky, when alive. His garments, in the local style, show that he’d been, if not wealthy, at least well-off. It’s his shoes that strike me as odd, slippers really, with turned up, pointed toes. Jenna starts to turn him over.

“Damn girl. What are you doin’?”

“I can’t get to his back. I think there’s something underneath him.”

“Oh, no, no, no. Leave the guy alone. He’s making me queasy.

Jenna struggles at the body and gets the guy flipped over.

“Whoa, is that a knife?” I start to reach for it.

“Don’t touch it. You remember what your sister said, right? About the origins of this cave.”

“You don’t believe that mythical claptrap do you?”

“Of course not but, this body could be booby trapped with explosives or something.”

“You just rolled the dude onto his face? Wouldn’t that set it off?”

She makes her fact-checking look. “Yeah, I guess that flies.”

I wave the phone over the knife. It’s one of those curved-blade type, a jambiya, the hilt is golden and has some fancy jewels set in the guard and pommel. “That’s a pretty nice dagger.” I’d like to take it but, Jenna’s warning makes total sense.

She yanks it free. It comes out clean.

“What happened to the IED buried in this guy’s belly?”

“Help me flip him back.”

“Hand me the knife, first.” I hold out my hand.

Jenna shakes her head. “I think I’ll hold onto it for now. It feels, I don’t know, odd.” She gives the guy a shove and over he goes, rocking a bit before he settles. He doesn’t look stiff anymore. Maybe moving him loosened him up a bit.

“Odd, right. Well, we still need to get out of here. We can’t use this guy’s shoulder blades.”

We leave Mr. Dusty and start poking into a side shaft. I scan the light back and forth, all I see are leg bones.

Jenna stands to the side marveling at the craftsmanship of the dagger. “I wish we had a shovel.”

I swing the phone again. “There’s a shovel right there. How did we miss it?”

“It’s a modern shovel, too.”

“Well, hell.” I grab it and start back toward the cave-in, handing Jenna the phone. “Maybe you could wish me a cold beer.”

“Beer? I need a bath and a gin n’ tonic, maybe three of ’em.”

We both pause waiting for what, we don’t know.

“Maybe you only get one.”

“And you made me wish for a shovel.” Jenna scoffs lightheartedly, turns the knife around and trades me for the spade. “I’ll dig for a while.” She watches me fondle the blade. “It is a nice knife,” she admits, “despite the fact that it just spent the last few decades in the back of some poor merchant.”

I take the phone, it’s getting dim. I heft the knife, it does have a strange vibration going on. “Eh, it’s probably one of those cheap stamped things you can buy in the market for a few… Did you hear that?”

Jenna is busy shoveling at the top of the pile of dirt. “Hear what? Keep the damn phone pointed at the problem.”

“There it is a again. Maybe there’s another way out.” I shine the phone back into the cave. It fails to penetrate the gloom. I pound it on my thigh. “I wish this thing had more juice.” With my next meaty strike the light brightens. “There we go.” I try pointing it again. “What the hell. Did you roll Dusty out onto the floor?”

“You saw me put him…” Jenna back peddles and falls into the pile of rock. “He’s… He’s… Moving”

“Oh, no, no, no.” I surprise myself and don’t even hesitate. “Give me the shovel.” We swap once again and I edge up to the thing that’s dragging its body across the sandy floor.

Jenna keeps the phone pointed at the spectacle. “You’re gonna smack it?”

“I don’t know. It’s just inching along.”

“Maybe the dagger was keeping it dead, or alive, or, I don’t know.”

“And you think it wants it back?”

“It’s fucking dead, James. How can it want anything?”

“That ain’t dead, honey. Undead, maybe.”

“Look. Its fingers are swelling up. So is its face.”

As we watch the corpse stops and pushes itself up on its hands and knees. It sits back, crosses its legs, crosses one arm and with the other, holds out his hand.

I’m ready to lay into the thing sitting there, but I hesitate. “I think he wants the knife back. Give him the knife back.”

“You give him the goddamn knife.” Jenna tosses it in the dirt at my feet.

Little by little, the flesh on the the merchant corpse fills out, becomes plump. His bent over posture straightens and his face puffs up and takes on a quizzical look as if waiting for an introduction.

“Yeah, hi there, sir. We believe this is yours?” With the shovel in one hand and the knife in the other, both held as innocently as I can, I shuffle forward and ease the knife, hilt first into his now fully formed hand. His fingers wrap around it without any indication of cracking or crumbling into dust.

In one smooth motion the man stands.

“Fuck me.” I back away and end up in the pile next to Jenna.

He strolls calmly forward and stands within a few feet of the rubble. He slides the dagger into a sheath at his belt, it had been hidden inside his flowing robes. He spreads his legs and once again crosses his arms. Slowly he holds up one finger and keeps it there.

“James, what does he want? A sacrifice? Pick one of us to take his place?”

“He could take us both. Look at him, he’s, he’s fit, now.”

“Then what, what do we do?”

“So, I don’t know where that shovel came from. It wasn’t there. We both know that. And the phone’s battery…”

“You mean, make another wish?”

“Just one.”

“Like, we wish there was a way out?”

The man moves with purpose, he comes at us and stops with both hands out this time.

“Shit, now what?” Jenna and I move toward the wall.

“I don’t know. Maybe this.” I hand him the shovel and he begins to dig.

 

SepSceneWriMo #3.27 – Chickpea

An iron pellet, the size of a chickpea, gets nudged and jostled by its brethren as it floats in the asteroid belt billions of miles from the sun. With a bump and a ping, off it goes. This last bounce sends it whizzing out of orbit, spiraling inward.

It first streams by Circe which gives it a gravitational nudge. Years go by. Mars comes into view and the red planet slings it sideways, ever inward. This boost to hyper-velocity delivers it within weeks, screaming inside geostationary orbit. A few seconds from its final destination, the North Atlantic, an unexpected obstacle drifts into view.

The ISS, blithely unaware, sits smack in its path.

Astronaut Kerry Corrigan has just finished the unpleasant task of shitting into the famous NASA commode. No matter what he eats, his heritage as a carnivore follows him everywhere, even into space. The rest of the crew isolate themselves in the far reaches of the station—in close proximity to the air scrubbers.

“Are we safe yet?” The crackling jibe over the intercom fails to lift his mood. Planet-side, diarrhea is a nuisance. Here, it’s flat out dangerous.

“Damn-it, Georgie, I’ll give you the all-clear when I’m ready.”

The curried goat and kumquats really did a number. The astronauts could request native country cuisine, and Kerry had gladly shared his steel-cut oats, lamb and chanterelles. In the spirit of cultural cultivation, Vinshi’s native Indian contribution had been delicious, but ultimately toxic.

Kerry zipped up his suit and sealed the vacuum door to the disposal unit. He pressed the intercom button but instead of the familiar click, the inbound impact alarm sounded, the blaring whoop, whoop overwhelming his senses with instant fear and dread.

Three seconds later, while he paused collecting his wits, the iron chickpea, moving at eighty thousand kilometers per hour, punched a chickpea sized hole through the space station’s aluminum wall. Like a sniper’s rifle, it rested its crosshairs on Kerry’s abdomen, just below his liver, just above his large intestine, missing the stomach’s nozzle into the duodenum but passing through part of his pancreas.

The concussion of air pressure from the passing meteor rocked Kerry back on the stool. A micro-boom, a high power rifle shot, the explosion of an M-80 held just feet from his head, these were how he later described it.

Aside from the puncture detonation, the diminutive intruder came and went unnoticed until the telltale whistle of escaping air alerted all on board that they’d had a strike. The pebble continued on its way, if a bit slower for its effort, to descend and burn up in a fiery streak over Iceland.

Kerry moved to pull himself from the pot and winced. What the hell?  He slapped the intercom full-on. “Hey, guys. The strike is over here next to me. Better get the patch kits. From the sound of it, I’d say it was pretty…” He touched his suit and found the hole. “Jesus-h-christ, I’ve been shot.”

With the mic full-on, no one could comment. Vinshi and Georgie arrived and covered their ears at the shrieking noise as their precious air leaked into the void. Georgie tore open a patch kit, a gooey, two part epoxy stiffened with fibers, that he massaged and applied to puncture number one.

Fixing hole number two proved involved. The meteor had penetrated the effluent disposal chute and was now responsible with polluting space with weeks of astronaut feces.

But first there was Kerry.

“Shot you say?” Vinshi got close to inspect the hole. “Unzip your suit.” Kerry complied. Vinshi’s eyebrows jumped. “Holy shit. Sorry, I mean it’s a hole burned clean through you. Goddamn. It’s perfect.”

“Shit Vinshi. It’s sure as hell ain’t perfect. It’s a fuckin’ hole through my gut.”

“I mean. It’s perfectly placed. I’ll bet…” Vinshi opened the tool kit he’d brought along and selected a long Phillips screwdriver. “Watch this.”

“Get the hell away from me.”

“It’s fine. Am I not the medical officer onboard?”

Kerry and Georgie nodded. Georgie had finished patching the first hole.

“Then trust me.” Vinshi slowly inserted the screwdriver all the way to the handle. “It missed everything important. It even missed your spine.”

Georgie began readying patch number two. “That’s gotta hurt. Does it hurt?”

“Yeah. I think. But not like you’d imagine.”

Vinshi shrugged. “This would normally cut your duty short. But…” He inspected Kerry’s back. “It’s like a laser burn.”

“I’m pretty sure this’ll make you famous.” Georgie motioned him out of the way of the second hole.

Kerry grimaced as he moved. “Yeah, I can just hear the headlines now. Astronaut returns with black hole.”

“Universe shoots hole in one.”

“This is Paul Harvey, now you know the hole story.”

“That’s not how it goes.”

“Oh, jeeze, Georgie. Can you just go patch this shit hole.”

SepSceneWriMo #3.26 – Joy

“Stay away from the geyser.”

“Yes Tata,” Noni and Tooq replied in unison. “We will.”

When they passed the dead tree that looked like a yeti, Tooq pulled his hand away from Noni’s. “Don’t treat me like a kid.”

Noni shifted the salt-gathering baskets to one hand, cupped her free hand over her brother’s ear and whispered, “I heard Tata sooth away the fuglies last night.”

“They weren’t fugly spirits. I dreamed of the Great Sher.”

“Snow leopards,” Noni said as she started up the mountain path, “only eat kids.”

Tooq ran after her. “Do not.” 

“Sometimes, I wish the Great Sher would sneak in and eat you.”

“Do you…” Tooq stopped on the trail. “Do you really mean that?” His sister turned back. Tooq cast his gaze down the cliff. She traipsed back toward him.

“Maybe.”

“Why do you hate me?” Rather than face her he lifted the sheepskin and scratched where it chafed beneath his armpit.

“You know why your cape itches you? It’s because it’s new. Do you see mine?” Noni held out her own. “Tata has made me wear this rotten thing forever. Did I get the soft bed with new grass? When the fuglies…” Noni spun around and resumed their hike. “We have work to do.”

Just over the granite ridge, a flat opened up and before them, mud pots, geysers and hot springs boiled and spat. The multi colored salts they’d come to collect ringed the pools of boiling water.

Tooq caught up and held out his hand for a basket. Noni pulled one free, but, rather than hand it over, threw it near an unpredictable grey stew of caustic mud.

Tooq remained silent. Rather than risk a quick snatch, he scanned the skeletal trees that encircled the caldera and dashed off to retrieve a branch. Returning with a long one, he hooked the basket, brought it close and grabbed it. With the basket securely in hand, he began to scrape pink crystals from around the edge of a steaming pool of water. Struggling to free the salt with his fingers, he broke the stick which gave him a tool to free the encrusted nodules.

Noni stood and watched her brother. She’d seen him solve similar puzzles before. “I don’t hate you.” She picked up the remainder of Tooq’s branch. “Can I use this?”

“You can use this one.” Tooq grabbed up the remaining limb. “I’ll make another one.”

He lifted the heavy end and smacked it against a boulder at the edge of the springs. A piece broke off, went spinning, and landed straight-up in an area set off from the rest of the thermals.

“Look at that, you made it stick.” Noni walked over and inspected the muddy plot. “Let’s get more branches.”

Before long, leaning as far as they dared over the steaming mud, they had arranged a mock village in the goo.

“This is where Chooba lives. When he limps around he leaves holes in the dirt, like this.” Without thinking, Tooq removed his sandals and stepped into the ooze.

“No, Tooq, it’s too hot.”

Tooq stopped and froze in place. “Mmm, feels squishy, and warm.”

“What?” His sister slipped off her sandals and dipped a cautious toe into the sludge. “It’s not hot. It’s… nice.”

“Watch this, Noni.” Tooq carefully marched to where the mud was smooth, bent and pressed his hands into it leaving perfect boy-sized prints. He made others in a pattern. “Come try.”

They stepped and mushed circles of hand prints, borders of footprints all the while chattering about the village, the elders and the other children. Tooq laughed when Noni pretended to be Chooba’s wife, Ba’a. “Where is that old man, now?” Eventually the pair would cover the area in childlike art. Tiny feet and hand imprints made into a wild mosaic.

“Thanks for not hating me.”  Tooq said as he hugged his sister. “I don’t hate you either,”

Noni returned the gesture and swallowed hard. “I wonder how long our artwork will last?”

Tooq shrugged. “I don’t care. It was fun.”

“You are such a kid.” Noni smudged her brother’s nose.

“So are you.”

“You’re right.” Noni wiped her feet clean. “And I’d like to stay a kid. But we have work to do.”

In the highlands of Tibet archeologists discovered 200,000 year old footprints and hand prints—of children. The prints’ layout was determined to be unlike any known normal behavior. And so was deemed artwork created with intent. Can you imagine a couple of Sapiens or Neanderthal or Denisovans or even Erectus children discovering such a place and happily, joyfully dancing around rejoicing in their existence?

It seems that in two hundred thousand years we haven’t changed all that much.

~~~

This was for Mike, who wondered if I could offer a piece without so much anguish and sorrow in it. Here you go Mike.

SepSceneWriMo #3.25 – Ignorance Quotient

A streak of red and silver takes forever to roll by. Rivulets of rain meander down the glass blurring the colors, twisting their meaning: red turns to rush, amber is nostalgia, green, like Christmas candy, induces envy of the clueless souls who rush by, newspapers draped above their heads fending off the storm. When the fire-engine blares its alarm, he jumps, spilling his black tea held halfway to his lip. It splashes up against the deli window and runs sideways along the crack trying to escape.

Escaping with it, a tenuous notion that had perched at the edge of inspiration, blue with fractal spirals descending into the core of consciousness. The perfect thought pops, its soapy film dissolves into threads and vanishes. A sigh, Simon speaks primarily in sighs these days, escapes with the tea. “It would have only revealed more of the Universe.”

“What’s that?” A nurse to his right, she’s got the shoes and the clothes and the look, lifts her eyebrows and leans in. She’s got a bowl-sized mug full of milk barely tinged with coffee.

He blinks like his eyelids are stuck. “It’s loud noises. I startle easily.” Adjusting his glasses he spots her name-tag. “Hi, hmm… Trisha. It looks like you work at the gene-mod place across the street.”

“For now. I’m waiting on an offer from New Trinity.” She uses her napkin to stem the renegade tea that threatens to drip onto her lap.

“I’ve heard good things about that hospital. I’m Simon, by the way.”

She smiles. “Hi, Simon. So, what do you do?”

He sighs again. “Theoretical physics, I’m sorry to say. Surely not as practical as being a nurse.” Simon points through the glass. “What about that place? I’ve read about it, A-New-You-Through-Genetics. What do you think, any truth to it?”

Trisha gazes at the tan swirls in her mug. “If you’ve got the money. I haven’t heard of many complaints.” She sets cup to counter and flexes her bicep. “Worked for me. As a perk I got a boost in collagen generation and a micro-fix of endurance.”

“Wow, adventurous. No side effects?”

“My libido ticked up a notch…” Trisha looks perplexed at having revealed such an intimate detail. She shrugs. “You thinking about it?” She gives Simon the once over. “You should try it.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Simon runs a finger along the vein-like patterns of water running down the window. “There is one DNA twist,” he grins at his own pun, “that I’ve been wondering about.”

“Mm, hmm. Well, I’ve got to get back.” As she dons her jacket she says, “Maybe they’ve got something to patch your nerves. You never know these days. There are some wild CRISPR tricks they’ve come up with.”

Simon watches her step away, a dancers step as she leaves and jaywalks across 114th, dodging cars and delivery vans like a dangerous game of hit ‘n miss.

For months he’s struggled to sleep. Worry regarding the acceptance of the theory he’d published, ten years of work, and the constant reminder of its premise drives his mind into whorls of frenzied doubt. He knows his conclusions and the ramifications they propose contribute to his angst. Thoughts creep in, blossom in his mind and now nothing can sooth him. It’s as if this revelation has triggered a curse of his own device. He has somehow induced, within himself, permanent inescapable misery. Frequently he pines for years past when he’d been naive, unaware of the philosophical dilemmas he’d unleash later in life.

Rattled and exhausted, Simon enters through the double doors of Modern Gene-Mod. A fit looking fellow with natural poise welcomes him with a pamphlet and a knowing grin.

“We have excellent revitalization programs, muscle toning, telomere extension and sense enhancement treatments. If don’t find what you’re looking for, just let us know. The design of new mods is an ongoing process and we’d love to help you find your exact solution. One that you’ll be happy with for years to come.”

Simon’s wan smile does nothing to diminish the man’s radiance. Simon folds the pamphlet. “Thanks. Could I see a specialist?”

“Ah, already selected something custom, have we?”

“I doubt very much that my request fits any of your existing treatments.”

Mr. Radiance gives Simon a skeptical look. “What general features are you considering for your enhancement?”

“Reduction, actually.”

“We have numerous systems for decreasing blood pressure, fat to muscle ratio, hair loss, what did you have in mind?”

“IQ”

“Come again?”

“I want to reduce my IQ to below one hundred, perhaps lower.”

“Reduce…”

“My IQ. That’s correct.”

“Why on earth would anyone…”

“About that specialist?”

“Right.” The fellow presses a button behind his ear and briefly murmurs into a hidden microphone. “Please, follow me. Doctor Ganesh will assist you in the, um, design of your custom treatment.”

Weeks later, an associate professor, one who’d assisted Simon in collecting citations for his paper, stops by Simon’s apartment with news. The fellow had drawn the short straw and braces himself outside Simon’s door. He takes a breath and knocks firmly.

The door opens wide revealing Simon wearing a paint-smeared t-shirt and bib-overalls; red and yellow drops have splattered across his bare feet. “Hi there,” Simon says brightly.

“Yeah, hi, Professor Kolemos. May I come in?”

“Door’s open.”

The associate hands Simon a manila envelope. “You haven’t answered any of our emails. And all my calls go to voicemail.”

“I forgot my password.”

“Ah, yes. Well, you should know, your paper on the Ouroboros Nature of the Universe…”

“Mm, hmm?”

“The one where you describe the quantum states that continuously cycle within themselves, effectively confirming the fundamental absurdity of the Universe, how it both is and isn’t, simultaneously was and will never be?”

“Painting daisies is my favorite. Their little faces are so happy.”

“Yeah, daisies. Your paper was accepted. And, I hope you remember that I contributed, you know. Anyway, they say you may be up for a Nobel Prize in Physics.”

“I painted this yesterday. It’s big and red. It makes a loud noise when it goes by. Bet you can’t guess what it is.”

“A fire engine?”

“Fire engine! That’s right. Fire engines make me happy, too.”

SepSceneWriMo #3.24 – Tivick

Six sharp raps at the door. Tivick scrambled to switch off the porn playing on one of the motel’s twenty-one channels. He zipped up, and went to answer it. There was the girl he’d picked up that morning, a soft moan escaping her lips. His eyes dropped from her doe-browns to the blood spreading like a Rorschach on her Disney t-shirt. He waved her in and caught her as she stumbled shy of the single queen. Her horse-tail braid got trapped as he grabbed her yanking her head back. She made a choking sound, but he got her onto the mattress and began to lift the T to examine the wound. She feebly pushed away his hands.

No, don’t.

He ignored her. Three of the five staples holding the incision together had pulled out. Blood oozed like cold maple syrup, pulsing with her heartbeat.

Geezus, what a mess.

He knew of the wound. As soon as her thumb had dropped, her backpack thrown in the back seat and her skinny ass had seated itself into his dark sedan, she’d been proud to reveal her bandage of sacrifice. Twenty-four hours prior she’d been in Philly donating a kidney to her father who’d not spoken to her since her arrest at seventeen for solicitation.

When the anesthesia faded like the ebbing tide, she’d popped all the oxy the nurse would give her and slapped bare footed down the hospital hallway to see her father. The look he gave her crushed the heart-candy she’d been saving for him these last six years.

You? They said your bother had come to donate. I’ve got your kidney inside me? Fuck.

When he turned away, she grit her teeth and walked out. The nurses became preoccupied with some freeway pileup so she dressed, grabbed the towels from the bathroom, slipped down the stairs and started hitching her way back west. With her looks, the Johns and Toms were eager to give her a lift.

After twenty minutes of story, driving in heavy rain outside Oklahoma City, Tivick held up his hand. Enough.

Sit and shut up, for now, he told her. I’ve got my own issues grindin’ like broken glass in my mind. I don’t need yours, too.

There on the bed, the girl thrown down like a discarded mannequin, Tivick couldn’t help but recall the other scenes etched in his brain bearing details so similar they made his throat clench. She needed medical, but there was no way he could get wrapped up in another incident like this.

By Colorado Springs, he couldn’t shut her up. Her story included the shitty treatment she’d received at the hands of the Santa Barbara model agency where she worked as a make-up assistant. She went on to describe the apartment she shared with a heroin addict and the tirade of promises and threats delivered by the junkie’s dealer.

We make sly green with that set ‘o struts and that sweet ass. Just have a lil’ taste.

Tivick dialed emergency from the motel’s phone, donned his shirt and shoes and grabbed his duffel. He’d rented her a room three down from his. He dropped his key on the dresser and grabbed hers from her pocket where he found her phone. Regretting each tap, he primed her contacts with his own.

Tivick. What a strange name. Kinda strong, kinda weird. Matches your face.

Thanks, I suppose. Maize. That’s a name pretty much before your time. Hell, my time, too. How’d you come by such a name?

Wasn’t long before he’d wished he hadn’t asked.

When the ambulance arrived he fingered the curtains from the other room hoping that they’d treat her right. The guilt throbbed in his chest, but less this time.

In the morning he resumed his journey.

Three months later, another sharp rap at the door. Same damn six knocks, two, two, two. His heart took a tiny leap. His mind, on the other hand, gave a groan.