SepSceneWriMo #24

“He should be out getting dirty, playing with friends and bringing home lizards and pyrite.”

“That’s not who he is, dear. Mulley, he has an elevated mind.”

“He’s seven. Don’t tell me such nonsense.”

Mulley sat up the cement stairs, around the corner from where his parents were discussing his behavior. He had his palms against the slick stone. Why is it so hot outside but wonderfully cool inside?

He removed his sandals, crept down and around the last stair then slipped through the open breezeway, past the fountain, and out into the desert. He made sure to step only on hard ground as he headed toward a niche in the rocks, a shadowed pocket that looked out over an arroyo full of saguaro and grease wood.

There he sang the funny songs he made up about things around his home:
Tortoise is tough.
Coyote is coy.
Mousey is meek.
And all Mulley’s toys.
And he’d squint his eyes and look off into nowhere… If a triangle fits perfect in a circle and the circle fits perfect in a square, how much space is in the gaps? Mulley spent every solitary moment contemplating the puzzles he found in the world.

Only his sister knew where he hid when he didn’t want to be found.

“Mulley. Mulley, time for lunch,” she yelled from her second story window.

“Dad,” he began as he wandered in from the backyard, past the fountain and into the cool darkness of his father’s study, its drapes pulled tight, and its tile floor refrigerator cold. “Dad,” he had never called his father ‘daddy’, “if airplanes keep flying higher and higher, could they fly into space?”

Mulley’s father had been playing devil’s advocate with his wife. They both knew of their boy’s tendency for isolation and odd questions. Their observations, even the therapists’ observations, had indicated that Mulley treated other children, not as equals, but as subjects for study.

“Lunch is ready, boy. Your sister’s made you peanut butter and bananas. I think she’s got those red-hot Cheetos you like, too.” Mulley’s father worked for the Rand Corporation, researching the impact of social stratification on the economy.

“Did you know capsaicin elevates blood flow and can even stimulate your critical thinking skills?”

“Go eat. I’ll be in in a minute.”

Mulley sat on a high stool at the kitchen’s island, swinging his legs. “Thanks for the Cheetos, Sis. I think I’d like to try chipotle flavor next time. I wonder if they make a ghost pepper variety.”

“Shut up, Mulls. You and your stupid comments drive me nuts.”

“Dautry, be nice. He’s only seven.” His mother patted the top of Mulley’s head. “He’s got an elevated mind.”

“That’s okay, Mom. Dausie doesn’t like the same things I do.”

“Don’t get freaky around me, Mulls.” Dautry left carrying her sandwich wrapped in a paper towel. “And quit stealing my hairbands to put on your weird burial mounds.”

“They’re offerings to the spirits. You shouldn’t anger the spirits, Dausie.”

“Mom…?”

Mulley’s mother scooted her daughter down the hallway. “We got a letter from that school we applied to, Mulley. Would you like to hear what they have to say?” She plucked the envelope from her desk. “Hon, lunch is ready. Would you come here while I ready this to Mulley.”

Mulley’s father pulled a stool next to his son, sat and stuffed his mouth with a handful of Cheetos. “Oof, those are hot tamales.”

Mulley giggled.

“Ahem, Dear Mr. and Mrs. Manson, we’re pleased to inform you…”

“Dad, do you know how to make caustic soda?”

“No I don’t, son. But I imagine they do at that college that just accepted you.”

“Yeah, I guess they would.” Mulley took a bite of his sandwich. “Mmm, I like the way Dausie makes lunch.” He pulled an opalescent black feather from his back pocket and twirled it, listening to the fluttering noise it made. “I’d like to learn how to make caustic soda.”

SepSceneWriMo #23

“She’s not one of oos. Just look at her.” Tirn sat on a bench in the empty longhouse. He pushed his clay cup half-full of sour mead away in disgust. “I can’t drink this piss.”

Findar took the cup and sniffed it. “Eske knows the secret to making sweet wine. Even in spring.”

“Her hair’s the wrong color, as are her eyes.” The older-by-a-year, Tirn, picked at the wooden table with his favorite treasure, a steel knife pillaged from a hamlet, a week’s voyage south. It had rusted during the return trip, but hard polishing and a fresh antler handle had given it a new life.

The hall’s dim light, roof hatches propped open to let in the sun and exhaust the stench, allowed the pair to witness each other’s grim visage. The fate of the southern woman would be decided that day when the sun peaked and the elders crawled from their huts, addled by the debauch of the prior evening.

“She’s learning our language. She’s helping Lanna and Bennia with tanning. And she’s…”

“She’s not one of oos!” Tirn drove the blade, knuckle deep into the wood.

Findar flung back from the strike and stood. “Yoo and yoor purist ideals.” He tossed the sour mead hissing into the embers of the hearth and dipped out a cupful of water from a nearby bucket. “I know yoor heart, Tirn, I see the way yoo stare at her. The way every man stares at her. But yoo, I can see your loathing and and how it twists to lust.”

“Do not pretend to know my mind, Fin. Eske is not one of oos. Will never be one of oos.”

“The elders will determine that. And you will abide by their decision.”

Tirn yanked the blade from the table and left, pausing at the open door. “Elders, bah! Your father’s rank will take you only so far, Fin. Someday you’ll have to be a true Viking—on yoor own.”

Outside, Lanna, carrying a basket of rabbit skins, collided with the irate Tirn as he stormed from the hall. She dipped her head as was custom. “Apologies, Tirn. I did not expect anyone coming from…”

“Yoo don’t fool me, Lanna. Findar’s inside and yoo know it.” Tirn marched away.

She entered the long-house and plopped the basket down next to Findar. “That arsehole is going to get himself banished.”

Fin looked up from gazing into the cup. “What?” He creased his forehead. “Hmm, maybe that’s it. It must be.”

“Must be what?”

“What did you want?”

“I was looking for Eske, she was to help me with all these rabbits.”

“Ja? Where did you see her last?”

Lanna looked concerned. “Going to the cove. I didn’t believe it, but she said Tirn had a task for her.”

“Shite.” Findar jumped up and ran from the longhouse.

“What? What’s Tirn going to do?”

“Nothing good. Gather the elders, what of ’em can stand, at least.”

Findar ran through the village, leaping dogs and children, dodging stone huts. He worked his way down the path to the sea. One of the smaller skiffs had been pushed into the water. He recognized Tirn at the helm and the exotic, dark-haired Eske seated mid-ship.

“Tirn!” Fin skidded to a stop on the pebble beach. The cove, mirror calm, showed only the trace of the departing vessel. Past the point, the sea’s waves picked up, whitecaps flashing like ermine in the heather. “Tirn, don’t do it.”

“Don’t do what, Fin?”

“Eske doesn’t deserve to die, Tirn. It’s not your place. Not your choice.”

“Die? Die, yoo fool? I’m not goin’ ta kill her. I love her. I’m goin’ ta save her.”

SepSceneWriMo #22

Arcterius shrugged beneath his heavy wolf skins. One had sat wet in the sun and dried with a crease that now scratched at his shoulder blade. He’d debated as to use one of the peasant’s tunics, some of his road crew used them, but his soldiers would no doubt scoff. Leenta could rub scented oil into the chafed spot, he thought, her strong fingers and soft eyes, oh her eyes, like fawn’s eyes, and her lips…

“Sir, your orders say we should strike the arc of a circle toward Avaricum. Barrus and I have the cord ready, shall we set the line?”

As the camp prefect, Arcterius was rarely addressed directly by the ranks. But, as his single remaining centurion had been sent on to Lutetia to secure the route, north to the sea, and his other, poor Veneterius, who’d been his friend and second for decades, having died from that unspeakable disease, he was forced into daily command.

Arcterius readjusted the skins upon his back and spit an olive pit onto the stony ground. “We should be fighting those savages to the East, you know. Pressing our concern into the hinterland. Expanding our empire.” He popped another pickled olive into his mouth, chewed the flesh off—on his good side—and spit out the pit. “Yet, here I am building an accursed road across the countryside.”

Tarminus waited while his commander vented. With the calfskin map rolled tight, and his purse containing a mallet, cord and knife used to sharpen stakes, hanging at his side, he trusted Arcterius to come around, eventually.

The commander gazed out from his position atop the hill. Though he still felt chilled, the day, he had to admit, was glorious. Waves of yellow mustard, white-capped fennel and stone-strewn pasture spread bucolic around him. He spit another olive pit. Little did he know that his legacy would not only be the stone-paved road between Lezoux, Avaricum and Lutetia, one that would last millennia, but in addition, a grove of olive trees that would outlive all of his descendants.

“Sir?”

“Merciful Mercury, what?” Arcterius barked.

“The road, sir. We must mark the curve. But without your leave…”

Arcterius sighed and nodded. Duty, even to the most mundane of tasks, would surely drive him insane. “Alright, Tarminus, alright. You win. Let us continue on our way, rock upon rock, mile upon mile.” He held out a handful of dark-green olives from which his man took three. “Leave some for me, won’t you.”

“Sorry, sir. I am fond of them, though.”

“I as well. This land does does provide fine provisions. Perhaps, when we are completed, Rome will award us both parcels in the area.”

“That would be an excellent outcome, sir.” Tarminus offered the map.

“You’ve marked the last, what, ten or more miles of this road, have you not?”

“Twenty, sir.”

“Then get on with it, won’t you?” Arcterius strolled away, picking a cautious path amongst the round, grey rocks. “I’ll be in my tent. I seem to have eaten too many olives this morning.” And I could use a woman’s touch on this damn shoulder of mine. And those eyes…

SepSceneWriMo #21

A synthetic female voice joined the mesmerizing images on screen. Its liquid smoothness detailed the flow of air currents, the curved lines of weather fronts driving as battle brigades up through the Southeast United States. It went on to highlight the jet stream, a great looping wave, which would bring freezing rain to the Great Lakes and the Eastern seaboard. The sequence came together seamlessly. The demo was flawless.

“What do you mean, the weatherman is dead?” Hank Rowan stood in his trademark blue suit, his sunshine-yellow tie hanging loose around his neck. “People need the weather to be explained.” He slapped the eight-foot wide screen with the back of his hand. “They want me to tell them tomorrow will be a great day for a picnic or when to run from a hurricane. They trust me. They…”

“Nobody trusts the weatherman.” Channel director Sallie Trevors, black pantsuit shrouding her skeletal figure, pointed a finger at the program manager and nodded. “People trust their social connections. They trust targeted information sent directly to them.” She waved for Hank to take a seat. On the screen the images ran through a comprehensive but silent report. “In a word, they trust the system. The computer system that, whether they know it or not, is designed to earn their trust.”

“Manipulate it, you mean.” Hank shook off his blazer like a snake from its skin. He threw it around the chair and sat. “These weather models, they’re not always right.”

Sallie sipped her copper-colored insulated thermos, and licked her lips, the sickly green tint of her diet drink a line like a french mustache. “When was the last time you had to read a meteorological chart? A barometric table of numbers or run a spreadsheet of historic storm surges?”

“That’s what computers are for. But computers can’t communicate the human side of climate, of floods and drought. Of storms that wreak havoc and leave people homeless or dead.”

“We’ve got human-interest newscaster for those stories. And we’ve got her.” Trevors tilted her head toward the screen.

Sliding in from the right came a buxom woman in a vivid blue dress. Her neutral painted nails at the end of her model-perfect hands and arms, together with an indeterminate race made her appear as a weather goddess. The constant buzz of whispers on the set quit dead. She moved like a river, never taking her virtual eyes from the camera.

Hank couldn’t help himself. “Wow.”

“Yeah, she’s something.” Trevors clinked her thermos on the glass table. “I’m sorry, Hank, but the decision’s been made. Cloud Weather’s record speaks for itself. Its AI voice engine, its instant access to every weather event on the planet, they proved it. People just want the facts when it comes to the weather. And their massive computational capability…  You can’t compete—not with them, not with her. We have to let you go.”

Hank Rowan forced his gaze away from ‘Andrea’—your All-Weather correspondent. Behind her the fully integrated CGI presentation continued to loop, a scene of wind speeds, cloud water content and a rolling five-day forecast for the Eastern seaboard.

Hank twitched his mustache and spoke to the channel director. “You know, the solar cycle is cranking up. What happens when the next Carrington Event destroys all this,” he scanned the set, “all this technology?”

Andrea’s disembodied voice answered for the crew, “Current probability of a G-5 class CME stands at point-five percent for the next three years. There is little danger for the foreseeable future.”

“Yeah.” Hank donned his jacket. “As if the Universe cares about your probabilities.” He left the studio carrying his box full of snow globes, each one having been jostled so that, even in Miami, it began to snow.

SepSceneWriMo #20

Bayou water lapped seductively at the sides of the low-slung, deceptively fast, motorboat that Higgins had towed to the HighWater Bait & Tackle dock well after sunset. His customer, Jemain Lucerne, had been low-balling him for the last twenty minutes.

“Ahndrew, leese let me hear dat engine purr. You gotta give me sumtin’, you tryin’ to steal from me, right unda my nose.” Jemain sat in the pilot’s seat, tucked under the hardtop, working the wheel back and forth.

Andrew Higgins, the designer and manufacturer of what he claimed to be the fastest light-launch in the Gulf, wouldn’t budge. He pulled another squat, brown Jamaican beer from a bucket sitting on the dock and handed it to Jemain. He, himself, had been judiciously sipping a bottle of orange Nehi. “Mr. Lucerne, I most certainly intend to give you more than just a listen, I intend to strip the tears from your eyes and drive the white of your knuckles up to your elbows.” The last of the neon liquid slid down his throat. “But not until you agree to my terms. Three-fourths cash, here and now, the remainder as investment in your enterprise.”

Negotiations proceeded until Higgins held up his hands. “Alright, I understand. Listen to this.” He cranked up the motor. The deep rumbling, like that of a bull alligator seducing his favorite lady-gator, vibrated Jemain’s very bones. “There. Satisfied? We’ll work out the final price after I give you a tour.”

“Ooh, mon. Dat be the song I be hopin’ fo’.” He motioned for Andrew to cast off. “Ah, right, Ahndrew. I take your offer, we work de price, you let me drive.”

“And have your run us into a cypress tree? I know this bayou well enough to give you a taste without the risk.”

“Ah right, ah right. You drive, le’ me get anudder beer, first.”

Higgins shifted the boat’s transmission forward and guided them out under a fertile moon. A number of houseboats, their lights glimmering to show the banks, led the way out to the the big water. The launch nosed from side to side, yearning, it seemed, for the reins.

“Here we go, Mr. Lucerne. I suggest your grab the gunnel.” Higgins shoved the throttle forward.

“Woowee, she be like a hound on scent.” The two-hundred and forty horse diesel-six—geared to drive the prop to extreme rpms—leapt out of the water and sat high on plane as it dashed across the bay. The buzz of the engine, quieter than most rum runners of the similar design, put a shrill note to Jemain’s voice, “Sheeit, I tink I peed myself back der.”

The boat skipped across the moonlit water, its hull barely touching the water.

Higgins pushed the throttle higher. “She’s got more than this, but I’d rather not risk it. What do you think, Mr. Lucerne?”

Jemain yelled his creole right next to Higgin’s ear. “Dat true what dey say ’bout you sellin’ this boat to dem Coast Guard?”

Higgins throttled back letting the sleek boat settle its belly back in the arms of the bayou. “This boat? I sold the Coast Guard boats, that is true.” He turned the wheel to set them on a return course. “But I did not sell them this boat, Mr. Lucerne.”

Jemain nodded deeply. “Dat good, dat good.” He rubbed his hand across the lacquered dash. “I take three, den.”


[Author’s note: Andrew Higgins was a New Orleans lumber magnate who designed boats. He sold a design to the US Armed Forces for the famous launch that landed thousands of US troops on the beaches of Normandy. His company built and delivered those boats. He “may” have designed and built other boats that plied the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.]