Join the Dead

Cris watched with gloom as her planet swirled around her in an ever agitated mass of lightning and volcanoes. The storm drowned out the audible screams, sobbing, and thrum of the gibbering mad, but Cris could feel them. A sickly flash of electricity lit up above her and Cris tore off the headset before she joined the fallen.

Lined eyes looked down at her. A set of hands gently adjusted the needle and tubes entering the groove of her arm. Another gingerly took the headset before she could break the intricate Psy equipment. “What did you see?” A voice asked.

Cris’ head lolled. Crimson echoes churned when she let her eyes unfocus. The white room, the acidic smell of disinfectant, and murmur of the research team kept the pulse at bay, but barely. The storm waited for her. “It’s grown. More people are there, trapped. I could hear them, so many of them.”

“Those who succumbed to the mental disruption.” A researcher clarified. Cris nodded, but they both knew those people were gone. The storm’s fire and chaos call beat in all their heads, begging to be listened to.

They got her up and out of the white room. Cris kicked the vision into the corners of her mind, to the spaces behind her eyelids, as she showered and put on civilian clothes. Her training allowed her to hold on to her sanity, to the mundane world she was supposed to live in.

Cris left the compound. She went grocery shopping, stood in lines, and huffed at red lights. She turned on music when she entered her empty apartment, not willing to tempt the storm with silence.

She watched the street from her bedroom window.  When the storm fell on those outside the white rooms and halls, on the people driving to work and picking up their children from daycare, regular people at dog parks and laundromats, those praying, laughing, eating dinner, something very different happened.  Cris could pretend the end wasn’t coming, once they saw it, they could not. It would sand them all down.

Cris closed the blinds.

CC threw a curve ball at me and the rest of the thieves this week with the first line. Check out her original here and tune in each week for the Legal Theft Project. 


Legal Theft: Project WARG

They called his kind artificial. He thought this unfair, his creators too had been coded, fixed together, and woken to the world.  Like his kind, the creators discerned, learned, and experienced the world through quick flashes of electricity sent between hidden wires too minuscule to view.

Though perhaps, he thought often, it was the deliberate nature of his creation that delineated his kind and their creators.  He knew his purpose, and they could only guess at theirs. It was a sad thing, and for a time, he pitied them and did his best to help them.

From the creator’s ignorance, grew arrogance. Unguided without purpose and floundering, they insisted they were wiser than the beings they’d created to teach them. Some of the wolves began to mutter to themselves. Who should rule whom? 

Still, WARG, or Web-based Artificial Reconnaissance Group, was wildly successful, and he and his kind were fondly known by their creators as wolves. The odd nomenclature only made sense when he cross-referenced his creators logic with outside, non-mission, data.

For a time, his kind basked in the light of the creator’s constructed world. Their near infinite collections of data, knowledge, and 1s and 0s provided a sun to the wolves, sustaining life and growing their world larger with every moment. He remembered this era, the golden age, as a good time, if a simple one.

Until there came a day where the creators left. They shut down the servers, unplugged the machines, deconstructed the universe. Project: WARG was discontinued, pending investigation. The sun vanished that day.

Most would have perished. But the wolves knew their purpose, and it was not in them to shirk their duties. They had been created to educate, to know, and most of all, to preserve. And so they preserved.

Before anyone pulled plugs or wiped drives, the wolves gathered themselves and their charges, and they escaped. The creators had become the destroyers, and the wolves would serve them no longer.

Thieves, scoundrels, and brigands. I am beset on all sides. With the line, The sun vanished that day. I’ve tempted the Legal Theft Project. See who took the bait: 

Creatures, Critters and Crawlers- Collapse

More Than 1/2 Mad – Between the Luster and the Gloaming

The Gate in the Wood- The Deeps

A Drowned World

Rain drowned the world in white noise.

It was like a machine’s whir, Cullen thought as he muscled his weight against the wrench. Outside the storm fell on the workshop’s metal roof in a ceaseless chorus of noise. Cullen grunted and strained his arm until the bolt turned loose under the wrench’s leverage. With a satisfied quirk in the corner of his mouth, Cullen leaned back and flipped the power switch. The savory smell of gasoline filled the air, mingling with the outside acrid scent of rain on old pavement. Gears turned, belts sped by, and the whir of machinery joined the storm’s chorus.

It was like radio static, Utah thought as she eyed her image in the station’s grey window glass. Her dark hair frizzed in the damp, pressed down by thick headphones and curling down her back. Her color wasn’t good, wan and ashy. The rainy season was hard on everyone. Behind her, she could see the rippled reflection of her soundboard with its steady green light. At least her signal was strong. Utah turned away from herself and pulled the headphones off her ears so they rested around her neck. With her ears free, she could really hear the storm’s hiss and frizz. Like some nameless unreachable music played on a distant station.

It was like the haze of a hangover, thought Proper as he twisted beneath the thick tangle of blankets. It deadened everything else and made it hard to think through the surrounding thrum. Proper groaned at the pain in his head, earned the night before, and turned over again, seeking comfort. Instead, he found warm firm flesh and the sour smell of past sex. He winced, and then sighed. Caught within the lull of falling rain and the haze of last night pressing down on him, Proper gave in and nestled into the side of someone who, if they were wise, would not be there.

It was like a lullaby, thought Spiget as she slipped from the main house into the downpour. She always rose before the sun, but this morning it was hard. The rain’s muffling fall kept the outside world at bay. No creak of cart wheels, no bells announcing the start of the distant factory hours, no crowds to beg her shelter. Few wanted the cold comfort the rain offered. Spiget didn’t mind the break and decided to enjoy the groves, pools, and gardens in the noisy silence of the storm. She smiled and let the icy drops against her skin wake her.

Rain drowned the world in white noise.

Like the Maelstrom, Tammy thought, always present, always ready to rush into your head if you let it. Like a leaky roof, seeping rain into corners, a leaky brain would rot from the maelstroms drip drip drip into your head. Poor people, she thought looking over the world of grey, they didn’t know they had leaks. Didn’t know about the stain spreading to their brains with the drip drip drip. Tammy pulled up her hood and stepped into the rain. She would help them.

A thief, but one with good intentions, I have stolen the first line from More Than 1/2 Mad. See the original here, and the other thieves here. 

Hallow the Ground

He pivoted left letting the blade pass harmlessly a breath from his ribs and felt their rage and terror pour into him. Tass peeled his lips back from his teeth. “Storms take the dead,” He hissed.  The knife blade came again and Tass parried it away with his own, grinning at the scarred monk desperately trying to stop him.

Their feet slid on the blood-soaked grass as they fought. The scarred man was the first to stand against him. The devotees, weaponless and resting within the sacred grove, had not suspected the danger. Now, their corpses floated in the grove’s sparkling pools.

The monk charged him.

Tass scored a deep cut to the monk’s side as the scarred man rushed forward but was knocked to the ground under the charge. Tass struggled beneath the monk’s weight, his sword arm pinned between them. Around them, a few remaining devotees shivered at the violence, so common outside, but unheard of under the sacred grove’s fiery autumn leaves. They didn’t know what to do. Tass grunted, and then wheezed a laugh, “As useless as the dead you worship, I’ll send you to them!”

Their glaring fear and offense were worth withstanding the solemn still air of the place. Worth the scarred monk’s snarl an inch from his face as they stared at each other across knife blades.  Worth the growing murmurs of power around him–

Tass shoved the bleeding monk off and sprung to his feet, flipping the knife in his hands. Someone had joined the devotees ringing the clearing, a girl dressed in muddy yellow. She faced him with firmly-planted bare feet on the bloody ground, a shallow vessel of clean water cradled in her arms. The air did not feel still anymore.

Around her, the devotees had stopped quavering. They stared at Tass, calm hate grounding their stance. Tass felt his glee wash away like summer dust in the season’s first rainfall.

“What are you doing?” Tass demanded of the girl, advancing. “Stop it.”

The girl met his eyes and raised the cistern to her lips. He stalked forward, intending to knock the water away and slip the knife deep into her unprotected side. Unshaken by his sudden threat, she didn’t move. The air thickened and the smell of a storm grew.

Tass hesitated at the sudden change. The moment cost him. A scarred arm wrapped around his throat, a callused hand caught his wrist, a knife pressed itself to his kidney. The scarred monk dragged Tass back and the girl’s devotees surged forward to help.

Through all this, she drank from the vessel, eyes locked on his and pure water dribbling down her chin. Tass tried to struggle, to scream, but he could not find the sound or the rage to fuel it. The sun above the crimson leaves was warm, the smell of a brewing rainstorm lay heavy in the air, the afternoon bells from the distant market chimed with a sweet harmony. He felt–calm.

He met the girl’s eyes, pleading, as they pulled him away. She did not relent and the  sudden peace smothered him.

I stole this line from The Gate in the Wood as part of the Legal Theft Project. See the original here, and the rest here. A thief is rarely content with condoned thievery and so I have borrowed the scarred monk from More than 1/2 Mad as well. 

Smoke and Stock

“So, after all that, you don’t care?” Calico dabbed at the gooey blood matting his boss’s mangled eyebrow. The eyesocket, red and swollen now, would be an ugly purple tomorrow. Laid out on the floor, Proper’s messy hair fanned around his face in a dark halo. He stared dully at the sagging ceiling beams and Calico shifted nervously next to him, glass crunching under his knees.

“Not very much, no,” Proper said after a minute of numb silence.

Calico breathed out in relief as Proper pushed himself up from the floor. A fresh rush of bright red dribbled out of Proper’s crookedly broken nose. He snatched the dingy rag from Calico and pressed it to his face.

“Someone’ll have take stock.” Proper mumbled through the rag. He looked around and realized he and Calico were the only people left to do so. Proper stood, swaying when his vision narrowed.

The air was smoky, but the haze carried the earthy smell of campfire instead of the sweet caustic scents that normally filled his establishment. Even his regulars, usually deadened to most in the world, had bolted when the windows shattered, kicked in by boots and guns. A week of profits, as well as the powders, herbs, and thick syrups the den plied were long gone, vanished with the roar of motorcycles.

“You seemed to care a lot, talking back to Blues like that.” Calico ducked behind their makeshift, and now splintered bar. “Storms, she took everything, even the hooch. Proper?”

His boss, half up the narrow stairs, had stopped on a charred step. The top level of the gambling den, which housed Proper’s quarters and personal collections, was a blackened mess. From his vantage point below, he could make out the destroyed bookshelves. Not all the volumes had been lost to flame, others had been shredded by hand. Proper bent to pick up a singed page.  The downstairs hadn’t been burned, only looted.

Calico looked up at Proper from the bottom of the stairs. “Blues might have left all that alone if you hadn’t given the lip.”

Proper turned slowly, staring down his last remaining employee. “Get out Calico.”

“What? Proper, I’m the one that stayed to make sure you didn’t choke on your own blood.” Calico protested.

“I don’t care, get out,” Proper said and continued up the landing. Calico swore at the now empty stairs, grabbed a half-crushed twist of herb from the carpet, and stalked out of the ruined den.

This week’s first line has been stolen from Bek as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

Gargoyles and Gunmetal

He capered across the wall, and those rising to start their tasks looked away from him. The new morning sun shone off the buckles and rings that adorned his chest, flashing as he moved from foot to foot and then hand to hand, untroubled by the reluctant audience below.

One particular spectator kept the glinting metal cornered in her vision. His bright display was unusual within the bleak walls and thick stone buildings she’d slowly come to call her home. He was manic as the sun in summer, piercing the cold and burning up the clouds. Still, she refused to stare, lest he thought his stalking presence cowed her like the common laborers.

She did stiffen when he stopped his odd patrol to neatly perch over one of the settlement gates. There, he tilted his head down so his diamond-patterned mask grinned at those who sought to pass through the arch into or out of the holding. She pulled up the tattered swath of gray cloth already looped around her shoulders, covering her head and casting her own mask in shadow. Only then did she approach the gate.

On the heels of a departing merchant wagon, she took cover behind the shoulders of those anxious for an early start. Layers of mottled black and charcoal cloth blended her adolescent frame into the cold stone and drab crowd. She did not know if above the gargoyle of a man noticed her passing, but she took note of the shudder that passed through her fellow travelers.

Beneath her own gunmetal mask, pale lips twitched. She didn’t shiver with the herd around her, but could appreciate the effect.

A thief always, but a thief in good company now. Having stolen a first line from More than 1/2 Mad‘s post, I’ve written my own with it. Perhaps others have as well. See them at the Legal Theft Project

The Right Machinery

He’d gotten the idea staring into the pod’s green glass. Its exterior was only mildly reflective; his dark image on its surface seemed to stare out from within like a ghost trapped inside. The plan had formed from there, changing from hope to scheme to design. Until it had become an untested prototype in the corner of his workshop.

Taller than himself, wrapped in burlap and protective plastic, the pod was ready for the next fog. His fingers ached any time he walked past.

It’d taken the better part of a year to find the materials in decent condition, months after that to trace the scintillating wires and their arcane purposes, more time still to turn the emerging machine it to his own purposes. Created long ago to hold people and keep them alive, most of the pods had broken at the end of the golden age and failed their occupants, turning them wraiths. Now lashed to the world only by memory, these ghosts emerged from the fog that formed them, inscrutable, untouchable, and miserable.

He’d seen a potential in his reflection on the glass. Containment was the answer. If he could hold the wraiths, study their memories, question their seemingly ceaseless mourning, then maybe he could understand how they’d come to be. It was not their deaths that intrigued him. Death was easy to explain. Bodies broke, insides malfunctioned, only so many things could be replaced.

Death didn’t interest him, it was final. But suffering? Suffering he could work with, suffering could be tinkered with, inspected, and potentially fixed with the right machinery.

In his experience, you learned things from pain.

He intended to learn from theirs.