Peace in an Unquiet World

Utah shook the batteries out of the silver discman and spun them on the studio floor. Cullen said the ritual wouldn’t squeeze any more use out of the little cylinders, but they were the only ones she had. It was the middle of the night,  the market and Cullen’s shop were closed. Utah needed to learn what happened to Yoshimi.

The switchboard was up and running the nighttime stream, its lights basking the radio studio in sleepy crimson. When she leaned towards the bulky technology and strained her ears, Utah could hear the song currently wafting out on the airwaves.  If she really needed to, Utah could interrupt the stream and play the album, but her listeners across the wastes, hinterlands, and blasted mountains depended on Outlast Radio to get them through the night.

Instead, Utah popped the batteries back into the discman. The little rectangle on the front of the device turned on woke with dim illumination and Utah’s smile unfurled. Cullen didn’t know what he was talking about.

Utah slipped the headphones over her ears and spread herself on the floor, staring past her studio’s red ceiling as the music began again.

Yoshimi fought robots, evil-natured pink machines, to keep them from defeating and eating the seemingly hapless singer. It was a strange dreamy song and it ended without resolution. After listening to the mechanic beats and feminine screeching in the fourth track, it never came.

Utah frowned upwards through the wistful fifth and sixth songs on the album, as if she could discern Yoshimi’s fate in the rotting ceiling of her makeshift studio.

The line between her brows eased as the album continued. The songs linked themselves with mellow melancholy that was not logical, but entirely at peace in they unquiet unsatisfactory world they sang in.

Utah exhaled, feeling her limbs ease against the normally uncomfortable floor, and she listened to the album until the batteries in her discman truly died.

As part of the Music Challenge Raw Rambles and I write every other week, this piece was written to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part.1 by The Flaming Lips, which I’d never listened to before. Check out what she wrote to, or inspired by, the song here. 

The Nature of Chaos

Chaos was not an unthinking thing. Prone to disruption over impulse, her path through the towering pines was purposeful. And her thoughts, like herself, were unquiet as she trudged deeper into nature’s cold heart.

The thick silence of the snowfall could not smother her, nor could the vast solitude of the endless trees quell her intentions. Where others might fall into lonely contemplation and lose themselves in the enshrined serenity, Chaos thrust herself into the ancient webs of land and sky until the very threads of it all shivered with entropy.

What are you doing?” The voice rumbled from the trees and earth around her, only to end the question with a single voice.

Chaos turned to the speaker, panting in the cold and from the effort of unmaking. A young man with deep hazel eyes glared at her from between two pines. The trees here stretched deep into the sky but the moonlight still managed to fall on them both. Despite the grace in his strong limbs, there was no mistaking him. The thing behind the brown- green eyes had never been human.

But then, neither had she. “Getting your attention. Nice flesh suit.” Chaos answered.

His expression hardened at her vulgar words. “Precise vocal cords have their uses.” He took a step towards her into the glen. “You’re not welcome here. Return to your walled temples.”

Chaos snorted. The mountains overhead recoiled from her presence and the silence of the forest grew denser, as if the trees could cage her influence. “No can do. Welcome or not, I’m here.”

Anger churned beneath his placid expression like molten rock. As ancient as he and his kind were, the stuff that formed her was older still. Before humankind huddled in their caves dreaming of gods, and masses of earth shuddered against each other to form mountains and ocean crevasses, before life had wriggled itself from those secret depths, primeval chaos reigned supreme.

Rarely welcome, she was here, as she’d always been, and would always be until she picked apart the earth, sky, and sea. He knew it, as did she. Chaos was just giving him a choice, now or then.

He sighed, and the wind rustled through the snow-blanketed branches. “What do you want?”

Chaos smiled for the first time since she’d set her path into the frozen pines. “Your help.”

This week is my fault. I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by one of my absolute favorite bands, Lord Huron and their song Frozen Pines. The resulting weirdness is above, and you can see her piece here. 

Crack, whir, slap,

Under the smog and streetlamps, the city streets were only angles of black and yellow. She rolled past the fenced lots and dark buildings, her body swaying lazily over the skateboard as the rhythmic crack of wheel and sidewalk announced her path.

A few people still huddled outside the barely awake pubs. They looked up from red tipped cigarettes as she wove through them, sending muttered curses skyward like scattered birds. She ignored the shrill caws,  already past and moving before their surprise could evolve into anything more vicious.

Crack, whir, slap. The board was loud, louder than she ever was on her feet. Her lip twitched at the bold rhythm.

During the day, when the sun baked the pale concrete and sticky asphalt, she avoided the skate parks and parking lots where others held up phones to capture achievements and particularly amusing failures. Their boards were loud too, but their braying and snorted chortles were booming. The noise drove her away even as she rolled up along the sidewalk outside the chain-link fence.

Now though, with the heavy chain woven through the chain-link gate, the smooth basins and worn rails were empty and soaked in yellow from the street lamps. Her wheels’ tempo slowed. A moment later, it stopped. The rattle of hands and feet on metal fence shortly filled the dark spaces between concrete.

I challenged Raw Rambles this week to write something to or inspired by SIAMÉS’s The Wolf. I did the same. 

A Brazen Charm

The wind was, like everything else in the city’s sprawl, artificial. It rushed up from the baked freeways to blister the hillside homes of the rich. There it rippled indigo pools before cutting itself on the jutting angles of glass and concrete.

Stepping from the car onto the drive, she looked up at the pale planes and grudgingly admitted there was a brazen charm to the monstrosity hanging off the brown hills. The car rolled away, leaving her and her men on the drive.

Upon entering the white walls, those men lost themselves in the glittering crowd. They would enjoy themselves among the other guests until needed. She could not disappear so easily.

A sea of bronze legs, vicious clavicles, and ombre hair parted for her. She told herself it was the confident cut of her chin, the jut of her shoulders, the pale planes of her face. That the contoured faces noted a brazen charm that came from being where one shouldn’t.

The angle of their plump lips said otherwise.

The host found by the sparkling pool, having abandoned the conditioned interiors for a view of the illuminated grids below. Like her, he did not seem to belong here. His clothes were his own, rough, practical, and fashionable only two hundred miles to the south. The ugly gun at his hip would quickly offend any West coast sensibility.

But this was his home, carved out in the hills to overlook a kingdom.

She dipped her head in greeting and complimented the appeal of his house. He waived away the compliment, explaining it brought pretty women. It was probably the truth, but also a courtesy to her presence as he delivered the line with a rogue’s smile.

He knows she is a newcomer. An unknown mostly, except that she seeks to carve out her own place. A place on the hills perhaps. He asks how she is finding the city so far.

She admits that she doesn’t and that in kind, the city does not seem to like her either. They look out at the glow of the valley together. She smiles at the darkening hillside and the lights stretching beneath them. She intends to grow on it though, and tells him so.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by Disclosure’s Magnets, which features a personal favorite of mine, Lorde.  The above piece, and last weeks post on Raw Rambles, is the result. 

Sick Strange Darkness

She’d always resided behind his eyes. In the darkness floating above his bed, the space between his waking thoughts and the blurred abyss of sleep. Since his twelfth birthday, when his father had passed the binding to him, she’d found him in his dreams.

Now watching his own son turn fitfully beneath the bed covers, plagued perhaps by her warm sepia eyes, he turns away. “Come home.” Her voice hums deep inside his skull.

He’d thought to be free of her. He’d even thought himself clever. If the cursed cuff, that evil twist of metal, was her call, her beacon, surely it’s departure would free them? He’d pushed it over across that velvet table himself when the cards had spoken. Won by another in a poker game, he was done with the thing, with her.

That night she came to him as she’d never before. With hair like webs and skin that burned at its touch, he drowned that night in his sheets. Three days later he was able to wrest himself from the warm depths of her arms. He woke up to a brilliant morning in a hospital bed. The doctors did not understand, but his father, now old and white-eyed, did and would not speak to him.

He leaves his own son’s room and walks the hallways to keep her at bay. One by one they’ve succumbed to her. Half his house sleep. He no longer bears her alone, she spreads like the inky silk of her hair into everything.

He comes to his bedroom door. It is locked, barred from within so the bed cannot tempt him. It does. He is tired, every blink is a small fight to stay away from her warm black depths. “Come home.” She whispers, her breath against his cheek.

His sheets would be cool, unused and soft. She would be so very warm. He leans against the door as if he could fall through the wood and into the hazy depths of her realm.  “Come home,” says the voice inside his head. He closes his eyes.

Raw Rambles picked this amazing cover by PHOX for us to write to for the Music Challenge this week. See what she wrote with their rendition of “I Miss You” in mind here. 

Glass Knives and New Kings

I remember Adam’s hand on my shoulder the night of our father’s funeral. It kept me standing there and facing down the flashing cameras. I remember his fingers digging deep into my tendons when I broke down and looked at the floor.

Adam lost his composure only once that night. When he stepped up to address the crowd beneath our balcony, his voice broke and for a moment the entire crowd went silent. Then, he cleared his throat and went on to deliver a speech the press would call robust and inspiring. They mentioned his momentary lapse into grief too. Everyone was sympathetic, their new king had loved his father.

Maybe Adam had. I used to think so. Now I try not to, think I mean, gets me too angry. Not that there is much to do down here but think. That, and bodyweight exercises.

I was there when my father died. It took me some time, three days after Adam received the news with wide eyes and a hand out to steady himself, to remember what I’d seen. I’m not good at a lot, but I’m great in a fight, and sizing up people is part of that.

When the assassin slipped a glass knife deep under my father’s ribs, quick and professional, I didn’t remember. It happened too quickly, I know now I should have run after her, but I didn’t. I went to him, to uselessly clutch at my father as he died.

It took me until the night of the funeral, as my other brothers and I followed Adam from the balcony, to remember where I’d seen the assassin before. She’d been here, on the white stone. So had Adam.

Good in a fight, and not much else, I confronted him. It was insane, he told me, I must be mad with grief. And because I always had before, I believed him again. It wouldn’t have been the first time I was wrong, too foolish and angry to think right. His guards tore down my door the next morning.

And so I’m here,  with a limited exercise regime and too much time to think. Adam comes down to see me through the bars, to ask why I did it, and to say he still loves me as his younger brother, even if he cannot abide my crime. He promises to spare me if I admit to it.

I won’t. I’m not good at a lot, and its probably for the best I will never be in charge of anything, but I’m not a murderer. And whether my eldest brother ever loved our father, I know I did.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write to Streetlight Manifesto’s The Three of Us. See what the ska inspired her to do here. 

That Yellow Haze

Only a hundred miles or so out of Memphis, Alex was aching for a beer and long night in the back of a smokey bar. It’d been weeks since he set down long enough to waste any time. He jabbed his finger at the RV’s radio until it played something that had some proper guitar.

Too far out for anything but trees and endless highway, he could only recall the light pollution laying over the city in a yellow haze. Neon clubs, flickering bars, yellow streetlights, pouring light into the night sky to challenge the stars.

Alex let his foot get heavy against the gas. The RV’s engine revved up, unhappy but obedient. The trees flashed endlessly by in the headlights, like old film on a projector reel. Memphis had always treated him well. Cheap beer, real music, and friendly groupies. They’d liked his crooked smile and Kurt Cobain hair, though none of the girls knew who that was anymore.

A pity, Alex thought as he yawned. He turned up the music slowly, watching the bunks in the back of the RV through the rear view mirror. No tousled heads emerged awakened and grumbling.

Alex eased off the gas some, Memphis would be there all night. The kids needed their sleep and he planned to wake them at the state line. Everyone needed to see Graceland at least once.

Because Raw Rambles has classy taste in music, this week’s Music Challenge is to Paul Simon’s Graceland.  Like me, she wrote something to and/or inspired by the song.