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. 

Legal Theft: Collapse

There was no hiding from sleep. It found him and threatened his work with shaking hands and bleary eyes. And so he fought it away with tea, then coffee, and when the respected tools failed him, pills. Those worked for a time.

Empty mugs crowded the surfaces around him like wards. Every so often he would force them farther to the edges of the workbenches for another sketch, a bit of prototype, or tool. It was a bad sign when a mug finally tipped over the edge to shatter over the concrete floor, and he could only blink at the dregs and broken ceramic, wondering what to do about it.

The mess stayed where it was. He was too tired to leave his work, a bent knee was close to the floor. And everything looked comfortable at this point.

He could not hide from sleep, but he could glare at it, and curse the heaviness threatening to collapse his eyelids, and fear what it would bring when sleep finally overtook him.

Short heist this week for the Legal Theft Project. The first line came from More than 1/2 Mad. 

Gentlemen Demons

The thieves hit the Neptune Playhouse during the third act of a particularly affecting rendition of Doctor Faustus.  As the doctor bargained with his demonic muse on stage, three guests left their seats to find their way deep into the labyrinthian bowels of the building.

Once below, the downed lights and scuttle of unseen stagehands covered their steps. In the narrow corridors, the dark swaddled men were shadows amidst other, more innocent, shadows.  No stagehand, costumer, or actor felt an undeserved bite of blade that evening. Wanton violence was the mark of brutes and amateurs, the thieves who slipped smoothly from open dressing room to waiting wings did so with long-collected practice.

Tension grew on stage and lapped over the audience as the fate of Doctor Faustus drew ever nearer. The damned doctor, still arrogant, and now frightened, stared upwards at Lucifer’s puppeted mouthpiece. Faustus realized his stalemate with the infernal forces was broken.

The thieves, now clothed in flashing crimson and twisted masks, waited for the diabolical crow of the lead devil on stage. Crackling laughter rose from the carved mouthpieces, working in tandem with the puppeteer’s cackling voice. At the cue, the thieves sprang onto the stage, cavorting and snarling like the demons whose faces they wore.

They descended on the ruined Faustus, one on each arm, and the last to clear the way to hell, red and black strips of cloth fluttering like wings from their shoulders. The audience leaned back as the thieves dragged the pleading doctor towards the edge of the stage.

The actors behind the mouthpiece missed their counts as their hellish minions began to carry the doctor up the aisle and through their enraptured audience, the maniacal devil at a loss for words. The doctor in comparison writhed and screamed in the most convincing manner as he was hauled up the velvet path by seemingly his fellow cast members. The audience loved the turn and the engaging conflict inches away from their seats. A critic in attendance would write a glowing review of the lead’s performance in tomorrow’s paper.

The third thief, the one with his hands free of the struggling lead, flourished a deep bow to the rows of seats and the distant stage. Faced with the attention of the grinning demon the audience shrank back and more than a few giggled nervously, entirely caught up in the drama. The effect successful, the third thief kicked open the lobby doors for his fellows.

The kidnappers’ impish masks grinned at each other as they dragged their victim past the shocked concessions attendants and into the street outside. No one at the theater managed to form much response, torn between the desire to maintain the audiences apparent glee, the time worn tradition of show perseverance, and the now glaring absence of their lead and titular character. They performed the final bow without him, which confused the crowd as all would have liked to see Doctor Faustus and the cavorting yet gentlemanly demons from only moments before.

It took too many precious moments before anyone realized how truly wrong the situation was, but by that time, the people thieves were long gone.

The above it a result of this Wordle Prompt by Mindlovesmisery Menagerie.

Legal Theft: From the Right Side

Sunrise was an acquired taste. One made palatable depending on the side you viewed it from. Where most would wake, drink stimulants into their veins, and jog around their sidewalks or duck into their sedans for a commute, Aiden preferred to watch the purpling eastern sky with heavy eyes and cottonmouth, when his night was just wearing off.

From his side, it was a reward. The universe gifted him a private finale where ever he deigned to take it after hours well-spent. Then he would fall into bed. Those others could only peer at the deep gold of a new morning from under windshields and with the dawning of their day’s tasks looming.

It wasn’t much, but it was something he could definitively feel superior about.

Aiden shuffled across the parking lot with an oil-soaked fast food bag in hand. His RV was where he’d left it, as it always was. The strewn trash and heaps of clothing inside promised nothing to any thieves, and Aiden knew personally how lazy and opportunistic the lot were. Unconcerned whether everything was where he left it, he didn’t go inside.

The sky was still mostly dark, with hints of foggy blue in the upper sky. He had time to set out the small feast of savory, greasy food on the RV’s hood and climb up. His shoe created another dent that would either pop out or wouldn’t. He sighed deeply, settling, and leaned back against the windshield.

Far away from the little parking lot, the freeways were beginning to clog as the pavement filled with people rushing towards days filled with errands, responsibilities, bosses, and noise. If they were fortunate, they might spare a glimpse for the dawn growing in the eastern sky.

A plastic straw to his lips, exhaustion setting deep into his bones after the night’s highs, and the sky blooming before him, Aiden felt like the luckiest man alive.  He stretched and made sure to savor the taste of it all.

So many thieves, of which I am one. This is part of the Legal Theft Project, where the lazy and opportunistic steal the first line from someone else and write our own piece with it. 

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. 

Legal Theft: Proper Breeding

He was not an innocent man. Tristan watched his soon to be brother-in-law shrug himself into the Canali tuxedo jacket with a growing unease. Even clothed in respectable lines and conservative black, careless malfeasance hung about Lark’s sharp shoulders like a cologne.

Tristan waved away his own attendant. His sister had final say on whatever the groom’s party wore. Tristan’s opinion on the trappings, and the wedding as a whole, was tertiary at best. However, Lark was enjoying himself amidst the scrambling staff and sleek designer wear, and it spared Tristan the fraught experience of conversing over much with him.

At least until Lark caught him staring into space in his general direction and interrupted Tristan with a salacious side eye. “Should your sister be worried? I didn’t think the Canali looked that good.”

As usual, Tristan didn’t know how to respond to Lark’s vain jibes, so he didn’t. Instead he indulged a brief fantasy where his sister came to her senses and called off her engagement to the churlish prick.

Lark shook off the hands of a tailor and stepped off the small dressing platform. The staff scattered in his pointed wake. “You’re not enjoying yourself. We’re supposed to get along,” Lark said.

“Is that part of the arrangement?” It was a poor idea to humor Lark’s banter, but Tristan was trapped and didn’t want to supply his future brother-in-law the satisfaction of seeing him storm out.  Losing one’s composure was a sign of weak character, and even Lark prided himself on being thoroughly unaffected by the opinions of others. They’d both grown up amidst the propriety and control-obsessed class. Tristan wasn’t immune to his own breeding either.

“Implicitly.” Lark answered, smiling as he sensed the fissure in Tristan’s calm. “At least for image’s sake. I’ve agreed to restrain myself from embarrassing your sister, but she plucked your strings too. Forcing you to be part of all this.” He gestured around the room with its plush carpets, mahogany liquor cabinets, and dapper mannequins.

Tristan’s mouth twitched and he reached up to adjust Lark’s slightly askew tuxedo collar before the man could react. He dropped his fingers, using Lark’s surprise to get the last word in with a genuine smile. “Then, as long as you continue to be embarrassing, we wont be getting along.”

He left the fitting lounge confident that Lark wouldn’t mention this to his sister.

A thief always, a victim on occasion. Time will tell on that last count. This weeks Legal Theft first line was supplied by me, set out as bait for potential thieves. 

One Thief…

Two Thief…

Three Thief…

One’s Own Advice

Lena spent her entire life watching the city’s young lords and ladies from kitchen doors and servant’s passages. The bright people flooded her establishment each night with beautiful smiles, cruel words, and raucous laughter.

Their tide caught the careless. A maid or stableboy might draw an eye, accept a drink, or blush just a little too much. It was never long before the aristocracy’s nasty penchant for use and abuse revealed itself beneath their stolen kisses and gilded gifts.

When Lena inherited the establishment and grounds, she advised her staff to keep their smiles chaste and their hands to themselves.  Their glamorous patrons were clientele to be served, plied with food and drink, wrung dry for coin, and then sent off the next morning with hazy but pleasant memories.

Lena kept her own distance, managing the ebb and flow of staff, city folk, travelers, and nobles with two feet firmly planted on her establishment’s floorboards.

But he was alone on the back kitchen steps and so obviously miserable Lena found herself curious.

The despondent lord looked to be about her age, old enough take the ferry over to the lake’s island and enjoy himself in her bars, gambling dens, and dance halls, though sufficiently young enough that such behavior would be expected, perhaps even encouraged. Even through the night, she could make out the sun-streaks in his hair and the almost golden cast to his dark skin.

A discarded coat lay crumpled next to him on the step, a green silk sleeve soaking up mud. This late in the evening, he should be inside sweet talking someone up to a room with what Lena knew must be a handsome smile. Instead, he was hunched on her steps.

Lena hovered at the corner of the stables. She needed to get into the kitchen, but was remiss to break the melancholy spell about him. The issue resolved itself when he looked up and noticed her stare. As if caught doing something far worse than sulking on back steps, he pushed himself to his feet as Lena walked up.

“Sorry.” He said. She had been right, this close she could see the gold in his dark hair.

“No harm done. Are you lost?” She asked. Occasionally drunks found their way into the oddest places, but there was no sour smell on his skin or breath.

“No, not really. Just–am I not supposed to be here?”

“Not really.” Lena bent to pick up his coat. It was ruined, the fine silk and soft lining thoroughly soaked with dirty water. “Are you okay?”

His smile was guileless if still a little morose. Lena felt her face warm like she’d wandered into sunshine. He didn’t seem to notice his soiled coat in her hands. “Better now. My friends left, and my purse…”

“Stolen?” It happened sometimes. But it meant he wouldn’t have anything to pay the ferry back to the city with. Not a tragedy, his family would come get him quickly enough, but probably not the night and morning he wanted. If he hadn’t ruined his coat, he might have been able to barter with it. Lena stepped around him and opened the kitchen door. The air was warm within.

The lord shrugged. “Or lost. I don’t know. I just sat down to think, didn’t know what else to do.”

Lena nodded and stepped into her kitchen, dropping his coat in the only open sink. He followed her in without invitation, which didn’t annoy her as much as it should. “Would you like an alternative to sitting and thinking?”

He nodded.  “Sure.”

Despite herself, she smiled at him sideways. Then she tossed him a rag and pointed to the heaps of dirty dishes spilling over the counter from most the sinks. “Try not to break anything. An hour of washer’s wages will cover the ferry ride.”

He blinked at first, and Lena thought he’d bluster and refuse. But then his face broke into the most handsome smile she’d ever seen. Lena put a hand on the counter as the lord turned uncomplaining to the dull work and tried to recall a bit of advice she’d heard once.