GFP Ep. 38 – Reevaluation


The Garage Fiction Podcast: Episode 38 – Reevaluation
Listen to the podcast in the player above, download the full episode here or subscribe to our podcast via iTunes here.


What the heck is “Garage Fiction”?

Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack,
Dogwood Daniels & Jinn Zhong) have committed to
writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week based on a “creative prompt”. We post our work on
Fridays at each of our respective websites and dissect them together on Mondays via podcast.
We also end up chatting about the craft of writing, the creative process, storytelling and other related tangents.

• You can always email us your thoughts, comments and feedback at garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com
• Like this podcast? We’d love for you to rate us on iTunes
• We’d also appreciate it if you “like” us on Facebook
• You can follow these three stooges on Twitter as well:
@nicholasbrack, @DogwoodDaniels & @jinn_zhong
• Our awesome theme song was written by Stephanie and Jonathan Hughes. Check out their latest album at sextmessage.bandcamp.com
• If you’d like to advertise with us or sponsor us, please email garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PODCAST:

GFP Ep. 37 – The Library, Take 2, Scar, Part 4, The Deep Sea


The Garage Fiction Podcast: Episode 37 – Listen to the podcast in the player above, download the full episode here or subscribe to our podcast via iTunes here.


What the heck is “Garage Fiction”?

Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack,
Dogwood Daniels & Jinn Zhong) have committed to
writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week based on a “creative prompt”. We post our work on
Fridays at each of our respective websites and dissect them together on Mondays via podcast.
We also end up chatting about the craft of writing, the creative process, storytelling and other related tangents.


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Jinn Zhong…
A panel from New Avengers Issue #21 released in August 2006
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencilled by Howard Chaykin
This issue was a part of the 2006 Civil War crossover


Here’s what it inspired this week:
• Nicholas wrote The Library, Take 2
• Dogwood wrote Scar, Part 4
• Jinn wrote The Deep Sea

LINKS MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:
Brandon Sanderson’ Course
The Greatest Thing in The World by Flannery O’ Connor
The Geranium by Norman Mailer
Defiance directed by Edward Zwick, starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber

• You can always email us your thoughts, comments and feedback at garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com
• Like this podcast? We’d love for you to rate us on iTunes
• We’d also appreciate it if you “like” us on Facebook
• You can follow these three stooges on Twitter as well:
@nicholasbrack, @DogwoodDaniels & @jinn_zhong
• Our awesome theme song was written by Stephanie and Jonathan Hughes.
Check out their latest album at sextmessage.bandcamp.com
• If you’d like to advertise with us or sponsor us, please email garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PODCAST:

Scar 4

This is the 4th part in a series. Part 3 is located by clicking here. Part one is located by clicking here.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why Scar was called the Miracle Man.

There was a manner to him when he spoke to people. I never thought it was a supernatural gift; he just had a way of talking to you that reached something you had forgotten you had.

Scar once told me, “The problem with alcoholics isn’t that they’re addicted to the bottle, it’s that they’ve forgotten they can be happy without it.” In those early days after The End, he resorted to that axiom often with the folks who came crawling up the steps to his door. And he would just talk to them.

They would come stumbling, lost, up the steps, or crawling, or just collapse in the dirt, and he would drag them inside (my job was to start carrying them in). We’d lay them out on the couch and Scar would whip up a sour lemonade, though we always guzzled it down like it was life itself – every zesty, lip pursing drop. Scar had wisely plundered the stores for dry ice and kept them in containers with his bottled waters. Very few people could claim to have cold drinks, and back then, the world was just getting hotter and hotter.

Once we’d all had a drink, these people would just take off their masks – they’d reveal their souls in ways I don’t think a priest has ever seen.

There was Carlin, the drunk from the tub, who’d been savagely beaten by his father as a child. His father was a mean drunk, and Carlin grew up and became a mean drunk to his kid as well. Then he had to hold his boy’s hand when the plague came and watched him cough up blood until his little body stopped shaking and that was something Carlin never forgave himself for.

“Boy was nine,” he confessed, wrapped in a towel on the couch, “Nine and I’d been beatin’ him for five of them years and then he was… was just gone…” He looked at Scar, glassy-eyed, reflecting; you could almost hear the video playing out in his head – the long stretch of violence that preceded him, preceded his father, but ended with his son. “Ain’t nobody deserve to live their whole life getting beat and die, nobody, and ‘specially not my boy, not Fletcher…”

Then there was Mattie Jean, the teen terror that she was. Mattie was sixteen and she was the ‘Mare of Morgan’s Run,’ as my house-boss Terry put it.

She’d been ridden by just about every man and I recall some rumors she wasn’t averse to diddling with other young ladies, too.

One day, Mattie ventured up to Scar’s house. The girl was all legs, long and milky white. She left most of them exposed; I don’t think she ever wore anything that went past her mid-thigh. I’ll confess, as a young man, I was no stranger to Mattie’s charms. As a house-boss, Terry had special privileges. He got a kick out of indulging those privileges and then handing ‘Sloppy Seconds Mattie’ as he’d call her off to the rest of us.

She had that way about her, the beguiling charm of a temptress not yet in full bloom, but coming into her power. She sat in ways that displayed her flesh, she smiled in ways that were both innocent and secretive, and every gesture, every tiny contact she made, was charged with her desires. Even sitting there with Scar, staring at her in her short sleeve button up blouse, with a generous peak at her young bosom, and her denim skirt riding up onto her hips, I felt the fire and the need – that old, primitive thing.

Not Scar. He sat across from her with his cane and his peculiar half-smile and nodded when she asked if she could sit.

“Well howdy,” she said to me, her eyes ever on the verge of a wink, “You workin’ for Mister Scar now?”

Before I could answer, Scar interjected, “He does indeed. But pray tell, what can I do for you today, Ms. Mattie Jean?” The cooling balm of his voice had some strange effect – not just on me, but her.

Her cheekbones relaxed, her wink blinked out of existence, and that easily smile and powerful, hungry aura I thought came so naturally flickered away like a mirage. “I heard you helped people with… problems.”

He responded with a nod.

“I… I dun’ things. Been alone even ‘for the end and all came. I had a brother…” she chewed her lip and looked out the window at the pale golden light filtered through the dusty panes.

“Can I tell you something, Ms. Mattie Jean?”

She drew her knees up to her chest and nodded. You could see her young loins through the outline of her exposed panties, but there was no fire in it. Whatever Scar had done that changed her, changed how I saw her. It was like looking at a lost child.

“I’ve been around for a while now – seen a lot of very curious things. Chances are, you and I have met before, in another time, another place, another…” he paused and tapped his cane, “My point: we’re always running from something, always guilty of something, always blaming ourselves for something wrought upon us. I’m not here to condemn you, ‘nor condone what you’ve done. I am here because I see You. Only You. And for now, I want you to see only Me.”

She crawled into his lap like a little girl running to her father and cried her eyes out. For her sake, I won’t repeat what she told us in that quiet room. But my friend, I never was able to touch “Sloppy Seconds” Mattie Jean again, though she’d sleep in my bed after she was used up and feeling ill and have me hold her while she trembled.

She reverted, like they sometimes did, back their old ways after a talk with Scar. I’d say one in ten just couldn’t stick with the new vision of themselves Scar tried to give them. But it was never the same with Mattie after that. She went back to being the Mare of Morgan’s Ru, sure, but she didn’t wink and she didn’t tease and she didn’t emanate that sweet, juicy fruit scent she used to.

Just before Scar was gone and I left, someone found her by a stream near a bunch of peach trees just on the northernmost tip of Morgan’s Run, where mossy white fences bracketed us from the wilds.

She was white as snow and just as still and that was the end of the Mare of Morgan’s Run.

I’d say that for about a month, I started thinking Scar was an unnaturally gifted therapist and nothing more.

One night of drinking particular verve resulted in me telling Charlie my theories. He wasn’t too pleased when I shared some of Mattie Jean’s story – he never abstained from her affections, as I did, but there was less passion to it after that. Animals fulfilling animal instincts.

When I told him that Scar was effectively a counselor, and was just about harmless, he almost spit up his Jameson, then spent a few minutes fanning his nose as sharp fluid shot into his nostrils.

“Maybe so,” he said after a few convalescent moments, “Maybe so. But lemme tell you – I was one of the first here, when they was settlin’ the Run under the Governor. I remember when Scar came and some fools tried hustling him around. One of them was the governor, ‘for he was the Governor. Just some muscle. One of his friends pulls a knife on ol’ Scar, gets to threatening and swing, ‘You got food?’ he says and swings the knife awful close to Scar, ‘You got water? Got women? We could make you a woman, old fella,’ they said.

One of them, some tall scarcecrow of a kid, gets too ballsy, takes a cut at Scar and nicks his cheek. Well, Scar had been downright patient, not busted their balls or tried goading them. But he came alive like a panther. Took that cane of his and broke that boy’s skull clean in half, then ‘for they could respond, he jammed that damn thing through another boys fuckin’ eye-socket. I was watching from the front house, see, real quiet. Good thing, too, see, cuz Scar put two more of those boys down like nothing – like beating up kids. Then he gets ready to take down the Governor and one of the boys Scar had hurt grabs his leg and says, ‘Please, mister, please, don’t kill me.’ Now this man had been fucked. Up. Good. Scar just about mule kicked him and nearly smashed in his chest. Then something happened. Don’t know what, but all the fire went out of ol’ Scar… and he did something. Touched that man and he… he just came alive again. Like a balloon inflating. He got up and Scar and the Governor struck an accord.”

“So that fella survived?” I asked.

“Yes sir indeed,” Charlie said, leaning back in the sofa, looking across the hallway at where Terry was slipping his fingers up the swatch of cloth Mattie Jean called a skirt, his fingers dancing between her thighs. “He did indeed survive.”

 


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Jinn Zhong…
A panel from New Avengers Issue #21 released in August 2006
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Penciled by Howard Chaykin
This issue was a part of the 2006 Civil War crossover

Captain America on Freedom


These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Jinn Zhong and I) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.

To read Nicholas Brack’s GF-of-the-week: The Library, Take 2
To read Jinn Zhong’s GF-of-the-week: The Deep Sea

GFP Ep. 36 – The Library, The Sage, Desperate Pact


The Garage Fiction Podcast: Episode 36 – Listen to the podcast in the player above, download the full episode here or subscribe to our podcast via iTunes here.


What the heck is “Garage Fiction”?

Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack,
Dogwood Daniels & Jinn Zhong) have committed to
writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week based on a “creative prompt”. We post our work on
Fridays at each of our respective websites and dissect them together on Mondays via podcast.
We also end up chatting about the craft of writing, the creative process, storytelling and other related tangents.


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Nicholas Brack…
“Girl With A Book” – Photographed by Nicholas Brack.


Here’s what it inspired this week:
• Nicholas wrote The Library
• Dogwood wrote The Sage
• Jinn wrote Desperate Pact

LINKS MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:
Brandon Sanderson’ Course
Michael Chabon
J.D. Salinger
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
The Moment with Brian Koppelman Podcast by Slate Magazine
Marvel’s Daredveil a Netflix Original
Jinn’s piece on “Middling Fiction”
Mad Men
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
The New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

• You can always email us your thoughts, comments and feedback at garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com
• Like this podcast? We’d love for you to rate us on iTunes
• We’d also appreciate it if you “like” us on Facebook
• You can follow these three stooges on Twitter as well:
@nicholasbrack, @DogwoodDaniels & @jinn_zhong
• Our awesome theme song was written by Stephanie and Jonathan Hughes. Check out their latest album at sextmessage.bandcamp.com
• If you’d like to advertise with us or sponsor us, please email garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PODCAST:

The Sage

The sage sat statuesque by his window, staring out into a field thick with snow. Leaf-bare trees, frosted white, stood like sentinels. All of them waited together, listening to the ululation carried on those strange winds.

There was a long emptiness to the field, and this was how the sage preferred it. Why he had come out here, so far away from the land of his ancestors. The earth here was foreign to him; the creatures which hid in the boughs and the hidden things which scurried just out of eyesight all hesitated to speak with him. He was not of their ilk. He was of the wrong sort – a pinch of fay, and a heaping of something else. If he was ever a man, they could no longer tell.

The sage was not of this land, but this land knew of the sage. Even in his flight from his home, in his pursuit of some mythical woman, the souls of those caught in the whorls of his destiny had assailed him. He had met his destiny – that enchanting woman, who lingered somewhere in the crevice between figment and dream. He found her and now he was the sage and the spirits did not speak to him anymore.

Except on this day, one of them had broken their unspoken vow of silence.

It had been the first crawl of morning light, sliding across his pitted and leathery face and the blizzard of white hairs across his jaw, when he heard a voice. Soft, but sure as the arrival of death. A body can take years or hours in its race to death, but it takes an infinity of seconds for it to die.

In that infinity, he heard the voice of the spirit that dwelled with him in his small home, on its wide field.

“He comes,” it said, “Your heir comes and seeks. We have been told.”

There were no more words. The sage rose on gnarled legs, wrapped in a cloak against the snapping cold that had filled his room in the night. He started a small fire in his kitchen, filled a pot of chilled water with black, brittle leaves, and sat by the window to hear the crackling of the fire as the water began to seethe.

***

 

The knock on the door was sharp. It reminded the sage of old battles – a maul colliding with an errant knight’s ventail; the sharp, wet crunch, the sight of red lines running down across grimy silver breastplates. A high laugh on the high wind, the din and roar of horses neighing and great, extinct beasts screaming against the lacquered red sky.

Another knock followed, then a steady rapping on the door.

The sage sipped the bitter black brew in his hand and croaked, “Enter, my son, enter.”

The words had barely left his mouth when the door came open, and framed by the winter sun’s pale light was a young man – too young for the endeavor ahead. Too young for the malfeasance behind.

He wore simple clothes. A cotton shirt, raggedy trousers. His feet were unshod and icy blue from the cold outside, though the hostile weather did not seem to perturb him. Instead, he smiled a curious, heavy smile – a difficult twist of his lips, whose mirth never found his eyes – and then crossed the threshold, kicking the door shut behind him.

As he drew closer, the sage admired the similarities. He was so much like his son – like a ghost, come to dwell with him in his hovel as all the other souls of his misdeeds did. From the bruise-black hair, to the grey-green eyes, to the large, thick nose planted firmly on his face – it looked like an oak tree in the middle of small, ravaged garden. In his left hand, he held a scuffed up brown scabbard, the worn hilt of the sword within failing to catch the shards of light thrown off by the fireplace. It was a warrior’s sword – no time for pleasantries and beauty. Its edge, he knew, was nicked and dulled by bones and armor of fallen enemies. He knew, because it had once belonged to the sage.

“I have traveled far to find you, grandfather,” the boy said, kneeling before the sage. “Across the fields of Bar Muth and the steppes of the Hjalmarringa and her barbarous inhabitants, I traveled. I cleaved a path through the beasts of Yulratha… and smashed the king of Ellor beneath your black blade. All to find you, grandfather. And I saw them tremble at your name – Vax-“

“I am your grandfather, but that man you seek is not here, lad,” he said curtly, averting his eyes from the boy, studying only the endless white horizon.

The young man paused, licking his chapped lips. “Then answer me this, old man who is my grandfather but not the great warrior: when you came to this land, did you not seek a woman of some acclaim? The woman who took the book penned by a dead god in bygone eldritch days?”

The sage could feel the fire of his gaze on him, young and voracious; like the sage when time was still yet his friend. Like him then, the boy was an inferno – without direction, full of temperamental appetite. It would burn and burn until it burned itself out while pulling everything into its belly. It all in its path like coruscating cinders on a great pile of ash.

“I sought the woman with such a book,” he answered, “And I found such a woman, and her book, and read those words from a dead god, written in a dead language from a dead time.” He extended one bony finger to the boy’s chin – so much like his son. So much like Arlemus. One more cinder. “But all things of which this book is the progeny are dead, my child. There are many things which die that should not. And many things which die that should. And in that woman’s book, I found that which should be dead.”

The leather groaned beneath the boys hand; his fingers clenched, squeezed the hilt with intimate familiarity. The sage thought he heard its siren call – hold me, it said, embrace me, wield me. I am your will incarnate. The boy’s body tightened, coiling like a snake as muscle rippled across his exposed biceps – hunger vying against need. The man against the beast.

“Still yourself and I shall tell you of what you seek, child,” the sage said. “I will tell you and pray you heed an old man’s words, as your father bade an old man to heed his.”

He saw the shift in the boy’s eyes at mention of his father. A wave of anxiety rolled across him.

“The son you slew in pursuit of the book, grandfather,” he added. He saw the vengeance in his eyes – a son’s vendetta, cobwebbed and nearly forgotten, but lingering. The sage would let such a flame devour him.

“The very same,” he said, “Now I shall tell you of the woman and the book.”

***

I was your age when I first heard of that dead god’s book. They said its words were the first words, its bindings made of that rawstuff which was fashioned into the heavens, and its author one of the architects of creation. We do not know his name, for he was dead and gone when still the world was dawning.

My mentor told me of the book, speaking in hushed tones of its magnificent and infernal power. He found me, a noble’s son gone astray. I was the heir of some fiefdom that, to my knowledge, no longer exists. But I wanted more than these finite things, back then – more than all the gold and cattle and fertile lands my father’s titles offered. I went out as a young child to find my destiny. And I met my mentor, who instructed me in many things. And he told me of the dead god’s book.

He desired for us to journey together and find the tome. For ten summers he taught me his esoteric ways. He showed me how to speak to those spirits which walk among the barrows of our ancestors, he taught me to see those hidden things in the home, he showed me how to find the ancient gods of the land whose power is great. And he taught me to subvert their will to my own- to violate the treaty between men and those others by enslaving them to my will.

In a volcano where the souls of many dead men congested, I forged the very blade you hold in your hand. With it, I wrote my own book, in ink of deep red.

Ravisher, he named me. I took on another name later, which you know and I will not speak hear, for the man who was weighed down by such a name perished in pursuit of this book.

As Ravisher, my mentor and I scoured the lands. We usurped lords, ravaged women, put the torch and steel to any who opposed us.

Aye. They called us warlords. My mentor said, “We shall be war gods.”

But after twenty summers, my mentor became distrustful. He would inspect me from the shadows when he thought I was not looking. His hand would linger on his dagger too long when I was near. Power is not shared, my lad, not among those who seek it to whatever ends necessary. Power is not bread which can be broken for some; it is life, and a man can only have one life. To split it is to die and so to share power is to have none at all.

In the night I found him, and I compelled a shadowy entity that had stalked us for many miles to end my mentor’s life. There was a great deal of blood, for this creature was a cruel one and it fed just as much on my mentor’s suffering as it did his flesh. I banished it back to that terrible void from which our iniquity had conjured it.

Shortly after, I took a wife. Her name was Euphonia and she was a beauty so lovely the heavens were weeping in envy on us the day I met her. With Euphonia, I found a peace which had eluded me for nearly a score of years. We had a son and a daughter.

Things went peaceably for a time, and then Jele- then the girl was taken by consumption. I had been sober of my terrible art for half a score when my daughter was taken from me. But in my fury and my despair, those wretched things returned to me with alacrity.

Surreptitiously, I returned to my arcane study. I remembered that my mentor had said so many years ago – the book could solve that great secret, the conundrum which had vexed all of us who touch the arts and the spirits. Life. With the book, I could return my daughter to me.

I went a year before my wife or son noticed any alarming changes. The most alarming was the massacre of Delhaleen. One could say it was accidental – that I had simply not woven my spellsong correctly, not prepared aptly. This would be a great lie, for the spell called for the lives of thousands on the altar to accomplish my needs.

For my daughter, I remember, I would have massacred Delhaleen a thousand times over, and a thousand times again.

I believed it vital, you see. These many souls brought much power. The souls of the dead are currency among those cyclopean beings, which live among us, but not with us.  It was, however, fruitless, at the time. They said they did not know where the book had found its home – but that a woman had found the home for it.

‘She dresses in starlight and her name is Thine,’ they said to me.

I could not be appeased. With terrible wroth, I slew that ancient being and began my new voyage… not as Ravisher, but under a different name.

Pretenses vanished and my redeeming wife became a memory. My son fled with her upon hearing of the massacre of Delhaleen.

The king sent a legion after me. An entire legion. Like wheat in harvest, I cut them down with terrible power.

Do not smile so thrillingly, my child, because these are not things which are walked away from. All souls are connected. To break one soul is to break a part of your own. How many can you break before you are no longer whole yourself?

I spent another score of years searching. Eventually, I forgot my daughter, forgot her name and her face and for many years, forgot the way her small arms would embrace me or her lips kiss my cheek.

Fury is a terrible master, because it does not grant reprieve until reprieve only grants you a moment to see what you have wrought. That moment of sanity sends men tumbling into the abyss from which they never return.

I cannot say how many empires I laid waste to, how many queens felt the firebrand of my lust, or how many heirlings and princes and princesses were shattered on my beastly appetite.

A man who is willing to murder and destroy has truly unfettered himself – the greatest power cannot be restrained. You cannot jar an inferno. I supped on souls of the innocent and became mighty.

Then one day, a man found me where I had made my dominion. I was seated upon a throne, encircled by groveling subjects.

‘I am your son,’ he said, ‘I am Arlem. Do you remember me, father?’

I did and I embraced him gladly.

He said to me that I should stop this all – that his sister was just a puff of smoke in my mind. There was no mission to bring her back, not anymore.

Remember, child, that power cannot be split and that those that have it guard it jealousy. Remember, too, that fury is a vicious overlord. And know that there, before these weeping folk, I killed my own son, your father. He would not take my power, as I assumed he meant to. He would not make demands of me.

It was when his blood had covered my hands and begun to run around my boots that my temper cooled and very gave me purchase of reality.

I dropped my black blade and fled north that very day, sacrificing my gifts as I journeyed to bargain with those old gods of the woods.

‘Where is Thine and the book of the dead god?’ I asked. They told me of an grove further north, in a place where the sun had never set its eye. I learned more of the book, too. It would provide only what the reader truly wanted – for no single book could, at once, contain all the infinite knowledge of the universe. So it merely granted at one time what was desired, so I was told.

My journey carried me into blistering colds and against foul beasts which have never traversed the lands of the south. Abominations. I augured with their bones and found the woman and the book, though. I found her and I almost thought it a dream.

It was a small grove, west of the Cloud Wall that separates the kingdoms of Balka and Went. Those were war torn lands then. I believe that is why she was so close to them, because I have returned since and there was no grove.

I was haggard and slimmed down greatly when I found the woman and the book. Death had found me at last, after so many years, and it hounded me with slavering jaws.

She had the book in her lap as I approached. I remember the sound of water rushing through a little stream and the way the snow crunched under my numb feet. The trees were green, yet covered with ice. I have never seen its like again.

“You are the boy who became Ravisher, and then Ravisher who became the beast, and the beast who is now a dying man. You have sought me many long years. I can scant hear your breathing or your voice where you stand over the whirlwind of those who have fallen before your blade. They follow you, like shades waiting, because you have forgotten them, but they have not forgotten you.”

I said to her, then, “Let them take me, and damnation too. But let me read of the book, Thine, as they call you. I but want to right my son and daughter. Let me give them back what I stole from them and then all the gods and devils of this world may feast upon my ruin.”

She smiled very prettily, though I was not attracted to her. For she was like a finely painted doll – impeccable in every way, as a doll is supposed to be.

“I shall let you read the book,” she said, approaching me. The snow made no sound under her feet. “But your ruin… shall be your own. The book grants what we seek, not what we want or need.”

It was a simple tome – not lavish, as one would expect. Its cover was leather. It’s bindings leather thong. Yet it pulled me, drew my fingers. Once it was in my hand there was no stopping it – I was a fish, caught on the line, and I would be pulled from those waters writhing and flopping.

Upon opening the book, there was one word.

Titles, it said. Just titles.

***

The boy stared at his grandfather, but the sage brooded for a moment.

“We never escape what we are, truly,” he scratched his beard, “I was never anything more than a mischievous noble child, seeking his noble titles. I simply did not want my father’s titles, but my own, and mine were far more terrible.”

He slid from his seat onto arthritic knees before the kneeling boy and pressed his hands to his shoulders, “The true price of power, boy, is truth – a truth you can’t escape. Turn back and find your own truth, whatever you desire it to be. The truth we shall life, grieve, and die, and others will do it all over.”

The boy’s hand quivered on his blade. ‘If the gods are good, if they live, let me convince him’ the sage thought.

“The inferno consumes, child, and when your life ends there will be nothing but the terrible truth of what you have done. And they are waiting,” the sage said, glancing over the boy’s shoulder at those constant, chill phantoms that circled them, “They wait and neither the woman nor the book can dissuade them of it.”

The boy drew the blade as the sage embraced him, and for just a moment the old man saw his son there, his hand on his own, and he did not know if it was truthfully him or not.

But it may have been a good lie.

 

 


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Nicholas Brack…
“Girl With A Book” – Photographed by Nicholas Brack.
His note: “Happened to see this on a car in front of me and thought alright cool!”

skitch


These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Jinn Zhong and I) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.

To read Nicholas Brack’s GF-of-the-week: The Library
To read Jinn Zhong’s GF-of-the-week: Desperate Pact

GFP Ep. 35 – Fallen, Count to Five, Part 1, Dad’s Old Apartment


The Garage Fiction Podcast: Episode 35 – Listen to the podcast in the player above, download the full episode here or subscribe to our podcast via iTunes here.


What the heck is “Garage Fiction”?

Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack,
Dogwood Daniels & Jinn Zhong) have committed to
writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week based on a “creative prompt”. We post our work on
Fridays at each of our respective websites and dissect them together on Mondays via podcast.
We also end up chatting about the craft of writing, the creative process, storytelling and other related tangents.


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Dogwood Daniels…
“Fires” – Photographed by Chris Cloete


Here’s what it inspired this week:
• Nicholas wrote Fallen
• Dogwood wrote Count to Five, Part 1
• Jinn wrote Dad’s Old Apartment

LINKS MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:
Brandon Sanderson’ Course
The Young Jedi Master by Marco Texiera
Jinn’s piece on “Middling Fiction”
The Sopranos
Hannibal
Twin Peaks
Mad Men
Hannibal Series Finale Song: “Love Crime” by Siouxsie Sioux & Brian Reitzell
92 Degrees by Siouxsie and the Banshees, from the album
“Tinderbox”
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction (Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions) edited by S.T. Joshi
Letters to Lovecraft edited by Jesse Bullington, published by Stone Skin Press
(Where you’ll find the story “Allochthon” written by Livia Llewellyn)

• You can always email us your thoughts, comments and feedback at garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com
• Like this podcast? We’d love for you to rate us on iTunes
• We’d also appreciate it if you “like” us on Facebook
• You can follow these three stooges on Twitter as well:
@nicholasbrack, @DogwoodDaniels & @jinn_zhong
• Our awesome theme song was written by Stephanie and Jonathan Hughes.
Check out their latest album at sextmessage.bandcamp.com
• If you’d like to advertise with us or sponsor us, please email garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PODCAST:

Count to Five, P1

The drumming had reached a fever pitch by the time Brandon reached the bathroom. It was like a tribal orchestra, fists rebounding in precise, hastened strikes off goatskin djembes.

Deafening, constant. BUMP bum BUMP bum BUMP bum BUMP.

His skull felt like an earthquake, torn to pieces by fissures.

He dropped his backpack; it clattered onto the ground, the keys clipped on the outer straps chiming loudly. He unsnapped the top flap and grabbed the knife from inside wrapped in layers of cloth. He unraveled it.

The knife slid across his skin with the grace of an ice skater, gliding through fat and muscle. Brandon quietly made a crisscross of incisions across his forearm, pressing his head against the tiled wall behind the toilet. He had to keep his grunts low or the old Jewish guy in the next stall might decide to get nosy. Start thinking he’s some weird pervert jerking off frantically to the bouquet of stale urine and mildew that permeated the restroom.

He felt a euphoria wash across him as the rhythmic plop plop plop of blood dribbling into the bowl began. The porcelain vanished beneath the surge of a murky black cloud suffusing the toilet water, obscuring the moldy black waterline. Brandon clenched his hand into a fist, caused a fresh spurt of warm blood to jet into the toilet; it crashed and sent speckles up onto the backsplash. His mouth hung open. He tasted copper. Ecstasy worked its way through every synapse, shook loose the tension that had stiffened his limbs. So much weight off his back; so much silence in his mind. His free hand tugged one of those mini 50ml bottles of Maker’s Mark out of his bag’s side pocket. He stuck the lid in his mouth and twisted it with his teeth, then spit the cap into the toilet before downing the contents. It was sharp with a faint waft of vanilla that swept across the back of his throat before settling in his belly.

The man in the next stall ripped a loud fart and flushed. Brandon heard the jingling of his belt buckle as he worked his trousers back on. Looking down at his scored arm, he breathed out. Slowly the drumming fell away, a distant drumming behind layers and layers of walls. It was never gone, though. If he listened closely, or if it was very silent, Brandon could always hear the pounding beat, reverberating through him, sending trembles through every bone and ligament.

Blood gushed out again, hot and red and wild like the pandemonium of pastel colors in an abstract painting. He slid to his knees, resting his cheek on the thermoplastic toilet seat and watched himself drip out into the bowl. The water was black now – a surface of black glass rippling in small waves as he continued to exsanguinate.

Count to five… he reminded himself. Count to five.

Eyes closed, cheek pancaked on the seat; he breathed in. The spores of feces and mold filled his lungs, but they were minor, overall, compared to his other problems. He rummaged through his bag, finding the soft texture of a ball of gauze nestled into the bottom corner.

His mother had taught him the ritual when he was eight years old, screaming frantically as the drum song ripped his skull apart. She had wrapped him in her arms, squeezing him in hopes the fit would pass. She rocked and cooed, kissed his cheeks. He felt her salty tears splash on his cheeks, roll down into the corners of his mouth, but the mania continued.

“Help me momma!” he had wailed and she cried as she lead him to the bathroom, held his arm over the sink, and with a quivering hand cut him like a London Broil, leaving shallow diamond patterns across his forearm. His hollering had reached fever pitch before he noticed the ebb of the drums, then squeezed his arm himself, milking out spurts of blood. She had stopped him, told him to start counting to five.

“Think of good things and good people, baby, and count to five,” she had said.

So he did. Every other week he’d cut and cut and become ever more and more precise.

They never went to a doctor. His mother said a doctor couldn’t fix this. She knew, though. Whatever ‘this’ was, she knew.

“What’s wrong with me, mama?”

“Nothing, Branny, nothing is wrong with you,” she said, wrapping his arm tenderly in gauze, nimble fingers trembling faintly as she hovered over the cuts she’d put on him. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Nothing wrong with you.” She kissed his forehead and cried.

He never forgot the other thing, though: a magnetism. The drums pulled him west, dulled when he moved towards them, flared in anger when he moved away. The drums wanted him to go west. Huddled there in the stall, watching his blood slow to a syrupy slow dribble into the toilet, he remembered still.

The speakers overhead crackled in brisk Chinese that the train would be boarding soon.

He had been following the drums since his mother had died. It was all he could do. He had to follow the drums. Gradually, feeling lassitude drape across him like a blanket, he pulled the ball of gauze from his bag and began to count.

***

He dreamt of fire again. Always fire.

He was standing in a valley without stars, bracketed by the vague impressions of mountains with unperceivable peaks. There was no moon. Shadows stretched across the terrain, with only the dim, smoky torch of remote red light far off, where the sky and the dark earth touched. The ground beneath his bare feet was hard and cold. The air around him was cool and moist, wisps of mist crawled out of the gloom and licked his hands and legs before slithering away, leaving his palms slick with condensation. He walked, in the dream. Walked for countless miles. Maybe only a few feet. Maybe he didn’t move at all. Nothing changed in those lands; he was a shade in Sheol, chasing the light.

Find the fire, someone was whispering. Maybe he was saying it.

Find the fire.

Then the hand would come – a great hand like a claw wreathed in flame. Its spiny fingers would flicker and snap like whips before scraping across the starless sky, leaving gashes that bled fire into the valley. Like a Biblical deluge, the conflagration ballooned into a titanic wave.

Count to five and find the fire, his mother’s voice screamed in his ear.

Count to five and find the fire.

Then the wave would swallow him, washing away the shadows and the mist and scouring away the mountains like dross and he howled beneath an ocean of flame and a volcanic sky.

He woke up with a pounding in his skull that felt like it would send his eyes shooting out of their sockets. He felt fevered and tight; his skin squeezed too hard on his bones; his blood too thick in his veins. He felt like a sausage jammed into its casing.

It took only a moment before he registered the footsteps coming down the corridor. Feather-light steps that would have been camouflaged by the muted rumble of the train speeding across the tracks for most people. He shouldn’t even have been able to hear them over the loud drumming in his head. But Brandon knew the sound of those steps well. The dreams of fire came first – heralded the arrival of those maleficent things that shambled in the dark.

Sweat had soaked into his pillow. The shirt felt sticky, glued to his lower back and around his biceps. He wiped the wetness out of his eyes and tried to steady his heart. The steps were getting closer.

He reckoned he was about 1,500 miles into the Trans-Mongolian Line.

Through the window, he could still make out the distant silhouette of Ulan-Ude’s buildings, and the ghostly mountains crowned by moonlight.

Brandon had boarded in Beijing, scrounging together cash he had swindled out of people during his journey. He couldn’t afford much – one of those 4-berth rooms. Platskartny, the natives called it. Best for the budget sensitive travelers. Adjacent to him, an old Russian man in a flat cap huddled under a wool blanket. Lunar light slashed across his pitted, bristly face as the car rumbled along. They had spoken sparse words earlier over bowls of rassolnik. Brandon found the pickled taste of it to be strange, but pleasant. The man had grumbled that his name was Vyacheslav before stuffing his mouth with a piece of black bread that had been drifting across his bowl, like a dislodged island across a turgid ocean.

In the bunk under him a young Asian woman with short-cropped hair slept. Across from her was her sister. He thought the one across the aisle from him – the pretty one with green eyes – was named Cho. He had never seen an Asian girl with green eyes before.

Would they see it? He wondered. Would Vyacheslav or Cho or her sister see the thing as it rounded the corner? But he knew the answer. They wouldn’t. Nobody could see when the things came – not even his mother. She couldn’t see them, even when they came for her. Even when she knew they would come. But Brandon could see them.

His hand slipped into his backpack next to him and found the knife again, fingers squeezing painfully tight around the chestnut colored handle. He heard the steps moving inexorably towards him, like the gentle splash of the river moving over stones. He whispered an apology to his bunkmates.

The things had first found him when he was a boy, after the drums started, after he had started the cutting. He and his mother were still living in Islamorada, a strip of land in the Florida Keys. His mother was renting a small house perched on a stretch of sandy beach, dotted with palm trees just along the shore. The house was close to a shanty, but it afforded him the freedom to run outside and zigzag through the trees and build sandcastles at his leisure. More than most kids could ask for.

He was supposed to be at school, that day, but his mother had kept him home. The cuts were fresh, bandaged up and liable to rip still. She told the school he was sick. When his friend Jorge’s parents called on his behalf, she told them he was sick and couldn’t come out to play. He loved Jorge and his family – his burly father, Carlos, would dangle the boys off his swollen biceps and then fling them into the water. Sometimes he snuck them drinks of beer when the mothers weren’t looking. While Brandon never knew his father, he liked to imagine he was like Carlos.

“If they see the cuts they’ll take you away,” she said.

Still, she let him run outside on the beach behind the house. He was out there, idly walking in circles around a tree, listening to gulls squawking at each other while they hovered like hoary kites in the sky. That’s the first time he saw the thing.

It looked like his mother. She was in a sunflower dress, dripping as if she had just emerged from the ocean. Her soggy red hair fell like frayed rope around her lithe shoulders. Her clothing clung tightly to her, revealing every delicate curve of her body. He almost thought it was her. Except for the large, egg-white eyes that fixed on him and the rictus, piranha toothed smile it flashed him.

He ran screaming inside screaming for his mother as it began walking towards him.

Even at eight, he knew it was odd she didn’t question him. She didn’t try to soothe him. She turned linen white and threw him into the back of the station wagon with nothing but her wallet. She had just closed her own door when he looked up from his seat and saw the grinning thing against his windowpane, long, grimy nails clicking against the glass.

The sound in his skull had shifted from drumming to explosive concussions, like an assembly of shotgun blasts. He stared at its very white teeth juxtaposed with its dirty nails and his mother’s contorted face before slipping into an apoplectic fit.

“Where is it, Brandon, where is it?” his mother screamed before seeing him convulsing.

They shot away in an explosion of dirt and the screech of wheels.

They never went back to Islamorada.

It had followed them everywhere. Followed them across every city and every state and across the ocean. It caught them, once. All it took was once.

He squeezed the knife as it drew closer, looking around at the strangers who had unknowingly become part of his macabre story.

He was stupid for getting on the train. Stupid for trapping himself.

It came around the corner. At first all he saw was the shrouded back of its head, red hair pulled back in a tight bun against its scalp. It sniffed, its shoulders rising and falling from the exertion as it worked to track its quarry. Then it turned and stared at him through the dark, the outline of a face in the shadows. A splash of moon light revealed his mother’s still young face with those great, big, white eyes and the toothy grin. The hungry grin.

The thing’s thick, grey tongue slid between its teeth, oozing black ichor onto the walkway before it sat down on Cho’s. It stared at him smiling, glistening teeth sharp enough to rip through fat like paper, crunch down on bone like hamburger meat. He knew. He watched it work once. He still heard his mother screaming.

Detonations of pain exploded along his skull, the agony cluttering his vision with a congestion of purple and white spots. The thing kept smiling at him and then looked at Cho. It brushed a few coal-black threads of hair from her face and leaned down to give her a kiss.

He held his head while listening to the screams, wishing someone could hear them, knowing nobody could. He heard Cho’s screams and his mother’s screams smashed together like the screech of a hurricane and began to count to five.


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by me, Dogwood Daniels…
“Fires” – Photographed by Chris Cloete
Found on the Cape Town Tourism website

We kinda never asked Mr. Cloete permission to use his work, so please kindly visit his website and support him in any way you can: Chris Cloete


These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Jinn Zhong, and I) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.

To read Nicholas Brack’s GF-of-the-week: Fallen
To read Jinn Zhong’s GF-of-the-week: Dad’s Old Apartment

GFP Ep. 34 – Ninja #2, Dark Outside, Tiger on a Gold Leash


The Garage Fiction Podcast: Episode 34 – Listen to the podcast in the player above, download the full episode here or subscribe to our podcast via iTunes here.


What the heck is “Garage Fiction”?

Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack,
Dogwood Daniels & Jinn Zhong) have committed to
writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week based on a “creative prompt”. We post our work on
Fridays at each of our respective websites and dissect them together on Mondays via podcast.
We also end up chatting about the craft of writing, the creative process, storytelling and other related tangents.


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Jinn Zhong…
“Royals” – Composed by Lorde
Mashedup & Performed by Pomplamoose using
“Loser” by Beck & “California Dreamin’” by Tupac


Here’s what it inspired this week:
• Nicholas wrote Ninja #2
• Dogwood wrote Dark Outside
• Jinn wrote Tiger on a Gold Leash

On This Episode: The importance of conflict in good storytelling. And the hierarchy of Character, Plot, and Setting.
Also, Dogwood looks to pimp-a-moose, Jinn admits to world-building disease, and Nicholas unintentionally invites Brassière Dong to the show.

LINKS MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:
Brandon Sanderson’s Course

• You can always email us your thoughts, comments and feedback at garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com
• Like this podcast? We’d love for you to rate us on iTunes
• We’d also appreciate it if you “like” us on Facebook
• You can follow these three stooges on Twitter as well:
@nicholasbrack, @DogwoodDaniels & @jinn_zhong
• Our awesome theme song was written by Stephanie and Jonathan Hughes. Check out their latest album at sextmessage.bandcamp.com
• If you’d like to advertise with us or sponsor us, please email garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PODCAST:

Dark Outside

It was 3:30AM when the little man in his hoary lab coat pounded on Wesley’s apartment door. An emergency, the mousy man said.

At 3:50AM they arrived. At 3:51AM he knew.

The Tyger was dying. Wesley knew it in mere seconds after walking into the room, while standing in the doorway framed by the lights of the hallway. The room was dark, too dark for the room that housed the Tyger.

From over his shoulder, he heard one of the lab techs in a panicked whisper, “It’s so dark in there, sir.” There was a quiver in his voice. Wesley didn’t blame him. He had been shaking when he arrived at Wesley’s door, banging on it in paroxysmal jerks.

Wesley crossed the threshold into the Tyger’s Den without answering as the door slid shut behind him.

The Tyger gave off its own light, brighter and more pregnant with energy than any derivative light they had produced in centuries of effort.

As it revolved in its containment tube, suspended on some ethereal cord they had long forgotten the origins of, its long, prismatic shape seemed to magnetize the darkness of the room towards its body, absorbed it, only to discharge it as golden, nebular light that hovered over the room before it was suctioned into the ducts.

Or it would, normally. Normally Wesley would walk into the Tyger’s Den and the room would be overcast with gilded clouds.

Today it was cavernously dark, the shadows more animate than ever, seeming to converge around the Tyger.

“God of Mercy,” Wesley croaked, flicking the light-switch.

It took nine seconds before they flickered on. Nine seconds longer than they should have taken. Nine seconds of extra effort to gather the power to ignite the fuses that lit the filament which led to switching on the lights. Nine seconds too long.

How many people would die at nine seconds delay? It terrified him.

Wesley hurried to the console in front of the Tyger, the room humming with mechanical life. Slow mechanical life. Poorly oiled gears would have explained it, on a normal day. Maybe, just maybe, a wrench was stuck in a cog and the whole mechanism ground to a snail’s pace as one of the machinists clambered up into the machine to correct the mistake. But not today. Wesley knew. He watched as a fog of light as feeble as a spray of mist emanated from the Tyger, rising towards the tracts of hoses and pipes on the ceiling along with absorption pads to take in the Tyger’s energetic discharges. He knew. The Tyger was dying. And they would die with it.

***

“How would we die?” Wesley had asked his teacher, Mr. Jean Pope de Saiye during a lesson one day. He was about eleven at the time. He wouldn’t have asked any other teacher, but he liked Jean Pope de Saiye. Nobody called him Mr. Jean Pope de Saiye, though. They called him Mr. Pope or Mr. Jean. Some of the more awnry youths called him other names, like, “Mr. Poop He Say,” or something equally puerile and ridiculous. Wesley just called him Mr. de Saiye, because it was unique and he liked the slithering way the s made its way off his tongue.

Mr. de Saiye had cleared his throat. They had been having a lesson on the history of the Convex and how it protected them from the Dark Outside. A man named Cyrus Hammond had used some composite of quantum science and lost arcana to erect the Convex. Only the power of the Tyger kept it alive. Ergo, Tyger kept them alive.

Some of the children in the classroom snickered and glanced out the window at the distant, chromatic walls of the Convex. It swirled and moved between the scales of colors from blinding white to a deep, velvety black.

“Bet some big monster would come in and gobble you up like a tiny pheasant, Wesley,” one of the kids mused loudly in a nasally voice. Others tittered.

Wesley wasn’t particularly precocious, but he’d always wondered. His family lived in a third floor apartment in the 8th Sector. From his window he could see the shifting hues of the Convex and wondered what was out there. He wondered if the sky beyond the Convex still looked like the sky in the books – if it was still blue, cluttered with amorphous clouds moving languidly through the sky like a herd of cattle. But like all children, he’d been told the same behave orstory. Behave or… the Tyger will run out of energy – only the behavior of good boys and girls powers it. If you’re bad, we die. If you don’t go to bed on time, we die. If you don’t eat your carrots, we die. He had started to wonder exactly how they would die.

Mr. de Saiye tapped his finger on his desk, “Children, it is not a subject to joke about.” He waited until they quieted down to continue, fixing his gaze on Wesley, “I don’t know how, Wesley. And I’m glad I don’t. I’m glad I can’t answer that question. The… the records are very primitive and were nearly destroyed years ago during the malfunction in the systems of 4th Sector. 50,000 people followed Cyrus here to raise the Convex. Only 5,000 lived to see the settlement form. Just remember that,” he gestured to every child in the room, “every one of you doesn’t know what’s out there, I don’t know what’s out there, and hopefully we will never know the answer to what’s out there, because your ancestors and Cyrus Hammond sacrificed to erect the Convex so we wouldn’t have to deal with what’s out there. Does that help, Wesley?”

It did not, but he acted like it did.

***

His fingers dashed across the keys, entering coda and data requests for prismatic output since he had left the previous day.

Wesley ran through the log files, checking it off.

When he had left yesterday, they were at exact requirements for energy output. Alpha 30 figures – meaning every Sector of the city was receiving a proportionate allocation of the Tyger’s energy to power their homes. It kept night lights on, kept dish washers running… It made sure that the beam that kept the Convex alive fired at full power at exactly 7:30Pm.

It had to fire at exactly 7:30PM. Had to.

It kept the Dark Outside from getting in.

“This can’t be happening,” Wesley repeated over and over, hoping that the repetition would somehow make it real. Make this this not real. His fingers continued blazing across the keyboard.

One button conjured a small, robotic arm that slide down into the Tyger’s tube from the rafters.

They’d had issues with power consistency from the Tyger before. Being how old it was, dating to an antiquity Wesley and his colleagues couldn’t even identify, they didn’t know a ‘proper’ way to restore it. Through tests, they’d found that merely changing its angle could help though – like rolling up a tube of toothpaste to keep squeezing every drop out of it. They’d done it for years, even before Wesley took his station – a 90 degree turn to the right. 180 degree turn to the left. Invert it. A 30 degree turn. A 10 degree turn. A five degree turn. They’d turned and turned in a myriad of angles, almost like a countdown until there was no new position the Tyger could assume. They’d been doing it for hundreds of years. At one point they even turned it back to old angles and were able to juice it for about a quarter of its previous output.

In all the years, though, its output had never fallen so far. Nine seconds of delayed circulation. Nine seconds was too far. Nine seconds meant there was no beam at exactly 7:30PM. There was a beam nine seconds after 7:30PM. The lowest it had fallen before was a four second output delay. He never forgot it. The four-second delay made him pursue his career.

***

Wesley had taken his girlfriend, Delia, out for a walk through Lake Fantasia. He was fifteen, she was fourteen, but she had the breasts of an eighteen year old.

Lake Fantasia was a massive body of water, the largest inside the Convex. Its appeal was the diamond affixed to a pillar that stood straight out of the water, like a giant finger crowned with a polished nail.

It wasn’t really a decorative piece, though. The diamond of Lake Fantasia was for refraction. From the Tyger’s Tower, miles high, at the zenith of the Convex, they would discharge a beam of the Tyger’s golden light directly into the diamond. The diamond would ricochet the Tyger’s light, amplified, into the Convex and cause it to explode with new energy. The effect was a spectacle for anyone who wasn’t used to it.

Meaning, it was a place teens loved to get up to teen business; where enchanted young girls were beguiled by the romance of it all. They had no stars, but they had the spectrum of colors exploding in full glory across the surface of Lake Fantasia, and the iridescence of the Convex with a burst of vitality.

It happened every day, like clockwork, at 7:30PM. Never a second earlier or later. It had always been that way. Wesley had intended to wait until the spectacle to make a move on Delia, so they had passed the time walking the circumference of the lake, hand in hand. That is, until they took a break near some bushes on the outskirts of the lake, close enough to touch the surface of the Convex.

Next to it, Wesley was reminded of holograms his teachers had shown him of supernovas. The variegation that shifted between pinks and reds and purples and greens and yellows, and darker and brighter aspects of each. It was like they were living inside a supernova. They lived surrounded by light, from the retina searing white to the occasional deep black. Deeper and blacker than any ‘midnight’ he’d seen in holograms of a world where they could see the sun, deeper and blacker than the shadows that had terrified him as a child into never sleeping.

Like a supernova, they were the center of light in a black endlessness; a single white pearl on a midnight tide.

He also wondered if there were stars, up there, beyond the Convex and the Dark Outside.

He was going to tell Delia about these deep, personal thoughts. They had been dating for a few months and, at his age, he thought it was about time he got serious about these things. He was about to, until he felt her mischievous hand skitter across his fly, tugging it down, then felt her thin, cool, moist hand slip into his trousers and find his skin. He was accommodating.

They had been in the bush, grunting through gritted teeth with full, un-tempered exertions of youth, when his watch began to beep. It was 7:30PM.

The people around the lake waited with baited breath. Delia and Wesley paused their animal antics to look up at the diamond.

Beep.

That was all it took. It took seconds and the light of the Convex was gone. Seconds and Lake Fantasia was rendered a pool of deep, shifting blackness that reminded Wesley of the legends of River Styx, with souls clamoring to the surface, begging for escape from its Stygian depths.

Beep.

It took seconds for the light of the Convex next to him to evaporate and for the darkness to swell, like a bubble, asserting its dominion. It ran over him like cold water, soaking through the fibers, through every hair. Tiny tendrils seemed to pull at him, draw him out into the great, Dark Outside. The Dark Inside.

Beep.

There was no sound. There was the cool silence, like when he used to put his head under water in the bathtub and hear the way water lapped at his eardrums. Now it was the Dark, its oily ebony tide licking him. He gripped at anything his hand could touch, screamed with a throat that filled with Black. He felt nothing. Heard no scream.

Beep.

Then it was gone. With a great, massive roar of light the Convex resurfaced, the supernova teeming with color again.

It took him a moment to realize Delia was gone.

He found out later that day that a four-second delay had slowed the Tyger’s light distribution. The total number that went missing was pegged at one hundred and fifty two. Three of the vanished were toddlers. One was Delia. There were no bodies.

 

His mother, Catalina, and father, Wilson, divorced when he was sixteen. His father remained in 8th Sector, but his mother moved to 1st Sector and made it clear Wesley could come live with her, if he wanted. At sixteen he was in the awkward phase – already working as a junior machinist while study Tyger Theory under Professor Jentry at the Academy. The Academy happened to be in 1st Sector, so he told his father he would visit soon and left.

Not that his father cared much. Wesley had become a sore spot of disappointment for him since the year of the 4 Second Delay. They put it in the new textbooks as 4D-Day. He was in it: “It was black and cold. I didn’t even feel her leave but she was gone, like she’d never been there at all” was his contribution.

His father didn’t blame him for it. He blamed the Tyger theorists for tampering with the Tyger and screwing up its pulses – for trying to suck more energy out of it than was necessary,

“If they stopped fussing with it, we’d be all the better. Just leave it alone to do its thing. Stop milking it.”

“But the improvements in output led to better light radiation and better crop yields, dad,” Wesley would say, “We couldn’t have fed all the people inside the Convex if they hadn’t figured that stuff out.”

“Tell that to your girlfriend and those other people on 4D-Day.” And the conversation would end.

It wasn’t these conversations that made his father resent him. It was how enthralled he was by the history of the Tyger, the mechanics of it. He’d written a 40 page dissertation on light spectrum and how the Tyger did not create a light we, on any other medium, could replicate.

It was not pure, total light. It was not yellow, as its golden color implied. There was something else to it – particularly the way it seemed to form like fog. Professor Jentry told him it was fantastical, and fantastically wrong, but thoughtful. He said what intrigued him was a question Wesley proposed on page 35, last paragraph.

“’What if the black color we see isn’t the Convex. What if the black color is the Convex showing us what’s on the other side?’”

“It’s a good question,” Professor Jentry had said amiably, then patted Wesley on the back, “But here’s a question that’ll vex the devil. If that’s the outside, where are the stars?”

That question had earned him admittance to the Academy. It led to him moving in with his mother. He didn’t see his father again for a decade, when he was assisting professor Jentry as Caretaker of the Tyger’s Den.

His father had moved to 4th Sector, which loomed near the edge of the Convex. Some lofts actually had windows that opened just outside of arm’s reach of the Convex.

“I figured you would have come sooner,” his dad said when they saw each other again, “We’re all stuck in here, in the bubble, and there isn’t much bubble. I would have figured…” and he trailed off.

“How do you like 4th Sector?” He’d asked his dad. He didn’t tell him, but he came to 4th Sector often, just to examine the possible effects of the Convex on infrastructure. In some places, he noticed the masonry looked like it had been dyed in a splash of washed out colors.

“I have nightmares here,” his father said, staring into a cup of water. “Me, old man, having nightmares. But I can’t help it. Me, Hyao upstairs, Eileen next door, we all…” He looked up at Wesley, eyes ringed with purple and black, “I just have these nightmares about all the black in my room swallowing me up, gulping me down like I’m a grape and I’m just screaming as I fall into the dark. And when I look up, it’s not like those books where there are stars, it’s just black everywhere.”

Wesley tried explaining to his father that was trauma from 4D Day – and then he explained how the delay had been caused because some clerk hadn’t hit the exhaust switch and the absorption ducts had been clogged, and all manner of excuses.

“It won’t happen again, pop,” he said.

“You know, I hear it sometimes… even when I’m awake. So do Hyao and Eileen,” he breathed deep and seemed to shake, “I just hear it, from every nook and cranny, and from outside my window when the Convex goes black. It just says, ‘Wilson, Wilson, Wilson,’ like a whisper.” He started crying, “And sometimes it sounds just like you when you were a boy, and it just says, ‘Come and see, daddy, come and see.’ And God help me, I’ve gone out there and pushed against the Convex to get out and see when I was alone and…” He shuddered, his once large shoulders slumped, “And I swear, something was out there… out there knocking.”

 

There was a story Wesley came across in the archives of the academy. It was a badly translated fragment of something written by a friend of Cyrus Hammond.

Some people said it was a flight of fancy, the writing. The consensus of the scientific community was that some sort of environmental apocalypse had rendered the world outside uninhabitable. Somehow, through engineering beyond them, Hammond and his group had created the Tyger – the artifact, the bio-crystal – and set down the schematics for their swath of livable land.

The author of the ancient few lines would disagree, Wesley thought. It was only a few lines, but he never forgot them especially because of what came later.

Jonas says we let Them in. We let Them in. Cyrus says They were already here, we just let Them out.”

 

Wesley was thirty-two when he received stewardship of the Tyger’s Den from Professor Jentry, then a respectable eighty-year-old man.

His father had passed away, as had several people along 4th Sector and other sectors close to the edge of the Convex. Mass suicide. It was grief like a bucket of cold water flung in the face of the population. Even dwellers in 1st Sector, miles and miles away from the edge of the Convex, began to get superstitious.

“It’s coming in,” they’d say, “The Tyger must be getting weaker.” So they polished the diamond at Lake Fantasia, they did a diagnostic of all the machines and equipment in the Tyger’s Den. Nobody found an issue. Nobody knew the truth.

We let them Out, Cyrus Hammond had said. He remembered and wondered, “Let out what?”

On the day Professor Jentry retired, he told Wesley a terrible truth.

“When I started studying the Tyger forty years ago, it averaged Alpha 60 daily,” he said, chewing on a root of sugar cane. It was a luxury he enjoyed, having been raised a farmer in 9th Sector. “It is now down to 35. Within the decade, it will be down to 30 and below.” He sighed, “We are finding less optimal geometrical angles for it, Wesley. Do you understand? We have almost exhausted every inch of the Tyger’s surface – each part of its surface is like a white hole, each new shift of its body exposes each angle in a new way, and it triggers the white hole. It absorbs darkness, it grinds light out of darkness, and spits it out.”

He had chewed his sugar cane in silence for a span of time. They were sitting on a bench near Lake Fantasia, the polychromatic grass soft under Wesley’s boot. Some children ran by with a dog. Someone else fished and whooped as they jerked a writhing, flopping black bass out of the water. They circled around it and held it down while the boy pulled the hook out of its mouth and tossed it into a cooler. The Convex permuted to a shade of red, deep and rich, and then unfurled into a brighter crimson, a fire engine red, then bright orange and then abruptly shifted blue.

“It’s… it’s getting weaker,” Professor Jentry said after a while, “The Convex is letting more of the Dark Outside in, though we can’t see it. But I think it’s around us, filling the darkness, turning every shadow into a nest, every nook and cranny into a hive. The Dark Outside is coming in.”

He didn’t say the other part: It killed your father. He didn’t say it because they both knew it.

He gave Wesley a file full of equations to memorize – unused geometric angles and permutations for the Tyger.

 

It was over a fortnight before he heard from Professor Jentry again. Mrs. Jentry, to be exact.

Her voice had a hoarseness to it over the comms box. She spoke in a deluge of half formed words before tapering away, muttering inaudibly.

“He’s always out there, by the Convex, by the edge of the world, Wesley, by the edge. He comes home and he stands in the corner of the room naked as the day he was born and he says, ‘Come and see with me, Myrtle, come and see.’”

Wesley had gone the next day to find him. Myrtle said he went to 4th Sector. The ghost sector.

He found him in the middle of a congregation of people, digging. Dozens of people crouched at the edge of the rainbow, digging, digging, digging, burrowing like animals, all of them murmuring.

Wesley grabbed Professor Jentry by the shoulders, hauled him to his feet, “Please, professor, what’s wrong, what’s happening here?” There was black under the professor’s fingernails. The wicks were grimy and caked with mud. He looked pale and his eyes had a feverishness to them.

“It was here, Wesley, it was here. Cyrus started here and the walls come down. Must find the bottom, must find the bottom, it’s the only way to see.”

They all looked at him then, owl-eyed, “The only way,” they said, like a chant, and kept digging. But it wasn’t their looks or Professor Jentry’s words that sent him away trembling.

It was the strange susurration just near the walls – just when you got close enough to see the colors changing, like shifting pixels. You could hear something, whispering.

Come and see…”

They never did find the bottom.

Six months later, when a three-second delay resulted in ten children vanishing near 6th Sector, they found Professor Jentry in his apartment. Myrtle was crocheting in the next room.

There was a stalk of sugar cane on the wall. The toe of his loafer bumped it as he wavered where he hung. His fingers were caked with dried mud.

 

When the next 4 Second Delay day came, the blood thirst came too. During his so far brief tenure, Wesley had witnessed two delay days. They blamed him and he said all experiments with the Tyger would end. Crop yields would suffer, but better than risking more lives. Better than losing them to the Dark Outside, even as it slowly crept in.

 

They didn’t have another accident for six years. Six years without a delay, without a suicide, without a tragedy.

Until today.

***

Wesley quickly typed out an equation for the robotic hand to fulfill. With a whirr and click of gears, it gave the Tyger a delicate touch, like the first caress of a newborn.

A fraction of a fraction – a movement so infinitesimally small it might as well not have existed – the unperceivable lifespan of an amoeba. But it was enough of a shift.

The Tyger roared with new light, the darkness of the room vacuumed away through the tiny funnel of the new angle and vomited out in a great gush of aureate fumes. For a moment the Tyger was the centered Sun of a galaxy of golden dust; it was like the heart of a supernova.

He flicked a switch on his panel and the exhaust fans overhead blared a siren alarm before pulling in the gaseous light with an inhalation like a giant’s lungs.

The room was bright again; unnaturally empty of shadows.

The output levels read 25.

He was shaking uncontrollably, his hands twitching anxiously. He used the back of his wrist to wipe away salty beads of sweat making their way down his glossy forehead.

  1. Only 25. How many homes would go without power? Hundreds, he estimated. Hundreds without light. But the Convex would stay up, at least for a day. The Dark Outside would stay outside for one more day.

But how many would they lose in the nine second delay at 7:30? How many would silently slip away into that blackness in the eternity that passes when a person blinks? How many would vanish into that night without stars?

His legs vibrated out from under him and he collapsed, shaking, his head pressed against the polished metal panel of the console.

He was consumed by his thoughts, his mind racing through formulas and angles and geometrical calculations. He’d memorized them all, over the years. All the formulas Jentry had given him, all the ones he’d thought of – anything he could do to keep the power from falling.

“Oh God,” he whispered there, kneeling in a poise of near worship before the faintly pulsing Tyger, “Oh God. We don’t have any more.”

Wesley glanced up, seeing the Tyger shudder as it revolved, its golden symmetry swelling with light. It neared an apex, a nearly blinding radiance, and stopped short, its effulgence plummeting until it looked like a great, grey rock, only to begin the gradual brightening again.

Only each time it got less and less bright. Each time, it stayed grey just a little longer.

The Tyger is dying, Wesley thought, and we’re all going to die with it.

***

It was 7:29PM and he was sitting on a bench next to Lake Fantasia, staring at the diamond shimmering high above. It reflected the ever shifting colors of the Convex, cast them on the surface of the lake in a kaleidoscopic array. He smiled, staring up at uppermost edge of the Convex, where colors seemed so distant he could scarcely make them out.

He looked down at his digital watch and watched the seconds moved by. 30 seconds before the beam was supposed to fire.

He’d set it on automatic.

He resigned from it. There would be a delay tonight and tomorrow? Tomorrow there would be no delay. There simply wouldn’t be.

The Tyger had turned stone grey before he left work at 5PM. It would make a fitting mantelpiece. It had stopped floating and simply fallen with a heavy crunch on the floor of its tube.

The Tyger was dead.

Wesley walked towards the overgrown bush where he and Delia had had their dalliance. In the distance he heard hushed whispers of other teenagers repeating history.

So much history to repeat.

Life had kept Wesley busy. He’d never married, never had children. His mother chided him for it frequently, but he was happy about it. Now, at least. He wouldn’t have to watch them go into the night.

He caressed along the surface of the Convex. It felt like gel. It gave gently from his side, but then pushed against something hard, like rock, when he tried to push his finger through. Like climbing out from the inside of an orange.

“I wonder if there will be stars, out there,” he whispered, his watch beeping an announcement. As good as a trumpet, he imagined. “Or maybe clouds, beyond all the darkness, ambling across the sky.” He smiled, despite himself.

Beep.

Onlookers at the park gasped. A tsunami of darkness washed over them. Or rather, it simply became, as if it was always there.

Beep.

When he listened, listened very closely, Wesley thought he heard something. He listened closely as the darkness rolled across him, familiar and cold, and he thought he heard, “Come and see, Wesley, come and see.”

The Dark Outside was in.

We let it out, Cyrus Hammond had said.

Beep.

END

 


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Jinn Zhong…
“Royals” – Composed by Lorde
Mashedup & Performed by Pomplamoose using
“Loser” by Beck & “California Dreamin'” by Tupac


These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Jinn Zhong and I) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.

To read Nicholas Brack’s GF-of-the-week: Ninja (Revision)
To read Jinn Zhong’s GF-of-the-week: Tiger on a Gold Leash

GFP Ep. 33 – Ninja, Human, The Cat Came Back


The Garage Fiction Podcast: Episode 33 – Listen to the podcast in the player above, download the full episode here or subscribe to our podcast via iTunes here.


What the heck is “Garage Fiction”?

Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack,
Dogwood Daniels & Jinn Zhong) have committed to
writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week based on a “creative prompt”. We post our work on
Fridays at each of our respective websites and dissect them together on Mondays via podcast.
We also end up chatting about the craft of writing, the creative process, storytelling and other related tangents.


This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Nicholas Brack…
“River Flows in You” – Composed and Performed by Yiruma

Here’s what it inspired this week:
• Nicholas wrote Ninja
• Dogwood wrote Human
• Jinn wrote The Cat Came Back

On This Episode: Cthulhu and the power of setting, how readers can ‘ride’ your characters through the story, and making your world strange and familiar (the Lovecraft formula revealed!)
Also: Jinn pulls his hair out trying to understand a Dogwood piece, Dogwood finds excuses to avoid criticism, and Nicholas discusses telling the stories you don’t want to tell.

LINKS MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:
Brandon Sanderson’ Course
Collected Stories & Writings by John Cheever
The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven Edited by Ellen Datlow
(This anthology is where you’ll find the story Dogwood mentioned: “The Coat Off His Back” by Keris McDonald.)

• You can always email us your thoughts, comments and feedback at garagefictionfeedback(AT)gmail(DOT)com
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@nicholasbrack, @DogwoodDaniels & @jinn_zhong
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