27 November 2009
12 November 2009
It was now tomorrow, and there was no train. The sky rumbled in disagreement with itself, and forks of weak lightning fingered out along the clouds’ underbelly. A curtain of rain dropped like it was poured out of a bucket.
Far away, I heard the unmistakable whistle of the steam engine. A slight chuggachugga, like it was working uphill. I plucked up the case again, gripping the leather-covered handle tight. It was supposed to be cuffed to my wrist, but I’d forgotten the damn things at the motel. The combination locks gleamed on other side. I smiled, confident again, and stepped out into the rain.
The train churned the engine and the wheels worked furiously in the slick tracks. Around the corner, and then the cyclopean headlamp. It burned brighter as the beast neared, the ground beneath the platform shaking in response. As it approached, I could see the heavy dent in the boiler tank. The crushed smokestack. Smoke curled out from random holes in the thing and it came to a screeching, shuddering full stop several hundred meters past the boarding dock.
A woman screamed; I didn’t even know she was standing there. I eyed her standing there with her hands covering her mouth, and followed her terrified gaze.
Draped over the coal car, and half of the next two passenger cars, was a black shape, oily and writhing like a coiled snake, but it wasn’t one of those.
A great slotted eye the size of a dinner plate stared out at us, as my mind scrambled to piece together the entirety of the monster wrapped around and tethered to the partially-destroyed locomotive: A big, black, Giant Squid.
There was the torpedic head, the cat-golden eye, with about a dozen shredded and oozing tentacles hung over the machine. It squirmed, clearly uncomfortable or dying, maybe both.
The train station attendant left his post, (having no tickets to sell) and approached the platform, mouth agape. I took a deep breath and squeezed my eyes shut. We had to remain calm, even if there was a cephalopod crushing the (11:45 P.M.) train. I cleared my throat.
“What about the passengers aboard?” I shook my head and started to put the briefcase down, then thought better of it. The rain smacked me on my cheeks as I neared the train and looked up. One tentacle lifted, waved and fell back to the tangled mess with a heavy plop. I climbed up into the mangled car and had a peek in. The interior was dark, but blessedly free of bodies. Overhead, the groan of overburdened metal and splintered wood framing encouraged me to vacate immediately.
“Right, well look at it. It appears to be dying,” I said as I hopped down to the platform.
The woman tore her gaze from the animal and stared at me like I had tentacles of my own. “Shouldn’t we call the police?”
“What would the police do?”
The attendant pulled a worn handkerchief from his overalls pocket, paisley-deep red, and blotted his whiskered chin.
“I’m thinking calamari.”
05 November 2009
(If you've been reading 500 in The Reading Room, you'll possibly recognize these characters. Here's an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project/WIP, working title 500.)
A thunderstorm rumbled in the distance with the promise of rain. Woods loomed nearby and the dead grass crunched underfoot. Like glass, Stein thought.
“I thought there wasn't weather in Hell,” Stein said, glancing upwards.
Roger followed his gaze. “Everything is always changing in this Purgatory of yours.”
“Purgatory? All this is made by other people?”
“Memories, yes. Lives. Essences.” Roger said and walked on, with Stein following.
Smoke rolled over the tree line. Roger melded into the forest and Stein stumbled after, smacking away the sharp branches that snapped back in his face in Roger's wake.
“Where are we going?”
“Seems there's a new bunch coming in,” Roger said, without stopping, just pulling the branches hard to let them pop in Stein's eyes. He chuckled.
“Maybe you should go first,” he said and looked back at Stein. His eyes were filled with fire.
A building blazed—a cabin of sorts, set back in a clearing. Stein could hear the quiet roar of the flames as they licked the thick pine beams. A rocking chair swayed back and forth with tongues of fire taking residence in the seat. Above, the sky rolled red and virulent, with cracks of lightning and thunder, and every so often, a body or three would drop right in.
“War,” Roger said, stopping to admire the event, “always has a healthy bounty.”
Stein stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the strange spirit, because that's what he was. Demon, or something like that. Maybe.
“The dead in battle,” Stein said. It wasn't a question, but Roger nodded, his hair slicked back and that sharp grin emerging on his stone-white features. “So they just kinda fall in? Just like hamburger?”
“Just. Like. That.” Roger said, and approached the blazing cabin.
“Why is this thing on fire?”
“Because they aren't supposed to stay here. They aren't even supposed to be here.”
Stein frowned and looked at Roger. “What do you mean, not supposed to be here?”
“They go to the way-station.”
“Weigh-station? Like a trucker's?”
Roger gritted his teeth. “This was a place before for incoming shipments. But the place has...no, I won't tell you that. Now they go to the waiting room. Hell's Kitchen. Where you started all of this.”
“It's a weigh station?”
“No,” Roger growled and watched the drifting, shimmering shapes of the souls materialize into solid shapes.
"Their souls are weighed?"
Roger shook his head and rubbed a blister appearing over his right eye.
“Why do you do that?” Stein asked, cocking his head to the side to inspect Roger's wound.
“Why do I do what?”
“Blister like you can't stand it.”
“Because,” Roger hissed and started walking again. “This is human thought. Human dream, and I am not a part of it.”
“But you're Death.”
“Am I?” Roger asked and turned to face Stein while walking backwards, “What made you think such a thing?'
“Because,” Stein said and threw his hands up. “Fine. Fuck it. Whatever.”
“If you think I am simply Death, you are very, very wrong Cristein.”
“I am a stand-in.” Roger's black eyes locked with Stein's. “We await the coming of the Reaper.”
“There's a fucking Reaper?”
Roger smirked and waggled a finger. “All of this will come to you in time.”
“Why am I here?” Stein asked.
“Because I must know everything I can about you before offering a job.”
“I'm dead. As if it matters if I fuck up.”
“It's an important position,” Roger said and turned to face the incoming wave of piled-up souls. That's what they were, shimmering and vacant, without eyes or ears, just holes where the functional organs had once been.
“Why do they look like that?” Stein asked and walked up to a deflating soul, fizzling on the hot sand.
“It's a hard ride over,” Roger said. “They always look like that.”
“Why don't I look like that?”
“Because.” Roger bent to reach out for the soul who recoiled and squeaked in terror. It got up and scurried across the sand like a wild thing, all shadows and plasma. Roger grumbled and waved a hand at the retreating figure.
“It'll learn not to run away.”
“Because why?” Stein asked, ignoring the diversion.
“Why don't you look like that?” Roger smiled, and it was not pleasant at all. “In due time.”
“How about now?”
Roger shrugged and nodded at another soul laying on the sand like discarded pantyhose. “Try to pick it up.”
“You mean touch that thing?”
“Yes. Try it.”
Stein frowned but reached out for the shaded form. It came towards his fingers like a lonely stray dog.
“Well, this is interesting,” Roger said, obviously amused, “Go on. Touch it. Grab onto it.”
Stein crept towards the thing, meeting it halfway in the space between them. It was cold, but not bitterly. A cool breeze. An autumn breeze. Soft, like leaves. The form began to solidify, features becoming prominent in the gray shadow. Lips, nose and finally, a sensuous full mouth.
“I believe she likes you,” Roger said and leaned down towards her. Her attributes dissolved like a sand castle in the waves.
“They sure don't like you at all,” Stein said, and closed his fingers around hers. She materialized into a recognizable female again.
The longer he held onto her, the more solid she became, until her flesh gleamed in the dying sun on the horizon. Always on the horizon in the In-Between, as he was beginning to think it was.
Roger smiled weakly and bowed his head to the frightened soul. “Time's up.”
A scream resounded from inside Stein's head, so much that he held a hand to his eyes as if that would stop anything. The pain was internal, and she was pulling to get away from him.
“Welcome to your destiny,” Roger said, grinning his piranha grin as Stein felt the soul turn to ash in his hand, and a cold stroke pass through his center.
“Ramona,” Stein said with a sharp intake of breath. “Her name was Ramona.”