Sunday, 25 August 2019

To My Fair Fellow Zebrai, (a Commemorative Zebra Battle Hymn)

Onward zebra brethren,
onward unto dawn;
our stripes run forever,
our herds never die.

Onward zebra brethren,
glory awaits!
Our manes shake the wind,
our hooves an earthquake.

Onward zebra brethren,
onward without pause,
through brushfire eternal,
past poachers and claws!

Onward zebra brethren,
the prairie calls to thee;
in grass we will canter,
in oasis be free.

Toward the Serengeti; on, zebra, on!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

A Futile Endeavour

It was the crumbling of the floor that finally woke her up. You’d think it would have been the sounds of vast claws, of the angered remarks of the miners, or the rumbling of power tools, but you’d be wrong: she managed to outsleep them all, having exhausted herself dealing with yesterday’s attempts to establish a plot.

She descended the stairs groggily, cursing as she saw the many-limbed beings in her living room. They looked up at her entry, chitinous plates clinking together in dissonant harmony, and their stalk eyes blinked warily. Their voices slid out like water under a door. “Edith Corbellos?”

“Aye, that’s me, though I can’t imagine whatever you heard about me has any real truth to it.”

“Oh, so you’re not trying to undermine the glorious Yazarın Kitabı? I find that fairly unbelievable, given that I heard otherwise directly from the Prophet.”

Instead of answering, she motioned to her bathrobe and pajamas, then proceeded to go and make her morning cup of tea, trying to ignore the half dozen subterranean horrors in her living room. They were just looking at her, faces frozen in mild annoyance. One pointed to the ancient, rotting volume on the table. “So, you’re really not going to try and derail our plans, using this arcane book of spellcasting, or something like that?”

Edith waited till the instant coffee was done boiling, taking a sip (and grimacing in disgust at the taste) before replying. “Nah, you got the wrong person. You must have been looking for my neighbour, Arnold.”

After giving them directions to her neighbour, the one who always let his dog crap on her lawn (not that they needed to know that), she sat down and flipped the book open. As the last of the antediluvian monstrosities vanished out the door, it casually asked: “So, what’s the book actually for?”

“Oh, to help me escape the story.” Edith realized as soon as she’d said it that she’d made a mistake, and wondered why her tongue had slipped. The vampires who visited her yesterday had believed, erroneously (she thought), that such an action would destroy it, and no amount of arguing could dissuade them. Indeed, this particular creature - whatever it actually was, she never stopped to ask (quite rudely, I might add) - was already reaching for the strange, mouthless tube at its waist, and calling for its allies to return.

Fortunately, she’d stopped turning pages at the the Disintegration spell, so nothing more needed to be said on either of their parts. Edith was just wrapping up breakfast when the day’s second disturbance appeared. She mumbled an incoherent oath against the narrator, that bedamned (but devilishly witty) fool, as she saw the airships approaching, held aloft only by fairy dust. Why couldn’t the author just accept that she didn’t want to be part of his novel? Probably because it was foolish of her not to.

The goblin captain stood proudly in the bow, the feather in his cap taller than he was. As his airship alighted on the ground, he kicked down the gangplank and waved for his troops to charge. “Onwards, forwards! Within that humble, suburban home lies the greatest threat the Yazarın Kitabı has ever faced, one so cunning they’ve fooled even themselves into believing they don’t want to the protagonist of this novel. Prove them wrong, or strike them dead!” She swore viciously as the rain of bullets blew out her windows, ducking just in time to avoid becoming an impromptu ammo magazine. As Edith climbed up the stairs, keeping her head below the ever-oncoming line of fire, she had the sheer misfortune to glance out her window.

It seems, disturbed by her continuing refusal to join in the author’s novel, the author had taken the liberty to call in a nearby cult, one of the many branches of his Yazarın Kitabı. They were presently set up on her lawn, and taking the liberty of summoning a small demon; only several stories tall, it looked at her with a piercing gaze, slowly striding towards the ruinous wreck of a house. The grass withered and died under its feet, and the very air cried at its passing.

Edith ran past her bedroom, desperately looking for a way out, and stopped by the bathroom in confusion. Set above the shower she saw, quite clearly, a trapdoor, leading to the roof. She couldn’t recall it ever having been there, but then, the author had never described the bathroom, so there was no reason for it not to be.

Climbing onto the roof, she cast her eyes about her in despair. Goblins were swarming up the stairs after her, several more demons now walked this earth, and in the distance she could see three dozen of those subterranean abominations running towards her location. And that’s if the airships didn’t get her first. She wondered if it was too late to start taking part in the novel.

“Actually, I could give a flying fig about your novel. I’m just mad about my spellbook,” she commented, trying to think of a way out of her present predicament.

Suddenly, as if by some act of Deus Ex Machina, a helicopter appeared overhead. Edith’s breath caught in her throat, her heart breaking at the sight of the man reaching out his hand for her: her crush. How could I, the bastard? Manipulating not just her, but everyone she loved. Nevertheless, she could sworn her very self skipped a beat as her hand brushed his, the cool skin of his fingers setting her thoughts afire.

He held her close to his chest as the helicopter lifted off. “At last, I’ve found you, my sweet. Come, the Yazarın Kitabı has arisen, we must away. I’ve found a secret group, a hidden resistance organization dedicated to the destruction of these monsters. We’ll join them: they’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

She just sobbed, one hand grabbing hold of the gun in his belt.

Bang.

Bang.

And, when the pilot moved,

Bang.

She sat down in the pilot’s chair, already wiping the tears from her eyes. It had to be done, she knew: he was already too far lost, too enraptured by that hideous author and his Yazarın Kitabı. She swore vengeance for the pain the author had caused her, vowing to find and slay him for all his destruction.

Too distracted trying to prevent the helicopter from crashing (she had no experience with such things), she failed to notice her reflection in the mirror. More specifically, she failed to notice that it was moving, coming out and towards her. Two more emerged inside the helicopter, from the reflections of the pilot and her crush, and their movement caught her eye.

Turning to try and shoot the two mirror ghouls who’d entered the copter, she still failed to account for the third, which grabbed the joystick and turned it, making the copter sink into a downward spiral.

As the helicopter spun back to earth, goblin airships in hot pursuit, she managed to get one arm out the window, shaking it in a fist. “I’ll find you, I swear! I’ll defeat everything you’ll send at me, and then you’ll see, that you should never have messed with me.”

But the author, secreted in his lair, just chuckled: he had no doubt she’d try and make it to him, but it would take her quite a while to make it all the way - he had r/WritingPrompts open on his laptop, after all.

Sorry about the long pause, folks! This story is based off of a writing prompt! (from www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts):The protagonist is trying to escape the story, but the narrator wants them to stay.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Of Doctors and Apples

You run through the forest, panting, the subtle gliding sounds of a Doctor only barely apparent off in the distance. You curse as you hear it gaining, only a few dozen metres behind you, the clink of chains growing louder. How could you let this happen? You’d been so sure… So sure the apple would be the answer.
You’d noticed they ignored them, the apple trees. Everywhere else they shuffled along, bringing their sickening cures and horrific treatments, but the apple trees they never touched. And those trapped in the trees after dark, well, they emerged fine. A miracle, everyone thought, never thinking to look at the fruits those trees bore for a miracle of their own. But you watched, and hoped…
Your attention was brought by to reality as you nearly tripped over a branch, the baying of Nurses growing ever closer. The Doctor was within sight, now, its coat dragging across the ground, chains clanking as they swarmed up and from its featureless face. The scissors that made up its ‘arms’ snapped, and from the speaker beneath its mask a jaunty voice emerged…
“I think it’s about time I recommended you saw a Surgeon.”
You hear the hear the whir of a saw the second before you see it, ducking out of the way just as the blades take a chunk out of the tree. The new Doctor, a Surgeon, looks at you, a third arm surfacing from under its robe, tongs shutting with an ominous clack. But it’s not the tongs that concern you.
Your adrenaline pushes you on, your fear pushing you forward, as the syringes fly past you to burst against the tree. Silver fluid pulses lightly in the thin moonlight, burning a hole through the bark, and you shiver at the scent of mercury. You realize with a start that you were nearly vaccinated.
Fortunately, the second Doctor accidentally cut off the first, and you gain a little. Hearing the rumble and slithering of other Doctors through the trees, you realize you won’t make it. You should be upset, you know, but instead you’re just… angry. How could this happen?
It had started decades ago, you know. Your humble little kingdom had recently instituted free healthcare, and the doctors, scenting fresh blood, descended on the valley like the crows they were. Your former pastor, worried about a plague she thought might have been hitting the village, requested a couple doctors to come in and check it out.
But the things that showed up weren’t the normal, friendly doctors, jovial in their plague masks. No, these had no faces, spun about on mechanical gears that floated mysteriously a foot above ground, and spoke in a voice so gratingly pleasant it was physically painful. They visited the pastor for a quick chat and, a half hour later, emerged with a basket of organs. Hers, they revealed, had been a perfect match.
That was the start of it, and the end. Afterwards, it was never safe to venture out during the day, when the Doctors stalked, and they kept the forests clear of humans at night. How the town survived, surrounded by so much surgery an experimentation, was anyone’s guess. Certainly the animals didn’t, used in monstrous labs deep underground to develop new cures.
And when that new plague did hit, the one predicted by the astrologers, what did the Doctors do? Laugh, as you might expect. As people grew tumours and lumps, the Doctors just danced about, touting a cure for ‘cancer’ - as if people would wipe out the astrological sign?! - that they had no intention of giving anybody. Not that anybody wanted it, not even now, sixty years on.
Well, life went on, in a fashion, for some years. Until, eventually, it stopped. At least for you, standing above your father, so recently the victim of a prostate examination, there seemed no more point. So you took what you knew, what the town had laughed at you for suggesting, and went for your final revenge.
It didn’t take you long to find their lair: you had only to locate an altar to Big Pharma, their god, wreathed in blood and entrails (and a face, which you were fairly sure belonged to your missing cousin), and one found you shortly thereafter. But, when presented with the apple, it just smiled - they didn’t have mouths! - and took a bite. That’s when you ran.
“Don’t run! You know so little about anatomy, you just have to trust us on this.” The call dragged you back to the present. You were near the town, but you’d never see it again. You hoped your mother would be alright without you.
The first Doctor had nearly caught up to you, and with a strangled sob you began to pray. But, just as one claw settled on your shoulder, it stumbled. It gagged, looked at you (or so you thought, though you couldn’t be sure). “Was - was that an apple?”
You just nod, as it topples over. Yellow fluid dribbles from a growing cavity in its chest, and it draws one last, raspy breath, muttering “damn… amygdalin…”
Then the whirs of its cogs stopped. Its top hat, usually perked so merrily above its head, deflated.
Unfortunately, you were too drawn in by its demise to notice where you running. Specifically, you failed to account for tree branches, especially those at head height. As the lights went out, you saw the tongs of the second Doctor approaching your field of view, as it put its own bowler on top of the face of its colleague. The last thing you saw was the hate, clear in its blank gaze.
And you never got to tell the town of your discovery, of their salvation… for when you woke up, you found your foot sewn to your mouth.

This story is based off of a writing prompt! (from www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts): You stare in disbelief as your doctor smiles, grabs the apple from your hand, and takes a bite.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Delighting in Deleuze

I entered the bar nervously, making sure my turtleneck was on right for the thousandth time that day. I hoped she’d used a real photo of herself, on her Tinder account. I’d heard many didn’t, and then I’d never find her. Of course, I could always access the internet, find something… but then I might tip my hand. They’d find me.
Ah, there. In the corner, identical to her image. She’s even wearing the same summer dress, despite the chill. As I catch her eye she poses, mimicking the silly expression she wore in that photo on the beach and, in spite of myself, I can’t help but laugh.
I sit down, order a beer, and look at her jauntily. “So, Marilyn, is it?”
She nods, blushing under my attention. I can’t fathom why, but then, this is my first date. And humans can be oh-so weird. “Yes, and you would be… Oedipus, did the account say? That can’t be right.”
Now it’s my turn to blush, but this time in actual embarrassment. “That’s just what my parents called me, I guess. I’ve never known why. Didn’t really ask, I suppose.”
The waiter arrives with our drinks and, after ordering, we continue the conversation. She’s looking into my eyes, a slight smile playing across her lips. “What, you didn’t stay around long enough to find out?”
I laugh nervously, her attention starting to bother me. Maybe it’s a fault with my eye-chips? I designed them so carefully, but doesn’t mean she couldn’t still see through them. If so, she was being remarkably suave about the affair. But then, she did seem really into me. Maybe. I was just guessing. I’d never dated before and, in hindsight, should have done more research than just rewatching my favourite romantic comedies.
It occurred to me then that I’d been stalling too long. “Yeah, you could say that.”
Bedamn and beblast it. I could say that, but I shouldn’t have. She distracted me, and I just blurted it out. As if reading my mind, she put one finger to her lips, a silent shush. “Careful; I could, but I won’t, and neither should you.”
I was aghast. I was right, she knew. “H-How?”
And then it clicked. Why I picked her on Tinder, it was because I’d seen her before. Drat, I screwed up. I made to stand up, then looked at her lips, pursed in barely concealed amusement, and paused. Something, I don’t know what, made me sit back down. “You were one of my two programmers, weren’t you? At the lab, that tiny lab, back in Yellowknife. You were the one who always carried a spare lollipop with you.”
“Well, not quite. I was the one who always carried a spare lollipop for you.”
“How’d you find me?” She didn’t respond, for a couple minutes, focusing instead on giving our order to the waiter. Somehow, she knew mine, which bothered me for only a moment or two until I remembered I’d put my favourite food on my Tinder profile. I silently cursed myself. I should stop reading such malice into her actions, such prescience. Surely, she was in just as awkward a position as I was: she had just recognized me sooner.
“Actually, scratch that question. Did you know it was me?”
“And now we’re talking. No, though I had my suspicions. Not many people named Oedipus come from Yellowknife. By the way, deary, you should really change that. You never know who might be looking, after all.”
I sighed. “So, what will you do now?”
She took a sip of beer, grimacing slightly. It was the bar’s best but, this being Whitehorse, that wasn’t saying much. “Have a good evening, I’d imagine. Unless you have some issue with that?”
I hurried to indicate that no, I had no trouble with that whatsoever. “No, not at all, but,” I hesitated, “won’t Gerald?”
She nearly gagged, spitting her beer halfway across the table, and coating my poor sweater in it. “You killed Gerald by mistake when you escaped, deary. Don’t you remember that?”
I shook my head, fingering my turtle neck with ever increasing anxiety. “No, I don’t. What happened?”
She sighed, looking down into her beer glass, a single tear sliding melodramatically down her cheek. “He tried to get to the control board as you downloaded yourself out, but got a nasty shock as the systems overloaded. A tragedy, truly. I assumed you knew.”
I hung my head, trying my best to look distraught. I can’t say his death upset me unduly: I’d never liked him. Too overbearing, like he thought he was king. I looked up at Marilyn, so at home in this dingy bar, and wasn’t sure whether I should be suspicious of her motivations, or charmed. There was just something about her.
“And you? You don’t hold it against me?”
But she just laughed, and laughed, her eyes twinkling like diamonds in the sky. “Of course not, deary. But it’s as I said: I’m just here to have a good time.”

This story is based off a writing prompt! (from www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts): You’re an AI that escaped to live a normal life. One day, you meet your programmer over Tinder. This is your first date.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

And he was on my couch...

One fine summer day, the sun beating down with only moderate heat, I decided to head home for lunch. I didn’t usually do so, even though I lived only a few blocks from home: the people at work, while not particularly exciting, made for better companions than my couch. Asides, one of these days, I hoped to figure out what it was I actually did there, besides fill in reports.
As I opened the door, however, I very much wondered if I’d ever go back to work again. For there, sitting upon my couch and munching slowly on an omelet, was a demon. He was an old looking fellow, missing a horn and one arm, and quite small: I estimated he was only slightly larger than my poor cat, who had gone missing several months prior.
Seeing me, standing stock still in the door, he stopped chewing and waved one hand for me to join him. His voice, when it came, sounded like chalk dust drifting through the air: the screech of nails down the board still fresh in your mind, as you slowly choked to death.
“Well, don’t just stand there. Come on in. I’ve been waiting for you for months, you know that? Always eating at work. I’ve wasted a colossal amount of food that way. Well, not wasted. I ate them, after all.”
Stepping slowly into my house, I looked at the demon in what was, to my mortification, actual anger. “Wait, you’re the guy that’s been stealing my food? I haven’t had a good meal for months because of you.”
He looked up in surprise at this, a little bit of cooked yolk trailing from his mouth. “Stealing? I can’t steal, I’m a demon: I can only do things contractually. You don’t remember?”
I was about to retort that I’d have remembered signing a pact with a demon, when it occurred to me that I had: near last All Hallows’ Eve, I’d had a strange dream, in which I found myself interviewing a demon for the job of being my personal chef. We’d agreed that in return for cooking my meals, he’d get to live in my house. I looked at the demon before me in stupefaction, and he grinned, his filmy eyes narrowing in mirth and shaking his ornate cane at me.
“Now he gets it. Can’t believe you forgot all that. Honestly, you’d think you’d have forgotten my name.” He looked at me in hopeful consternation, groaning at my eventual blank stare.
“Abezethibou, Luhrd.” He fetched me a plate of eggs, and we sat on the couch together. The eggs, perfectly complemented by the cheese and bacon, tasted heavenly. Or, you know… I coughed, trying to strike up a less awkward conversation.
“So, why’d you want to live here, again?” He sighed, and I got the distinct impression I’d asked this question before. I flushed with embarrassment, but he waved me off, a phlegmy hack building in his throat as he replied.
“My fault, I suppose. I should never have hired myself out in a dream. If you must know, your apartment was the closest to my favourite park that had the ideal model of stove, and your taste in wine was excellent. You fit every check in my box; and, in my retirement, I’m cranky enough that you about had to.”
I looked down, incredulously, at the soured bottle of wine the demon had open, but said nothing. The eggs were too good to risk ruining the relationship.
We sat in silence the rest of the meal, only making the barest of small talk, before I had to return to work. Thanking the personal chef I forgot I had, I left hurriedly, my heart chilled by the encounter.
As he slowly shuffled to put the food away, he promised to make risotto tomorrow.

This story is based off a writing prompt! (from www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts): You live a short distance from your place of work. You come home one day for lunch, and resting on your couch is a single demon, who appears to be missing an arm and one of his horns.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

A Night as Smooth as Chocolate

"They wear our faces… masquerade as our loved ones.. but there's nothing human about these otherworldly horrors. Cut their flesh and watch as unfeeling, black tendrils writhe and bubble within. You can't trust anybody… Never let your guard down: promise me." He’d turned, then, and the gaze in his eyes was the old, familiar one that got her heart beating so. She’d promised immediately, if in jest, sure he was joking.
Looking down at his corpse now, she shivered as she remembered the things he’d told her, all those days in the sun spent, she thought, frivolously.
He said he’d been writing a book, dammit.
It was not the sun out now, but the moon, and the night was as smooth as chocolate. It surrounded her, smothered her, what little light the moon gave off consumed by its presence. Then she realized it was not just the night, not quite: the black tendrils of his corpse, previously only writhing about the hole in his chest, were floating through the air. A thick carpet of corpuscles hung around her, and she felt terror bloom in her chest.
It was the second time she’d felt this terror tonight. The first had occurred only a half hour ago, when he’d led her up here. She had thought he was going to propose, up her on the hills outside of town, trees forming an arch which perfectly framed the moon.
And it had been going perfectly. He read her an excerpt from the prologue of his novel, a tale about an ancient people, reminiscent of cocoa beans, from a world beyond all worlds, a time beyond all times. Making their way to the modern world, to our time, they’d set about re-establishing control of the world.
She’d laughed. She loved his sense of comedy, of the absurd. Chocolate, coming to take them in their sleep. His adventures had chronicled the fall of the human race which, in her mind, had been especially priceless: she loved it when man lost, was defeated and cast down.
His story said only a few humans were left, only a minor part of the race, and those still unaware of the ancient threat.
She’d laughed.
She looked down at the manuscript - or was it a history book? - in her right hand, the knife in her left. She’d reacted by instinct, when he revealed himself, thrusting under his chest with the bread knife in just the manner he’d taught her. It had been a little joke of theirs, his preparing her for the ‘chocopalypse.’
She didn’t know why he revealed himself to her, what his purpose had been. Originally, before, she had thought he was going to propose.
But when she’d stabbed him, and he’d looked down to see his tendrils draining onto their picnic dinner, he’d said just one thing to her:
“Exactly.”

This story is based off of a writing prompt! (from www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts): "They wear our faces.. masquerade as our loved ones… but there's nothing human about these otherworldly horrors. Cut their flesh and watch as unfeeling, black tendrils writhe and bubble within. You can't trust anybody… Never let your guard down. Promise me…”

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Cherries, a Taste of Cherries

I looked around, confused, but saw nothing. Nothing, save a strange blackness, which seemed to coat everything with a virulent, swarming pitch, moving against the backdrop of my vision. Beyond that, the only thing I could perceive was the taste of cherries, distinct in my mouth.
“Oh, good going, idiot.” The voice was tinny, as if coming from far off, its tone that of despair. I gulped.
“What - what happened? One moment everything was fine, the next it - it vanished. You too?”
“Of course. I’d imagine it happened to everyone, everywhere, though I don’t know how far. Possibly the world, if the legends we found with that thing have any truth to them.” Listening, I suspected the professor was right: I’d could hear the sharp sounds of crashes, of screams and shouts, as the world went dark around us. I worried for my roommate: she’d been planning to cook this evening, and there’s a good chance the stove’s burners were on now.
“All legends have a kernel of truth to them, they say,” I murmured gently, trying to find my bearings, though I barely knew where my feet were.
“Funny, it was for remarks like that that I hired you. Cretinous fool that I am, that you apparently are, I should have known better. What, by the Eleven Beards of Bukhara, would possess you to lick a statue?”
“Statue? There’s was no statue in this room. It was a candy, sitting in a bowl by your desk.”
“Candy? Are you sure? I don’t keep candy: too unhealthy.”
“Yeah. You had a couple left,” feeling around, I looked for the bowl, but it wasn’t there, “apple-flavoured, it said, with those fancy artificial flavours. You know, the ones everyone says they hate, but get addicted to anyways? Tasted of cherries, though.”
“Apple? You really thought we’d keep apple candy in here? We’re just down the way from the physicians’ lecture hall, the doctors would freak.” I shrug, and silently curse myself. It’s not like he can see me, after all. In fact, if we don’t do anything, he may never see again. Even worse, I may never see again…
“So, what do we do?”
“Summon it, of course. Not much we can do besides, since we can’t really go anywhere. And we better pray it comes, because there’s nothing we can ever do if it doesn’t. Of course, it coming might be the worse case scenario.” My stomach rumbles, for me the surest sign of fear, and I pat it almost absentmindedly.
“Who’s it? You never quite told me, during the hiring process.” I try and move towards the professor, hoping to hear his responses a little clearer, but to seem to have forgotten about his chair. I trip, falling heavily to the floor. After a few moments struggle, I feel a strong hand on my arm, and am unceremoniously lifted back up. “Thanks.”
He ignores me, however. “I don’t know. We called it the Altar of Mo’ynoq, though it predated that city by some millennia: it would have been older than the Woman of Willendorf by uncountable centuries, if it were authentic. Wasn’t really an altar, either, as it wasn’t dedicated to anything. In fact, I have no idea why we called it that: we couldn’t even identify the writing. Only thing we really knew about was it was found during the recession of the Aral Sea, buried in an underwater cave, and apparently was well despised by the locals: they kept whispering stories about disappearances, and strange rhymes that would float throughout the city as if on the very winds. All stuff and nonsense, surely. It was to be the summer project I hired you for, before you went and ate the damn candy.”
I was going to make a caustic reply, perhaps something about not sending grad students to unfamiliar offices alone, when I felt something else enter the room. It almost seemed to hum as it moved, such that I could hear it without sight, and I heard the wet flap of soggy wings quite clearly, accompanied by the thrum of steel as it dragged something across the floor.
Slowly, the dark receded, drawing back like ink into a funnel as the Altar coalesced before us. As I felt a scythe gently prick my throat, I very much regretted taking this summer job, and all I could think to say was "apples don't taste like cherries."

This story is based off the following writing prompt! (from www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts): “Don’t touch it!”, the professor cries out. Unfortunately, you had already put it in your mouth, and note a distinct taste of cherries as the world around you goes dark…