DEATH ROW DAD
Friday, September 5, 2014
(Short story inspired by "Shame" by The Avett Brothers)
My wife came to visit once. Never repeated the kindness. She told me my father had the saddest eyes. Cloudy, violent and turbulent... yet sputtering and dismal-- an exhausted hurricane. My wife said she could feel dad's guilt weigh down her diaphragm. That look in his eyes... that sad, sad look. I knew it, too. It predated his accusation and conviction, but try proving that to a jury. Give a forlorn stare like that and say nothing when grilled by an overzealous prosecutor sporting a massive hard-on for 'justice'... Would it even matter if he was actually innocent? The reason I knew my father could never have killed my mother was also the same reason they found him guilty for it. The poor guy couldn't be bothered to fight a damn thing. No matter the cuts... bruises... berating... my father took it all in-- absorbing more sadness into his deep eyes.
Sixteen at the time of the initial trial, there wasn't much I could do. My father never made friends, and the only family he had left sported the suffix 'in-law.' It's hard to win a fight without a corner to come back to, especially when you lived your life without throwing a single punch. The jury found my father guilty without even taking more than a minute to deliberate. Call it inspired; call it scarred. Studying law became my life. I succeeded in becoming one of the best defense attorneys money could buy. My father refused representation for his first appeal, no matter how hard I pleaded. I turned in as many favors as I could, but I couldn't manage to get my hands on the reigns of his defense. My father was on the Texan death row, and I couldn't do a damn thing about it. So I came to the trials, visited when I could. We exchanged our sad stares. He returned to his cell. I returned to mine.
The day finally came when my father was willing to talk. Wanted a true one on one with me as his last request. That day was yesterday. Today's the first day of his death. That conversation... In my mind, Pop's words are as fresh as a steaming pile of horse manure.
"So this is it, huh Pop? Today's the day."
I shook my head and pulled at my hair with my shaking hands. The man remained so apathetic, unperturbed by the great injustice costing him his life.
"I found a detective willing to reopen your case you know. He's willing to pull some strings and get your date pushed back, even this late into it."
Of course he said nothing. He simply stared into me.
"Let me appeal, Pop."
"Joseph, I didn't call for ya just to have a row."
I shuttered with frustration, my face reddening by the minute.
"Take a seat, son. Settle down if ya can."
I obeyed, as I always had.
"Done a heap of thinkin' in here, I have. Hadn't much choice on account of the lack of viable options for a non-reader who ain't fond of workin' out or sports."
My dad said nothing more, peering off at a wall.
"Um, is that it? It sounded like you were setting up to say something else."
"Ah, yeah. Sorry, Joe. Got to thinkin' again. Somethin' else popped into my head."
"It's fine, Pop. What were you going to say?"
"I'm ready to confess."
"I'm confessin' to ya, boy."
"What are you talking about?"
"Your momma's death. I done it."
"No... no, you didn't. I know that for a fact. You were working. I was the one who found her. I called you up and you came home, way more bent up than you should have been. Not guilty bent up... losing your wife bent up. Lacking an alibi does not equate to guilt. That jackass prosecutor had a field day because you refused to--"
"Joey. Joey, stop."
"I know I didn't physically murder your mother. Course not. I'm talkin'... indirectly."
"Uh, still no."
"Hear me out, champ."
My father took a deep breath. It must have been so hard for him, talking this much. As furious as I was at my old man's stubbornness, I cherished this surprising chance to truly meet the man. I felt like the lonely voice trapped inside-- peaking out through occasional body language-- finally got to leave its prison. Shame the same couldn't be said of the actual prisoner.
"When I met your mother, she was a sweet child. Too fragile to drink, not broken enough to feel. She loved me, saw a sad man and wanted to make him smile."
"Sure as hell didn't stay that way."
"Yeah, and it's my fault."
"Pop, don't be stupid."
My father shook his head.
"I never could smile for her. Never could say the word she so desperately needed to hear. She needed a man to yell at her. Tell her to put down the bottle and pick up the pieces of her life. That woman offered me her everythin', Joey boy. I gave her nothin' back for it."
"What are you talking about? You gave her everything. She never had to work a day in her life."
"I gave her an empty house and an empty heart. Not a reason to live. I worked and worked. Gave her money when she needed somethin' else entirely. I gave her a son, thinkin' that'd fix it. But you ended up lovin' me instead of her."
"She fucking beat me, Pop. The woman was a vile, irredeemable bitch. Of course I didn't love her."
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't speak about your mother that way, son."
"Fine. But don't you dare blame yourself for that. She made me hate her all on her own."
"She did what she done as a cry for help. I know that now. She wanted me to supervise her. To come home and protect her the way I protected you. That's why she got mixed up in that crowd. Took up drinkin'. She created a problem for me to fix. To make me come back and take care of things."
"I didn't do a damn thing, son. A damn fuckin' thing."
"There's nothing you could do, Dad. She was a lost cause."
"When are you gunna learn, Joe? I don't want ya defendin' me."
It was at this point that my eyes welled up with tears. I saw the door handle turn. I knew the officer was coming in to tell me our time was up.
"You won't do it, though... You won't even defend yourself when you know you didn't do it."
The officer stood in the doorway. He looked at my dad and nodded. My father got up slowly.
"How you managed to turn out well is beyond me. I'll blame God. I'm thankful for it. Thankful for you."
"So is that why you called me here? To try to absolve your shitty wife?"
"Nah. Had a question."
"Well, what was it...?"
"I met that girl of yours.Your wife know's you love her, don't she? Yeah, she does..."
"Uh, that's not really a question, Pop."
My father smiled, possibly for the first time in his life.
"Good to hear."
Thursday, June 19, 2014
I watched a familiar pack of sand wolves gnaw off the tough, slimy skin of an Unman corpse. The grey humanoid’s stomach burst open, exposing the content of its last meal. The hairless mutts had no interest in the meager Unman meat, as the creatures’ musculature had evolved into a micro-fiber, thinner than their rubbery epidermis. The sand wolves pulled bits of human meat and hair from the monsters’ chest cavities. The wolves scarfed down every last morsel, consuming even the bones. The coughed up one thing: child-size metal prosthetics. Finally, I found a clear indication of whom this outpost belonged.
Returning to the camp, I searched for the package that would confirm what I already knew. It did not take long. The fact that I had not detected a pearlescent pink box in the corner in my previous investigation surprised me. I tore off the luminescent fabric with my claws, uncovering the rusty metal box inside.
I tapped the fancy Old English letter ‘A’ protruding from the side of the box. The box churned mechanically before expelling a cloud of hot steam from its top. A rotating circle of lights raised up, projecting a crude sepia-colored hologram in the hot mist. An outrageously ornate young girl appeared and curtseyed. Her lips began moving. Hearing nothing, I kicked the box, starting up the lagging audio. I looked back at Fleurette’s cot. She turned in her sleep, but did not wake.
“Why hello there, future friends,” cheered the hologram’s cherubic, high-pitched voice. “We come representing the Atelier Alliance, indeed we deedy-do. We’re the friendliest little friends you ever will find in this weepy wasteland, yes we arry-are. We understand you’re nudey neutral in the wars, we do dang-doodle. But you’ll listen to our sweet ol’ song, won’t you, you poopy poodles?”
“Give me a break…” I groaned.
Hearing the messenger’s saccharine gibberish instantly nauseated me.
“Dear dear little Lyonnais,
You loopy doopy lovely place,
AA comes in pretty peace.
You have us to fear the least!
We just know you’ll let us play,
Reply, replay right away!
We’re just a bunch of girly girls,
With cherry cheeks and auburn curls.
You hate war and so do we!
Forgetty-get this and sip our tea!
Think you’re happy? No, no, no!
Thank you’re safe? Ho, ho, ho!
Take it, take it, right from me.
You’ll go bye-bye, yessiree!
Let us takey take you from it all
Kiss your boo-boos when you fall.
Kissy-kissy, we don’t want much.
Give you a hand for a tiny touch.
We want your town as a basey base.
Turn it to a real fun place!
We wanty want your—”
The song ended prematurely, snuffed out by a swipe of my claw.
“What’s the matter with you!?” shouted a voice behind me.
“You had no right to smash that, Jean-Luc,” Fleurette scolded groggily, apparently more awake than I’d realized. “That message was intended for Lyonnais.”
“What you overheard was a fancy save-the-date for an incoming slaughter,” I said, turning around.
“Coming from that cute little child?” the girl scoffed. “I think not.”
I shook my head.
“Another illusion of your naïveté.”
“Have you considered that you might just be jaded?” Fleurette growled.
“Naturally, the hue of reality shifts from shades of rose to jade the longer you spend time with it.”
The maid’s disrespectful words resonated with more truth than she knew. Optimism. Trust. Happiness. Love. The luster of such human concepts had long gone dull for me. In the process of becoming virtually all-knowing you eliminate hope and surprise, just as immortality forgoes consequence. It’s hard to feel anything when you’ve reached such a godly level— the best argument for the existence of one. There was a time when I envied the spectrum of emotions that surrounded corporality. However, that feeling had long left me, like much else.
“What good is your eloquence if no one understands it?” Fleurette asked me.
“Better than those who fail to grasp it.”
The human shook her head. She picked up a bird and poster packaged with the parcel. The former item was a clockwork parrot, a mechanical fowl that recorded voice and flew back to its owner. It was to be used by Lyonnais for sending its response back to the Atelier Alliance, presumably for the purpose of the AA’s amusement. The poster was made of pheelograph film and depicted a gorgeous young girl labeled as ‘Audette.’ A pheelograph is a special type of photographs that featured highly detailed textures. When touched, the image feels exactly like whatever the image depicts.
Fleurette ran her hands down the precious poster girl’s otherworldly beautiful, ruffled gown. She pinched the tiny angel’s soft rosy cheeks. A
“Aww, this little girl is absolutely adorable,” Fleurette cooed, uncharacteristically feminine. “She reminds me of Lady Etienne at that age. Is this their mascot? Like is she the leader’s daughter?”
“That is the leader,” I said. “Audette Atelier, evil in a tiny package. Your mistress has never been that age, nor will she ever. That’s an Im.”
“Ah, so the messenger was an Im, too,” Fleurette said. “And the other girls in the poster….”
Fleurette scratched her head.
“At its surface, the Atelier Alliance appears to be comprised entirely of young girls, but facts supply a more disturbing explanation. As far as I know, Audette is the only Im in the organization. She indoctrinates young girls into her ranks the moment they can walk. Once these child soldiers grow out of their preteens, Audette amputates their limps and replaces them with shorter prosthetics. Modified Earth-life orbs that produce helium in addition to oxygen are placed in their larynxes to simulate a young girl’s voice. In addition to heavy makeup, cosmetic surgery is administered monthly.”
Fleurette’s face squirmed, deeply affected by what I told her.
“T-that’s absurd…” she stuttered. “No one in their right mind would do such a thing. I mean, mutilating people like that…”
“Audette Atelier is one rarely accused of sanity,” I assured.
“Well, whatever,” Fleurette muttered, composing herself. “If this sick group does exists, Lyonnais has a sizable militia in place. I’m sure they can handle a bunch of ‘children.’ The Unman you promised to exterminate, on the other hand, pose an immediate danger. If you make good on your word, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“You have things reversed. A million Unman is but a sneeze compared to the threat of Atelier.”
Fleurette gulped, finally starting to feel the gravity steadily pulling down Lyonnais.
“… This is something you can stop, right?” she asked me shakily.
I shook my head.
The girl’s brows furrowed and her scalded face boiled red.
“No wonder your services are free,” Fleurette snapped. “Nothing is all you’re worth.”
“I cannot sway large-scale conflicts,” I said firmly. “Once an opponent realizes I am unkillable, I’m simply ignored. I become nothing but a ghost on the battlefield.”
“Sure you can,” Fleurette insisted. “You could take out their leader. Hold a choke point indefinitely. Cleave a path through their defenses. There’s plenty of ways to put your dead weight to good use, Jean Luc.”
“Successful execution tends to lack the ease of speech,” I said. “Come to terms with the loss of Lyonnais. Immortality may preserve my life, but it does little to save the lives of those around me.”
“You mean YOU do little to save the lives of those around you,” Fleurette loudly interrupted.
I widened the eyes on my mask in reflex. Stunned, I fell silent.
“I’ve HAD IT with your fatalism,” Fleurette snapped. “You think being stuck so far in the past gives you a better view of the future? I’m afraid it simply does not work that way. By abandoning us… you fulfill your own lazy prophesy.”
“Lazy? Lyonnais is miscarriage in time, a city that died before it was born. You cannot abort that which is DOA. It will fall sooner or later, with little difference between the two. Time has no regard for such a futile outcropping of humanity as Lyonnais, and I share its lack of concern. There is not much worth saving, no matter the scenario.”
“Stop talking down to me, Jean Luc,” Fleurette growled. “Just because you outlive something doesn’t mean it lacks worth. Lyonnais is completely worth saving. Are the people there a bit rough? Sure. They’re not bastions of wisdom or anything, but they’re ALIVE. Life will never stop being valuable. That’s what YOU don’t understand.”
I looked outside the cave. The sandstorm had worsened, burying the Unman remains. As impassioned as the girl’s words were, they failed to move my iron heart a millimeter. A millennia ago I may have respected Fleurette for that blazing speech, as I admit it was well formed and reasoned for one of her years. Still, she was wrong. The truth may be cold, but it’s always correct.
“Grasp this,” I said hoarsely, losing my even tone to anger. “Unman. Atelier. The name changes but the fate is the same. With luck, yes, I could make a difference. What you fail to understand, is the depth of my apathy toward your cause. Keep talking and it will turn to ire. I could murder your precious lady with my own claw, so please, keep in line.”
Fleurette staggered back.
“I’m fulfilling my obligation to you,” I continued. “Be grateful I’m doing that much. I have no reason to, what with that attitude of yours. I don’t care for humanity, and I especially don’t care for you.”
The glossiness coating the girl’s eyeballs told me my point had driven its way through. My perspective was not simply pragmatic, but weighted in disdain. Humanity had wronged me throughout my existence, and its most recent transgression. Staring deep into my unfeeling, copper mask, Fleurette’s moist eyes beckoned what was left of my compassion. To her dismay, the only trace of humanity she found was her own reflection. Fleurette dashed out of the camp, leaving a trail of tears behind her. I ran after her, for some reason… regretting my harshness.
“It is still too dangerous for you to venture out alone,” I said, quickly catching up.
I grabbed Fleurette’s arm, but she tugged it violently away.
“What does it matter to you!?” she yelled back, sobbing.
I lowered my head. As it so happened, it did matter to me— though I could not determine why.
“So where are you going?”
“I’m going back to Lyonnais and do whatever it takes to protect it. I know how to kill an Unman now, so go on your way. I can teach the militia all it needs to know. Don’t you DARE help us.”
My words had not flown over Fleurette’s head, but, rather, directly though her heart. As much as I resented humanity, this girl and the rest of Lyonnais were not the ones who wronged me. I grabbed the girl’s hand and pulled her in the correct direction. At first she fought it, but eventually she gave in. I never verbalized any sort of apology, but the girl knew. As much as I hated to admit it to myself, it became clear that I’d developed a slight attachment to the girl. Key word, slight. Her fervent tears shook something up in me. Something I’d long believed to be unshakable. I still had microbe humanity hanging on somewhere within me after all. When this minor epiphany dawned on me, I smiled— though I didn’t change my mask to show it.
I let go of the girl’s hand once nightfall hit, to which Fleurette responded by immediately darting off. It did take long for her to tire, taking refuge within a large circular pit surrounded by enormous rock formations. While not nearly as safe as the cartographers’ camp, the shelter of spires at least shielded her from the harsh sand gusts. As Fleurette drifted into sleep, I perched myself upon on the tallest spire to survey the area. Without much analysis, I determined our destination had been, in fact, reached. I leapt off the spire and landed beside the sleeping maid. The noisy collision ripped Fleurette from her slumber.
“Will you leave me alone already!?” Fleurette screamed, shoving me away. “For an immortal, you have the maturity of a teenage girl, I swear. When I want to follow you, you disregard me. When I try to rid myself of you… you stick to me like a leech!”
I took a defensive stance, pulling the fuming human behind me. I raised my over my head, prepping a strike.
“Jean-Luc! Hello!? What are you doing now?”
A sickening choir of curdling squeals and gurgles sounded off, reacting to Fleurette’s loud outburst. Jet black eyes, darker than the darkness opened all around us. Moonlight reflected off hundreds of silvery bodies. The ground shook beneath our feet as more shimmering humanoids rose from the ground to join the other’s ranks.
“W-where exactly… have you led me…” she sputtered, now drained of fury and filled with fear.
“Where you wanted to be,” I said calmly.
“And where is that?”
“The Unman Cradle.”
Legion after legion, Unman rose out from the ground. The Unman Cradle refers to the central hub in the creature’s subterranean network where their infants are created and stored. All Unman not seeking food gather at this point. Unman dig out a crater and surround it with a hedge of stones to mark this base of operations of sorts and to ward off other Unman tribes from entering their territory. If I were to ever make any sort of dent on the Unman population threatening the humans of Lyonnais, taking out the Cradle would be the best option. Initially, I’d planned to sweep it myself and leave Fleurette behind at a safe distance. Clearly, this did not occur. The human picked a fatal location to throw her tantrum.
“I, uh, see…” the girl said weakly. “Hop to it t-then… On with the slaying.”
“Your name is Fleurette, is it not?”
The girl nodded. I feel a slight twinge of regret stir inside me. This what our little adventure amounted to. I hadn’t felt a connection with a human in such an unfathomably long time… and this was the reason. The stare down would soon cease. Given their numbers, I’d be hard pressed to both repel and defend.
“Your name means ‘little flower’ in French, an extinct tongue from which this region’s language is derived.”
Fleurette looked up at me, equal parts confused, afraid and fascinated.
“A flower is a beautiful type of plants that came in a breathtaking array of shapes and fragrances. You can still see them in designs everywhere, but they have not grown on Earth for a great deal of time. No matter how much time passes, flowers always will represent of beauty and remain a lasting symbol of love— even outliving the flowers themselves.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“You deserve to know how strong your name is,” I said solemnly. “Pure as well, much like you— a commendable quality in this, the Vermilion Years. Like the flowers, when your petals drift off in the wind, Fleurette, your beauty will carry on after you. Despite the brevity of our time together, I will remember you.”
My kindness caused trembling to overtake the girl’s small, scrappy frame.
“I’m… going to die, aren’t I?”
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
I peered down upon the limp girl, contemplating my next course of action. The battered maid’s breathing ceased. I knew something in me wanted the knave to continue living a bit longer, otherwise I wouldn’t have saved her. Despite this, I remained hesitant, knowing saving her life would burden me with a follower. Humans felt obligated to repay those who lengthen their lives, but no human could ever be of any worth to me.
I determined her life was endangered not from the beating, but prolonged exposure to the toxic air. Among the things damaged in the altercation, the girl’s respirator was one of them. I extended a blade from my wrist then made an incision in the girl’s chest. I plucked a tiny Earth-Life Orb out from a leather satchel sewn into the leggings of my armor and crammed it in.
The girl awoke kicking and screaming like a freshly birthed child, covered in just as much blood. Scald marks from the boiling water covered the entirety of her skin. Experiencing the worst pain she’d ever known, the girl writhed and wailed accordingly. I drove my palm into the servant’s temple, knocking her unconscious. I stayed at her side as she slept, administering basic first aid and cleaning her wounds. I carried no painkillers with me, so I braced myself for another agonized awakening. To my surprise, the young woman arose peacefully— nary a word or scream. In as much silence I took my leave, leaving the revived to reflect on what to do with her new life.
After a good hour’s time of venturing through the harsh wilderness of hot sand and steam, I decided to address the woman under the belief she was tailing me in secret. I’d actually hung back intentionally to give her time to catch up to me, giving my claw a much needed sharping.
“You follow your death,” I said, stopping.
The girl said nothing. I turned around and found the one called Fleurette now donned a frilly silver exosuit— complete with a matching breather and a pair of sporting revolvers. Pathetically unpractical.
“Wearing a breather is no longer necessary. There’s an Earthlife Orb in your chest.”
The girl felt the tiny bump between her breasts and threw off the sweaty mask. I observed her expression, soaking in the scorn gushing from her brooding, bloodshot eyes. I should’ve known from the persistence in which she pursued me than the girl was not seeking to repay a debt. Hatred makes a much stronger motive, as I well knew. I continued on my way, allowing her to keep pace. I knew I’d figure what out my own motives were once we arrived to wherever we ended up. Such was my existence at this point. Learning my destinations post-arrival… and my inclinations after the fact.
The girl and I marched a day’s distance of the harsh marshy strip of land betwixt the two boiling lakes that isolated Lyonnais so. At this point, Fleurette’s stamina met its end. Coincidentally, her fatigue coincided with the discovery of a cave converted into an outpost. Such camps were common in the harsh wilds, as uninhabitable as they were. Without even entering the camp, however I knew this one was different— far more sophisticated to be left by nomads or corsairs.
I entered the outpost to investigate further. Fleurette made herself comfortable, I assume she mistakenly believed I was stopping to rest. It didn’t take much effort to see it’d been abruptly abandoned… and recently. From what I could tell, the men were cartographers. Royal ones. Its proximity boded ill for Lyonnais, wishing to remain neutral as it did. It was naïve for them to believe they could hide away from the wars that swept the planet. Even more misguided still to think the Unman were the greatest threat to their existence.
“Why do you stop for me?” the girl asked, the first time she’d spoken since being thrown mercilessly from her home.
I did not give her an answer, as I had none for myself.
“I’m not daft you know,” she continued. “You stayed with us for three months. I know sleep and food are not requirements for you.”
“It is as you say,” I murmured, rummaging through various crates
“Well, I don’t need pity to keep pace with you,” Fleurette spat.
Nothing could have been more false. Not only had I slowed my pace to a crawl, I spent most of the trip safeguarding her, eliminating threats clandestinely.
“The suit you wear is for poaching fisher-falcons via steamsteed,” I told her. “A fashion statement providing minimal defense against the elements.”
“You’re not as durable as you think.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Fleurette replied. “My dear Lady Etienne… This is her parting gift to me. Said she could never enjoy on such a frivolous hobby like game hunting, knowing I’m out there… in danger. She’s far too beautiful for this wretched world, that Etienne. A gift delivered to an undeserving door. I’d give away my whole life, so she could live a second more. Her side is the only place I’ll ever belong.”
“Yet you left it to become my shadow.”
“What did I just say? I’m sacrificing my life for her. Yves says the Immortal Jean-Luc is Lyonnais’ only chance for survival… and, by extension, Lady Etienne’s. I will follow you until I see the job you promised to complete finished.”
“Do as you will.”
Most of the crates contained rudimentary supplies; food and water. The camp’s abandonment did appear to be planned. Buried in a surplus of canned crab I found a lone bottle of wine. An Oktober Spätburgunder, to be precise. This was a bogglingly rare find in world were agriculture existed as a grand luxury. The only crop able to be farmed by the general populous was a resilient tea named ‘dirtleaf.’ The name was reference to the taste. While not much of an indulgence, farming and serving dirtleaf was one of the few ways common men could eek out an existence outside of factory work and war. Guns, blades, and prosthetic enhancements were the primary products of the Earth’s industrial economy. Next to manufacturing various steam-powered machines, that is. Mining submarines, arthro-pods, airships… you name it. Mankind answered its dilemma with mechanical solutions for both its war on the environment and itself. Virtually everything in existence could trace its origin to an assembly line, churned out by a rickety machine or an even ricketier man. Even food. Crabs were farmed on massive floating machines, but the way cattle was raised was worse. Mooing, living components of giant, mobile meatpacking machines, traveling from town to town. Reminds me the sick Chevalier process, but I won’t get started on that…
But yes, the wine struck me as extremely, extremely odd. The typical vices in the Vermilion years were quite different from an ancient one like alcohol. Men got high on various grades of bottled exhaust fumes and other homemade hallucinogens. Tobacco, marijuana, beer and the like had become extinct on Earth millennia ago. Well, just about. The last of the substances were preserved by a pair of Im brothers: Deter and Dober Oktober. Understandably, the two were not at all generous with their supply. Most of their buyers came from outer space, in fact. I saw no sense in letting such a prize go to waste. I uncorked the bottle of wine and extended it to Fleurette, curious as to what her reaction might be.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Wine,” I said. “A nearly extinct luxury, used for intoxication.”
Fleurette narrowed her eyes.
“Wipe those fantasies from your mind, Im,” she muttered, opening up a can of crab. “You deserve no credit for saving the same life you endangered. I owe you no favors. Sexual or otherwise.”
I’d seen quite enough of the camp to realize what had happened at that point. I decided to wait. I wanted to see if my suspicions were valid. More importantly, I needed to know how these map-makers had wine in their possession.
“If it’s any comfort, I’d sooner take your life than your virginity,” I replied, standing at the mouth of the cave.
That shut her up. The next time I heard from her was right before she fell asleep.
“Jean-Luc, I’m going to sleep now, but you better not leave.”
“What difference does it make? I promise to complete the job. You may turn to Lyonnais. Share the news.”
“Good to see you finally committed,” she said. “But that changes nothing.”
“I want to see danger. Be hardened by it. That’s the only way I’ll ever be able to properly protect milady.”
“So be it. You will die.”
“You don’t know that. You know don’t anything.”
I turned to leave, having had quite enough of humanity at that moment.
“Do you even know where you’re headed, Jean-Luc?” Fleurette asked.
“All you do is waste time!”
“Time is no commodity to me,” I said, walking out of the cave. “The more of something you have, the less value it has to you.”
The girl mocked me and nestled into one of the unmade cots.
Now that I’d ventured outside, the hook was baited. While waiting for a tug on my line, a pack of sand wolves ambushed me. One ripped off a piece of my armor and proceeded to gnaw at my flesh. Its teeth shattered against my skin. The hairless canine to reeled back, baying in pain, and the rest of the mongrels fled. My attacker attempted to join his pack’s retreat, but a swipe of my claw swiftly ended its life. Whilst cleaning the sand wolf’s blood from my four iron blades, heard three gunshots from inside the cartographers’ camp.
I heard the girl’s wild wails echoing as I rushed in. The sounds of her empty a full round of bullets from her gun reverberated about the cave. As I approached I watched the bullets sinking into the creatures’ clay-like flesh. The goopy silver blood displaced by the wounds stitched and repaired the bullet holes immediately. The humanoid monster taking the fire in stride stood perfectly still, staring at Fleurette expressionlessly with its pitch black eyes. The creature could not be human, despite the strong resemblance, as it lacked a mouth. It had long, natty raven-colored tresses, and pallid sickly grey skin. The face was unblemished, young and sedate. Its arms and legs looked atrophied and a weak, as if containing no muscles at all. The most disturbing part of the mutant’s appearance was its attire. A long cloak made entirely of human skin.
“Oh hello, Jean-Luc,” the girl shrieked over to me. “Mind telling me what the HELL this is.”
“Your life’s been a sheltered one,” I said, walking over to her. “Never once seeing an Unman.”
“WHATEVER. Kill the little brat.”
I quietly eyed the creature up. Though it looked like a child to Fleurette, I could tell the Unman’s years tripled hers. The Unman were immune to both disease and aging itself. If an Unman dies, it meant something intervened and murdered it. Pseudo-immortality. In a way, I and my fellow Ims had more in common with the Unman than we did with the humans. A regard the humans shared.
“Murder requires justifiable motivation. Kill only that which wishes to kill you. By doing do, you avoid pointless conflict. As such, I personally lack any need to kill anything. Then again, I still eat…”
“It’s your job, for one, you lazy idiot,” Fleurette snapped. “Don’t lecture me. It deserves to die. Unman EAT humans. It’s not murder when you’re killing a monster.”
“Debatable. Food is hard to come by outside of civilization. The only thing preventing mankind from consuming Unman is its time worn-moral aversion to cannibalism. The Unman may look human, but that’s the only similarity. It knows no such aversion.”
“Of course not, it’s brainless,” Fleurette snarled. “A disgusting, stupid zombie.”
“You speak misconceptions,” I said, shaking my head. “The Unman sees the world in blacks and whites. This is as much a metaphor for how they think as much as it is an actual fact. Hierarchy, culture, wealth… such things are of no concern to them. Emotion, too; non-existent. They have brains, but they function objectively. They’re simply programmed to survive, not unlike yourself.”
“You think these things are the same us real humans?” Fleurette scoffed. “Just trying to survive!?”
“No, they aren’t like humans,” I said. “They’re succeeding.”
“What you’ve described are the characteristics of a monster” said the girl. “It may surprise you, heartless bastard that you are, but lacking emotions is bad. This thing is sick and it’s stupid. So kill it already and save me the rest of bizarre philosophy lesson.”
The Unman sized me up silently and took several steps back, sensing danger from me.
“Not only, are Unman not dumb,” I said, taking a step back. “They’re smarter than you.”
“Allow me to demonstrate.”
I distanced myself from the girl and the Unman. No sooner did I put myself out of range to attack, the creature leapt at Fleurette, clutching her throat tightly in its hand. I took a step forward, displaying my lack of fear in the face of its threat. Still fixing its gaze on me, the Unman’s face split right through its middle, as if being unzipped. It exposed twenty rows of a razor sharp teeth running from the inside of its opened, hollow face to the edge of its wide esophagus. With a shrill high-pitched whine, the Unman launched out its long white tongue and coiled it around the girl’s helpless body.
“KILL IT, JEAN-LUC,” Fleurette bellowed. “KILL THE HIDEOUS ABOMINATION BEFORE IT EATS ME.”
“Take note of this behavior,” I said calmly. “Determining that it could easily penetrate my armor without getting killed in the process, he’s turned to exploiting human sentimentality to overcome me. An act of self-preservation, alone. This unman is full, recently eating the squad of cartographers that made this camp. If the unman actually wanted to eat you, it would’ve done so. It’s attempting to eliminate a threat to its life. Me. It’s next move will be to relocate its brain-heart into its tongue and putting inside you, making it impossible for me to kill it without killing you. ”
“I’M NOT KIDDING, SLAY THIS THING OR I WILL HAUNT YOU WHEN I DIE,” she howled, desperately trying to wriggle free from the slimy tongue hog-tie that bound her.
“Life or death, you will haunt me regardless,” I sighed, tired of the girl’s frequent interruptions. “I thought you wanted to be hardened by the horrors of the world.”
“HARDENED BY NOT CONSUMED BY, YOU TWISTED IDIOT.”
Fleurette’s tactless response put a legitimate smile on my face, so I adjusted my bronze mask to convey this. It’d been ages since someone had shown me such flagrant irreverence. Not for lack of hatred, humanity loathed us Immortals. All of us knew it. Being unkillable, however, had a way of suppressing the sentiment. The same could not be said of the Unman. Ironic, really. In a forgotten era, long ago, just the opposite was true. The Ims and the ‘Uns were championed as the harbingers of human evolution. Now they believe us to be the instruments of their extinction. How wrong they are. Neither party has any interest in taking that job away from them.
Using the same blade I used to save Fleurette before, I pierced the Unman’s brain-heart as it sped through its tongue. I acted just time to prevent the creature from relocating its central organ into the maid. Four more Unman sprung from the shadows, hoping my victory would dull my senses. Another sound tactic, had I been the human they believed me to be. Ripping Fleurette’s gun from her hands, I tracked the moving bulges in the emaciated monster’s chests, skillfully putting bullet in each one. Once the shock left Fleurette and she regained her composure, she promptly lost again, exploding with rage.
“How dare you call yourself a mercenary,” the girl yelled, shoving me to little effect. “You couldn’t tell those horrible things were lurking around in here? No wonder you’re all Lyonnais can afford. You’re pathetic.”
“I’ve never once called myself a mercenary, that would imply I get paid,” I said, pulling the bodies out of the cave.
By skewing put Unmans’ corpses out on display, it would ward off others from entering.
Fleurette ran out after me.
“What do you mean you don’t get paid!?”
“My advertised services are merely pretense assuage entrance in human settlements such as Lyonnais. I’m surprised you never questioned it, aversive as your as your nature is. Think about what seen me do. If need something, I don’t need money to get it.”
“So you’re looking for something,” said Fleurette.
“You could say that,” I replied, placing the Unman corpses in a neat line.
“And you can say more,” the girl snapped. “Don’t get cryptic with me, Jean-Luc. I’m far too tired to piece anything together right now. What is it that you trying to find?”
I finished off the last of the wine then set my mask’s mouth back to a frown.
“Find out,” I corrected. “I’m looking for information.”
“And what do you want to find out about!?” the girl growled. “Stop being vague!”
“A few things…” I replied. “But my main concern…”
“…is finding a way to end immortality.”
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Writing fiction is interesting. Through it we can control all the variables life keeps out of our hands. What characters say, experience and do... it's entirely up to the writer. That's why there's such a clear indication of an author's skill. If you've got the aptitude it shows. Readers (read: most) will respond well and laud the book to their peers-- and perhaps even read again. I suppose that's why I enjoy it so much. It combines skill and control. It's a mastery; an art that you'll never fully conquer, being the mortal you are. I know it's a tad cliche, but it's the closest a man can come to becoming a God. Our "innate" mission instilled on us by the old teachings society is to achieve a state of Godliness. Hmm. As impossible as that seems... Hello, writing.
In these entries I've had a habit of apologizing for appearing arrogant, so I'll save you the disclaimer this time. I'm God, well at least the only God you'll ever meet. A painter can create a scene and a musician can draft an emotion, but me? I can do both, and I do so often. Not only that, but I bring entire worlds and civilizations into existence. My creativity is the only limit to these cosmoses' possibilities. I weave intricate histories, plots and relationships like a member of the Fates-- the sharpest, deadliest weapon the tip of my tiny sewing needle. Can you do that as a doctor? You can save a life, sure-- end one too, if you're corrupt-- but I can save a whole nation through the actions of one protagonist. I command the fate of as many families cities and heroes my mind can muster... and then some.
This is why living a normal life infuriates me. I'm a bit distant-- the real me, not the personas I put on when I venture out into the 'real' world. Of course I am. Why would I relate to mortals? Why would holding a job and making a few kids appease me? Adulation and recognition for my work is the closest Earth can come to giving me pleasure, aside from providing me with the products of the other gods' fantasies. I revel in creative works and creative people. That's the extent of my participation in humanity's game. My own writing provides me with more amusement than anything money can buy. Through writing I have literally everything, so long as my brain desires it. That's both the bane and boon of being a book maker. You transcend the confines of reality with your fiction... but the higher you get... the more the world you once knew below you blurs.
C'est la vie en l'écrivain.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
I wonder why certain people feel the need to tell me how hard it is to make it as a novelist. The moment they learn I'm a writer I watch the gears turning behind their fake smiles. I can almost envision a guy a desk rifling though a stack of proposals to send to the mouth, dumped from a bin that says 'polite ways to tell someone to find a real job.' A passion and flair for writing, like most art forms, isn't largely understood by the masses. By telling me it's 'difficult to succeed in,' a 'good side job'... or 'a nice hobby'... you're patronizing me based solely on your point of view. Sure, those opinions tend to change the moment they actually take the time to indulge in my writing, but those tiny stings have gradually accumulated into a headache.
Now I don't want to come across as bitter or arrogant here. I'm not that crazy misunderstood artist who gets ostracized by his own ego. I harbor no disdain for humanity, nor do I place myself above anyone. The pleasure of readers is at the core of my passion. If my stories get read it's Christmas morning, which is why I want to get published so badly. Most people actually don't patronize me either; they're usually impressed and encouraging. I guess what I'm trying to do is rant here. I'm demonstrating my identity. This is what I do in the face of any thing. Happiness, sadness, boredom... what have you... Whatever the occasion, my desire is to turn to writing. This is my passion, and I like to reaffirm that every once in a while by blowing off some steam with the written word.
Don't mind me. Carry on. Happy Mother's Day and all that.
Patchwork aluminum airships chugged steadily across the dust clouds. Helio, the smallest of Earth’s three purifying moons, reflected off the tinfoil balloons keeping the ships afloat. Bursts of steam sporadically shot up from the boiling tides below. Just as nature itself had practically vanished, my time for romance seemed all but over. As I peered into the uncertain dusk, I longed for my earliest memories— recollections of a time before the Vermillion Years.
“Jean-Luc, what is that you are observing?”
“Hues in the air,” I answered. “The fumes of commuters add welcomed variety.”
The eternal evening was the one aspect of this era that I preferred over the past. Melancholically painted with splotches of cinnabar and burgundy, the sky stayed a constant vermillion— tinting all the exposed world moody orange. For all its beauty, the citrusy atmosphere was deathly toxic, forcing mankind indoors.
“That’s an odd thing to do,” the girl said.
The girl’s voice was muffled under her fancy oversized collar. The frilly poof that topped her equally bloated chartreuse dress hid the respirator that enabled her to breathe outdoors.
“Perhaps. It’s means to chip away the time I cannot kill.”
“Hmm. You always say such strange things.”
Strange? For one of her limited years, perhaps. To her, orange was orange and nothing more. She did not have eons at her disposal to overanalyze the accepted mendacities of existence. She ignored the intricacy of simplicity— as all humans do. Counting the colors in the sky was but one of many mundane time-killing techniques that governed my continued existence. My finger slowly drew the slider down on my bronze mask, forming a frown.
“Nothing is strange, as strangeness is defined only by the limit of one’s experiences,” I replied after a spell of contemplative silence. “Struggling to understand the world, we cling to sameness to feel safe— not realizing that shelter is a sin. When wrinkles set, your pale skin will regret its lack of scars. Appreciate the uncanny now. Age robs you of wonder.”
I could feel the girl’s eyes fixed dreamily upon me. Despite the girl’s beauty, the loving gaze had no chance of reciprocation. Often times, I’d employ eloquence and philosophy to scare the flies away, but this particular bug was not repelled.
“While I’m not sure of what you meant,” the young girl began hesitantly, shuffling in place.
“The way you worded that was positively breathtaking.”
“Everything you say astonishes me, Jean-Luc. Your words stick on my mind even weeks after they’ve been spoken.”
Mankind regarded my ilk as beacons of wisdom and power— a tiresome perception. Speaking trifles in passing and having them be regarded as profundities reminded me of my isolation. I reset my mouth to neutral. Removing my ornate brown top hat, I ran a cold, cast iron claw over the charred, barren scalp where hair once flowed. I could feel the girl shutter in my own bones.
“I don’t care how you look… Your words are beautiful.”
I returned my cap to my head.
“Beautiful? If you paid any real attention to my words, you’d commit suicide.”
“W-why is that?”
“My words mean that life has no purpose. Youth is marked with lies that make the world look livable. Appreciate your stupidity while you have it. That’s the take away.”
The girl’s eyes welled up with brine and she dashed off. I purposely upset her and felt not a shred of regret for doing so. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten the feeling of sadness—the emotion I’d best acquaintance with. Rather, just as the suffering of a fly does not concern a horse, the girl’s corporeality made her feelings of no consequence to me. Though I’d be lying if I denied harboring any ire for her mortality.
“You simply cannot help yourself, can you, Im?”
A brute yet refined young woman with short, mousy brown hair approached me. I recognized her as ‘Fleurette’, but beyond that I had no recall for what her relation was to the other girl. I’d committed myself to forgetting such information. The storage capacity of the human brain is infinite, as I can attest, but I my issue lied with memory manageability. For the sake of not losing that which was relevant to me, I drowned out basically everything new. With life droning on as it did, I developed nostalgia for nostalgia, in a sense, caring for nothing at all.
“You treat this settlement with such cruel indifference, and yet Lyonnais graciously continues to accommodate you. Not only does Lady Etienne look past your horrid appearance, she worships your every word. A gentleman would show gratitude, not fangs. If you cannot handle a girl blushing for you, tell her so. Or do her tears soothe you so?”
“A man who cannot freeze requires no coat. If a man needs no sleep or sex, he takes no bed. When a stomach needs no food, a man eats none… and if he cannot love, what need does he have for companionship?”
“You’re an insufferable pighead, Jean-Luc,” Fleurette, her disapproving eyes attempting to stir regret in my heart. “I curse the day you were first allowed to live here.”
“I was not allowed… I was begged,” I corrected. “Lyonnais required the aid of man of my years.”
“Yes, and I think they’d best seek another,” the crass maid retorted. “I doubt the others behave like soulless animatronics. Lady Etienne deserves better, as does Lyonnais.”
“So you’d think…” I murmured.
“This settlement is filled with good natured people. They rest their hopes in you, but you look down on them as if they were Unman. You don’t care for a single one of them, do you?”
“It is not my job to care.”
Fleurette hocked a large wad of spit from the deepest recesses of her hatred and propelled it onto my metal mask. I wiped it off, then pressed the button next to my temple that drew the tinted black glass away from my bloodshot eyeballs. I locked eyes with her, projecting the pain behind my aggregate acrimony. The girl looked straight into the horrors undaunted, much to my surprise. A glimpse into my suffering brought most men to their knees. Such was the extent of her irreverence.
“I shall be going then,” I said stiffly.
I headed to the gate and pulled the lever on the intricate mechanical fence. Pistons chugged and gears shifted. Steam whistled from the narrow exhaust pipe, signaling the sturdy barricade had completed unlatching its various locking mechanisms. Unfortunately for the maid, an arthro-pod scuttled up just as the gate closed behind me. The eight spider-like feet that propelled the tiny carriage retracted. In a burst of hot yellow vapor, the pill-shaped vehicle locked into place at its docking bay. Lord Yves Arlow Pasiphae, master of the estate, popped out.
“Ah, Jean-Luc! Going for another stroll, I see.”
The surly nobleman blocked my way. As a result of a severe steam burn, half of the fellow’s face had been grafted with metal. Instead of a right eye, an Earthlife Orb laid in its socket.
The tiny sphere of technology was not of the Earth, manufactured on the distant Colony-K, a place even I’d never been. Merely touching skin allowed the Earthlife Orb’s bio-tech to integrate with the connected organism, giving red-blood cells the ability to create their own oxygen and turning the heart into nanomachine-pumping factory. The orb itself served as a conduit to pull in the air’s toxins. Once absorbed, the pollutants became materials to sustain the orb. There’s much more to the process than that, but to put it simply, the orb eliminated the need for a natural respiratory system— giving any human the ability to exist on Earth. Of course, this was outdated tech, replaced years ago by Spacelife Chips… but that’s neither here nor there.
Regardless, the Earthlife Orb was a symbol of Yves’s high aristocracy, as oxygen tanks were seen as gauche and a sign of low social standing. That being said, such orbs were a rare commode, as with all nice things on this orange excuse for a planet. Small, air-filtering breathers were far more common among the rich. Personally, I preferred the look of the poor’s tanks, but as one who required no air at all… my opinion hardly mattered. In fact, I had quite enough of humanity at this point, and I’d decided be far more comfortable outside Lyonnais’ walls.
“It would seem this will be my last walk through these parts,” I said to the man.
“I see,” Yves said shakily. “Will you be sending for anything?”
“No, nothing,” I answered. “Any belongings of mine left behind should be burned. Judging by her opinion of me, I’m sure Miss Fleurette would gladly volunteer for the task, should you ask her.”
Once the gate was resealed with Yves on the other side, I hung back for a listen.
“Good day, my lordship,” bid the voice of Fleurette. “Apologies Lord Pasiphae, but I am much too busy to converse with you. I came to check the insulation on backside of the manor. Have you found another orb yet? Your daughter is complaining of headaches again.”
“You’re the source of headaches,” Yves replied cantankerously.
“My lord? I do not underst— AYYYAAAAAH!”
“Do not play yourself fooler than you already are, wench,” Yves burst as the sound of his metal glove smacking across the girl’s face resounded throughout the large courtyard decorated with intricate sheet metal sculptures. “I passed Jean-Luc on his way out.”
“You did not hear the terrible things he bid the— AHHHHCK!”
“I do not care if he had his way with her and made the city watch. My allegiance is to Lyonnais now. Governess Godiva entrusted his care to me. In breaking that trust, she will shatter my spine and throw me to the lowlands… if not into the steaming seas.”
“AACCHHHKK. OWWW. STOP. PLEASE. I’M BEGGING YOU. AYYYHHHHH!!”
Though a high metal fence obscured my view, the violence was simple to infer. The sound of beating and screams stopped.
“He’ll crawl back… just watch,” Fleurette panted. “No one can survive the extremes of the lowlands or withstand the boiling waters of the Searing Ocean for long.”
“Do you know that little of the world?” Yves asked. “Of course he can. Why do you think we needed him? His presence was our protection. The unmans… At the rate our militia is dwindling, I should be surprised if this settlement shall remain afloat by next solstice.”
“We don’t need an Im’s help, certainly not Jean-Luc’s. Who knows if he’s truly unable to die? I bet it’s just another of this world’s myths, perpetuated by crooks like him looking for a place to crash and a cow to milk. ”
“His immortality is not to be questioned. Ims have existed for as long as time can be remembered.”
“Then it is the unman I question…”
“Have you yet to lay eyes on the horrid things?”
“Never seen one, but I doubt it’s much to be afraid of,” Fleurette answered. “The traders from El Soledad say those brainless things are less of a threat than the air itself. I’ve never seen an Unman breech these walls once, how dangerous can they be?”
“The ignorant truly do have better quality of life,” Yves scoffed. “We fell from the castleship, so the myths of Unman we’d are now the reality we face. Unlike El Soledad, Lyonnais refuses to pledge loyalty to a monarchy. We cannot depend on the security of chevaliers to stave off those insatiable zombies.”
I could make out the sound of something smashing into a sculpture, presumably Fleurette’s body. Yves now spoke with a chillingly calm demeanor. From my short stay, I’d seen this behavior many times before. Anger soothed the man, as if it was his natural state. The greater his fury, the more fine-tuned his focus.
“Aren’t there… others?” the battered maid asked between sobs.
“Ims are scarce; fewer than a thousand chose to remain on Earth,” Yves said calmly as he continued to pummel the girl. “In that number, even less spend their eternity as a mercenary for hire— or even associate themselves with humanity. And in that handful, only one is in Lyonnais’s price range. Take a guess as to whom that may be, girl.”
“I’m- I’m sorry,” the maid bawled. “I’m pleading with you… Stop.”
I could no longer hear the man’s voice, drowned out by the maid’s bloody wailing. I decided I’d heard quite enough and began to walk away.
“I’m on the edge of the island, don’t come any closer… My lord, please…”
What followed was a screech so heart-wrenching that it pierced right through the pulmonary barriers constructed over my eons of existence. The horrible cry waned steadily before ending in a sizzling splash. I pushed my ear back against the shoddy iron fence.
“Please do not look at me in such a way, milady…”
“Fleurette, my sweet flower…”
“Etienne, why mourn so? She was in your service, and died for her failure.”
“That woman was more sister to me than my actual siblings. She died for your anger and nothing more… She served you well, and earnestly, Yves. Yet you murdered her all the same...”
“Pardon me, milady, but I must disagree. I saved her from a worse fate. Without Jean-Luc, our doom at those monsters’ hands is evitable.”
“Then shall you kill me as well?”
As I plunged into the boiling water below, the humans’ uninteresting conversation cut off. A singular thought remained in my mind as the scalding water seared my skin beneath my armor and the opaque grey water stung my eyes under my masks…
‘Why am I doing this?’