I just started putting stuff on paper a few weeks ago, and it keeps growing.
|I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name|
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
He rode a dark beast across a frozen, broken land, shadowless beneath a sunless sky. The air stood solid, a thick bone cold air, and his breath fell as fog. Hectic winds had greeted the gray featureless dawn, but disappeared by noon when they set out onto the flats. Flat was a relative term, but this was certainly the easiest terrain they had seen in the last days, how many days he could not recall. It was a country abandoned by man, blasted and torn by forces he could not fathom.
His throat burned with cold thirst, his flask hung empty, slapping at his side as his mount shuffled across the landscape. Each time the water skin hit his protruding ribs, he was reminded of his need. Though he encountered frozen pools now and again, in this waste nothing could be trusted.
The way dipped to a rocky channel, dropping man and beast down a couple hundred feet, gradually bringing them under cover and into a copse of gnarled pine trees, all of them an unearthly orange color, almost golden with iridescence. It reminded him of pumpkin pie. Pie. He smiled inside, and did not know why. Pie was long and long ago. He slid from the hairy back of his mount, down its right side smoothly, softly stepping with bare feet. The animal wore no harness or saddle, guided by only the will of its rider, and its own capricious nature. The man wore naught but an empty water skin and, and the torn wool tartan.
The dark beast snuffled in the deep blanket of strange pine needles carpeting the area. There was no snow here which was odd, the air was frigid still, but the ground all around appeared thawed as in spring, but in a land of seemingly perpetual winter. The man thought perhaps he might find a hot spring near, but could smell no sulfur. The creature sneezed loudly, blowing great sprays of orange pine needles out of its way. It had found its quarry, digging with ivory white tusks which jutted out like the teeth of some giant mutated beaver, just below and to the sides of its black eyes, bottomless black pools which held no emotion, no reflection. The man had seen this same game played out several times in the last week, month. Long days blended time, and the graying white and cold of the scenery numbed his thinking.
Grubs. Big white grubs with sharp, biting, black beaks. Several were gripped on the beasts shaggy fur around its elongated snout. A black tongue came slowly from its toothless mouth, plucking the biting grubs one at a time, tossing them into the air, catching and swallowing each with a body shuddering shake of absolute gastric glee.
“Chub!”, The man called, in his soft voice, “Save me at least one.”
Chub shoved his fat furry face deep down into the nest of needles, the nearest tree trembling from the roots. More needles flew as Chub cleared the way. After a few moments, full of more shudders as he feasted, and almost as an afterthought, Chub tossed a plump grub over his massive shoulder.
The man turned and caught his meal on the long blade gripped in his withered left hand. The grub was pierced through where it needed to be, avoiding the sack of poison that rested just behind the nasty pincer beak, still biting and snapping. “Nice One,” he mused. He was getting better. Pine grubs were generally a couple pounds each, and this one had begun to turn. They were always best just before the change, afterward they were all poison, and carnivorous.
Chub seemed satisfied for the time being, leaving one tree uprooted in his feeding, while the remaining trees had a distinct ungainly tilt. He circled his shaggy body a few times before settling with a tremendous thump. One of the other pines collapsed next to him.The man admired the beasts grace, its oneness with the waste they travelled. He had not been told anything of his mount, only that it might get him to the Otherside, or might not, depending on luck.
Fuck luck. Life happens, you deal with it, luck or not. Fuck luck. He shook his head slowly, thoughtfully, and painfully. Cobwebs created walls and corridors in his mind, the lands were poison.
He guessed Chub might weigh upwards of half a ton, with huge feet below muscled legs, its long curved head almost lost between massive, curved shoulders. Its tail remained curled up in its thick darkling silver gray fur, unseen. When at rest, as he was now, Chub looked like nothing more than an oval dome of darkness, about five feet high, seven feet long, and maybe four feet wide.
He lit a fire of dead wood while Chub napped, building it high, enjoying the warmth, then letting it become a glowing bed of coals, perfect for roasting the pine grub. He took a thick branch from the uprooted tree and stuck it in front of the snapping black beak. The chubby grubby seized it fast, with almost enough force to snap the green limb. It held strong and would not let go, pine grubs were stupid creatures, before the change. Carefully he removed the poison sack, using his still unsure left hand. He popped it out with a couple quick moves, not thinking of the task. His mind was was doing its daily fade. He needed to eat, but that wasn’t always sufficient to hold the fades at bay. Without thinking, he made sure the ochre sack of death the size of his thumb was safely tucked away in a metal snuff can he kept for such. He took the grub, still alive and still with a death grip on the pine limb, and lowered it onto the dancing crimson bed of pine coals. The grub nestled down among the glowing embers as if happy to be there, no struggle. It wouldn’t even have to be turned, pine grubs cooked up like a dream, the best part of cooking pine grubs, next to the flavor. Grub flesh was white meat that tasted almost beefy.
A screeching rose from the fire, a pitiful rising squeal and shriek that tore at the back of his throat and made his eyes water fiercely. The awful sound intensified until the man could not bear it, then fizzled to a dying steam kettle removed from the flame. It was over quick, thank God. The price of a meal. That was the worst thing about cooking pine grubs. Almost. The death scream of a pine grub carried far in the waste, and there were nastier critters than grubs roaming the waste.
He ate slowly, resting against the hulk of Chub, who was snoring softly. He faced towards what he thought was the brightest section of sky, it was hard to say in the bruised gray light of day where the sun might lay. He thought perhaps, he had a couple more hours before darkness, hoping for a full moon to travel by, then closed his eyes and slept. Chub would wake before in time to be moving beforehand so they would have time to move away from the pine grove.It was certain Chub, even with his robust appetite, had not eaten every grub in the vicinity. Man and beast both knew, through instinct or experience, they needed to be away before the white face of the Moon called the grubs about to change to their feed.
His short rest was troubled, as they usually were. The man did not dream, he nightmared. He slipped into the nightmare of remembering his most recent life when he had been called a Prophet, and then Profit, before being cast out to find the Otherside.
“The World is changed."
“I am changed with it."
“The people follow the Powers of the World blindly across the landscapes of their souls, into the nothingness that is prepared for them. Overnight, minds were lost in dream mists, settling deep into stagnant pools of desire, hate, and despair."
“Puppets and playthings to the Court of Fools. We are no longer any more than this. Entertainment. A diversion from the boredom of godhood."
“The World is changed, I am changed with it."
“I will change the World."
His voice was a powerful force of passion. Few in the roadhouse listening remained unmoved by the tale.
“Before I became who I am, I found the Eye Looking west. Climbing alone on the sheer face of the cliff, I lost my hold and fell to a small ledge. My head struck hard, my face was smashed and swollen. Blood and concussion blurred my sight. Splintered bones ground together in my left arm. How long I lay there, mind lost and bared to the heavens, I will never know."
The man called Prophet paused in his recitation. He closed his eyes to the crowd, breathing deep the magical atmosphere of a captive audience. No one uttered a word, hanging on the silence of anticipation. The bald man opened his eyes again, looking through the people like pale glass.
“I woke as the blood of a sunset colored the horizon. Distant city towers were the black teeth of a powerful demon, biting the sky. The gash in my forehead fevered, and oozed putrid fluids. Convulsions and tremors shook me."
“The hell of the western horizon sickened me more, and I turned to cool granite for comfort. I saw the Eye before me, a cavern dark, deep, and inviting. It was shelter from a life turned cold, a place of rest for my broken body."
“When finally I awoke, and my eyes were opened, I saw as a blind man. No light was allowed there, in the realm of darkness. A panic took me, carrying me deeper into the earth, swallowing me in inky passages thick with age, and disregard for the light. Lost, and insane in my own cavern of pain, I searched, always downward, ever dark."
“The Eye became a throat as I descended. It was saliva thick and choked tight as if a garrote strangled the earth itself.
“I dropped finally into the womb of the earth, and found salvation."
He paused again in his narrative, standing, stretching long like a heron hunting. His good right arm dipped down to a table quickly, snatching up a glass of water, bringing it briefly to his lips, then pouring it slowly over his hairless scalp.
“Water dripping was my World for a time, the constant fall of earth blood. It flowed near me, around me, and I drank of the precious nectar. Sweet, cold as ice, it succoured me as mother’s milk fresh from a swollen breast."
“Pools of healing waters they were to me, swallowing my pain in their frosted liquid embrace."
The eyes of the Prophet glazed, black pools flooding the pale grasslands of his iris.
“Fever and madness became one, and I became the one that was madness and fever. I was the Eye looking inward, into and beyond the darkness the world is. My clothing and possessions were lost behind me in the downward spiral of passages, until I lay unveiled to the ebony universe that was mine. The cold of the upper passages gave way to enfolding warmth."
“I was mad, and may still be. None of us know our true selves, balanced as we are on the knife-edge of sanity. I remember little of my time in that space, except for the madness."
“My dreams became the reality of my soul, undeniable truths written in diamonds on the impenetrable ceiling of a demented mind…"
“In the end, I made my way, returned from the depth to which I had fallen, and came to look west once again. Blind no more, I could see clearly through the bloodied sunsets and polluted days to the once Emerald City. When I emerged into the world again the city was sinking into night, its towers tarnished; teeth decayed, yet sharp still, all the more loathsome in their terrible splendor."
“ Winter winds screamed, and I felt the warmth of the Mother about me. She had cared for me for uncounted days, and the promise of life was mine. In a trance of healing, I sat through the dark months, the snow-white story of the shortened days played out before my dreaming self. The warmth of the Mother’s breath embraced me in my west looking window; the heat from the heart of the world that had kept me in the dark depths of my fever."
“Snow piled all about me, yet I sat alone in the dry shelter of the Eye."
"Finally spring came again to my place in the world, and I heard somehow the painful cries of the city calling me back."
“Naked I climbed the face, my old clothes and self lost and forgotten in some black passage, entombed in the granite below me. It did not matter; I was no longer the man I had been."
“And what kind of man are ya now, ya naked vagrant?.” a puffy man at the back of the bar bellowed out. He was seated at a large table, surrounded by equally puffy, self important people, so it seemed to the speaker. “A good story though, worth a pint. Serve him up.”
Everyone called him Buddy, although he was anything but. He owned the bar, the brewery, the whole damn town, what was left of it anyway. He turned everything into a business proposition preferably profiting only himself.
The crowd was mostly silent, the assembled knew interrupting Buddy could have all sorts of nasty consequences, the least of which was expulsion
‘What kind of man am I?” he asked himself aloud, not answering. The speaker was indeed naked, head to toe hairless, and sexless. Nothing at all was visible in the genitalia department. The man, or creature, had an even pale skin, as one that stayed in from the sun’s rays. Outside the weather was fearsome, a freezing cold and a howling wind from the ice on the peaks above them.
One of Buddy’s boys, Durk Happy, had spied the naked man fishing in the stream, witnessing the him stab into the frigid rushing water with a long knife, and pull up an impaled speckled trout. The knife glistened, no, it sparkled like a gem. Durk felt for his own blade, a rusted memory of a knife. His didn’t glisten or sparkle.
“Why were you climbing a cliff?”, A timid voice from a tiny person asked. “Did you have a reason?” the speaker raised her tone. She was
The simplest of questions all things considered, but no. Memories were mixed and muddled, or gone, perhaps hidden.
Chub reached with his uncurling tail, caressing the man’s face, urging him to wake. The bald man yawned long, opened his pale eyes, flicking the bothersome tail aside. Darkness would be fast upon them. He mounted Chub, and they were off in the same general direction as before. East. Always East.
It was bright tonight. It was a feeding moon. The canyons and slots ended here at the river, and the scablands began.
The ferryman howled at the sky once more,”Moooooon…..”, trailing off to an incoherent babble. Billy-Bob the Boatman he fancied himself, the title carrying little weight among the locals on the west side of the mighty Clumby, but it sounded prime to Billy-Bob’s brain. Pops Bob was dead some seven, ten…years now? Some amount of years Billy cold no longer remember, but he had been left the ferry in the will, and Billy-Bob would be forever grateful to Pops Bob. When the world changed, Billy-Bob was just a boy, a little dark haired boy only his momma could love, but of course momma couldn’t because she was dead. He missed Pops Bob more than anything left in this world, this messed up, miserable world. He only thought it miserable because of the Oldies, the folks that remembered the change, and the life before. Pops wasn’t his birth father, but his father nonetheless, until Pops had wilted from the sickness of the land, and walked off into the night, into the waste. It was a feeding night, full moon, just as tonight.
Bright, huge, and purple ringed, calling more than just changing pine grubs. Billy-Bob shuddered. The land between the mountains west and the Clumby River was bad enough, God help the man stupid, desperate, or brave enough to venture into the scablands that supposedly lay unending to the east. Although the ferry existed for a reason, the river was crossed rarely, and only in recent times by those headed east, quiet dark men, into the waste of all wastelands. Pops Bob had kept the ferry ready at all times, the gold coin placed in the rusted iron box chained to a block of basalt on the far shore was ample payment to keep the ropes fresh, and the lines taut. Billy-Bob didn’t know who put the gold in the box, but he figured it didn’t really matter, either, he was never going any further east than the iron box.
“Mooooooooooon…”, he wailed. The echoes off the canyons to the west had a feeble, discordant return. Echoes from the east, well, Billy-Bob hoped nothing, not even an echo came from the east. The east cared not for what Billy-Bob wanted, beasts unseen and unknown answered back in return. Billy-Bob pulled the old woolen blanket close about him. He floated in the middle of the great river Clumby, held fast to the double ferry lines stretched between shores, the west a gradual descent through the slot canyons, the east a battlement of crumbling basalt cliffs stretching for miles north to south. The cliffs reached a thousand feet above the river, and beyond lay the scablands, or so Billy was told by Pops Bob before his walk into the Scabs.. The river, the Clumby, was a slow running drain with eddies and whirlpools of iridescent, oily water, half a mile from shore to shore of river you wouldn't want to drink of, or put your foot in for fear something might eat you. Billy-Bob figured it was the safest place to be during a feeding moon. The closer to the river you were, the meaner and nastier the pine grubs became, but the damned things couldn’t swim, they sank like chunks of white marble. The possibility of being eaten by pine grubs wasn’t what bothered Billy-Bob’s slowly calculating gray matter this evening, nope, down river on the eastern wall something glowed a sickly orange. Billy-Bob had never seen anything light or living on the eastern side of the river. Never. It danced a little off in the distance, then flickered out like it had never been. Billy-Bob took another pull on his flask, then lit his tiny pipe with its local medicinal herb, another gift from Pops Bob, bundles of the dried and cured plant were packed about the cabin. Smuggler Pops Bob, Billy-Bob guessed. He heard the first screeching calls of feeding and changing. God, it was awful.
The moon was extra large tonight, he thought, wrapping his head with blankets.
“Forty-Two is still active,” the voice was bored, lethargic,”It’s nearing the river.” Lights long inactive on his control panel blinked fitfully, like holiday lights with frayed wires, jiggled by a curious child. One was particularly persistent, an orange one off to the right of the panel, one he had never seen so much as flicker.Sven was fuzzy on what the flashing orange light meant, being drafted into his current career path due to attrition, all the trained techs were dead or gone Dull.. Sven had been contracted to deal with leaks at the facility buried deep below the dessert, so knew some of the operational needs, and leaks there had been aplenty.
Dull happens, Sven considered as he reached for the control panel manual, not that he would understand much of what he might find in the thick, musty old tome. Dull happens, Sven had seen it up close and it scared him silly. Davis himself, head honcho, had Dull moments, those moments when normal, everyday information just vanished from memory. Sometimes it came back but that was rare. The man riding #42 called those moments the fades.
“Harry,” Sven yelled across the control room, yelling because Harry was about as deaf as a rock. “What does the orange flashy light mean, or do. Never saw that one before!” No reply came from the darkened office tucked in the corner next to the airlock door.
“Harry!” he hollered again, “I know yer fat, old, and deaf, but dammit, now there’s three orange lights a blinkin’. I need some answers here.” Still nothing from the corner office. “Are you drunk again?” Sven knew it was a stupid question, Harry was always drunk, Sven guessed all of the remaining crew were a little fucked up all of the time, and a lot fucked up most of the time. Being straight in this happy little funhouse simply wasn’t good for one’s constitution. Sanity, really.
Sven looked at the office door, suddenly lost of purpose. He slapped himself in the face, again and again, but it was no use. He forgot about the blinking orange lights, now a full dozen pulsing in rhythm, prompting a glaring red light to join the symphony of colors on the tarnished panels. Sven slipped down to the dirty tiled floor, overcome by a Dull time.
Harry was of course drunk, but also fallen victim to one of the facilities stronger sedatives. He had seen the orange lights just as Sven had, but Harry knew what they meant and he didn’t care to deal. Harry was experiencing a self-prescribed dull time. Harry might not have made the same decision had he seen the red strobe before the sedative took effect. He was the last director the project would ever have, any possible replacement dead, gone hiding, or changed. Remaining universities in the world, if any, certainly weren’t graduating physicists or geneticists. Witch Doctors or Wizards was more likely.