Monday, September 21, 2009

A Quilt of Memories

Like "The Hermit's Week", "A Quilt of Memories" is the result of a random prompt generator. I was aiming for between 1500 and 2000 words and nailed it: 1775! Enjoy!


A Quilt of Memories

There wasn’t much that Casie could remember anymore, not from before the retirement home. It was the other resident, Andrik, who insisted they knew each other, and who was she not to believe him? She had no reason to doubt him, and the old man had no reason to lie. He even showed her an old lobstered gauntlet as proof that he wasn’t lying about once being a knight. Every day he told her stories about their past, and they were stories she liked hearing, about things she had done while in his company, about adventures they’d had that were gone from her remembered past and now returned as a sort of fabricated one, a patchwork of memories quilted together into a whole. She held onto each of the stories, each of the quilt’s numerous patches, as well as she could, but inevitably, one faded away after another, until Andrik told her a story he had told her before, and she listened with the rapt attention of a child hearing his first heroic tale of wanderers and fierce beasts, and he knew that she had forgotten again.

Andrik regretted that more of the stories he told couldn’t be of love conquering all odds, or romantic horse races across breathtaking landscapes with a final kiss at the end, but that wasn’t how their friendship had been.

“We met near the cliffs, where the fertile land butted up against the desert, and there was a long drop from the grass to the sands. That was where we met, you wandering on foot and me on my charger, all in armor and sweating in the late summer heat. The look in your eyes told me you were thinking about running away, and that you were afraid to run away because you thought I might think you were a thief trying to escape, so you held your ground. We talked. The sun went down, and the sands far below the cliffs turned dark and rolling in what was a surprisingly boring sunset, not at all like the ones in made-up stories. It was blue and purple, the sand, and we talked. I told you about being a knight then. You asked if I had any food to spare. Of course I did, but I didn’t tell you that then; there was still that possibility that you were a thief.”

Casie furrowed her eyebrows and crinkled her forehead in the expression Andrik had come to associate with her both trying hard to remember and trying harder to make a memory of the story. He saw in her eyes the careful stitching as this patch of her memory was sewn to whatever was left and not yet forgotten. He tried hard not to let tears come into his eyes; every day he told her a story that was new to her, watched it add to the quilt, watched as over the weeks, the story fell apart and faded away.

“You insisted that I pay the man exactly the price for the horse, but I refused so many times you nearly gave up and walked away. It would be your horse, you said over and over again, so it should be your choice, but I said it was my money, and I wanted to buy it as cheaply as I could. I was always very stingy with my money, and with my food-- you never let me forget that day we met, when I wouldn’t share my food. You always teased me, saying that I was just being stingy with my food like I am with my money, not that I thought you were a thief. I finally bought the horse for more than I liked but less than you liked, and you named the horse Cheapskate just to annoy me. You always liked to tease me.”

She cocked her head at him. She didn’t talk much anymore now, just listened and smiled and nodded and frowned in all the right places; Andrik almost thought she might remember in her subconscious, that some scrap of each story lingered from before, and that she remembered but didn’t remember that she remembered, and so she couldn’t tell the story if she wanted to, but that when he told it, there was a sort of constant subconscious “Oh, yes!” deep inside her.

“And then the beast disappeared, at least from my vision. But you insisted you could still see its shadow, and you grabbed my sword from me and threw it. You THREW it! I had never been more angry in my life! But it hit, and the beast appeared again, only now my blade was sticking out of it. It thrashed around and finally fell to the ground, dead. I told you since you killed it, you had to pull my sword out and clean it, but what did you do except turn around and LEAVE! So after all of that, all that tracking and getting lost and my saving your life more than once, you killed the beast with my sword and then made me clean it! I was so angry with you! But you said we could just take the reward money and buy you a sword with it then. I told you that you could spend your part of the money on it, but you even disagreed with that. If I didn’t want to share my sword, I needed to provide you with one myself, out of my OWN money or you would just have to keep borrowing mine. I found you a sword, but it was like buying your horse all over again: I paid far too much.”

There had been times when he considered making up new stories, giving Casie some nicer patches for her quilt, more romantic stories to make her smile more, but it just didn’t seem right to make up stories like that. It might change her attitude towards him now, and he didn’t want to change that for the world.

“The ransom was too much money. I had nothing near it. I never quite figured out why bandits would try to kidnap a knight’s friend, anyway, since bandits should have known a knight could easily trounce them. But they tried, and I had to come rescue you. So I traveled day and night, hoping and praying that I would get to you in time. But when I got there, you were playing cards with the bandits! You and the ringleader were talking like you were old friends! When you realized I was there, you just looked up and smiled, and while I was staring, confused and stupefied and all those words a knight shouldn’t have used to describe him, the rest of the bandits pulled me off my charger and tied me up. Only when they had finished and you were done with your card game did you ask the ringleader to have me cut free.”

The day came when Casie couldn’t sit up anymore. Andrik visited her in her room then to tell her the day’s story.

“The church was beautiful: all white and clean, with wreaths of autumn berries and flowers and turned leaves and those little pinecones. I was all dressed up and waiting, but you never saw it, did you? No, you just sent a note. It said that you had changed your mind and didn’t want to change our friendship, and that you had taken my sword and most of my armor and if I wanted it I had to catch you. So I rushed outside of the church and sure enough, there was my charger all saddled and ready, with nothing but my cape draped across his hindquarters. What could I do but chase after you? So I did, and I finally caught up with you, on the very cliff where we first met. We never kissed, you know?”

Casie smiled and closed her eyes, but not in the furrowed “making a quilt” look. She looked peaceful, content. She opened her eyes again and smiled at Andrik and nodded. She was tired and wanted to sleep. Andrik left without another word, just as he always did.

He never told her another story. It was the next morning, just as he was getting ready to go to her room and tell her the next one that his nurse came in. He immediately knew and sat back on his bed, trembling and fighting the unknightly tears welling in his eyes. The nurse held out a big paper grocery bag. His name was written across one side in thick permanent marker. He couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the handwriting was. For a long time, he held the bag in his lap, staring at the writing. The nurse was gone when he looked up again. His hand went into the bag and came up with a heavy blanket. It was a hand-sewn patchwork quilt. This patch showed a knight and an adventurous-looking woman bartering for a horse. Here, the woman was walking away from the knight. Here, a sword was sticking out from a dead beast’s throat. There was a castle, and the one next to it showed a king making a proclamation to the knight. There was a church, there a grassy cliff overlooking a desert. This patch showed the knight and the woman riding one horse, the knight bent over the reins as the woman sat backward, firing arrows behind them. Andrik recognized all the stories in the quilt, every one he’d told her.

The casket was open at the funeral. A nurse helped Andrik walk up to it as he held the quilt close to his chest. Something heavy was wrapped inside it.

“Andrik, she made that quilt for you,” the nurse said as he laid it on top of the closed part of her coffin.

“Maybe she did. But these are her memories, not mine. I simply gave them to her. I wish I had really known her. I’m sure she was some woman.” He patted the quilt. “This is only the life I made up for her. It should go with her.” His hand ran over the fine stitching, the patchwork quilt of memories that weren’t really memories. He could feel the lobstered gauntlet inside, the “proof” of his knighthood. The receipt from the pawnshop was still inside the gauntlet. Three dollars and seventy-eight cents: the only thing in his whole life he had paid full price for. It had been worth it.

Tears fell from his eyes, the kind that a knight shouldn’t shed but the kind that were okay for a penny-pinching former factory worker.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Hermit's Week

The Hermit's Week was a spur-of-the-moment project undertaken on the early morning of 9-20/09. I randomly generated a few story elements and this is what came of it. My goal was to write a short story based on the prompts that got as close as possible to 2500 words without going over. The final tally is 2206, not including the title, so I didn't quite make it. but I am happy with it. Enjoy!


The Hermit’s Week

At first, Sherman thought he’d lost track of the rabbit, which was a problem, because he was ridiculously hungry. But the tinkling sound of hollow sticks hitting together alerted him to the fact the even though he had lost the rabbit, his trap had found it. Sure enough, when he approached the trap, there was the animal, caught in the snare and suspended a few feet above the ground, struggling for freedom. As he released the poor doomed creature from the snare, he began to wonder exactly why it had wandered into the woods in the first place. The land was barren and scorched, infertile and unlivable-- for anything except him.

Prize in hand, he trudged back to his cave. It was far from an ideal dwelling by any standards, and Sherman knew it. He had vague memories from years ago, of trying to live in normal places, but this simply suited him better. A small pot of water was set to boil as soon as he was inside, and the rabbit went into it, fur and all. Sherman wasn’t picky.

Once the rabbit was cooked, on the table it went; he didn’t have much use for plates. A slice from his good stone knife split the beast clean in two. He saw the organs, the bones, and something strange in the animal’s stomach. It was a small, shining object, like something he’d seen before, long ago. It was a whitish-yellow and sparkled in the sun when he took it outside to get a good look at it (after he’d cleaned it off, of course). It was obviously metal, a small round circlet of it, and it fit easily on his middle finger. He decided he liked it.

Men entered the woods the next day, men in long coats with loud voices and long black metal tubes that made thundering crash-blast noises when they pointed them and sent up puffs of smoke. Sherman stayed in his cave and away from the men with their crash-blasts and their hey-yous and their hoy-theres. He wasn’t interested in them.

But he heard one of them approaching, and he certainly seemed interested in him. The man studied the boiled rabbit skin that he’d hung up outside. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with it yet, but if that man tried to take it, there would be problems. He’d found that rabbit. It was his and no one else’s. If someone wanted to come into his forest and take his rabbit skin, there would be problems. Abut he wouldn’t move. These were Sherman’s woods, and Sherman’s cave, and had been since the forest died a long time ago. No one came. Why now? Why the rabbit, and now the men?

“Hoy there! I’ve found it!”

More men came, and all at once they came into the cave and saw Sherman, looking at him, staring with beady little eyes that all looked black and hollow in the dim light.

“He found it.”

“On his hand.

“So that really means…”

“Yep. That makes him the heir.”

Sherman pretended not to notice them or what they were saying, but he was really keeping an eye on all his things to make sure they didn’t try to take anything, especially his new rabbit skin. He wanted to rush out and grab it, to tell them to go away and get out and leave-- without the skin-- but they were in the way, and they had the crash-blast sticks. Instead he didn’t look at them and pretended he told them to go away, so when they did it would be because he had told them to. He picked at the dirt with a stick.

One of the men came forward, without his crash-blast or a hey-you or anything, and started talking directly to Sherman. He used the words “heir” and “king” and “kingdom” a lot, and it all seemed to have something to do with his rabbit and the shiny on his finger. Another of the men even knelt down in the dirt before him, and then all the men did it. Sherman kept poking at the dirt with his stick, then decided he could squeeze past them to go outside. They strangers actually moved out of his way to let him out and followed him, making quiet talking noises to each other as if he couldn’t hear them. He went and checked his snare, but like usual, there were no animals in it. That rabbit had been the first in a long, long time. So he went back to the cave. He took down the rabbit skin and carried it inside with him, lay down, and fell asleep on it.

The men were gone when he woke up. He hung the rabbit skin back outside again. He liked it there, so he could see it when he left and when he came back. The trap was empty when he went to check it, so he went back to the cave. Only now, there were more people, far more than just the men. All sorts of people were there: the men he noticed from yesterday, and women, and other men, and little people who looked like smaller men and women, some in plain colors like the first men, some in bright colors like the woods should have had, some with short hair and some with long like his, some with beards and some without. Sherman looked at them for a long time, and they looked at him. And they all began to shout. It startled him at first, but then he noticed that no one had touched his rabbit skin. It was still where he had left it. He took it down again and carried it inside the cave with him. All the people moved to let him through. The men from yesterday followed him in and began talking again, and then the other people came in a few at a time, but always with one of the other men, and talked to him. He poked at the dirt with his stick, and poked at the rock ceiling with his stick, and relieved himself (not with the stick-- that would have been silly, although he did keep the stick close), he ate and he stretched, and he decided to go to sleep again. He set the rabbit skin on the dirt floor and lay on top of it and went to sleep.

This time, the people were there when he woke up. The men had fallen asleep at the entrance of the cave, and no one else had come in. He stepped over them to leave and check his trap. Some of the people who were not asleep followed him. It was empty. He went back to the cave, and the men brought other people into the cave again. A woman reached out and touched his hand, trembling and weeping as she did. A child exclaimed and pointed. A man stuttered and left without making any real words. Sherman held onto his rabbit skin. Once he took off the shiny and cleaned it again; there was some dirt on it. He relieved himself, and decided to sleep.

He heard people outside talking when he woke up. The lots of people that were by his cave had gotten bigger, always bigger. They kept saying “king” and “grace” and “highness” and “majesty” but Sherman pretended not to hear. He carried the rabbit skin and went to look at the trap.

The hollow sticks were tinkling. There in the snare was a pheasant, hanging by the neck, not moving. He took it down and set the snare again. Some of the people shouted happy noises and some clapped their hands together. Sherman took his prize and went back to the cave.

The pheasant was boiled, feathers and all, in the pot with lots of water. There was no shiny in the stomach of this animal, but Sherman decided it didn’t make him sad. He liked his shiny and decided he didn’t need another. The men brought in people while he ate the bird, and they talked, and they went away, and Sherman finished eating. He poked at the dirt with his stick for awhile, and then drew in the dirt a little. The woman in the cave gasped as he drew, and they waited when he was done and stared at what he drew, and then he stamped it out and the woman left. He took the rabbit skin and poked some of the pheasant’s feathers through it and decided he liked it. He fell asleep with it next to him.

The rabbit skin was still there in the morning. Sherman looked at it again, with the pheasant’s feathers sticking out of it and decided again that he liked it. He picked it up and carried it with him. He took his stick too, and let it drag in the dirt by him as he walked to check the trap. It began to rain when he got there, and soon the dirt was mud, and his stick was getting stuck. He stopped letting it drag, and it didn’t get stuck anymore.

There was the tinkling sound of the sticks again the went along with the rain. The sounds made Sherman smile. He smiled more when he saw a small pig in the trap. It wasn’t moving. He carefully took it out of the trap, listening close to make sure no one was going to take it from him. The mud and the rain were making it hard to walk up the hill to his cave, and once he slipped and fell. All the people that followed him gasped. Some of the men came and tried to lay hands on him and lift him, but he wasn’t going to let them steal his pig and his rabbit skin with the pheasant feathers and steal him, too, so he held out the stick and rapped one on the knee, and they let go and backed away. He got into the cave and put the pot on. The pig went to boil and smelled a way that he liked. He took off his shiny and cleaned the mud off of it so it sparkled again, and then the pig was done. People came in while he ate, and they talked again while Sherman poked at the stone ceiling with his stick.

Then there was a lot of talking outside, and someone came in that was different. This person had a bigger shiny with him, all gleaming and glittery and white-yellow, with little sparkly green and red and blue dots in it. It was much bigger than the other shiny Sherman had on his finger.

The man with the big shiny knelt in the dirt and held his shiny up. He said a lot of words and mentioned “king” a lot, just like the others. He was obviously offering Sherman the shiny, but he had decided he didn’t want any more shinies. He liked the one he had.

The man lifted up his big shiny again and said a lot of words. The other men, from the day after the rabbit, gestured with their hands towards the big shiny and said “king” a lot, too. Now they were all offering the shiny. Sherman shook his head. He didn’t want any more shinies. He liked the one he had.

The men tried a third time to give him the shiny. Sherman opened his mouth. “Look, I’m really just not interested, okay?” He poked one of the pheasant’s feathers through the pig’s ear so it would be attached to the rabbit skin and decided he liked it, so he poked another feather through the other ear, then one through the pig’s tail at the bottom of the rabbit skin. Sherman liked it.

The men were talking a lot now, some in shouts, some quiet. One kept talking to Sherman, trying to get him to talk again but Sherman didn’t say anything else. The man with the big shiny left, and one by one, the people outside left too. The men were the last to go. Sherman drew in the dirt with his stick and then relieved himself, then decided it was time to go to sleep. But first, he hung up his rabbit skin, with the pheasant’s feathers and the pig’s ears and tail, outside where he would see it when he went out to check the trap and then when he came back. He went to sleep.

Everything was quiet when he woke up. There was no one outside, no men sleeping at the entrance of the cave. The rabbit skin with the feathers and ears and tail was still hanging up. Sherman liked it, and he smiled. He went to check the trap.

There was no tinkling sticks, no rabbit or pheasant or pig in the snare. The mud from yesterday’s rain was dry dirt again, and the mud that had gotten on the front of him when he fell yesterday was dry and cracking. He went to the stream that ran near the cave and let the water clean the dirt off his clothes.

Sherman always remembered the rabbit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


So I'm posting every week instead of every other week. And I'm even posting this a day early.

This is Halfway, a short story I wrote at either the tail end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009... I don't remember exactly. Enjoy!


A.F. Grappin

"Thomas, do you take Rebecca, to have and to hold..."

Douglas slouched in the pew.

"...for richer or poorer..."

His arm twitched. He could feel his heart pounding.

" sickness and in health..."

The fingers on his right hand tingled. They were restless. His hand dove into his pocket, searching for his pills. he knew they weren't there; Becky had made him leave them back at the apartment. She said all she wanted from him as a wedding present was for him "not to be popping pills the whole time."

"... as long as you both shall live?"

The ceremony dragged on. It was a struggle to hear the preacher over the other voices in the church. The other people-- his parents, his sister Margaret, and Tommy's family and friends-- were silent. He knew his and Becky's mom was being all teary-eyed; her youngest daughter was getting married! In the silence, Douglas could hear a dozen or more other voices. At least he couldn't see them yet; he'd taken enough of his meds that morning that it made him blind to the faces. It would only last so long, though. Sooner or later, the overdose he'd taken would wear off, and he'd see them all. It would be sooner rather than later. It made him sick to his stomach.

"Rebecca, do you take Thomas..."

The edges of his vision started to blur. No, no not yet. It hasn't even been two hours! He clamped his eyes shut and tried to drown out the voices.

Her dress is beautiful... I miss my mom... God, I wish I could go home... Kill them all!

His eyes shot open. He could feel the sweat pouring down his neck, soaking his collar. Up front, Tommy and Becky were about to kiss. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, hoping that when he looked again, all he would see would be his sister, his new brother-in-law, and the preacher. He put on his glasses and looked.

They weren't alone. Ten other people, their images still a bit fuzzy and indistinct, were gathered around the bride and groom. They were just watching. Thank God they were just watching. They weren't the ones talking. There were more around. He let himself look. There were people scattered throughout the church. By one of the stained glass windows, an elderly woman stood with her hands clasped in front of her. Her contentedsmile showed plainly that she was reminiscing. A small boy sat at the end of one of the pews in front of him, hugging himself. He was the one crying over his mother.

"...present to you Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Clay Wilmington!"

The applause mercifully drowned out the voices for now. The bridesmaids and groomsmen started their procession down the aisle. Then Douglas saw him: a man, dressed in a red button-up shirt and a black vest and pants. His hair was black and hung down in his face in wild, wet tangles. His eyes had a cold, angry look to them. Douglas kept his eyes on the man. He was one of those who would try something. If he did, though, Douglas had no idea how to stop him.

In his peripheral vision, he saw that Becky and Tommy were starting down the aisle. They were just about to pass by him when the man made his move.

He looked straight at Douglas and smiled wickedly. With the fluid swiftness of... whatever he was... the man sped towards the unknowing Becky. His hands were opened in a clawlike fashion. His fingernails were long and black.

"You stay away from her!" He rushed at the man, his hands clenched into fists. He swung wildly, striking at his face, his arms. Someone screamed. He pinned the man down and beat him over and over.

"Douglas! What are you doing?!"

The man smirked at him. You can't touch me... And he was gone. Douglas looked up. Becky was standing with her hands on her hips, glaring at him. The others in the church looked on in confusion. His mother whimpered. He slowly got to his feet. His knuckles were bruised and one was busted and bleeding. He must have been striking the floor, not the man.

Becky scowled. "The only thing I asked was that you not bring those drugs to my wedding, and you couldn't even do that!"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Becky, I don't have them! This is what happens when I'm off the pills!"

"You've ruined my wedding, Douglas!"

He kept his glare. "Well then, excuse me so I don't ruin your reception!" He brushed past her and out of the church.

Walking home was a pain. There were more voices and faces outside, people walking or trudging down the sidewalks with the-- he wasn't sure what to call them-- normal people. His hand dug into his pocket again, searching vainly for the pills that were sitting on the little table next to the door of his apartment.
He almost fell off the sidewalk when one of his feet stepped wrong. His whole body just was not responding right. A silver Lexus pulled up next to him. The tinted window rolled down, revealing a woman wearing mirrored sunglasses and a black tank top. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

"Get in."

Uncertain but not really caring whether or not she was dangerous, he got into the car.

"I saw you leave the church. You need meds?"

"My pills are at my apartment. The Villa, corner of Sixteenth and Cherry Street." He closed his eyes and laid his head back on the sat.

"What do you take?"

He looked at her strangely. "That's a bit personal, don't you think?"

"Open the glove compartment. Take what you need."

He opened the latch and saw a veritable pharmacy. Among the bottles, he actually saw a little bottle of the hard-to-find pills he'd had to take since he was seventeen. He didn't count them out, just popped a palmful of the little red pills into his mouth. It would be a few minutes before they really kicked in, but he still breathed a sigh of relief, just knowing they were in his system. His arm stopped twitching.

A red fox dashed in front of the Lexus. "Watch it!" he yelled.

The woman didn't hit the brake. There was no thump, no squish as the car and the fox collided. They drove on. He closed his eyes again.

"You can't hurt them," she said. "Douglas, right?"

He could feel himself shaking. "Yeah..."

"I'm Anabelle. How long you been taking?"

"Ten years."

"Does it help?"

He opened his eyes and looked at her sideways. "If I take enough of it."

"You started on half a pill?"


"Doesn't get better, does it?"

He didn't dignify that with an answer.

The car came to a stop. He looked; this wasn't his apartment complex.

"This is my place," Anabele explained. "Come on up."

Once inside, he sank onto the couch. She looked at him incredulously. "Aren't you curious?"

"About what?"

"About what?! About me? Or them?"

"As long as I have my meds and I can't see or hear them, I don't care."

He could hear the disappointment thick in her voice. "What about me?"

"I appreciate the lift and the meds, and I'm not going to ask where you got all of those, but I really just want to go home and fall asleep for a few days."

"What if I told you you were being followed?"

He glared at her. "By who?"

She jerked her head towards the window. "A hawk. She followed us all the way from the church. And it's not me she's following."

"I don't care."

Anabelle let out a loud, exasperated sigh. "Come on; I'll take you home."

She dropped him off at the Villa and stayed parked until he was out of sight. She rolled down her window. "Come back with me. I want to talk to you." She drove off alone, not looking in her rear view; she knew the hawk was following.

* * *

The doorknob to Douglas's flat turned slowly and silently. Douglas was in too deep a sleep to notice. A woman clad in black stepped in softly, her feet covered not in shoes, but in several layers of sock so they made no sound on the cheap linoleum floor. She peered into the bedroom and saw him fast asleep. His mouth hung open, and he was snoring loudly. She padded in, lifted the bottom of the black wool cap that covered her face. She leaned down and kissed his forehead gently. "I’m sorry."
She took something and left the apartment.

* * *

Douglas didn't have the money to get another bottle of pills yet; payday wasn't until Thursday, and it was only Sunday. He spent the whole morning and much of the early afternoon tearing through his apartment looking for them, and he found nothing. He finally collapsed from sheer exhaustion. He was starting to see them and hear them now that he wasn't so focused on searching. There were a handful around him, standing over him, murmuring. He picked up snatches of their conversations, discussing a woman who had come into the apartment last night.

He got to his feet despite his protesting body. He was weak and dripping sweat. He felt frozen to the very core of him. He struggled into a sweater, ignoring the dry July heat. Where had Anabelle lived? What complex? He wasn't sure where. He thought about jacking one of the bikes on the rack outside, but he doubted he'd have the strength to ride-- walking was hard enough. His legs felt stiff.

Maybe she lived downtown. It was where the rich people lived, and she did drive a Lexus. He headed that way, forcing his legs to take one step after another. A man in a business suit carrying an attache case shoved past him. He fell to his knees and knew he couldn't force himself to get back up again.

He heard footsteps and managed to raise his head. There was the man in red and black he'd seen at his sister's wedding. His eyes watched him coldly from under that head of tangled, wet hair. He snickered. You'll be able to feel me now, he said in a voice like a rusty saw. He kicked Douglas in the side, sending him falling into the street.

Douglas landed on his back. His eyes were drawn to a nearby light post. Perched at the top was a blue-and-grey hawk, her head tilted slightly as she looked at him.

A loud semi's horn honked. The man in read grinned that horrible, twisted grin. "You'll be able to feel that, too." He realized he heard the man's voice with his ears, not in hid head.

The hawk cried at the same moment the semi crashed into him. Everything went white.

* * *

Becky was crying hysterically. Her husband of two days, Tommy, had his arms around her, but she was inconsolable. Her sister, Margaret, was nearby, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

Another woman walked in. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a dark suit with a knee-length skirt. A pair of black-rimmed glasses made her look like a CEO.

"Thanks for seeing us, Anabelle," said Margaret. "I figured you could explain it to Becky better than I could."

"Of course," she replied, sitting primly on the edge of a chair and removing her glasses. Her eyes were such a pale blue they were almost white. "Margaret told me that something traumatic happened to your brother ten years ago. A... motorcycle wreck?"

Becky nodded, tears streaming down her cheeks. "He... was on marijuana, I think... it head-on with a pickup... it was a miracle he survived."

"Not really." She held up a little bottle of red pills. "This drug was developed by doctors and biologists in Europe for the purpose of rehabilitating human vegetables. It's a stimulant-- I won't bother trying to pronounce the name-- that forces the brain and the whole nervous system to function. It's purpose was to bring those who had suffered brain damage back to a state of functioning so they could at least take care of themselves alone. The pills are expensive, but less costly than round-the-clock hospital care. This is what your brother was on."

"But... he didn't suffer brain damage in the accident. His head was about the only thing that was fine. He broke every other bone in his body, I think. They were sure if he did survive, he would be paralyzed from the neck down. He fractured his spine in half a dozen places," Becky said. Her tears were drying.

"Douglas was an experiment. He actually should have been paralyzed. The pills were what kept him going."

Becky looked mad. "What about the hallucinations?" Her tone was accusing. Tommy patted her shoulder.

Anabelle looked at her calmly. "Do you believe in ghosts?"

Becky scoffed. "Of course not. I'm an adult."

Anabelle gave her a severe look. "Then I won't bother explaining the 'hallucinations'. Suffice it to say that Douglas had no trace of his meds in his system when he died. It's probably why he couldn't get out of the way of the semi that hit him. His body wasn'tresponding.The pillswere nowhere in his apartment, and they weren't on his person. Police are saying they were probably stolen."

Becky went pale. "I... just wanted him to beat the addiction! I thought... they were..." She ran from the room. Tommy hurried after her.

Margaret looked at Anabelle. "I knew she wouldn't understand."

"About the ghosts?" Anabelle shrugged. "Douglas has been halfway dead for ten years, and I don't think he really realized what they were. I'm actually amazed he went on this long. Most subjects only go three years or so." She looked at the door where Becky had gone. "Neither he nor Becky put much stock in the supernatural, do they?"

Margaret smiled. "Why do you think I never told them about me?"

Anabelle only smiled back.

Margaret looked at her watch. "I have to go. I'm meeting my parents at the funeral home."

Anabelle watched as Margaret strode to the window. The woman faded away, and a blue-and-grey hawk flew off.


Once again, all comments are welcome!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Gamer

I've decided to start posting my writings online. My plans are to post something every other Wednesday. Any and all comments are welcome.

So here's the first installment: The Gamer, a short story written in fall 2005.


The Gamer
A.F. Grappin

Korix stared, only half-interested, at the screen of his computer. Image after image of people in various fantastic styles of dress flickered across the monitor, one after another, each on the screen for only seconds. Each image belonged to someone– someone real, just like him– teenagers, mostly, but certainly there were adults who played the game, some even more obsessed with it than the teenagers were, probably. But Korix didn’t play. He never played any of the games that were offered– for free or for a price– on the Gaming Network. There were thousands, tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of games on the Gaming Network, but Korix didn’t play any of them. He never played. For two reasons.

First of all, Korix was a writer, something practically unheard of these days, and that was how he liked to spend the majority of his time. Korix would spend hours in his apartment’s little living room, sitting on the lumpy couch in front of the TV. He almost never turned on the TV; he wasn’t even sure why he had one. He spent his hours on the couch with his portable computer console, typing and typing and typing, without rest, sometimes without eating, developing plotlines and characters until, more often than not, he fall asleep with the computer in his lap. It was his passion, but it didn’t quite pay the bills.
The other reason he never played the games was a little more personal to him than even his writing. Korix’s eyes darted to the computer screen, where the pictures continued to show for brief moments, one after another.

“Humans,” he muttered under his breath. “They’re all humans.” He reached out and flipped the monitor off with one of his long fingers. His hands, with their tiny palms framed by five very long, slender, almost twig-like fingers, were just one of the more obvious features of his that gave away his parentage. Rarely did a human fall in love with an Aerildan, and even rarer were the occasions that such a couple produced children. But that’s exactly what had happened with Korix’s parents. Lauren Barker had fallen in love with Xan, one of her Aerildan servants, and Korix had been the result of their union. Mostly-human features named him human-born, but the exaggerated proportions of those features– his seven-inch-long middle fingers, for example– proclaimed his Aerildan heritage as surely as if he were full-blooded instead of a half-breed.

The computer whirred softly. It was still running. Korix let it run. Why ruin a half-day’s work just because he was pissed off that his parents had managed to have him? It was pointless.
Someone knocked on the door to his apartment. He made no move to answer it. The door was unlocked; anyone who knew him would know that.

The door opened. “Richard? You here?”

Richard. Korix’s legal human name. He hated it. But he had to go by it, or he wouldn’t be considered human, no matter what his parentage. He was pretty sure if his parents had been the opposite– if he had been born to an Aerildan mother instead of a human one– that he wouldn’t count as being human in society. If he was born of an Aerildan woman, who would believe his father weren’t Aerildan, no matter how human he looked? The racial inequality made him sick.

Allen appeared in Korix’s scarcely-furnished bedroom and sat on the bed, squinting to see in the dim light. “Why are you sitting here in the dark?”

Korix flipped his computer monitor back on, bathing the room in an artificial glow as the images flickered across the screen.

Allen leaned forward and squinted at the screen. “What game are those from?”

“Night of the Master.”

“Oh. That explains why I don’t recognize them. I’ve never played it. Is the game any good?”

Korix looked at Allen slyly out of the corner of his eye. “It will be once I’m done with it.”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Rich. About tampering with the games like you do. I think you should stop.”

“Eh.” Korix waved a dismissive hand at Allen, turned the dismissive wave into a stretch, and leaned back in his chair, lacing his long fingers together to support his head.

“Really, Rich. I think they’re on to you.”

Korix’s relaxed position disappeared with amazing speed. “What do you mean, ‘They’re on to me,’ Allen? Who’s on to me?”

“The Gaming Board. You know those games aren’t just there for entertainment.”

Korix ran a hand through the little hair he had on his head and leaned forward, resting his elbow on his computer desk to think. The fingers on his free hand tapped aimlessly on his leg. After a moment that seemed too short to Allen and too long, Korix sighed and looked at his friend. “I’m not stopping. If it weren’t for me, no one would play those games anyway.”

Allen shook his head. “You’re getting in over your head, Rich. They know you’re– well, not you, but someone– is hacking into their systems and changing their games. I know you enjoy the challenge, and you make the games more popular, but... those games are the way they are for a reason.”

“Allen, I’m not stopping. Games are supposed to be entertaining, not that brainwashing drivel the Gaming Board intends them for.” Out of the corner of his eye, Korix saw that the images had stopped flickering across the screen. Without a word, he was at his keyboard, inputting keystroke after keystroke onto a screen that made almost no sense to Allen.

“They’re going to find you if you keep hacking into the system like this, Rich. People have to play the games. There’s no way around it. It’s either play or get the subliminal messages they put into them the other way. No one beats the system.”

Without looking away from the keyboard or the computer monitor, Korix answered, “I’m above the system.”

Allen stood from his seat on the bed and put his hand on the keyboard. “No you’re not, Richard. No one is above the system. That’s part of what they teach you in the games, anyway. No one ever wins.”

Korix batted Allen’s hand away. “Every game I fix proves that wrong. Games I change can be beaten. It’s just a matter of time until someone realizes it. Someone will win, and then...”

“They’re going to find you. And once they find out who you are...”

Korix slammed his hands on the computer desk, upsetting a stack of papers and sending them scattering on the floor. He jumped to his feet.

“That’s what this is about, isn’t it? The whole ‘I’m only half-human’ thing, isn’t it? You don’t want to see the Aerildans challenge the human government, do you? You don’t want equality! You’d rather see people like my father doomed to clean up after people like your human father until you destroy this planet like you did Earth, and then you’ll move on, leaving us to clean up the entire planet after you! That’s it, isn’t it, Allen? Admit it!”

“No! No! That’s not it at all! I’m your friend, Rich! Really! I just don’t want you to get in trouble! It has nothing to do with your fath...”

“Get out of my apartment, Allen.”

“But, Richard...”

“Get OUT!”

Allen quietly retreated from the apartment, closing the door behind him. Korix stood angrily by his computer for a few long minutes before storming to the door and locking it, just to make sure Allen wouldn’t come back right away. He’d come back again, probably tomorrow, and intent not to mention any of the games again for a long time. Korix wasn’t sure if he’d let Allen back in the apartment tomorrow or whenever he returned. He probably would... but not if he was still in this mood tomorrow.

Korix stood at his door for a while, just standing, leaning his forehead against the door, willing himself to calm down. He didn’t like being mad at Allen. They had been close friends since their early teens, but as they got older, they grew further and further apart. Allen’s parents were low government officials, and Allen himself was following after them. A friend like Korix– a half-breed– was not a good friend for him to have if he wanted to get anywhere in the political system. Having Korix for a son had certainly done nothing for Lauren Barker; before she had her son, she had been a promising candidate to be Mayor for this particular nameless city on the planet. But once the paternity of her child became public knowledge, her status in the government was gradually lowered. Now, she was just a clerk in some obscure office. It was better for Allen if the friendship ended. Korix decided then that he wasn’t going to let Allen back in the apartment again, for his own good.

Korix finally stepped away from the door and slumped onto his couch, rather upset with how his day had gone so far. His portable computer sat on the beaten-up old table that took up the space between the couch and the TV. Korix picked up the computer and began to write.


Allen left the apartment building feeling rather down. He paused just outside the door and looked back up towards Korix’s floor. “I tried to warn you.”

A rather compact, bitter-looking woman with sunken eyes and hair severely tortured into tight curls stood on the opposite side of the street next to a rather official-looking vehicle. Allen sullenly climbed into the vehicle behind her. The vehicle began to move, and Allen did his best to busy himself with the view out the tinted window and not feel the woman’s sharp eyes digging into him. She didn’t say a word, but he knew what she wanted to know.

“He’s not going to stop. He’s stubborn. I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“Then I’m afraid we’ll have to apprehend him.”

“Just... give me more time. He’ll come to his senses. Give me a few more days! I’ll get him to stop messing with the games!”

“We can’t have this sort of interference happening with the programs. If he won’t stop by choice, we will stop him by force.”

“Just... another few days! Three! Three more days! And I’ll get him to stop.”

The woman’s gaze never wavered. Her sharp, sunken eyes bored holes into Allen’s as she seemed to scrutinize every inch of him. “You’ve already had a week, Mr. Steed. You have two days.”

The vehicle stopped, and someone opened Allen’s door for him to get out. He just stared at the woman, who met his stare unmercifully. Knowing he was beaten, Allen got out of the vehicle and watched it disappear down the road. He shook his head. “Listen to me, Rich. Listen to me.”


The rather insistent knocking woke Korix from his uneasy slumber, but he made no move to answer the door. He never did.

The doorknob turned, but the deadbolt didn’t allow the door to be opened. Korix knew who it was. He stared at the door. He was still in the mood he had been in yesterday. He closed the still-running portable computer in his lap and put it back on the beaten-up old table.

The knock came again. “Richard, I know you’re in there. Let me in. I really need to talk to you.”

Korix went into his kitchen to look for food.

The knock came again, harder. “Look, Rich. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you need to stop meddling with the games! The Gaming Board knows it’s you who’s doing it! They’re going to arrest you!”

There was a half-eaten sandwich in his refrigerator. He started eating it as he sat at his main computer. The work he had been doing on it yesterday was still up. The knocking and yelling continued as Korix
finished his sandwich and resumed the work he was doing. He tuned out the sounds made by Allen. Their friendship was over. For Allen’s good.

Korix only really noticed the sound when Allen finally gave up and stopped. The sudden silence made Korix... almost a little uncomfortable. Shaking off the odd feeling, he continued typing, entering command after command to “fix” the game he was working on at the moment. Nearly every game was the same, they just looked different. They were set in different worlds with different rules and different plots and objectives. In truth, though, they were basically variations on the same thing– the player was supposed to fight some terrible monster, evil overlord, corrupt organization, or other such threat to the safety of the world. But the games were programmed so that no matter how much a player played, no matter how strong their character got, and no matter how many players banded together to fight, the game always won. It didn’t bother Korix so much– at least it wouldn’t have bothered him so much– if any humans actually played the games. But humans couldn’t even access the Gaming Network. It had been designed as “entertainment” for the Aerildans, as a “reward” for all the hard work they did. But the hard work they did consisted of one thing– serving the humans. Aerildans were second-class citizens at best. Every one of them that Korix met was a janitor, or a maid, or some other low-level laborer who was grossly overworked and drastically underpaid.

Korix knew that the Gaming Network wasn’t really for entertainment or a reward. It was control. The Aerildans were practically forced to play the games; there was nothing else they could do in their spare time– what little spare time they had, anyway. In every game, the images of the characters were humans. The games were unbeatable... it was enough to make Korix fly into a rage. But what was worse, the Aerildans didn’t see the games for what they were. Or at least, they didn’t act on it. The humans were outnumbered by Aerildans on this planet nearly four-to-one, but no one raised a hand to overthrow the crooked human government. This was one of maybe fifty or sixty planets the humans had evacuated to when the Earth “died”– when all the resources were gone and the planet was no longer habitable. But now they were destroying the world of Korix’s people. And they were destroying the people themselves while they were at it.

His computer beeped. Someone was sending him a message. Allen, most likely. Korix sighed and opened his message window.

Rich, please don’t delete this before you read it. Look, they know it’s you. They contacted me first to see if I could get you to stop, but you wouldn’t listen to me, and now they’re really getting angry. Please, please stop. I’ve only got two more days left to convince you to stop, or... I don’t know what they’ll do to you. Please, Rich. I don’t want to lose my best friend.

Korix closed the message and shook his head. Two days. Well, he could finish Night of the Master in two days.

The computer beeped again.

We are still friends, right?

He closed the second message without replying and sighed heavily, thinking about the whole situation.

He couldn’t allow Allen to be his friend anymore, so what did he really have to lose?

“Damn network.”

The knocking came again, less insistent, but just as annoying. Korix sighed and got up from his chair. If Allen was this stubborn, he might as well let him in, even if it was just so he could throw him out again. Maybe then he’d get the idea.

Korix unbolted the door and let it swing open. A rough hand seized the front of his shirt and pulled him roughly out of his apartment. He was forcefully pressed against a wall and was only dimly aware of people rushing into his apartment. The rough hand kept his face pressed uncomfortably against the cold wall, so he couldn’t see what was going on in his apartment, but he could hear it. Whoever was in there was going through his things, but at least it didn’t sound like they were breaking anything. He waited angrily for the sound of his computer being ruined, but the sound didn’t come. He heaved a nervous sigh of relief when he heard the people leaving his apartment and going down the hall. The rough hand kept its hold on him, but now he was pulled away from the hall and pushed assertively down the hall after them. From the back, all he could see were perhaps a half dozen people– humans, of course– in dark blue and scarlet tight-fitting uniforms made of some synthetic fiber. There was no sort of identification that he could see from the back.

A dark blue and scarlet official vehicle was waiting right outside the door to the apartment complex when Korix and his captor exited the building. The uniformed people dispersed and headed off in different directions, but Korix was pushed towards the vehicle. A small group of people had gathered to see what was going on. Korix managed to pick out Allen’s chestnut-haired head near the door of the vehicle.

“Rich, I’m sorry. I tried to warn you.”

Korix turned an icy glare at him. “You said I had two more days.”

“That’s what I was told! I didn’t lie to you Rich, I swear!”

The rough-handed person began to force Korix into the vehicle. Allen was still adamantly arguing that he played no part in this apprehension when the door was closed and the vehicle started down the road. Korix sank back into the surprisingly comfortable seat and stared at the window. They were tinted completely black, so no one could see in, but he couldn’t see out, either. There was a divider between him and whoever was driving, keeping him completely alone. Glancing at the door, he noticed there were no interior handles. The vehicle– at least the back part of it, where he was seated– could only be opened from the outside.

The ride didn’t last very long. Before he knew it, the vehicle slowed to a stop, and the door was opened, letting him out. Korix had hardly gotten out of the vehicle when he was surrounded by perhaps ten of the uniformed people, who began almost immediately walking, leading/pushing him forward to... he didn’t know where.

He was in a building, he knew that much. Undecorated walls framed a small sort of a garage, though there was no door to be seen that the vehicle could have fit through. The only door he could see was a very plain door, the color of concrete, and it looked as though it had actually been made from it.
Despite its appearance, the uniformed man who seemed to be the leader of his guards opened it easily, without any sort of strain, and the door swung freely open, allowing passage into a hallway Korix could only put one word to: sterile.

The hall was not quite white, but not quite any other color, and it was brightly lit by a light source he couldn’t find. He had a fairly easy time looking around; the long neck he had inherited from his father made him tower almost two feet over his guards. There was no one else in the hallway for as far as he could see, but that wasn’t very far. The bright lights in the hall bounced off the walls– white or not, they reflected light as though they were mirrors, and it made seeing clearly a little difficult.

The hallway wasn’t nearly as long as he thought it was. He didn’t realize he was being pushed/led through a door until he was almost through it. He found himself in a colossal, silvery room filled with desks topped with the best computer terminals money could buy. People were working at the computers, their long, dexterous fingers making keystroke after keystroke; the incessant clicking made an almost technological symphony of strange white sound in the room. Lightly in the background, Korix could hear actual music playing, soothing instrumental work that did nothing to cover the clicking of the keyboards. It didn’t need to cover it, though. The clicking was soon easily and, in fact, almost automatically, tuned out by Korix’s ears.

The guards continued to lead Korix forward, down a sort of aisle in the center of the room, between the rows of desks, and Korix looked over the heads of them to see the workers. He couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping when he realized that every one of them– every single one– was Aerildan. Besides his guards, there were no humans in sight, and no half-breeds like him, either. At each computer was a full-blooded, long-featured Aerildan. Men and women– and some teenagers and children, even– worked at the computers, some with text on their screens, some with images of humans, or of landscapes, or of fantastic creatures or machinery...

“Games...” Korix whispered under his breath.

Another door opened in front of the guards, and the circle that surrounded him opened in front so he could walk in alone. Still more than a little surprised to see such a huge room filled with his father’s people, Korix entered the room alone. The door closed behind him.

This room was much smaller. It felt almost cramped compared the huge computer room. And compared to the computer room and the hallway, this room was... homey. The floor was hardwood polished to a shine, and the walls were painted a warm creamy color. A pale yellow wood desk sat atop a dark rose rug that accented the room nicely. A woman sat at the desk. An Aerildan woman.

“You must be Richard, “she said, smiling in an almost motherly fashion. “My name is Risa. Please, have a seat.”

Korix slowly sat in the big, dark rose-colored chair and looked rather suspiciously at Risa.

The Aerildan woman’s smile never wavered. “I understand you have an Aerildan name.” She held up a paper and looked over it for a moment. “Korix, correct? Would you rather I address you by that name?”
Korix couldn’t believe this was happening. But... What exactly was happening? He found himself nodding. “Yeah... I do prefer that name.”

Risa smiled. “Okay, then, Korix. Welcome to the Gaming Network. I’m sure you know what was taking place in the other room?”

He nodded slowly. “Were they the programmers?”

Her smile never so much as flickered, even as she spoke. “They are the developers, the designers, the programmers, the testers... every aspect of the games is controlled by the people you saw out there.”

“So... what do you do?”

“I oversee the production, distribution, and policing of the games on the Network.”

Korix repeated her words silently, his mouth forming the sounds in disbelief. “You...”

“Yes. I’m the Gaming Board. And you’ve been tampering with my games.”

Not surprisingly, and definitely not intentionally, Korix felt himself blushing.

“Why have you been tampering with the games, Korix?”

He hung his head, considering his answer. “The games are... repressive to my... our people. Only Aerildans play them, but their characters are always human, and the games never end. The final objectives cannot be completed. I’m... fixing them...”

“Explain how you ‘fix’ them, please.”

“Slight modifications to character design... I elongate the basic frames of the characters to make them appear more Aerildan.”

Risa jotted something onto the papers in front of her. Korix didn’t notice. “What else?”

Korix couldn’t explain his irresistible desire to tell the truth to this woman. He just couldn’t stop himself.

“It’s small changes, really. Decrease the relative difficulty level of the final boss or whatever, depending on the game, increase the abilities of the players’ characters... that’s just a modification to the percentage of ability increase at every stage of game play.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Korix still had his head down, looking blankly at the rug under his feet. “So... what happens to me now?”

Risa stood and walked to the side wall. A door camouflaged within the wall slid open, and a half-breed man entered. Rather pudgy and balding, he was in his middle years and was dressed in the same dark blue and scarlet uniform as the people who had arrested Korix. The evidence of his Aerildan half wasn’t nearly as pronounced as Korix’s was.

“Korix, this is Marshal.”

Marshal shook Korix’s trembling hand with his beefy one. “It’s an honor to meet you, Korix, is it? I’m
sorry, I’m used to hearing you referred to as Richard. I have a proposition for you.”

“An honor to meet me? What?”

Marshal didn’t seem fazed by Korix’s questions. “I’d like to offer you a development position in the Secondary Gaming Network.”


Marshal nodded. “About two years ago, a petition was brought to us. Apparently, much of the human population here is jealous of the Aerildans’ Gaming Network and want one of their own. We’ve been duplicating the servers and trying to find programmers, but we’re short on them. Humans don’t seem too interested in technology anymore, especially in making programs. We need people like you who have the ability and can program Aerildan characters.”

“Aerildan characters? Why?”

“We’re making the Secondary Gaming Network for the humans for the same reason the first one was created for the Aerildans.”

Korix was completely baffled.

Marshal seemed to pick up on that. “The Aerildans wanted to pretend to be humans. Korix, the humans want these games for the same reason: so they can pretend they’re Aerildans, at least for a little while.”


Thanks for reading! Remember, all comments are welcome! See you on September 23!