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Saturday, 12 November 2005

Disoriented

Sandra was disoriented on the drive home from the hospital. Despite the pain killers, her body ached all over, especially where the doctor had stitched her up.

Her mother, hater of the highway and lover of nature, took the gravel roads home to the little blue house on Flang Drive that her daughter had fallen in love with. Large maples drifted past, their leaves abloom in reds, oranges and yellows. Sandra watched one leaf plummet towards the car and willed it to slow before it was run over.

It hit the windshield and with one swipe of the wiper blades, its mangled remains dove for the ditch. Timing, the cruel harbourer of fate.

The accident flashed into focus. The red truck, the telephone pole, the crunching sound. The sirens that took ages to creep any closer, as though they were stuck in quicksand on their way to rescue the latest victims. Then the beeps of monitors and stabs of needles. Sandra remembered the IVs most vividly, a painful prick in a sea of torment.

Now, in the bright daylight, with nature ablaze all around her, she could not place herself within the world. She lived in the nether-region of humanity, the places where time means nothing, where one minute you're in a car and the next in recovery. The territory where pain hitches a ride on a freight train and hops from car to car, looking for the best place to settle. Sandra's train neared the station, and soon pain would transfer to another destination.

Sobs waited to erupt from her lungs, but she couldn't birth them yet. Not surrounded by joyous sunshine. The world would scold her for such rudeness. She would save her collapse for the house. Or perhaps the driveway. Close enough.

Her mother kept glancing over at her, asking, "Are you okay?" How many times could Sandra say she was fine before it sank in?

"Oh, look," said her mother. She pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. "Do you see her?"

She pointed to the left where a deer stood staring at the car. The women waited in silence for the doe to bolt. Yet she stood still.

Then she reached up and yanked leaves off the branch of a chestnut sapling. As she chewed her snack, she watched the car.

Sandra said, "She'll be ready for winter soon."

"Yes."

The tight feeling in Sandra's chest eased. The cry that had lingered for the drive home caught the current of an unseen wind and drifted away. What remained was a kinship with the doe. We're both preparing for the hardship ahead.

Monday, 24 October 2005

Limelight

Colin promised me that after four years in the limelight, he'd retire. It's been fourteen. And we still live out of a suitcase and call a van home.

That's show biz, I guess.

I'm a writer. I don't call myself an author because that would imply that I've actually published something. But I make time to write every single day.

For the last two weeks, ever since that empty gig in Cleveland, I've been writing the same thing in my notebook. It's more like lines--the type of repetitive sentences that the teacher would make me write for doing a "thumbs down" to the brown noser whenever he answered a math question or sauntered up to the front of the classroom to claim another honour. Back then the line was, "I will not give a thumbs down to Kevin Snochiez." Now the line is, "I will leave Colin before I turn forty."

It's a got a ring to it.

I've stopped trying to change him. The little guy feels naked without his guitar. And the only time his smile seems genuine is when he's jamming a new blues riff with his friends.

I don't know what it is about the name Colin. Ladies, if you ever have a baby and you don't want him to fall in love with a guitar, then don't name him Colin. Go with Chase, Cassidy, or Cobra even, pick ANY other name that starts with a "C". Leave Colin be.

I mean it.

There have got to be dozens of Colins doing the blues circuit in Canada alone. Colin James and Colin Linden come to mind first, but I could name a half-dozen others. No point though. The end result is the same.

Getting back to my woes, I bought a new notebook at the dollar store yesterday, while Colin and the boys were eating at the Denny's. I can't stand that greasy crap. I'd rather eat a salad in the van. Anyway, the new book has a big, bright, cheery flower on the front. I'm usually not one of those "frilly-girl" types, but this one caught my eye. It screams, "Joy," and that's what I need to finally write my novel. I'm gonna start planning the plot today. In the new book. On page one. Where all the good stories have to start.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Restore

I set myself the goal of three months to restore the ship. Seemed like enough time to get the parts I needed. Ninety days of tracing short circuits and swapping loose couplings and I'd be off Forbi for good.

I had enough cash to keep my rent up until then. Good thing, since my scum-lord would eat me if I couldn't make rent. Nasdool sent regular comp cheques for wrecking my back in the "incident". They paid a lot of us off. We traded money for our silence; a good deal in my books. I'm no stoolie. Besides, I was probably partly to blame for what happened.

The screaming haunts me at night. Len and Brod, they worked on level eight in my sector that night. I was up to my elbows in coolant, swapping out a bad seal on the forechurners when the turbines started to fail. Without circulation, the air up on six and higher got ripe fast. Len and Brod didn't wear their gear regularly, none of us did. The stuff weighed over a hundred pounds and even with the point-six-gees factor, we couldn't maneuver into tight places suited up.

So they rabbited.

I heard the alarm and scrammed out from under churner three. Brod secured a line, hopped the railing, and started to rappel down to safety. I saw Len up there, and yelled at Brod to pick him up.

His line couldn't hold their combined weight. I knew, but I figured the load reqs were understated. I was wrong.

I watched my friends fall, saw their panicked faces, heard their last screams of fear. Then the chunk of railing that Brod used to secure his line landed on me.

Monday, 10 October 2005

Cozy

The old leather chair by the fireplace was so cozy that I slept in it often. So many times, in fact, that I lost all track of the days.

I was between jobs. The kind of between where food comes out of a can and the heat comes from trees in the neighbourhood parks. If someone came to the door, I wouldn't answer. If the phone rang, I ignored it. But it didn't ring any more since I let that bill slip.

Eventually the cans ran out and the wood got used up, so I had to admit that the world held what I needed--a job. I washed my best clothes in the sink, dried them in the sunshine, and headed to the local hire-front.

I'd passed it on the bus on my way to my old job. It was a storefront on the run-down side of downtown, with a big glass window painted with the slogan "Work Today, Get Paid Today." Luckily, the place was still in business.

I picked the only red plastic chair and sat down. A lady behind a Plexiglas window slid it across and said, "Please register."

I stood and approached the window. A clipboard with a wrinkled piece of paper was covered in the scribbled names of trampled men. I printed my own. The letters looked scattered and jiggly, like I'd trapped my elbow in a washing machine. I hadn't written much in a dog's age.

I sat again in the red chair and leafed through battered magazines. I looked at the pictures mostly, reading wasn't something I fancied. Some of the faces looked familiar; a president here, a movie starlet there, burned-out buildings in wore-torn cities. The news was old but familiar. I could have been reading last week's or last century's events. No matter. Big things only happened to big people. And I was a member of the insignificant micro-people. The ones who society pretends don't exist.

Did I exist? I wasn't sure any more.

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

Wide

Her hips were wide--big enough to birth a decent baby but not so large that they wouldn't fit into the seat of a Mustang convertible. Not that Bill owned a stang yet.

He watched for her from his Chevette on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. He would wait outside the Starbucks on Pico then follow her in.

She didn't order the same drink every time. She had a short list though: Caffè Americano, Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino, and Cinnamon Spice Mocha. Three drinks on which to build a foundation of living the good life.

For three months Bill had been building up the courage to ask her out. He wasn't much to look at, with his receding red hairline and his freckled cheeks. His over-abundance of arm hair was a particular sore spot on his self esteem-o-meter, but he chose long sleeves to mask the issue. The second Thursday in February was the perfect day for the big nudge. If she said yes, he'd spend Valentines Day with a woman for the first time since his mom took him for ice cream in the fifth grade.

Bill waited inside the Starbucks, holding a copy of the L.A. Times in one hand and his sunglasses in the other. He leaned against the door frame, doing his best to be ready to approach her and also not block the entrance for the other morning patrons. He didn't want to offend the employees, or they might ask him to leave, or worse ban him from the store.

She stepped through the door, wearing a pink skirt and a brown leather jacket with a striped scarf.

He took a deep breath.

She dropped a penny.

He lunged to grab it before she could.

"Here." It came out slightly louder than he'd planned as he thrust the penny towards her face. "I'm Bill. What's your name?"

"Thanks, Bill." She turned her attention to the Starbucks menu board.

"I didn't catch your name," he said.

"I didn't offer it."

"I've seen you in here. I thought we might get together for a coffee sometime. Here, or anyplace you like. Maybe tomorrow, I know it's not your regular day, but--"

"No thanks." She left the line up and hurried out the door. Bill never saw her again.

Monday, 3 October 2005

Clean

Since I moved to Nabdona, I've never felt clean.

The indigenous people cleanse themselves with hot sand. They warm the granules over a fire or in an electric oven and then scrub their skin raw. I don't prepared the sand myself. Kejru and I usually visit the sand bars.

During our welcome tour, the guide brought us to the Hacclad bar--a huge pit filled with fine granules and epithelials. I shudder whenever I imagine the countless pieces of patrons brewing and ripening in the pit. The bar itself was built over hot vents, so the sand is kept at a constant temperature. Sifters turn the contents every hour, and particulates drop through screens in the base to be "reclaimed". Kejru summoned the courage to ask how they are reclaimed and what they are turned into, but he did not share his knowledge with me. I thank him every day for that.

The sand is warmer, more penetrating, than bathwater could ever be. But the feel of it is nothing like a liquid. When chatting with my new friends and neighbours here, I've tried to explain what swimming felt like. How the water filled my ears, damping some sounds and amplifying others. How my body floated, what buoyancy did to my human spirit. But they cross their stalks or exhale in short bursts, both ways of conveying their puzzlement. I didn't think to bring images. I left in too much of a hurry.

Kejru had been sentenced to death or removal. He had used up the goodwill that Earth had to offer. A Bpooni, he skipped from planet to planet unloading cargos of exotic furnishings in exchange for hospitality and cultural exposure. He said that home decorating is the only true ambassador. That to share and explore with a people, one must adorn their living spaces then bask in the ambiance.

I fell for his tales of adventure. And when they caught him shooting uwenqs into his veins, he was convicted on the spot. Interstellar drug dealers are unwelcome in our solar system.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Tide

High tide always scared the hell out of me. The stories I used to read as a kid, where the hero was in a cave and got trapped by the tide would leave me with my security eroded and my body alert for attack. The nights I read adventures like that I'd sleep with my head buried under the covers and the pillow, trying to stop water from seeping into my soul.

I don't know why I've never moved away from the sea. Considering my phobia, living in a place like Hallaton or Chelmorton might have made more sense. Little stone houses and patchwork fields cut with streams that have no tides. No highs and lows of salty danger invading my life twice each day.

But I've lived in Deal all of my days. On the beach. I can't count the number of days I've watched the waters come and go, in a never ending cycle linked to the moon. I've never learned what beasts lurk under that dark surface. I've never investigated a cave at low tide, or picnicked beside tidal pools teeming with interesting creatures. I've always given the tides a respectful distance.

And they have provided the same courtesy.

Last night on the news, another tidal surge was headed for Texas. People were packing their lives into their vehicles and heading for higher ground. I would join them. I would pack my photographs and my Japanese fighting fish and drive until I felt safe.

Safety has been a harsh mistress for me. She has lurked in my closets and read a book while I ventured toward my future. But will she always be my saviour? Or did I merely rack up points owed so that one day the sea can claim me?

Saturday, 17 September 2005

Candle

Halva kept a candle on her desk. Not the romantic kind, or the tapered kind, but a big cube of orange wax with a bat on the side. She picked it up one Halloween, mesmerized by the bat. She loved bats. More than she loved herself.

But that wasn't hard. She pretty much hated herself.

Life had started out lousy for her, not only because her parents argued all the time, but also because she had no money and few friends. The skinny kid down the street--Lucy Kwidbunker--was her friend, but that wasn't saying much. Lucy was "touched" or "slow" which basically meant that Lucy didn't have any hope of ever being treated like a regular kid. But that was years ago. Now Halva was an adult, responsible for her own failures. Her life had turned out exactly as she had feared. And it showed no signs of improving any time soon.

Halva sat most nights, staring at a blank computer screen and dreaming of being a writer. She decided to never use her real name. She chose the name "Priscilla Pasterline" because it sounded pretty and romantic. Priscilla was the kind of woman who had tapered candles that emanated scents of lavender and cinnamon. Priscilla had several boyfriends, all of whom adored her. She was smart, funny, athletic, but most of all she loved herself only enough to be happy. Not too much; that wouldn't do. Only enough that it boosted her self-esteem.

This particular Tuesday, Halva lit the tea light inside her bat candle. Long ago, she'd used up all of the fuel within the original candle, but she couldn't part with her lucky dollar store treasure.

The black outline of the bat flickered in the flame light. Bats had to be the best mammals alive, except for humans of course. They were night creatures. They didn't see, they only heard. And by hearing they could see more than humans. They were fast and smart, light and strong, and the most amazing creatures to fly without wings or feathers. Too bad Halloween had taken them on as mascots. They deserved better: Christmas or Easter or some nobler holiday.

Thursday, 8 September 2005

Paper

The guy came to the door, asking me to order a subscription to the paper. I hadn't done the news-thing in awhile, and the deal was uber-cheap so I signed up. Figured my six year old could practice reading on the headlines.

The next thing I knew, the papers started coming. First it was one a day. Then two. I thought two was a bit odd, but maybe the paperboy was shortchanging his route, or trying to make extra bucks?

Then one day I got four. That's right, four. How is it that a single Mom in a 2 bedroom bungalow needs four papers every day? What was the delivery guy thinking? I checked my bank account, to make sure I wasn't being charged for all of this multiplicity. I wasn't.

Took me a week--and by that time I was getting six papers a day--but I found the guy's number and phoned him. He didn't answer, so I left a message on his machine. No big surprise that he didn't return the call.

I left him six messages, a kind of "code" so that he'd know which irate customer I was. He never phoned me back.

My house didn't have room for all of the paper. The recycle truck only picks up every other week. My kids started to build forts out of all of the stacks. When the two-year-old climbed to the top of one pile, fell off, and broke her collar bone, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I'm not one to get up at three o'clock in the morning to catch a paperboy in the act of delivering, but a five hour trip to a hospital with a toddler can change a mom's perspective. So I sat with a big cup of coffee and waited.

The steam from the cup drifted through the morning haze. The street light flickered in front of Bill's house across the way. Moths drifted in and out of the bright places, dive-bombing over and over for the fake-sun.

Then the dark blue mini-van--black in the dim light--pulled around the corner and into view.

Monday, 5 September 2005

Extrasensory

Thanks for the word, Joseph.
*

They used to call it extrasensory perception, or ESP. Now they just call us know-it-alls, or KIAs.

My name is Sirla, and I work for the marketing department of an advertising agency. They use us to gauge reactions to new campaigns in focus groups. The rats come in, they watch our commercials or read our print ads, they eat our sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and all the while I probe their brains for their reactions.

Personally, I enjoy the food reactions the most. A guy last week loved tuna salad so much that he practically wet himself. Apparently he goes to focus groups to supplement his pathetic income. I wanted to slip the guy a few cans of coffee or something on the side, but they don't let the clients see me. Keep me locked in a room with two way glass. If the subjects knew they were being scanned, they'd never come back. Plus, commercial use of my abilities is against the law.

But all the big name firms do it.

Ever since the bio-spray raids of 2008, KIAs have popped up everywhere. Something about our bizarre mix of DNA made us less susceptible to the virus. Instead of dying or living the rest of our lives hooked up to oxygen, we got a two day cold and the ability to read other people's thoughts. Good for us. Not so good for those with common DNA.

Like my parents. And my dog.

But hey, there's more food for the rest of us now.

Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Algorithm

Billy always followed the same algorithm when he packed: first the personal stuff, then the business stuff. Last, he packed the fun equipment, all in cozy, non-descript brown paper bags.

Over the years, Billy had been hassled more times than he wished to count by the border guards in almost every country in North America, South America and Europe. "What's in the bags?" they would ask.

After some simple explanations like, "leather" or "tools", he'd be waved through. But if he lucked out and landed in the nosy guy's line-up, they would open up his secret bags and wham! Billy found himself in a small and sterile room for hours of picky and unenlightened judgment. And yes, rubber gloves were often involved.

The worst trip, in Billy's forty-something years of travelling, was the one he took with his mother. She had always wanted to see Romania to visit all of the Dracula tourist-centric sites. Billy packed only a bare minimum of fun equipment, figuring his chances of picking up interesting ladies were limited with his mother around. Some things are best done alone anyway.

The customs guys at the airport didn't speak much English. Apparently, a North American tourist had passed through a week before with a bomb hidden in a brown paper bad. Bad luck for Billy. The worst of it was that they put him in the small sterile room with his mother.

His high school Calculus final was a walk in the park compared to the humiliating exam he and his mother endured that night.

She did not travel with Billy again.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Steals

He steals my keys every chance he gets. Then he sits back and watches me hunt like a maniac for them in the morning; a sly grin partly hidden behind his coffee.

I'm getting even. In a big way.

My first thought was to hide his keys, but that's too easy. Then I thought about the usual stuff: saran wrap on the toilet seat, toothpaste in his shoes, that sort of thing, but they're all too juvenille. I need something unique and oh-so-devious. He can't suspect it's me either, because I know his guard must be up.

Today, I'm doing it. I should probably tell you what I'm planning, but if even a hint leaks out, the whole notion will fizzle. Nope, but I can tell you this:

Even his mother will laugh. And she's dead.

I purchased a few supplies at the corner store last night. I told him I was going out for a walk to the mailbox. Luckily, the stuff fit in my coat pockets. He never looks through the closet. I've already moved them anyway.

Just before breakfast, I set the first electronic components up. I've placed them on a timer, set for a time in the next few days. I won't tell you when. It's still open for negotiation, depending on what I purchase at the wharf today. I've heard the pickings can be pathetic this time of year. I might have to try the warehouse district if they don't have what I need.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Sheers

Just remember, this is FICTION. Any similarity to my acutal mother is purely coincidental.
*


My mother always loved the sheers on the front windows of our house. It didn't matter that she didn't own the house and they looked like granny curtains, what mattered was that somehow she had made it in the world of Suzy-Homemaker and Good Housekeeping because her front windows looked proper.

I remember the day that she installed them. She must have stared at the instructions for hours, holding a screwdriver in one hand and a hammer in the other. They were the only two tools she felt she'd mastered. Advanced tools like levels and wrenches were beyond her grasp--strangers lurking in the rear sections of the hardware store where only men belong. Once she had digested the elaborate drawings, she started in to hanging the track. I thought it was crooked, but I would've never told her. She would have cried and I can't stand it when she cries.

Sitting at my laptop now, contemplating the nuances of my own existence, I think of the word "sheer" and wonder who the heck decided it applied to curtains. In the dictionary, I found references to unmitigated qualities, exclusivity, pureness, and vertical extremes, but nothing about big, flimsy curtains that barely cover a window. The hip things to install now are roller blinds with the ugliest valences ever constructed. The last time I shopped in that section of Home Depot, I discovered that they actually sell roller blinds that behave like sheers. In the daytime, you can see out but people can't see in. At night, people can see in and you can't see out. Just like sheers. I guess they're the cool version of the old classic. We've finally stepped out of the 1950's ladies and gentlemen. Let's all buy roller blinds.

Okay, back to my mother. After all, she's the sheer lover. The curtains had two components. The inside part was white, with a kind of embroidery thing going on. The outside layer was another set of sheers that were pink. Man, I've hated that colour my whole life and I think those sheers are to blame. Why would anyone need two curtains? The only place I've ever seen the two curtain fiasco is in hotel rooms.

Maybe that's what my mother was going for? The hotel look?

Who knew?

Thursday, 18 August 2005

Crushed

He crushed my hand under the gyro-stabilizers. I didn't see it coming. As a matter of fact, I thought he loved me.

Jarvis was the perfect bad boy--he ran weapons in the eighth worm-path, used more drugs than he sold, and never committed to a relationship for more than a shift. So why was I attracted to him? Maybe because I saw him as the perfect experiment. Or maybe because he reminded me of Bixton, the first guy I ever kissed behind the storage shipments on Loading-Bay six.

The first few dates went smoothly; we laughed, we spilled the sordid details on previous relationships and how they ended. When we both passed our viral tests, the bedroom fun began.

And lasted.

The next thing I know, I'm humming the latest stream tune and a stabilizer is landing on my left hand.

The buzzers screamed, but not as loud as I did. The medics arrived soon after and doped me up with the best pain relievers in their kits. While they didn't kill the pain, they wounded it badly enough that I could make it to the hospital without embarrassing myself by crying like a baby.

They said the hand will survive, though it might not work like it used to. They asked how it happened. I thought about lying, but not for long. I named Jarvis. I gave them his ident details. They detained him.

I didn't cry then either.

Though when he gets out next night shift, I think I'm going to be in some serious trouble. That's why I'm sitting in the departures zone, hoping for a stand-by seat on whatever has room for me.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Fought

We fought like dogs most nights. The long, complicated arguments with insults slung back and forth like a political mudfest. And that wasn't the worst of it.

We deserved it.

I've come to the conclusion--now that time is on my side and glacial ice ages of water have flowed under the bridge--that most arguments between couples are about miscommunications. I know that shouldn't be a surprise, hell television shows are full of communication asymmetry. Comedies base their foundations on it. So why do real life couples become immersed in it, consumed by it, and unable to see clearly to the rational side of the tunnel on the other side?

Because we're egotistical beasts. We think we're right. We think our opinions are the most right and our feelings the most valid and that our job in life is to pass on that impressive wisdom to the populace at large. I wonder now, that it's too late, why I wasn't able to let up sooner. Why I couldn't sit back and listen to the other side of the conflict. Why my priorities got so bent out of shape that a pretzel would be envious of my delirious logic.

So now we ignore each other. Occasionally a Christmas card arrives in the post or an email pops up on my birthday. We won't likely ever forget each other, but the good moments have evaporated forever. How was I to know that there was a finite supply of water in the cistern of love? We filled it up in the first month we were together and the relationship ended when it dried out. The smart ones, those who nurture the cycle, manage to make clouds and rain and whatever moisture is lost through attrition barely dips the surface below the full line. But those of us who are too absorbed in our own priorities, we look the other way when some spills to the ground. And we shrug when a cloud blows beyond the horizon, figuring another cloud will be by soon.

But they never return.

We only got one allocation. Next time, I'll treat it with care.

Monday, 15 August 2005

Is it a poem?

Chocolate puppies stare bitterly at their sordid fluff.

*

I bought one of those fridge magnet sets full of words to inspire the poet in me. I just had to post the first one to this blog. I promsise I won't make a habit out of it. :-)

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Yanked

I yanked the control bar with all of my might, praying to the Guardians of Mylanor that the damned wagon would slow.

But it didn't.

My horse, Dwindle, galloped on, terrified that the Bligators were still chasing her. You'd think she would have learned by the age of six that a Bligator can't run more than ten feet without collapsing. They're big and mean but they have no stamina.

I tried to pull back on the reigns, yelling in the most pleasant and gentle voice (is that even possible) for Dwindle to ease off. She would kill us both if she didn't stop before we reached the Heglig River. I could smell water in the air now, a relief after so many hours riding through the dusty plain.

"Stop, you bloody stupid horse. Or I'll eat you for supper tonight!"

That seemed to get through to her. Though it was a total lie. I can't digest horse meat--too tough. She slowed to a canter, then a trot.

She must have been thirsty, for as soon as she spotted the river, she sped up again. But this time, I had her under control and we didn't tip on the steep gravel road to the east bank.

The nearest bridge was half a day south of us. The sun was sinking low in the sky, so I decided to make camp for the night. Too tired to hunt for firewood, I ate hard cheese and a few balls of rice. Dwindle nibbled on the reeds near the river's edge and sipped on the water to rinse it down. She'd had her fill of field grass.

"Hey."

A woman stood on the other side of the river. Her hair shone bright as amber and she was dressed like a man, in travelling clothes.

"Hey, back," I yelled.

"Has your horse had the skibbers?"

Skibbers was a nasty intestinal ailment that could drive a horse mad or in some instances kill it. "No. Why?"

"It's been in the towns upstream," she yelled. "And it might flow in the river."

"Thanks for the warning."

I hauled Dwindle away from the water. She protested fiercely, so I tied her to a shrub beyond the reach of the Heglig. It wouldn't hold her for long, but I could cleanse the water over a fire.

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Storm

I witnessed a great storm this morning on the lake. So thanks to nature for this one.
*

The sky whispered of a storm. Not much, just a bit of haze on the horizon and the occasion rumble of thunder. I swam in the lake, calm and peaceful, a cool relief from the clinging humidity.

Normally, I would have exited the water at the sound of thunder, but it sounded absent, muffled, as though it hid under a blanket beneath the world. So I floated, filling my ears with water, and listened to the rush of air in and out of my lungs.

Thunder clashed, closer this time. I stood, for the water was shallow, just above my hips. I scanned for dark clouds and some billowed at the other end of the lake. The flag filled with a gust and flapped for a moment, straightening the big red maple leaf into a symbol of pride, then flopping back to hang against the pole.

I dove forward and swam for deeper waters, searching for fish. I always wear goggles when I swim, to protect my contacts from whatever germs lurk in the depths. A large white fish with yellow highlights and a black stripe pecked at the plastic lenses. I leaned back. It stared at me. I stared at it. A cloud passed overhead, darkening the water.

I poked my head above the surface, and the change startled me. Waves rippled in long lines a few hundred meters beyond. The flag was flapping wickedly in a strong breeze. A veil of heavy rain painted the trees on the far shore.

How could the storm move that quickly? The water had been calm only moments before.

I swam for our shoreline. The raft started to oscillate in the waves. The ladder end fell as the north end rose on another crest. Then the north end sank and waves crashed across the green carpet. I concentrated on my stroke, swimming as fast as I could for cover. In the shallows, I rose to my feet and trudged the last few steps to rocky land. Lightning struck, close. I felt it through the delicate hairs on my arms. Another strike. The thunder hit me simultaneously from each. I needed to get out of the water.

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Weakling

Okay, so I'm a bit of a weakling, and I should have left her long ago, and she probably only stays with me for the fringe benefits, but I can't exactly get away from her. The mission lasts six years and there's no jumping off in dead space.

That's what we call it, because it isn't the "space" we learned about in grade school. It isn't full of photo-perfect stars and planets and asteroids. That kinda stuff is for cheap science fiction magazines where ships can travel faster than the speed of light and we all know how impossible that is. We travel through the domain of the wormholes, jumping from one to the next through the junction boxes that the engineers maintain.

The walls of a wormhole, if you can call them walls, block out everything: light, sound, time, your own freakin' sanity. It's no wonder that Lissy and I are barely speaking to each other. We've both been starved of basic human needs for far too long.

Except for you know. We make time for that whenever we can. She's "fixed" so we don't have to worry about the future, and believe me, it could be a lot nicer with more affection blown into the mix. But a guy's gotta live, you know? And there isn't anything else to do. The ship flies itself. The wormholes direct it straight ahead. Whenever we come to a junction, there's a bit of work to do, o'course. Setting orthogonals and paying tolls and such, but at most we get a day's worth of entertainment out of a reroute.

This latest wormhole's been over two years long. Our relationship turned sour about eight months ago. I'd give anything to download intellishrink software. Have a session or two, or fifty, to get some animosity out into the open. But every day is the same. She sits in the co-pilot seat and hums to herself while she types random drivel into the computer. She says she's "writing" but she won't show me any of it. I bet she's typing: "I hate the bastard!" over and over again. I don't believe for a minute she could be thinking words as fast as she's typing them out.

"Wayne?"

"Yes, Lissy?"

"I'm finished."

"Finished what?"

"The novel. Wanna read it?"

Tuesday, 26 July 2005

Discovery

They labelled my discovery "miraculous". I thought it was pretty mundane. Slablits visit new worlds all the time, but apparently not Earth. How was I to know?

My warning censors have been off-line for years, decades really. So I didn't read the giant "stay clear of this planet" warning before I landed to rejuvenate. My mistake.

Now they're all over me. What do you eat? Where do you come from? What do you want from us? Plus all of the paranoid guys with their primitive projectile devices. I've keep my cool, haven't zidled them, not once. It would be so easy. They don't even suspect I'm wired for security. Their technology couldn't scan a pile of dung let alone a Slablit wired for intercepts.

On the positive side, I'm enjoying the food. So many varieties, though they all taste tarnished to me -- they've polluted their ecosystem without restraint. On the negative side, they don't have any contraband worth smuggling. Most of their "sinful" (that's what they call their intoxicants) offerings don't affect me at all. What I would give for a slider of bruunks right now. On the hot side, easy on the motion variants.

For now, I'm refuelling with whatever soil I can scrounge until I can extract some isotopes dirty enough for the blast drivers. In the meantime, I've heard the dessert is worth a trip. Plenty of granulares and dry, dry, dry. My ship could use a good abrasive. Recycled moisture gets downright rank after a generation or two.

I can't wait to run my feelers through the layers of warmth, descaling whatever I can. My dribs are curling just thinking about it.

Monday, 25 July 2005

Uranium

Thanks for the word, Mark. And thank you, oh gods of the internet, for giving me access to high speed internet once more!
*

Twenty packs of uranium in my hold were enough to get me killed. The Scranters scrounged this DMZ for hot ships. Twenty more hours and I'd be free and clear.

Then the warning siren started wailing. Two ships, intercept course, class seventeen Artrops with double armour--the perfect pillaging machines.

So I backed my engines, buying me about a second of time and purged my logs. They'd steal the packs but they couldn't report the incident. Whatever rumours they'd start about the origin of their windfall wouldn't have my ID plastered through them. And with any luck, they'd take the decoys and leave my cargo undisturbed.

Most smugglers have their tricks--secret compartments, shielding devices, or big ass guns. I'm a decoy woman, always have been. No matter how big a gun I get, they always have a bigger one. And secret compartments are old-school, besides most high end pirates have better scanners than the military, let alone freelance shippers. Whenever I trade in uranium, I shield the packs with multiple appliances, but radiation has a funny way of sneaking through the best of containment options.

So I crossed my fingers, bit my lip and waited for whoever would come aboard.

The ships clanked, startling me. Space is pretty quiet and I knew they were coming, but I covered my out-of-practice ears and shrieked.

They deactivated my hull safeties and stormed in, shockers at the ready. Three Umfels skittered along the deck, stopping in front of me. If they were wearing translators, they didn't use them. Two grunts and a gun up my nose and I can figure out what they want. They shifted their weight around in circles, from flange to flange, like spiders stuck in molasses. Gave me the creeps to watch them. Still we stared at each other.

Then boots clanked through the hatch. Not the smoother patter of Umfels, but the unmistakable steel-boots-on-a-steel-floor of a Pukq. The worst kind of malicious ass-riders in the galaxy. This one was a female; her third antennae stuck out of her shiv-suit like a scorpion's tail, arched above her head and ready to strike.

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Retired

I retired the day after I buried my partner. Eighteen years we served together. Both of us had been around the block, he on various outposts and me on twelve freighters. Then we both ended up on the Wig.

They called it that because it looked like a giant, out-of-control wig of alloy hair sprouting from a turbine head. Every power hook-up on Compset connected to our grid. The wig was life, and Mowpav and I were the night crew that kept her breathing fire.

On the night we met, he hung from his harness, a blow torch in one hand and a roll of solder in the other. I clanked my own harness to pillar 17, I remember it distinctly. I have this thing about prime numbers. They've always been good luck for me. So to start a new job with a prime gave me confidence.

Mowpav swung down and tapped me on the shoulder with his wire. "Hey, bud. How's about we work together every shift 'til we either kill each other, or find a trust."

I smiled and said, "Done."

We stuck like a weld from that point on. Mow and Hup, the stuck-brothers of the night. We took a lot of ribbing that first contract, mostly from the other welding crews who rotated all over the place. They all had kids, and would trade their own mothers for more nights off. So long as Mow and I shared a shift, we didn't care about the hour.

Neither one of us had anything to go home to. Or to lose, for that matter.

Then I lost Mow. Not to a fall, or a burn, or lung-rot. Damned fluke. He died in his bed, aneurism they said. But it was a load of medical bullshit. My betrayal killed him, plain and simple. His heart broke and his brain split apart and he fell into another place where welds always hold, torches never run out, and he can fly without falling.

I let him down and I can't ever say I'm sorry.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

Meeting

The meeting ran later than a staff meeting should run. Well into the night. After all, our lives were at stake.

I wanted so much to have the epiphany that would fix our problems; the insight that would resolve the ventilation jam. My friends were counting on me to design a solution to our slow asphyxiation.

But I was out of ideas and the team had eight hours of oxygen left.

Billox suggested scrubbing the induction tubes, maybe scraping another half hour out of the system. Galma kept tapping a torx-head screwdriver against her leg and muttering curses under her breath. Marply sketched a half-dozen routing diagrams on the board, bypassing the jammed pipes and melted control systems.

But we didn't have the parts to make a new router. We didn't have enough tubing to access the good supply. Most importantly, our air support expert had fried himself when the first electrical surge toasted the system in the first place. Now Huintel was watching him in the infirmary--probably dabbing cold facecloths over his face and praying to the powers-that-be to teleport a miracle our way.

In the meantime, we met, discussed, and tried to brainstorm our way out of the shit hole we found ourselves in. Man, did I need a drink.

Saturday, 11 June 2005

Hour Glass

The customs dudes laughed at me when they found the hour glass in my luggage. After all, what good is a gravity-centric device on a zero-g spaceship?

I ignored them. My husband gave me the heirloom and there was no way I was going to leave it behind. It looks ridiculous bungeed to my cot. The sands are floating around in it, and the occasional one bumps another through the hole, but for the most part they all hang out in their own half. So I'm living the same hour perpetually.

Funny. Since when Rick gave it to me, he said he was, "buying me some time." Well it worked, honey. Now I've got all the time in the galaxy.

I bought this ticket to free me from my past. From cancer, pollution, and everything that has made Earth a pit of a place to live. I thought the change would be liberating. Yet every night, I stare at my hour glass and I miss it all. I miss my husband. I miss his grave; the last physical attachment I had to him. I miss gravity. I miss the feeling of solid ground beneath my toes and a big, open, blue sky. I miss sushi at Makka's and I miss the sound of crickets.

Crickets always reminded me that the ecosystem hadn't completely collapsed. Someone told me once that they're bringers of luck. I haven't felt lucky of late. Maybe I should've tried to catch one of the little critters and brought it along.

The customs dudes would never have allowed it aboard.

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

Country

It used to be that my home country defined me, to some extent, as a person. I was Canadian. I was from Canada. I was proud of my land, my people, my culture.

Now, the idea of a country is a feeble memory stored somewhere in the recess of my tired brain. Two hundred and eleven, or so, Earth years have passed since I flew out to the reaches, searching for a fresh start. My children were killed in a flood, my husband ran away with a baker, and my success as a writer fell from mid-list to the obscurity of delete bins and yard sales. No point hanging around a place where I don't belong and have nothing to contribute.

So I gave up my identity for money. All I've got now is the twelfth. That's the rank of our hunk of ore; our position within the hierarchy of raw materials. The twelfth most valuable asteroid in a belt of harvestable non-planets, three year's ride to the closest hop from the least interesting refuelling station in...where the hell am I?

I miss it. Being Canadian. It's not much to say I'm twelfth. A twelver? Twelfthish? I'd give anything for a beer made from actual grain. Or to make a snowball, or listen to a loon.

One thing we do have is mosquitos. I got no clue how they stowed aboard. They breed in the air ducts and buzz me at night, with their high pitched torture song.

Friday, 3 June 2005

Peach Pit

Thanks for the word, Rob.
*

I sniffed at the peach pit, trying to suck another speck of enjoyment from the remnant. I hadn't had fresh fruit in seven months. No matter how slowly I ate, I couldn't stretch out the moment for long enough.

A trickle of juice dotted my chin. I wiped it with my fingers and sucked them again. I popped the pit back in my mouth, ejected whatever I could, then I gripped it between my molars. I pressed, not so hard as to hurt my teeth, but hard enough to test the structure of the pit. Would it taste any of peach?

I spit it out. Holding it up to the light, I studied the pattern of ridges and holes. I remembered a math lesson from years back that talked about the golden ratio. I tried to find a pattern I could count. No thirteens jumped out at me.

I couldn't just throw it out. But eating it wouldn't serve any purpose. I could keep it, suck on it from time to time, but that would be too much of a tease. Making me want fruit more than anyone should. If only I could plant it. Grow myself a peach tree. But the soil on Tridale-2A4 was sterile and anaerobic. We shed it from our suits before we entered the facility. The only thing that came close was the endless dust, micro-particles that nothing could contain. And you can't grow a tree in a bowl of dust.

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

Zoo

When the Mindroins landed in Toronto, they freed all the animals from the zoo. They said it was a "rights issue". I said it was insane.

For the first time in my life, I was glad to be living in Etobicoke. The people in Scarborough started disappearing first. The lions and the cheetahs and the polar bears had to eat. Sure, the people with guns were safe, but majority of people were defenceless.

Every day I'd ride the subway, wondering if a snake or a spider would come at me. I'd heard stories about the reptiles too, crocs and the like love cold dark places. That's why I kept with the crowd. The more people around me the better. Let them take the young and the old and the sick. I stayed in the middle with my healthy peers.

I begged Julia to move in with me. She lived in North York with her parents. They had a fenced yard, and her father had a hunting rifle and that was supposed to be enough to keep her safe. I didn't buy it. The old man would panic if anything bigger than a coyote came at him. And Toronto had those before the zoo break.

I think the Mindroins planned the outbreak. If they could travel at near light speed, then they could choose the month when they arrived. In April, all the animals were mating. Plus, all the warm-climate creatures would have months to get established before winter came.

No park in the world was exempt. But once CNN ran the story, zoos vamped up security. The Bronx Zoo was probably more protected than the White House. Kinda made me wonder if the Mindroins had other plans.

Thursday, 26 May 2005

Patriot

Needles was the most devout patriot in the settlement. He hung the old Canadian Flag from his window and aimed his vent at it so that it appeared to blow in the wind. He even designated day 197, the halfway date of the Cycalitran calendar, as Canada Day and blared the old anthem from his speakers in an endless loop to celebrate.

They called him Needles because he gave everyone their weekly anti-fungal shot. But his real name was Tim Horton, after the old donut stores. He liked having a nick name, because it freed him from the teasing. Donut-head, Coffee-dude, he had heard them all. And despite the international makeup in the settlement, everyone knew he had the stupidest name.

Glory kidded him most. She was smart and fit and beautiful and the most ruthless comic in the seven worlds. She lived in Needles's settlement for 39 days a Cycaltiran year. The rest of the time she toured the other worlds, doing her stand up routine or writing speeches for politicians. Somehow humour had surpassed musicianship and dramatic performance as the most sought after talent. Maybe because people who spend all of their lives under fragile domes that protect them from radiation, toxicity and vacuum make people edgy and depressed. Humans are meant to live under a sun. Their sun--Sol. And the seven worlds were about as far from Sol as a guy like Needles can get and still eek out a living.

Thursday, 12 May 2005

Promise

Ruwina promised me that one day we'd see Mars. Then she got cancer and was too sick to fly. So I held her hand and watched her die. The day her life insurance money arrived, I booked a flight to Mars with tears streaming down my face.

I trained for months, lifting weights and running, getting my body in shape so that I wouldn't atrophy into a slug on the long zero-G journey. Sure, there were beautiful women at the club and I was single again (or a widower if you like the term; I can't stand it myself) but I couldn't get Ruwina out of my head. She was my wife, my lover, and most of all, my best friend. We ran together, ate together, talked, argued, and worked side by side for twelve years.

I miss her.

The last fifteen days before a flight, the interplanetary medics make you live in a bunker of sorts. It's basically an isolation chamber where meals are slid under your door and all you have for entertainment is a vid and whatever else you can fit into a shoe box. The whole point is to make sure you aren't about to infect the entire ship with the plague after take-off.

I brought the Bible and Ruwina's favourite book, "The Calling of the Loon-Ghost". I tried every night to open her book, but I couldn't read through the tears, so I gave up. Instead, I worked my way through the old black-bound King James classic.

Now you're probably thinking that I'm some kind of religious zealot or some such, but I'm not. Really. I just figured I ought to read the Book before I died, and since I was trapped in a room with nothing else to do (I hate vidtainment) I slugged through it.

Some parts were more interesting than I expected. Some were pretty ridiculous. I honestly can't figure out how someone could read the thing so many times that they would actually memorize passages, and not only that, but the references to them as well. Not my cup of noodles, I guess. After all, I've probably only been inside a church a dozen times in my entire life.

Tuesday, 10 May 2005

Collateral

Fredricka never expected to use her own fingers as collateral. But when you owe Kranzer money, you have to play by his rules.

They had sliced her right thumb and index finger off on Monday at 10 pm. She had until Thursday at 10 am to have them reattached. Any later and the severed limbs would start to degrade while the flesh on her stumps would repair the wound beyond reattachment. It was now four am on Tuesday morning. She had fifty-four hours to go.

She fumbled with her butterfly knife. For years she could swing it open in the blink of an eye, but that was with her right hand. As she slunk down the alley behind Teaser's, she practiced the maneuver a few times then stowed the closed blade in her panties. The bouncer glared at her.

"Beat it, Freddie. Kranzer blacklisted you."

"I'm not here to dance, muscle-head. I need to talk to Almar."

"He's busy."

"Get him anyway."

"He ain't gonna bail you out. And if he did, you'd only lose something else." The bouncer leaned closer, his head hovering over her chest. "Maybe something more interesting."

"Get Almar, now!"

Vinkler the Varmint weaseled up behind the bouncer. "Hey, Freddie. Or should I call you stubbie? I can loan you some cash."

"Over my dead body," she said.

"I'd rather just be over you, ma femme."

Vinker reached toward her crotch. She pulled the knife and tried to flip it open. It slipped out her grasp and clattered on the ground. Vinker and the bouncer burst out laughing. Fredricka wanted to deck them both, but instead she reached down to pick it up and got a pinch on her butt for her trouble.

Tuesday, 3 May 2005

Distance

Thanks for the word, Kij. (I borrowed it from one of your books.)

*
The hordes stood at a distance from the army, waiting, taunting. More than mere soldiers, the Kitlamianis were fanatics with one unified goal. To eliminate any trace of the human race from their planet. One body at a time.

Their carnage involved more than killing. They purged the dead, vaporizing their flesh for fertilizer to enhance their crops. The soldiers in Kelso's division knew what fate they faced if struck down in battle. Many of them clutched at their chests, feeling for their missing idents.

For the first time, the army changed policy on the dog tags they'd utilized for generations of soldiers. Against the Kitlamianis, no trace of a fallen soldier would remain, so all combatants left their idents on the transport ships. At the end of the fight, as they returned on the drop ships, they picked up their tags. Families were notified for all un-retrieved idents.

That's how Kelso learned of his brother's death. That's why he stood here on this battlefield instead of moving markers on a strategic map back on the HQ ship. That's how his last remaining sibling, his sister Tarina, would learn of his death if he fell today.

When he fell.

Their battalion was outnumbered and exhausted. He had hand-picked his men. Each had lost a family member in a battle with the Kitlamianis. Revenge hovered over the field like flies on carcasses. Kelso sniffed, inhaling the micro-fine particles of dust from the Kitlamian soil through his filter. Then, with resolve, he let out a slow breath. The filter vibrated, sounding like a dog growling. His men followed suit, adding their own rumbles to the war cry.

Monday, 2 May 2005

Bilious

Thanks for the word, Lenora.

*
Monica looked bilious--doubled-over and grasping her gut as though an elephant had taken up residence inside her and was bent on escaping. I put my arm around her shoulder to comfort her, but she shoved it away.
"Don't."

"Just trying to help."

"Page the doctor again. I've got to have this gallbladder out. Today."

I tried Dr. Miller again, but his answering service picked up. I left another message, stressing Moncia's discomfort.

Heath care sucked in the Kuiper Belt. Most people died in space, from suit malfunctions or grinder wounds. Minor stuff like gallbladder attacks broken bones were ignored more often than not.

Tell that to my wife, though. She was in constant pain. I couldn't stand to watch her suffer.

"Get your suit," I said.

"I can't."

"You will. We're going to park ourselves outside the clinic until someone cuts the damn thing out."

I helped her into her suit, and secured a vomit bag just inside her helmet. I suited up, grabbed two accelerators, and headed for the airlock.

Driscan was on duty. He eyed Monica, in her bent-in-two position. Even I could see how green she looked through the visor.

Driscan said, "She's not up to a--"

"Save it. We're headed for the clinic. And the only way you're going to stop us is if you can help my wife's condition yourself. Last I checked, you weren't qualiscreened for medical, Driscan.

He nodded and ushered us through the lock. The sooner we were out of his jurisdiction, the better for all of us.

Saturday, 23 April 2005

Swale

Thanks for the word, Mark.
*
I couldn't believe they actually had a word for that little trench between houses. The swale. It's more like a mini trough of doom.

I was mowing my lawn last Saturday, doing the strip between houses that my neighbour, Asthenso, always ignores, when I passed over a bump in the grass. I thought maybe the ground had heaved from the frost, what with it being late spring and all, but when I stepped on it, moisture seeped out, like a sponge. But the liquid that leaked out wasn't clear like water.

It was red. Blood red.

I knelt down to touch it. That's when the smell hit me--like meat that's turned gruesome in the fridge because it was hidden behind last year's Christmas cake and I forgot all about it. I decided some distance would be a good thing, so I searched the yard for a stick to poke at the lump.

A piece of sod tore away exposing a bloated and grey finger. I dug deeper and found the rest of the hand and part of a wrist. Instead of leading me to an arm, the wrist ended at a jagged edge of raw meat and bone.

I vomited all over the lawn mower. So that's why the bastard never mows the swale.

I abandoned the mess I'd made and hurried inside to call the cops. For the first time since buying in the subdivision, I was glad that there weren't any windows on the side of my house that faces Asthenso's place. I sure as hell didn't want him to bury my head between the houses for snitching on him.

Thursday, 21 April 2005

Chipper

Thanks for the word, Mark.
*
I hate the word "chipper". It should be a happy word that reminds people of spring fields of flowers and children dancing, but to me it's about the wood chipper.

Horace is always using the dang thing. Every day. How much brush could we possibly have on the property? I suspect he's been hauling it from somewhere. Stealing it from deserted roads late at night. He probably figures he's doing the world a favour, clearing all that debris. The wood chips are everywhere.

Whenever I walk out to check on him, as soon as I get close he turns to look at me. I have no idea how he can hear me coming over the noise of trees beings smashed to bits. He must have some kind of second sense, or husband radar, or some such. The worst part though is his smile--a creepy, evil grin. Horace isn't one to express his emotions, happy or otherwise, but that chipper brings it out of him. When we're at the house, he's kind enough, loving sometimes. I wish I knew what the chipper does to him. He becomes another man entirely. A monster.

Last week I considered ditching the machine. I called a junk service to see how much they'd charge to come and take it away. Then Horace walked in the room. He glared at me as if he knew what I was scheming. My blood went cold then, like ice. He knows.

And I know.

Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Varlet

Murphy was a varlet. Everyone called him a scoundrel, but I wanted to be original, so I used my thesaurus and came up with varlet. It was perfect for two reasons. First, because he was so annoying. And second, because he would have brushed our boss's teeth if it would have improved his chances of getting promoted.

My first day of satisfaction occurred when I simply wrote the word "varlet" on a scrap of paper and slipped it under his office door. Murphy had left early, with plans to play golf with the V.P. of Finance. I swear that Murphy would sell his grandmother to a medical lab, while she was still breathing, for raise. I bet he had to look up the word in a dictionary. I bet he first thought it was a complement.

After the note, I started using his mug and leaving it half full of coffee in odd places--long enough that the milk would congeal and start to smell. Then I'd put it on the president's desk, or out in the lobby, but it was tough to pull that off without getting caught.

Somewhere, deep in my psyche, I knew that I was wrong, insensitive, acting as shamelessly as Murphy, but I couldn't help myself. Some people just deserve to pay for their actions. And I had the determination to make sure he paid.

After what he did to me.

Sunday, 17 April 2005

Ribaldry

I stole this word from the silent movie version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".
*
The men at the bar spewed ribaldry like vomit, making crude and degrading remarks about every woman who had the misfortune of being dragged into the joint. I hid in a corner booth, trying to blend into the Formica and vinyl, and listening to every word.

I couldn't pull out my notebook and jot down the good stuff. If anyone smelled that a writer had entered their domain, I'd be thrown out on the street. Or worse. It was the worse that scared me. Sure I wanted realistic dialogue and I was willing to endure plenty of discomfort to experience it first-hand, but I didn't want a permanent record carved into my psyche. Therapy's just too damned expensive.

The guy in the fourth seat along the bar was the worst of the bunch. He referred to women as parts of their anatomy, mostly those involved in the act of reproduction or the lead-up to it. I don't think he could spell thought, let alone appreciate one. He drank double scotches, neat, and he didn't care how many minutes the alcohol had fermented, so long as it looked orange-brown.

His pal, the scum in the third seat, gave me the willies. He had to be over six-and-a-half feet tall, and his shoulders hunched over as if he thought he could hide his monstrous mass. His hair, what was left of it, grew in clumps and hung in stringy cascades of slime. He had no qualms about picking his nose and leaving the remnants under the bar. The first time he did it, I made a mental note to never sit at that end of the bar. The eighth time, I decided to never set foot in this dive again.

One night was enough. I had plenty of material. The trick now was finding the best time to exit so that no one followed me. My car was parked ten blocks away and I didn't want to fend off any of these losers in a dark alley.

Wednesday, 13 April 2005

Carib

Thanks for the word, Tricia.
*

Strackton's record listed his language as "Carib". Hayford looked it up in her dictionary and couldn't find a reference. When she dug through the ship's database she found a reference to the Island of Dominica and Creole.

"That explains it," she said aloud.

"Explains what then?" Strackton stood in her doorway.

"Why I can't understand half of what you say." She crossed her arms and glared at him over the tops of her reading glasses. "As your commanding officer, I insist that you speak English from now on."

"I do speak English." He spoke eloquently, and without a hint of the accent that usually thickened his words like molasses.

"Perfect. Dismissed."

He didn't budge from the doorway.

"I said dismissed, corporal."

"I'm deciding whether to report you for discrimination."

Her gut tightened. Despite her obvious need to understand him, and the necessity of clear communication during combat situations, the corps had mandates concerning originating languages. Strackton could demand a translator or, worse, a new commander if he felt his heritage was being chastised. She straightened her collar, glancing at the bar code tattooed on her arm. Heritage violations could mean a demotion. She could end up tracking radioactive barges through the Kuiper Belt.

"I apologize, corporal. No hard feelings?"

Tuesday, 12 April 2005

Carrot

Thanks for the word, Jane Ann.
*
It could have been a carrot. It was long and wrinkled and orange with a tuft of green on the top. Had I been on Earth, I might have grabbed it in my fist and sunk my teeth in for a crunchy bite.

Then it sprouted legs and scurried to my left.

They were the sort of legs that crustaceans harbour. Ten or so, spindly, and with pointy tips, not feet or toes at all. It walked more sideways than straight ahead, at least as far as I could tell. I think the greenery at the top must have been the sensory device, because it didn't have any obvious eyes, or ears, or antenna, or the like. I decided the green filaments acted as radar, sonar, or some other form of organic environmental array.

I leaned down to touch it. My hand hovered above, waiting for the right moment. Considering how fast the legs had sprung forth, I had to be sure that teeth or claws or other weapons weren't likely to slice off a finger. Carrot-beast didn't back away or cower, but it did stop moving, as though it wanted me to make contact.

So I did.

Monday, 11 April 2005

Gerbil

Thanks for the word, Douglas.
*
Of all the animals in the experiment, the gerbil reacted most violently to the procedure. Helga could not comprehend why anyone would pay hundreds of thousands of credits to grant a rodent immortality, but people threw irrationality to the wind whenever they needed to make a decision concerning a pet.

She retrieved the rodent by the tail. It didn't squirm or try to bite her, instead it hung limp. As though asleep, or worse. After weighing and downloading its vitals, she placed it back in the cage. It waddled, ever so slowly, to the corner and settled under a pile of cedar chips. That's all they did now, sleep. And dream; their little bodies twitching with every breath.

The rabbit results would be ready soon. Helga hurried over to their pens and checked on the brown one. It hopped around as though the cage bottom was on fire. A side effect of the procedure. What brought pain to the gerbils, made the rabbits overly agitated. Fearful of life itself.

Helga understood. Seeing endless years laid out before your eyes could bring out the worst in anyone. She had acted jittery the first five years after her metamorphosis. Before LK-23A, otherwise known as Liket, and the calm high it gave her.
She couldn't wait until LK-54R was ready to test on all the rodents.

Wednesday, 6 April 2005

Kippers

Thanks for the word, Mark.
*
The stream overflowed with kippers. The males, all turned bright pink, performed their primal duty before dying. Dalieana and her family would feast on fish tonight. That much was certain.

She sat on a boulder, watching the fish dart about in their mating frenzy. The plentiful salmon sustained her people, so they were treated with the utmost respect. Dalieana watched the fish closest to her, waiting until the moment of death before snatching them out of the water and into her bucket. Fish tasted better fresh, but she had to be sure they had fertilized the eggs before she removed them. Otherwise, next year their numbers would dwindle.

People from her village, and those beyond, dotted the shoreline. Each carried a bucket, waiting to fill it with bounty. The smoke houses would be busy every day for the next while, preparing the fillets for winter storage.

Bears joined in the banquet. They kept to the bend in the river where the pools were deeper and the fish couldn't see them as clearly. Humans and beasts regarded each other with measured respect. Neither wanted to abandon the buffet for fear of the other.

Dalieana gazed at a pair of grizzlies swatting at the river. From this distance they appeared tame and playful. But Father wore a claw on a hide-strip around his neck. Those claws would kill her faster than she could take in a breath. She thought about the walk home, with her bucket full of fish and shivered. Best to leave before the sun sank low. That's when the bears would return to their caves, some with a taste for more salmon tingling in their mouths.

Tuesday, 5 April 2005

Taxes

There used to be a saying on Earth, "The only two sure things are death and taxes." Now there's only one sure thing and it isn't death.

I scanned through customs on Dranka after five months in hypersleep. The buzzers started pealing and I immediately raised both hands in the air. I figured they had me on a smuggling charge after what happened at the worm17b station. But I was wrong. The damned taxman had tracked me down.

A guy like me, I don't generally declare my income. After all, most of it isn't legit. Sure I run the occasional load of building supplies to throw off the dogs, but I don't search out those contracts. I prefer the high priced runs. Drugs, elements, fuel enhancers; that's where the real money is. When a customer needs an illegal product, and I can find a world where it's plentiful, then I'm the one they call. The Black Shipster's my call sign. It's in every back-alley codex. I pay the dirty bureaucrats to keep it out of the main databases.

The customs Walnax removed my weapon and slapped the bracelets on. The slim nano-circles track you through any corridor. I've tried to get them off, but it takes three distinct keys. They chafe like Halcillican sand in your pants too, but that's another story.

"We're confiscating your cargo," said the Walnax.

"I'm empty, returning for a reload."

"After five months asleep. What do you take me for, a newbie? We're authorized to take the ship if the cargo doesn't pay the bill."

Sunday, 3 April 2005

Confused

The sign confused him. It should have pointed him towards his destination, in the direction of Cluckville. But it must have been written in another language, because Geoff couldn't decipher the message. The background was black, with a series of letters and white dots all jumbled together, as though the sentences had been tossed in a blender and mixed at high speed then thrown onto the billboard.

He shook his head and started the car. The map assured him he was going the right way. The chicken compound had to be a few miles up the road. On the edge of Clearwater Bay. At the precipice of beauty. Where chickens truly belonged.

Geoff turned onto side-road number three and pulled the four wheel drive lever on his Jeep. Gravel sprayed behind, kicking up clouds of dust and debris. He cranked the stereo to compensate for the elevated noise level. He couldn't face the chickens without a little Simple Plan.

His newspaper had secured the exclusive interview. The first human granted entry into the heart of chicken authority. A chance for peace. To end the violence and racism between the species. To discredit the hurtful rumours of avian flu and human sacrifice.

Open and thorough communication. And Geoff's name would be on the story. What a coup!

Friday, 1 April 2005

Morose

Thanks for the word, Debbie.
*
For the fourth time in five days, she stood before the morose painting and lost her grip on reality. Steven had painted a brilliant masterpiece. The curator at the art museum had extolled his genius. Galleries lined up to carry anything--from sketches to napkin doodles. Stephen was the "it" man of the modern, dark art scene.

And he scared the hell out of her.

At night, he would sleep beside her; his breath a mere whisper. She would lean in close and listen, wondering if he breathed at all. Then his chest would rise or his nose would whistle ever so subtly. Or he would twitch. But his eyes were on her, always. She could see the outline of his irises through his lids. They didn't shift back and forth the way eyes should. He never seemed to dream. Instead they stared, immobile, always in whatever direction she happened to lie.

The flair. The acclaim. The motionless slumber. She recognized the signs. He had sold his soul to the devil and his ward had already collected payment.

She should have left him--ran as far and fast as her legs could carry her. But the art held her firmly in its grasp. It watched her. It lingered. No matter where she travelled, she could feel the presence of the paintings in particular. They personified his deal. And they hungered for more souls. Hers was on the brink of succumbing.

Thursday, 31 March 2005

Facilitate

The purpose of Hudson's torture was to facilitate his enlightenment. Every day, he entered the circle room longing for an epiphany. Perhaps today I will see the light. Perhaps today I will transcend pain.

But each day, he suffered endless humiliations. His only comfort was the predictability. First the water, then the fire, then the earth, and finally the air. Four elements of damage, always in the same order.

His favourite, if a person can have a favourite method of violation, was water. It cleansed and soothed. Hudson kept these symbols lodged firmly in his mind as the sanctified poured or sprayed or dripped water in places it should never penetrate. He imagined drinking the liquid or swimming in a calm lake of it. Mastering one portion of his day readied him for the suffering to come.

On this particular Tuesday, the water component ended abruptly. Hudson struggled against the bonds securing his wrists and ankles. "What is it? Have I been enlightened? Am I finally free?"

"You've been re-evaluated."

"And?"

"You no longer require four elements of torture. Three will suffice."

And so the fire began.

Wednesday, 30 March 2005

Imperial Majesty

I bowed before his Imperial Majesty. It would take time for me to grow accustomed to calling him that. He was my brother, after all.

Born in Toronto, we didn't have pureblood parents. We didn't come from noble stock. We didn't even come from money. Times change. After losing sixty percent of the population to anaphylactic shock brought on by the Deximondas, those of us left behind had to rewrite the rules.

Racklin had met Priscilla sitting by a fountain in High Park. She had been throwing bread to the ducks, despite the sign that warned of the penalties for doing so. He had whispered to her that he wouldn't turn her in to the authorities if she shared the bread. And so, with a single act of defiance, they had fallen in love.

He didn't know then that she was the daughter of the Shaw of North America. Nor was he privy to her family's connections to the inner sanctum of the Deximondas. He chose her because she liked ducks and bore a mountain of blond curls. Racklin was a sucker for blond curls.

After the wedding, I was offered a bed in the Imperial Palace. In return, the head butler assigned me chores. Eight rooms in the northeast wing--all the furniture, windows, linens and carpets--were my responsibility. I kept them clean. We brothers take care of each other. And Racklin's library was one of the rooms in my wing.

He loved to read. I loved the feel of the leather chairs and a crackling fire in the woodstove. The Deximondas despised the smell of wood smoke, so that room became our sanctuary.

Monday, 28 March 2005

Profundity

She showed a profundity beyond that of any woman, or man for that matter, I had ever met. She could do complex maths in her head, find the right words to comfort in any situation, but most of all, she could read.

I remember the first time I saw her. She sat beside me on the bus, flipping the pages of a novel as though she was looking for a particular phrase.

I asked her, "What are you reading?"

"Dostoyevsky."

"One of my favourites. What passage are you searching for?"

"I'm reading, not searching."

How could anyone read that fast? She'd make it through a library of books in a month.

"Do you actually retain any of it?"

"Every word? If you've read the book, ask me about a particular passage."

I shook my head. "This is some kind of scam. You've read it hundreds of times and can quote it or something. I won't be made a fool of."

"Suit yourself." She stuck her nose back in her book and flipped the pages again. I noticed just how cute her nose looked and smiled. Maybe she was telling the truth. I couldn't let her get away.

"What's your name?" I asked.

Sunday, 27 March 2005

Elements

The fluids in the vat digested the sample into its primary elements. Brains took the longest to break down. All that density. All that history.

I peered over the edge and relished the action.

I always saved the brain for last. After all, human brains made the whole production so worthwhile. Killing strunks or frangles was boring. They didn't scream or try to run away. They recognized superiority and succumbed to it. Their brains took less than an hour to break down. And the tonic barely took the edge off the pain.

I planned on mixing the juices into a new concoction. I scoured the ziplicks looking for a good recipe, but in the end, I improvised. The last couple of humans had cured my headache for more than a week a piece. If I could stretch this one to two or even three, I could slip through the wormhole after the commotion settled down.

The authorities always investigated human disappearances. Part of the interstellar pact with Earth. If the rumours were true, their fleet had more firepower up its collective orifice than most of the fringe worlds. Too bad they were so bad at escaping from predators.

Their loss was my gain.

Friday, 25 March 2005

Strangeness

The atmosphere's strangeness seeped through my envirosuit and into my bones. It felt yellow somehow, as though the colour of Beta Pictoris could possess a texture.

I checked my O2 levels and they all shone green. I had plenty of time to hop over to the canyon and take more samples before my evac arrived.

I rose about 3 metres on my first hop. From that height I caught a glimpse of the shadowed side of the canyon below. This nameless moon of the gas giant Yoona-12 had magnificent landscapes--flood plains of long-dead seas, three ice-spewing volcanic mountains and my favourite, the Canton Canyon.

I named it, since I landed here first. The American ship wouldn't make Yoona-12 for another month, so our crew had plenty of time to name all the good stuff. The volcanoes were named after Bantal's three kids: Kennedy, Mercury, and Drantly. I couldn't figure out why he would name all three kids with names ending in the letter "y", but there's no accounting for taste, or the rantings of a woman in the throws of labour.

Thank God he didn't bring his kids with him on ship. All those y's would have driven me bonkers. The league allowed families to accompany crews on journeys of 40 light years or more, but Bantal enjoyed the solitude. He claimed he loved his kids, especially when he missed them.

I landed from my jump and skidded on the dusty surface. I overbalanced to avoid smashing my suit on the rocks and the sampler in my right hand flew out of my reach, tumbling hard. I switched off my external mic, avoiding the crunching noises as the guts of the instrument spewed forth.

So much for the canyon samples.

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

Permanent

The incident generated a permanent mark on his record.

Sharp, Nathan Q, Non-Commissioned Photographer. Insubordination causing injury. He abandoned his team to explore a garfressinate colony. The creatures resented his presence forcing Sharp's emergency evac. Contract Terminated. Return to nearest civilian station.

The timer clicked and the quick-vid shut down. Nate rubbed at his beard stubble. He'd have to shave before next shift or Desven would chew off a piece of him and serve it to the team. Every grunt on the Ivar wanted him dead.

Stupid new-coms. Followed their dicks into danger then wondered why they couldn't yank them out again. Sergeants were supposed to keep them in line. Not let the little weasels make their own choices, like following a non-com into hostile territory. Nathan had shot two cards full of the infrastructure and inhabitants of an alien colony. He should have nabbed big money for that kind of portfolio, either from the tabloids or the intelligence division, or both.

Instead, he had an injury and an expensive evac on his record, his cameras confiscated, and his contract terminated. And at the next shit-hole outpost, he'd be dumped on his ass with half his last paycheck and a voucher for the value of his confiscated gear.

And the damned little aliens wanted their pictures taken. Nate hadn't needed the evac. They were celebrating his union with the colony. Auto-trackers couldn't distinguish between "diplomatic shows of strength" and a brawl. Technology sucked. And the cocky kid with his warning shot. If he'd stayed awake for five minutes of basic training he would have known that firearms made the garfressinate twitchy enough to slice off a leg.

Monday, 21 March 2005

Redact

Every page in the file had been redacted. Pages and pages with nothing but a word here and there and the rest blacked out. How could one company have that many secrets?

I closed the file folder. No point in proceeding. Whatever I needed to know about Bender's company I would have to dig up myself. Official channels produced squat. Nada.

Bender's side businesses and his mafia connections held little relevance to me. I only wanted to determine the lineage of my fish. All of my detective efforts were focused on learning whether my dusky damselfish had been bred in captivity in Florida, or if she had been stolen from the Caribbean.

I didn't know what I would do with the information. I loved her, as much as it's possible for a man to love a fish. I talked to her every day and I kept fastidious care of her tank. I monitored the ph and salinity religiously. I even kissed the glass after dropping in her food, to show her how much I cared. If Bender or his underlings had ripped her from her family, kidnapped her and forced her into slavery, what would I do?

Could I take her back home? Would she survive in the wild, or had she forgotten how to fend for herself? My stomach flip-flopped imagining the pain of leaving her in an ocean filled with dangerous predators.

The decision would come later. I needed to concentrate on hunting down the facts.

Sunday, 20 March 2005

Interview

The light shone in from the window. A glorious summer day. The interview wouldn't be one of those single-light-bulb-hanging-from-the-ceiling kind of interrogations. This one would be bright and cheery and evil.

Shiona had venom in her blood. Had to. No other explanation could account for her constant abrasive jibes. Nothing anyone did was ever good enough for her inspection. No one spoke clear enough, or told enough truth or sold enough naked toothbrushes.

Yes, she ran a company that produced and marketed profane dental care devises. A little contract with an injection molding company in Taiwan, a little back-of-sleazy-magazine advertising, and she'd built herself an empire.

I wanted to join forces with her. As controller. My first porn-accounting gig. And let me tell you, there aren't that many legitimate and gritty jobs for guys like me.

First, she offered me a coffee. If I said yes, that meant coffee breath and the awkward moment where she would be doing a traditional girl-type role of getting the beverages. That could rant me right out of the office. On the other hand, if I said no thanks, then she might think I was some health-conscious, tea-sipping hippie, and hate me instantly for it.

So I went for safety. "I'll join you, if you're having one," I said.

"Maybe later." She pulled a red file folder from a drawer.

Was that a smile? No, she never smiled, but my intuition screamed that I'd made the right move. I pressed on into woo-her-over mode. "I've been researching your company."

"And?"

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Indolent

Thanks for the word, Mark B.
*
The worst part about Gentra wasn't her noxious farts or her brash voice. She was indolent--incapable of lifting a finger to help with anything. Her favourite pastime was to nibble at her fingernails while she stared at the bedroom ceiling. She wouldn't even replace the toilet paper roll when it ran out.

I would have killed her if I had the balls. But she kept all the wood dull at the tips and I didn't exactly have a sword hanging over the toilet.

Sure, murder was still a felony back then, but she was already dead and I had invited her in. How was I supposed to know she was a vampire? And the most digusting kind too.

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Invidious

Thanks for the word, Shane.

***
Liam was invidious of her. Who wouldn't be? She had money, a body only workouts and surgery could produce together, and the most luscious car ever built by Homo sapiens.

She drove a Mustang convertible. God, it purred like an angel and drove like a hot knife through icing. Sweet as a baby corn cob. Words got messed in its presence.

He watched her every morning, as she pulled forward and back, nudging her prize out of the communal garage. He sat in his Escort, doing his gentlemanly duty, allowing her to leave first. In truth, he relished the sound of her engine, the soft whir of the gears as she switched from first to reverse.

Their two cars bore the same make, but that's where their similarities ended. Hers was bumble bee yellow, his black, with patches of rust. Her roof rolled down at the push of a button, his was dented from a couch too heavy for the weight tolerance of the roof racks. The carrier itself had long ago blown away on the highway. Lucky for Liam, the cars behind swerved to avoid the wreckage, unscarred.

He wet his lips in anticipation of the moment. The wave. A casual twist of her wrist as she zoomed for her world outside the garage. He always returned the gesture with a half-salute-and-nod. His personal creation. He hoped it exuded waves of cool and savvy, though inside he feared the truth.

That he didn't exist on her plane of awareness. Only in the dimension of fools.

Monday, 14 March 2005

Anxious

Space travel made Danny anxious. As the attendant tightened the straps on his acceleration couch, a thousand terrible scenarios flooded his mind.

Fuel explosion on the launch pad. Fire inside the cabin, boosted by the oxygen mix. Engine misfire, acceleration miscalculation, wormhole collapse, the list spewed endlessly forth. He nibbled at a fingernail, though he could barely latch onto what was left below the quick.

The flight crew assistants performed the safety demonstration. Danny hummed a tune in his head, drowning out their enactments of atmosphere decompression.

The woman on the couch next to him whispered, "I hate this part."

"Me too," said Danny.

"Why do they bother? Most space travel mishaps are fatal. We won't have time to pray let alone dress in an evac suit."

Danny nodded. Leave me alone.

But the woman droned on about her cat dying during shipping twenty years ago and how the fleet had no idea how to safely ship a box of tissues let alone human cargo.

Danny tried to squirm away from her, but the straps held him immobile. Please let it be over soon.

The engines fired. No wait! I didn't mean it like that. Please make her stop talking. I don't want the flight to be over soon. I misspoke. Please, I--

The secondary rockets fired. On a standard mission, they don't activate until the ship reaches the outer atmosphere. Fortunately for Danny, he didn't have time for a scream of death. No time to feel the pain before his brain vapourized.

Sunday, 13 March 2005

Survey

The man with the wrinkled suit approached me. He had that look of desperation, as if at any moment his family could be evicted from their cockroach infested apartment. The yellow plastic clipboard warned me to run, but I stood my ground.

"Excuse me, Miss? Can you take a few moments to answer some questions about freedom?"

"Sure." If I said no, six kids would be living in a cardboard box.

He tilted his head a little to the left. "Do you believe that every person has a right to be free?"

"Of course." As if I could answer any other way.

"Please answer with a 'yes' or a 'no'."

"Yes."

"Great." He coloured in a bubble on his official survey form. "Do you believe that every animal should be free?"

"No." He looked disappointed with my answer, so I added, "Otherwise we'd all be hitting cows on the highway and running from stray dogs on the streets, don't you think?"

He nibbled on the end of his pen. I couldn't tell if he liked my rebuttal or not. "Do you believe that every sentient creature should be free?"

I bit my lip. No wonder the guy looked hungry. This survey was about as real as a giant squid attacking the CN Tower.

I looked at my watch. "I'm late for an appointment, so if you don't--"

"You agreed to the survey, Miss. Now please, a simple 'yes' or 'no'."

Okay, better to finish and get out of the danger zone than to argue. He could probably run faster than me. "Fine," I said. "My answer is yes."

"Good. Now if you don't mind, I need you to initial this box." He handed me the pen and pointed at a box marked "Initials of Respondent" on the form. His nail was bit back well past the quick.

Nut house for sure. I grabbed the pen. "Ouch!" The pen had pricked me. Must have been a sharp burr or something from all his chewing on the end, but I couldn't see an obvious pointy bit. I initialed the box.

Saturday, 12 March 2005

Shadow

She lived her life in his shadow. He earned more money, he spoke more gracefully, and he had more friends. She was an add-on, nothing more.

One evening, they attended the Opera. She couldn't recall the name of it, and all the characters sang in Italian. She should have been moved, like he was, but she felt empty. Bored. Delving into her thoughts, she abandoned the chore of reading the subtitles and trying to follow the plot.

Back in prehistoric times, she imagined riding a Brachiosaurus; feeling the pounding of the earth as the glorious beast took each step. She began her journey high up on the herbivores head, then slowly climbed down the wrinkles in its skin to it's back. The foliage of the Jurassic period opened before her. No flowers yet; mostly ferns. T-Rex wasn't due here for another hundred million years. She couldn't remember the names of the predators. Instead, she pretended there weren't any.

The big dinosaur stopped for a drink. She climbed down the ridges in its leg until she stood beside it at the water's edge. Dipping a hand in the water, it felt cool and soothing. Without taking the time to undress, she waded in then dove beneath the surface.

For a while, the world was a peaceful and liberating place. Then the applause began, and she fell back to the red fabric seat of the theatre.

Thursday, 10 March 2005

Runaround

Yesterday, I had one of those days where every time I tried to accomplish a task, I got the runaround.

First, I had to pay my weekly taxes, so I tubed down to the Reclamation Bureau to fork over the cash. The Drip behind the counter could barely speak English and he kept telling me my account was out of fodder. I'm guessing he meant order, but who the Hell knows with a Drip.

When I finally paid my taxes, I grabbed a cab to Luna's Wake for a beer. The cabbie didn't like my credit chit, as a matter of fact, he snapped it in two, then threw it out the window. I don't know what his problem was. Maybe the naked Bracklez female offended him. Most humans think it's a joke. They have no idea.

Neither do I. Never been with a Bracklez. Tried a Drip once. Nothing but ooze. And if you don't wash the stuff off right away, it turns nasty. I never take a Drip home after too many beers.

Back to my story. Naike, the bartender, isn't one to run a tab, especially for humans. He remembered my chit, who wouldn't, but when I couldn't produce it, he pointed at the door. I offered to do dishes, or sani the tables, but he didn't go for it. Man, I needed a drink.

So I tubed into the core and headed for the Slit Fields.

Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Inexorable

Thanks for the word, Shane.
*
Inexorable devotion was a very dangerous trait for a chocolate worshipper. That kind of inflexibility could turn a person mad, or obese, or at the very least rot their teeth.

Janina loved chocolate more than she loved her mother, or herself. She worked at the shrine, lining the confections into perfectly straight lines each morning. As the converted milled through to say their prayers, she would encourage them. "That square one," she would say, "is toffee inside--perfect for those at level two." She would pat the young children on the head and say, "One day, you'll be old enough for the truffles. Wait and see. For now, pray for a week and you'll earn a Turkish delight."

The most difficult task of the day for Janina involved the culling. Any chocolates that had smudged, or melted into misshapen rejects, she had to remove from the altar. She would slip on her white gloves--a new pair each day since chocolate was so difficult to clean--and chant her prayers while she placed the substandards on a blessed silver tray.

Oh father in seven, stay my hunger. For each level I will beg forgiveness. For each impurity, I will suffer. Father grant me one level for will power, two for abstinence, three for ignoring all temptations of flesh, four for...

Only when she felt the forgiveness from her savior, could she bring herself to consume the flawed ones. Only with his love could she swallow the holy goodness, internalizing all that she believed.

Her biggest fear was that one day the high priests would discover that afterwards, she dared rinse the chocolates away before waiting an hour. Milk was her dirty little secret.

Pulp

The street was a mess of pulp. Not the kind from square containers of not-from-concentrate orange juice, but the stuff that once belonged on the inside of someone. Now it was on the outside, all over the pavement and the sidewalk and the storefront windows.

Inky bent down to touch a smudge of the ooze. The gloves he wore were made of polyester--cheap dollar-store black ones designed to expand to fit your hand then shrink down to easily tuck in a pocket. He wasn't a cop, so he didn't wear latex to prevent crime scene contamination. Inky was a simple bystander, nothing more.

Except for the part where he killed the guy.

Sunday, 6 March 2005

Abandon

Marty had to abandon the car. Though Red23x9b would never forgive him, no other action would cleave the pain.

He had bought the car on the way home from his first day working construction. Cement and Marty stuck together. The mixture spoke to him, showing exactly where to smooth, where to adjust, where to pour. Any building with a Mary foundation stood the stresses of every disaster from atmo-leak decompression to sewage pump failure. Red23x9b was jealous, since he and Marty had never connected on a deep level.

Most cars could anticipate their driver's desires. The first time Red23x9b had suggested taking the scenic route, Marty had reluctantly agreed. But after four hours, the car had overstepped his artistic bounds and Marty drove home manually.

That started the fights. Where are we going now, boss man? Don't you like my route, expert-boy? Cars could be so damned vindictive. Worst of all, the irritation from the endless fighting stripped away his ability to hear cement.

Cracks appeared. Two foundations failed. First one contractor, then another fired Marty. For a brief time he dabbled in carpentry, but plexi-wood didn't even whisper to him. Finally, after Red23x9b overrode manual control, Marty decided.

He drove to a construction site, crushed Red23x9b flat, and buried it under a truckload of cement. The entire crew stood and watched; none said a word. When the red roof of the car disappeared under grey smoothness, Mary tossed the keys in and raked the divot smooth.

Saturday, 5 March 2005

Essence

Umbree wanted to shout from the rooftops. After years of explosive dead ends he had finally developed the formula for happiness. The essence of joy. The tonic of bliss.

He held the flask up to the light, examining the tiny bubbles streaming to the surface of the yellow translucent liquid. The beverage itself emanated glee. Swirling the flask, he inhaled the subtle aromas of bubble gum, pencil shavings, and catchers' mitts.

To drink it now would prove nothing. Umbree already felt giddy from simply capturing pleasure's essence. He needed to test it on a subject filled with gloom. He set down the flask and rummaged through his cabinets for a container and found a stained travel mug. After wiping and rinsing the coffee evidence away, he poured the yellow delight into the mug and twisted on the lid. The bubbles hissed through the steam vent.

Umbree threw on his coat and scarf, grasped the mug in his right hand, and climbed the stairs from his lab to the street. He would find some miserable soul and convince them to drink. Of course, he intended to save a mouthful for himself.

Friday, 4 March 2005

Frigid

Thanks for the word, Tessa.
***
Her attitude could gel a tank of propane. Minus fifty degree stuff, hence the reason the boys called her Ms. Frigid. When Greg decided to melt Sandra's glacier he began his most challenging assignment.

He grew up in northern Ontario, in a small town where it snowed at least once in every month and everyone spent their days shovelling and playing hockey. Women confused him more than a tropical climate. One of the worst bachelors in the free world, he banked his chances on time-honoured pick-up lines and the old candy-and-flowers standard.

Ms. Frigid walked into The Hitch so Greg bought a beer and sent it over to her table. She accepted, but insisted on a glass from bar-tender. He considered abandoning her as a goal, but then she smiled. Her frigid grin jacked up the tension. A true challenge. How could he back away?

Wednesday, 2 March 2005

Blue

I hate the colour blue. It represents all of the things I'm not. Light-hearted, relaxed, bright and sunny. I'm more of a grey.

The sun radiates down on a Tuesday. Everyone comments on the intense blue of the sky. Cloudless, expansive, uplifting. I want to smear it with black paint, to stuff a few clouds up there with my bare hands and make the rain pour down. But I'm not a rainmaker and I certainly don't carry black paint in my handbag. Hiding is my only option.

And so I hide. From the sky, from my obligations, from the world.

I can't hide for long. Bills must be paid. Noses must be wiped. Envelopes must be opened.

I hate envelopes. They represent...