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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.