Friday, 31 October 2014

Pictonaut- Oct 2014 - Dance, Devil! Dance!

Another month, another pictonaut. This is the time of ghosts and goblins, and good old John the Crazy has given us a picture appropriate for the time of year. As ever, I started writing and then never stopped. I have so many ideas for this one that I think I'm going to NanoWrimo it (because I hate sleep!). Anyway, here is my story for this month, part 1 of a much larger project. Enjoy.


"Dance, Devil. Dance!
To Old Nick's pipes.
Don't look, don't look,
At his face of ghostly white.

Dance dance, Devil!
Hear hooves clip clip.
Don't look, don't look,
At the body made of stick.

Devil! Dance! Dance!
On eve hallowed.
Don't look, don't look,
Or he'll take away your soul."


Pound, pound, pound! Roland's heart thumped against his chest in rhythm to his tugs on the wooden board nailed firmly across his door. He had done all he could: the doors were boarded, the windows blacked out, the children in a peaceful, drug induced sleep, the luckily little bastards. Still, there was nothing he could do to quieten the anxiety, that open tap of adrenaline pouring straight into heart and brain. He would not sleep tonight, nor would anyone in town. With everything prepared and checked and checked again, Roland slumped his body, alert yet fatigued, against his barricaded front door and did the only thing he could do now, the only thing anyone with any intelligence in them would be doing tonight, and listened for the pipes.

In this eerie silence before it all began, Roland thought he could feel the hearts of all the village beating with his own, sounding out a tattoo to keep the pipes in time. All he was for this one night was his heart, his breath and his will. This was the same as ever, he supposed, but the reallisation of it now was immediate and raw, stripping away the hopeless fantasies of self importance, of power and control, which we protect ourselves with everyday. Breathe, eyes shut tight, stay alive; that was the whole world.

Sound began to creep its way through the cracks in Roland's walls, and he pushed his ear against the solid pine of his front door, made icy cools my thus autumn evening beyond. Don't look, he repeated to himself, don't look, just listen. Don't look! Roland listened for the pipes.

Something was wrong. At first, Roland refused to believe he own senses, and pushed his ear hard into the wooden door to prove his mistake. He strained to hear the pipes, he should have heard the pipes. For the first time in his entire life he found himself desperately wishing to hear the wretched pipes. But wish as he might, there was no denying that's not what he heard.

"Hello!"

It was a man. An ordinary man from an ordinary place. A dead man.

* * *

The mist had seemed to stroll into town along side Mr. Utland, keeping pace with him, clinging to his ankles as he dragged it through the streets; the far too empty streets. Mr. Utland glanced up the road, a valley between sloping gardens topped by pleasant rural houses; and down it, into foggy blindness. There wasn't a soul or a sound beyond himself and his footsteps.

"Hello!" he called out. There was no response. Mr. Utland tried to peer into the windows of the houses as he passed them, but they were all too dark to see inside. Or so he had thought at first. When he caught the glint of a streetlamp across the front bay window of one house, he saw that rather the pitch black penetrating deep into the building, it did in fact form a skin across the interior of the glass. They've blacked them out, Mr. Utland thought, every one of them.

Mr. Utland was struck by this decidedly odd behaviour and stopped to consider his situation for a moment. The fog paid no heed to his change in momentum, and rolled on at the same gentle pace, off towards the bottom of the street. Puzzlement was not all that impeded Mr. Utland. He had been walking a good long while now, looking for somewhere to rest his head for the night. He was moments from giving up, dusk falling and robbing him of his sight to travel by, when he had come across this village, a minor miracle for which he sent out praise to any minor deity who mightbbe listening. But now he was done, this was the end of his road. Mr. Utland sat on the side of the road and took of his shoes, exposing his overheating, sweaty feet to the cool evening air. He took out a silver case from his breast jacket pocket and flicked it open to reveal the cigarettes and lighter inside. Lighting up, Mr Utland breathed the smoke in deep and listened hard to the barely audible peace of the countryside, calm and silent.

Except that it wasn't silent. Mr. Utland thought he might he going mad, but he was certain he could make, just on the edge of his hearing, a sound of something out of place. He strained and cocked his head and, yes, he was sure, he could hear pan pipes softly playing on the breeze.

* * *

Roland had heard the pipes so many times before that he felt attuned to them, as though he could feel the sound in his mind, his soul, before his ears truly caught sound of them. And Roland knew, he knew, that the pipes had begun the minute the stranger had called out. A handful of moments later and this was confirmed by his more conventional sense.

Whoever this outsider was, he was done for, already beyond help as the pipes grew clearer. The Devil take him, Roland thought. At least the village, my children, will be spared. But he was an innocent, vulnerable and unaware. Could Roland really live with himself if he just allowed this man to be taken? Wouldn't he be culpable? But then he had his kids to think about, and anyway, there were plenty of other people who could help. But they weren't helping and weren't likely to. Who would?


I would, Roland found himself thinking, taking himself completely by surprise. Without giving himself time to hesitate Roland grabbed the nearest piece of cloth to hand, (and old woolen scarf) and a small switch blade from the table in his hallway and, after prying the boards off his front door, threw it open and hurtled headlong into the street.

* * *

Mr. Utland took one last, long drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out on the curb he was perched on. Slowly, he exhaled and watched as his tobacco smoke swirled and mixed with the fog, until he couldn't tell what was water vapour and what was poison.

He could hear the pipes clearly now, and was listening to them. with fixated pleasure when the attack came. Perhaps, had he not been so enthralled by the mysterious piper's tune, Mr. Utland would have heard the hurried steps that came towards him. But he could hear nothing but those magical pipes, and when the hit came, a full body's weight being smashed into his own, it knocked all the wind, and all the fight out of him.

"Don't look!" his assailant cried. Mr. Utland, reeling from the shock of the impact, just caught a clumped of a length of woolen material before it was wrapped tight around his head and eyes.

"Get up!" he was ordered. "Don't look!" There was little he could do but comply. "Move!" came the final command. This seemed a step to far to Mr. Utland.

"I can't..." he began, but a strong shove proved to him that he most certainly could, and the knife he felt to his throat a moment later demonstrated that he most certainly would. All the while the pipes grew louder.

Mr. Utland half staggered, was half dragged up the banking garden he had sat beneath. More than once in the brief but difficult journey he stumbled and the blade at his neck nicked his skin. He cried out when he fell to his knees finally when they reached the top of the lawn and he tripped on the bottom step leading up to the porch. His captor put his hand around Mr. Utland's mouth and leaned into him.

"Shut up!" he demanded and Mr. Utland complied. They stayed like this for a while, Mr. Utland blindfolded and gagged, the man behind him almost motionless, as though he were waiting for something, or listening for it.

Mr. Utland listened too, and again he was caught in the spell of the pan pipes. He felt a desperate, illogical need to see where such a sweet melody was coming from, like he was hoeing his breath and all he wanted to do was give in to the natural impulse to breathe deep, cool lungfulls of air. Mr. Utland's hand went instinctively to the scarf around his eyes.

"No," his captor hissed into his ears. "Don't look. Don't look." The attacker pushed the cold steel against Mr. Utland's face to emphasize his point, all the while repeating his mantra under his breath. Don't look, don't look.

A new sound floated down the empty street and into Mr. Utland's conscious, as feet tapping against the tarmac. Not feet though, the sound was too hollow, more a pair of clicks than thuds, like hooves, Mr. Utland thought, but there were definitely just the two of them, so that could not be.

The assailant's chanting increased in speed. Don't look, don't look, don't look, don't look. For what felt like minutes, they remained like this as the clip-clop, clip-clop got closer and closer. In a moment it would be right on top of them. Mr. Utland and the knife man both tensed.

The noise stopped. The assailant slouched down to his knees, the knife slipped from Mr. Utland's throat. Then came the scream, loud and high and echoing from every building, every tree, every car, every wall, such that it was a few moments before Mr. Utland realised that it had stopped before the second echo, cut short at the height of its crescendo. The echos faded and the village was silent again.

"What..." Mr. Utland began, barely able to speak. "What was that?"


"Someone looked, " Roland said. "Someone always looks."

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pictonaut September 2014 - Soulful!

Here we are again, I just scraping by to get a pictonaut done in time, feeling it unfinished and wanting to come back to it later, but I know I never will. But here it is for you, and before that, the link to John's blog where he posts these little challenges every month. One picture, one thousand (well, three thousand for me this time) words. It's fun. You should do it.

This month's picture...






... and the naut.


Soulful



It was my eyes. But then, it always is. They're a dead give away, aren't they. Never trust a person who doesn't smile from the eyes. Look me in the eye and tell me that. When it comes to betraying secrets, the eyes always have it. Even from before, I couldn't hide much of anything from anyone.One look would blow my cover.

I used to get a lot of compliments for my eyes. The most vivid green, men (and women) would compare them to emeralds, oceans, the sun through the leaves. The things people would say, the words they used, were kind, but their eyes told a different story; lust, jealousy, indifference.

I remember being sat at a bar. People thought me pretty, and in my harder days (at least, I had thought they were then) I could generally guarantee a few freebies from hopeful lads, looking to show off their wallets and whatever else they had stashed away. I never let it get that far though. I'm no one's whore. It was a dangerous game to play, some of my more concerned friends would tell me, but I was quick and careful. I always looked them in the eye before I took their gifts, always sought for their intent, their limits. That's how I survived then, and it's how I survived after, too. Quick, careful, observent, no one's whore.

That night had not been a successful one, and I had been nursing my tap water long enough for the bar staff to be evicting me with their gaze. I remember thinking it a shame, this had been my favourite hunting ground, safe-ish and reliable. I had hoped it would never come to an end. Eventually, I gave up hope and got up to leave and it was at that moment a cold, clammy hand came to rest on my own and arrested my departure.

"Your eyes," he started and I thought here we go. I was careful not to roll my eyes, however. They were the ticket after all.

"They shine to me, like beacons through an abyss." He was poetic, this one. Corny as balls, but he didn't speak like it was a play. There was a far off quality to him, something other I couldn't place. I held his gaze and went looking for it while he continued.

"They're perfect," he concluded, tritely. Nothing. I could get nothing from him. I looked him over quickly. Suit, grey and bland; hair, short; stubble, minimal. Normal, normal, boring, normal. So why did he send a shiver down my spine?

"I want them," he let out. It took time to register what he said to me. At first I giggled, playing my part. 'I want you,' I had thought he had said. That's what they always said. Eventually, the truth of the situation sank in.

"What?" was the only pathetic response I could manage in the moment.

"Give them to me!" At that, I switched gears. Be quick, I thought, be careful. Run! I did, spilling my water behind me, out of the club, into the street, past the bus stop, all the way home.

It didn't take long, with my glad rags discarded for a onesie, every lock on my door done up tight and a very Irish cup of tea in my hand, for me to shake off the strange man's spell, and I began to laugh at my own foolishness. For a few moments, I was so messed up by the encounter I had considered calling the police, but for what? To tell them what? A man sat down next to me at a bar so I ran home, he's clearly a dangerous psychopath? 'Sure,' they'd say. 'He's crazy!'

Even if he had done anything, even so much as touched me, I didn't feel as though I could be a useful witness. Those eyes as cold as his hands. What colour even were they? I'd seen eyes like that many times since, but I still couldn't answer that little enigma. Laugh it off girl. Just some creep looking to put the willies up some little girl (probably literally). Don't give him the satisfaction. But I already had, hadn't I? You could see it in my eyes.

Whatever the case, be it creeps, losers or psychos, that well had run dry. And not just that one. Over time, and not much of it, one by one, the bars all closed. Not to regular customers you understand, but to me. The gentlemen stopped coming, so I stopped going. But it was more than that, more than mere disinterest in me. I was not losing my looks, my eyes shone with all the splendour that they ever had, I had not aged overnight. It was not that men did not come up to me, but they actively moved away from me, seemed repulsed by me. I had the stench of something on me, what I never knew, but it was something that I could not purge. I was pariahed. Oh how things change.

I blame myself, in part at least. I've always been a creature of solitude, having taken little interest in current events. I do not own a television, do not watch the news. I never saw the missing persons reports, never heard the stories of people changing, did not notice the rise on the reality shows of 'my partner won't make love to me anymore', 'you're not the man I married' and 'my wife is an alien!'. I might have seen things if I'd looked, seen the patterns with these wonderful eyes of mine. I'm good at patterns.

They had come for us.

At first they took little people. I don't mean dwarfs, I mean nobodies. People who wouldn't be missed, who were easy to replace. I might not have seen the pattern, but I definitely saw the change. Those eyes, grey (or white? Maybe silver?) and cold, started staring out at me from people on the street. One to begin, and at first I thought it was him again, all I could see were those eyes. Then more and more and now they're everywhere, and the game has really changed. One night before then, however, they finally came for me.

I was walking away from another hopeless night, sober and dejected. My belly by then had become pregnant with self-conscious doubt and I finally swore I was done; done with freeloading, done with drinking, done with men. I think I meant it, too. I really do believe that, even had that night been different, even if they'd never come, I was about to find myself a track all of my very own and get on it. My footsteps echoed around the street surrounding me, each one tapping a tattoo of resolution. I listened to each repetition intently as my feet beat out self-promises with glee. But this next sound did not bring joy. A new sound, similar yet distinct brought its own solemnity and my dread.

Careful. Quick. Run. They weren't expecting me to rabbit so soon and floundered a while before they gave chase. A few quick turns and I heard their hurried steps diminuendo in the wrong direction. That had been the first time, an easy escape. Soon there were more, and then they were most.

I didn't even consider going to the police the first time, nor the second, but by the third I'd had my fill. The constabulary proved as helpful as I had expected them to be.

"I'm sorry miss," the bland, blue uniform said to me through some poor puppets mouth. "If you didn't get a good look at them then there's not a lot we can do."

"If I'd have gotten a good look at them then I wouldn't be here to tell you about it," I countered. I was aware of the futility of the gesture, but I wanted this underling to know my logic was more powerful than his system's.

"Nevertheless, without witness or crime..." He let the sentence hang in the air. I was about to rebut once more when his superior officer walked into the room from the office door behind the desk. She looked like every other officer in the place excepting her insignia and her garnered respect. Like the plod who failed completely to deal with my accusations, she seemed aloof and disinterested. But there was more to her coldness than 'professional detachment', and while she could bear to hold my gaze for but an instant, that was more than enough for me to recognise those eyes.

Now I began to watch the news. I couldn't well afford a TV, and so I took my opportunities where I could, looking into the windows of electrical goods stores, hoping a 24 hour news station would be playing. It could not have been just me. Surely others had seen these changes, were being hounded, or was it ignored? I no longer knew which worried me, which was frightening and which a relief.

It had not been just me, although it seemed I was the only one who saw it for what it was; something alien, something other. The rest of the world were doing their usual trick of rationalizing away what made them uncomfortable, ignoring facts, compartmentalizing, denying. I stared, blank faced in amazement as parents blamed drugs and sex for their distant children, children alcohol or stress for their loveless parents. Religions saw godlessness, politicians saw a lack of citizenship, scientists saw ignorance. No one seemed to see the change, no one saw their eyes.

I watched as a minister waxed lyrical of the state of society, the duty of all people to their community, the strength in confidence in their leaders. It all amounted to the same thing: 'Do as you're told. Do not question.' He filibustered without passion or conviction, clearly reading a prepared speech and not particularly well. I remember feeling amazed that anyone could fall for such obvious insincerity, at the audacity of this man who thought he did not even need to try to convince us. And then there they were again, and I knew I was lost. Those lifeless and alien eyes.

After they had begun to infiltrate government they became more bold, their attacks more frequent. I spent most of my time running, could not answer the door. Shortly I found what limited interaction I already allowed myself with mankind was dwindling away to nothing. I have to admit, I was amazed at just how significant an affect this had on my life. We are none of us truly alone. Even in something as simple as grocery shopping, even if I could have done it online, there would be people bringing it to my door. Eating out, ordering in, drinking. No one drinks alone; we all have a bartender at some stage in the process.

Soon enough, I was driven from my home. I was scrounging, foraging for scraps and fleeing form derelict to derelict, living in the dark, moving on whenever I felt the first hint that I had been discovered. Why me, I thought, why can't they find someone else to chase down? Am I the only one left?

I wasn't, I soon discovered, as for a short time I found a friend in a young girl who showed me how foolish I had been, and just possibly saved my life. When we first bumped into each other, each hurrying the opposite way down a dark back street, she gave me such a dumbfounded look she could only possibly be a person, complete and whole.

"Oh my God," she exclaimed as she stared aghast at me. "Cover your eyes!"

With this, she swirled the bright orange shawl she wore, covering her face, from around her head and onto my own in a single swift movement of protection and love, things that I hadn't experienced for almost as long as I could remember, and certainly had never been favoured with by a stranger until that day. I was in awe, the girl's expression transferring to me with her property. Like some incoherent fool I tried wordlessly to return to the girl her property, but she pushed it back onto me.

"I'll be alright. You need this more than I do." Her eyes had the spark of real, human life, but they were grey like theirs (or were theirs blue?).

We could not stay together, but we met when we could, secretly at night and all too briefly. She shared her childhood with me and I broke an age old vow (one which I hope you'll forgive me keeping now) and shared mine with her. I would not have believed, soaking myself in sour mash in night clubs, that I might have had such a warming reaction from simple human interaction, that I'd have ever felt the need for a friend. Indeed, I had not been aware of quite how much my solitude had started to sting until she came into my shattered life.

Do not misunderstand me; these were not 'coffee shop moments'. To meet at all, we were forced to squat in hovels, crouching behind the crumbling walls of burnt out buildings, or cowering like junkies under bridges in the rain. It was a miserable existence, but it was shared and halved for that. And it made escapes easier at times, splitting our hunters along different paths, although together we attracted more attention and so spent much of our time apart.

I went to meet her one night at our favourite haunt (how pointed that term has become as we become as ghosts in the world). It was the cleanest of lonely places, the best of the forgotten, which was how we had begun to see ourselves; sturdy, surviving despite the odds. We had met there many times. Perhaps one too many.

I had arrived first. I always did. I wondered if perhaps I needed this more than she did, of maybe she just found more to do than I did. Most of my day was spent waiting to see her again. I watched out from our hide to the street beyond and there it was, her silhouette, unmistakably human in its swagger. And behind it was something more purposeful, and wholly less pleasant.

Be careful, I wanted to shout. Be quick. Run! But the words would not come. I would be lost if they had, perhaps I was anyway. My friend struggled against the grip of her assailant but it was too late, she was caught. Two more of them appeared and started moving towards my hiding place. I would suffer the same fate as my erstwhile companion if I did not think fast. With a motion borrowed with great shame, I placed my shawl, her shawl, over my face and calmly walked out into the street. I walked past the one clutching my now unconscious saviour as though the scene were as little to me as dust in the wind, and with my eyes covered, they paid me as little mind.

Later, I went back to that place. I tell myself that it was to find her, to rescue her, but I know it not to be true. She was gone and beyond my help. I hadn't chance and chose myself, as I had always done. The building no longer appeared the haven to me that it once had. The walls were black with soot, the ground brown with droppings, the glass in the windows gone or broken. It was squalor of the lowest kind, it always had been.

It was then I decided to leave, to move and keep moving. I stole a car; it wasn't hard. Nothing flashy, something nice and inconspicuous. For a while I could keep mobile on my credit cards, so long as I always found 'pay-at-pump' stations, and after that I could steal the fuel I needed just as easily. This was better, this was safest.

So I drove. I had a grand plan of roaming across the country, maybe finding others like myself, and living out my final days as a wizened old nomad telling tales of the old times. When it came down to it, however, I found it hard to tear myself from the city and progressed little further than the sprawling suburbs, driving around in circles, covering my eyes and watching theirs.

Everywhere I looked, I could see them, staring blankly ahead with their cold, dead eyes, making the motions of life but certainly not living. I tried to give them as little attention as possible, wishing to draw none to myself, yet still, overtime I found that there were dull, lightless spheres staring out at me more and more as I circled estates or dove back into the city to lose myself in its labyrinthine ways.

Before long, I was panicking, surrounded by the enemy at all sides. They began lining the streets, watching me like living surveillance cameras - no, just like surveillance cameras. And then they began to move into me, narrowing the streets, pushing the walls of the great garbage disposal towards my impending doom.

I should have gone through them. I should have run them down and headed for the hills, it wouldn't have been murder, not really. But that's not how it happened. One stepped out in front of my car. I only saw him for a second, but he seemed different to the others, in charge somehow. I've heard his voice since then, recognised him for who he is. I saw him too late, hit the brakes, swerved and hit a lamppost, scattering onlookers as my car wrapped itself around the metal pole. The world went black.

I wasn't seriously injured, my car didn't explode, this isn't a movie. And so, inevitably, I regained consciousness sat up with my back against the walls in the corner of a cold room with a stone floor. There was a blindfold wrapped around my head and, in my hand, the shawl my friend had given me. I didn't even try to stand, just gripped tightly onto the shawl for comfort.

"Awake then?" a male voice asked me. I instantly recognised my captor, the government minister.

"I take it I'm out there right now," I croaked, my throat dry from the accident.

"No, no. There was little point. You’re not that important a presence in the world. Bigger fish to fry." He was mocking me, so cruel!

"Then why," I struggled. "Why couldn't you just leave me alone?"

"I told you once before, I must have your eyes."

Shock silenced me and he continued.

"There is still resistance, you see.  Small pockets but big risk. The plan was to infiltrate, but our eyes, well, you know." I did. "We had hoped to use yours, so vibrant, so alive."

"Bastard," I spat. "You'll have to cut them out first!" I could not say where this misplaced bravado had come from, but I was incensed. He merely chuckled in response.

"It is no matter. We cannot do it, cannot replicate them. It would seem we miss some vital piece, something other we cannot find. We failed."

My turn to laugh. You're damn right you're missing something, you alien freaks. Humanity! Life! I said nothing, but merely spat in what I thought was the minister's direction. There was a beat.

"You may keep these." The words seemed to spring from pure coldness. "They are no good to us."

The minister placed something in my hand, two small objects, round and wet. Before he left, he removed the blindfold - no, the bandage from my head. I opened my eyelids as my cell door shut behind the minister, and though the darkness did not recede to the light, though I could not see what I held, these facts alone illuminated me. It was my eyes.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Another late pictonaut!

As the terrible human being that I am, I am posting this month's pictonaut far too late! And it is so short as well. And it's fanfic! I feel all dirty. It is called Rise, rise, rise!

----------------------------------------------

The swell receded, the pure white foam bubbling away, dissolving back into the sea and Milo stooped down to discovered what had been washed ashore. Many - indeed most - feared the ocean now. Mankind has retreated in waves from the shore, swifter, they hoped, than the water rose to swallow them. Evil had come from the sea, rising up from the depths to wreak destruction on the land as it had beneath the waves, and just as suddenly had floundered and died, unable to survive outside its natural habitat. Debate still raged as to what they had been. Like people built by crazed gods, they craved and killed and broke and begged for something that did not exist, and when they could not find it, they died - mostly by their own hands. That time had passed, but the shore was still a cursed place to most.

Actually, Milo thought to himself, 'shore' is inaccurate. It wasn't like he stood upon a golden, sandy beach, surrounded by sea shells and crustaceans. Junk yard would be more accurate. For after monsters, other things started to come from the sea. Glass things and concrete things, metal things and stone things. It was all so alien to Milo, so exciting. It was sure to make his fortune, as he alone was brave enough to explore the water's edge.

He hadn't found much so far, but he knew the time would soon come when his patience would be rewarded. Last time he had seen syringes and vials. All broken, empty, worthless, but if he could get some intact he might make millions selling the world its next great dream.

Today did not yet look as though it would be his day, however, as he picked through the usual assortment of chipped brick and twisted metal. Still, he scrutinized every nook he could find unscrupulously. Another wave would hit in a second, and Milo knew that the future could be changed by something small, far more easily than it might by something big; something he might miss; something that might get swept away by the next swell.

The next wave broke and Milo looked up in time to see a soft toy bear be taken up and out to the boundless ocean. It looked man-made - human-made, he should say - enough and probably came from the discarded refuse of some other city.

The wash of the breaking wave moved over Milo's shoes as the sound did over his ear, a great crescendo finally fizzling away to a soft hiss, and then... the hiss did not fade. While the sea had grown silent, something unidentified still remained. Milo's keen ear picked it out and he began moving to the source. Every strike of wave on refuse scrambled his sonar, forcing him to stop and wait but, little by little, he approached the prize, growing in his imagined estimation as he grew nearer to it.

Finally, Milo knelt down amongst the flotsam and pressed his ear to the box that was hissing at him, whispering to him promises and dreams. The sea heaved once more and the sound changed to piercing feedback, forcing Milo to move away from his prize. Nevertheless, he was rewarded for his caution as the whispers of the deep began to take form.

"Thi... apt....er."

Milo waited, listening for more.

"Thi... apt...  er," the box repeated, and again. Milo investigated closer, searching for whatever might be supplying power to this mechanical voice. Somewhere, an ancient power source, rusting on the ocean floor, was breathing these dying half words to the surface. Milo discovered the cables, somewhat exposed and sparking concerningly, on the back side of the box. He pulled on the wires, but something beneath the sea into which they trailed was holding them fast.

Milo pulled with all his force. A large object in the murky waters shifted and rose, sending its own microtides spreading across the civic graveyard. Bubbles rose and grew and shattered to reveal - bubbles; a great metal dome, three times a grown man's head worth, punctuated with dark glass bubbles, smaller hemispheres spread over its surface.

There was something else attached to the dome, just as it curved under the water, pink and loose, some kind of fabric. For a second, the light fell in such a way as to convince Milo that the clothing was occupied. He fell into a panic of altruism and waded out into the ocean to rescue the poor soul trapped beneath the Atlantean waste. He pulled ferociously at the rags floating before him as soon as he was within reach, but his efforts were in vain. The cloth came away easily enough, and had indeed once been a dress, clearly belonging to a very young girl, but these garments had not contained a child for countless years. Only the shadow of her life remained.

"Thi... a... apt... mi... er."

The box spurted out its broken message with renewed vigour, now permanently audible over the sound of the waves, causing Milo to turn his attention from his new discovery. He stood and waited for more.

"This... a... aptur... minder.
"This is a... apture... minder.
"This is a Rapture reminder. This is a Rapture reminder."


The great bubbled dome beneath him sprang to life, red light spewing forth from within the blistered windows. To Milo's left, water began to run off an object that rose from the waves, a large gloved hand, and to his right, something big and metallic, a large conical drill, began to spin, spraying the suds of the tide into Milo's face. The monster beneath him shifted and threw him down onto his back. A hulk of a man in some kind of terrible suit, which sustained its life beneath the waves, rose out of the water and let out a horrific moan that shook the buildings around them. The monster saw the cloth in Milo's hand and screamed, bearing down with its terrifying spinning drill.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Pictonaut - June 2014 - Forbiddon!

Another month rolls around and another pictonaut challenge comes to an end. Here was this month's:

And it was a doozy. Way way waaaay open. Could do almost anything with it. My first thought was, 'Nah, skip this one. Too many options.' Then inspiration stuck and I bashed out the below fairly sharpish. Then I sat on it for days on end and still didn't manage to upload it in time.

Anyway, here it is, only a little late.

Forbiddon!



Sand, dry sand, and even drier blood caked around the moistureless lips of The Walker, the trudger, the endless wanderer towards his final, shining goal. It had been longer than he could count which, while his formal education had been little to speak of, was still considerable in the grand scheme of things. His life had been trained to this task. Not just his mind or his body, but his circumstance, his home, his surroundings had all been finely tuned to allow this moment to come to pass. He knew nothing else, he wanted nothing else. Before him lay the great sandstone gates to the city that contained within it everything about his soul that made him who was. The gates were large, featureless and foreboding, and he enjoyed that deeply.

But what of his journey? What of those people he left behind - his own, others? What of his deeds or the path that he trod? And what of them indeed, thought he. Those things that have past, he had been taught, had died. More than that, these people, places, events, were obliterated from existence by the ever destructive passing of the present moment, the only one of consequence, an immense guillotine cutting through time, leaving only oblivion behind it.

And now the blade was poised to swipe away the closed gate before him, revealing an open portal to the city beyond. Time would clear his path just as it had always done, all he need do was wait. So he waited, and in a moment a sentry appeared, and in a moment a question was asked, and in a moment an answer was given, and in a moment the gates were swung wide.

Any other observer at this point would have been consumed by the busy bustle of the city that lay beyond. Great sandstone monoliths played host to endless infestations of human beings, forcing themselves in, or being unceremoniously sprayed out. The dusty track ways that made up the roads were swarmed with falling feet, stamping them down wherever they dared vary from the uniform parallel they were designed for. Everywhere, trade was to be had, the whole city was a thriving commercial venture; everything was for sale. Any other observer might have drowned, but not this man.

The Walker did not see the motion around him, he did not follow step with step. All the wanderer saw was the change. And nothing changed in this golden city. Oh, many things moved around, many people grew richer, some grew poorer, but in the end it achieved little. Things changed hands, nothing changed. And so The Walked saw nothing, nothing but his prize.

It called to him, a shining jewel in a vast plain, a glistening red beacon of all that he had been promised. He would find it and, it was prophesied, the prize would be given to him freely, he would consume it and find enlightenment. The wanderer closed his eyes and felt for the power of his grail through the moments in time.

The crowd around him parted as he moved, trance-like through the city hunting, homing, drawing in to the glorious jewel. A brightness filled The Walker's mind, a brilliant red light that engulfed his thoughts entire. He opened his eyes and he knew he beheld his prize.

Before him, a jolly old hag with wisdom behind her eyes, the wisdom of many sights seen, held a basket of rosy red apples. People, old and young, man and woman, black and white, all people thronged around her. They crowded her and she smiled, they held out their hands and she handed them apples, laughing as she just gave away her precious wares, his prize by right, as though she did not even know what she had in her hands. And the prophesy would be proved true; she gave freely of her wondrous gift to all.

The wanderer moved into the crowd and pushed aside the hopeful masses standing beneath the hag with the purposeful arrogance of the righteous, caring not for the petty needs of the heathens who sullied his great reward. As the beggars around him had unwittingly revealed, he performed the ritual for her, raising his two hands together in hope, in need. And she passed apples. She handed them to The Walker's left and to his right. All around him, sun red fruit was carelessly tossed and hurled, but not to him. Each time her hand went to the basket his hopes swelled in his breast and were shattered, as fragile as dreams, as she passed him by once and again.

Frustration began to cloud the mind of the wanderer, thoughts and feelings he had been trained against beating at the chinks in his armour, once as tough as steel, now as fragile as shell. Physical changes began to come over the man - rising temperature, increased heart rate - that told The Walker the time was near, he could wait no longer. As the hag's hand fell to the basket, The Walker could see it would be for the last time, a soul ruby left to gift.

The hag held the precious jewelled apple aloft and time slowed for The Walker. It was a deeper red than any that had come before it, it held a crisper shine. The apple luminesced with the brilliance of a wisdom and knowledge that none but The Walker could comprehend. This must be his prize, he had waited so long and been promised so much. None other may touch her! The hag's hand moved out from the basket... and away from the wanderer's reaching grasp!

The Walker could contain himself no longer. He lurched forward and snatched the apple from the old woman's palm. The poor lady screamed at this presumption, but The Walker paid no heed. He had his prize. A great grin spread itself across his face and he bit down hard into the succulent fruit.

The Walker breathed out a mighty sigh of relief as the sweet, cool juice slid down his throat. His prize was everything it should have been; it was clear, pure, intense, brilliant, radiant, wise, whole, glorious, mystifying.

Poisoned.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Mrch pictonaut - Another Walk



Ok. I'm a day late. But only because I was on holiday. And this time I stuck to the remit - only a little over 1000 words. An easy read, or is it?



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You take a walk, stretch your legs, shake off the cobwebs, get some air in your lungs. But I take another walk.

You've got a new fad, a health kick - trying to get fit, to be a better person, to be all you can be. But there is little health where I go, the people I meet are all they'll ever be. No more, no less.

So you walk to work now, with a half fat latte, warmth, comfort and a buzz. A few pence change for the tramp, perhaps. Another buzz - charity, cheap and easy. But it is cold where I work, and though people try to find comfort, there is little to be had. I might come find the tramp tonight, perhaps. For now, I'll follow your warm footsteps with my own.

Where you work, there are endless people; a throng of life and activity. It is a friendly, affirming chaos. I prefer my peace. You might, too. You hope that the great density of population will afford you some anonymity, but there is always someone who knows you for who you really are. Where I am, nobody knows you. There is nothing to know.

You are called, at work, to a specific place by a specific person and your heart sinks. Judgement is coming and all of your failures will be listed in turn, your successes overlooked completely. But I will judge you not. In my place, there is no success, and no failure. Hearts do not sink and cannot rise.

In a moment, a decision is made - to abandon stability, fortune, prestige. In the face of this little man, dragging you down beneath him, you choose not to face him, to give up, to step aside. Stability I do know, I know too much of it. For I cannot quit. I must walk on and pass people by. The tramp, your boss, yourself?

So you walk out, as I walk out, and you step into a world of promise, of possibility. You don't know where to step next. But mine is a world of certainty. Every day I step the road I must, to the place I must, always the same. The same day, the same events, different places, nothing special.

You want the familiar, you're panicking and want to surround yourself with the comfortable, the routine. Would that I could remove myself from my routine, how I might be remembered then, how I might be loved - by some at least - for a time at least. So you head home, to a place where you could walk blindfold, filled with objects of histories well known. I am blind, yet always know where to tread. I have a history, too. But it is remembered by others, not by me. I know not my own history, as I know not yours.

Play with your cat. That will please you. What is it like, to have a life dependent on you, to have such power over another living thing? You might have thought I had such a power, and that you had none. But we always blame those we think we can ignore. You'll realise the truth soon enough. For now, you can while away the time with your little plaything, then casually disregard it, as it might you. You'd cry if it were gone though. It would not.

Evening falls and you change your face. I don't understand why, but then, when I see you, you all wear the same one, maskless, empty. Without your make believe, you don't really have much else. Tonight, you'll pretend you're not alone, pretend you're happy, pretend you care.

You step out tonight, in a more traditional sense. In the sense that requires two sets of footsteps, walking in tandem, or maybe one just behind the other. I have never known such companionship, although I meet so many. I'll see you all eventually, but so very briefly, there's just no time at all.

At the restaurant we find our common ground. Each face you see seems the same, alien, lifeless face - just as I see them. Even opposite you, a man desperate to get your attention is making soundless noise from a sightless visage. You hear the pertinent words, understand their meaning, but lack comprehension. He gets frustrated. It doesn't sink in until long after he has left that you are alone. Like me.

Home again, remove your mask, remove your clothes, bare yourself to the unpopulated world of your fifth floor apartment. There's nothing left now but yourself, that's all you have. And no one can see it but you. You move to the window to show yourself off to the world, all your perfections, all your faults. Nobody sees you. Step closer, they still can't see. One step more and they'll see more than you ever did yourself. One. More. Step.

Here's why I take over, as our paths cross. Just for a moment, we take the same walk. Allow me the liberty of explaining a few things to you here, to correct a few misconceptions you may have. Please do, for we won't have the chance later. I shall be honest. It is not mine to lie, I never have.

Should you fall, I shall catch you, but this is all I will do, all I can do. And all you can do is be caught. You will not walk with me, nor see with my eyes, my secrets shall not be revealed unto you. I shall not judge you, nor give you peace or suffering. Nor warmth nor cold shall you know, not punishment or reward. You shall not be reunited with those gone before, nor left to dwell over those yet to be. This is not nothing that I hold and pass on to you. It is less. I shall know an eternity of moments like your own. They are brief, they are final, they are not eternal. They are the truest end. For one flickering instance alone will we share our paths and then, while mine meanders on, yours must necessarily cease. You cannot tread a path where there is no ground to tread.

So please, walk your path and let me walk mine. They might both continue should they never meet. Think not of me and you, in turn, shall be far from me, with still a path to walk, still a step to tread. You have caught someone's eye, and they in turn have caught mine; a large man below you on the street, perhaps even lonelier than you, enjoying the show. He made his choice a long time since, his path has been edging ever closer to mine with every second dessert. Tonight our paths shall meet. I won't say cross, as that implies continuation, which I am sure you've now learned would only be half correct. Permit me to collect his moment alone tonight, his cannot be prevented, yours can. Take a step back, take a walk away from here, away from me. Follow your path, one leads not to me, and I shall take another walk.