Thursday, May 24, 2018

Microstory 849: Waters Run Deep

I wake up in a different reality, and the first thing I wonder is what in my other self’s past would have driven him to become a runner? All my life I’ve hated running. Walking, hiking, backpacking, even, I get. But running? It’s bad for your knees, and isn’t better exercise than cycling, which at least allows you to take a break once in awhile, and still make progress. Yet, no matter how hard I fight it, I can’t shake the urge to go out and jog. Apparently this version of me uses the activity to clear his head, and if ever there was a time for me to need sort things out, it’s today. The last thing I remember, I was just sitting in front of the television, having recently turned it off. I wasn’t quite ready to get up and go to bed, because of a hard day at work, but I don’t recall anything interesting happening while I was sitting there. No blinding flash of light, no queasiness, no weird sounds. Suddenly I’m just back at college, in what’s clearly my dorm room, surrounded by magazine cutouts of who I can only guess are my athletic icons. It isn’t painful or tiring when I’m out jogging; part of the benefit of being in this new body. It’s still horrific, though, because the part of me that hates this is still rattling around up there in this brain. At first I think I’m running aimlessly, but then I start getting the feeling that this is either my usual route, or one of them. Everything looks familiar, even though I dropped out of school so fast in my reality that I didn’t even see this side of campus. I sense that I’m nearing some destination, and barely even have to stop to open the door to what I would otherwise believe is just a random building. It feels like a different planet, with a much lower oxygen concentration, and higher gravity. I’m so much heavier than I’m supposed to be, so I have to drop to a walk. I pass by little pods, each one containing what appears to be some kind of alien specimen mid-slumber, floating on a bed of water. As I continue, though, I come across several that are completely awake. They’re more shocked to see me than I them. I’m not sure if this is the weirdest thing that’s happened to me today, so I don’t let it get to me. “Ain’t no thang,” I find myself helpless but to say out loud. They act like they understand my language, because they give me the same look any human would if I said something like that around them.

I don’t really black out, but I lose most control of my motor functions, and the next thing I know, I’m tinkering with one of their machines, and flooding this building with pure oxygen. Though the aliens who are awake seem strong enough to suffer through it, they aren’t strong enough to fight me. They have to use all their energy trying to repair the problem, which they may be able to do, but not before all of their sleeping friends die. The stasis pods leave them in highly fragile states, and need to be precisely calibrated to maintain equilibrium. I’ve just screwed with that stability, and I know in my heart that they will not survive. How I know this, I couldn’t tell you. None of this makes any sense to me, yet at the same time, everything seems perfectly reasonable. One of the aliens realizes the rest of his people are goners, so he directs his attention to me, and I have to run again, which is now far easier with more oxygen than before. I race across the little alleyway, and into the next building over. There’s a secret entrance to a hidden passageway though one of the locker rooms, but I can’t remember which one. Nor do I remember how I know any of this at all. One of the showers is still on, and the water is hot enough to burn my skin. The pain jolts me, and it’s like I’m waking up for the first time in my life. Now all the answers are right in front of me. I’m not just from another reality, but from several. One version of me ended up a brilliant scientist, and has figured out how to create something he calls a quantum conflux. He’s assembled a legion of alternates, and converged us into the body of one of our counterparts, so that we can use our respective skills together to solve the problem of the alien invasion. I am but one of these alternate versions, but the question remains, how do I contribute to this effort? I’m no scientist, and I don’t know anything about secret shower passageways. While I’m trying to figure out why Scientist!Me brought me along, the alien catches up with us, and prepares to attack. I reach back and punch him once in the face. He falls on his ass, and doesn’t get back up. Oh, that’s why he chose me. I’ve been in a lot of bar fights.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Microstory 848: Airplane Parents

Flying is risky business now that the bladapods have released their reality warping gases all over the planet. While everyday holds new surprises, conflicts, or obstacles, most of what is going to be altered pretty much already has by now. There are only two ways to experience a new base modification now: direct contact with a bladapod, or passing through the bladosphere, which commercial airliners do on a regular basis. Engineers have figured out how to protect aircraft from exposure to the gases, but it still happens from time to time, which is why air travel has suffered greatly. There are really only a handful of surviving airlines these days, each one providing significantly fewer flights than they once did, serving fewer cities than I would like. I’m a consultant, looking to either secure new business, or maintain the accounts my firm already has, so global travel is an absolute must. The hyperloops are great when I’m trying to stay on the continent, but I don’t have time for a ship to reach overseas. So here I am, with a few hundred other brave souls, just hoping nothing bad happens, but it does.

Of course, none of us has any idea where the leak is, but it’s too late now. If you see bladgas, it is already in you. The flight attendant stands up, and raises her voice to address the crowd. I’m close enough to the front to see that her intercom is not working. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she says, “as many of you have noticed, we are experiencing a bladgas event. I want to assure you that the cockpit is completely sealed off from the cabin, and operates on a separate system. While I am unable to communicate with them, the sensors have alerted them to our situation. Protocols demand we remain in a holding pattern above the bladosphere, over the nearest airstrip, which we will land on as soon as our case has been codified. Please understand that, no matter what happens here, the plane will land safely. I am requesting assistance from anyone with a technical background that could help me repair the communications system. We appreciate you remaining calm as we work through this as a team. Make sure that your identity tag is visible, just in case.” A teenage girl raises her hand and stands up, informing the flight attendant of her education as a technician. The rest of us try to do what the woman said, and stay calm. Many of us prepare final messages to our loved ones. Others attempt to fall asleep. There has been some reported correlation between being unconscious, and being unaffected by the bladosphere, but no causality has been proven. I just go back to my book.

About an hour later, changes begin to manifest. It starts off small, like it always does. Someone is pouty and inconsolable. Another is fussy, looking through his bag, desperately searching for something. At first, the rest of us aren’t sure that anything’s wrong, and are still praying that the gases do nothing but turn the plane black. But then a pattern forms as people become more unruly. They start crying and screaming, acting like total children. And their children are acting more like adults. Behavior fluctuation appears to be the name of the game here, on a group level. So far, it seems only the parents and their offspring have been changed, but that doesn’t mean it’ll stop there. Sure, it’s incredibly irritating trying to read while all these people are freaking out—at least children crying on an airplane don’t have much trouble with legroom—but I know we’ll come through on the other end. I doubt things will end up like on the infamous Flight 522, where half the passengers suddenly started thinking they were rhinoceroses, and possessed the strength to prove it. It was one of the first flights after the gases were released, and since there were no survivors, it ushered in years of massive paranoia. The young technician twists one last wire, and claims to have solved the problem. We can hear the captain on the other end, but she’s not assuring us everything is going to be okay. She’s singing. She’s singing a lullaby. We can hear the voice of the copilot, singing as well, but his is the theme song to a popular Danish children’s TV show. A five-year-old girl stands up from the front row, and demands the use of the intercom system. “Mom?” she asks. “Mom, can you hear me? Mom, you stop singing right this instant, and land this plane!” We hear the sound of the captain blowing raspberries into the mouthpiece. Then the plane takes a dive.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Microstory 847: Crabby

My friend runs an animal shelter; one of those places that specializes in temporary placement for exotic animals that are illegal to keep in this area. One of his veterinarians was working late one night when a gangster walked in seeking medical attention, which the vet obliged. Sadly, the people who had tried to kill him before caught up with him, and finished the job, taking the vet as collateral damage in the process. Even worse, animals were hurt at the same time, and the killers apparently stole a baby monkey from the cage of its now dead mother. Something even stranger happened as a result of this, though. The animals remaining began to exhibit extremely odd behavior, and even seemed to change on a genetic level. A snake broke out of its cage, and became hyperprotective of the capybara. Two birds lost their wings, and grew longer legs, which gave them incredible speed. And then there was a lepon crab—an incredibly rare species already, and so interesting; you know, they have human-like lips?—whose intelligence was increased enough to rival that of a teenage human. Since it was so much smarter than before, my friend knew that it was no longer ethical to deport it back to its home country. The crab seemed keen on me, though, so I agreed to give him a nice home, until he could find a job, and get his own place.

He decided to name himself Monticello, in honor of the street that the animal shelter was on. While notably a little grouchy, he became part of our family, and we treated him as our equal, but we still had to pretend he was our pet around other people, since they wouldn’t understand. We even brought him with us on our trip to the Keserint Islands, which my sister had chosen at random by literally spinning a globe and dropping her finger. Monticello was so excited to finally be back by the ocean, even though his memories of life before the incident were understandably hazy. One night, we were sitting at the hotel restaurant, when my spontaneous sister suggested we look at a Keseriti menu without English translations, then pick something at random. We agreed, anxious about what we would end up with. The waitress looked at my sister funny when she noticed Monticello sitting with us. She didn’t seem bothered by us eating next to a crab, mind you, but only when my sister ordered a native dish called baktopin. That was our first hint something was wrong. We were astonished when our food arrived, and the waitress placed a big ol’ plate of dead crab in front of my sister. We were all horrified, no one more than my sister. Of course, it was an honest mistake, but Monticello was not happy. He leapt up from his high chair, and tried to attack my sister, but I was quick enough to knock him out of the air. He turned around with rage in his eyes and said, “I will kill you. I will kill you all.” We immediately raced upstairs, hastily packed our belongings, and drove to the airport. Thinking we were finally safe, we came back home, and tried to get some sleep. I wake up the next morning to a crab on my chest, ominously snapping his claws in the air. I ask him if he’s going to kill me, but he just points to another creature, sitting in the corner of my room. I recognize it from the shelter at the creature my friend couldn’t name. They evidently found it on the street, and they don’t even know where it’s from. They think it’s a new species entirely. “The bladopod has talked me down,” Monticello says. “We need your help.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

Microstory 846: Shelter

I have a special ability, but I am no superhero. I have an innate sense of life and death. Everywhere around me, plants, insects, and animals are dying, and I can feel it all. I can also feel life around me, but it’s not very fulfilling. I’ve tried to sequester myself from people, because humans feel the worst when they die, but there’s even more death in the wilderness, so that didn’t work. There’s really nowhere I can go where I’ll be absolutely alone, unless I travel to some place so barren, that even I won’t survive. Which I considered actually doing every single day I wake up. I’ve worked with a few therapists, but they all just want to figure out why I think I have these abilities, and whether there’s anything I can do to break free from this delusion. Not one of them has believed in what I can do, even the ones who’ve seemed like they do. They were really just using a tactic to make me feel at ease, so I’ll come to the so called truth on my own. The only help I’ve gotten is from spiritual practices, like meditation. You would think I don’t need to be any more aware of my surroundings than I already am, but it helps me focus my energies on what I’m doing, and ignore all this death. Still, there are good days and bad. Tonight is really bad. I’m walking past an animal shelter at night; one of those places that specializes in temporary placement for exotic animals that are illegal to keep in this area. I get a rush of new life, which is the absolute best feeling in the world. I’ve tried hanging around maternity wards to exploit this sensation, but I make people as uncomfortable as you would imagine, so I can’t do it too often. Right now I’m sensing an animal being born, but it must be some kind of primate, because it feels pretty human-like. I sit on the nearest park bench, and enjoy the respite. Unfortunately, I start to feel impending death too, which is quickly evidenced by the sounds of gunshots. I hide behind a dumpster until I can tell that everyone who was going to die already has, and the survivors have left.

I break into the shelter as well to find a horrific scene. But it doesn’t bother me much, because it’s not anywhere near as disturbing as living through it every day. Two men are lying dead on the floor, one with a gun, and the other in a white lab coat. I take a guess that the former came in here after hours, looking for some extracurricular medical attention, but he wasn’t able to get it before his enemies discovered his location, and finished the job. Like I said, when you have such an intimate relationship with death itself, the aftermath is a relief, so these dead bodies mean nothing to me. Sadly, however, the animals were caught in the crossfire, including a sugar glider, and a monkey. I can still feel life from that cage, and realize it’s the baby that had recently been born. It was his mother that was killed, and as young and confused as he is, he’s noticeably distraught. Instinct takes over, and I open the cage. The baby monkey immediately jumps into my arms, and climbs up to hold onto my neck. I hear police sirens, so I get out of there right quick, taking the frightened animal with me. He proceeds to hold onto me literally all day, even while I take a nap on the couch. It’s a good thing my condition already doesn’t lend itself to having a roommate, or I would have some splainin to do. He won’t even let go of me when I have to go out and find food for him, so I put on a sweater in the middle of July, and try to not look too awkward. My route takes me past a hospital, because there’s less foot traffic down this alleyway. I would normally avoid it, because hospitals are pretty well known for all their deaths, but I’m not having any issues. I should feel some residual death as I’m walking right by the basement mortuary, but I feel absolutely nothing. For the first time in my life, I concentrate and try to reach out to the myriad bug deaths all around me, but nothing is there. I don’t sense other people around me either, which normally manifests as this constant hum in the back of my neck when I’m close enough to a crowd. My God, it’s this monkey. He’s blocking the signals, or something. I have to find a way to keep him my entire life.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 3, 2180

Once again, Vitalie was already there when Leona returned to the timeline in pocket six, on September 3, 2180. She was still not an adult, even by Durune standards, which meant she was still going against her father’s wishes. “What do you have for me?” Leona asked, not bothering to chastise her.
“I’ll only be here for a minute. I just wanted to make sure you got in all right.” She pointed to a girl a few years older than her, who was walking towards them from the housing units.
“That’s Ecrin. She’s been assigned your guide in this pocket, and she’ll assist you with anything you need from here on out. Good luck, call me if you need me.”
“Leona Matic?” Ecrin asked, as if she could be anyone but. “Ecrin Cabral. Welcome to pocket six. I imagine you’ll want to start with Annora’s quarters.”
“Annora’s quarters?” Leona asked.
“Yes. This was her pocket. Did you not know that?”
“No, but now that I do I realize why what I’m looking for is likely here.” It made since. This dimension seemed a little bit larger than the others, with what appeared to be a more floriferous garden. “I should have known. Forgive me, my girlfriend was the investigator.”
“I understand.” They started to walk and talk. “Of course, her place is nicer than everyone else’s, but a few of us have been making sure no one squats in there. Besides not wanting to disturb any evidence for someone like you, it didn’t seem respectful to take over just because she wasn’t here. We actually figured she was dead, since the entrance was closed. Held a funeral, and everything.”
“You did?”
“Everyone here either knew her personally, or knows someone who did. She chose to surround herself with friends, which might have thrown off the compatibility math that’s causing all those problems in pocket one. I’m sorry about what happened to you in there.”
“It’s not your fault. Even the best of us can turn when put in a desperate situation. They’re just trying to survive.”
“Well, it’s not that hard,” Ecrin noted. “We have everything we need in here. Hell, we could all live and die here, and it would still be all right. You just need the right attitude.”
“Too true.” She looked at the stairway window as they were approaching Annora’s unit. “Hey, do you need help turning the sun back off? I’ve learned how to do it.”
“Everyone here has had enough sleep. We’re leaving it on for you. No one knows what’s gonna happen when you find that secret dimension.”
Leona’s temporal anomaly detector started beeping as soon as Ecrin opened Annora’s door. “Found it,” she declared.
Ecrin took a small radio transceiver, and spoke into it, “it is here. Move in.”
Leona could hear footsteps race up the stairs, reminding her of the horde of angry pocketers in pocket one. A group of people in tactical uniforms, carrying various and sundry weapons, marched into the apartment, and began to clear every room. “What the hell is this?”
“There’s a killer in here somewhere,” Ecrin explained. “We’re not gonna let him get away again.”
“That’s what I’m doing here,” Leona argued. “I’ll take him back with my emergency teleporter.”
“With all do respect, sir,” one of the tactical agents who appeared to be in charge of protecting Ecrin personally said, “we do not know what we’re up against. We don’t know what powers he has, or whether he has accomplices. We’ve been training for this for years.”
“Trained by who?”
“Whom,” Ecrin corrected.
“Trained by who?” Leona repeated.
“By me,” Ecrin answered.
“You? And where did you receive your training? Movies?”
“I was a mage protector for sixty years. Then after spending sixty-seven years in a phallocratic prison, I joined the provisional government, serving as a guardsman for diplomatic leaders for five years. I trained under the salmon battalion during the temporary military state, then became an officer in the Intercity Police Department, operating primarily at the temporal anomaly division. I did that for five more years, until The Warren left. Now I’m going back to Earth to retire.”
“Oh,” was all Leona said.
“Yeah.”
“Well, you don’t look a day over—”
“Don’t do that joke,” she pleaded. “I’m ageless, but I can still blow my brains out after hearing the same cliché for the upteenth time. It’s been hard, looking this young, expecting people to take me seriously, but I’m used to the judgments.”
“No judgment here, I just didn’t know.” Without looking, Leona pointed to the back room. “The entrance to the seventh pocket is in there. How should we proceed?”
“This is your operation,” Ecrin said. “I’ll be going in with you, but you will run point, and my people will be out here to protect the civilians.”
Leona looked at the team of many agents, still maintaining their posts around the unit. “Are there any civilians?”
“We’re not on the manifest you have access to. There are more people in here than you can see.”
“What? My investigation relied on—”
“This is what Annora wanted. She wanted her own police force, and we obliged. Take it up with her.”
Leona sighed. “Let’s go.”
Ecrin turned towards her number two. “Lieutenant, you have the field.”
“Yes, sir.”
Leona and Ecrin entered the room alone together, and closed the door behind them. Leona took the detector out, and started waving it in front of the wall, which acted to materialize a portal. It was pink and sparkly, like a vertical puddle of toothpaste.
“Remember, you have point.”
“Yes, sir,” Leona replied. She cautiously walked through the puddle, only to find herself in a jail cell, completely naked. A second portal opened in the cell across from her, through which Ecrin exited, also naked. No, it wasn’t a second portal, but the same one moved.
“What is this? Where are we?” she demanded to know.
They heard a man laugh next to Leona’s cell, which was but one of a whole block. Across from him, Leona could see another man, who was not so joyful. He nodded towards Leona. “Your new clothes are on the bed. There’s a privacy switch on that wall.”
So Leona was locked up yet again. No biggie. She had escaped every time, so this would surely be no different. She didn’t bother using the privacy switch, but Ecrin did as she changed her clothes. It created a full wall in front of the bars.
“What is this place?” Leona asked.
“Passenger jail,” the man Leona couldn’t see responded. “What are you in for?”
“Nothing,” Leona said. “I came in here looking for Annora Ubiña’s killer.”
He laughed again. “Well, ya found him. Forgive me if I don’t let you handcuff me. My arms don’t bend that way.”
“You’ve been stuck here all these years?”
“I thought I had figured out how to get in here without going through one of the cells. I was wrong.”
“Why did you do it?” she questioned.
“If you’re a cop, then I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but it really was an accident. I was planning to turn myself in. I just...needed to get him out of here before the dimensions were sealed off. I failed.”
“So you knew she was alive when you left her in microponics, and that her death would close the entrances,” she scolded.
“There was nothing I could do. I hit her too hard.”
“My girlfriend has the power to heal people, even from the brink of death!” Leona yelled.
“Well, I didn’t know that!” he yelled back. “My cousin was locked in here, so all I could think about was getting him free! If I had known that, I would have tried to save her. I don’t wanna be in here any more than you do.”
“I came in here with an emergency teleporter. What happened to it?”
“Shoot, I don’t know,” he said. “If you didn’t see a pile of my clothes in front of the entrance, the things we’re wearing or carrying are probably destroyed during transit.”
“Leona,” Ecrin began. “What about Vitalie? She can go get help.”
“She’s already said she can’t project into here. Besides, my lucky penny was apparently destroyed en route. I have no way of contacting her, even if I thought that might work.” She took a beat to think things over. “At least the murderer is locked in here too, which was everything I was trying to do.”
“I spent half my life in prison,” Ecrin lamented. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“It’s not ideal, but Hokusai will realize something’s wrong, and she’ll find a way in here. Even if we have to wait until the Warren lands on Earth, we’ll get out.”
“Easy for you to say,” Ecrin contended. “You’ll only have to be here for a few days.”
“What?” the killer’s cousin asked.
“You asked to come,” Leona volleyed. “Rather, you insisted on coming. I would have been perfectly fine coming in by myself. We both knew that we didn’t know what this place was.”
Ecrin massaged her eyes. “I know.”
“How do we eat?” Leona asked the men.
“Food appears on that ledge three times a day,” the cousin explained. “It’s not bad. There’s sewage, drinking water, and a sonic shower that activates once a week. The music will start back up before too long. It turns off so new inmates can go through orientation, which...of course, you can’t actually do.”
“What did you do?” Leona asked him. “What made your cousin desperate enough to kill a woman to get you out?”
“I wasn’t chosen,” he said to her. “I’m a stowaway. Annora found out, and put me in here.”
“I don’t understand why she didn’t tell me about this place,” Ecrin wondered.
“She was going to, actually,” the stowaway said. “You were going to be head guard here. I guess she didn’t get a chance.” He looked over to his cousin with mixed feelings.
He wasn’t laughing now. “I apologize again for that. My name is—”
“Vito Bulgari and Jarrett Grier,” Leona interrupted.
“Uhh...right on the second one, but I don’t know who Vito is. Hadron here isn’t on the manifest, remember?”
“Right.” So where was Vito Bulgari?
Vito Bulgari was staring up at the moon, which had begun appearing in the night sky over the last month. It appeared to be complete tonight, Adamina’s power having increased the size of this dimension enough to include the whole thing. It was cloudy and ominous, though.
Serif and Camden came up to him. “Ever seen anything like that before?” she asked of him.
“Durus didn’t have a moon. Not even a simulated one. Never seemed necessary, I guess. Not without oceans. It’s beautiful.”
“How did you last in this pocket so long without being detected?” Camden asked, doubting his own skills as an intelligence-gathering agent.
He never stopped looking at the moon. “I can be invisible. Literally. Just...make it look like the space I’m occupying is as empty as it is when I’m not in it.”
“Did you kill Annora Ubiña?” Serif interrogated.
He shook his head slowly. “No, but I was scared of getting in trouble. I know it wasn’t illegal for me to travel between the pockets, but when the entrance closed up, I thought maybe I had made some mistake. By the time I realized it had nothing to do with me, you had already taken attendance, and I was then scared about coming forward with the truth. You might have caught me had this place not been growing, but everyday it gets easier and easier to avoid people.”
“It’s still dangerous for you in here, as a human,” Serif warned him. “You should come with us.”
“I thought the Maramon think of us as gods?”
“If we’re gods, they’re Titans, and they want us dead. I don’t suppose you can make other people invisible.”
Vito smiled, and finally looked down from the heavens. “I can make anything invisible.”
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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Missy’s Mission: Hazytown (Part VII)

“How did this happen?” Missy questioned. She wasn’t shocked that it had been two years since they had stepped into the haze. After living in the world of salmon and choosers, nothing could really surprise her. She just literally wanted to know what had happened, so she could prevent it from happening again. “Did the haze alter time?”
“I don’t think that’s what happened,” Dar’cy said. “I think you did it.”
“Me?”
“I think you were in your own temporal bubble.”
“Oh. What makes you think that?”
“I think the haze causes your time powers to go haywire. I wasn’t always in there. I spent at least a day uncontrollably jumping through time and space before I made it out to this clearing.”
“But that’s not your power. You can’t just jump anywhere. You have to thread an object.”
“I think I was threading myself. Which makes sense, because...” She faltered.
“Because what?”
“Because I’ve known what I was going to look like as an adult since I was a child. I’ve been sliding across my own timeline, revisiting past events in my life. Greatest hits.”
Missy was silent for a moment. “You never told me that. Do your parents know?”
“I told no one. Ever.”
“Why?”
“It’s kind of a combination of all, or most, of Leona’s time traveling rules. Obviously I’m meant to avoid alternate versions of myself, but I also needed to never be surprised, but never assume I already had the whole story. It just seemed prudent to keep it to myself, and trust Future!Me would understand. She only ever showed up when I was alone. She never hurt me, and never said a word, so whenever she appeared, I just made like Elsa, and let it go.”
“Well, now that you’ve closed your loop—”
“I can die?” Dar’cy interrupted. It was true, now that everything she knew about her future had become the past, death was now back on the table.
“That’s not what I was going to say. Now that you’ve closed your loop, you understand why it happened, and it isn’t likely to happen again.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
“Why? Did you accidentally thread into the future too?”
“Once, right at the end. Four, three, two...”
A different version of Dar’cy suddenly appeared next to Present!Dar’cy. Past!Dar’cy looked at Missy with relief. “Thank God you make it eventually,” she declared. Then she disappeared.
Present!Dar’cy smiled. “See? I always knew you’d find your way out of there.”
Missy nodded. “Not to sound ungrateful...” she hesitated.
“Why didn’t I go look for you? Once I made it out of the haze, I tried going back. It’s like walking through tar. If you try to escape, it’ll just tug on you until you get too tired to resist.” She looked up at the dome of haze above them. “I’ve not been able to go anywhere beyond the eye, as I’m calling it. I can’t even thread an object to my past again.”
“Does that mean this is it? This is the cure?”
“I dunno, man. I think it’s just a power dampener. If we found a way out, our powers would probably come back. Besides, if getting here is all it takes, we would see evidence of other people; other residents, or even bodies. But I’ve been alone the whole time. It hardly looks like anyone has ever lived here.”
“I’m so sorry. It must have been dreadfully boring.”
She shrugged. “Not as bad as you’d think. We packed enough food for a year, thank God. Since I had already seen myself with you in the future, I could reasonably believe you would return before my rations ran out. Knowing a sort of maximum ETA made it easier. It’s a good thing you came when you did, though. The food I had left would have lasted me another week. Then it’s another three weeks of slowly starving to death. As far as boredom went, there’s a decent library of books in there. I only had to reread two and a half books before today. I admit I did, uh...act out a few key scenes, to pass even more time.”
“Oh my God, I can’t apologize enough. Whatever you say, it is my fault. My powers slew me down, and you’re only here to help me.”
“I don’t wanna hear any further complaining or self-pity about it. I made my choices, and I don’t regret them. Being on The Warren wasn’t all that fun before, and I doubt it’s any more interesting now. At least here I’m on an adventure.”
“I don’t suppose you know what the next step might be. Is there a secret portal, or a special knock to summon one of the powers that be?”
“Oh, I know what the next step is. I found it my first week here. I couldn’t go through, because I didn’t know if I would be able to get back out. We can go together. You might wanna shower first, though. There’s running water.”
Missy took her up on that offer to clean herself up. She couldn’t even be bothered to get dressed afterwards. The relaxing water had reminded her how terribly tired she was, so she sent her face right towards the bed. She was unconscious before hitting the pillow.
Dar’cy was sleeping next to her when she woke up hours later, so she snuck out of the bed, and tiptoed downstairs. Feeling the need to contribute positively to this endeavor, she lifted the bag of holding, and began to empty it out in the living room, so she could take inventory. They had a few days of food between the two of them, and as much water as they had before, since Dar’cy was able to drink from the indoor plumbing. Their tent was still in good condition, as were their sleeping bags. Fire kit, extra clothes, duct tape, med kit, some random objects Dar’cy could thread to her past in an emergency, and everything else you would find in a doomsday prepper’s go-bag. She even packed two—
“What are you doing?” Dar’cy asked, having come downstairs unheard.
“What are these things?” Missy asked her.
“Tactical uniforms.”
“For, like, war?”
“If it comes to that. The pockets are microdimensions.”
“I though that’s what the bag was.”
“That’s a minidimension. But I’m glad you found those. We should put them on. Could come in handy.”
Missy just sat there.
“I’m not asking you to carry a gun, just put on a uniform. It’s rocketproof too, in a way that means anyone who tries to shoot you will only find the projectile being reflected back at them. We should have been wearing them the whole time.”
“How much did these cost?”
“Let’s just say I bought them on credit.”
“Dar’cy,” she scolded.
“Missy,” she exaggeratedly mimicked. “That’s what you sound like.”
“Fine, I’ll do it. But only because you look sexy when you wear your shirt backwards.”
“Oh, shit. I thought it felt tight around the neck.”
They changed their clothes, and stepped outside.
“The portal’s out here?” Missy asked.
“It’s not really a portal.” She walked over to the side of the house, and lifted up one of the vinyl panels. Inside was a flashlight.
“Is that the flashlight that Hokusai used to stop Durus from colliding into Earth?”
“No. That one was destroyed. This is a second Rothko Torch. We only have a few minutes before it snaps back in place. But that should be long enough to complete the show.”
“The what?”
Dar’cy gathered her bearings, and found the spot she was looking for several meters in front of the house. Then she flipped on the flashlight, and shone it in front of her. Three people appeared, like translucent ghosts, fading in and out as Dar’cy moved the light around. They paid the two of them no mind, so Missy didn’t think they had been transported to the past. This was like watching a three-dimensional movie. One woman was aggressively holding onto the other, while the man watched them, unrelenting to the victim, who seemed to be begging for him to help. Since the flashlight did not come with any sound, Missy had to guess what they were saying. The attacking woman overcame her victim with a powerful energy, that eventually consumed her entirely, until she was gone. Now apparently equipped with more power than she could handle, the surviving woman grasped her head, and started yelling at the man to run away, which he agreed.
“We’re reaching the point of no return,” Dar’cy explained. “I always stop watching after this, because I can feel it happening.”
“Yeah, I feel it too.”
The energy was too much for the woman from the past. She exploded, sending that energy in a wave in all directions, thereby creating the haze that Missy had been trapped in for two years. Once it had reached some limit, the wave started pulling itself back in towards the center. The flashlight disappeared from Dar’cy’s hand, presumably having been called back to its home in the wall, but the images remained. The two of them braced themselves against each other as the portalcane came rushing back towards them, bringing with it what looked like the man, who had not run fast or far enough. Light filled Missy’s eyes, forcing them closed.
When she was able to open them again, they were standing in the middle of a crowd of white monsters. The man was now being held up by one of the monsters, while another spoke to him. “Dwesben ke Ansutah,” it said.
“Ansutah?” the man asked.
“Ansutah,” it repeated as it presented the world to him. Then it laughed—as did everyone else—before punching him in the face, and knocking him unconscious.
As its friend was carrying the man away, someone in the crowd pointed to Missy and Dar’cy, who had been assuming they were still invisible. “Ondi dwesben foa laidi bim!” it cried to the leader.
“Universal translator,” Dar’cy advised under her breath. “Left breast pocket.”
Missy took out what looked like a very involved surgical mask, and placed it over her mouth and ears as the monster leader was walking towards them with a grin. Only then did Missy realize that there were other humans, scattered around the open area. They were still teleporting in randomly. These must be the ones who were seeking an end to their powers. The portal must have taken everybody to the same moment in time, no matter when they left.
“Do those things help you understand my language?” the monster leader asked in what sounded like English. His mouth still moved as if speaking his native language, though, which fictional stories about automatic translators never seemed to account for. Remember, subs, not dubs.
“They do,” Dar’cy answered through her own translator mask.
A guardsman came up, and reached for Missy, which forced Dar’cy into fight mode. She made quick work of him, getting him to the ground in a matter of seconds. The leader was surprised and impressed. A second guardsman came up to take the first one’s place, but the leader stopped him with a mere gesture. “Lock the others up!” he ordered his people. “I’ll speak with these two first! Please come with me,” he requested of them.
“Only if you don’t hurt the other humans.”
“Humans?” he asked with another laugh. “You mean the gods?”

Friday, May 18, 2018

Microstory 845: Trapdoors Galore

The Legend of Trapdoors Galore is something everyone in the county knows, but I’m not from around here. I found out because haunted houses, and other location-based mysteries are a passion of mind. I don’t believe in ghosts, or other supernatural occurrences, but I don’t go around debunking myths either. I just love researching the history behind these stories, and the superstitious beliefs people have for them. I’ve been wanting to come here for awhile now, but I only make so much money, and only have so much vacation time, so I have to be very choosy with every trip. Built in 1813, the mansion first served the wealthy family who founded the town of Rower, appropriately named for them. The Rowers were famous for being kind and compassionate people, even going so far as to purchase an abundance of slaves, for the express purpose of housing them. They used them as labor, but treated them well (read: equally), provided them gourmet food, and paid them competitive wages. Slaves technically built Rower, Missouri, but they did it while secretly independent. Townspeople today claim Rower was designed to become a haven for former slaves; fortified from foreign threats, and autonomous from the rest of the U.S. While this is a questionable assertion, the fact that the Rowers were abolitionists is undisputed. Whenever an employee wanted to quit their job, the Rowers gave them a handsome severance package, and helped them travel farther northwards, to avoid southern backlash. After the end of the war, the entire project was abandoned, and Rower eventually began to suffer from the same population decline as any other small town. No longer with the need for so much space, the family downsized to a smaller house, and later generations started flocking to the big cities with everybody else. No Rower lives anywhere near the area. Decades later, in order to revitalize the town, and try to attract some tourism, a descendant returned to her roots, and started a massive remodeling effort on Rower Manor, hoping to establish Trapdoors Galore as what would have surely been the world’s first ever escape room. Unfortunately, the spending ran a bit too much higher than the budget, and the building was once again left to rot. Her daughter grew up and attempted to convert it to a museum to showcase its history, but she grew tired of the work, and gave up too.

Now it remains alone on the hill, cordoned off, and forbidden to be entered by trespassers. I’m pretty determined, though, so I recruit a horde of crazy townies, and sneak in under cover of darkness. It’s even larger and harder to navigate than I thought it was. I’m even considering the possibility that it exists in another dimension, like some kind of 1940s police box, and it’s literally bigger on the inside. We quickly find ourselves lost, and soon after that, we’re separated. While Trapdoors Galore never opened, it was meant to be self-sufficient, requiring little setup from any staff members. Apparently the Rower descendant was further along with the engineering than anyone knew, because walls would move, and actual trapdoors would drop us to dark windowless rooms. The few brave souls I managed to stick with and I just keep going, trying not to panic. We have no doubt we’ll find an exit before we die of starvation, so we’re even trying to have a little fun. There’s never been any gossip about ghosts, or demons, but it still feels creepy, and then we start hearing someone come after us. None of us can agree what the sound sounds like, or where exactly it’s coming from, and this only reinforces some of our concerns that it’s not human. We start running through the rooms, desperate to get out of there, all the while fairly certain that what we’re worried about is completely in our imaginations. We meet up with a couple other people experiencing the same fears of being chased, so we decide to circle the wagons, and fight, if it comes to that. They’re standing in a circle, insisting on keeping me as safe as possible in the center, since I’m a visitor. A woman none of us recognizes casually bursts into the room from a trapdoor no one noticed, holding a candle. She’s wearing an anachronistic outfit, and just has this look about her that screams she’s from the past. She also looks exactly like the famed matriarch of the founding Rower family, Marthanna. She looks directly at me and says, “Lois Vivianne Rower.” My name is Lois Vivianne, but I am not a Rower, as far as I know. “We have been waiting for an heir to show up ever since King Dumpster was elected president. We think it may be time to start the Rower Haven Project. Your friends can help us too.” As we’re standing there, stunned, people begin to materialize around the room, wearing similar outdated garb, and smiling. Most of them are black. “Meet the rest of your family.”

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Microstory 844: Remake a Killing

In the old days, there were virtually no rules when it came to what you were allowed to do when it came to art, and what you couldn’t. Basically, the only things prohibited were things that were illegal anyway. One guy tried to film a dog literally starving to death once, but his local law enforcement put a quick end to that experiment. In the film industry’s heyday, there was almost no originality. Nearly everything released was a remake, reboot, sequel, or adaptation. When you thought you were watching something you hadn’t seen before, there was often a small article that proved it was actually ultimately based on something prior. When the New Rule came to power, they made a lot of decisions that harmed people’s ways of life. They created inequality, and made it harder for some to find steady work. While rebels were fighting against these atrocious conditions, they largely ignored the smaller changes the New Rule made, because they didn’t threaten anybody’s life, or livelihood. Though one could argue that hindering what type of art an artist is allowed to make does indeed damage our freedoms, their reasoning was not completely absurd. There is something to be said for requiring every new entry in the pantheon of films to be fresh and new. Once the rebellion successfully put an end to the New Rule administration, the Originality Clause was left in the revised Constitution, because there wasn’t enough outcry against it, and we were already changing too much of the document, which has been through oh so many iterations throughout our entire history. So now we live in a world without remakes, except for one...well, seven.

A Killer Remade was the last remake to be released before the New Rule instituted their laws, its fitting title a mere coincidence. Its predecessor was created only one year prior, but audiences and critics were disappointed in it, so the filmmakers hastily shot a new version that was even worse than the last. It involved an all new cast, save for the actor who played The Rainbleeder; a chiefly ad-libbed script, built from what the new actors simply recalled by having seen the original a few times; and a wildly different ending. At the time, this debacle was ignored by most the majority of moviegoers, because they were too busy being oppressed to worry about it. Shortly after the government stabilized, though, a particular fan decided to remake it for a second time, even though this was still against the law. In a surprising turn of events, our interim leaders decided to not prosecute the filmmaker, but instead declared that this would be the only legal remake in existence, and that it would continue to be remade year after year, until there was no longer anyone interested in being part of it. The same actor still plays The Rainbleeder, but that’s not part of the agreement; it’s just an interesting bit of trivia. And so this is how it started, the Curse of A Killer Remade. A new version is made every single year, and every single year, at least three people are killed in parts surrounding the annual festival where the film is screened. No matter how much security, or how many cops, are placed at the scene, a serial killer will always find his targets, and never be caught. Some call him a maniac, others a genius...but we just call ourselves The Council of Killers. We’re not sure why no one has figured out that there’s a whole group of us yet, since that was the twist ending from the second version, but we’ll keep doing this until someone stops us.