The Celestial Elder

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Jason Gathers looked back at the colonies being pulled into Earth’s gravity as he began to prime the small craft for a long burn.  Fire spread around the O’ Neill cylinders like fearsome flowers, orange mingling with yellow and red with a terrible fury.  The screams of millions of people burning alive went unheard as his engine spun up, and he felt a heavy sorrow grow inside his chest.

“I wish she could have seen this with me.  Who knew that revenge could be beautiful?”  Jason softly slurred to himself.  “Her hair was the same color when the sun shined just right.”  He felt a small pride that he had turned a group of exploited slave laborers into an efficient task force.  Each of their charges detonated at the right time, at all the right places.  The Earth’s gravity did the rest.

“They were good men…”  He whispered to the memory of his wife. “Friends, even.  But we all made sacrifices for this cause.”  As his engine kicked into gear and the long burn began, the charges he had secretly placed on their vessels exploded and destroyed all evidence of their involvement.  Shadows watched, pleased with the dark fruits of their labor.  Their suggestions in this universe have climaxed to this result.  A beacon he had dropped into orbit began an automatic broadcast on all channels, which had previously been completely jammed.

“People of Earth.  Escape while you can.  We are here to bring a new age to humanity.  We are here to show you that Earth is too small and too fragile a basket to put all of our eggs in.  We have played in this cradle for too long, and despite our advances the Earth cannot thrive under the weight of all of us.  Look above you, now.  See the terror the Republic and the Consortium have created.  They are destroying the colonies, and their sloppy work creates more destruction for the people on Earth, while they hide comfortably in their shelters.  They do not care for those in space.  We are expendable to them.  Rise up, and leave now.  We need your help to achieve humanity’s destiny, to spread our civilization to the stars.  Come, join us and prosper together in space.  Or stay, and die.”


Robert cried, his imagination showing him images of chaos in the major cities.  People fighting over each other to leave Earth.  Soldiers struggling to keep control and to keep their fingers from their triggers.  His wife alone in a crowd, trying to herd a group of small children.  There was almost no way for them to get out in time.  Not with an entire city trying to evacuate.  Hope was translucent, faint as a whisper in a thunderstorm.  If the colonies roaring into the atmosphere did not create the panic, then that broadcast that just played over the intercom certainly would.

In the cockpit, Jason’s accomplice cried too.  He was frustrated with his cause, knowing now that the people they condemned to die on Earth were mostly innocent.  There was no way to contact command and to call off Axis’ descent.  It probably had too much momentum anyway.  It could not be stopped.  Something else was bothering him.  Racking his brain, he could not remember why Jason ordered him to kidnap Robert James Lowman.  He couldn’t even remember the orders.  The shadows stared through him with smug, obsidian smiles.  They knew why.  Confused and isolated with his guilt, he programmed the autopilot to take Robert to the hidden fleet behind Axis, and sat back in his seat.  He stared at the blockade of ships in front of him that ignored this shuttle, turning to face the ancient celestial demon that doomed their home world.   Flashes erupted silently as he coasted above their firing solution.

“Useless.” He mouthed silently and put the small, silenced gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  His body recoiled, and floated up.  Blood and brain vibrated strangely in zero gravity as the shadows laughed, dancing along with the crimson bubbles.  Whispers filled the cabin as the man’s dead body floated and dreamed of another universe.  Whispers from shadows that were always watching in pleasure.

Robert had moved ahead to the front of the craft to take Omar’s body and give it some semblance of respect by covering his dead face with his coat and placing it in a seat.  Robert could hear the raspy conversation, and stifling his tears he drifted toward the cockpit to investigate.  He gasped when he opened the door, seeing the corpse floating in the same moment as the whispers went silent.

“I must be going fucking crazy.” Robert muttered to himself.  He put himself in the pilot’s seat after softly pushing the corpse down and behind the chair.  Robert had no sorrow for this terrorist, regardless of his situation.  The only thoughts he could think were of Linda, horrified on the planet’s surface as humanity’s impending doom coasted toward them.  Remembering some basic flight controls, he began to flip switches and tried to move the yoke.  It was stuck in its programming, and he was unable to move the controls.  A notice flashed on the instrument panel:

PLEASE ENTER THE PASSWORD TO ACCESS FLIGHT CONTROL.

‘Password’ did not work.  ‘Guest’ did not work.  Robert slammed his fist in frustration on the flashing screen, which also did not work.  To the pleasure of the darkness, he was trapped in this thing on its way to the last place he wanted to be.  He pushed himself back into the cabin, searching for the escape pods in the back.  Their doors had been welded shut.  Probably a preemptive move by the terrorist to stop any escape.  Without options, Robert glided to the seats on the right, resigned to gazing down at the tracers within the barrage of hot steel.  Suddenly the front of the asteroid appeared underneath the shuttle, and he could see that the U.E.R.’s attack was barely whittling away at the surface.  The explosions were probably gigantic,  but the sheer size of the asteroid made it useless.

“Useless”, Robert muttered angrily.  He stared down at his elder, the massive stone rolling beneath him.  Pockmarked with craters, the ancient drifted underneath the craft for what felt like ages.  He tried to look off to see the edge, but the immense rock stretched out to blend with the darkness of space.  There were abandoned structures that dotted the landscape, old mining bases probably.  Finally the end of the space boulder appeared, and he could see mammoth thrusters that were darkened and cold.  Without realizing it, Robert had been crying this whole time, tears filling the space around his face.  He was startled into a scream as the V.I.’s voice broke the silence:

“Please buckle your seat-belts and prepare to dock.  We have arrived at our programmed destination.  Thank you for flying with The Consortium, where your comfort is our priority.”

Docking clamps loudly clamped onto the side, shockingly fast after this announcement.  He looked out the window and he could see dozens of ships surrounding the shuttle.  They were older transport craft, dirty and outdated looking.  There were massive guns on each of them, and he knew that they must have been jury-rigged to become a fighting force.  He saw the space around him disappearing as the shuttle was brought into a docking bay of a much larger ship.  Steel and chrome shined beneath the lighting inside as he saw the name of the craft painted high above the deck and the walkways.  The U.E.R.’s Gwaden.  The old ship thought to have been lost over 20 years ago on a deep-space patrol now closed around him.

The shuttle’s movement ceased with an iron screech as Robert’s heart pounded in his chest.  Who knows what these rebels would do to him?  They would probably think he killed the pilot.  He floated up and hid in an overhead compartment, not able to stop tears welling up in his eyes.  He was completely hidden, but he was not alone.  His fear was with him.  The shadows were with him, keeping him company.  And he could hear their gleeful whispers.  He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to fill his mind with his wife’s beautiful face.

Linda…

Suddenly he was seeing flashes of her in places they had never been.  Like lightning illuminating a darkened art gallery.  A beach at night somewhere, walking from a strange automobile that hadn’t been relevant for generations.  The same car at a 20th century drive-in theater.

What are these memories?  

He had no time to think more, as he heard the airlock start to open with a hiss and the creaking of metal.

tales of a travelling salesman final

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The Faucets

So, we all know cats are pretty weird. My cat is definitely no exception. Her name is Mrs. Gibbles, and she is probably one of the weirdest I have ever met. She loves to get to the sinks as I try to wash my hands or start the bath so that she can get the absolute freshest water possible. She will stare at the faucets in wonder as the water starts to come out, like it is some magical thing beyond understanding. It’s not uncommon for me to go home after working all day to find her in a cat-trance, staring at the faucets in one room or another. She will look at me as I make fun of her strange obsession, meowing needily.

“More water, Dad!” If she had her way, she would be a watterlogged piggy.

Recently, she has been acting even stranger around the faucets. She’s been refraining from drinking the water, unless I put it in her bowl. But she still stares, and it has been all she does for a week now. Extremely unusual and out of cat-character. She sometimes even makes a racket while I watch TV or clean the house, swatting at the steel and chrome and meowing incessantly. Sometimes I thought that she was attacking a roach or something! She would hiss and go into crazy-mode, running around the house at maximum velocity with her fuzzy white gut swinging back and forth only to charge back into the bathtub and attack at the faucet. I would try to surprise her, to see what she was up to, but whenever I did she was just staring in wonder at the glistening steel. The same look she has when she stares off into the spaces in-between atoms, gazing at ghosts.

Bored and with some extra money, I decided to set up some cameras. I thought maybe I could get some prime footage and get onto America’s Funniest Videos or something along those lines. Maybe just make my folks laugh. That would have been enough. But I don’t know what to do with these tapes now. I’ve begun moving out because of these tapes. I stay in a hotel with my Mrs. Gibbles, only packing during the day.

The footage started as usual. Just her looking out the window as I drive away, then immediately she plodded over to the bathroom. The camera in there was at a downward angle, looking from a corner where the ceiling meets the walls. She sat on the edge of the tub, away from the faucet. Staring. Nothing remarkable happened for a while, and she crawled into the far end of the tub laying down where she could stare at the faucet. Very very boring. But then I began to see some movement at the chrome, and I was unable to understand how the water suddenly began to run when I realized it wasn’t water.

Slowly, over the course of several minutes I saw a purple finger stretch from the faucet. Unmistakably a finger. There was a long nail, black on the tip, cracked and moldy. It felt around the tip of the spigot and Mrs. Gibbles began to hunt it. She crept toward it, and suddenly slid to attack, swatting and hissing at it. No audio, but this was the thing that she would always do. Smack, smack, smack and the finger disappeared. She stared up into the faucet, cutely sniffing at what I knew to be impossible.

Then the finger crept up from the drain below her, bits of my wife’s long black hair entangling it, but then I saw it was unlike a finger because it was much too long and it had no knuckles. More like a tentacle than a finger. It poked at her with an intelligent curiosity, startling her tail into a big poof, coaxing her to attack again. Playing. It disappeared, and as she investigated the drain, it reached from above and tickled the back of her head.

She leaned into it like she leaned into my rubs. I vomited.

I googled some information on my address. A young girl had been drowned in the tub by her mother when she was only 6.

 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

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Shooting Stars

 

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The hum of the engine filled the passenger cabin and Robert stood frozen, clutching his suitcase.  He stared at the corpse of his friend as it floated eerily just above the floor, dead nose inches from the tacky carpet.  Gulping with a dry throat made him cough, and Robert covered his mouth involuntarily.  The man with the gun turned his sneer to a frown as he tightened his aim on Robert’s face.

“Don’t.  Move.  Slowly toss the suitcase down and put your hands up.”

What can I do?

Moments passed, and he tossed the suitcase to his side just as the man began to bloat with rage.  It quickly floated away and bounced around in the seats across the aisle.  He was in no position to negotiate here.

Here goes nothing. 

“You’re not going to get out of here alive if you don’t put down that gun.” Robert leveled his eyes at the man with a monotone drone his father used to use on him.  The man was defiant, like Robert used to be.

“Pfft!” The man expelled air in disbelief.  “No one in the U.E.R. knows this is happening right now.  No one but you.  And you have no way to contact anyone.”

He was wrong there.  This entire time Robert had been using his mobile to send a live stream of this attack to executive officials at the Consortium.  The communicator was floating now, dangling from his suitcase that hovered off to the side, above the seats.  If the man looked close, he could easily see a red light blinking softly.  But his attention was wholly on Robert, who continued his speech craft:

“Doesn’t matter.  You get to Persephone on schedule, you have security waiting.  You deviate from this shuttle’s flight path, you have military personnel just itching for action.”

The man stared with an empty face at Robert.  Slowly, the gun went to his side. Relaxing.  His eyes were deep in his face, and when the lights flickered for a moment he looked like a skeleton.  A slow smile found its way onto the tired man and Robert’s blood turned to ice as he spoke.

“We have seized Persephone, and the Prime Minister’s office there.  He’s surely been executed by now.  Justice… Justice is almost here.”  The man’s whisper was below a breath, and Robert only saw his lips move:

“Any minute now.”  The man was very assured of himself.

“Justice..?  What “justice” is this? Whose justice?  Who are you?!”  Robert shouted now, and the gun raised again in response to his agitation.

“We are the remnants of those you sent into space — those you sent to DIE!”  The man shouted at him, gun flinging wildly around with each gesticulation.

“What are you talking about?  Forced colonization ended over two decades ago!  Reparations were made!”

“Fool!” The man screamed. His teeth were bared with his lips pulled back in a snarl.  It took all the will he had left to keep his finger from the trigger.

“You think that those “contractors” you use are willing employees?!  What man would willingly take his family on the first deep space colonization?”

Families?

Robert only knew that the contractors the Consortium used for deep space were paid well, and supplied well.  He was under the impression that they were all willing scientists and engineers and workers.  Everyone in the world was.  Robert could only stare blankly at the angry terrorist, too confused to speak.

“What do you think happened to the colonists from before?  They just lived on like usual!?  Why did we need to have mass incentivized immigration to the Lagrange colonies then?!  They should have had plenty of people there already!  Are all of you so stupid?!”

“We thought there were casualt–”

The man slammed his fist into his chest loudly, grabbing at his heart.  His teeth were grinding, and Robert could hear them.  They sounded as if they would explode into dust any second.  Several seconds passed.

“You had… no idea?  No one did?”  Tears poured from his eyes in steady streams.  He did not sob, but the tears would not stop.  Robert shook his head.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.  We thought the contractors were all professionals looking for new frontiers.  ‘Pioneers and Adventurers!’ Haven’t you seen the promo commercials?”

“Good God.  It was only the execs who knew?   How could they keep such a secret, so many military personnel were used to move us all…” The man’s voice cracked.  He looked even more tired now, older.  Weaker.  Smaller somehow.

“Jason got us so riled up.  We were away for so long… No contact, or news… We just thought you all had forsaken us, and just used us up and tossed us aside.  But…”  He trailed off, staring out the window just over Robert’s shoulder.  The Earth stared back at him pleadingly.

“Hey… What is your name?” Robert asked quietly, with caution.  He slowly lowered his hands, and the man did not react.  His unblinking stare reflected the glow of the lights inside the cabin.

“It doesn’t matter.  All of this will be over soon.”  He sounded if he had already died.

“What do you mean?”

“Axis is coming.  It’s probably almost here.” The man whispered with great reverence, as if speaking of a mighty, vengeful god that could hear him.

“Axis?  What is that?” Robert asked, egging him on for more information.  If he noticed that comm device, all of this tenuous trust would fly out the airlock.  Robert needed more information.

“Axis is the reason you came up here, Robert.  But we lied to you about the specifics.” A sardonic snicker.  The man looked down and shook his head.  Robert was confused still but the shuttle’s autopilot interrupted, announcing that they would soon be docking at Persephone.

“I’ll get us away from the station.  There’s no reason for you to die there anymore.”

“Wait!!” Robert exclaimed as the man began to duck back into the cockpit.  “Why did you want me?  Why me?”  The man paused for a moment, and without looking back he spoke to Robert.

“I’m sorry about your friend.  I am.  And your family on Earth.  But there’s nothing we can do now.  Looks like you’re coming to space with us.  We will find a way to make you… useful.”  The door shut behind him, and the man whispered to himself in solitude as he flipped switches.

“Maybe.  I believe you enough to let you live, but my friends…  They probably won’t.”

shooting-stars-1

Robert drifted over to his phone, and ended the live stream.  He pulled himself into the seat and looked to his left out the window.  The vastness of space stretched itself before him, and he could see the blockade of frigates created in response to the alien discovery on Luna.  Something wasn’t quite right though, and he couldn’t place his finger on it.  He stared, confused at a shadowed part of space behind the ships.  A large place without stars.

Impossible.  Must be a trick of the light. 

He stretched his vision to see as best as he could toward the ominous darkness out there, beyond the frigates.  Robert passed several painful minutes in silence and he saw the shadow slowly grow.  A couple more stars disappeared within it. The darkness had been gathering its strength beyond the blockade.

“Fuck.  It’s a giant asteroid.” Robert breathed.  He pounded his communicator’s speed dial and reached electric along with his soul for his wife, searching.  Hoping.  He begged for her to pick up, but it was a Monday, and she was probably still in class.  Looking at his watch as the phone rang, he pleaded for some cosmic being to tell her to pick up the phone.  But nothing was listening.  Nothing good, at least.  Unknown to Robert, his extreme emotions and fracturing psyche were the source of macabre delight to the demons that placed him here in this universe.  He was nothing more than a pawn.  His fear and frustration and existential horror tingled the shadows and made them dance with delight.  Lights flickered in the cabin.  Whispers of their ritual leaked into his mind and tickled his ears, and Robert whipped around to find what made those sounds.  A language he had never heard but for some reason found too familiar.

Ko’se lano makora kojani noss’e

In this moment he finally reached the front desk of the school, and he asked to speak to Mrs. Lowman, with as much normalcy as he could muster.

“Linda… You need to dismiss class and get everyone out of there.  You need to go to the emergency shuttle outside the city, a panic will start soon.  I know it.”

“R.J., wait, what are you talking about?  Everything is fine here.  Nothing is wro–“

“Listen to me, Lin.  You have to trust me.  Get out of there, please.  Please.”  Robert began to cry.  “There’s an asteroid coming.  It’s terrorists.”

“Robert James, this isn’t funny, ” Her voice cracked and gave a nervous laugh.  “You got me, OK?”  Suddenly he could hear a siren go off in the background, and the kids all screamed in unison.  “Robert, oh my god. It’s on the Persephone camera feed.  You weren’t lying!  I have to go, but how did you know?!  I can’t do this alone R.J.!  Where will I meet you?!”

“I’ll find you!  Don’t go to Persephone! It’s a trap!  Linda?  LIN?!” But the line was already dead.  He looked at the communicator and saw that there was no service at all.  The Consortium must have alerted everyone, just like he had hoped.  But there was no way to prepare for something like this.  A mass evacuation plan had been discussed, but there were nowhere near enough shuttles available for an exodus like this.  He could only imagine the chaos his wife would have to endure trying to escape.  If she could even get out of the city.  But why was the service cut off so suddenly?

He floated over to the other side of the empty passenger cabin to look at the Earth.  He felt cold as he stared at massive shooting stars entering the atmosphere, and he couldn’t understand what they were.  But then he realized that they were the various O’Neill colonies slowly falling into the atmosphere.  New Sydney, New Beijing, New London.  They were being ripped apart by the Earth’s last line of defense.  Several million people lived in each of them.

Something suddenly slammed into the window Robert looked out of, and he screamed at the unknown horror as it drifted away.  Then he noticed that it was a human corpse.  More of them were tumbling by, and it sounded like a hail storm outside.  The ship turned away from Earth as he watched the burning colonies returning home.  A bright flash lit the night side of Earth below him, as one cylinder hit the Indian subcontinent.  His view turned with the ship, and he saw what was left of the great crown jewel of humanity’s first steps into space.  Persephone was now nothing more than a blossoming flower of twinkling glass and steel that spread partly into space, partly into orbit, and partly into tiny lines of fire streaking down to the Earth.

The hum of the engine filled the passenger cabin, a steady rhythm to accompany the sobs of Robert James.  The shadows watched him and trembled with pleasure at his hopelessness, whispering among themselves in impossible tones.

On the Earth’s surface, a child in a rural area stared up in wonder at the great streaks of light flying across the sky.  He giggled and laughed as he held out his arms like an airplane, running back to the house as fast as he could.  He wanted to share this moment with his mother, who waited inside crying as she watched an emergency broadcast repeat itself.

tales of a travelling salesman final

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Infinite Ice

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The stare of stars from eons ago gave a passing glance to the tiny craft drifting slowly away from Persephone Station.  Veiled by the darkness and coasting through space, it went unnoticed on the radar of the large U.E.R. frigates that formed a mechanical canyon around it.  Drifting and rotating slowly.  Just like a bullet that was stuck in time.

“Even if a member of the crew looked out a window, they might not even notice this thing.”  Jason Gathers half-chuckled as he took a small swig from the bottle.  Nose burning from the scent, a tiny bit trickled from the corners of his mouth and bubbled in the small cabin around him, twitching and trembling tiny little amoebas of alcohol.  Silence purred.

“Wish I could at least listen to music, this is going to take a while.”  He gobbled up the bubbling bits of whiskey from all around him, and Jason reminded himself of a dog he used to have.  Junior giggled endlessly watching the dog chase after the bubbles that Jason blew for the pup to chase.  After papa taught him how, Jason Junior loved blowing the bubbles himself.  New liquid appeared in the small compartment as he stared out the window at the stern steel sides of the massive warships.

These bubbles came from his eyes, translucent and reflecting the lights that littered the sides of the frigates.  Thousands of portholes stared at Jason.  He stared back.  Thinking.  His wife used to tell him that he thought too much.  After what happened on the mining base, she never spoke about it again.  She never spoke about anything.  Tears constantly flowed from her hazel eyes as she stared off in silence.  She gazed at the spaces in-between atoms.  A half-trained doctor that the workers had access to made some vague diagnosis:

“She’s traumatized, Jason.  There’s not a lot I can really do for her besides some kind of therapy, and I don’t have the time…” The Doc motioned behind him – like a ringleader in a circus – to the lines of tiny dirty cots behind him in the cave that was his clinic.  Coughs mixed with wheezing breaths and the barely audible sound of mice chirping to each other from the shadows.

“There’s not enough meds to go around to fight this flu, and the accidents keep piling up.  I’m doing the best I can.  I’m sorry.”  Jason stared back at the Doc.  His eyes must have been hollow looking, tired.  He sure felt tired.

“Look, Jason…” The Doc put his arm carefully around the shell of a man, and walked him out of the cave clinic and into the main cavern.  Even through his shirt, the Doc could feel that he was cold.  Stalactites poked down threateningly.  They seemed larger than usual.  At least it didn’t smell like gangrene out here, Jason thought absentmindedly.

“Just try and talk to her.  I know it’s hard… All of us cried for you.  Just like we cried for the Willow family, and for the Karns.  I’ll tell you the same thing that I told them: Talk, be with each other, be there for each other, and for god’s sake – keep working.  Idle hands do the devil’s work, they say.  Sure wish they’d give the guards more real work to do.  I hear they get fed well.  I bet they could mine if they tried…”  He trailed off awkwardly.

Jason stared at Doc’s face.  He was trying hard, but Jason’s mind hardly retained any of what he said.  His wife was essentially catatonic.  She had one sick day left from work, but if she didn’t show up for her shifts then they would put her out the airlock.  Just like the old lady Karn, after her sons were killed for insubordination.  Jason forced a smile.  The doctor forced a smile back and disappeared back into his clinic.

More tears were bubbled around Jason in the cabin of the craft.  His hand was playing with the grip of his sidearm absentmindedly, and he took his hand away to swat his stray tears.  Only a few more minutes before he would be able to kick the engine on, and get back to Axis.

An old proverb of sorts crossed his mind: “Revenge is a dish best served cold”.  Space was very cold.  He saw his wife’s streaming tears turn to ice in an instant as the air whipped out of the airlock.   Tiny bits of ice spiraling into infinity.

 

 


 

 

“I’ll never get sick of this view, R.J.  It makes you feel small, every single time.  It’s humbling.”  Omar was looking over Robert’s shoulder at the Earth’s sphere below them.  A beautiful orb hurtling through space.  The moon could be seen hovering over the opposite side of the blue and green glow below.

“I wonder how long ago that weird shrine-thing was placed there on Luna.  Do you ever think of that?”

“Not really, Omar.  I’m actually crunching some numbers in my head.  Do you have the recent market price for yttrium?  I think it spiked again because of the U.E.R.’s increase in ship production.”

“Sure.  I probably have it in my folder here.”  He started ruffling through his papers and Robert thought about other polite ways to tell him to shut up.  He needed silence to think every time before a negotiation.  “Robert-time”, his wife called it lovingly.  She always knew to just give him some chamomile tea and to go watch the TV in the other room.  God, he loved her.  And he was lucky enough to be loved back.

“Here, R.J.  This is that memo they sent out the other… What the fuck?”

Robert looked to Omar, irritated.  His eyes were wide and locked straight ahead.  Robert followed his gaze to the door to the pilot’s cabin, which was ajar.  Dark blobs came tumbling and fluttering out, the strange dance of liquid in zero gravity.

Omar unbuckled his seat belt and pushed off his chair, drifting quickly to the front.  Steadying himself quietly on  another cushioned chair, he slowly reached out and poked one of the dark blobs and Robert watched as the liquid trembled away from him.  Looking at his finger, the color drained from his face.  He looked at Robert and mouthed:

“Blood”.

The sound of a heart thumping filled Robert’s ears.  He and Omar stared at each other, each wondering what to do.  All the while the blood tumbled through the air between them.  Robert grabbed his suitcase, and he looked up to see a man wearing a pilot uniform holding a large knife to Omar’s throat.  A skinny, long blade.

“I take it this one’s name isn’t ‘Robert’, is it?” The man sneered through gritted teeth.  Robert reached his hand up and out to Omar’s horrified face.  A vain gesture.  The blade pressed tighter against his throat for a moment, drawing blood.  Robert continued to stare in silence, unable to respond to the terrible question.

In one swift motion, the man flicked the knife back, pushed Omar to his knees with a hand and a quick kick, and stabbed straight down into the back of the neck.  After a spasm, Omar’s dark eyes rolled back into his head.  The man grinned as the limp body was pushed onto the ground, and bounced softly back up.  Floating face-down as if possessed.  In shock, Robert could only feel a numbed surprise at how little blood came out.

“You’re coming with me, Robert — or should I say R.J.?” The sinister sneer was almost cartoonish in proportion to his face.  R.J. felt cold, only his friends called him that.  How could he know?  Robert’s face was an open book.

“We know more than you might think.  We have people in the Republic government, in the Consortium…” The man chuckled as he drew a small silenced gun and pointed it at Robert.

“We are everywhere.”

 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

 

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Gravity

Click here for the part before.

 

Snapping out of the fog in his mind, Robert remembered he was running late for his meeting.  Hand tightening around his steel suitcase, he began to power walk through the crowd, meandering around people on their way to somewhere else.

Running late is one of the worst things.  You have to choose between lying and being honest and either option sucks because you’re still late.  Robert hated lying, so he tried to think of why he was late.  He was… Sitting in the park on a bench watching the people and the birds and the sun.  Not a very good excuse at all.  He was lucky to be an executive, or he would be fired.  But what about before that?  Why did he decide to sit?  He normally was never late.  Or, at least, he couldn’t remember being late before.

Why can’t I remember more?  

It was past rush hour, but the crowd was unusually thick.  Like cattle in the early 21st century.  He rode an escalator that was so crowded he couldn’t continue walking, and he tried to think to pass the time.  Tried.  Peering into his memories was like staring into a fog with the sun shining into it.  The past was an amorphous expanse of blinding light, and as he tried harder to remember he nearly fell off the escalator as the ride came to an end.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” An angry man he bumped into exclaimed.  Robert further buried his irritation and began to apologize as he recognized a friend from his department who should have been at work already.

“Shit.  Sorry, Omar.  I’m in my own little world today…”

“Oh, its you!  Happens to the best of us, obviously!   I’m running late too.  It was such a beautiful day outside I couldn’t help but daydream.  The light was coming through the trees in such a way…” Omar trailed off for a moment, staring through Robert’s face.

“I still get amazed by how different and… Well… Idyllic the world is now!  It used to just be my family who would get strip searched but now everyone does! Hah!” He smiled large through his beard with genuine happiness.  One of the first stories Robert heard from him was about his grandfather, a Sikh who was attacked because he looked like a “Muslim”, a follower of one of the many religions that became swept under the rug over the past few generations. Muslims and Christians fought for centuries over strips of land and ideology.  None of that mattered anymore.  There were some sects that still operated in secret, but during Unification religions became blended.  The strange discovery on the far side of Luna shattered most human preconceptions about being the center of the universe.

“Yes, the world does seem to be working together much better now, huh?” Robert clapped him on the back and they began to walk together toward the shuttle-pod doors.

“Speaking of work, lets get a move on!”

 

earth-and-moon

 

White tile covered everything, reflecting light ad infinitum through the hall.  The ceilings were tall, and crystal chandeliers as big as freight trucks twinkled high above.  A wide window at the end of the concourse showed the skyline, green and chrome mingling together in an awe-inspiring vista of civilization.  People walked in and out of the pod doors that blended into the walls seamlessly.  The ‘whoosh’ of the grand elevators arriving and leaving were subtle and could almost be mistaken for a breeze.  Robert looked up at a skylight, and something about the way the light came through the trees on top of the building made him feel nostalgic.  Out of place.  Something wasn’t quite right, but he couldn’t put a finger on it.

“No more daydreaming, R.J.!  This one’s about to leave!” Omar began to trot, and R.J. got up to speed quickly behind him.  Omar swiped his card and doors whispered open and shut behind them as they found seats and sat down.  These pods are normally pretty crowded, but Consortium employees had exclusivity to a few.  The V.I. hologram’s blue face appeared on the screen, on cue:

“Pleaaase fasten your safety belts, and place all belongings underneath your chair or in the bins above you.  We will be embarking shortly to Shangri-La.  Pleaaase fasten your safety belts…”

“So who do you have a meeting with today, R.J.?” Omar asked as he stuffed his suitcase underneath the seat.  It was too wide, and he was trying to angle it just right so that it could fit.  Robert was already good to go, and he looked at his watch as he spoke:

“One of the contractors… I can’t remember the name of the fellow but the company we are using for this expedition is the deep space one… Shit I can’t remember the company name either.  One secon–”

“Oh, you mean Zaeonic?  They’ve been out in the asteroid belt for a while, from what I hear.”

“Yes! That’s it.  Thanks.  Yeah they’ve been developing bases out there, and a colony from what I hear.  It’s been some time since they’ve been back here.  Almost 20 years actually.  The contact we have had with them has had some good info.  They seem to have found a rather large asteroid with significant deposits on it, that they say is en route to our gravity well.  I’m meeting with advance representatives to discuss compensation.”

“Wow, I can’t believe they’ve been able to keep it out of the news.  If its as large as your expression gives away, then they might be able to build another whole colony out of it!”

The pod began its acceleration up, like a bullet from a gun.  Robert never got used to it, and his hands tightened around the cushy arms of the seat.  The vehicle shook like it was an old plane flying through a storm, and the gravity pushed down hard on Robert’s head, and he stiffened his neck against it.  Omar was shouting over the sound of the vehicle and the classical music that was supposed to calm passengers:

“You look green!! It’ll be over soon enough, my friend!”  Robert’s eyes were closed and he ignored his friend.  He was too busy focusing on not dying / having a panic attack.  He had made this trip dozens of times, and he hated it more each time.  He wouldn’t mind a slower trip – even if it took a day or two – if he didn’t have to deal with this feeling every single time.  An hour was a long while, but after they reached a certain point, the force became much more subtle as the gravity from Earth became weaker.

“Welcome to Shangri-La.  Please find your luggage and exit the pod in an orderly fashion.  Thank you for taking the Great Elevator, made possible by Anaheim Electronics!”  The V.I.’s face flickered a bit before clicking off.  Robert always thought the face was creepy.  Shadowed eyes with the forced smile of its programming.

The pod doors opened to the gray, steel promenade of Shangri-La.  A variety of shops were doing business with the crowds of people.  A ramen shop was next to a Texas BBQ stand, and a gift shop flanked both.  Everyone walked about in their uniformed gray suits, some with red ties, some with the blue of the United Earth Republic.  Even fewer had green ties, which were either business owners somewhere or workers of one of the contractors for the U.E.M.C.

With a name like Shangri-La, Robert felt a bit surprised by how non-descript the station was.  Without the shops on the promenade, there was nothing of note on the station.  Sure, some back-deals were discussed over a latte or some Thai food once in a while, but other than that there was no windows or anything that allowed one to see the view.  The station was more functional than feng-shui.  Robert was confused by his surprise.  He froze.  He had been here dozens of times.  Was his memory already beginning to go?  As he searched his thoughts he remembered bits and pieces of former travels here.  Glimpses into the past.  Flashes of the faulty camera in his mind.

“Let’s get to the shuttle.” Omar said as they began to weave through the crowds.  It was more crowded here than the last time he was here, Robert noticed.  It wasn’t even rush hour.

“Yeah.” Robert said, somewhat annoyed.  Of course they had to get to the shuttle.  Running late, no less.

“I hope that Zaeonic rep is running late too.  He has a wealth of excuses that could be true, and I haven’t even thought of a good lie yet.”

“Well, lying isn’t your thing Robert!  That’s why we love you.  You don’t sugar-coat shit.”

“I was sitting on a bench watching people and the birds, man.  I have to think of something else.” Robert chuckled a bit, embarrassed.  Omar laughed openly.

“Yeah, you should find a better excuse.  And don’t turn red when you say it.  Like you are now!”  Omar laughed and Robert sighed as they both began to walk faster.  They turned the corner around a cupcake shop to get to the docking ring.  Luckily they had a private shuttle waiting for them, so no one was being kept waiting by their daydreaming from before.  The military personnel surrounded the check-in kiosk for their shuttle, and pointed their weapons at them both until their ID cards checked out.

 

o-neill-colony

 

“Sorry for the inconvenience, sir.  Move along.” Robert wondered how many times he had heard that in his life.  Always the same phrase.  He and Omar ducked in unison as they entered the craft.  Luxury didn’t always mean larger.  The seats that they had on there, however, were the best Robert had ever sat in.  His rear tingled with anticipation as he set his suitcase in the overhead compartment.  It was more relaxing than he anticipated, and he felt if he closed his eyes he could fall asleep instantly.  But the view was too good to miss.

Persephone was off to his right outside, a giant wheel-and-spoke colony that rotated to create artificial gravity, identical to Shangri-La but much larger, and with great windows to look out of.  The shuttle released its docking clamps and gently pulled away from the station.  The view changed to be that of the Earth’s sphere, a grand orb beneath them.  A giant marble of blue and green and sparkling white.  The other colonies could be seen now, giant cylinders that had great mechanic arms that opened and closed to simulate night and day.

“O’ Neill Colonies… I’ve always wanted to visit one, Omar.  They look awesome from afar, though.”

“Yeah, I have some family on that one over there — New Sydney.  They’ve sent me some really amazing pictures.  I’ve never been myself though, too –”

“Too busy.” The two of them said in unison, and chuckled a bit.

“Hey, we have to work to eat, right?” Robert quietly said as he rested his head back and stared out the window.

 


 

Outside of Persephone, a man paused in his  work.  His shuttle was docked illegally, but none of that really mattered.  His mag-boots clung hungrily to the outside of the station, hanging in the black.  He stood on one of the spokes that connected the two main rings of Persephone and looked up, taking in the view.  It was beautiful, but the man’s face was unmoved beneath his helmet.  He stretched, and reached into his pack to pull out the final charges.  He set the big block of explosive onto one of the cross-joints, and carefully stabbed the detonator into the pliable bomb.  The last one.

“I wonder if anyone ever made this stuff into a figurine or something.  It’s tougher than Play-Doh, but…” Tears welled up in his eyes.  His son was on his mind.  Little Jason Gathers Jr.  He would never see him again.  The companies put him to work as soon as he could hold a hammer.  He resisted as many in their early teens do, and the company security threw him against a bulkhead and shot him before the man could react.  The man remembered simply falling to the ground and staring at his dead son’s open eyes.  One of the officers spat something about how that hammer was a weapon.  The eyes. Pleading eyes.  Eyes that used to shine with such hope.  Thinking of this memory his soul felt weighed down by invisible gravity.

“This is for Jason.” The man muttered to no one but himself.  Plans were in motion already.  Everyone would finally know of their plight, the struggle that the rugged pioneers of space faced at the hands of the suits from the Consortium.  Everyone.  He climbed back into his personal craft and detached the cable from the station, coasting away on inertia.  Silent running.  He would drift for a couple hours.  He took his helmet off, blew his nose, and opened a nearly empty bottle of whiskey.  The last bottle he had.  But this last bit would be more refreshing.

Hard work always made whiskey taste better.

 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final
Click here for the next part!

Sea of Faces

Click here for the Tale before

 

As the fog of oblivion filled Robert’s vision, he could feel the fishing boat tumbling farther down into the unnatural whirlpool.  It was as if a massive hole in the ocean floor had opened up like some great drain stopper, and now all of the world’s water was pouring down into the planet.  Robert was falling and suddenly found himself floating in that great infinite inkwell of in-between.  Apart from existence.

The darkness was not so complete this time, stars peppered the abyss from great distances, speckling and sparkling from afar.  Focusing on them, Robert felt as if he was being drawn in.  They twinkled and beckoned pleasantly.  He found one, pulsing alone among the millions, and his vision was focused on it.  He could not look away, and he had no eyelids with which to blink.  It pulsed louder, brighter.  He felt warmth emanating from it, a strong sense of comfort, safety, and a dash of happiness.  But those feelings passed onto an aftertaste that was a deep sense of… hopelessness?  Exhaustion laced with defiance?  Both.  Waves of emotion washed over Robert’s mind, and he felt a strong connection.

He tried to stare into the light, which was not any closer but pulsed more and more and faster and brighter and faster and then he was sitting on a steel park bench, the sun above pulsing with warmth.  Almost throbbing.  A cosmic heartbeat comforting him.

 

tumblr_myg0gbcehi1s5nozoo1_500

 

The skyscrapers towered all around him, covered in shining glass and chrome.  They looked differently than any he had seen before.  Some sides were straight, others sloped up to make a curved edge.  Many of the buildings were connected by several bridges, and on top of the bridges trees grew tall and leafy.  As he looked around, he noticed every building’s top in view had veritable forests growing from their roofs.  Many buildings had large vines growing up the side, making this strange landscape seem as if the civilization had collapsed, and nature was claiming what was rightfully hers.  Robert stared in wonder and fear, searching for familiarity.  The architecture was completely foreign, and as he stared more and more it became familiar.  The way the trees curled around corners, and climbed with the steel.  Flowing naturally through concrete tubes cut into the sides, guiding their growth.  Nature seemed in control of this world.

The streets were bustling, people wore business suits cut differently than Robert was used to.  They looked cool and crisp though, hip.  He was looking around in awe and listening to birds chirp triumphant as he noticed each person had a red tie, and wore gray suits.  One group wore blue ties.  Robert looked down at his own clothes, and noticed he fit right in.  The place around him was remarkably clean, no trash on the ground or any stains on the street.  The familiar cleanliness of a civilization with pride.  Robert felt a warmth in his chest swelling up.

Vehicles that he had never seen quietly swooped around the streets, and he noticed that they hovered slightly above the ground, rising and falling with the terrain.  Robert had never seen anything like this before, but inside he felt strangely acquainted. Staring at one hover-car, he moved his eyes over its smooth blue frame, shaped like a teardrop.  He felt confused, as he knew that this was all wrong, but how could it be?  He had lived near this city his whole life.  His wife worked here too, at one of the schools.  As he thought about the civilization he found himself in, he grew more familiar with it.  He had a job here, and he was late to work.

Robert stood up quickly and straightened his red tie.  This was the Port District, and he had to make it to the office in time to catch the ride to Persephone.  He hailed a cab, and felt the familiar dip in the hovering as he sat inside.

“To the Main Port, please.”

 

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The cabbie nodded and smiled and merged into the traffic with the nearly identical hover-cars.  The styles were all the same, save for the colors.  Robert remembered how thankful he was for the efficiency of it all.  The cars used hyper-solar panels, the technology that made the Second Industrial Revolution possible.  There was no longer any need for mining fossil fuels, but the rare-earth minerals used in cities and machines were nearly gone.  Lucky for Robert, he worked for the United Earth Mining Consortium, which specialized in mining near-Earth asteroids for the metals used in every aspect of society.  A extremely lucrative business and a near monopoly that was subsidized by the United Earth Republic.  Robert was lucky enough to snag a sales representative job and earn the red tie just in time for the mining boom of the last 20 years.  His wife taught at the local private academy, and they lived a picturesque life in a home with a view of Millennium City, where the great Port District in this hemisphere was.  On a clear night, they could see the twinkling of Persephone in the sky, hovering in geosynchronous orbit high over the Port.

The Port District was filled with Consortium employees with their red ties.  Color-coded ties for job sectors, color coded cars for different services.  All moving cogs in the wonderful machine of Terran society.  As he passed through a service industry bloc, he saw how drab a gray suit was without a tie.  He almost pitied them, but then the grand vista of the Port came into view.

From far off, the Port’s elevator seemed like a strange line dividing the sky in half before disappearing into the clouds.  Up close, the sheer immensity could begin to be appreciated.  Like a child looking up at a theme park ride, Robert strained at the cab’s window to discover how high up he could see.  The Great Elevator stretched up higher than his eyes could strain.  He knew that Persephone was up there, nearby the orbital station connected to the elevator that acted as a counterweight and allowed it to stay in place.  Truly a marvel of modern engineering, Robert could not help but feel proud to be a part of a civilization that had conquered such heights.  Both he and Linda would share that awe sometimes, each sipping their nightcaps and staring up at Persephone and the other orbital stations that twinkled with the stars.  He never noticed, but she always held his hand a little tighter when they looked up together.

After paying the cabbie, Robert made his way through the military checkpoint.  He never understood why, in such a peaceful time, they still felt the need to strip everyone down and comb them over.  It wasn’t even degrading to him anymore, but just a hassle.  And no matter how many times he saw the same soldiers, they never got any nicer.  Humorless as they always were, Robert still tried to make them laugh.

“Geez, you aren’t even going to take me out on a date first?”

Awkward silence, save for the sounds of the metal detector and the shuffling of boots.  Robert was irritated at being even later than he already was, but he buried it deep down.  He didn’t want to cause a scene with the soldiers.  They always pointed their rifles at the crowds and at who they were searching, and Robert remembered his first time and how mortified he was to stare down a half dozen barrels.  He nearly pissed himself.  But now, it was just business as usual.  The cost of security.  They treated everyone as if each was about to detonate a thermal charge at the first opportunity, even though terrorism hadn’t been an issue for some time.  After Unification, and when the orbital stations finally began producing food and water for everyone, times got more peaceful.  Sure there were whispers of workers on Earth and in Orbit that were treated unfairly and exploited, but those were just rumors.  No concrete evidence, and certainly no terrorism came of them.

Finally the soldiers finished their duty, and he slipped clumsily back into the gray suit and red tie.  Catching a quick glance into a mirror as he walked by to make sure he looked dapper, he made his way into the large sphere that was the vestibule of the Great Elevator.  Shockingly white on the outside, he always wondered how they kept it so clean.  Crowds meandered through the concourse as a monotone voice spoke about travel times and departures.

“The next run will begin at 2100.  The next run will begin at 2100.”

A man at the bar nearby laughed louder than he needed to.  A mother tried to comfort her child across the hall.  The miniature human stood crying in the middle of what appeared to be their entire family’s belongings, clutching an over-sized stuffed bear.  Robert stood as the crowd moved around him, and his legs would not move.  He had no need to, and he felt unnatural.  Out of place.  An observer.  Like he did not belong, even though he had been here countless times before.

He stood there, alone and isolated among the sea of faces that swirled and twisted around him.  Countless conversations blended together in one unearthly chorus, and Robert felt confused for a moment that seemed to be a universe of its own.

 

Click here for the next part! 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

 

My Late Uncle Clive (Final)

Click here for Part 3

 

It was impossible to get any sleep.  Even though Trent left to go do some snooping around the college.  Even though Max was dog-snoring loudly next to me, normally a comforting sound.  I was restless, and wired.  I wasn’t sure if it was from the excitement of the impending investigation, or from my compulsion to try and look at the… stone.  When my eyes were shut, I imagined it’s curves and edges.  Tracing with imaginary fingers, I felt its cracks and grain.  My back ached, and my shoulders were so tense that I tossed and turned.  Tired as a 90-year old man, but wired like a child before Christmas.

Of course the whispers did not help.  As I put one leg out from underneath the blanket – the perfect temperature finally achieved – I noticed them.  Their syllables were guttural and foreign and yet… Familiar.  I paid attention as best as I could, they grew quieter as I paid attention.  They must sense I am listening.

“Ft’ngluii maglwf’nafh…”

It was all I could catch at the time.  Later, I would hear more.  But first, the dream that came while I could not sleep.

A darkness fell over the room as if the sun was suddenly covered by some great tapestry of storm clouds.  But what happened next was more of a prophecy, or something.  I don’t know.  I was awake in bed, and abruptly a great ocean stretched out, tumultuous and awe-inspiring.  Waves of titanic proportions crashed into each other, greater than any other waves this world had seen.  Their collisions shattered the song of the rain with thunder.  A city suddenly began to appear, with gargantuan stone blocks stacked irregularly to create strange structures that were nearly Escherian in geometry.  A strange tone blew from beneath the waves as the city rose higher, water falling from sinister stones covered in algae and rumbling into the sky.  The tone was a thousand screams blended into one voice, somehow.  The cacophony grew so loud and impossible to block out, and then just as suddenly as the vision came, I was back on the bed, sitting upright and sweating.  My legs shook from the fear that comes from a lack of understanding, and when my eyes finally focused, they found their own way to that bas-relief of the horrible being.  A chill tingled its way down my spine, and shivering, I left the hotel to meet up with the detective.

We returned to the college, and the secretary had left for the day early apparently, as she was not in her usual spot at her desk.  Trent brought a crowbar under his coat, and we awkwardly hid together in the leg space underneath the great desk that belonged to my late Uncle Clive.  I couldn’t imagine what awaited us behind the secret door, what terrible dark secrets must be behind it!  We sat in complete silence for hours, neither of us wanting to take the risk of being heard.  Luckily we both remembered to wear our deodorant. We had fasted in preparation for this, so that we wouldn’t get the urgent calls of nature at the worst possible time.  A granola bar each kept our stomachs from growling as darkness began to chase the light away from the day.  Shadows spread around us, the already dark room becoming so black that we could scarcely see each other.  Silence was pulsing into the room, waves and waves of it washing over the darkness.  We thought that no one would show up, and just as Trent became restless, a slow creaking shot into the room.  The heavy wooden door to Uncle Clive’s old office began to swing open, letting in a dim light from the hall and several long shadows that belonged to members of this strange cult.

The footsteps tentatively found their way into the office, so quiet and careful.  A small crowd had bustled in judging from the sound, and the last in shut the oaken door behind them.  Darkness again found its home.  If we were discovered, my mind shuddered at the thought of the horrible tortures that would await us.  Flayed skin, peeled back from each finger like a hangnail from hell, curling up my arm and my neck and finally to my eyes.  My damned imagination made my heart pound with such force that I feared I would be heard by the anonymous crowd less than 20 feet from where the detective and I hid.

After an eternity, we heard the large picture of the sea monster attacking the old vessel swing to the side, revealing the doorway.  The sound of brass on brass clanked and I knew that the keys were slid into their locks, tumblers turning and hinges creaking as the door swung open.

In silence, the group made their way into the doorway.  Finally the door swung shut behind them, and their echoing footsteps down a stone corridor disappeared.  A moment passed, and then another moment.  Trent and I looked at each other and silently agreed to finally stand and stretch and complete our mission.  It was nearly the appointed time.

Trent stood first, and I hesitated to stretch my own legs from the sitting position first.  He stood, stretched his arms up, and a great cane with a large stone at the top cracked him across the face.  Blood spurted from his nose and sprayed onto his shirt as he fell backward, tumbling over the chair.  I quickly pulled my legs back and continued to hide, a cowardly move that saved my own life.  From where I was, all I could see were his legs twitching with each repeated swing of the cane onto his skull.  Each thick thud gave a spasm to his body, which finally went limp.  Silence again, and then the hidden door creaked one last time, swinging open then closed.

My entire body felt weak as I pulled myself up.  Trent’s face was completely caved in.  The copper smell of fresh blood was blended with brain and marrow.  Barely able to contain my nausea, I took the crowbar he had smuggled in.  I would have closed his eyes if there were eyes to close.  I would make sure he got a proper burial… But first there was business.

The crowbar worked well on the hinges, and I pried the door open with a surprisingly quiet splintering.  The vestibule was a wooden frame of decent design, remarkably clean.  I took out a small flashlight that I had brought with me, and I carried the crowbar in my other hand.  A smell rode on a small wind out from the darkness in front of me, and it grew stronger with each step down the old stairs.  The wooden structure gave way to stone, and I did not notice when that change occurred because of the sounds I heard.  The damp, musty air blended with strange incantations, and trills.  Drums.  Almost human sounds.  Sounds no person should make.  Each step into the tunnel brought them deeper into my mind, the echoes giving the impression that the sounds came from all around me.  Finally, a flickering light could be seen around the corner and up ahead, where the tunnel curved suddenly to the right.  Turning my flashlight off, I crept up to the edge and peeked around into the heart of madness.  The light that flickered was from a great fire.

The earthen hall had opened into a great cavern, who knows how deep beneath the school grounds.  The ceiling was so high up it gave me vertigo to look, with strange Byzantine patterns carved into the wall all around escalating the sensation.  The center of the room drew my eye, as the dark chanting grew more frantic and hurried, words echoing with fanatical glee.  A monolith of black-green blended stone towered in the center of the room, fires burning around it in a shallow pit.  Countless skeletons hung upside-down above the pyre, just beyond the reach of the flames.  I focused on the cultists, silhouetted and nude.  They danced and swayed erratically, each moving to the strange rhythm of the incantation that I will try to write again.  It is so clear in my mind… and yet difficult to write:

“Ft’ngluii…. maglwf’nafh…. Kuthluun…. Reh’lyeh… wvagah-najl… phutadjnn!”

As I heard the words from the disgusting lips of the raving cultists, I knew that they were the words that I have been hearing in my mind.  It makes me shiver to try and think of how it was possible.  Some stones are best left un-turned.  The flames leaped and I caught one face: A man I recognized from the funeral.  A colleague of my late Uncle’s.  And another.  And another.  This was the secret for which he was ashamed.  A scream broke through the maddening tempos of beating drums and foul syllables.  The drums became more frantic as a woman was dragged out from the other side of the cavern, naked.  Feet and hands bound.  My heart pounded and I watched helplessly as they brought her to the center, before the swaying nude crowd and the monolith.  The chanting grew louder as one man stepped forward, and raised an object high into the air.  The gold glistened from the strange blade that I was so fond of — the tentacled blade.  It was a sacrificial knife.  They broke in and made a mess to hide that they took just that.  The woman looked frantically around, crying for help, and as the man grabbed her hair to pull her head back I saw it was the secretary from before.  Blood squirted out onto the stone floor as the blade cut into her throat, and almost immediately she was hoisted up over the monolith and the flames, and I watched the blood drip down onto the black-green stone and I saw the familiar being from the bas-relief carved into the top of the stone, staring at me.  The chanting was frantic as she twitched and hung above the monolith, dying and flames licking at her skin, and catching her on fire.  Must have been doused in gasoline.  I could not help but vomit, and I felt powerless and I weakly made my way back the way I came.

The police did not believe me.  They nearly arrested me when I tried to get them to follow me to the school.  They knew of no Detective Trent.  His body was gone when I went back up to the room.  No blood.  I have done the best I can to write this clearly, and I fear I have used all the strength I have had just to stay sane.  The whispers still come to me.  The dreams come as well, repeated over and over again exactly the same during the darkest hours of the night.  A horrible conspiracy at this university, going on for generations.  I went back to my burnt shell of a house to salvage anything, and there was nothing.  I took Max from the hotel, and upon checking out the manager gave me a note that had been left from someone, though he could not remember who.  The camera’s footage from the night it was left was just static.  I am moving on, and fear I will continue to have to move around.  The note was on very nice paper, in a thick envelope.  The typed words stood harshly in contrast with the white paper:

“We know that you know.  We are watching.  We are everywhere.”

As I read it, the whispers began again.  At first they could have been a soft wind through the trees.  But now they are constant.  I have found a good home for Max, a safe place.  I won’t be around much longer.  The whispers won’t stop, and I know of only one way to stop them.

 

 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

My Late Uncle Clive (3)

Click here for Part 2

 

 

I have to type quickly.  Time is of the essence.

The morning after the firebombing of my house, we went to the college again to try and find more clues.  I kept the hidden note my uncle mentioned a secret.  It was a hot day, and the AC in my truck doesn’t exactly work at 100 percent.  By the time we arrived, we both had rings of sweat under our arms and on our backs.  The heat was oppressive, and made me feel almost lethargic.  Max the dog was to stay at the hotel all day, and watch National Geographic.  Lucky dog.

We both arrived to see the smiling secretary again, who greeted us.  In a sing-song voice she told us that no one had gone into the office of my late Uncle Clive.  Relieved, we walked in silence down the large hallway, and opened the wooden door to see a ransacked room.  Papers thrown everywhere, priceless looking artifacts were tossed to the ground.  Someone was looking for something.  Luckily nothing seemed destroyed.  I noticed something that was mentioned in my uncle’s notes: a strange bas-relief of some inconceivable language, like the one from before, and a more detailed picture of the odd creature from before.  It was a queer caricature of an octopus / man with bat-like wings, towering over impossible architecture that my mind struggled to perceive.  The strange angles and geometry captivated me, and the color of it was an unknown, black-green blend of strange stone.  Trent had to shout to catch my attention, at which I whirled around.

“Hey ____, are you listening?  I said I found something odd.”

I walked over, carefully avoiding important looking papers and set the etching onto the table.

“What is it?”

“Well I noticed that nothing is missing, it is obviously not a robbery.  These artifacts were left alone.  But I also noticed that there is no forced entry.  Extremely odd.  I’m going to go review the cameras in the hallway.”  He quickly left me alone in the cluttered office, dust spiraling around me lazily in the scattered sun.

Perfect.  I could get a chance to look for the secret note, and it would be discrete.  I began to look around the room.

“Something that holds the whole world in it”, I muttered to myself over and over.  A globe?  Surprisingly there was no globe.  I looked in an atlas, and then another.  Time was passing quickly as each of my ideas went to no avail.  Not in the encyclopedia.  Not in the dictionary.  I was becoming frustrated and I bumped into the computer tower that stuck slightly out from under his desk, knocking it over.

The side panel came ajar, and a the corner of an envelope peeked out from within.  I laughed to myself because I never would have figured that out.  I was surprised that my uncle knew enough about computers and the internet to create that small mystery.

I propped the chair back up, sat in it, and reached for that really sweet letter opener — the golden tentacle.  To my dismay, only pencils and pens sat in the container.  I looked under the table, on the floor, frantically picking up papers and tossing them aside.  It was nowhere to be found.  Why would someone have stolen just that?  There were plenty of other (and more expensive) artifacts and tokens in the room.  Strange.

I sat down again in the chair and as it squeaked I opened the letter to read:

“Dear (Redacted),

I knew you would find this.  I have a terrible secret.  It’s simpler to show you rather than try to explain it.  Go to the painting opposite my desk, which is probably where you are sitting and reading this now.  Move it to the side.  They are overconfident, and won’t expect outsiders to find their way in.  

Make your way down on the first of September, at 11 PM.  Hide in an alcove, and keep your mouth shut and your ears open.  Bring a camera, no flash.  Night vision.  Detective Trent may have contacted you by now, and if not, he is the creepy guy who might be following you around.  He really is an odd one.  

Please forgive me.  I know what they… or what WE were doing was wrong.  But I want to help put an end to this.  Maybe then my soul can find respite.  

I’m sorry.  

Your Uncle Clive” 

Immediately I stood and went to the picture, an old timey work of an ancient sea monster attacking an old ship.  I went to move it, and it didn’t budge and I strained against it as Trent walked back into the room.

“What are you doing?” He asked quickly, and I asked in a strained voice for him to help.  Finally with his help, the painting suddenly flipped open, revealing a door raised from the ground, and a staircase that flipped down like the stairs of an attic.  A secret passage!  But, the door was locked.  Two sets of keyholes made it apparent that we could not get in without alerting whomever frequented it.

“Well, this explains the lack of forced entry.  I’ll bet it is other staff members who are using this…”

“I found what was stolen!” Blurting out and cutting him off, I quickly sketched the molluscan blade.  His face turned pale as a sheet as he pulled an old drawing from his wallet.  It was a scan of an old primary document, covered in wrinkles and tears of time.  The same tentacle knife was there, staring at me.  I felt strange again, somehow mesmerized by its shapes.  My eyes flicked over Trent’s shoulder to the bas-relief.  I swear then I heard whispers in my mind, and I must have lost track of time because Trent shook my shoulders.

“Hey!  I said this was found with that cult in Louisiana!  Could it be the same one here?”

I stared at the picture he gave me in silence.  The similarity was undeniable.  We decided that we would come back on the first of September, and hide somewhere in the room and wait for those who may use that tunnel to come back and use it, then somehow follow them in.  Maybe break in.  Trent and I gathered what important papers and documents we could find so that we could go back to the motel and see if anything important could be found.  What was interesting was what happened to me that night.

The whispers were definitely real.  Trent had passed out, and Max had too.  So I sat alone in my twin bed and I was going over some of the same documents again when I glanced at the wrapped up stone etching of the strange creature and the writing.  I felt like I was being drawn to it, like an obsession.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day, and now I couldn’t resist looking at it again!  It was really amazing and horrible at the same time.  The ancient, elder god of some forgotten tribe perhaps.  The artwork was fascinating, and before I knew it I was holding it, touching the curves and the lines.  Trying to understand the impossible architecture of the city the being towered over.  Before I realized it, I had been listening to whispers for the entire time, and as I became aware of their hushed syllables and clicking tongues they disappeared.  I looked around, but there was nothing but peaceful sleep and scattered papers.

I have to get some sleep, because last night I did not.  I must have stayed up for 7 hours just looking at the thing.  Before I knew it, as I traced the exquisite lines of the relief, the sun had risen and Max was ready to be fed.  So was I.  Time flies when you are having fun.

 

Click here for the final entry.

 

Whirlpool

Click here for the part before! 

 

The alarm bell rang with intense fury as the storm outside the ship’s cabin faded into silence.  The ocean waves bobbed the vessel up and down, and Robert’s great fear of drowning blended into nausea.  The crew was shouting outside, working effectively even without their captain.  Robert stepped over Captain Gathers’ sleeping body and peeked outside at the deck.  The horizon was swallowed by the immense titan of the sea, with its riders perched on top, preparing for battle.  It was larger than he had expected, for it was still growing toward them.  Surprised that it hadn’t arrived yet, he realized that it must be impossibly large.  Even its riders must be gigantic.

Robert was startled by 2 crew men suddenly outside on the deck, but they were distracted by the .50 caliber machine gun that they were bolting into place, facing the direction of their impending doom.  A titanic rumbling was growing louder, and no one could tell if it was the sound the creature made on purpose, or if it was the sound of the massive water displacement as it came toward them.  Regardless, men were having trouble fighting off their fear.  One man alone by the helm clutched at a picture of his wife and young child, born just before he left on this mission.  His last mission.  Tears blended with the sea spray as he pushed the throttle down further, trying to pull away from his fate.  The engine roared over the crashing of waves on the bow.

 

whirlpool 2

 

Robert still struggled to remember who he was, and how he got here.  Collapsing into a chair, he held his head in his hands and tried to fight off his nausea.  He felt a ring on his finger and looked at the gold glistening in the flickering light.  Married.  He grabbed a wet wallet from his hip pocket.  Photographs.  Children.  He saw one of his wife from their wedding day.  It was almost ruined from the water, but he could still see her eyes, and the way her black hair fell over her shoulder.  As if an invisible artist took great care to make sure she looked perfect.

“…Let me help you clean that up, breakfast is on the table.  I took today off so I could try to cheer you up…”

He snapped upright as a memory shot electric through his body.  Eggs, over easy.  Toast, perfectly tanned, lightly buttered.  Bacon, crisped to perfection. Coffee, black, with cream waiting to be used in a cute little cup with a tiny little handle.  It all was coming back to him now.  His unemployment, his depression.  The reason he used dreams to escape his life each morning with a new nap under an old oak.  The way the sun shone through the leaves that day, when he fell into some terrible reality.  To escape, he must dream.  But to truly dream, he must escape.  The strange old man!  The words he heard, urging calm, must have come from him!  Did he know how to truly escape?   To truly dream?

The .50 cal exploded from outside the cabin, and Robert was so startled that he fell back down.  He almost hit his head hard enough to be knocked out, but it just throbbed red hot in agonizing waves of pain.  He knew what he had to do.  He had to get back and save his wife from his copy.  The Dark One.  It ate the tanned toast that should be his, and had the wife that he should be with.  Rage bubbled inside of him as he imagined the malevolent smile looking at him from his own doorway as himself.  Robert stood and looked out the window, the gun chugging bullets as the boat bobbed up and down.  The leviathan was still growing larger now, consuming the entire horizon.

How could something ever be so big? 

A sound came from behind Robert and before he could turn in time the Captain had his arm in a lock behind him and his face pressed up against the tiny circular pane of glass.

“You really fucked up now, bud.”

“Please, please knock me out!” Robert groaned out as his shoulder almost dislocated.  Tendons stretched and popped as Gathers squeezed Robert’s forearm higher up on his back.

“You don’t get out that easy, bud.  You cannot escape.”  Robert’s face paled as he saw the faint smile of a Cheshire reflected in the thin pane of glass his face was pushed against.

“We are everywhere.”

 

whirlpool 1

 

Robert struggled and slammed his head back into Gathers’ shifting face, and a half-human squeal erupted from it.  Whirling around to face his assailant, Robert saw shadows spiraling back into the ears, mouth, and eyes of Captain Gathers, who now stood before him.  He looked confused.

“Hey… You knocked me out!”  Robert breathed heavily and rubbed his left shoulder.  He saw his chance now.  Anyone else would have just thrown themselves overboard and let the sea take them, but Robert could not bear to face that fear.  Not yet.

“I’ll do it again if you give me the chance, boy.”  Robert straightened his back and put up his dukes.  He wanted to get the hell out of this reality before the sea creature swallowed him up whole along with the boat.  Gathers let out a huge laugh and gave Robert a straight kick to the chest, flinging him back into the bulkhead.  The wind was knocked out of him and he couldn’t stand up or resist.  Gathers picked up Robert by his shirt, and brought his feet up off the ground and slammed him back into the wall.

“I’m going to work you over, buddy.”  He sneered into Robert’s face as he raised a fist.  The .50 caliber erupted hot lead outside, startling the Captain.  He dropped Robert and looked outside, pressing his face against the glass.

“My God… I’ve killed us all.” Robert stood up behind him, and paused awkwardly.  Should he try to knock himself out?  He didn’t have to worry about it for too much longer, as the aquatic behemoth suddenly began to submerge itself just as it came upon the boat.  The men at first began to cheer, but then the sheer mass of the being going underwater created a massive maelstrom off the port bow.  The gaping maw of an ocean god pulled the boat in and as they went down the boat tipped onto its side, and the death screams of fishermen filled the rushing vortex of wind and water.  Filing cabinets tipped in the cabin, and the corner of one impaled the Captain against the door with a wet thud.

“I’m sorry… Eveline.. Junior… Forgive me…” Bubbled blood coughed from his mouth as he breathed his last.  A fire extinguisher caught Robert on the back of his head as he stared at the dead man who wanted a better life for his family.  Sympathy came easily as darkness filled his vision.  More darkness.  Infinite darkness.  Almost as black as his wife’s hair.

 

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

 

Click here for the next Tale! 

 

My Late Uncle Clive (2)

Click here for Part 1

 

 

I’ve lived alone since the kids have grown up, and my wife left me soon after that. We stayed together to raise the family, but she never really loved me. I don’t resent her for anything at all, so lets move along as I correct myself. I don’t live alone, not really.

 

My dog Max was a big ol’ Golden Retriever, and in his prime he was rambunctious and would bark at everything. But as time went by, he became more reserved. Some people follow the same pattern. I’m just glad he didn’t follow the terrible pattern that is senility. Max was my best friend, and he always managed to find his way up to my lap no matter how tired he was.

 

I got home, and I was greeted by the familiar thumping of his tail on the hardwood floor of the hall. I flipped lights on and kicked my shoes off and scooped all the old boxes of take-out off of the kitchen table and into the trash. I threw down the old manuscripts and papers, and took some fresher take-out from the fridge to sate my growling stomach.

 

Max found his way in with me, and sat eagerly by his feeding frenzy area. His tail was uncontrollable as I poured fresh food into his bowl. We ate together in silence as I looked at these strange documents. The night was steadily growing darker, but I forgot to turn on the lights and my eyes adjusted without my knowing. They were too fascinating to peel myself away from. There was something about the strange, completely foreign symbols. They were unlike anything I had ever seen before. Pictographs and dashes and curls all blended together into some forgotten story.
Some of the scrolls were something similar to ancient Sumerian. But they were also not quite like what Google searches spat back to me. There were flourishes here and there, and odd pictures blended in between some of the lines. The text spiraled around some of these eldritch images. One in particular caught my eye. Some strange octopus, turned upside down but with angry eyes carved right ways up in the head of it. The tentacles held different items: A cross, a strange “Y” with two dashes in the botttom, and knives. I stared at the image for longer than I thought, because Max’s whine broke my concentration. He stared at me with keen interest and tilted his head. I took another bite of my food and it was already cold! Time was passing by with unusual expediency.
The night had fallen completely by this point, and to see I had my face pressed up all the way to the papers. I didn’t even notice! I stood and flipped some lights on to continue, but then I heard Max begin to bark at the front of the house. Extremely out of character for him, the barking was persistent and growing louder. He never barked at anything anymore, not even the mailman. But something had grabbed his attention with an eerie tenacity. A loud knocking broke the silence from the front door, and Max’s barks turned to growls. No one ever visited me, not even my kids. And at this hour?
I grabbed the bat that was by the front door and looked carefully into the peephole. On my front step was that strange man from before, his brown hair was carefully combed in a modest pompadour, and he was wearing a dark coat. He looked nervously over his shoulder and reached up again to knock when I popped the door open a crack. My eye was the only thing he could see when I asked:

 

“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I… Haven’t been honest with you, sir.”
“Well anyone could have figured that out, buddy. You’re not a good liar.” He chuckled and reached into his back pocket, at which I slammed the door shut thinking he was going for a gun.
“WAIT! I’m a detective! I was getting my badge!” he shouted with frustration. I carefully peeped out the peeper, and sure enough there was a gold shield there, held up next to his sheepish grin.
I opened the door again, this time unlatching the various locks all of the way so that I could let him in.
“Well, why didn’t you just start with that yesterday? Would have been much easier for both of us. Plus I thought you were some creepy and stuck up asshole.” He laughed at that as he stepped inside, hanging up his coat.
“I get that all the time. There’s a lot to tell you.”
I cleared the manuscripts off of the table hurriedly, putting a pot of water on to boil for a french-press brew. All the while trying to think about why a cop would be interested in my late uncle.
“I’m just going to dive right into it, sir. I’ve noticed a pattern in some recent cases, as well as some cold cases going back… quite some time.” He produced a file from thin air, it seemed.
“Oh, by the way. My name is Detective Jackson, call me Trent. I’m sorry for yesterday. I’ve had to be extremely cautious. I’ve been receiving death threats for my work, which is unusual, because I thought only I knew about it. Even my boss doesn’t know I’m here right now. I’ve kind of become obsessed. But hear me out.”
“Sure. I have nothing else to do, and I haven’t had company in years. Plus I like stories!” I smiled and he gave a thin smile back.
“Women have been disappearing from this town for hundreds of years. But people always assumed they were runaways, or something along those lines. Because there was no discernible pattern or similarity. Until I took the time to do all this work. Every 4 years, a young woman vanishes. She is always between 16 – 25, and according to the reports that are complete, they have no real close friends, and their family is broken. Fathers or mothers gone or addicted to drugs, you know. Very sad situations.” He spread the thick file out on the table this whole time, laying out photographs from recent years, and ending with one from a very long time ago. The type of photograph from when folks never smiled. Her hair and eyes were as black as the underside of the clouds outside that wandered through the night.
“People always assumed that because of their home situations, and their ages, that they simply ran away, or killed themselves. No one had ever been found, and so without a body they remain a missing-persons case. Never able to warrant a full on homicide investigation. There were never any witnesses to the disappearance, it was like they just walked out their homes one day and never returned. But this is where it gets weird. All of these disappearances began when the college was founded. I’ve even found old primary documents from colonial eras about some disappearances, but those were assumed to be Indian kidnappings or the like.”
The sound of my phone timer exploded into the kitchen, and scared us both. He actually stood completely upright and drew his gun, which he now awkwardly put back into his holster. The coffee was ready.
“But I have made a map of the disappearances, and they all are within 30 miles of the college. I had been researching strange disappearances like this, and apparently there was something similar going on in Louisiana a long time ago, and it had to do with some strange cult that required human sacrifice. Throats were cut, then burned, or simply just burned alive. Really horrific stuff. But your Uncle intrigued me because some of the records from that case had strange manuscripts remarkably similar to what he was working with when I went to canvass the staff at the college. He said that he wanted to meet me, that he had something to tell me that would blow a hole in this case but… He died within 48 hours of talking to me. That is how I know something is seriously amiss here. Of course there were the death threa — ”

 

 

Max began barking again, furiously. He had barked more this night than in the last few years all together. I stood and looked for him in the front, and saw he was foaming at the mouth and barking like a wild animal. His eyes were crazed and my heart was pounding as suddenly the window shattered inward, and the room burst into flames. The curtains caught fire and the fire spread over pictures on the wall and an old couch as Max bolted from the living room and into the kitchen, barking and barking and barking. Trent stood and had his gun drawn just as another Molotov cocktail burst into the opposite end of the house. The heat filled the air as flames began to cover everything.
“Save the manuscripts!” I shouted at him, as I grabbed an old family picture of mine. From a time when we were happy. With the picture in one hand, I scooped the massive retriever under my other arm, and followed Detective Jackson as he kicked down the back door and covered the flames there with a blanket he had found. We tumbled out into the dewy grass and stood in the night, watching the flickering flames spike up high into the sky. Tires squealed out front as the culprits got away. No time for even a glance.
“Well, I guess we should go to…. well my place isn’t safe either.” He looked at me, then the ground. Within an hour we awkwardly were checking into a hotel together. He passed out in one of the twin beds, and I sat in the other, typing this. I will update soon.

 

Something is afoot.

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