Thirty One

adorn

 

 

I haven’t written a story in a long time. I’ve been working on a novel, but I recently got into a high fantasy phase and it’s making it tricksy to work on my very modern and not high fantasy novel. Also I’ve been sedentary and depressed or something. In any case, I wanted to get some of this fantasy mumbo malumbo out of my system. So I started to write and this is what came out.

 

Thirty One

 

 

Thirty One. That’s the only name she has, because she came with no name.

She cracked out of a crystal seed nearly a month ago, and things are still changing. Everything is changing, and no one knows what to do. The others look to me and I have little to give. They look to me. I was always the last one anyone looked to for truth. For real things. For solutions. The poet, the dreamer, the storyteller. Who has need for stories in a world like this? A world where we know and understand and can touch everything?

Not anymore. Krakow has the final say about how to distribute the hot nectar that flows from the broken mountains, or who is chosen to be painted by the juice of the nefilfruit each bloomtime. But Thirty One came, and Krakow is silent. The others are saying that the silver has melted and dripped from his tongue, and he does not wish to open his mouth and let us see.

Amandrius’s word takes hold when the flatlings come forth from the darkened places on the other side of the spiked mountains, or a violent storm births too many lightcaws to be felled by the rains and they fly down to scratch at is. We gather our frozenfire spears and our thunderslings and follow Amandrius’s bellow out to do battle with our enemies. We do not know if Thirty One is an enemy. She is one of us, and yet she is not. We all turned to Amandrius for council. To see if he would blow his horn. He did not. We do not know if he is unsure or if he is afraid.

Lisilia peers into the nexttime to tell us what the clouds would bring, when it would be hot enough to hide in the shades so our skins would not burn. All of us listened when she spoke or sang, even Krakow. Even Amandrius. But Lisilia did not see Thirty One coming. She is something new. There has never been something new.

No one listens to me. They never have. Or, they listen, but it is idle. A fancy. I sing of hidden kingdoms in the clouds. Of a rare blue strain of hot nectar that grants the drinker golden wings that fly a hundred times as fast as our own. Of scaly beasts that slumber beneath the ground atop great piles of impossible objects the likes of which we cannot imagine.

But there are no kingdoms in the clouds. We have flown around and through them many times. There is no blue strain of nectar, and wings are never gold. There are no scaly beasts beneath the ground, or anything else that we have not seen and touched. We have been everywhere. We have seen everything. The imaginings of my fancies are hallucinations of an otherwise useless mind.

Always there have been thirty of us. At the dawn of things the crystal seeds cracked and we emerged. That was thousands of cycles of the world ago. We have been everywhere. We have seen everything. There was nothing new.

Then a new seed began to grow. It was nothing we could understand. Nothing we had ever seen before. It grew and it grew and finally it cracked. And she emerged. A new person. A new person for the first time in the history of forever. The thirty first. She had no name. We all had names, when we emerged. We knew them. Our own and each other’s. But we did not know her name, because she had no name.

No one could name her so they turned to me. I called her Thirty One, and so she is. She is here, now. And everything is different.

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Withered Past

Wax finger cast

47 sharks, day 8.

This is another horror story.

It’s a tiny bit unfair to say this is part of the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge, but it was a huge inspiration on some elements, so I am going to do it anyway, and hope they don’t sent the sharks after me. This is the sequel to Withered Memory, but you absolutely don’t have to read that first if you don’t want to. Just dive right in.

They say he had a name, once. But he opened his skull with a dull blade and ripped it out. Then he squeezed it by the neck until it choked out its last breath. He plucked out its feathers. He tore out its innards. He skinned and boiled the carcass, then sucked the meat off the bones, one by one. Now he has no name, and nothing, not death, or loss, or sanity, can ever find him again.

–Some whacknut on the internet

Ten minutes ago I was attacked in my living room. I walked out of the kitchen and the front door burst open. A man ran at me, screeching like a banshee. I screamed. The plate in my hand clattered to the floor, and bits of my ham sandwich flew everywhere. The man’s head and face was covered with a neon-green wig. He hurled himself at me and scratched at my face and my arms with long red and gold press-on nails.

I groped around desperately for something to defend myself with. My hand settled on the poker next to the fireplace. I swung it as hard as I could. It sank into his arm. There was no blood. He just kept scratching. I pushed him away from me, and  stabbed him in the chest with the poker. He let out a scream that was also a burbling laugh.  Then I stabbed him again, and again, and again. It made a sound like a knife stabbing into a thickly upholstered couch. There was still no blood, but something came out of the wounds. It was hair. Bright, neon-green hair.

“Jessica, what’s the matter?” I heard my mom’s voice from the top of the stairs.

I blinked. I was standing in the living room, just outside the kitchen. I still held the plate in my hand. My ham sandwich was fine.  The fireplace poker was still in its holder.

“Nothing, mom,” I said.

“Why did you scream like that?”

“I just…I thought I saw something out of the window. It startled me, is all.”

“Oh. Okay, then. Well I’m glad you’re okay.”

When she was gone I sighed with intense relief. There was no psychotic punk-monster. It as all in my head. Plus, that was the last of the good mustard, and it was still on my sandwich.

I went into the bathroom to wash my face and try to shake myself off. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the scratches.

Three weeks ago everything started to go crazy. Just absolutely nuts. I think I’m handling it pretty well. A little too well, maybe. That attack just now should have left me a gibbering wreck. I should be strapped into a straight jacket in a padded room, screaming my lungs at some nurse for bringing me the wrong flavor jello. But I’m not. I am definitely freaked out, don’t get me wrong. Just not all that much. It would be the weirdest thing about all of this, except that it is totally not nearly the weirdest thing about all of this. But maybe I’m handling it because it didn’t really start three weeks ago.

In eighth grade I had this friend named Keera. One day I was late to gym and I found her in the locker room, bawling her eyes out. I mean, crying like a third grader who’d dropped her PS Vita down the sewage drain. Just tears everywhere.

“Keera, are you okay?” I asked.

“Everything sucks,” she spat out. “Everything fucking sucks.”

“Oh damn,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“My mom died,” she said. I knew that already. Her mom died a week earlier from cancer. I felt like a schmuck that I’d sort of forgotten about it. “I got my midterm grades and I’m failing fucking everything. Jason broke up with me. And my god damn goldfish died. Can you believe that?”

A terrible part of me wanted to laugh. It just sounded kind of fake, when she said it all at once like that. Like the exaggerated story Inigo Montoya tells to Miracle Max to try to get a free miracle. But I didn’t laugh. That would have been a total bitch thing to do, and I really did feel sorry for her. So I leaned down and hugged her, and told her that she was awesome and her friends loved her. Or something. I don’t remember exactly. Friend stuff.

“What drives me so crazy is that it all happened at once, you know?” she cried. “Like, out of nowhere, my life is just totally horrible.”

I thought about that for the whole rest of the day. It seemed cosmically unfair that so much crap had been heaped on her at once. But the more I considered it, the more I realized it wasn’t really true. Keera’s mom had been dying for over a year. It messed her up pretty badly. She neglected everything: her grades, her boyfriend, and probably even her goldfish. So just because it seemed like everything was going to hell right now, it really started awhile ago.

Three weeks ago everything went crazy. That’s when they found the first body, and I remembered Briana. That’s when the Flash Mob of Faces and Eyes happened. That’s when I found out about the Man of Many Tongues, and  Joseph Smith and the Annals of the Shivering Stone. That’s when I first starting seeing Him again. The withering man. That’s when the madness got whipped up into a storm. But it’s been drizzling for a long time now. Maybe the reason I’m not a doped-up mental patient is because crazy stuff has been happening for years.  On the edges of my life where I barely noticed it. I’m desensitized. Is that better, or worse?

I’m going to lay them all out, one at a time. Maybe there’s a pattern, or something.

  • Noctambulism

That’s another word for sleepwalking. I’ve been a noctambulist as long as I can remember. Sometimes I just walk out of bed and act out my dreams or my nightmares. I do pretty weird stuff. You know, the kind of stuff that makes sense in dreams but is silly later on. The one my sister Anwa likes to tell everyone is known in our family as “The Spoon Thing.” Sometimes, like when I have a friend over for dinner or something, a family member makes a joke about “don’t let Jessy near the spoons; you’ll never see them again.” And everyone has a good laugh while I try to hide under my napkin.

It happened when I was seven. It must have been during the summer because Anwa was home from college. She came downstairs to the kitchen one night to get a midnight snack to find me sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by spoons. I had stacked them into neat little piles. It was all of the spoons from the drawers, but also the special occasion spoons from the cabinet in the living room and the backup spoons from the box under the sink.

“Hey, Jessy,” Anwa said. “What are you doing with those spoons?”

“I’m fixing them,” I said.

“You’re fixing them? Is there something wrong with the way they are now?”

I turned to her, with a look of glassy-eyed intensity. “They’re dangerous!”

“Okay,” she said, laughing. “Well it looks like you took care of them. Why don’t we get you back to bed?”

The next day when I came down to breakfast the rest of the family was already down there, sitting around the dining room table having a good laugh.

“Hey Jessy,” said my brother Adam. I could see he hid something behind his back. “Watch out!” He whipped out the spoon, and everyone cracked up. Then Anwa explained what happened, as I stood there and looked confused.

My confusion was fake. I always told everyone I forgot what I did when I was sleepwaking. But I never forgot. Not once. And the weirdo crap I pulled in that state never stopped making sense to me, even when I was awake. I still sometimes think there is something wrong with those spoons.

  • The Gender, the Name, and the Letters

I was supposed to be a boy. I don’t mean that my parents wanted a boy, although I’m pretty sure Max, my dad, actually did. But they thought I was a boy. They got an ultrasound and the doctor told them the squidgy thing in mom’s belly was definitely a boy. I did a project on pregnancy last year for biology. I guess at that stage in the pregnancy the ultrasound is 95% accurate. So my parents bought a bunch of boy clothes and blue stuff and decorated my room with trucks and dinosaurs. I thought dinosaurs were a kind of truck until I was almost eight.

I was born a little more than a month and a half premature. My mom got an infection or something. I came out all slimy and newborn and the doctor said loudly, “It’s a boy!” I don’t know if he was that loud, but that’s how my mom tells the story. So they named me Alexander Kingsport, after my grandfather. It wasn’t until later when the nurse was cleaning me that they realized the screwed up. My girl bits were all swollen, so they looked like boy bits.

They didn’t have a name for me, so they just picked Jessica. I think my mom liked that old show Murder She Wrote, although she won’t admit it. I found a signed photo of the actress that played the main woman in the garage. Whatever. They could have just called me Alexandra, but I guess my grandfather wouldn’t have wanted a girl named after him. So Jessica I am. Even though it means I’m the only one of my siblings without an “a” name.

But none of that is the weird part. The weird part is that shortly after I turned five I got a letter in the mail for Alex Kingsport. That’s when my mom told that was going to be my name, if I was a boy. She thought she must have put my name wrong down on something at some point, and that’s why it happened. She said it was probably junk mail. It certainly looked like junk mail. I meant to open it, but I put it on my dresser and just kind of forgot about it.

A few times a year ever since I got letters for Alex Kingsport. I never opened any of them, or threw any of them out. I decided it was a fun game, and that I’d open them on some special occasion. I don’t really know why. It made sense when I was little. It wasn’t until I was ten that I realized that I always got one of the letters on November 27th. I only noticed because it was close enough to my birthday that I was still getting birthday cards from procrastinating relatives. Max’s whole family could procrastinate at the Olympics.

I pointed the weirdness out to my mom when I noticed it.

“November 27th?” she said. “That is strange.”

“Why?”

“That was your original due date. You were supposed to be born on November 27th.” She laughed. “Maybe if you hadn’t come so early, you would have been a boy.”

It gave me the serious squirms. I finally opened the letters last week, when I learned about His name, and realized that He was the one behind them. I’ll talk about that, soon enough.

  • The Fingers

One of my only memories of Max, my father, is the time I almost froze to death. I was six, and he was almost an hour late picking me up from gymnastics. When he finally showed up, the whole car smelled like whiskey. It was really dark out, and icy, because it was the dead middle of winter. The car ran off the road on Oakenshire Ave, and we slammed into a tree. The crash knocked Max out, but not me. I just sat there, freezing, in shock. I huddled up all my limbs inside my jacket, unable to think or move. It was two hours before a police car showed up and found us. Two long, cold hours. The moon was really bright, and the entire time I sat there I stared at Max’s hand, splayed out against the dashboard, as it slowly turned blue and then black. Frostbite. Three of his fingers had to be amputated.

A year later, I was in the front yard trimming the roses with my mom as my brother Adam mowed the lawn. The lawnmower got clogged with grass, and he tried to dig it out before the engine had completely stopped. It chopped off two of his fingers.

November of that same year our neighbor Mr. Nguyen invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner. He fried a turkey, and set his whole arm on fire. He was okay, but the pinky of his right hand was so badly burned that it couldn’t be saved. The turkey was really good, though.

During my sixteen years of life, I’ve seen six different people lose their fingers right in front of my eyes. It got to be kind of a joke. I tell people about it and no one ever believes me until other people back up my story. It’s pretty funny. At this point I think if I was walking down the street juggling oranges and I saw someone cut off one of their fingers with a circular saw I wouldn’t even drop a single orange.

  • The Imaginary Friends

Jesus, this feels like a lot of stuff when I lay it all out like this.

I never had an imaginary friend growing up, but I had friends that did, and it led to some weirdness. I don’t remember this first incident because I was only four or five, but my mom told me this story. My friend Briana was always talking about her friend Icicle. Icicle was fun, and had great hair and pretty blue eyes. He could fly or something. She wanted me to meet Icicle. One day I was playing over her house, and I asked about him.

“Icicle doesn’t want to come out,” said Briana.

“But I want to meet him!” I insisted. But Briana wouldn’t relent. According to my mom, I whined about it for twenty minutes until Briana finally explained.

“He won’t come out,” she said. “He says you’re scary.”

When I was eight, I had a friend named Richard. Richo, I called him. He always wanted me to sleep over. Like every weekend. He was a bit of a yutz and he liked to pull my hair, but on the other hand he had a Playstation 2 and his dad bought him whatever games he wanted even if they were rated M for Mature. So I was there a lot.

One day I was sleeping over his house and we got into a huge and epic fight, probably over ice cream or something because we were stupid little kids.

“I hate you!” he yelled at me. “You are stupid!”

“If I’m so stupid why do you always want me to come over!” I quipped back. “What, you’re scared to sleep alone or something?” He stopped hitting me with his pillow and froze. “That’s it, isn’t it! You’re a scared baby who’s scared!”

“It’s…the Screaming,” he said, all serious suddenly.

“What?”

“The thing. It lives behind my closet. It’s called the Screaming. When you’re here it…it hides. It doesn’t come out.”

Just two years ago I was over my friend Natasha’s house with our friend Jenna and we decided to play truth or dare. It was Natasha’s turn and she picked truth.

Jenna looked at her and smiled wickedly. “Do you still have an imaginary friend?”

Natasha’s eyes widened. “Jenna…”

“Oh come on,” I said. “That is so lame. She’s fourteen! Why would she have an imaginary…” I stopped when I saw the look in Natasha’s eyes. “Oh.”

Later that night when Jenna was in the bathroom, I went over to Natasha.

“That was pretty lame of Jenna to ask that question,” I said. “I never had one. I’m kinda jealous, actually.” I lowered my voice, because I certainly wasn’t going to say that in front of Jenna.

“Really?” Natasha beamed at me. “His name is James. He looks kind of like Joseph Gordon Levitt, only he’s blond, and…” she blushed. “I mean, I know he’s not really real. I mean, duh. But I’ve always had him. He just makes me feel good, you know?”

“You’d have to shoot me in the face before I’d give up my stuffed bat,” I agreed. “I’d love to meet James, sometimes.” Was I making fun of her? Maybe a little. But I was being nice, so it balances out.

She shook her head rapidly. “No, no, no, you can’t.”

“Whoa! Sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude on your love life or anything.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just…he says you make him uncomfortable.”

So yeah. Throughout my childhood, I scared the piss out of everyone’s imaginary friends.

Whew. That’s it. That’s all the creepy weirdness that happened throughout my childhood. At least, the stuff I can remember. The stuff I noticed. Maybe it made me tougher?  I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just watched too many horror movies.

What I do know is that I am just talking about all of this to put off talking about what’s been happening. Because I don’t want to think about it, even though it’s all I can think about. I should write about it. I’ve been meaning to for days. Maybe if I get it down it’ll start to make sense. I should do that. Right now.

Or maybe tomorrow. It’s late, and I have school in the morning.

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