Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The End Is Here 2: Yes

EOD Specialist Roger Shepard opened his eyes for the first time in three months and saw green. The pale, sterile, septic, fluorescent green that had it an odor would be caustic and foul enough to dissolve the capacity for one to smell. It immediately made him regret his capacity to experience sight, and his first reflexive movements were to flail about for some kind of object that was pointy enough to jab through his irises.

It was not a conscious urge, just a silent propulsive idea that forced him to examine his surroundings. While his vision was too busy trying to murder itself, the senses of touch told him that he was comfortable enough to be extremely perturbed by his own motions. Sense memory kicked in and told him that he was wrapped in sheets as some manner of bleating interrupted his quiet. It was only a few seconds afterward that he remembered that language was even a thing and heard a man say, “he's waking up, notify his doctor.”

A pair of strong hands attached to a blur grabbed Roger's wrists, and he heard “hold still, man, I got you. Relax. You're in a hospital. The fact your even moving is kind of a fucking miracle.” Roger was no where near as eloquent as he mumbled incoherently.

“Hey, do you understand me? Do you remember who you are? What's your name?” The blur asked just before it started resembling a person. “Shepard. Roger.”

More blurs emerged from the blur behind the blur, all of them little more than blurs despite their gradual salience. The first blur turned to the other and said lowly, “He remembers who he is. Motor control, at least in the arms. I'm pretty sure the legs too, guy can squirm.”

The new blur moved closer, shifted, and shined a pale yellow light in his eyes. “Ok. What year is it?” Roger blinked rapidly, trying to reset his eyes and focus. “I can't fucking see right.”

“The year, Shepard. Stop blinking.”

“2011, the last time I checked,” he said, obeying both requests. His eyes followed the worn yellow light. “What is the last thing you remember?”

“I was deployed on mission. Baghdad. IED was smuggled into a government building. I, uh,” he broke, swallowing nothing in his dry flesh. “I was sent in.”

“And then, Shepard?”

And then he failed. The rigged explosive was made by a particularly cunning insurgent mechanic with a penchant for mind games and transsexual prostitutes. He constructed the bomb so that the obvious way to disarm it would in fact just detonate it. It turned an amateur's chop job into the last bomb EOD technicians would ever think they defused.

Shepard had time to realize this when it exploded in his face. He had time to think about it as everything but his own thoughts just froze. Pieces of shrapnel and incandescent gas just seized in place, just barely short enough to tear through his armor and pulp him.

He stopped thinking about it as a shadow rounded a corner and walked between him and the setting sun. A humanoid silhouette eclipsed that unforgiving star as it moved towards and knelled beside him.

It forced him to feel its words, on the skin between his mind and his brain. They were not carried by a voice. Their meaning was evident and unheard.

“Roger Shepard. I am not an angel. I am not a demon. I am not god. I am separate and outside.”

The shadow stretched to caress the frozen explosion, light and mass warping at its touch. “This is what can end your conscious existence in this world. Kinetic overload of your body.” It pinched a sliver of steel directly in front of his face, its glimmer retreating into nonexistence. “Steel. Aluminum. Oxygen. Nitrogen. Carbon dioxide. Pressure. Alloy and gas and mechanism,” it continued, turning the shard.

“I will let you choose your termination. You can choose here and now with this, or you can choose to extend your integrity into a future.”

“Shepard? What happened next?” the second blur in front of him asked as the first eased him back into the fabric.

“A future that you can not escape. A possibility made a certainty. A death delayed so that it will be in service to I.”

“Come on, buddy, are you still with us?”

“Will you choose to end your existence in a way that suits me?”

Roger Shepard whispered, “yes.”

The void's hand closed around the shard and tightened as arcs of burning silver light coalesced around it. Its triangular surface scarred and warped as the energy burned straight through Roger's retina. His nerves screamed, even though he could not.

Time and motion resumed. He didn't feel the piece of metal flying through his skull.

"I guess I screwed up, and wound up here," he said, relaxing. He figured that it would be easier to attribute the dialogue in front of the exploding bomb to near-death experience hallucination, than to divulge the absurd to his caretakers.

"You must have done something right. I remember the other guys in your unit saying that nobody should have survived that. I know you shouldn't have survived shrapnel in your frontal lobe, but hey, it's good to have you up."

The End Is Here 1: Old man and taffy.

The sun had decided to cut out the child and magnifying glass middleman and just cruelly bombard the entire desert with the heat that god reserves to cook the flesh off of a demon's bones. A single black strip of highway and a gas and service station bore the solar assault and stood as mute testimonies to the endless madness of the human race in two ways.

Firstly, the road provided evidence that humankind was crazy enough to even want to traverse the cracked and scaled dust plain to begin with. The service station demonstrated the psychotic greed that gripped the collective subconscious and justified the doctrine of original sin. On the part of the owners, that they would condemn people to work their for a pittance, and for the workers, that they would work there for a pittance.

Earl Samson, the sole attendant and mechanic currently present at that evidence locker/hate oven, was slowly coming to the above realization as he threw chunks of ice out of the station door and watched the transparent bricks nearly sublimate in the air. He was betting on how long individual blocks would survive (in seconds), with his opponent being a half-melted snickers bar.

And the candy was, of course, winning. It had already out bet the bag of skittles, who was just watching the proceeding and rooting for Earl to clean house.

This wasn't to say that Mr. Samson was a particularly dim man, far from it. He just always had a soft spot in his heart for the darker ones, and decided to go easy on her.

“Twenty seconds, for a dime,” he said, taking the silver disk and slapping it on the ground. His eyes narrowed as he regarded the brown, blue, and white wrapper. “Seven seconds? The smallest one I threw out there lasted fifteen. Pick something more realistic,” he said to the bar. He exhaled out of his nose before responding with a shrug, “All right, whatever. It's your money.”

It really was not the candy bar's money. It was a candy bar. He just lent her some so she could bet on equal footing.

He picked up the brick, letting it's freezing weight rest in his hands for a moment, before he wound back and tossed it. It flew through the air, a trail of now-liquid drops following in its wake, before crashing into the ground. The impact caused the corner that hit the ground to crack apart, kicking small shards out from under it before it slid to a halt in front of a gas pump.

Earl lifted the otherwise bare arm that was encircled by his watch and began to count down the seconds. In the distance, he heard the roar of an expensive sounding engine. At three seconds, the engine noise ceased, but he heard the car approach. At five, he heard the banshee scream of the brakes as the car began to decelerate. At seven, the car fish-tailed into the parking lot and screeched to a halt in front of the pump, the tires crushing the block of ice.

“Damn woman. You're going to clean me out.”

It was then that Earl remembered that he was paid to operate a store, not spend time with his melting friends. He picked up the candy bar and the bag of skittles as we made his way behind the counter, jumping his diminutive self onto the top and sliding on his ass over to the other side. He smoothed the wrinkles out of his smock and straightened out his name tag as he turned his attention to the car.

It was a blood-crimson sports car, an older model that make of which he couldn't precisely pinpoint. He stowed the bar and bag next to the register as he waited for any sign of activity inside the blackened windows. After a minute of waiting patiently, the driver-side door opened, and an aging man with long, gray-white hair framing a pair of large white sunglasses stepped out. The man looked down the road in the direction he came, and then turned his head to the direction where he was most likely going before he began hastily walking towards the entrance.

A white gloved hand touched the door-frame as he entered and looked around, the inside of the establishment. Earl raised a hand and inquired, “what are you looking for mister?”

The man turned to look at him, his expression neutral. “Ah, perfect.” he uttered, his expression changing to delight. “There we go. Twenty five gallons on pump two and two cans of Malice snuff,” he said as he made his way to the counter. Earl turned around and reached up to the chewing tobacco dispensary, standing on his tip-toes and just barely touching the can. “Oh, I'm so sorry,” the man said, his voice slightly hoarse. “It's no problem. It's the makers of these damn cabinets fault,” he said just before what would have otherwise been a normal customer produced a pistol and, holding it by the barrel, reached over the counter and slammed the grip against Earl's occipital lobe.

And now we go on to detail what the real protagonist of this chapter did.

Mr. Samson, now unconscious and suffering from a concussion, started to fall. The man grabbed him by the collar, and with a strength that insulted on the concept of 'old age', held him off the ground. He slowly eased Earl to the floor and followed him behind the counter. He knelt over Earl and checked his pulse, nodding silently as he made sure that Earl was still alive and strong. He then shuffled the body over to the corner and pressed it up against the counter before jumping back over, taking a moment to look around. He noted the security camera and decided that it was a non-issue, confident that his clever disguise would protect his identity.

The camera would come to relent its low resolution and inability to zoom, but at that time it dutifully recorded every moment that transpired in its field of view. With the devotion that only a machine could possess, it watched as the man grabbed some long-strips of molten taffy from the confections shelves. He tossed a crumpled five dollar bill onto Earl's unconscious body as he unwrapped a package of taffy and reached up towards the camera's lens, shielding his face with a gloved hand. The camera recorded him smearing the pink slime into the lens.

He removed the rest of the taffy from the packages and produced a small, plastic card identical in size and shape to a credit card. He smeared the card with the delicious sugary goop and stuck the card into each one of the card readers at the pumps, ensuring that none of them could be used for anything but providing a hidden treat for ants,

The long-haired man checked his stolen watch and performed some rough temporal calculations as he walked back to his stolen car. He placed his stolen gun back in the stolen car before he took a gas pump and began to pretend to refuel it.

He checked his watch again as he heard another automobile approach. This one, a loud, massive sage green pickup truck (the kind that serves as a status symbol for men with exceptionally small penises), drove into the lot and parked at the pump in front of the the stolen car and the demonstrably pilfering, vandalizing, not-so-gentleman.

This truck pulled into the gas station lot roughly three minutes earlier than the aging man calculated, which caused a knowing smile to crease the edges of his mouth. The windows were not as heavily tinted as his stolen car's were, and he could see the heads of two individuals moving above the headrests. The truck door clicked open and a skinny, shaved bald young man in a tank top and loose-fitting pants stepped out, producing a credit card.

The man who was stealing everything that day smiled even wider as he said, “Card reader don't work. Some kids thought it was funny to stick it full of gum or 'somethin. You need to pay inside.”

The truck driver ignored him and stuck his card into the slot anyway. He looked honestly surprised when he pulled it out and saw that it was covered in pink gook. He ducked his head into the cab and asked, “you want anything?” to the passenger. He nodded, saying “I'll get us both one.” He muttered an expletive under his breath and started walking towards the station, trying and failing to thumb off the melted taffy.

The man at the car watched the truck's driver walk through the door before switching his view back to the head of the passenger, noting the angle of its tilt. He was not watching any of the mirrors.

He grabbed his pistol and softly walked towards the truck, carefully concealing the firearm from view by placing it next and just behind his leg. His already nearly silent foot-steps where further obscured by clicks of the truck engine as it cooled. His approach was unnoticed by both the passenger, who was now seen as playing with his cell-phone, and the driver, who was going for the drinks. A semi-truck drove by on the highway, stirring the hell-hot air as the old man with the gun stepped into killing distance of the passenger.

He raised the barrel, aimed, and fired a single shot that punched through the glass, the head rest, and the passenger's brain. The last thing the now deceased passenger had on his mind was that he could save up to 10% or more on car insurance by changing companies, and that he was obviously not on the 'no solicitation' number list.

The old killer twisted his torso towards the store front before the pistol's report had even echoed once. He lined the sights on the shaved-bald driver's center of mass, who stood half turned in a pre-realization fugue. The man pulled the trigger, shattering the store front glass. Shards blew into the store and fell onto the ground in a fracturing cacophony , obstructing his vision of the target. He then crouched low and ran over to the broken window as the falling glass failed to reveal his previous target, alive or dead. He stopped at the waist-high wall and picked up a shard, listening to the shuffling on the ground. He lifted the shard up and over the wall and looked into the store with the reflection, seeing a foot being pulled into the salty snacks aisle, sliding over and smearing a scattered trail of blood. He scanned the rest of the store with the shard before dropping it and vaulting over the wall. He rose to the protest of the groaning and snapping glass under his boots, listening to the frantic gasps for air the imminently deceased let out.

He stepped into the aisle as the young man began to whimper in pain and desperation, as if any amount of all three would postpone or even negate his execution. His eyes, filled with panic and fear focused on the old killer as he stepped forward. His voice cracked with pain and torturous dread as he begged, “hey! Hey man! What the fuck man? Listen... fuck fuck just listen, ok? We'll give back the drugs. The blow, th-the money, it's all yours! Just fucking let me go man!”

The old killer stopped, the barrel of his handgun aimed at the bleeding man's neck.

“You don't need to kill me man I'll give everything back! I swear! Oh god please I swear!”

He thought long and hard for a reason to not execute the pleading, bleeding man on the ground, as if each ounce of blood purchased a single second of respite. The minute was filled with the perhaps not imminently deceased man's gasps for air, and repeated squirming on the ground.

The old killer pulled the trigger for three reasons. The first was because he was being paid to. The second, was because he could not come up with a good reason to leave him alive. The third, and most personal, was that that pathetic little man had wasted two minutes of the old killer's valuable time.

He walked out of the store and to the truck, opening the driver's side rear passenger door and looked inside. His brow furrowed in annoyance when it was populated with no less than ten identical suit cases.

He picked up and shook each one, trying to identify the contents. Seven were stuffed full of something heavy and tightly packed, which he was all but certain was the drugs the now dead driver had tried to bargain with. The eighth weighed as if it were completely empty, but it stopped and shuddered as if something was in it. Perplexed, he set the case down.

He did not blink as he cracked open the case and slowly let the searing sunlight in. It illuminated something metallic, black with irregular blue streaks sinking into the material as it it were transparent. He made out the bottom edge of the object and deduced that it was either rectangular or square in shape, to which he confirmed as the case finished creaking open.

The object, fully revealed, appeared to be a tome bound in that transparent black and blue streak metal. It was also floating off of the bottom of the case, gently drifting to the left. He reached out and touched it, noting that it was perfectly smooth and cold to the touch. He moved his hand to open it and looked at the front page.

It was likewise made out of a solid, transparent metal that flexed more easily than paper but without creasing. The page itself seemed more like a window into a room underneath the page than a solid object, and within were symbols of a make that he could not imagine identifying as something that even the most pretentious calligraphist could create. They looked like individual pieces of sheet-metal art – tokens with abstract meaning suspended in the depth of the page.

“What the fuck,” the old killer said.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Deduced Events

I was walking along the street, heading to the local barber shop that offered the only sane price for a haircut in town. Those kindly folk – and folk they where – charged no more than eight dollars trim the inches. They did not put goo in your hair. They did not have a paper rectifier, with paper, that had a list of people who were waiting in line to have their hair cut. They did not demand two digits of dollars to remove your hair. They were friendly, quick, and had a nice jar of candy for all ages, which I shamelessly plundered after each visit.

I heard a loud sizzling pop, and saw sparks fall and bounce on the ground, followed by the countless shadows of perturbed fowl crossing the asphalt. I started to turn my head up but froze as I saw a particularly lively power cable hit the ground in front of me. I did not move.

Traffic drove past me as I became aware of how uncomfortably hot the sun decided to be today. I did not increase my speed, because I did not want to anger the electricity gods, especially right before I was going to get a haircut and a lunch that was going to be more expensive than the haircut.

I heard the roar of an engine – one louder than you typically hear in the town's main streets, and the vehicle attached to it careening around the corner of the intersection in front of me. It was your typical totally-not-sinister nondescript white van, which was driving with it's right tires on the sidewalk. It screamed to a halt beside me after dodging an errant hamwagon, its passenger/cargo waving its disgustingly flabby arms in an obvious attempt to generate lift.

Something – ok, a great quantity of somethings – screeched and fretted inside the van. The door clicked, slid open, and I beheld a bulging wall of irate baboons. They were packed into the van illegal-immigrant style, and as the sliding door clicked into an open and locked position, they all came spilling out. It was a single mass of hair, muscle, claws, screeching, and bright red asses.

They rapidly disentangled each other and swarmed over the power cable that fell onto the sidewalk beside me. They were polite enough not to touch me, but still sufficiently impolite to scream in my ear. Their inchoate screeches were followed swiftly by a series of pops as they started to grab the cable and get electrocuted, one by one. Then they started to work together and die together, white arcs of electricity frying their little primate brains and stopping their hearts.

A pile of monkey corpses formed at the terminal end of the power cable, which only grew in size until one exceptionally stubborn wretch grabbed the end and, despite being continually electrocuted, managed to keep functioning. The others hooted and yelped in celebration as it spasm-sauntered over to the pole and began its ascent.

It now dawned upon me that these baboons were contracted by the El Paso Electric Company. It all made perfect sense.

The one ape that possessed the bright red ass of electricity immunity finished its climb and connected the terminal to its junction on the powerline pole. As it brought the ends together, its capacity for surviving murderous levels of voltage waned and it finally expired, but not before locking the ends in place and burning itself stuck to the line.

The remaining baboons whooped and cheered even louder. The one that was right next to me looked up and raised a hand. Not wanting to leave it hanging, I gave it a high-five.

The pack then climbed back into the van and sped away. I likewise continued to the barber shop.