Masked – The Scryer (2)

This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Bloodwater wore clothing only to protect his body from the sharp edges of his diamond cavern. When he had first arrived in Aum, he had looked down to see himself dressed like a monk from the monastery near the German village where he had grown up, and he had liked the look. Ages later, he still wore the belted, hooded brown robe. Whenever he paused from his scrying to think about himself, he allowed himself to age a bit. Long hair and a long beard to match, the color of iron, hung from his head. His sallow skin wrinkled across his forehead, and at the corners of his eyes and mouth.

He liked to scry from a reclining position. He didn’t need to sleep anymore, or eat. He would lie on his side, on a ledge he had pulled from the side of his cavern with his mind, and watch the images of Earth that he projected on the opposite wall. He cushioned his body with pillows of pale gel he had made from the air. Did Aum really have air? He had come to the conclusion that his experience in Aum was his mind’s interpretation of magic. He felt like he still had a physical body, and he still experienced linear time, but that was leftover from his life on Earth. Like the rest of Aum, he existed outside of time and space now. Using his scrying, he had seen his own death many times. Watching it no longer affected him emotionally, any more than watching an icicle melt, or an anonymous stranger walk down a street.

The mantises, beetles and ants that he remembered from his former life and now formed from diamonds loose in the cavern crawled across his scrying wall casually. Their motion did not distract him. The images he perused in this breath formed the face of a human that currently fascinated him from the Information Age. John Kosearas. Kindred spirit in a life of drudgery. Bloodwater had found his own fingerprints on Earth’s history five times so far in his scrying, and one of those times was in the life of John Kosearas. Bloodwater knew how the encounter would resolve before he made contact. From his perspective, the timing depended only on his own whim.

He sorted through the moments that made up John’s life. In this one – too early – John discovered that he did not like blue raspberry candy. In this one – too late – John read the results of his colonoscopy with mounting panic. Bloodwater knew in which moment he made contact. He just needed to find it. Late at night. Vulnerability. The death of a fond hope would leave John wanting closeness. Bloodwater could offer an answer known to few in human history.

He reached out with spindly fingers. A transparent scarab beetle scuttled into his palm. There. There was the night. John sat in a dark room eating slowly, his thoughts turning on regret. Bloodwater had found the moment.

 

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  Bloodwater contacts John in his moment of weakness.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Fortress (1)

To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Sweat stung John Kosearas’s brown eyes. The electric company had shut the power down to the store again, and that meant he worked on cleaning, without air conditioning. Fortress Games was a fortress all right: one under siege from creditors. Lenny, the owner, insisted on handling accounting himself, and the last paycheck John had seen? Three weeks behind. John had cast his job search net far and wide. No response yet to his résumés. He didn’t know whether or not he wanted to adjust to the constant desperation, but whatever he wished for, desperation remained his truth.

He wiped his brow with the back of his hand (which didn’t really help), took off his metal-rimmed glasses, and rubbed his eyes. First with his fingertips, and then in aggravation he pulled the hem of his shirt up over his belly to wipe roughly. He wanted to sit in a cold room with a cool cloth on his forehead and a good cup of Kona coffee in hand. Instead, he pulled his shirt back down and reached for his dustcloth. He would clean the store and put things away for as long as he could see. After that, he planned to feel guilty for not getting more work done. Lenny expected him to keep the customers happy, somehow. It felt like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat with no magical training. He had just finished wiping down the last display of boxed, unpainted miniatures when he heard the store’s front door chime. Shit. Lenny had told him last time that he could not close up while the power was out. He had hoped the store would remain conveniently empty.

“Hello?” called a feminine voice behind him.

John turned. Amica Ferri stood by the sale counter, glancing at plastic cubes filled with different-sided colored dice. Today the stripe at the front of her black bob was ultramarine. Her pale skin framed by the dark hair as always reminded him of the legend of Snow White. She smiled at him. He found her prominent front teeth adorable. As always.

He crossed the main floor, past the tables laminated with hexagons to make it easier for the players to place and battle figurines. Past the display case of local artisan crystal jewelry that never got a sale. “Hi!” John knew how to present collected. “I’m sorry it’s so dim in here. Power issues.”

Amica’s grin turned rueful. “I thought the windows looked dark. Lenny forgot to pay again?”

“I can neither confirm nor deny this,” John replied, returning her expression.

“I don’t suppose you can confirm whether the player’s guide Sean ordered has come in yet? I thought I’d stop by to check while I was in the area.”

“Yes, about that – I’m sorry, but it looks like we’re not going to be able to get it. We source through three distributors but it looks like Raxtar is its own distributor and we don’t work with them. Sorry.” Internally, John winced at Amica’s mention of her fiancé. Sean seemed to keep her around as an errand girl as much as for any other reason.

Amica tsked. “That’s a shame. Guess I’ll have to order it online. You know I like supporting you guys when I can.”

John raised his arms expansively. “And we like loyal customers! Sorry it didn’t work out this time.”

Amica raised her hand in farewell. Light through the store’s window caught the band of her engagement ring. John echoed her gesture, minus any ring. He hadn’t seen his girlfriend, Carlye, in six months. John didn’t believe that frequency of contact said anything about the strength of a relationship, or that being in a relationship necessarily enhanced a person’s life; he felt proud of Carlye’s graduate research. As Amica walked away, John caught himself admiring her nineteen-year-old curves beneath her printed sundress. He shook his head and continued to work by the light of the windows.

 

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week: a resident of Aum has taken an interest in John.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Globe Without Goodbye – The Book (14)

This story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

The hospital staff told Jeffrey that it had taken two very strong workers to pry the suede-bound book out of his stiffly-clenched hands when he was brought into the ER. Emergency personnel had given up on freeing it from his grasp at the scene of the collision. Due to his body positioning, they believed he had reached for it on the front passenger seat immediately after the impact. Nobody thought it had distracted him while driving. Good. He answered their questions truthfully when he said he couldn’t remember the collision at all.

He lay in his hospital bed with the little book resting on his abdomen. He knew he had brought this book back from Aum. He hadn’t opened it yet. Excitement tingled in his spine. When he couldn’t stand the tension any longer, he stood the book open on his chest, peeling back the flexible cover from the first page, wondering if a headache would split his skull.

Before beginning to read, he noted the shape of the text on the page. It formed blocks, not mirror-cracks or spiderwebs, and the text did not crawl. He barely had time to recognize his own cramped handwriting before his eyes focused:

When Jeffrey Hamen came to his senses, he knew he had never before seen this shore.

Wait. Why was his name in the book? This was supposed to be Nadja’s story!

He continued to read:

He stood on bare feet, on gray sand.

His heart didn’t know whether to sink or leap. Somehow the book had recorded his trip to Aum. It was all there – the shore, the cave, the doll, the skeleton. It made for a decent story, he supposed, though he didn’t read many narratives, so he didn’t feel qualified to pass judgment.

He thumbed through the pages, reading a line here, a phrase there, amused, bemused, wondering.

Your choice will not create a new world, little man. You choose only whether or not to preserve your sense of yourself.

The book didn’t really convey the awesome awfulness of the vortex’s presence, he decided.   Then he realized the book held additional pages, too many to carry the reader up to his departure from Aum. Would the book reveal his resumed life?

He considered the question of his present moment. What would happen when he got to the point in the story in which he started to read the book? Surely he would end up reading the text that he was trying to read now –

He dropped the book to his chest. He understood now why Nadja had ended his visit to Aum with her unearthly laugh. She must have transformed the book into a trap. A hall of mirrors. A book within a book within a book, within a book. If he tried to read it all the way through, he would never finish. Nadja had managed to sneak a corner of magic into Jeffrey’s world. Determined to outwit the doll-minded magician, he picked up the book again and flipped to the last page.

Blank.

He nearly cried out in frustration, but instead flipped to the second to last page. The single sentence on it ended his story:

Eventually, it grew boring.

“ ‘Eventually, it grew boring’? What kind of an ending is that,” he griped aloud. He dropped the book to his chest again. Never mind. Not a diamond the size of a wheelbarrow, but like it or not, the story was his trophy. People liked to read stories. He would find some way to rework the trapped section. Nadja could not be allowed to win.

As he ruminated on publication possibilities, he grew tired in his mind. Soon, he dozed. Jeffrey fell into a deep enough sleep to dream, and he dreamt of diamond mountains he would never see. It was the same dream he would dream every night until his death. Eventually, it grew boring.

 

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week a new story, Masked.

If you have enjoyed Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.

Globe Without Goodbye – The Vortex, continued (13)

The story begins with Globe Without Goodbye – The Shore (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

“You can bring back the book, or you can bring back the doll, but you cannot bring both with you.”

In his fear, Jeffrey did not understand. “What?”

The vortex thundered with surprising patience. “On your person you now carry two things you did not bring with you into Aum. You have a lot of personal power, Jeffrey Hamen, so I cannot divest you of both objects, but I will divest you of one before you leave Aum. I now allow you to choose which one you will leave behind. I need not judge your intentions. By embracing insatiable ambition, you punish yourself more cruelly and more absolutely than anyone else could seek to bring justice upon your head. That fate always awaits the ambitious. Your choices carry you away from any redemption.”

Jeffrey did not pause to consider the vortex’s message. “You want to stay here, right?” he beamed to Nadja. “You get to stay.”

“Wait, WHAT?” This time Nadja really did sound panicked. “Not my book, you can’t take my book!”

“Oh I’m taking it. “ He lifted the shirt-sack over his head and placed it on the shore next to him. “I’m ready. You say this place is called Aum?”

Simultaneously, Nadja wailed “My book! No, please!” while the vortex thundered with amusement, “Put your shirt back on, little man.”

Jeffrey took Nadja out of his shirt and began untying the knots. “You said I would never read your book as long as I was in your world, Nadja. I have to read it in my own.” He pulled his shirt over his head as Nadja wept directly into his mind. “I’m ready.”

The slices of the tornado peeled apart and the lightning arced to connect them around halved space. Between the dark and the bright, he saw his car and his body in its driver’s seat, smashed and broken. His body wore his office clothes in the vision. “Do not be afraid,” the vortex instructed. “When you return to this body and the life of Jeffrey Hamen, it will last a long time.”

As Jeffrey stepped into the vision of his ruined car and the ambulance sirens, he thought he heard Nadja’s sobs change to awful, ugly laughter.

Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  Jeffrey reads Nadja’s book.

If you are enjoying Globe Without Goodbye, please support my writing on Patreon.