Topaz Bond – The Danger (8)

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

 

Opele didn’t know how to tell how long they had walked together before either spoke again. Abelard had asked her before how many breaths she had taken, but counting breaths didn’t appeal to her as a method for telling time. She started counting the dunes they passed instead; she knew her natural walking speed, so if she were to figure out distance, she could work backwards to time. She estimated they had walked more than a mile together (so at least twenty minutes) before Abelard asked her a question. “What does the Little Desert look like to you, Opele?”

She furrowed her brow. “Like two colored ribbons that were twirled around each other until they got tangled. Why?”

“You see colors?”

“You don’t?”

“I see…” Abelard swung his head from side to side as they continued to move. “Bones. Huge piles of animal bones. Bird bones, canine bones, human skulls. Old and bleached. The sky is white…”

“The sky here is maroon, and it glows. It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed.

“To you… I’ve never understood – Hold up!” As they rounded a curve, Abelard stilled, then backed up a few steps.

Opele saw the oasis too, but didn’t understand why it should alarm him. Clear water pooled no more than two feet deep at the small pond’s center. Its edges of purple mud grew sparse, lavender shrubs replete with fat leaves. Like elsewhere in the desert, nothing moved. She felt grateful for the change of scenery. “What’s wrong?”

Abelard headed back to the other side of the dune.

Opele persisted with her query. “I don’t see anything that could hurt us?”

“Get back here!” he rumbled.

She joined him.

“There’s only one thing to fear in Aum. No need for food, drink, sleep. We breathe because the habit goes too deep, not because we need to. The part of you that does the magic will protect you on reflex. Will stop your falls. Moderate the temperature. Nullify toxins. You can damage yourself consciously if you choose to, but you shouldn’t feel pain and the damage won’t last. No, only one thing to fear.”

“Which would be?”

“Athletes.”

Opele frowned and rolled her eyes.

“The people who have refined conscious control of the magic. They can overcome your reflexes and make you feel things you don’t want to feel – like pain. Imprison you. Hollow out your mind. Turn you into a slave. I’ve heard tell there are even a few who can kill – and since this is where minds go to escape death, I have no idea what happens when you die here. I don’t want to find out!”

“But I didn’t see anyone there, just bushes?”

Abelard twitched. “I’ve heard tell they like to change the landscape. Alter the terrain.”

“So… what, we’ve stumbled into someone’s back yard?”

He stepped forward cautiously and peered at the pond from around the dune. “Maybe somebody’s… swimming pool? They still had swimming pools in 2017, right?”

Opele wasn’t sure of what to make of this question.

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Abelard tells Opele a little of the history of Aum society (such as it is).

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked“.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond”, please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (7)

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

Abelard looked down, heaved a sigh, and spoke with his mouth again. “Sorry. But how…?”

“Why do you keep switching the side of your head that you use to look at me?”

He gave a full-body twitch. “The left side receives, the right side projects.”

Unsure of how to interpret this answer but not wanting to display ignorance, she answered his repeated question. “I hear voices that no one else hears.”

“Ah. I think they used to call that schizophrenia, right?”

“What do you mean, ‘used to’?”

He didn’t answer at first. Instead, he ambled in a circle around her, keeping his head down, trying to decide something. She rotated to face him as he walked. When he had circled twice, he asked, “What year did you come from?”

“2017. Why?”

“Common Era? I wasn’t even born then.”

“You mean… you’re from the future?”

“We’re outside of space and time, remember? Aum touches all of human history.”

“Only humans?” Eileen felt weak. “What about… aliens?”

“Haven’t run into any of those yet. Maybe they’re across the ocean. Nobody makes it across the ocean, I’ve heard.”

“What happens when you try to cross the ocean?”

“You get bored and turn around. It’s easy to get bored in Aum. We don’t even have weather here.”

“Yeah, it was pretty quiet before you showed up.” Eileen considered her options. Send him away and explore alone? As a general principle, safety in solitude, but Abelard seemed friendly enough and maybe the next being she would come across would have worse intentions. She still didn’t know too much about Aum. Abelard seemed willing show her the ropes. And she could always part ways with him later if he got on her nerves. So, safety in numbers then. “Okay, I’ll walk with you.”

His animal face twisted into some kind of smile. “All right, Opele, let’s walk.” He fell in beside her.

For a moment, she wasn’t sure whom he was talking to. Then, she remembered giving him her alias. She decided on the spot to start thinking of herself as ‘Opele,’ rather than ‘Eileen.’ “Hey, weren’t you going…” Opele peered in the direction of his previous amble, wondering what he might want to avoid.

“Well, like I was saying when we kicked off this little tutorial, Aum’s geography isn’t fixed. The coasts are fairly stable, but they’re hemmed by a set of mountain ranges, and once you get inland of those, the regions just phase in and out as you travel, with no order I’ve been able to grasp. It’s a right mess. A couple of the beasts I’ve come across tried making maps when they first started out, and it drove them batshit until they stopped.”

Opele furrowed her brow and rubbed her forehead. “So that means…”

“If you were walking this way, I can walk forward with you, and for all we know, we’ll still end up in the Feathered Forest, where I came from. It’s a very peaceful place. Beautiful trees.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Opele and Abelard discover an unwelcome surprise.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (6)

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

 

“How did I get here?”

“As far as I know, there are only two ways. People bring themselves here to escape extreme stress, like they feel when they are about to die; or someone who is already here, who knows the ropes, brings them through. It takes a real athlete to do that. I couldn’t do that.”

“Extreme stress? Like finding out someone has died?”

Abelard considered this. “I’ve never heard of someone coming to Aum because of what happened to another person. I guess it might bring a person through if the other person’s death was truly considered a threat to the person’s own survival.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Got caught in a brush fire. One moment I was burning alive, the next I was standing in the Trembling Swamp.”

Eileen felt knocked over by the tidal wave of information presented by Abelard. “This is too much to take in!”

Abelard turned his head to look at her with his deer eye again. “Yeah, it’s a lot at once, I know. Let’s keep this simple. What’s your name?”

She didn’t want to tell him her name given the circumstances. She didn’t really know him. But he had given his first. To refuse the request might alienate him, and she badly needed a friend. What could he call her? She thought of what the Iyanifa had shown her on the night she had learned of Ifá.   “Opele,” she mumbled, banking on Australia’s racist history; the reference should go unnoticed.

“Want to walk with me, Opele?”

She rubbed the back of her head with her palm. “I don’t know. Where are you going?”

Abelard stamped his hippo hindquarter. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Who?”

Abelard looked down to the sand. “Someone who will walk with me.” His voice sounded dark, like molasses.

“You lonely?”

He stamped again.

The cello voice in Eileen’s mind, which had been silent for some time, spoke melodically: “Tales of suffering and greed! Pride will tear us both apart!”

Abelard whipped his head up and to the side, staring wide with his deer eye at Eileen. “How’d you do that?”

“Do what? I’m just standing here.”

“Your mind. You thought with a different voice! I mean, I’ve been getting double murmurs from you this whole time, I figured my perception was just off, but that was clear. How’d you do it?”

“You can read my mind?”

Abelard swung his head so that his hippo eye could view her. The eye twinkled, and Eileen heard a male, Australian voice in her mind: “When I choose to.” His animal mouth did not move.

Eileen furrowed her brow and thought as hard as she could. “Read this: GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD!”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen and Abelard decide to travel together.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (5)

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

 

Abelard combined a shuffle and a slide to move down the dune toward Eileen. He compensated for the contrast between his lumbering hippo side and graceful deer legs with practiced ease. Eileen wondered why no longer had a human body. “This is the Little Desert.”

“ ‘Little’? Is there a Big Desert somewhere else?”

“I’ve only heard it called the Great Desert.”

“Do you know how I ended up in the Little Desert?”

“Well, not really. Usually the Little Desert is next to the Stone Meadow or the Torn Crags, but I just came from the Feathered Forest, so I guess it depends. How many breaths have you taken?”

Eileen narrowed her eyes.

“Oh. You must be just starting out! You wanted to know how you ended up in Aum, period.”

“Aum?”

“Yeah.” Abelard closed his hippo eye and turned the deer side of his head toward her. “This realm is called Aum.”

“How did I get here?”

“You’re uncomfortable in that position. Are you unwilling to make a garment, or do you not realize that you’re able to do so?”

“What?” Eileen’s flesh tingled unpleasantly, as if exposed to very mild electric current, and she felt a pull toward Abelard. She raised her arms in defense, but the tingling and pull ended almost immediately. She looked over her forearms at him; he had turned his head back to face her square on. A pale, translucent fedora now perched at an angle on the hippo side of his head. He winked at her with his deer eye; she felt the tingling again and a push away from him. She watched this time as the fedora melted into what she could now only assume to be the air around it.

“People show up here in the clothes that suit them best. I’ve never heard of anyone showing up naked, but we’re all so spread out, someone else probably did.”

“How did you do that? Make that hat?”

He hunched his animal shoulders in an approximation of a shrug. “How do you move your muscles? There’s a scientific explanation involving nerves and impulses, but a person needs education to explain that. No one’s given me an education on the magic here, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it.”

“Do you… think about it?”

“Do you think about moving your muscles when you want to do something physically? I man, you can think about lifting your arm, but do you? Usually?”

“No.”

“Right. Once a person gets past early childhood, that sort of thought generally isn’t necessary unless he or she is attempting something truly challenging or has experienced brain damage. The same holds true for magic in Aum. The weird part is that none of the humans who come here have to go through infancy. We can all just do what we need to… Some people choose to develop their skills to perform feats that others can’t. They’re like athletes. But we all come here with an intuitive sense of how the basics get done. Apparently, some part of you does not need clothes.”

“Well, yeah. Not when I’m alone.” As soon as she began to really think about the difference between solitude and socializing, she felt pressure against her skin. She looked down and saw that an opaque, sleeveless leotard had filmed over her torso. Amazing. She stood. “I just made that? Out of what, air?”

“I don’t think what’s around us is air, even though we still feel like we’re breathing. It’s some other medium. Best just to think of it as magic. Aum isn’t a physical place. It’s outside of space and time.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen and Abelard continue to get acquainted.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.