Bad Latin II

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Author’s Note: This is a short fiction posted in installments. Click the link below to read part one.
Bad Latin, Part I

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” said Ducky, whose voice sounded anything but regretful. “We’re not equipped for a mine expedition.”

“Don’t be a coward,” said Zazzy, who skipped away from her spot towards the faint green light. “I’m all for exploring.”

“It’s probably some sort of gas release,” said Leon. “If you all want to go, that’s fine too. I’ll stay back and summon a minion on my own.”

Peter rolled his eyes in the darkness. “Hardly,” he said.

Petra continued for her brother, “What he means is that if you could do this on your own, you’d have done it by now.”

Leon folded his arms outside his robe, bunching up the fabric. He said, “That’s not true. Zazzy, Chastity, and I were making fine progress on our own.”

“Please, Leon,” said Chastity. “What if that light isn’t natural at all? Couldn’t our summons appear somewhere else?”

“It is theoretically possible,” said Ducky, who frowned in frustration. He hastily added, “But not likely!”

Zazzy went a few steps deeper into the mine. “Whatever you decide, it better be quick,” she said. “The light definitely is fading.”

Chastity, Peter, and Petra left their positions and went to Zazzy, followed by a sulky Leon who walked with his arms folded. Ducky squealed, “Don’t leave me here alone!” He jogged to catch up with the others.

All six aspiring summoners ventured deeper into the mine as quickly as the low light allowed. Nobody wanted to use their own lights for fear of alerting others to their presence. Their progress was slow, but they did feel they were gaining on whatever moving light source they were following.

Then, about a mile into their pursuit, the group happened across a small chamber where the shaft split in six different directions. Everyone smugly searched for the correct shaft where the light came from, but they all became a little chilled when they discovered it came from all six paths simultaneously. Ducky finally voiced the obvious. “Sh-should the light be doing that?”

“Oh sure, nothing creepy about it at all,” said Petra, providing enough sarcasm for her and Peter to hide behind.

Chastity scratched her chin and said, “We should split up and investigate each path.”

“Good idea,” said Zazzy, who skipped happily towards one of the smaller tunnels. “I call dibs on the right one.”

“We walk for a half hour, and then meet back here,” Chastity called out behind her. She picked a tunnel in the middle and jogged away before anyone else could stop her. Peter and Petra looked at each other, and picked the two tunnels on the left next to each other. Leon grumbled and dragged his feet down one of the paths. Ducky shivered, and picked the last path next to the one Zazzy took.

A few seconds later, the others heard a loud, bellowing noise coming from Zazzy’s tunnel. Everyone backtracked and almost ran each other over in the main chamber. Leon and Chastity went after Zazzy first, calling out for her as loud as they dared. Ducky had thought ahead to bring a flashlight, which he turned on and pointed past the two people in front of him.

Chastity gasped and Leon groaned when the light ran over Zazzy’s robes laying flat on the ground. They looked like they’d been soaked, and there was a wide trail of red fluid leading further down the shaft. “Is that blood?” asked Ducky.

“Looks like it,” said Petra, who reached for Peter’s hand. “Are those hoof prints in it?”

Leon moved over to examine, taking out his phone and turning its light on. Sure enough, there was a set of wide hoof prints smeared in the middle of the trail.

Flipping over a corner of Zazzy’s robes, Chastity shrieked and replaced them. She went white as a sheet and said, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“What is it?” Petra demanded.

“I don’t know if I can look again,” said Chastity.

Peter let go of Petra’s hand and threw the robes wide, hitting the mine wall with a wet slap. In the robes, they saw Zazzy lying flat on the ground, a vicious gash across the bottom of her neck. Chastity turned away in revulsion, along with everyone but Ducky.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he said in equal parts curiosity and panic. “It’s like everything under her skin was taken out and carried off. Is this what we were trying to summon?”

Leon and Chastity shared a look. Ducky opened his mouth, but was cut short by a low, rumbling bellow that shook the mines. Small rocks broke free as the mine jostled a bit, the rumbling forcing everyone to brace themselves against the walls. “Was that an earthquake?” asked Ducky.

“I don’t know,” said Petra, looking quietly at Zazzy’s remains. “But I think we should leave now.” Everyone agreed, and they all went back the direction they came.

However, in the main chamber, they discovered that a section of the shaft had collapsed. Their route had been blocked; they were all trapped with whatever killed Zazzy.

And the green light faded completely, leaving them in total darkness.

Bad Latin I

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a story which will be published in installments.

Six figures stood around an overturned mining cart, its wheels and bottom rusted off long before any of them were born. Leon, the group’s leader, found it when he scouted the mine shaft a week ago. The place was perfect for what he and his ambitiously-labeled coven had in mind.

Everyone wore stereotypical black robes, hoods over their heads, arms folded in their sleeves. Of course there was no light. They all chanted more or less together, repeating the words they memorized from the book: “Stultus stultorum. Summonari daemoni icibus. Summonari infernali!

The darkness ended when Chastity took out her smartphone, the glow of the screen casting everything in a green light. Leon scowled. “Chas, we can’t cast the spell if there’s any light! We’ve been over this a thousand times!”

Ducky pushed up his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “We’ve been chanting for an hour, Leon,” he said through his teeth. “Something should have shown up by now.”

Another of the group, Zazzy, pushed her hood back and leaned over to look at Chastity’s phone. “Ooh,” she squealed. “I think we’ve been saying the chant wrong. Chastity’s phone says the i’s at the ends of the words are long.”

Peter and Petra, the group’s fraternal twins, pulled off their hoods and shared a look. “Oh for fuck’s sake, that’s something we should have known an hour ago,” said Petra. Peter nodded in agreement.

“I told you I don’t know Latin,” Leon said defensively. “The tome didn’t say anything about pronunciation.” He pulled it out from a satchel under his robes, along with a flashlight. He opened the leather-bound book and flipped through the yellowed pages until he found what he was looking for. On the left page, he saw an illustration of a hooded wizard calling forth something foul from a summoning portal, much like the mining cart they were using. To the right, there was a set of words written down like poetry. They had to be words of power, Leon reasoned, along with the rest of the group. Leon asked, “Does your resource say anything about the other words?”

“Nope,” Chastity and Zazzy said in unison. Chastity glared at Zazzy and continued, scrolling down with her thumb, “I’m surprised we got most of it right. This page says we shouldn’t get too surprised if our summoning doesn’t work on the first try. It might take us months to achieve success.”

Ducky groaned and said, “I don’t know if I could be out here for months. Isn’t there an easier spell to cast? Personally I’d like some fire magic.”

Chastity turned off her phone and put it back in her pocket. “Fire magic is for nerds,” she said. “When we summon a power from outside our realm, we can ask it for better things. Is everyone ready?”

The group slowly replaced their hoods and relaxed their shoulders, assuming their previous stance. Leon opened his mouth to begin the chant anew, but he saw more green light cast his shadow across the cart. “Really? Who’s on their phone this time?”

The others shrugged. Chastity said, “I put mine away.”

“It’s coming from deeper in the mine,” said Petra, pointing down the shaft past the “NO TRESPASSING” sign. Everyone else looked where she pointed, and sure enough, they saw a faint green glow coming from a shaft that went deep underground.

“I thought this mine was abandoned,” said Peter.

“It is,” said Leon. “I checked it myself.”

“Then who’s making that light?” asked Zazzy.

“I don’t know,” said Chastity. “Maybe we should go find out.”

Scroton’s Biggest Fan

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I don’t usually wake up naked in a parking lot, smeared in rotten bananas and rancid butter. The asphalt under my butt cheeks wasn’t too warm, so at least it was still in the morning. My situation wasn’t too uncomfortable, all things considered. I had my Scroton Official Licensed Helmet on, with real gold antennae bobbing around in the wind. Scroton is the biggest pop icon in human history, although I doubt anyone hasn’t heard of him.

I’m his biggest fan.

Last night is a bit of a blur, but between the tequila shots and hunch punch I vaguely recall the reason why I’m out in a random parking lot letting passersby chuckle and take pictures. At the bar, we were all watching him on the screen. Then, the credits roll and there’s a preview for next week’s episode. Except this time it was an announcer telling the world that Scroton was hosting a giveaway.

He never gives anything away. There was a big deal last year about a lady trying to sell Scroton’s nail clippings on an auction site. My friend found out about it from another friend, who saw it on social media. My friend found out the whole thing was fake after she got approved for a second mortgage. At least she didn’t place a bid.

That’s besides the point. The sweepstakes is the real deal. Exactly one second after it aired, the fan sites and forums and social media accounts got set on digital fire. People who didn’t even like his show or his product line were coming out for this one. This was going to be big.

The rules were pretty simple. They kind of needed to be, since I was about fifteen sheets past three sheets to the wind. All anyone needed to do was show how devoted they were to Scroton, and get that online. The person who went the most viral wins. That person had to be me.

I’m his biggest fan.

One thing led to another, and I was now outside as a living buffet to the local insects. Luckily I had the presence of mind to pile my clothes next to where I slept. My phone was on top of them, to my relief. They said the winner would be notified by text.

Past learning about how asphalt tickles soft skin, I also discovered that insect legs can be ticklish too. A few of them had crawled under the helmet and were discovering some extra banana butter on my scalp. It got a rise out of me in more ways than one, which was kind of scary. I hoped the growing crowd didn’t notice, but someone yelled out, “They’re climbing the flagpole!”

“Flagpole, more like an anthill,” said some old lady. She was right, of course. I never was well endowed.

It didn’t matter. Everyone was sharing now. My phone started blowing up. Someone noticed me, and the word was out. Scroton’s biggest fan was hardcore about winning. An hour later, the contest had to be called. My picture was all over the Internet, with captions in at least fifty different languages.

Scroton’s fan site sent me a text. I waved off some insects and smeared banana butter on my phone. “Congratulations,” they said. “We’re sending you a picture signed by Scroton himself.”

A tear came to my eyes, and it wasn’t caused by the butterflies or fleas. I got up and put on my clothes, which took a lot longer considering some of the insects really didn’t want to leave. Yeah, I didn’t smell good, but that was okay. I was going to have something that Scroton touched. I deserved it.

I’m his biggest fan.

How A Story Changes: A Forbidden Planet Turns To Dust

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

These past few months I’ve been working on a story for my local public library. I actually published the first bit of the rough draft of it on this blog back in January. The final version looks very different from the first and second drafts. Usually I delete previous versions, but somehow I’ve held on to the second draft. You can click the link above to go to the rough draft, and you can read the beginning to the changed second draft below.

The Space Exploration Vehicle Atlas slammed into the planet’s atmosphere, kicking up a trail of fire and smoke as friction started to slow it down. Colliding with all that gas shook the vessel mercilessly, rattling the teeth of the three explorers inside. Alarms and warnings screeched in protest to add extra reminders that the ship threatened to rip itself apart during the violent deceleration. Inside, the cabin got a few degrees warmer while smoke clouded every view screen. Outside, the hull glowed red hot.

Captain Barb Anderson grabbed her seat and said to her crew, “Let’s try to have a landing we can walk away from.” That joke worked every time with her previous crews.

This time, it didn’t. Nick Trumbull, the ship’s science officer, screamed at the navigator and pilot, “Hit the thrusters! We need to get altitude now or we’re all dead!” He told them as much earlier. Skipping off the atmosphere is better than being disintegrated by it.

Pilot Joanne Fontaine growled her response, her words shaking with the wheel she tried to steady with both hands, “Can’t do it! Any killbots in orbit will atomize us! We’ll be fine!” On the starboard side, something broke away with a giant metallic clang. A piece of the hull must have fallen off. She added, “At least if I’m wrong, you won’t be around to gloat.”

The ship stopped shaking, and the smoke and fire cleared from the screens. Nick breathed a giant sigh of relief, but he saw the barren landscape below coming up fast. It looked like a giant swath of broken rock formations and dust swirling about, definitely not the safest place to have a crash landing. “Pull up, Joanne,” he begged.

The controls didn’t respond to Joanne’s commands. At about 2,000 kph, the ship crashed into their destination’s crust. Nick heard a loud groan and felt his entire body press into his seat straps. Joanne whipped her head forward and smashed her forehead into the wheel. It opened a red gash which bled into her left eye. All the alarms went silent, the lights went off, and a few thin wisps of smoke wafted into the cabin.

Barb calmly brushed off her shoulders and unfastened her straps. “Excellent work, Joanne,” she lied. Her legs were sore, and her neck ached. She looked over at Joanne and saw blood on her sleeve. “Are you hurt?”

“It’s nothing,” said Joanne, flexing her arm just to make sure. She swatted at a few of the noise controls, to turn off all the screaming alarms.

The Great Mirror, Part V

Image credit: British Museum.
Image source.

Author’s Note: This is the final installment of the story. Click the links to read the full story.
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

I scratched out a shallow ditch for the poor girl, barely moving enough earth to cover her decomposing corpse. The whispers did not care how thorough my efforts were. They were more interested in the blood-soaked soil left behind when I moved the cadaver. Such sludge made the chorus sing in a cacophony of sanguine lust, and I had spirited it into two large buckets for transport to the basement.

Having completed the first part of my gruesome work, I smeared the foul sludge over the mirror, noting the irony in using my wounded hand. The artifact was so thirsty it seemed, and it took the full measure of the child’s blood in a manner that might have been chilling were I the possessor of a rational mind. As I slathered on the soil, I heard this gruesome sucking noise followed by the rattle of dry earth falling to the floor. By the end of the process, the mirror no longer reflected my basement; it was an inky black ellipse of something which I could sense was antagonistic towards light.

It seemed to be an aperture to some other unfathomable dimension, and I stood before it like a child reluctant to go to school. But the opening had already been made. Without much prodding I choked whatever reservations I had left in their cribs and plunged my head into the darkness.

There is a limit to the capacity of humanity to fathom its place in the cosmos. I found it when I woke some time later in the basement. Although I could not recall what specific steps I took on my trip into the mirror, I could feel the weight of what I had learned all the same. My mind could only perceive the shadows of what I surveyed, vague outlines of structures so vast they spanned a galaxy. Somewhere along its labyrinthine surface it had features no human geometry could explain, and glorious things crawling along, beckoning me forward. Without knowing how, I obeyed their whims and traveled in corridors where direction was meaningless and what wasn’t written was profound.

It did not matter what I saw so long as I could experience it. I witnessed the slaughter of a lesser animal for sustenance to the greater things, using their muscular appendages to rip bone from meat and stuff their rust-colored mouths. They offered me some of their supper, and I did not dare refuse to devour my fill of slimy, raw, and rubbery fodder. Halfway through my chewing, the animal had stopped screaming. The greater beasts congratulated me without words, and I returned the sentiment with several moist grunts.

A sadness washed over me as I realized that despite all that I recalled, the trip had ended early. The child wasn’t enough of a supply to support a longer foray into the vast unknown. She had gotten me an introduction at best to things which were possessors of true knowledge. I had to go for a longer time, but I was unaware of how to safely procure a supply of what I needed.

A shard of light abruptly stabbed into my holy darkness. A trespasser had crossed the threshold and was descending the stairs towards me. From the familiarity of her steps, I could tell it was my housekeeper. She had found something resembling courage, despite her quivering hand shaking the knife glinting in the light from the hall. “Come out,” she said. “I have to end this now. My daughter…I have to do this for her.”

Serendipity, indeed! Or could it have been the mirror providing for its next meal? Even in the dark, I could see like I was outside at noon. “Do what you must,” I taunted. “But you will have to find me first in order to do your violence.”

With the determination of folly, my poor housekeeper went up and closed the door behind her. She thought she had been clever, providing a ruse that she’d scurried off. I could hear her furtive steps inching down the stairs, and she could not know that the darkness was my new element. The woman’s hand trembled more vigorously with every step she took. Upon reaching the cold basement floor, her voice quivered when she said, “Please come out. I will make this as painless as possible.”

I lunged at the wretch, grabbing the knife with one hand and shoving my opposite shoulder into her chest. The knife slipped on my palm, but it came loose with relative ease. “Pain is a distraction,” I said, like I was talking to a particularly insipid student. My housekeeper squirmed on the ground, dazed from striking her head on the steps. I grabbed her gently by the hair and examined her for any cuts. To my delight, I found nothing had been wasted.

Grabbing her by the collar, I dragged the helpless woman to the mirror. She’d begun pleading for mercy, as if she deserved any. Didn’t she know her death was for a higher purpose? The woman squirmed in my grip. I wondered if she heard me. Could she hear my thoughts?

I couldn’t let that distract me. With one slice of the knife, the misbegotten housekeeper’s neck opened like a pig. Beneath her neck, I heard the gurgling of the mirror slaking its thirst. My next sojourn was going to be glorious. What wonders would I learn the next trip? Would it last long enough, or would I have to find additional fuel?

That last thought shook my confidence. There was nothing left for me here but the condemnation of the ignorant. Still, there was a slight possibility that someone else might come across this artifact and delight in its wonders like I have. Should they be denied by a world filled with intellectual charlatans who only play at learning?

This is what inspired me to write down my legacy here. After I have finished penning these thoughts, I shall supply the mirror with a little more blood to compensate for the time it took to write it. It’s such a trivial thing, really. My hand is already bleeding, and the knife is sharp enough to open it entirely. From there it will be on to vistas of such wondrous import! Whatever this glorious mirror needs, I will provide! And in return, it shall never lead me to ruin!

All of this is true, I solemnly swear, on the hand that I shall leave behind!