August 2011


This post is part of the August 2011 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s challenge is “The Continuing Story of a Song” and is best read in order:
Part 1 (orion_mk3)
Part 2 (orion_mk3)
Part 3 (BigWords)
Part 4 (AbielleRose)
Part 5 (Ralph Pines)
Part 6 (hillaryjacques)
Part 7 (Darkshore)
Part 8 (pyrosama)
Part 9 (Diana_Rajchel)
Part 10 (Inkstrokes)
Part 11 (soullesshuman)
Part 12 (Alyzna)
Part 13 (Cath)
Part 14 (dolores haze)
Part 15 (Alpha Echo)
Part 16 (pezie)
Part 17 (orion_mk3)
You are here.
Part 19 (orion_mk3)

Song: “The End of All Things” by Howard Shore

The finger. The emerald ring. It was humming.

A dark veil seemed to cover the world, turning all that was once bright and hopeful about the island into a perverted shadow of itself. Dimly, Chris remembered its owner’s smile. She’d never told him her name—they’d never needed names—but the promise they’d made and the honest, innocent love behind it seemed to blaze forth from the emerald.

“No!” Allison cried—if that thing could indeed be the same Allison Chris had me on his first day, the beaming single mother who’d invited him to breakfast every day until her death.

She plunged her hand into Chris’s chest, and he felt a desperate lurching sensation, a desperate tug-of-war between the warm lifeblood urging him into peaceful oblivion and the powerful island moonlight painfully recalling him to life.

“You won’t get away that easily,” Allison hissed. “He needs you. We need you.”

Trapped between two worlds, Chris held the ring aloft. It seemed to force Allison back a few paces, but the…wrongness in his chest and the world around him persisted.

“Who needs me? For what?” he cried.

“That’s what I’d like to know.”

The voice came from an older man—Chris recognized him as the resort detective, Greg Garretson, the one he’d seen chasing skirts at the bar and running by his room in a panic. Somehow, though, the presence of a man he barely knew gave Chris a wellspring of strength and the ring glowed all the brighter for it.

“I won’t let you interfere!” Allison backed away from both of them. “Not now! We’ve come too far!”

She flung her arms wide, and the floor beneath them splintered and cracked. Something deep and powerful stirred within the island below, straining to make itself heard.

Perhaps it was the island itself.

The ring flickered, and both Greg and Chris recoiled at the dark light spilling forth from beneath them.

“Let them come to the island in the shadow of the navel of the world,” Allison spat, as if reciting chapter and verse from some terrible book. “Let them spill their lifeblood as a sacrifice, and with second sacrifice be consummated!”

Greg looked over at Chris, the shy putz he’d seen slinking around the edges of the club all week. “I’m a little late to the game, I think,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

“Let then a living soul be consumed, flesh of the same flesh, blood of the same blood, killed by the hand of its own!” Allison screamed. The dark tendrils from below grasped hungrily in all directions, and a noise that could only be described as an anguished man’s scream issued up with them. “Let the soul of the first take the place of the departed, to rule the seas beyond by the dictates of its heart!”

The light from the ring guttered and faded.

Greg, reaching for his revolver, found only an empty and ephemeral holster.

Both of them, faced with a foul darkness that was all-consuming, felt it begin to gnaw on their living essences. It wasn’t death, but annihilation.

And, in their last moments, each reached out for something. Something pure, something kind, something good, even if it had become a bit tarnished by the evils unleashed of late. Both the detective and the starstruck loner, in their hour of need, saw the fragile form of a young girl.

As one, they whispered her name:

Clarissa.”

In that instant, the ring shone more brightly than ever before. It radiated; it consumed; it healed. The tendrils from below withered and died; the thing that had once been Allison blew away like dandelion seeds on a breeze.

Before the darkness closed in, both Chris and Greg saw something in the distance running towards them, and felt a deep warmth.

This post is part of the August 2011 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s challenge is “The Continuing Story of a Song” and is best read in order:
Part 1 (orion_mk3)
Part 2 (orion_mk3)
Part 3 (BigWords)
Part 4 (AbielleRose)
Part 5 (Ralph Pines)
Part 6 (hillaryjacques)
Part 7 (Darkshore)
Part 8 (pyrosama)
Part 9 (Diana_Rajchel)
Part 10 (Inkstrokes)
Part 11 (soullesshuman)
Part 12 (Alyzna)
Part 13 (Cath)
Part 14 (dolores haze)
Part 15 (Alpha Echo)
Part 16 (pezie)
You are here.
Part 18 (orion_mk3)
Part 19 (orion_mk3)

Song: “Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith

In the rational part of his mind, Greg knew that he ought to arrest Spanky, to haul him and his floozies to the mainland. The locals might keep to themselves, but even they would have to act when faced with the corpse of Eddie Willow, assistant manager of Club Ecstasy and deputy sheriff.

Rationality, though, was out of the question.

With his murdered friend’s blood on his shoes, Greg Garretson went in with his finger on the trigger.

The remaining revelers who hadn’t slunk away to sleep it off parted when they saw his drawn revolver, but Spanky and his girls remained seated. Their hands caressed guns as tenderly as they’d caressed each other earlier.

“You know why I’m here,” Greg hissed.

Yes, but do you?” Spanky countered. “I was wrong about you, Mr. Garretson. You may be of use to us after all.”

The girl on Spanky’s right began to raise her gun. Instinctively, Greg fired. She went down hard, spurting blood—too much blood for a girl of that size and anorexic complexion. There was little time to dwell on that fact, though. The other girl made the same mistake, and joined her companion on the floor with nine grams in the shoulder.

Excellent, Mr. Garretson. You’re just what he needs. And I had begun to despair of finding anyone at this late hour.” Cryptic as ever.

Spanky’s next words, though, were short, pithy, and very much to the point. He fired, striking Greg through the heart. The resort detective collapsed, adding his blood to that already spattered on Club Ecstasy’s floor.

It had been a good idea.

The city had produced more than its fair share of writers, thanks to the local college’s endowment from an old benefactor, and many of them were still alive, still active. Asking each for an original essay or story about their hometown seemed like a stroke of genius, to say nothing of a ticket to easy street for the savvy editor.

That was before Peter had seen the submissions.

Of the eight authors that had agreed to participate, three had submitted nothing despite repeated promises to the contrary. One had turned in a typewritten manuscript in a manilla envelope, one so jumbled and muddled with pen and liquid paper corrections as to be nigh unreadable. Another had annotated a grocery list with a list of organs that the various items reminded them of.

And then there was Auguste Jones, who had apparently dropped his given name “Kevin” to appear more literary. His submission had been an index card with a citation for a 1948 edition of Goethe’s Faust, a cassette tape with the repeated phrase “chickpeas are angry” in a female voice interspersed with heavy breathing, and an embalmed hummingbird wrapped in plastic with the letter “Y” painted on its back with red nail polish.

“We call it the Suren Paradox.”

“Suren was a great general in Parthia–Iran–who led less than ten thousand men. But with them he managed to defeat Crassus–the guy who killed Spartacus–even though the Romans outnumbered him three to one.”

“You’d expect something like that to earn you a pretty rich reward right?”

“You’d be wrong. Suren called attention to himself and his ability, which made the Shah afraid that his general would try to seize the throne. He got himself executed on some trumped-up charge.”

“So in the end the only winner was the Shah, who got a Roman invasion repelled and got to use Crassus’ head as a stage prop.

“The lesson, kiddo, is this: if you shine too brightly under someone who has absolute power over you, like your boss, chances are even that they’ll axe you for making them look bad.”

“If you are to tell your story–musically, theatrically, operatically–you must do it through proscribed means and with proscribed methods,” Dr. Stasov said. “It is like walking a tightrope.”

“How do you mean?”

“You must set your story in the distant past or the ideal present,” said Stasov. “You must describe it in terms of class warfare between bourgeois oppressors and proletarian revolutionaries, even if it predates Marx and Engels by thousands of years.”

“I want a story of love to be told in my ballet,” Voin said. “I will write the music first and then work out the steps with a choreographer.”

“Then you must be careful,” Stasov remarked. “Perhaps a serf in the era of Ivan can cause a nobleman to devote himself to the cause of socialist equality. Or two collective farmers might bond in the fields, or in a tractor repair workshop. But whatever you do, the nuances of your story must be through that lens. The alternative is denunciation and all that implies.”

The nature of TechCo’s system was to prevent any one “associate” from having any real power or information. Every bit of information came from the database software, every action had to be double-checked with the floor manager, and any really big decisions were made by “supervisors” who were, in point of fact, hundreds of miles away.

This meant that Andrea had to keep customers on the line for a long time, much of which was dead air as she waited for higher-ups or the creaky database to give her information. She felt the need to fill these spaces with something beyond the boilerplate she’d been trained to spout–“your call is very important to us”–and tried above all to give the impression that people were talking to a human being.

It was only partially successful. Most people just grunted a reply when asked about their weekend, or their history using the widgets for which TechCo handled outsourced service calls. Others were so desperate for a human voice, especially one that sounded youthful and female, that they unloaded reams of personal information that a less scrupulous person could have put to nefarious ends. Some even asked for her personal phone number, which was grounds for instant termination from TechCo, though luckily most of those appeared to be mutants who weren’t numberworthy in the first place.

Cohen’s novels were characterized by intricate and intertwining multiple plots, and he had a remarkable ability to weave various complicated threads together despite prose that was often described as turgid or, charitably, plain. He wasn’t writing to the literati, of course–does anyone outside their number even aspire to anymore?–but rather for the lucrative disposable-book trade. People who needed something to read on the train, on the plane, or any of those other bottlenecks where the frenetic pace of modern life was unavoidably slowed would purchase a Maxwell Q. Cohen book and discard it like a candy wrapper after reading.

Most of the finer thrift stores overflowed with volumes stocked alongside Crichton, Koontz, and King. His were human stories, though, without a hint of the supernatural or the technological and crafted for those who were not of either bent. It was a formula for consistent success, if not renown, and most of the titles wound up selling very well. His latest, “Forest of Bloodshot Eyes,” had even debuted on the bestseller list and there was scuttlebutt of a Hollywood adaptation with the latest pretty-thing-of-the-month shoehorned into a role written for someone 20 years older and 20 IQ points smarter.

That’s why Cohen’s unannounced disappearance from his lakeside home had been such a bitter shock.

It was nobody’s fault, really.

The transit company that owned the trailer had furnished it with retread tires because they were the cheap option. The rig owner wasn’t about to replace them given how slim her margins already were, to say nothing of the punishing schedule that had her in Seattle Sunday night and Atlanta Monday by the stroke of twelve AM.

The forecaster had called for high temperatures after the front blew in, but it wound up being a cold snap. Even in early spring, it was bad enough to turn patches of rain into black ice. Nobody who had been on the road during the unseasonable warmth was ready for that, and there had been fog enough that prepared or not they were unlikely to see it.

So when the retread peeled off the semi’s rear wheel on a bridge outside of town, the driver had no way of knowing that hitting the brakes would lead to a jackknife. And the cars in the other lane, coming around a blind corner onto ice, never had a chance.

Anyone who read an ounce of malice into the truck driver, the transit company, or even the weatherman was just lashing out, looking for scapegoats in an unpredictable world. And, given the murders that followed, I have to believe that’s exactly what happened.

They called it the Cobh Reel, and it had only been played and danced once.

During Cromwell’s campaigns in Ireland, a contingent of men pledged to support a free Ireland found themselves caught between the Scylla of a Royalist garrison and the Charybdis of an advancing Republican formation. Their musicians, drawn from the hinterlands, had knowledge of the Reel passed down from the ancient time of the Irish High Kings, and proposed it to their commander. He, a coward that planned to watch the battle from a nearby escarpment and flee if it went ill, agreed.

He saw the Republicans and Royalists clash with his own force caught between. He even heard snatches of the music through the din of battle joined.

He did not see the force that emptied the battlefield of men, bearing them wailing off to parts unknown and leaving only blood and armor behind.

The few survivors were maddened by what they had seen–blinded, deafened, or shouting only in strange tongues. Every last one was caked in the blood of their fellows. Cromwell’s lieutenants reported that his forces had been wiped out by an ambush, and they were right enough about that. But as to who had done the ambushing, and what the Cobh Reel had to do with it, well…there was a reason it was only used once.

The Corvus family has been one of the most respected in the land for generations, producing great men and women of business before culminating in me, Nyla Corvus, daughter of Lady Galina Corvus and Sir Iain Ulworth of the equally-respected Ulworth clan.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

I grew up on my family’s estate , with the best education money could afford (the source of my poise and excellent social manners, naturally) with occasional visits from eminent relatives and the well-heeled in society. All was well with the world…until Sir Iain learned that I wasn’t his daughter. My own mother had been a degenerate, and had had a…a ‘fling’ with someone of questionable lineage!

I was only half the noble I thought I was, and Sir Iain was furious. He cast me out, with only a paltry sum of money (just one-fourth of his estate!). On my own at the tender age of twenty, I was nonetheless able to maintain a semblance of civilized life. The Corvus name and years of song and dance lessons got me into a highly-regarded bardic college, and my money funded a series of delightful social events.

Then, in my last year at the college, the money ran out–I’d bought my last perfumed pheasant.

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