Unarmored

Night Diner

This is the third story in what I call the ‘Soul’ series, based on artwork by Klegs.

Original

Artwork: Night Diner, by Klegs (DeviantArt)

“Man, that was great!” Sarah was excited, animated, all the things that set me on edge. But she wasn’t like most people. I knew that she needed to just talk. I was content to listen, and she didn’t take offense.

“It was just me! I mean, the bar was a hole in the wall, but I wasn’t just opening for someone, either. They wanted me! They even applauded!”

I just sipped from my drink, listening. I remembered my impressions as she spoke, building her words and my memories into a fuller picture. The bar was small, and the stage tiny. It smelled like stale beer. People drank and played pool. At first, there was disinterest, then a spark of curiosity as a new face took the stage. “How did they look at you while you played?”

“Man, it was crazy!” Her hands came out of her pockets to gesture. “Everybody was looking at me. It was awesome! It was terrifying! You got to tell me you got pictures of it all, you got pictures, right?”

I remembered that spark of curiosity in their faces kindling into something more, glasses stopping in the air as people paused to look. I already knew that the footage of that moment would go into my final edits. “I got pictures. And I got video.”

“Awesome! We’re getting this on YouTube tonight, right?” Her hands took my arm, but let go again, going back into her pockets against the chill. “Sorry. I’m crowding you. I’m just so excited!”

I smiled and glanced over at her. It was a small smile, but meaningful, and from her expression of relief, I think she knew it. “You’re a step ahead.  Most people just think I need to change.”

“Screw them. You’re you, without regrets.  Anybody tries to make you change, I’ll kick their ass for you.” She thumped her hand on the rail for emphasis, and I could hear the metal resonate like a bell.

I smiled again and felt my cheeks heat. Not many people could get through my shell, but it always unsettled me how quickly those close to me could raise my emotions. I wasn’t used to being emotional. “Yeah. So YouTube. I don’t want to put it up raw. You did really good. Give me some time. I can make something great with this.”

“Yes!” She hopped in place, then clapped her hands. “Thank you! You! Are! Awesome!” I felt my cheeks heat more.

“Just doing what I can do.”

“Doing it great! For me! Without me even asking! Come on, you’re great. People get paid for that stuff!”

I looked at her, not knowing how to respond. I was tempted just to put on the armor and shrug, but I couldn’t do that to my best friend. Instead, I turned and hugged her. It was brief and awkward, then I let her go and turned back away, and put the straw in my mouth so I wouldn’t have to say anything.

She watched me, then leaned back against the rail. I glanced over, and she was grinning like a madwoman. “Thanks.”

I knew she wasn’t talking about the video editing. “Sure . . . you’re welcome.”

My Friend’s House.

Take me to your favorite place, your favorite moment, describe how it is in your memory or imagination.

Original

I crawled out the window onto the porch roof. The book in my hand struck the sill, but I didn’t dare lunge after it as it skidded down the roof. It slid to a stop just short of the gutter. I went and retrieved it, careful of the edge. My next stop was to cross to the far side of the porch and spread a double-fistful of peanuts. Rushing back to my bedroom window, I leaned back against the brick wall, my legs spread out before me on the slanted roof, and I opened the book.

The wind was cool in my hair. The sun was warm on my skin. The rustle of the leaves was comforting, like a mother shushing and comforting an upset child. For a time, I was lost in another world. Princes led men into battle, magic powers contested each other, and the forces of good and evil struggled. Then I heard something.

A scrabbling . . . a crunch. I looked up, and a squirrel had found my peanuts. She’d gotten bolder in the past weeks. She tore the shell of every peanut, stuffing them into her cheeks before rushing off to bury them. Five, six times. Then she ran out of peanuts. She sniffed around the roof, and I tossed one her direction. Instead of cringing away, she rushed for it, scooping it up, trying to fill her cheeks. I tossed another, closer; she advanced – stopped, looking up at me, then took that one, too.

Would it be today? Would she? I held one peanut out, in my fingers. She looked at me, and it seemed like she met my eyes, even though hers were pure black and on opposite sides of her head. She moved forward with that frenetic energy that squirrels have, stopping barely a foot away. Then she crept closer and snatched it from me. Suddenly she was five feet away and crunching through the shell.

It was okay. I was grinning like a fool, despite her distance. She’d come closer than ever before, and I knew she’d grow more comfortable with time. “Come on down for dinner!” It was faint, through the open window. I could ignore it, pretend I didn’t hear, but then they’d find me on the roof and that would be a whole different kind of trouble.

I leaned in the window and called back. “Be right down!” I climbed in, replacing the screen, then I brushed leaves and grit from my pants and socks. I changed my shirt so they wouldn’t see the dust from the mortar of the brick wall, and I shook my hair out just in case. It was a good thing I did – a leaf drifted down. Then I rushed downstairs for dinner, still smiling. I had a new friend!

Paranormal Activity

A challenge to myself, to write a story for a picture chosen by somebody else.

Original

Eight o’clock. I had n’ left work this late in months. All of the other purchasing agents had quit on me or were detailed to other tasks.  It was just me right now, and I was exhausted. The monorail roared down the track running parallel to the road, the street flashing bright and dark as the windows rushed by.  I didn’t pay it much heed, until it went dark, though.  The streetlights went out, the house lights went out, and I could tell the train wasn’t powering down the rails anymore, only coasting.

I turned around, and looked down the mountainside – I could see so much of the city from here – and I was just in time to see the whole city go dark in patches. The train stopped with a squeal and hiss of hydraulic brakes, and then everything was quiet.  I looked at the train and saw people in the glow of their phones, some pressing against the windows to see outside.  A city-wide blackout. Continue reading “Paranormal Activity”

Impression

‘Camping’

This is the second story in what I call the ‘Soul’ series, based on artwork by Kleg.(DeviantArt)

Artwork:RV, by Kleg(DeviantArt)

Original

The RV – and me, laying on top of it – came into sight on the laptop’s screen as I piloted the drone up the hillside.  My fingers danced over the keyboard, angling the camera to keep the RV in view.  I eased the drone into the corridor that the road carved through the forest, and had it shed altitude as it closed in for a landing.  As it settled to the roof beside me, I saw myself through the drone’s camera, shadowed but illuminated by the laptop’s screen.  I smiled to see myself, and I watched my lips twitch into a smile.  I’d never quite get used to that.  I turned onto my side to dismounting the camera from the drone, connecting it to my laptop.  I heard the ping that indicated the footage was downloading. Continue reading “Impression”

Retirement Plans

Um, no. How about we don’t, and say we did…

Artwork by Tomislav Jagnjic (ArtStation)

I stared up at the living mountain before us. We rode atop a ridge, and we could look at the spiral emblem on its ‘face’ without craning our necks too far.  When we got close, we’d have to climb its body just to attack the top of its toe.

“So . . . that’s the thing, huh?”

Jamon looked on with me, nodding once. “Yup.”

Continue reading “Retirement Plans”

Trauma Entertainment

The World is a peaceful place. Everyone is Happy. Nothing Bad is happening to anyone. Every person has everything they need. Everyone is well mannered, and Mean people do not exist.

Original

I heard the scream and looked around. Nobody else seemed concerned. People walked up and down the street, nobody looking up. There it was again. “No! Stop! Get off me!”

It was coming from the alleyway. I rushed into the darkness, my eyes taking a moment to adjust after the bright sunlight. He was tall, muscular, and there was a tattoo of an eagle straddling a swastika on his bald scalp. In his free hand, he twirled a knife with a shocking degree of skill.

“Just relax, little peacock, it won’t hurt as–” I barrelled into him, hard. The knife skittered across the pavement, musical as different surfaces of it struck the pavement. Continue reading “Trauma Entertainment”

The Dream

Write a story that makes you happy.

Original

I wiped the ink from my pen’s nib, set it down carefully, and regarded the page. The ink was still drying, but it seemed immaculate. I was especially smug about the diagrams of the Antikythera. That was a bit of engineering far ahead of its time.  I had been giddy with anticipation for a week, given the chance to copy those schematics, and I felt like I had done it with precision. I carefully stoppered the ink and set the pen aside.

My parents had despaired of my education ever repaying the investment it required, but I was satisfied. Nobody else could do work this fine, and everybody knew it. Only Davuus of Broken Hills could match my technical diagrams. I had seen one bookbinding finer than what I could usually manage, but I didn’t know who did the binding, or how far away they might be. It was likely that their business was nothing but bindings. I smiled, sure that nobody I would ever meet could surpass my skill, not if I spent my career always growing.

Then the smell hit me. Fresh bread, garlic, parmesan. “Rouseaux! Did you even hear me calling? Dinner’s ready!” Continue reading “The Dream”