The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Ten

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Need to catch up? Start here, then continue to Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter Seven,  Chapter Eight, and Chapter Nine.

 

Chapter Ten: Revolution

 

Founder’s Day was the biggest, the busiest and the shiniest of the four High Holidays. Thanks to the mandatory attendance policy enforced on all High Holidays, the entire town turned out to honor the brave souls that founded Barter. All the Founder’s statues were decorated in bright colors to elevate their importance on this special day.

Sara chose a simple white dress and brown sandals. She plaited her dark hair in a braid woven with a silver chain and walked downstairs. Her mother, dressed in a similar fashion, walked with Sara out the door towards the town center. Today, everyone walked.

The festivities had already begun to build. Cries of “Good Founder’s Day, Inhabitant,” rang throughout the square. The vendors pedaled their goods, “Hot Crost Buns, Rice and Crisp Peas, just like the Founder’s used to make,” commercials popped up on a continuous loop for vials of genuine ash gathered from The World Before and labeled with the name of the Founder who gathered it, and a group of actors performed a play on a low platform in the center of the town square. They lauded the foresight of the Founders for following the First Inhabitant’s teachings and mimed the horrible deaths of all the ignorant people who chose to foolishly ignore the Founders’ warnings of impending doom. The play used to be Sara’s favorite thing about Founder’s Day. When she was sixteen, her cherished dream was to be one of the celebrated actors who so glamorously portrayed the wise Founders, but her learning had taken another path. Now she watched them writhing around the stage in mock pain, gray puffs of glittery ash exploding across the doomed figures.  She was wondering how much of the play was truth and how much was fiction when she heard the first explosion.

The town erupted into chaos. A second, closer explosion knocked some people off their feet as they began to scramble for shelter. A third explosion, closer still, sent a fine spray of dirt and chunks of rubble whirling through the air like deadly confetti. Sara stood still, stunned into inaction, clutching the platform. A grime-smeared hand grabbed her wrist and forcibly pulled. She turned to pull away before she realized the hand belonged to Eli. She tried to be heard above the din.

“What’s going on?”

Eli shook his head and again pulled her wrist to indicate she should follow him. Sara looked around for her mother but couldn’t see anything in the pandemonium.

“My mother,” she yelled, “I can’t leave her here alone!”

Eli shook his head vehemently and pulled harder. Another explosion knocked them to the ground. A thick whine buzzed in Sara’s ears, and she could see a cut over Eli’s left eye beginning to bleed. He winced as he struggled to his feet, grabbing at his left side where a small bloodstain was rapidly growing. He helped Sara get to her feet and yelled in her ear.

“We have to leave now!”

Sara followed, promising herself she would find her mother as soon as she could. They ran through side streets, past overturned carts and demolished businesses and across a corner of the park that wasn’t on fire. As they ran the last stretch towards the Supreme Inhabitant’s house, they could hear cries in the distance. Sara thought they were saying, “Long live the Revolution,” but her ears were still ringing too loud to be sure.

Locking the door behind them, Eli led the way down a narrow hallway towards a brown door and down two flights of stairs. He knocked with a bloody fist on a dull metal door at the bottom in a pattern, three-two-three, and collapsed against the wall, gasping. His face was pale,and his once white shirt was sticky with blood and grime. Sara’s white dress had fared little better.

The Supreme Inhabitant opened the metal door, first a crack, then thrown wide when he saw the condition of his son.

He threw his son’s arm around his neck to support Eli’s weight and began walking him into the room.

“There were explosions and-” Sara began to explain.

“Get in here and we can talk about it later,” the Supreme Inhabitant snapped at her. He gently laid Eli down on a low upholstered bench and began rifling through a nearby wooden cabinet. Sara hurried through the doorway behind him into the wide room, lit only by three ancient floor lamps. Three of the walls were covered in paintings and tapestries. The bottom half of the fourth wall was blank. Cabinets and metal racks filled with statues and vases were scattered throughout the room. Three black urns, hip high to Sara, were spilling over with gems and precious metals, and in the center of the room was a dark, wide wooden column supporting the ceiling. Shelves had been carved into each side and a spiral staircase wrapped around the column to the top. Each shelf was full to bursting.

Each shelf was full of books.

It was a giant bookcase. Floor to ceiling books. A tree of books. Sara gaped in awe that grew quickly to anger. She turned to see the Supreme Inhabitant pouring disinfectant from the cabinet into the now unconscious Eli’s wounds, his fingers gently probing for debris. She felt like screaming. Without looking at her, he spoke.

“The position of Supreme Inhabitant is not without its perks.” He brushed dust and bits of rubble from his son’s hair before continuing. “It is also not without pain. What use are jewels when I cannot spend them? What good are books without someone to read them to?” He turned and looked at her, smiling. His gold teeth glinted in the dim light as he stood and took a step forward. “And of what use is an exquisite work of art without someone to share it with?”

Sara took a step backward.

“None of these things are Allowed,” she said, “that’s not pain. Don’t dress this up as something noble.”

“Ah, yes. Would you prefer I was a noble rebel, storing pages upon pages of books in my head? And for what purpose?” He smiled at the shock that rippled over Sara’s face. “Oh yes, I know all about your little club, the very same club that is at present destroying the city at the cost of innocent lives for a cause they are not sure exists.”

“You’re lying.”

“Sara, Sara, Sara.” He shook his head. “Our ancestors established this city to be free of strife and pain and hunger. Your friends are destroying everything this city stands for because they want to revert to the Old Way. They want to be,” he paused, studying her face intently. “Natural.”

Sara focused on a painting of a girl with a strange turban and an enormous bauble hanging from her ear directly behind his head, refusing to betray any hint of emotion. The Supreme Inhabitant flicked his wrist and a machine lowered out of the ceiling pointed toward the blank wall behind Sara.

“Shall I show you what those days were like?”

Images began playing across the blank wall. Sara turned to look, her curious nature overpowering her urge to run. Some of the videos and pictures were in color, but some were black and white and grainy. A child with big eyes stared at her, its ribs clearly visible, wearing barely a shred of clothing. The aftermath of an earthquake, bodies half buried in the wreckage. Soldiers younger than herself being mown down by machine guns. Gaunt people with haunted eyes in chains. Humans destroying humans.

Tears wet Sara’s cheeks. Eli began to stir.

“This is what we ran from, Sara,” the Supreme Inhabitant said, his voice gentle. “This is what your friends are fighting to go back to.”

Sara shook her head. He was wrong, he had to be.

“How do you know it was them?”

“Because they have been rounded up. I’ve been getting pings telling me everything. Their ringleader is a woman named Margie.”

“That’s not possible!”

“Why, because you like them? Because you think they are your friends? They destroyed half of our city and innocent lives just to prove their point, so tell me, Sara, you tell me who the real enemy is.”

Sara sank against the wall and buried her head in her hands, defeated. She had thought they were her friends, and now they had most likely killed her mother. She had chosen the wrong path. Eli sat up.

“Dad, what’s going on?”

The Supreme Inhabitant turned to his son. “I told Sara the truth.”

Eli blinked, waiting for his father to continue.

“I told her that her friends tried to overthrow myself and the Pinnacle, but they failed and were caught and will soon be sent to the Unknowns as traitors.”

“Oh,” Eli said flatly, “that.”

His father’s eyes narrowed at his response, but he was distracted by another incoming ping.

“It’s safe now. I’m going to hold council with the Pinnacle before the trials begin. Both of you will stay here until my return.” He looked at Sara and bowed slightly. “Please, make yourself at home.”

The door clanged shut behind him with a final sounding thud and a lock clicked. Sara didn’t look up. Eli propped himself up on his good side.

“I thought he was going to tell you the other truth,” he said.

“Which is,” she mumbled into her lap.

“Your father, he’s alive.”

Sara’s head snapped up.

“And I can take you to him.”

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The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Nine

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Grab a hot cup of coffee, start here, then continue to Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter Seven, and Chapter Eight.

 

Chapter Nine: The Meeting Place

 

Sara’s footsteps kicked up small puffs of dust and crackled on the occasional patch of vegetation. The single file line crawled silently along the dirt path in the dim light of the modified lamps.

She studied the back of the person in front of her, Joran, she heard someone call him. He was taller than she was, blocking her view of the path ahead. His brown hair had been shaved close and it bristled above the collar of his faded red shirt. His pants were dust repellent, the creased blue uniform of the park maintenance officers.

The line stopped.

Sara tried craning her neck as far right as she could to see what was going on, but she almost lost her balance in the darkness. She leaned against the wet, rocky wall that bordered the left side of the path. On the right side was a deep crevice. The grim looking woman behind her had assured her the crevice was bottomless, and even if it wasn’t, no one had ever crawled back out to set the record straight.

The line began to move again.

The Inhabitants walked for another three or four minutes until they came to a brown rock wall, smooth except for the crack extending from the path and continuing out of sight. The crack made a natural entrance into the meeting place.

Sarah filed through the narrow archway sideways into the room, and put a hand in front of her eyes against the unexpected brightness. The room was round, almost aggressively so, and domed upward for more than 200 feet with a large, brilliantly glowing orb at the apex. The walls were smooth, brown stone with an arched recess carved every two or three feet at eye level, all of them stuffed full of books. Cushions and pillows littered the floor, and several people began to take a seat.

What bewildered Sara the most was not the strange orb, or that she was in a giant underground cavern surrounded by rebels in the middle of the night, or even the hundreds (thousands?) of books, it was the silence. No commercials assaulted her vision, no jingles chirped in her ear, no facts or logistics flitted across her lenses when she looked at the faces around her. For the first time she could remember, everything was silent. Her fingers felt thick and heavy. Smells – earthy, cold, metallic, sweat – bombarded her nose. She had experienced a small fraction by not taking her vitamins, but this, this was different.

 

“You’ll get used to it,” said Ro, slapping her on the back, “the stone is a natural inhibitor. None of your implants will work. Keeps spies from recording what they see here.”

She plopped down on a worn blue pillow with a smirk.

Before Sara had a chance to retort, a tall man whom Sara didn’t recognize announced in a loud, deep voice that the meeting was about to begin and would everyone please grab a seat.

Sara chose a round silver cushion and sat with her back against the wall, her nerves jangling. She noticed Eli laughing with a group of other young Inhabitants and wondered how he came here, and what he was up to.

“If everyone is settled, let’s begin. The situation is growing steadily worse, so meetings might not be as frequent. Food, real food, is in short supply, so we’ll need to ration unless anyone wants to go back to eating the sludge,” here there were groans and some chuckles,  “and Guy was caught stealing parts for the Weapon.” A collective murmur rippled through the room, and the man held his hands up for silence. “We’ll need another volunteer. Anyone who is interested should see myself or Jack after the meeting. Okay then,” he clapped his hands and rubbed them together, “grab your book and a partner.”

Sara stood and stared at the stacks of books, confused, but excited. The books in her recess were in various states of disrepair, with only two or three in decent shape, and the rest missing pages, moldy, or burnt around the edges. She chose a hardcover book with light burn marks and missing most of its spine, then sat down, again with her back to the wall. She sniffed at the book. Its smell was smoky, but pleasant, pulling to the surface memories of Love’s book. She wondered briefly if Love and her parent’s had ever attended one of these meetings before she was interrupted by a chirpy voice.

“Hey there, hiya, how ya doin’, my name’s Margie,” the petite middle aged woman announced.  She had long black hair and was dressed head to toe in flamboyant green. Even the pillow she held was green. “Wanna be my partner?”

Without waiting for a reply, Margie dropped her giant green pillow in front of Sara, releasing a cloud of dust that made Sara cough and Margie sneeze seven times.

“Sorry about that doll,” Margie shook her head and sneezed an eighth time, “are ya ready?”

“This is actually my first time. Do we read the books, or…” she trailed off, looking at Margie expectantly.

“Oh honey, we memorize the books,” Margie grinned, “we restore them and memorize them until we know them by heart so even if they are taken away, we’ll always have them with us. It’s important work.” She gently slapped the book she was holding, releasing another, smaller cloud of dust that sent her into another fit of sneezes.

“This is the Iliad, and I’ve been memorizing it for four weeks now,” she continued after taking a deep breath, cradling the book like a sleeping child. “What did you pick honey?”

Sara flipped the book open. “Wuthering Heights,” she said.

“Sounds good to me,” Margie chuckled. “Let’s get started. I like to read a paragraph three or four times to get the gist, then work on memorization, then have my partner test me, but you do you honey.” She settled into her mammoth pillow and began to read.

The room filled with muttering and whispers, each Inhabitant intent on their task. Margie told her later that a handful of Inhabitants, only she used the word “people,” had memorized three or even four books. Sara realized that no one used the word “Inhabitant” to address each other down here and thought it was strange, but nice.

At the end of the meeting, the tall man assigned them into groups of four or five and gave them each an exit number.

“And remember, if you get caught,” he took a deep breath, “well, just don’t get caught.”

Tomas, Sara, another girl, and Eli had the same group. She followed them along one of the side trails that wound in dizzy circles and was full of creeping insects she frantically swatted out of her face and hair.

“Hey, so this trapdoor leads to the basement of the hovboard shop,” Eli told her as they paused beneath a smooth gray stone. “We leave one by one in intervals of five to seven minutes.”

The group crawled out of the tunnel and into the basement. Tomas bade them goodnight and walked upstairs to his apartment over the shop. The girl left out the shop’s back door, leaving Eli and Sara to wait.

Sara was still thinking of her book when Eli broke the silence.

“Good Founder’s Day to you, Inhabitant Sara Todd,” he smiled.

“Good Founder’s Day to you as well, Eli,” she replied. She had almost forgotten the High Holiday.

Eli waved his hand to indicate it was her turn to depart.

“Be safe,” he said.

Sara made her way home without incident and fell into bed. Her dreams were full of books and windy moors and brightly colored gum commercials.

Her mother woke her a few hours later with a cup of hot tea, a slice of buttered toast, and a vitamin.

“Good Founder’s Day, Sara,” she sang, “time to take your vitamin!”

Sara sighed. Back to reality.

 

 

 

What I’m Reading: The Lost City of Z

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Picture found here.

Hello readers!

If any of you are wondering where I’ve been, my laptop died. My husband is graciously letting me borrow his for the time being, so I’m finally back to posting. Huzzah!

This post is a review I wrote today on my Goodreads account.

A prim but occult dabbling 58 year old Victorian explorer, his 21 year old son, and his son’s best friend disappear deep in the Amazon in search of a lost city. What happened? And does the city they were looking for even exist?
This book is full of the usual things you’d expect in a book about Victorian jungle explorers: cannibalism, pit vipers, shrunken heads, people buried alive, and racist white men.
It’s also full of things that might surprise you, like religious cults, a mutinous polar explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh’s embalmed skull, feminism, Colonel T. E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia), and former President Teddy Roosevelt.
Percy Fawcett was a character larger than life, but his wife was incredible as well. She spoke German and French, advocated for women’s rights, and was raised in the lap of luxury, yet married Fawcett and raised his three children in poverty. She wanted to explore the Amazon with him, but instead became his advocate, championing his name and promoting the details of his trips to the public.
Fawcett’s last and fateful trip was, in part, sponsored by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and spawned the screenplay “Find Colonel Fawcett” on which Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s “Road to Zanzibar” was (exceedingly) loosely based.
This is one book you will disappear into for hours. Don’t forget to come back before the exploring bug bites, and you too trek off in search of “Z.”

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Eight

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Start here, then continue to Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter Six, and Chapter Seven. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter Eight

Revolution

“That’s two questions actually,” Sara said automatically, still confused. “Wait, Revolution?”

Ro grimaced and rolled her eyes so far back in her head all Sara would have seen was white if she had been looking. Her attention had been arrested by a patrol bot scanning the grounds and headed straight for them.

“Now we’re in trouble,” Sara groaned.

Ro looked skyward as if to ask for strength. “Listen,” she hissed, “just follow me if you want to join us. Stay here if you want to get another adjustment.” Ro crept along the length of the bench and rolled behind a nearby bush. She ducked and rolled and crawled until she reached the tree in the center of the park. Sara watched, zooming in with her lenses. The bot was getting closer.

In a split second decision that would change her life forever, Sara followed Ro to the tree, ducking and rolling and crawling until she also reached the tree. The bot continued on its way, humming and scanning and sweeping up any stray bits of trash that crossed its path.

Sara stood with her back to the tree, watching the bot. A hand clamped firmly over her mouth.

Sara fell backwards into a void so dark even her lenses could not illuminate her surroundings. Then the hand was gone.

Sara screamed.

 

She landed several seconds later. Whatever she’d landed on was soft, almost spongy, and unpleasantly damp. She tried to stand, but her legs wobbled with the effort and the surface was none too steady.

A blinding light overhead illuminated her surroundings as she fell over again into the dampness. The first thing she noticed was that she was, in fact, on a giant growth that resembled a mushroom. The second was that she was surrounded by people, most of whom were trying not to laugh. Some were frowning. Some she recognized.

“Sara, roll off to your left,” Ro called out. She was standing next to a tall woman Sara had never seen before.

She rolled off to her left and dropped off the mushroom two feet onto hard dirt.

“Oops, I meant my left, your right,” Ro said, and Sara wasn’t sure Ro was actually sorry. She stood, wary.

Sara looked around. They were in an underground cavern with slick black rocks, dirt trails, and eerie growths like the one she had landed on. The light was one of the street lamps from the city, but it had been altered to glow brighter, and with a lid on top so the light shone only downwards. It was on a ledge at least seven feet above Sara’s head, and she could see a string of them off into the distance.  She looked again at the people.

By her count there were almost forty, including Ro. Two were brother and sister, Ian and Patience; she knew them from Assigned Learning. Sitting down on a large rock to her left was Tomas, the manager of a small shop in town where she bought her hovboard. Behind her she heard a familiar voice, one she never expected to hear in this damp cave full of rebels.

“Welcome to the Revolution, Sara,” Eli, the Supreme Inhabitants son, was smiling.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Seven

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Just joining us? Read the PrologueChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter Five, and Chapter Six.

Chapter Seven

The Code

 

     Tap tap tap. Sara’s head jerked up from her plate. She looked at her father with questioning eyes. He smiled, and again softly tapped the table with his thumb three times, tap tap tap.

     Sara giggled and tapped her plate twice in reply a little too hard with her fork. Her mother blinked, momentarily turning the nightly news report off her lenses to give her daughter a stern look, but was soon back in a trance, and from all outward appearances staring at nothing.

     Sara and her father did not watch the news. He told her it was for serious grownups like her mother and she shouldn’t bother with it. Sara asked if she wouldn’t get in trouble with the Pinnacle. He chuckled and said that the Pinnacle didn’t monitor something as trivial as who was watching the nightly new report. He said Sara would be just fine, and she believed him.

     Sara chewed on a green bean and stole a glance at her father. He winked, pretended to yawn, and stretched his lanky arms out to his sides as far as they would go.

     It was their nightly dinner ritual – three taps meant, “I love you,” two taps meant, “how much,” and the outstretched arms meant, “this much.” It was their secret code. Open displays of affection, even between family members, was frowned upon, although not quite a Not Allowed. Not yet.

Maybe it was the countless adjustments, or maybe the memory was just too painful, but Sara had forgotten the code. She had almost forgotten what her father looked like when he laughed.

___

     Sara quickly plastered a large smile on her face for the benefit of whoever was watching. She took the bottle from her mother’s hand, gave it a quick shake and turned back to the sink. She refilled her dinner glass and opened the bottle, then mimed shaking a pill into the palm of her hand and throwing it in her mouth. She took a long swallow of the water before turning back around, glass in hand.

Her mother was still standing there, but she had stopped rocking. Her arms were stretched out to her sides and back as far as they would reach.

Sara dropped the glass, water exploding over the floor. Something pulled at her memory and a sudden strong wave of emotion made her stomach hurt and she didn’t know why.

The shattered glass seemed to pull her mother out of the trance. The lights had gone from her eyes and her arms came down to rest at her sides. She watched the saucer-like kitchen bot pop out of the baseboard, beeping indignantly while it dried the floor and hunted for every shard of glass.

“What were we talking about dear?”

 

Whoever was on weather duty had gone a little overboard, Sara thought to herself, pulling her jacket tighter as she walked across the dark street towards the house. Fear gnawed at her belly as she raised her hand to knock on the pewter door that looked no different from her own.

“I wouldn’t do that,” a voice came from behind the tall hedge to the left of the house, “unless you want to explain to your neighbors why you’re waking them up at such an un-supreme hour.” Ro walked out from behind the hedge with a smirk on her face.

Sara scrambled to get off the front porch before she triggered the automatic doorbell. “Are you insane? Why did you ask me to meet you here? What-“

“Just follow me and try to keep your mouth shut,” Ro interrupted, “think you can do that?”

Sara huffed, but followed Ro back around the hedge and through narrow alleys, sometimes running, sometimes walking, and sometimes back the way they came. They had just paused behind a small park bench when Sara poked Ro and asked in a whispered scream just what she thought she was doing leading her around in the middle of the night just to crouch behind a park bench and freeze. Ro rolled her eyes.

“You know about the cranial implant, right?”

Sara’s puzzled face confirmed that she did not know.

Ro sighed. “You seriously think the Pinnacle isn’t keeping super close tabs on all its citizens? Influencing the way we vote? What we buy? How we decide what jobs we want?” She took a deep breath and stared at Sara. “They even decide when we die.”

“Now I know you’re insane. The implants are a gift. They extend life, not end it.” She shrugged. “Unless you’re like me, with glitching issues, then you’re supreme. They say soon we’ll be able to live forever.”

Ro shook her head. “That’s what they want you to think. You’ve been adjusted ten too many times,” she jammed her hand in her pocket and shoved a small, purple pebble shaped object in front of Sara’s eyes. “Unless you have one of these, they can hear everything you say, see everything you see, even read your brainwaves.”

“That’s illegal,” Sara protested, “what about the Privacy Protection Act of-“

“That act is to placate the plebs, nothing more,” Ro snapped, “and I can prove everything I have told you.” Her face was all sharp angles in the shadows, her eyes glowing. “The question is now, will you follow me? Are you ready to join the Revolution?”

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Six

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Don’t forget the rest of the story! PrologueChapters One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

Chapter Six

The Truth Will Out

 

Sara walked into her lab class three minutes late. She made brief eye contact with her teacher, his lenses scanning hers to make sure she had not been loitering. He nodded and resumed the lesson.

Sara took the last seat and grabbed her holo-pad to catch up on the lesson. Something bothered her about the girl at her table, a niggling thought tucked away in a forgotten corner of her mind, but she brushed it aside and began to take notes, her finger swirling over the holo-pad.

“What’s it like?” her partner asked.

Startled, Sara looked up at the girl. “I’m sorry?”

“What’s it like,” the girl repeated, “to talk to the dead?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I think you do.” The girl’s eyes narrowed to obsidian chips. “Tell me, what is the ‘Better Way’?”

Sara’s eyebrows tented in surprise. “How did you know about that?”

“If you had paid better attention at your appointment today, you’d know.”

Ro made a pretense of taking a memo on her holo-pad and snapped her fingers to direct Sara’s attention to her screen. On Ro’s holo-pad was Love’s note.

“I retrieved this note from your lenses today. Should have shown the good doctor, but I didn’t. Are you going to make it worth my while or not?”

Sara’s chest was tight with fear. “You were my tech today.”

Ro rolled her eyes. “You catch on quick.” She slowly clapped her hands three times.

The teacher shot a look at the two girls; a ping popped up on their lenses that warned another disruption would not be tolerated.

Ro shot a glance towards the window and smiled. She snapped her fingers again, pointing to her holo-pad.

Sara read Ro’s scrawled note silently: “Meet me tonight at the house across from your kitchen window. If you do not, I will alert the Pinnacle to your treason. Simple as that.” Sara chewed at the inside of her cheek, then nodded.

“Good,” Ro smiled. She leaned her elbows on the table and cupped her hands in her fists, her short black hair barely grazing the back of her neck.

Sara realized what had bothered her about Ro. Nobody else had hair that short. Not in the whole class. Not in the entire city. There were only two acceptable haircuts, long and straight for women, short and neat for men, and few exceptions. She wondered what else was wrong with this girl as she tried to concentrate on the lesson.

At dinner that night, Sara realized that tomorrow was a High Holiday, if she was still around to see it. She picked at her dinner.

“Sweetheart, the doctor is very concerned about you. She worries that you may have a vitamin deficiency. Have you not been taking them?” Her mother’s coffee colored eyes were soft and searching.

“I have been taking my vitamins,” Sara lied, “I think she was just being thorough.” She stabbed at the pile of beige mush on her plate and wondered to herself where the broccoli and chicken went. She wouldn’t ask her mother; it would only be another red flag that she was not taking her vitamins. She was beginning to see that Love had been telling the truth.

“Be that as it may, she sent a bottle of extra strength over and you’re to take two a day now.” She pulled the bottle out of her sweater pocket and tapped it on the table tap tap tap.

Sara flinched. “I think I’d better get to bed with tomorrow being a High Holiday and such.” She stood, walked over to the counter and scraped her plate into the square hole that served as their trash bin. At the end of every day, at precisely ten pm, the day’s garbage would be sucked down into the tubes beneath the city and incinerated.

“Don’t forget your vitamins.”

Sara turned to find her mother standing directly behind her, so close she could smell something sour on her breath. She was clutching the bottle of pills in her left hand and hugging herself with her right, gently rocking on her feet front to heel, heel to front. She shook the bottle three times with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Remember what the doctor said, Sara,” shake, shake shake, “you need to take your vitamins,” shake, shake, shake, “or she’ll have to report you.”

Something was wrong. Her eyes, Sara could see something was wrong with her eyes. They flashed with lights, green, a beep of red, a dart of yellow; it was almost as if someone was watching her through her mother’s eyes.

Shake, shake, shake.

Emily

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One spring night a young woman named Emily decided to go to the dance at the town hall that evening after all.

That was her first mistake.

She tied her copper hair up in a soft brown bow. Her hazel eyes sparkled as she twirled in the dress the rusty color of old blood. And, at the last moment, she chose the velvet shoes with the wobbly heels instead of the sensible grays.

That was her second mistake.

Her house was just out of the small town of Standish and only a few minutes’ walk through the woods to the hall on the hill. The warm air swirled around her, playing with the flounces of her dress as she walked, sighing mournfully because it knew what the night had in store for Emily.

When Emily arrived the town hall was ablaze with the new electric lights. Couples were swirling, stomping on the dance floor, while the widows and the wallflowers and the rest looked on. A table along the west wall held a cut glass punch bowl full of sunset red liquid with a wooden dipper beside a stack of tin mugs, three different kinds of pie, and a large heap of Mabel Worthy’s cookies that were as hard as tombstones.

Mose Brattenburg stood in a corner at the east end of the hall playing his old fiddle, bouncing and grinning with his two front teeth, the only ones he had left. His brother Frank stood beside him plucking his banjo. He was missing his two front teeth from a fistfight in his early youth, but you’d never know because he never smiled. Folks joked they made quite a pair between them. Rounding out the group was Gus Hill whaling on his perpetually out of tune guitar and Junior twanging on his mouth harp. Their boisterous music filled the hall and leaked out of the cracks into the night air.

Emily smiled coyly at all the familiar Adam’s and John’s and Ben’s before her eyes met his – a stranger in town, just passing through. Tall, dark, and handsome, everything the fairy tales swore a prince should be.

Emily sat down beside a friend on a bench along the wall. They talked of this and that, and all the while Emily watched the handsome stranger dressed in black. He was still dusty from the road, his dark eyes sliding around the room until they met hers. Emily’s heart beat a little faster. She pretended a little laugh at something her friend was saying when she heard a voice as rich as Midas and smokier than a campfire full of green wood call her name and ask her for the pleasure of a dance.

It was he, the stranger. Paul, he said his name was. He had a white scar gleaming through the stubble on his left cheek along the jawbone that made him look very distinguished. Emily imagined a thousand ways he acquired the scar while they twirled on, deep into the night. They danced with no one else but each other while the stars twinkled with tears outside. The wind had told them what was to happen that night.

Finally the dance was done, the last notes of the night packed away with old Mose’s fiddle. Paul asked Emily if he could walk her home, and she said yes.

That was her last mistake.

The trees groaned as the wind whispered its tale while Paul and Emily walked beneath their canopy. The trees waved their bud-swollen branches in protest, but Emily did not see. She only had eyes for Paul.

Paul smiled when she pulled him off the path and underneath a pine tree so tall it had clouds stuck in the uppermost branches. He smiled when she looked up at him in the moonlight with bright eyes and red lips begging to be kissed.

Then the moon covered her face because the gossipy wind hand told her his tale of woe and she couldn’t bear to watch.

In the sudden darkness Emily tripped on her wobbly shoes and dropped to her knees. Paul expressed concern and crouched to help her up.

That was his mistake.

Emily pulled the knife from her dress pocket and stabbed the handsome stranger in his neck, fresh red blood erupting onto her old blood colored dress. His smoky voice squeaked and burbled between his fingers as he fell to the ground like a freshly butchered hog.

She held him as he died and told him her sad tale of how her mother was murdered by a handsome stranger fresh from the road three years ago today. Emily wept a little as she talked of finding her mother’s body in this spot, and now, every year, she takes the life of a stranger so he can never harm another. Every year she digs a grave, and every year she fills it.

The man’s eyes were glassy as she buried him beside the first two under the pine tree that scraped the clouds from the sky. She cried and whispered her mother’s name to the wind as she covered the stranger with dirt, but he was too busy telling stories to hear.

The young woman named Emily took the bloody knife from her pocket and began to clean it. She took two steps towards home, three, still cleaning when her shoes betrayed her for the last time. As she fell on the knife, the wind howled, the trees shuddered, and the stars tried to console the moon while Emily bled to death in the cold spring dawn.

The locals all assumed she had tried to fight off the stranger and fell on her knife in the struggle. She was buried beside her mother in the graveyard behind the church on a day when even the wind was still.

The Confession

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Beginning of tape.

Look Doc, I’m not crazy.  I told the cops plenty, but they didn’t see it my way and stuck me in this looney bin. I don’t see why you want me to tell you the whole mess all over again. You can’t stop the voices any more than I can now; I’m locked away in a padded cell and too old to give them a proper burial.

That’s why I went to the cops in the first place. I couldn’t retrieve all those bodies by myself. See, I had forty-two bodies in my backyard alone. I didn’t use to bury them in my backyard until I got too old to travel much anymore on my own. Couldn’t carry much weight either. I’ve buried bodies in every  state, every last one of them, all those bodies stashed away where no one will ever find them. I was that good. They’ll never be put to rest, not as long as I live, but that won’t be much longer. I’m going crazy in here. They whisper to me in the night, begging and pleading for a proper burial. All that crying and moaning; it’s enough to drive a man to kill his own mother.

Maybe you don’t think so, Doc, but I’m smart. I never would have gotten picked up for murder. I never even got so much as a traffic ticket in all my travels my whole, long life. But then the voices started about a year ago, just a couple at first. Voices of the people I’d murdered. They asked me “why” and “how could you” and whined about how their families would never have closure, like I was supposed to care. I didn’t care then. When it was just a couple I could shut them up with a little whiskey. When it was five, it took a little more. Then half a bottle. Finally I couldn’t drown them out, no matter how hard I tried. No matter what I tried they wouldn’t leave me alone.

So it was that I went to the police. See, I walked in, bold as you please, and asked who I needed to be talking with if I wanted to confess to murder, multiple in fact. You should have seen that broad’s face, Doc. She smiled at me. She actually smiled, like she thought I was some senile escapee from a nursing home with trousers belted under his armpits. “There, there,” she says, “tell me your name and I’ll get you settled in no time. Want a cup of hot cocoa while you wait?”

I punched her in the face. Hot cocoa my sainted aunt. That’s when they slapped on the cuffs and took me to the interrogation room. I thought they were finally taking me serious, but no, they sent an old duffer in to question me. No sharp young detective for me, no sir, just some old fart three months from retirement with one foot in the grave and the other shoved up his own keister. Probably been a desk jockey his entire career.

Still, I took what they gave me. I told him I wanted to cut a deal. I would give him the information about the bodies in my backyard to show him I was on the level, then tell him where I stashed the rest; in exchange, they would give me a cushy cell in minimum security.I wasn’t about to hang. I’ve broke a lot of necks, Doc, but I don’t fancy having one myself. I left out the bit about the voices though; didn’t want them thinking I was crazy. Lot of good that did me. Can I smoke in here? No? Just as well.

Anyway, that fat jackass just nodded like I was telling him a bedtime story. Singing him a lullaby instead of singing like a canary. He called me “pops,” like he was so much younger than me. I guess they must have sent guys to my house anyway, because a couple hours later a cop came in the room looking a little green. “We found bodies all right, sir,” he said, “but they aren’t human.” He gives me a real nervous look. “We found cats, dogs, even some chickens, but no human remains so far. The stuff in his house would give you the creeps though. The eyeballs alone-” he shudders.

He says all this in a whisper, like I’m too old to hear. Finally I let him have it. I tell him he has some nerve lying to his superior that way. Like I’d waste my skills on house pets and farm animals. I could tell you every one of their names right here and now, and what I did before I killed them. I bet you’ve heard some stuff, Doc, talking to the looneys in here all day, but you ain’t heard nothing compared to me.

Don’t believe me either, eh? Listen. Tommy. He was a ginger, full of fight and vinegar, but I broke his back in the end. His fingers and knee caps too. Gina. She had the ugliest face I’ve ever seen. Shot her right in that ugly face while she begged for me to stop carving on her. Mr. Tiddlywinks –strange name, stranger guy – he was easy. I smothered him with a fat green pillow. I held it over his face while he twitched like a fresh worm on a shiny hook. Little Ariel. I cracked her head like you’d crack an egg. Just a little’un, crying, crying, wouldn’t stop crying, so I made her stop. Her momma cried too. Shoulda kept that baby quiet.

I hear them every night now, whispering and carrying on. It’s getting so bad I can’t hardly stand it. All those voices. Except the ones in the back yard, I don’t hear their yowling anymore. The cops must have taken care of them. Animals, they said; I may have been slipping these last few years, but I swear to you Doc, the rest are human, flesh and blood and bone and human as you.

Doc, you gotta help me. The cops don’t know where to find the rest of the bodies. The voices won’t stop until they do. They’ll haunt me till I die, whispering, whispering, whispering till they’re at peace. Write this down on your yellow pad: A man from Tulsa I beat to death with a tire iron, he’s buried in Texas behind an old filling station with a faded yellow star. A teenage punk from Lansing I buried alive in an old chest freezer in a junk yard south of Springfield. A young woman, pregnant, from Albany that couldn’t swim in Lake Ontario, especially with those bricks I tied to her feet. Are you writing this down? More, there’s lots more and they won’t shut up! Doc, you gotta believe me! You gotta help me! Make it stop! Make them stop!

End of tape.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Five

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-There’s more to the story. See the Prologue, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and Chapter Four.

 

Chapter Five

Followed

-10 Years Ago

Inhabitant Vaughn Faul read the next item up for discussion aloud to the room.

“Inhabitants Todd, Merkle, and James are to be banished to the Unknowns tomorrow. We must decide their fate.”

Jonas Pratt, the Supreme Inhabitant looked around the crescent moon shaped table at his fellow members of the Pinnacle. He could see by the way they avoided his gaze that they were waiting for him to speak first. He waved his hand at the Secretary. “Vaughn, read us the charges against each Inhabitant will you?”

Vaughn cleared his throat. “Inhabitant Thom Merkle and Esther James were found selling faulty counterfeit upgrades that caused multiple traffic disruptions, nine hospitalizations, and one death.”

Several of the eleven members shook their heads. A poor, young couple had bought the upgrades at a bargain price to give their infant son a chance at a better life; instead, the upgrades had caused a massive seizure leading to his death.

“Inhabitant Jason Todd was observed telling tales of the old days to his daughter, Sara, by his wife,” Vaughn continued. “She also suspects he has tampered with their daughter’s implants. The findings were inconclusive and the girl will be adjusted.”

Jason Todd was the city’s most gifted inventor. To send such a valuable asset into the Unknowns was unthinkable. To allow him to stay and spread his lies would be worse. This one malcontent could infect the entire city. Still, they couldn’t kill him.

“Send him out with the others, but make sure his daughter watches from home. We don’t need anyone getting sympathetic.”

The eleven nodded in agreement.

“Dispatch the other two. Separate them from Todd, then activate the cranial implant about a mile from the city. We’ll keep track of Inhabitant Todd in case we need his help to finish this.”

Jonas grasped at the air in front of his face and made a throwing motion towards the open end of the table, bringing up a virtual screen. On the screen were partially finished blueprints for a bomb. He grinned, his gold teeth glinting in the half-light.

                                                                 ___

Sara broke into a sweat. So they had found the note; it was all over now. She’d be banished to die in the Unknowns like her father and her friend.

“Well, out with it,” the doctor prodded, “why aren’t you taking your vitamins?”

Doctor Aliah looked so stern but Sara was trying her hardest not to laugh from relief. Vitamins were a small matter next to a note from a dead traitor. She tried her best to look repentant.

“I guess I just forgot. I’ve been a little forgetful since an adjustment I had at school a couple weeks ago.”

“A thin excuse,” said the doctor, “but I suppose I can let you off with a warning this time.” She gave Sara a narrow look. “But don’t think I won’t send a ping to your mother to make sure she is fully aware of the situation.” She frowned, adding, “And there is nothing wrong with your implants electronically, Sara. Perhaps it was only a vitamin deficiency.”

It was Sara’s turn to frown. She knew she hadn’t imagined the glitches, the headaches- even the voices. Those had started three days ago. They whispered to her at night, urging her to pack and leave, urging her to come out into the Unknowns where it was Safe. Sometimes Sara could swear it was her father’s voice.

Her face must have betrayed her confusion.

“Is there anything else you should be telling me, Inhabitant?”

Sara shook her head no.

“Very well. See the receptionist on the way out to settle your bill.” The doctor waived her hand in a dismissive motion.

Sara almost leaped out of the chair in her effort to get out of the room. Amie the receptionist was waiting at her desk, still as chipper as ever.

“Your visit will cost you only three credits today. Thumb please!”

Sara pressed her right thumb to the glowing blue pad Amie pushed in front of her. It scanned her thumbprint to confirm her identity, then the chip in her thumb for her plan and payment information. The pad flashed green twice.

“Great,” Amie chirped, “you’re all set to go! I hope you’ve had a pleasant experience! Have a splendid-“

But Sara was already out of the building, unfolding her board and joining the second tier traffic. A hooded figure followed a few seconds later.

 

A Man and His Dog

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Former Captain Frank Able settled into his brand new recliner with a sigh. It had been a present to himself upon his retirement almost six months ago, not that he had been able to enjoy it much.

He had been on the force for almost forty-four years. In all that time he put away more than his share of bad men and raised two good ones. If anyone deserved a little time in the den in front of the T.V. by the fire with his old dog Champion snoozing by his side, it was Frank. But Martha didn’t see it that way.

Martha was Frank’s bride of thirty-eight years come December, not that she’d ever let him forget it. She was a petite woman, still trim at sixty-two, with thick gray hair she kept neatly styled in the same short waves she’d had since their wedding day. She was a culinary wizard in her bright yellow kitchen and kept their house neat and cozy. Everyone loved Martha.

Everyone, that is, but Frank. She nagged him constantly, from the minute he walked in the door until the minute he left in the morning. It had gotten even worse now that he was retired and home more often than not. Frank never let on how much she bothered him if he could help it, at first for the boys’ sake, then because he was used to her. You didn’t end a marriage of thirty-eight years simply because your wife was a bit of a nag.

Frank was warm and drowsy by the fire, only half watching the T. V. when Martha walked into the den.

“Frank, sweetheart, I’m so glad you can enjoy your new recliner dear while I’ve been slaving in the kitchen over a hot stove, but it’s almost dinnertime and you’d better get dressed; the Peterson’s are coming over and I want you to wear something nice. I laid something out on the bed for you, if you care to wear it sweetheart.”

Frank looked at Martha. The fire snapped and crackled, shadows and lights playing across her face, catching the whiteness of her teeth and the redness of her smile. She always wore that red lipstick when guests were over, another thing Frank couldn’t stand; the way it smeared over her teeth an into the cracks around her mouth as she ate, the way she laughed her loud, braying laugh with those red-flecked teeth after drinking a little too much wine, how flirtatious the wine made her.

“Frank, dear, hadn’t you better hurry?”

He snapped his recliner upright and scratched the back of his head.

“I reckon I’d better Martha,” he sighed, “I reckon I’d better.”

That night at dinner Martha drank heavily. Dan Peterson took a long swallow from his glass and addressed Frank.

“So Frank, how are you finding the retirees club, eh? Living fun and fancy free?”

“Yeah Dan, I guess we’ll have to get together in the park and play checkers like all the other old men,” Frank chuckled, stabbing at his dry steak.

“Kim’s been keeping me busy around the house,” Dan winked at his wife, “chores and whatnot, you know.”

“Oh Dan, I haven’t really,” Kim protested, “just spring cleaning the garage is all.”

“Spring cleaning should be done in spring, right Frank,” Dan guffawed.

“Good for you Kimmy dear,” Martha chimed in, “I can’t get Frank to budge from his comfy new recliner,” she laughed into her wine glass.

Frank stabbed again at his steak with a wry smile. Dan coughed and took another long swallow, draining his glass.

“Have some more wine, Dan?”

“No thanks, Martha. Excellent dinner though. I think we’d better be getting along home now.”

“Oh, but it’s barely eight, and besides, you haven’t had dessert,” Martha winked and licked her lips, smearing the hideous red lipstick like fresh blood past the border of her thin lips.

Kim dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her white cloth napkin and cleared her throat softly, looking with a sideways glance at her husband.

“Yes, well, we’d best be going anyway Martha,” Dan folded his napkin and pushed back from the table.

Frank pushed back from the table as well, though he’d hardly touched his dinner. His smile was tight as he walked with his friends to the door. “Good to have you over tonight Dan, Kim,” he said, clapping Dan on his back. “Sorry about the wife.”

“No trouble at all Frank,” Dan helped his wife with her jacket, then put on his hat and overcoat.

Martha walked up to the party, sloshing her half-full glass of wine. “Sorry about what, Frank? What have I done now? Have I embarrassed you? ” She leaned on the bannister across from the front door.

“Martha, go and lie down, will you honey?”

“No, I want to know what you feel you have to apologize for, Frank? Why are you being such an old prude? We were having fun-”

“We’ll be seeing you,” Dan interjected, opening the front door and dragging his wife with him.

Frank slammed the door behind the Petersons. “Really Martha, act your age,” Frank fumed at her. “Look at yourself. You’re acting like a child. You’re slopping wine all over the place. And you have lipstick all over your teeth. You look ridiculous.”

Martha straightened in a cold rage. “What makes you think you can speak to me that way, Franklin Rudolph Able? What gives you the gall to scold me in front of our friends?”

Frank folded like a house of cards. “Martha, listen honey, maybe you’d-“

“Don’t you ‘listen honey’ me, Frank!”

Martha was all geared up to lay into Frank with a vengeance, but Champion picked that moment to see what all the fuss was about. He bounded around the corner, galloping towards his master. Unfortunately for Martha, he was unable to stop himself on the hardwood floor and crashed into her legs. The wine glass fell from her hand sending shards of glass and red wine droplets everywhere.

Martha landed hard on her backside with a yelp and a curse. She floundered for her footing, cutting her hands on the broken glass. Champion whined an apology, his tail between his legs, but she would have none of it and began screaming obscenities at the dog.

Frank had bent to help her up, but stopped and straightened. “Don’t talk to Champion that way,” he said sharply.

“You care more about your precious dog than you care about your own wife,” she accused him as she struggled to her feet.

“Just don’t speak like that to the old boy when he doesn’t deserve it,” Frank said.

Martha leered at him, blood dripping from the cuts on her hands and mixing with the wine on the floor. “Screw you and your dog, Frank. You’re a couple of worthless old men, the pair of you.” She jabbed her bloody finger into his chest repeatedly to accentuate her point.

Frank was close to snapping. Thirty-eight years he had put up with this woman. For thirty-eight years he’d provided for her and their two sons. Every Friday night for thirty-eight years he’d brought this woman home a bouquet of flowers without so much as a thank you to show for it. Ungrateful, that’s what she was. The last ember of affection he’d nursed for her disintegrated to ash.

“Martha,” Frank said coldly, “touch me again and you’ll regret it.”

She threw back her head and laughed her great, braying laugh.

“And what are you going to do about this,” she asked, shoving him with her hand. “Or this,” she asked, shoving him again, “or-“

Before she could push him a third time, Frank snapped. He shoved her with all his might. Her body flew backwards, her head slamming into the banister. She crumpled into a limp little pile.

She was dead. Frank knew she was dead. He knew she was dead, and he also knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing her either. He knew what he had to do.

He whistled for Champion to follow him to the kitchen. The dog’s tail wagged when Frank grabbed the peanut butter from the pantry. Trusting Champion never suspected that folded into the delicious treat was one of Martha’s sleeping pills from the orange bottle over the kitchen sink.

Frank grabbed a small trash bag from the kitchen and headed to the garage to get a shovel and a ladder.

He was a strong man, but it took him all night to dig the hole. It was deep hole, oval in shape and not very wide. He knew no one would see him with the tall fence and thick shrubbery surrounding his property. He had no work and no plans for the next couple of days. He had time. At five in the morning, he took his wife’s body and a week’s worth of her clothes and dumped them down the hole, shoveling five feet of dirt back in on top of her. He walked towards the house with heavy steps.

Champion had been waiting for him. His brown eyes twinkled with affection as Frank let him outside into the early morning air. Champion nosed at him drowsily, his nearly white muzzle glinting in the pre-dawn light. Frank held Champion in his lap as he slipped the plastic bag over the dog’s head, cradling him until the kicking stopped.

Frank stroked Champion’s silky ears one last time as he lowered the limp, furry body into the grave. It was nearly ten in the morning before he tamped down the last shovelful of dirt. He put the shovel and the ladder back in the garage and went inside to clean up and get some sleep.

From all his experience in the force he knew they’d never find her body, not in his lifetime at least. No one would question such a small looking hole when they found out Champion had passed in the night from old age.Even if they brought cadaver dogs, Champion’s body would serve as a false positive; they wouldn’t dig any further. The Peterson’s would serve as witness to Martha’s inebriated, confrontational state, and Frank would tell the detectives that she went to her sister’s place to cool off. Plenty of winding roads between here and there. Besides, Frank had a sterling reputation among his fellow boys in blue. They wouldn’t suspect a thing.

Inside, Frank knelt beside the puddle of wine and glass and his wife’s blood, crying like a girl with her first heartbreak. He was sure going to miss that dog.