Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Memory Palace

Clack clack of her heels on the tile steps, she's a stair above you, looking back. Dress swaying against her hips. Key in the lock, the darkened apartment back lit by the streetlamps outside. She steps inward a little and looks back to you.

Another one today. Breathless from turning down too many wrong streets. I'm sorry, he'll start and Armand will nod. Is this...? trailing off, and Armand will nod fishing out his keys. Fifty Euros.

"Fifty Euros?"

Sometimes the lad--and it is almost always a lad, will pay up gladly, Others, with others, Armand has push-back

"The cost is fifty Euros." Armand leaned in to his accent. This helped, particularly with Americans, who would rather pay the money than try and make themselves understood. Reluctantly, the lad handed over the money. Armand stood, body weight protesting against his aching, aging bones. Then they climbed the stairs together. How many times had Armand taken these stairs? How many in the company of some love-struck kid on holy pilgrimage?

The technology was about a decade old at this point. Synaptic encoding. Memory grafts. Great for learning, for training, fantastic for embedding journalists--for eliminating the need of journalists some said, for a black market in pilfered and repurposed memories.

Armand replayed the memory, a few times to make sure he got the details of her old apartment right. When she left the place it was in complete disarray. Clothes strewn about as she decided what was worth it to take. Bookshelves ransacked. The haste of a person on the run, and Armand had been minding this building long enough to know what that looked like. It wasn't long, two or three more lads showing up after she vacated, that he came up with the plan. They came from all over, sometimes three a week, enough that he didn't have to rent the place out again: he could set it up instead as a shrine in her honor. At first, Armand told the men she had died, but some of them would become inconsolable at this and difficult to move. Eventually he settled on vagueness. Try never to tell them what drove her away Young men never want ot hear they're part of the problem. It took him ages to replace the dress.

Too hot in the apartment, the two of you languishing in bed, the fan blowing wind from outside. Some joke you can't remember has her laughing. You wrack your brains but it's still gone. She is turning to you and it's the first time you know it. The first time you're certain.

"Do you know her?" the young man asked. Armand had little doubt the recording found its way to the brains of many an older man, but they were too jaded. They weren't as likely to board an--international, judging by this one's broken French--flight to Paris and storm the stairs of this inherited dream.

"Yes, I knew her." (Which was the truth.) "Quite well." (Which was a lie.) "She lived at this address five years." If the lad noticed Armand's use of the past tense, he gave no sign. Armand fumbled with the keys and opened the door and the lad stepped into his hand-me-down past.

Armand fumbled with the keys and creaked the apartment door open. "Just as she left it," he said, which was also a lie. The cramped studio had been subtly curated. The windows to the fire escape were open, and the noise from Paris below drifted in with the sunlight. She's all sunlight and water colors of birds, most of which, thankfully, she left behind in the haste of the move.

"Where'd she go?" The young man asked in almost a whisper. He moved through the tiny studio, brushing his fingertips against the furniture. Armand confessed that he didn't know. He left out the "why," as the young men who climbed the stairs (a few times it had been a woman, he wondered how the program shaped itself around that) didn't like to hear about every other young man who'd been there, fingering through territory he imagined was his alone to claim. It was best to let them down easy when it came to these things.

"What was she like?"

Don't you remember?" was Armand's standard reply. The lad sighed, frustrated. He remembered the week, of course. He remembered the apartment, but there were corners of it into which he never intruded. Seeing the place now, fully realized, made the memory flat and unreal, like visiting a childhood haunt after so many years away. Perhaps this, Armand suspected, was why he never saw the old men. It was a feeling by then they knew all too well.

Armand led no life of great adventure or acclaim. Indeed, to his lasting regret he hardly ever left Paris, though he supposed he should be grateful in this era of memory proliferation for that. Grateful that he never tarried too long with some girl through the lazy long afternoons of the last days of summer. His memories were worthless.

No. Not worthless. Unglamorous. For he had known love in his life, though perhaps not the desperate, longing, impossible kind of the type to be bought second-hand by eager and self-involved lads looking to define themselves.

She moved to Australia. After the first besotted young men armed with a life that was not theirs leaned in to her door bell and insisted that they had this connection, that they understood her, she packed her bags, and disappeared. It was only through the girl's parents, who rented the flat in the first place, that Armand knew any of this. Not that he would tell the lad. Not that he told any of them. And not that it would help. She may as well have moved to Mars.

"I'm not the first, am I?"

"Where did you get it?" Armand asked, by way of tacitly answering the man (Henry, he said his name was Henry)'s question. Henry explained that near his building in New York, a man set up a table with all sorts of strange and questionable wares. Knockoff handbags, bootleg movies on memory dot, and a thoughtstick full of memories. Henry knew what they were. He'd seen news specials. He walked by the stand every day, casually glanced out of the corner of his eye every day, found his pace slowing just a bit every day, until one day there was nothing. No stand, no sign of the man.

Months went by before the stall keeper appeared again. "I thought they got you!" Henry said in a jovial camaraderie that would later embarrass him. He was more relieved than he thought he'd be.

"They did," the stall-keeper said. "But this is a great land of opportunity for an enterprising man, and I am an enterprising man."

In the Parisian walk-up, Henry did his best impression of the stall-keeper, which Armand imagined did the man no justice. Henry didn't buy anything then, but struck up a rapport that would last until temptation finally overtook him. "I've never been in love," he confessed to Armand as he must have confessed to the stall-keeper. "It just never happened for me. I went to school, I got a job, there were dates, I guess, but..." he trailed off in the quiet stillness of the apartment. "Esau said he had just the thing."

"Would you like to be alone?" Armand offered. It was not an offer he made regularly. Sometimes the visitors could be violent. Other times they would masturbate into the curtains.

Henry's gaze moved about the room. "I just want something...something to remember her by."

She smokes pot on the fire escape that overlooks the city. You know what you are going to say. You are dreading it. Your mind now furious at your mind then. She's wearing the dress again, the dress from that night, bare legs dangling shoeless over the edge toward the noisy street below. You feel strange being out here after so much of the last few days in there. As though the apartment has been your world and sitting out here, watching the sunset, you may as well be astronauts.

A not-uncommon request. "Oh, well, Monsieur..."

"Henry. Just Henry."

"Monsieur Henry, by now you have surely deduced your friend Esau was hardly the first to pass along this lost week. I cannot very well pawn off the Mademoiselle's things to every young who climbs these stairs."

"Bad for business," Henry mused, another all-too-familiar aspect of Armand's dealings, the contempt of the customer, creeping in.

"As you say." Armand admitted. It took practice to make the next part sound unpracticed. "Although...New York City, you say?" Henry nodded at this, still sullen, still scanning the room for some magical trace of her. "Were you born there?"

"No, I grew up in Minnesota." His tone was absent-minded, though still vaguely contemptuous. Armand did not mind. He was a simple man. He chose not to dwell too long on the inherent unethics of charging admission to a departed woman's memory. He was paying nothing in upkeep for the place! And where was this fellow Henry to be so sneerful? What did he expect with such stolen goods?

"Monsieur Henry, I think we can come to an arrangement."

In the end, Henry took the dress. They always take the dress. And after the two of them visited a local memory transfer center, Armand brought out a new dress, incensed it with her perfume, and sat back in his office and remembered seeing New York for the first time.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Jun 25, 2015



"Have you seen my hand?" It was an obvious question, the one Frank should have been prepared for.

"Which one?" He punted. Sophie had, like, four hands, not counting the two she was born with.

"The scrying hand. The one I traded that cyclops three wishes for? At the farmer's market?"

"Haven't seen it, babe."

"If I come in there, am I going to find a glowing severed hand in with all your studying?"

"Did you check under the stairs? Sometimes body parts wander to the crawl space."

"That's only the replacement feet. The hands we keep on hooks, remember? So I can find them."

"Right." Just a few more passages to memorize. Then he could slip the hand into the couch cushions, with the remote, wait a few hours, then pretend to find it. He knew he shouldn't mess with Sophie's things, but the light...the light just made things easier. He turned back to the page, and hoped Sophie didn't come in. He was sure she suspected him, but pretended not to, while he pretended to be ignorant. It seemed to him a nice compromise.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Jun 18, 2015

Here is the church, here is the steeple...

Halprin and Swift scrambled across the dusty surface of the barren moon, well aware the Temple was rising behind them. The thing skittered--if skittered could be applied as a term to something clocking in at a hundred and forty tons--after them, as enthusiastically playful as a large--oh, so very large--puppy.

Nobody knew whose bright idea it was to enter one of the Temples first. The indigenous life of Veruca was first meddled with by Eurocorp astronauts two hundred and fifty years ago. They all got religion, and none of them returned. It was assumed one of the usual space disasters befell that first ship, until a salvage team found it intact and in high orbit.

The salvage team, too, found religion, but at least they put out a distress call.

Something about them. The Temple is hollow, something like a lung or closer to a fish's air bladder takes up much of its interior space, trapping in Veruca's thin atmosphere. How what happened next happened is a mystery akin to "who first decided drinking fermented milk was a good idea?" or "who invented pasta?," and these sorts of mysteries always bugged Halprin. Someone on the first colony ship stepped in to one of the Temples--probably, but then who knew?--unaware it was a living organism. That someone was immediately flooded with a deep sense of relief, bordering on euphoria, and the sense of a presence, divine and otherworldly, watching over them. That first settler, he or she, proceeded to take his or her helmet off, kneel down, and pray. Then came other settlers, who settled in alongside. Due to the negligible bacterial makeup on Veruca, they didn't properly decay when they died. They were more...mummified, their faces still rapt in worship, staring forward into the eyes of God.

None of this seemed to bother the Temples. They seemed hardly to notice unless they were awakened, but didn't make an effort to eat anybody (that was a different orifice altogether from the lung) they just wanted to play. They just wanted to understand.

Swift breathlessly radioed the shuttle, and Halprin cast a look back through the periphery of his helmet at the skittering Temple. He could swear it was doing some kind of cat-like butt wiggle.

Amanda was in there. She'd found religion, and she probably wasn't coming out.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Movie Trailers: Jurassic World

The Island was home. He was always meant to go back. From the moment they found him, a scared, skinny boy, barely thirteen, marooned on an island full of ancient, reptilian things, he was being pulled back. From the moment he stepped off the airplane back in America, greeted by a throng of reporters--more faces, he thought, than he'd ever seen in his life--eager to know everything about the Boy Raised by Dinosaurs.

He did his best to live up to what was expected of him, or what he thought was expected. He adopted a persona, careful, deliberate, made up of half-remembered movies starring brave and daring men. He was gracious to interviewers. He did not mention that cooked meat made him sick, now. He did not mention what raw struthiomimus tasted of.

He was thankful when the fame dried up, but he was expected then to have a job, to buy a car, to rent an apartment, to have opinions on sports teams appointment television and cars and the Rolling Stones vs the Beatles and taxes and the weather and how would you like your coffee and who should be President and is retirement right for you and global warming and God. The beasts who raised him, whose cold reptilian eyes filled his uneasy sleep, had a clarity of purpose, uncluttered.

He worked an ill-fitting job with ill-fitting people in ill-fitting clothes. He ate bland food and watched Reality TV. He dreamt every night of that other family, deep, unsettling, saurian dreams.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Jun 11, 2015

The downed skytrain's aura bled rainbow fumes into the noontime air. How long had it rested there, with the engines still pumping out magnetic poison into the winds surrounding the old city? Skytrains ran on an old fusion magnetar, the thing could run a hundred years.

Josephine had the wi-fi helmet which meant she was in charge. Imelda and Carlotta flanked her, making checks along the bent and blasted hull of the thing. Josephine radioed in that they found it. The Wreck of the HMS Zachary Taylor. Shot down, presumably by Creationist Scavengers, in the Texas desert twenty-one years ago. The nightmares the aura bleed must have given their children.

"Except that's wrong," Imelda noted, looking back at the blast point. "This explosion, the metal, it's bent--"

"Outward, yes," Josephine finished the thought for her. Their recon mission had just become a cold case.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Jun 4, 2015

"You cheated," the dragon said, not un-fondly.

"Whazzat? You'll have to speak up!"

How long had they been playing? Since the old man's hair was ginger and his back unbent. Sometimes the dragon won. Sometimes the old man won. Most of the time the old man cheated.

It was the last day of summer. The dragon was savoring the light, the quality of it, filtering through the trees as the sun went down. Soon enough the world would grow colder and the dragon would burrow back to his cavern and the old man would hole up in his hut and wait out the cold and the dark. It occured to the dragon that the old man might not see the end of this winter. It was the way of humans. They came and went, mayfly-like. Until he befriended the then-boy, all those years ago, the dragon never paid them any mind. Now he was dreading coming to miss one of them.

The stake in the game was the skull of the poet Rathanar, greatest of his age. The old man had a different tale each time as to how he acquired it. They each wound through manuvers made familiar by decades of accumulated time. Ticks, tricks, inside and out. The dragon did not expect he would find another partner after the old man passed on. Not even one of his own kind.

The old man's Reanimated Spurling leapt, but too late, as the dragon countered with Song of Falling Leaves, and it clattered into an off-square. Forfeit.

"Drat!" The old man spat. And then, after a moment, "Another game?"

"Certainly," the dragon said. There were still a few hours of daylight left.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Home Shopping

47:265:18:21:23                       19:54                       44:119:6:45:45

"Welcome back to the program. Next up we have this one-of-a-kind item, only 999 more in stock. This is an authentic Alabrascan Cloak of Invisibility. Notice the seamless stitching, the craftsmanship. now, you just slip it over your head and--voila! I'm invisible! There are a hundred practical appli--let me just slip this off here--a hundred applications for a cloak of invisibility. Need to get out of work early, or perhaps you wanna know whose always stealing the last cookie from the cookie jar? My wife knows what I'm talking about. Right? I love you, Sabrina."

47:265:18:34:58                       20:07                       44:119:6:32:10

"Let's say you really want to know where all those cookies are going, but maybe the cloak of invisibility wasn't for you. Well, we have the perfect thing up next. This little guy is the Ring of Truth, and we have just under 1200 available right now. Quite simple, you put this on someone--I'll use my own hand here so you can get a look at how this fits--that's nice, isn't it? Watch the eye open, that's how you know it's working. Anyone wearing this ring, and that includes me right at this moment, is compelled to tell the truth. It's that simple. I cannot tell a lie! And I can't lie that we have some wonderful bargains coming up in the next hour for you, from the Dwarf Mines of Ilzarach to the Elvish treesmiths of Farandanare. So stay right..ha...stay right with us. That's...that's a little tight. That's a little tight, I'm not gonna lie. I can't lie! Always check your ring sizes, people? If you're buying this or any magical artifact for a loved one, be sure to always...yeah, that's on there good. Ok! I'm getting the wave from my producer Cornelius. You're a gentleman and a scholar, Cornelius. And I must mean that! Moving right along to

47:265:18:35:28                       20:09                       44:119:6:30:40

"item 4523, this is a collection of potions from the Gnomish Guild of Apothecaries. It's a potion kit! All you need to start your beginner's course in the pharmacological arts. There's a strength potion here, one for speed, here's one to help you see in the dark. Sorry, fellas, no love potions! Hah! Hah. Just, you know, your standard virility. In case, well, in case you've been getting complaints. And it's a good job too if you are! That is, you know, communication is key, and it's a good job if you're talking these things out rather, than, hey, it's like I always say, talk it out, don't step out! We could put that on a bumper sticker. How 'bout that? Anyway, so this, look at this high quality bag these gems come in. Zero in on that. An individualized pouch for each of your tinctures and herbs. Mind you, I say 'high quality' but when it comes to Gnomes...Right, I'm getting the wave again! Sorry about that, folks! Cornelius likes to keep me on task, not sidetracking into things, let's be honest, everyone knows to be true--But hey, that's not what we're here for. If you check out the link on your screen, you can find a full inventory of potions available with this fine purchase. I  highly recommend the virility potion. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about."

47:265:18:37:18                       20:11                       44:119:6:28:50

"But why worry about all that when you can play with your wand! I'm kidding, of course, which is a thing you can still do under a truth ring, it's just...sometimes uncomfortable. We have an excellent wand to show you here, this is authentic oak from the Twilight Forest of Oldhamshire. Perfectly shattered here out of the aged oak and programmed with more than 15 different custom spells. Folks, that's right, if you call within the next fifteen minutes, our Elvish spellsingers will impart 15 spells that you can select from more than 100 different options, from your basics like Illuminate! or Detect Magic, to your more complicated like Summon Fire (remember you must have a Class F or above Summoner's License) and Flight. Oh, Flight. Remember those winged boots we saw earlier in the program, ladies and gentlemen? How about flying, that sense of rising above it all. just free. free of your job, of your wife, your bills. Free of all those suspicions that nag you on your day to day. Just close your eyes and try to imagine it with me. Close your eyes. Then open, then call us, over Phone or Internet or Astralling, to summon your very own Twilight Oak Wand." 

47:265:19:02:57                       20:36                       44:119:6:05:01

"Up next we have a rare treat, built by the ravensmiths of Volcano Vale. You've seen these on TV. You probably know someone who has one, even. I have one, and let me tell you...it...it changes your life. The ravensmiths are expert clock makers, and the Destiny Clock is their most...formidable creation. There are three faces, as you can see. In the middle, ordinary, right? That's your time of day. The left face, that's how long, right down to the second, that you've been on this Earth. And the right face, now that's the one that gets people's attention. You can see this clock's a little worn around the edges, a little banged up. This is not a show piece, so don't worry, folks. Yours will arrive in perfect shape. That finish, that's real cherry wood. This is actually my own clock, from home. That's right, ladies and gentlemen! I own one of these beauties. It was a gift. The smiths tell me a new clock, it tunes right to the first owner, so nobody who isn't a giant, immortal raven from the dawn of time is handling your clock before you do. What you're all taking a gander at on the right face, is my own countdown clock. If it'll read on your screens there, that's the exact number of years and days and hours left in my life. Long time, huh? Kind of wonder what you do, with all that time. One thing--one thing they tell you is these clocks are great for instilling a sense of urgency to your ambitions. They like to remind you that nothing spurs on someone so much as a deadline and nothing works quite as well for a deadline than a line that tells you when you're dead. I gotta tell you--and Cornelius is giving me that look again. I gotta tell you that's not been my experience. My experience is, you tget this thing home--and it's a breeze to set up, folks--and you see that number and high or low, that number takes over your mind.

"Maybe you already have more time on the left than you have, well, left. So you start to panic. Maybe you still have ages. See mine, it's just about even. I'm 47. That means I'll still be around at 90, 91. Something like that. All those years. You just watch them move from one clock to the other. You go to work, you come home and the clock has changed. You sleep and its faces change. What are you supposed to do? I stare at it every day. sometimes for yours. I know how useless, how futile that sounds. I know, and I still do it. Getting the signal from Cornelius again, don't know if the clock counts in angry hand signals, but I guess we've wracked up a lot tonight, folks! Folks, I've got this Ring of Truth still, so you know we've been on the level here at the program. Get something else. ge something else with your hard-earned gold. Dwarven fire-glass, we have some excellent pieces still in stock, you don't...you don't want to be watching the clock while your life falls apart. Y ou dn't want to be watching the clock while you wonder where your wife could be at these ungodly hours. You don't want to compare the minutes in your grisly abacus to some other person's, to your father's. You really don't want to get one of these as a gift.

"But, hey! What do I know! Folks, maybe this is the thing for you. Cornelius sure seems to think it is, and we have 500 of them, and let me tell you, it's a bargain, the price on your screen right now. Anyway, I'd better change my tune here. Cornelius is giving me that special wave, the one that means I've been fired, but they don't have anyone to replace me, do they? Because where is Simon, Cornelius? Where is he?"

47:265:19:05:29                       20:38                       44:119:6:02:31

"Next we have a very rare, exclusive, limited-edition piece, really a lovely find. This is one of our rarer and more...interesting pieces. Great for home defense. this is an enchanted dagger from the Blackburn Mountains. Very beautiful, as you can see. Note the rubies there, genuine aetheric rubies, part of the enchantment bundle. See, the great thing about this dagger, this dagger right here, is you can actually STAB! someone--multiple times, in the heart, say, or in the back, my w--well, so you draw out the knife and vwoop! Wound closes. No damage, nothing on the surface except the memory you've been hurt. Now, I know it sounds too good to be true, but look at me! I've got a Ring of Truth! So maybe you're thinking, Oh, he put that on for a stunt, it doesn't really work, well, I'm surprised at you! After all we've been through! (Hah. Hah.) Now how's about I show you? How's about that, Sabrina? Want to know how it feels to be stabbed through the heart? Just watch!"