Friday, March 27, 2015
io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt Mar 26, 2015
The commotion happened at the edge of Castleton's vision. A flurry of motion and a dull, wet thwack. He wanted desperately to look, to pry his eyes to the right, but the caterpillar was already examining him. What was wrong with that one? he thought but did not ask. You don't speak to the caterpillar. You especially don't speak to the hunchbacks.
Before the tenders arrived, Castleton tried to lighten the mood. Gallows humor, all that. Called it the "disassembly line". Made a crack about abattoirs. In retrospect, with what's-his-name being dragged just out of sight, a trail of blood ruining the tenders' carefully sanitized environment, he realized how crass the whole thing came off as, how transparent and needy was his need to be liked and thought of as clever, even now.
He could murder someone for a coffee. Even crappy vending machine coffees. Castleton came to coffee later in life. He missed out on its subtle pleasures, skipping from soda straight to the hard stuff, until a mere couple of years before the invasion. After he'd been drinking coffee steady (Jane got him in to it. It was her vice originally.) for a few months he marveled at the universality of it. Not just the shops and bodegas scattered everywhere, but pots cooking in diners, aforementioned vending machines, the questionable gas station fare. Whole industries devoted to growing, cultivating, shipping, grinding, roasting, packaging, marketing, distributing, selling this one product that was so universal as to be taken completely for granted. All gone now. Probably the beans too, hard to know. The invasion bred an instant blackout. Castleton had no news of the wide world beyond about a five mile radius. No idea about the President, about his parents, about Jane.
The invasion happened swiftly. They were as ants before a corn thresher. Completely immaterial to the process. All those centuries of history, those monuments we built to ourselves, the petty wars and hopes for the future, rendered moot almost offhandedly, listlessly. No one knew precisely what they wanted. They rounded up people, roughly corralled by gender, fitted them with restraints, and led them into the great new structures on the horizon of every city, not so far to be seen again.
There's a certain despair to not being at the top of the food chain anymore. He envied deer. Castleton's father took him hunting, ages ago. A deer isn't self-aware enough to give much thought to how it sits in the whole scheme of things. It's life is all leaves and grasses and just keep moving and hey look there's another deer I kind of find attractive, let's see if I can mate with it Oh crap! I'm dead! No time to worry about the meaning of it all. No deer gods who promised they'd be put up to rule over all the beasts of the Earth.
In the holding pens, before they were fitted with the magnetized boots and weighted gloves, the men reminisced about who they were before the world ended. Doctors and lawyers, plumbers and mail clerks, cops and criminals. The distinctions didn't matter. Guys shared old stories from back before the end fo the world, clingng on to that version of themselves. Castleton didn't volunteer his story. For all sorts of reasons. First of which, small-time Providence, Rhode Island coke dealer just didn't have the same ring to it as the guy who was a sergeant in the Marines. For another, he knew they had it all wrong. They weren't who they were before. Those men they were before weren't going to get out of here. They would have to be something else. Of all of them, the Marine sergeant seemed best to understand that.
The man next to Castleton was tense. Which was saying something, because they all were tense. They were about to go to the body farm or whatever the Christ it was. But there was something else. Something Castleton could almost taste in the air. The man next to him, just out of the corner of his eye, was planning something. He realized, straining with his eye while trying to appear not to strain, that it was the Marine. Gilchrist, or something.
It occurred to Castleton to do something he would never before have considered. He was not a brave man. Not by a country mile. He spoke to the silkworm.
"What was wrong with him?" he asked, but the robot (were they robots? They seemed metallic and light-up) did not answer and continued to consult the holographic display that was, cryptically, listing all of Castleton's vitals. "Not eat his Wheaties, or something?"
The silkworm looked up, its metal expression of course unreadable. But he held its gaze for a beat, which was long enough for Gilchrist to move.
Some of the resistance were outitted with a chemical device. Almost impossible for the tenders to detect, or so went the rumor. Castleton had only faith that it wasn't some bullshit. Gilchrist bear-hugged the silkworm and suddenly the both of them were gone in a deafening flash of light. At once the men were moving, away from the explosion, away from the tenders, and out into the wintry daylight. CLANK CLANK CLANK their heavy metal boots rang against the concrete floors, before out into the snow and the gun turrets.
All around him men fell, but somehow Castleton escaped, made it past the wire fence, and through to the woods. He had no idea how long he would have or how dearly this all would cost him. He only knew that he must keep moving.