Monthly Archives: August 2012

Knock knock

The young man smiling in a slightly apologetic way and holding our dog under one arm was dressed too nice for the heat. The pits of his suit didn’t even look damp. He shifted his briefcase in the hand not occupied by the Shih Tzu.

“This wouldn’t be your dog, would it?” he put a little laugh into the words.

My wife squinted and dabbed her hands on the dish towel hanging from her waist.

“Schatzi? How on earth—” she chewed her bottom lip. “Thank you stranger.”

She had her hand on the gate latch when I stopped her. Don’t know why. I think it was the smile, too cool for an August afternoon, like he’d kept it in the fridge. Or maybe the way he looked at us. I don’t know. Didn’t like it.

So I asked him, “and just how, can you tell me, did a little dog get past ten foot cyclone fencing?”

The stranger didn’t answer, just smiled and blunk at us. Even the blinks were off, like his lids stayed shut just a fraction too long.

So I told him “I’m calling the cops,” and went inside as fast as my bones would let me. In between the moment I glanced back through the door and the moment I put my hand on the phone, he up and left.

The wife said she was looking somewhere else, just for a second, when he went. We looked out on the road, a long ways off in either direction, nobody.

The next day we found the dog, impaled on a stick.

The wife was alone in the front next time he came around. I was way out back, fixing a sprinkler. I wasn’t too worried, my wife wasn’t opening anything for god or man. She said she was on the porch, deadheading the hydrangea, and looking up who does she see but that same young man, smiling as if nothing were wrong in the world?

“Hello ma’am, I wonder if you wouldn’t have use for a brand new, patent-pending canning rack?”

My wife said she just sort of stood there for a minute. He was just as fresh-faced and tidy as the day before.

And she says she said, “Now just wait one minute, young man. You wanna tell me what you did with my dog yesterday?”

And she says he said right back, “I’d like to tell you about a space-age wonder no kitchen will be without in ten year’s time.”

She says she didn’t know what else to say except, “I believe you need to get the hell away from my gate before my old man finds you.”

And she says he said, “Ma’am, I really do believe you’ll want to see this.”

Don’t know what the wife would’ve done, maybe gone on arguing like that forever. But round that time I hear her talking to someone and come over to say hi, thinking it was someone we knew. The sight of him stopped me cold. The young man shifted his focus from her to me, like a cat watching two mice.

“Hello sir, wonder if I couldn’t take just a minute of your time?”

And I said, “You got some nerve, flashing your face around after what you did. You wanna get out of my sight before I get nasty?”

And my old lady put her hands on my arm, with that young man still smiling his damn ice-pop smile.

He said, “I’ve got something to show you both,” and hell if the hairs didn’t stand up on my neck.

“I’m calling the cops,” I said. He didn’t move. “You hear me? I said I’m calling the cops.”

He nodded. “Good for you, sir. Now, about that offer…”

We only looked away for a second. Just a second, I swear. Dinner was quiet, and we both kept looking out to the road.

The next day was hell. We had never had such a bad night, every time I closed my eyes something would creak out in the yard and they’d shoot open again. I haven’t even got coffee in me at this point, the wife, she looks like hell, hasn’t started breakfast, we both go out to the front yard.

There he is.

Neither of us went for the phone. It went unspoken that neither of us wanted to be alone with him.

“Go,” I said, “go ‘way.”

And that young man leaned forward and that smile never melted and he said, “I’ll go away forever if you let me in.”

My wife gave this long, keening wail and pressed her forehead to the porch pillar. My arms went slack—I felt like I’d just been shot.

We didn’t run. Both of us quietly shuffled up the steps like penned sheep. If he left, I didn’t see.

But he was back again.

And again.

After a while we just stopped going out. Neither of us really wanted to think what would happen if we got stuck on the other side of the gate with him and that smile. Specially at night.

You never saw him move. You’d always just look up and see him standing tidy at his spot in front of the gate, and then you’d look down again and he’d go. Seems silly now, but we never called the cops. Promised each other we would, never touched the receiver.

I started keeping my hunting rifle near the door, but all I shot was shadows. The wife went over and over those damn flower beds ‘til they looked like carpets in the White House. Eventually all the bluff and bluster drained out of me, seeing his face every day was like a hammer blow to my heart.

I guess it did wear on both of us, but the wife wore a little more than me. I was napping(haven’t slept a night since) and I heard a howl, like the ragged end of a human being. I found her by the gate, had to drag her half-sobbing into the house while she fought me every step of the way. The front door hadn’t clicked shut one second before I tripped to what she’d done.

There was a knock.

I could see through the front curtains that she’d left the gate wiiide open. And then right next to it—

Guess I’d never noticed how small his pupils were, how his eyes were too light to tell what color they were, how he didn’t have any eyelashes. Guess a gate separated you more than just distance. There he was, just a pane of glass away.

“Hi,” he said, and his breath didn’t even fog up the glass.

Been living inside ever since then. Threw away the keys in the far corner of the attic, where I knew she couldn’t get ‘em. She went crazy again that first day. Thought she’d gotten better lately, only just last Thursday she decided to take the short way out by plugging the back of her head. She missed, of course, woman’s never worked a gun in her life. Didn’t call an ambulance. I dressed the wound, left her in the spare bedroom with a bottle of water and the TV clicker.  Seemed for the best.

I asked him: why don’t he just come in? Can’t be that hard to break glass.

“Because you’ll let me in,” he said, “eventually.”

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Simon’s story(Saturday afternoon)

Very few people know this, but Roses are the laziest flower. They fall behind morning glories, kudzu, even Indian pipe, which is so lazy it won’t even make its own chlorophyll.

The other flowers would plan housewarming parties or invite it to pub crawls, but all it would want to do is watch TV on its girlfriend’s couch. Whenever anyone needed help moving, Rose was full of excuses. I have a headache, it’s a bad air day, my roots have no mobility, blah, blah, blah.

The other flowers were planning a trip to China, to celebrate Bamboo getting a new job, but Rose just sat around on his girlfriend’s couch and watched television. The other flowers knew they had to do something so they complained to China.

So China sat down and talked to the Rose, which is a difficult thing to do if you’re an entire country, but Rose wouldn’t even turn the volume down.

So China asked, “Could you turn the volume down?”

And Rose said, “It’s my favorite show.”

And then China said, “It’s a commercial!”

And Rose replied, “yeah, but if I mute it I might miss when it comes back on.”

So China sat on the TV and then told Rose he was being too lazy.

And Rose said “I was watching that!”

And China said “it’ll be on again. Did you hear me? I said you’re so lazy your roots are starting to put down roots. We all want you to get off the couch and go outside.”

And Rose said, “You’re not the boss of me.”

And China said “that’s because I fired you for sleeping on the job.”

And Rose said, “You fired me because you’re uptight.”

And China said, “Look, everyone’s worried about you, and your girlfriend says you’re eating all her food. Either get up and do something, or I’ll have to send you into outer space.”

But the Rose just went “buh,” so China portaled Rose into the outer limits of the solar system and left him there. Rose didn’t mind because he got to hang out with Jupiter, the laziest of planets. But then Saturn and Neptune got together and kicked him back to Earth because he was leaving garbage all over space.

After that the Rose just bummed around the insect kingdom for a while, but they would only let him stay if he let aphids suck his blood. Then he lost the title of “laziest plant” to the Cactus, but that’s a story for a different day.

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Phoenix’s story(Friday night)

Once upon a time, there was an angry kitty.

He would scream “Gimme all your money!” and the storekeeper would say “aw, you’re so cute,” and give him a saucer of cream.

“I can’t digest milk!” he would cry, and launch himself like a comet made out of rage at the shopkeeper’s face. But since he only weighed as much as a muffin, he bounced off the shopkeeper’s head. Then he went home and cried tiny kitten tears.

One day, when catching moths, he caught a moth that was also a tiny lady.

She squeaked, “Don’t eat me, and I’ll grant you a tiny wish!”

He said, “I won’t eat you if you turn me into a manticore!”

And she said “Yes, I’ll turn you into a tiny manticore!”

And he said “No! No! I want to be a regular-sized manticore!”

And the fairy asked “Why do you want to be a manticore?”

The kitten said, “Because I want to be taken seriously.”

And the fairy said “Sorry, you have such a cute little face that no one ever will take you seriously.”

So the kitten ate the fairy, and it gave him painful magic farts for a few days.

Then one day a manticore came to town. He kept turning sheep into straw and swallowing people whole, neither of which anyone was too happy about. The magistrate sent every officer, soldier, dragoon, and knight against the manticore, but it chomped them all and picked its teeth with their swords. The kitten heard about all this and was furious that the manticore was hogging all the glory, so it marched right down to town to give it a piece of his mind.

When the manticore saw a tiny kitten approaching, it grinned with both sets of teeth and laughed.

“How could you possibly stand against me with such a cute little face?”

Suddenly the kitten sat down, curled its tail around its feet, and started washing its ear. The manticore was in agony.

“Too…cute…” it gasped. The kitten stopped washing and started purring, making giant eyes at the manticore. The beast let out a mighty roar and exploded in a shower of rainbow sprinkles, which took weeks to clean up.

As for the kitty, he no longer wished to be a manticore, for he found it was better to be himself. Because he was so cute he could get anyone to do his evil bidding. And that’s the story of the first Evil Kitty King.

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Arwen’s Story(Thursday night)

One time a horse, a penguin and a dolphin were trying to build a house so they could all live together. But they couldn’t get the house to work because no one could agree where it should be.

The dolphin wanted it in the water, which was all fine and good for the dolphin, but horse couldn’t swim and the penguin was afraid of walruses.

The penguin wanted the house on the ice, but the horse couldn’t walk on the ice and the dolphin stuck to it like a tongue on an ice cube.

The horse wanted the house on the flat ground but the penguin couldn’t walk very far with his flat feet and the dolphin thought the property was in a bad neighborhood.

So all they did all day was nail planks of wood to other planks of wood.

One day a magical gnome was walking down the lane to their house, when he got tripped by an un-magical gnome, who stole his beardgold. Luckily the horse knew fire magic and sent a tornado of Odinfire to trip up the thief’s steps, then the penguin sat on him. The magical gnome was profoundly grateful and asked them what they wanted for a reward.

“A magical apple,” cried the horse.

“A magical herring,” cried the penguin.

“E YI YI YI YI CLICKCLICK,” cried the dolphin. Because dolphins don’t talk.

The magical gnome stroked his beard wisely. “Those are all bad gifts, and you should feel bad. Instead have this magical hammer that fell out while I was trimming my mighty nose hairs.” And he went on his crusty way.

The three friends were brimming with excitement. Now they could build the kind of house they all wanted!

But when it came time to build the house there were still problems. The horse wanted a hayloft, and the penguin wanted an escalator. The penguin wanted a wet bar but the dolphin was a strict teetotaler. The dolphin made a big fuss swimming through hoops and neither the horse or the penguin could guess what it wanted. So they sat and cried.

Suddenly their tears fell on the hammer, which sprouted into a hammer tree, the mightiest tree of all. The three animals wished upon it to give them a magical house, with all the things they ever wanted in it. But because animals are not sensible people it ended up bloated with extra features and weighed so much it fell through the crust of the earth, upon the gnome king’s head. Thus there was much squeaking and rejoicing, because no one liked that guy. The entire kingdom awarded them as much gold as they could eat, and a lifetime supply of shellphone minutes. Except the dolphin. Because dolphins don’t speak.

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The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

For Dare The Starlings

Freeman Craig69sofine dug his toes into a crack in the asphalt and swore. He could still hear the hypnotic thrumming of the Friendroid that pinned him behind the cracked remains of a vehicle, but it was nowhere in sight. Any other time this would be a blessing, but he had run out of scramble grenades and he was sitting duck for any droid that rolled up, be they bookFriend or *chan. He hefted his analog periscope, inherited (along with his screenname) from his father and his father before him, but could see nothing.

It had all started innocuously. In the dawn of social networking, one man had a dream: connection. But unlike others with that same dream, he had severe mental issues, a genius IQ, and more money than god. By the time governments caught on to his particular brand of lunacy, he had already constructed the first Friendroids, then passed off as vehicular apps that kept you road-safe while you chatted.

That this breakthrough came at the expense of the health and sanity of several employees was apparently lost on the multi-trillionaire, who sent viral “basilisk” ascii to every government computer on-line at the time. They retaliated by liquidating his assets and sending forces to his private island, in the middle of a man-made lake carved out of most of the state of Ohio. When they arrived they found a Gordian security grid that took several bunker-buster missiles to crack, and by the time they made it into the vast pharaoh-style burial chamber/home office, the architect of man’s demise had taken his own life.

In his wake, he left one final protocol: make friends.

The implication of his orders became clear when the president was cut off mid-speech on the steps of the senate and quarantined into a proto-Friendroid. After much monetary and human cost he was extracted again, now completely mindless. The father of the country spent his last days dribbling onto his suit jacket. It was too late.

By that time other droids had been dispatched, scooping up other persons of interest, and installing their prone bodies within their depths. Their true capacity for horror became clear once the Friendroid that had scooped up America’s favorite pop star returned fire after being hit with several  barrages of anti-tank ordnance: they were improving. Worse, they were improving themselves. While incapable of independent thought, the droids were able to self-renovate exponentially in pursuit of their single-minded goal. Smaller, more intricate frienddroids spawned and snatched up every day folk.

Sadly, this was merely one front of the apocalypse. On March 24th, millions of netizens woke to a message in their inbox from a friend, their company, of a family member titled only “hey, watch this.” The video was scoured from YouTube, Vimeo, any other site dedicated to streaming video, but new iterations popped up like toadstools after a rain. The powerful memetic virus seized the higher brain functions, leaving viewers tidily indisposed to resisting pickup by a firendroid. Those “rescued” from their brief stay were unable to function independently ever again, and expressed great longing for the robotic prison that had broken them

Once the addictive nature of the enslavement was known, government forces expended every resource not dedicated to military offence to net upkeep, but the virus proved insidious, maneuvering through the deep web to get around government blocks. Those that worked directly with computers were at ever-increasing risk of being exposed to the virus and compromising the remaining governmental forces, until the fateful day the remaining functioning facilities were spammed with a web pathogen tailored specifically to the government agents. What few were left standing after the onslaught ran outside the bunkers, directly into the arms of the new Frienddoids produced in the conquered Ford factories.

All this was lost on Craig69sofine, who, like every freeman alive, was a creature of the moment. History had died in a hedonistic scream of ecstasy, what little collective knowledge remained survived as minor superstition and rituals. What little he knew had been passed down from his father and his father before him, as they clung to existence in the wilds of Minnesota.

His father had long ago left when Craig69sofine was a boy, in search of analog pornography that had become scarce since the Friends took up recycling national resources. While chasing a sunfaded Hot, Wet & Wild page, Craig69sofine sr. had run smack into a display runner, the bane of the feral suburbanites. It exhibited an ever-unfolding panorama of smut linked to electric impulses picked up by the bot’s neurokinetic sensors.

In the infancy of the movement the Friends had relied on various sensory stimuli to assault the human mind on all fronts, until they found that the human attention span, now drastically shortened, grew desensitized to even the most hardcore erotica eventually. To get around it, they developed an ever-evolving erotica, shape-shifting, hundreds of times more powerful than human-induced titillation, developed to keep humanity fed but never sated. Craig69sofine sr. took one fatal look at the tower of genitalia and various scatological ephemera and was lost.

Craig69sofine lay on his belly, fingers curled into the dust. He knew that if he could get to a terminal and direct the Friendroid’s onslaught towards it, he would be safe, though he could not explain why. He crabcrawled to a nearby sewer grate when he felt something heavy fall across his calves. Too late he realized that the new whisper-quiet model had been circling around him, and now it had him.

He was wrenched upwards in a great metal clamp capable of bending steel and brought to face the droid. The helmet was a overlarge stylized smiley face, meant initially to look goofy and nonthreatening, but overtime they had gained an aura of menace. A small canon popped out of the left “eye” and Craig69sofine broke into a sweat, but the device aimed instead at a nearby building. It projected a large cat macro, poorly animated, meowing a signal to its fellow Friendroids. Another friend was detained. Replying howls sounded throughout the neighborhood.

The Friendroid turned it attention to its captive, and Craig69sofine braced himself. Four identical—though smaller—claws  emerged from recesses at the bot’s sides, they took a hold of each limb and wrenched backward. Craig69sofine screamed a curse, his first spoken word in months, as his limbs were broken and neatly reset—backwards. The job was finished with a neat metal brace over each limb. If Craig69sofine ever escaped confinement, he would never be a freeman again. He would be like the rest of those cursed with backward limbs, the Wiki-walkers, free from the net but unable to kick the addictive ephemera, traversing the great underground digital libraries like spiders.

Craig69sofine spit out no great defiance as the Friendroid rotated 90 degrees and opened the hatch, he had no final human truth on his lips as he was slid into the cushioned and air-conditioned wombspace inside the droid, his mouth fell slack as the interior screens booted up and hurled an endless bombardment of images and sounds designed to keep him in memetic thrall while his biomass was harvested. Craig69sofine was a Friend.

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