Tag Archives: picture post

Red Moss

wp-1479488598619.jpeg

Grine stepped off the path and through ferns that grew taller than he did.

Moss abounded in this part of the forest. There was the jewel-green carpet moss that was good for stopping bleeding, there was the feathery trailing moss that was good for packing a baby’s diaper, there was star moss that was good to eat when you had nothing else, and there was lichen that wasn’t a moss at all but two different things forming a union.

But no red moss.

The herbal woman had been very emphatic. Red moss.

His mother lay on her side, pale as the moon, dark rings around her eyes. She needed red moss to help her.

Grine kept an eye out as he wandered off path. The forest was damp with rain, so anything that wasn’t mouldy brown stood out. He saw a flash of red—the throat of a bird.

He had no picture to guide him. He supposed he would know a red moss when he saw it.

Unless, of course, the word “red” was just a name. Like the fruit that was called Blacknut even though it was violet with white flesh when matured.

Grine found a stream and stuck his mouth in it. It tasted of earth. Grine would never be lost in the forest, because he knew to listen for water. Water always fed the river, and people lived by the river.

He found a stand of dead moss on a lightning-struck tree. The mammoth fir was bigger than any other tree in the area. It was like finding the bones of a giant.

He pried some of the dry moss up with his little test-knife. It was only good for pricking baked tubers to check for doneness, it was so small and dull. His knife ceremony was years away. Mother had promised him a fine, sharp blade when the time came. He had to provide for  the two of them.

The moss was not any shade of red, but an ochre brown. Grine sniffed it and tossed it away.

When his stomach growled he looked for the plants that held green leaves like flags over a bulging rhizome. His mother had shown him how to find things to eat in the trees, how to separate good plants from poison lookalikes. The leaves formed a tasteless mash in his mouth and were gone long before his hunger pangs. Grine had brought a quarter of her last pie for morale’s sake. The berry syrup tasted acrid. He rolled it around his mouth.

He did not know how to cook for himself yet. He could bake tubers without burning them, but he was wary of fire. He hadn’t been brave enough to spit meat or roast bread on the coals. Mother had promised to show him when he aged out of his timidness.

Grine heard the crack of a branch and made himself small. A dun shape moved through the trees. Grine had an acorn whistle to scare away wolves, but it would only draw a bear’s attention.

The shape drew closer, and Grine buried his head in the pine needles he lay upon.

The crunch of footsteps stopped.

“Get up, boy, if you’re living.”

Grine raised his head.

It was a hunter. Ald, who hunted with no dog or companion despite missing one of his arms.

Grine rose to all fours and accepted the hand held out for him. Ald was a tall, stocky man with a hand that swallowed Grine’s own.

“All alone, all the way out here?” Ald’s gaze was probing. “What fancy is this?”

Grine found his tongue. “No fancy. My mother—I need to get medicine for her. The red moss.”

Ald’s face set in a thoughtful frown. He shouldered his hunting spear and sat on a felled log.

He gestured to the seat next to him. “Next to me. I’ve got something to tell you.”

Grine obeyed.

“The red moss—boy, it’s not what you think. No moss in the forest grows red on its own. Red moss is a hunter’s term. When you’ve blooded an animal, it drips on the moss and lets you track the beast. It means good luck and sustenance.” Ald shifted a bit. “What she’s telling you, boy, is that your mother cannot be saved. The red moss is death. By finding it, she’d hope you’d understand.”

After a moment he said kindly, “here, take my cloth. Wipe your eyes.”

Ald had to shift his skinning blade to take the cloth from his belt. Grine followed it through swollen eyed, the polished gleam of metal.

“I wish I had better words for you,” Ald said, “I was young when my own father passed. I had to brave the test of manhood on my own. It was slow going. And after that, when I realized that I would hunt only for myself, coming home to an empty hut until the day I married, I nearly gave up. But I must tell you that it will pass. The sorrow will leach out over time and—”

Ald opened and closed his mouth a few times, but no sound came out. He turned wide eyes to where Grine had buried the skinning knife in his side. Grine pulled it out, and Ald fell.

Grine knew to strike fast, Ald was still tall and fit, and he peppered the hunter with the blade.

Ald lay on his side, wheezing like a felled deer. Grine took the knife and dribbled the blood on the dry moss, going back for more several times. Then, without wiping the knife clean, he levered up a good amount and put it in his berry bag.

Ald breathed erratically, gazing up at nothing. Grine left him there, following his trail of broken branches back to the path. He hadn’t needed to follow a stream after all.

Mother lay on her side near the hearth of banked coals, still asleep, still ill. Grine fetched her mortar and poured water in it, setting a small piece of moss within just as he’d seen her do a thousand times. He ground it down to a thick slurry and then, holding her mouth open with one thumb, he fed the red medicine to his mother.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under fiction

Roots

20160329_130103

The plants in the basement never stopped trying to come up. They looked like bamboo shoots, but they were covered with warts. They grew without light and they didn’t seem to need water. They pushed up through the concrete until the surface cracked into gravel.

Pa pumped a ton of poison down there. We had to stay out for a week. It made them go away, but only for a while. They came back bigger. They started moving. Pa came upstairs, holding his shoulder from where one had whipped him. They would thrash around if you brushed against one. Hard enough to break bones. Pa said it was just whatsit. Automatic response. My brother said he watched the thing aim for Pa’s back.

Soon they were moving all the time. They would band together if you came at one to cut it down. Pa got a chainsaw and lit into them, and we thought that would be that.

They grew back with thorns this time, and skin tougher than wood. Pa forbid us from the basement until he could figure out a way past them.

I looked the plants up in every book I could. They didn’t look like anything else on earth. My brother said they were probably mutant plants from the mole people. Pa called us a bunch of busybodies as he poured gas down the basement steps. The plants whistled and popped as they burned. I thought it sounded like screaming. Pa told me to cut it out.

When the plants grew back, they were different. More warts, and thicker. They’d lost the thorns so Pa said to leave them be. We started storing things in the basement again. One night while I was picking out a jar of preserves, I thought I saw ma’s silhouette. It kept beckoning me closer, giving me the cold horrors. Ma was in the kitchen when I ran upstairs. Pa brushed it off until a few days later. He came in the livingroom, all panting and sweaty. He had a root in his hands, looked like a head of something. It was all ragged at the bottom like he’d hacked it away. Pa was shaking.

He made us go to a hotel for a few days while he took care of it. When we came back, he wasn’t the same man. He’d tell us to hush down every so often and crane his head like he was listening to something. We never heard anything.

When the plants grew back, my Pa cried. He went in with a golf club, hitting everything in sight until ma could get him upstairs. When he came back down, he was calmer. He’d had an idea. He would dig up the floor, find out where the plants were coming from. He took a lantern, a shovel, and my brother. Every morning at dawn they’d both go down there, and every night after my bedtime they’d come back up. Pa was cheerful, saying they’d find it any day now, any day. After a month ma demanded he stop before the house collapsed.

Pa died of a heart attack one day, while lifting a bucket of soil to my brother. He stayed down in the basement. My brother told ma that he’d slumped to the dirt, and the roots were on him before his eyes closed. Ma threw her apron over her head and cried.

It was only us two left, so ma wouldn’t let us down there for very long. Something knocked on the basement door one night. My brother went down there with an axe and came up white and trembling. The knocking stopped.

Since Pa was dead, it fell to the two of us to take care of the basement. Ma sat on the stairs while we hauled tools down homemade ladders  to the pit Pa had dug. We had to take care of the shoots everyday or they’d get too much of a foothold. They grew faster the more we cut them down. I swear some of them grabbed my clothes as I cut them. I know they untied the lowest ladder, it was the only way it could have fell. I was on the last rung, made it to solid ground in time. My brother was behind me.

Ma wouldn’t let me go after him. We stayed on the steps and called and called until dark. Finally something struggled out of the pit.

My brother was covered in dirt and walked with a limp. Thick-tongued, he told us he needed help upstairs. And we were ready to, right up until he grabbed the banister with a hand that had too many fingers.

Ma went after him with the shovel, sobbing as she swung. I got his knees with the axe. He kept screaming that we were killing him, we had made a big mistake and stop and think, but he had no bones and his blood was white sap.

Ma went upstairs without saying a thing. I heard the gunshot, got up there just in time to see her stop twitching.

I cremated her myself. No way I was letting the basement get her.

I poured gas down the stairs and lit it up. As it died down to embers, it properly looked like hell.

The plants grew back. They got smart. I woke up to some cops saying they had an anonymous tip about some bodies in the house, I had to come with them. Almost had me, until I noticed their guns were a solid piece, the barrel had no holes. I took a knife to one of their sleeves and it bled. After I hacked them up, I got a new bar for the basement door.

I never married or had kids, I never had time after taking care of the plants. They would scream at the door that I was keeping them imprisoned. One day the bottom of the door flooded with sap that ate away at the wood.  I bought a metal one to replace it. They called out to me with my dead family’s voices, pleading to be let out. I caulked the crack s around the door. All the time, I’ve kept the door shut as they grew in the darkness.

Then, the other day they tried something new. They knocked on the door and asked politely if I would open it, please. They had something they wanted to show me.

What I saw through the crack in the door were two of them, looking like well-dressed young gentlemen. The pit was gone. Instead they’d made a pretty good go at a street with houses and everything. Thick stems like streetlamps lit the way. It went a long way back.

They said they had made it for me. They said we could switch places, I could come in and live there, and they could come out and live. Just a simple switch, and they would never bother me again, they said.

Would I, they asked. Would I?

There’s no one to guard the door after me.  I’m getting old. I’m getting slow. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in years.

Maybe they give me a nice neighborhood with streetlamps and houses and lawns with no more door to guard.

Maybe they wrap me with roots and stuff my mouth with dirt like the rest of my family.

Would I? Would I?

Leave a comment

Filed under fiction

The Incident at Hillside Downs

0724151056_01

Photo courtesy of the ever-excellent Bill Draheim

Russell Bryant stepped out of his apartment in the Hillside Downs housing project at a little after 6pm on a Wednesday in 1992. Intending to check for the mail, on return he found the door to his apartment would not open, even with his key, and was forced to solicit help from the building superintendent. After an interval of approximately half an hour, the super accompanied Russell to his apartment. By their combined efforts, the door was finally forced open. Drawn by a foul smell, the two men entered to find the interior abandoned as if for weeks and not hours. Bryant’s cat lay dead on the windowsill where it had unsuccessfully tried to claw the screen open.

***

Hillside Downs, like other government-subsidized housing, began construction shortly after WWII. The architect was a polish man, Andrzej Budny, who had studied in the secessionist school before emigrating. He drew up an innovative “cloverleaf” design for the grounds, including a small park and pond situated in the middle of the four buildings. Budny himself never lived to see the building finished. One night he told his secretary he was going for a walk of the construction site and never returned. He was presumed dead.

***

A police car dispatched to the Laurel building of Hillside Downs around 7pm. The super accused Bryant of neglect and demanded he turn over the keys to the apartment. Bryant protested that he had only been gone a matter of hours, and had an alibi to back his statement up.

Tiffani Marivich was a single mother who worked night shifts at a nearby hospice. Bryant claimed he often babysat her daughter Candace “Candy” Marivich. That very morning, Tiffani had come by to borrow toilet paper, giving ample time to examine the apartment.

Marivich’s door was also difficult to open. With the aid of the policemen, the door was forced open to reveal a scene not dissimilar to Bryant’s apartment. The sole occupant of the garbage-strewn flat was an elderly woman watching a television that displayed nothing but static. The woman showed signs of longterm neglect and had visible sores.  She appeared aware of the officer’s presence, but afraid to leave her chair.

On entering the apartment, Bryant fell to his knees. When asked if he knew the occupant, he said yes. It was Candy.

***

The park that lay between the four buildings of Hillside Downs was eventually demolished in an attempt to reduce crime rates. The pond was cemented over twenty years before Bryant rented an apartment in the Laurels, the building showing the least decay. The four buildings were named in turn: the Laurels, the Cedars, the Pines, and the Hollies. Budny had named them after evergreens in keeping with his intended theme of renewal. He envisioned buildings that could change easily to accommodate the shifting demographics of future residents, immigrants like himself. Many of his changes remained unimplemented because of his untimely disappearance.

***

Russell pointed to a discoloration in the older woman’s right eye and a scar on her elbow. The scar was from a roller skating accident. The discoloration was a harmless birth defect. It was Candy, he was sure of it.

Attempts to reach Tiffani at her place of work proved fruitless. The elderly woman appeared senile and could not properly answer questions. When removed from the apartment, she became distressed. Only Bryant could calm her.

The super informed the policemen that the apartment did indeed belong to a Tiffani Marivich, he had been in only three days before on a plumbing call. There was no old woman, and the apartment had been clean. He could provide no answer as to what had happened in the interim.

The policemen inquired if there was another resident who could verify Russell’s story. Russell volunteered Samuel Beech, who lived on the top floor. One of the officers stayed with the superintendent and Bryant, who refused to leave the old woman. The other boarded the elevator.

After an interlude of three minutes, the officer in the elevator contacted his partner through the walky-talky. He asked what floor, exactly, did Beech live on? He was on the forty-third and rising.

The super replied that building only had thirty floors.

***

Hillside Downs decayed over the decades, though it never reached the infamous heights of the Cabrini-Green projects. Tenants would often disappear owing several month’s rent. The elevators would malfunction frequently, stopping in-between floors or skipping them entirely. The stairs were prone to blackouts. But however poor its condition, the housing project had never been subject to investigation of any kind. Its tenants were low-income families and recent emigres to the US, and the frequent disappearances were written off as rent evasion.

***

The officer on the ground instructed his partner to exit the elevator as soon as possible. He solicited the emergency shutdown key from the super, who left to collect it. The elderly woman had another fit and Bryant attempted to comfort her. Over the walky-talky, the officer in the elevator counted into the fifties. The super had not yet returned. When the number reached sixty, the officer on the ground left to find the super, taking Bryant and the old woman with him. The super’s basement apartment sat beside the incinerator. The door was closed. It took the combined efforts of Bryant and the officer to open it.

The super lay fully reclined in his easy chair. It appeared he had shot himself some months before, the body having had time to dessicate. The apartment was in disarray; there were deep scratch marks created by a crowbar in the windowsill and the inner doorknob had been smashed. On the walky-talky, the other officer exclaimed that he had finally exited the elevator.

The sixty-eighth floor of the building appeared to be under construction. Raw wood and tarps littered the area. Wind blew through the open walls. The floor seemed solid enough so he walked out, abandoning the elevator.

On the ground, the officer instructed his partner to remain within sight of the elevator. He then attempted to use the super’s phone to call for backup. The phone did not work.

The officer on the unfinished floor described steps echoing his own. Twice he went silent for a period of five minutes, claiming he had heard someone calling. His own calls garnered no response. Either disobeying or forgetting his partner’s request, the officer eventually found the edge of the building and a half-finished fire escape. It was at this point that the ground officer’s transmitter ceased to function: though he pleaded with his partner not to board the stairs, the other officer kept up a running commentary of his descent as if oblivious. After the top floor, the construction became sturdier. He descended three floors without incident until he came to a dead end. The platform he stood on had no stairs leading to the next platform. There was also no next platform.

***

Shawnda Barber, a waitress who lived in the Hollies, had propped a fire door so that she could smoke a cigarette without entering and exiting the building through the front gate. The bucket she used to prop the door fell away, and the door closed before she could catch it. She was forced to use the fire escape to descend down the side of the building. Antoine James was disposing of rubbish in the Pines’ incinerator chute when he saw someone clip the padlock on his bike and steal it. He gave chase, but gave up after three blocks. Harold Kim turned the keys to unlock his apartment in the Cedars building, but found himself stepping out the delivery entrance of the Laurels.

Besides Russell Bryant, the officer, and the old woman found in Tiffani Marivich’s apartment, these three people were the only known survivors of the Hillside Downs incident.

***

The officer on the ground had lost contact with his partner and was shepherding the two left in his care to the police cruiser. Observers described a strange blur, as if the building itself was vibrating, before Hillside Downs disappeared completely. In its place were four excavation holes and the puzzled survivors. After a brief investigation, the city labeled it a structural collapse despite the absence of any debris. The holes were backfilled with filler dirt and paved over. Besides a small concrete memorial, no further construction was attempted on the site. The displaced occupants were re-homed elsewhere.

1 Comment

Filed under fiction

Gladis Root

arum-drakontia

The Gladis root (Geminus clavapoda) is the only living member of the valliscidae family of rhizomal plants. Its only known habitat is a dry valley in the  northern part of Namibia. A German pharmaceutical company brought it to western attention in 1896, when a specimen of dried root was brought back to the country in a material-finding expedition. The root was named, rudimentary tests performed, and promptly left in a drawer in the company’s archives.

Rediscovered in 1963, subsequent tests showed the rhizome contained an anticonvulsant agent and led to another expedition to its homeland. The anticonvulsant was present in greater proportions within the fresh plant, so several cuttings were taken and propagated in Germany. By 1977 the pharmaceutical company had developed Glaxis, an antiepileptic, from the root.  

Unlike its notorious cousin Thalidomide, Glaxis passed the placental-barrier test with flying colors. But it was during the long-term clinical trials that Glaxis’s most defining feature came into the fore. After six months of testing, all of the patients taking the drug began to develop teratomas. The varying ages and genetic backgrounds seemed to have little effect on tumor growth or development: the two largest growths were harvested from a young woman(26) and an older man (72). These weighed in at a whopping six pounds and showed unusual tissue variety, the male patient’s growth alone showed traces of bone, neuron, and adipose tissue. After the trial met an unceremonious end, the pharmaceutical company quashed further mention of the drug and discontinued research, escaping the bad publicity Chemie Grünenthal had faced.

The Gladis root grows in the historic domain of the Twombi people, who referred to it as the “punishment root.” The root was reserved for only the most grievous offenders: those who committed acts of rape, incest, or murder. The offender would be made to ingest the root until they had developed their own “bad twin” who would then mete out punishment. These sparse details were collected by an anthropologist in 1957. The Twombi tribe has since disseminated into the larger Bantu culture, making correlation of such details now impossible.

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction

The Owl

DSC_0137

The owl, pictured center

This is the owl. The owl can appear anywhere, at any time. A stain. A smear on your glasses. You might pass it many times without noticing it. But you will notice.

The owl will follow you. It will appear on things close you you. The rings in your bathtub. The grease congealing in the kitchen sink. It is a pattern you alone will recognize. It is only when the sightings increase in frequency that you will realize: the pattern is not on your world but your eyes themselves.

28.8% corruption

28.8% corruption

The owl will seep into everything you love. It will make the world dirty to you. Blink and rub it out, it will only swim back into your vision. Colors will molder. Light will dim. And with sight go the other senses. Soon you will be able to smell it, the smell of corruption. You will feel its outline on your eyelids, it is embossed into your pupils. It will send you down avenues you never knew existed.

It will change you.

image (4)

60% corruption

Love will curdle. Compassion will sour. The world around you will shrink as it rots, as pieces of you break away. You will not remember the smell of fresh air, the sun on your face. The owl will ferment you in the shelter of its wings until you are just, just right.

And when you are right, when you are ripe, it will eat everything. All that you are. And it is only then, in these last moments, that you will see its true form.

80% corrupTHEREISNOHOPE

80% corrupTHEREISNOHOPE

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction

Antonia Gilchrist

image (1)

The actress herself

Antonia Gilchrist was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1899 to a theatrical family. There was aristocracy in her blood, which manifested itself in her cold and proud screen presence. She was educated in a finishing school in France before emigrating to the U.S. in 1918. She worked as a typist before being discovered by a passing movie executive who nearly swooned when she locked eyes with him.

…This is what the official press packet reads.

In reality, Anna Soames was born in Lincoln, Nevada in 1888 and simply migrated south, rather than trans-Atlantically, with her family to reach Hollywood. Anna had always had her eyes set on actresshood, going straight from her parent’s shanty to the casting couch.

She found more success in the infant motion picture industry than in theatre, where her odd delivery and mannerisms failed to impress critics. It was signing on to Paramount that made her career. The studio was looking for a low-rate Theda Bara and they got one in Antonia/Anna. She could project “willful menace…tempered with wounded chastity” according to one gushing critic. Lack of sound meant that her moody countenance could dominate scenes without her delivery ruining the effect.

Gilchrist’s catalog is extensive, even for the rapidly-paced silent film industry, weighing in at 150 films (not counting her earlier bit-parts and background scenes.) She played temptresses, sorceresses, ingenues, historical and allegorical alike. Her Salome was said to set the screen alight. Her Akasha raised the ire of religious watchdogs because of her boldly exposed navel. Realizing that an interview would probably undermine the image of an unreachable temptress, the studio communicated with star magazines solely through press packets, claiming Antonia’s presence so potent any interviewer would fall into a stupor. The press swallowed it eagerly, providing a few embellishments of their own: that Antonia had seen a fortune-teller who told her to go into acting, that she had been born during an eclipse, that she drank bat’s milk as part of her beauty regiment, and other such flourishes.

Despite this fever-pitch of admiration, none of her films are known to survive to this day. The only extant pieces of her career are a few stills of Dinner For Sinners(1925) her last film, unreleased, and a studio catalog dating prior to 1924.

This is not due to the regular errors of storage that plague so many other silent films, rather, this is said to be deliberate destruction on the part of the studio.

A publicity still from Dinner For Sinners

A publicity still from Dinner For Sinners

Information on the scandal that led to the studio severing ties with their odd star are likewise scanty. Peek, a gossip zine, reported Gilchrist’s presence at a “blue party” on April 14, 1923. The article merely hinted at a deeper story, promising a multi-issue expose. But when the March issue rolled around, no mention was made of Gilchrist or anything surrounding the party.

What little details can be gathered from the periphery of the industry at the time paint a picture of something far beyond the usual sex&drugs scandal. It seemed to involve the child of a film crew member that disappeared during the filming of her latest movie, but in what capacity we can only speculate. What Gilchrist did was said to be unforgivable, and unspeakable. For this reason, any record of her career with the studio was completely destroyed. The only surviving memorabilia languished in the hands of private collectors, most of that did not survive long enough to be transferred to digital format.

Gilchrist herself never made another movie, and for all intents and purposes vanished off the face of the earth. A marriage certificate, signed with her given name and not her stage name, surfaced in a collection of Hollywood paperwork being auctioned off by the studio. It was dated the day of the child’s disappearance. The groom’s name was blank.

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction

Pile Island

aerial photos of atoll

Aerial photographs of the atoll

Pile Island is an uninhabited atoll approximately 380km from the nearest landmass. It is a US protectorate under the Guano islands act, though it has never been subject to mining. Its highest point is 10 feet above sea level and its lagoon is dry. Its guano deposits are almost nonexistent as no seabird colony has been sighted on the island since 1867.

Pile island was discovered by sheer accident when the freighter Soerabaja ran aground of a reef some 60 yards beyond its shore. The crewmen took to the atoll, looking for supplies to aid repair of the damaged hull and found little of note. Only one paragraph in the captain’s log is spared for the experience, merely noting that the island itself had not been visible until after they ran aground on the reef.

ships on the sea

The island, viewed from the reef

It is from the next visit that the island gains its notoriety. The Margarethe was on an expedition to find guano-rich islands of the pacific when they found Pile. Strangely, they noted the reef as being more than 100 yards from the visible shore. The crew of the Margarethe established a base camp on the north part of the island. Along with the guano deposits, the crew recorded the presence of a sinkhole approximately 8X5 yards. The crew attempted to dig a well and assess the size of the atoll’s freshwater lens. The hole wound up being over ten feet in depth before showing any amount of seepage. The liquid that filed the hole possessed an odd viscosity. The crewman who volunteered to drink it reported it had no flavor and was unpleasant to swallow. Later that day, the crewman fell over dead from no apparent cause.

The surviving crewmen spent the night on the island. They reported tremors constantly throughout the night, though the crew remaining on the ship sensed no such disturbances. In the morning, the landing team rejoined the ship and they weighed anchor.

The next ship did not arrive until 1906, the USS Teague, coming to claim the island as a protectorate. Armed with more modern scientific equipment, the crew was able to document the island in more detail. The reef was officially placed at 200 yards beyond the visible shore. The freshwater lens was deemed nonexistent.

The sinkhole enlarged by the Magarethe’s crew had reached a depth of 20 feet with no seepage, impossible in such a geographic location. An attempt to gauge the composition of the soil with a spar produced a hole. Further prodding exposed a hollow space of unknown depth beneath the sinkhole. Volcanic activity was suspected, but the hole gave off no heat that would indicate a chimney. There was no vegetation on the island, so the crew members who volunteered to enter the space had to descend on a rope anchored with a series of belaying pins.

In what little light filtered through the hole, the crewmen could discern a cave system at least as expansive as the atoll itself. The crewmen could also see faint markings on the rocks which they at first dismissed as ore leakage; when they were passed down a ship’s lantern they could discern that the markings were what appeared to be representational pictoglyphs. The glyphs themselves depicted a series of scenes that seemed apocalyptic in nature, containing fanciful creatures not known to man. No Polynesian presence on the island has been confirmed before or since, leaving the origin of these pictoglyphs a mystery to this day.

pictoglyhs

A photgraph of the glyphs, circa 1967

Once topside, the sailors complained about a vibration that had begun in the marine cave and persisted after they came up. They were given a cursory examination and no physical symptoms were found. As the landing party camped that night, they, too, felt the tremors that the Margarethe’s crew had described, this time accompanied by an atonal chiming sound. The ship’s seismograph recorded nothing during the night. In the morning, the sailors that had descended into the cave were found dead.

The Teague set sail for Palmyra, to deliver the dead and report their findings. They did not return to the island. Pile was not one of the atolls chosen for nuclear testing during WWII, nor was it deemed strategically important enough to be the site of a base. In 1935, the island was declared a wildlife preserve. The few expeditions undertaken since 1906 have been by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who also restrict access to the island.

The reef’s last recorded distance was 500 yards from the island.

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction

The Dorset Culture

dorset2

Photograph from the Cook expedition, 1907

The first people were giants
Their chests were broad and their hands could grab seals whole
They walked with spirits on the ice and never fell through
Though they were strong, they did not possess the tools of war
And the new people drove them back from the sea

—Excerpt from An Oral History of Baffin Island

The Dorset people predate modern-day Inuit of the Arctic Circle. A relatively recent archaeological find, the Dorset were culturally distinct from their Inuit successors, who dubbed them Sivullirmiut (meaning “first people.”) Though the Dorset culture has left significant archaeological record, no physical remains of the people themselves are known to exist.

Interestingly, the Dorset people have migrated into folklore, much in the way of “terror birds” in New Zealand or the Orang Pendek of Malaysia. Baffin island mythology speaks of a race of giants inhabiting what are modern-day Inuit settlements; slow, shy people who showed them the technique of ice fishing and lived in longhouses.

Not all appearances by the Sivullirmiut were benign, however. In an interview conducted by the Stefansson expedition on Wrangel Island, a Chukchi elder spoke of giants who stole and consumed children, so unmoved by cold that they would conduct raids even during the heart of a blizzard. The elder also showed expedition members two artifacts: a desiccated human foot measuring nearly a meter long and a scalp of red hair the size of a seal pelt. Both artifacts were claimed by the expedition and subsequently lost in the disastrous return to the United States.

Other such artifacts have been documented by various arctic expeditions, but no physical specimens have survived to undergo modern-day scrutiny. A photograph from Frederick Cook’s North Pole expedition(seen above) was said to depict the largest intact specimen: a full three-quarters of a body. Cook’s party was entreated to view the “stone village” by the Inhuguit people, a site situated north of Annoatok. The Europeans described a megalithic site comprised of stone slabs propped up in a formation that recalled Stonehenge. The Inhuguit claimed the stacks were door lintels and that the massive structure was once covered with hides. Though the expedition heavily documented their progress, the single snapshot of the body is the only evidence from the megalithic site known to exist. By the time Erik Holtved arrived to study the Inhuguit the tribe members with knowledge of the site’s location had long since deceased.

What caused the demise of the Sivullirmiut giants is still unclear, though it is generally agreed upon that the culture went extinct around the time of the medieval warming period( roughly 1500C.E.) Nunavut folklore holds that the giants were doomed to die with the ice that gave them life, and that the new people long ago chased the straggling survivors into the sea. There is also historical evidence that early Norse travelers came into contact with the Sivullirmiut some time before their extinction.

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction

Forgotten Silver

Prospector traveling by mule

Franklin, CA is not unlike many such towns that appeared in the time of the Silverado mining boom. Its curbstone was a moderate one: worth perhaps $360,000 in total. Nonetheless, the town at peak population numbered at 50,000 or above. At a point when the curbstone had been tapped nearly dry, the town kept afloat by the prospecting of “blind leads,” the most notable event in town history occurred.

Wladyslaw Krusinski,a German of polish extraction, had been undertaking a survey of the local terrain for two weeks. As it was customary for miners to miss their projected date by several days, alarm was not raised until Krusinski’s burro, Good Fortune, arrived in town without him. The trappings on its back were askew and improperly fastened. It was noted that the saddle rode upside-down as if it had been mounted in a hurry.

Krusinski arrived in town three days later.

Written records are unclear at this point. Though much detail was embroidered into the account of Krusinski’s mule, the man’s overall state of physical, mental, even spiritual wellbeing went unremarked. The only comment on his status was the ambiguous remark that he had “caught some bad shade,” which could indicate anything from sunstroke to tuberculosis. Records indicate that he was given food and water at the town’s jail-cum-hospital and then, for all intents and purposes, forgotten.

A day later the town’s sole remaining newspaper, the Franklin Mint, ran a story about the “lost miner hoax,” expressing grudging admiration for the prankster who had gone so far as to implant records of Krusinski’s mining history in the town ledger. It pointed out the impossibility of Krusinski’s being put up in the jail as the town had never been large enough to require one. If all else failed, the editorial quipped, one could simply remember that there had never been a man by that description in town or else someone would remember meeting him.

The next day the paper ran a retraction, apologizing for a grave miscalculation. It had been running reports of independent mining companies numbering in the twenties, when the real estimate was under ten.

The next issue expressed puzzlement at recently discovered mockups of past issues, as the paper was no older than a day. It ran an introductory story, entitled “camp life,” extolling the virtues of the recently-founded camp. It listed the assets as: one chapel, one alehouse, and five independent mining companies. It also apologized for publishing a “patently false” staff list, as the real staff took up but a third of the printed roster.

This is the last issue of the Mint. These collected papers were wrapped around a silver ingot, stuffed in the saddlebag of a riderless mule. The mule also carried provisions that would support a single man for several days. The mule bore bit and bridle as if whoever packed it had every intention of journeying, but no rider was extant.

Franklin was assumed abandoned in the traditional fashion, no exploratory party was ever mounted. Later visitors(in 1906 and again in 1963) found the town untouched, with personal effects laid out as if set down in the middle of use. Unprocessed silver lay in slag heaps at the mill, the printing press with a story half laid out. Plans to designate the town as a tourism destination fell through due to lack of interest.

Local amateur historians claim the area the town inhabited was named “ghost silver” in the tongue of the Weekeaw tribe. There is no record of any such tribe ever existing.

Leave a comment

Filed under microfiction

The Maze and the Monster

“I am aware of your skill,” the king said, “so you and you alone have been tasked for this. It must be exactly to life. Exactly.”

Daedalus bowed low, averting his eyes as was proper. “But your majesty…I don’t quite understand. What does the queen need with an artificial cow?”

“You have heard the rumors?”

Daedalus chanced a look. The king was grand and impassive, more like a statue than the marble bust he had already commissioned. The crown omnipresent in every depiction of the man shone with the sun’s fire.

“I…suppose I have, your highness. Most defamatory and foul, unsuited for your divine spouse.”

“Pasiphaë has a most unusual taste,” the king commented without emotion, “and my love for her leaves her beyond reproach. If she wishes to share congress with a bull, so be it.”

There was no warmth in his words. Finally Daedalus nodded. He had his own child to feed, not much younger than the suckling princess.

“It will be done, your grace.”

 

The two men walked a great stone wall.

“The walls will be in excess of nine cubits?”

“They will, your grace. And even then, the labyrinth will be enclosed. There will be no hope of escape for anything inside, be it prisoner or…otherwise.”

The king nodded grimly. “The queen passed in birth to that monster. Pierced by its horns.I will not claim it as my own, merely sentence it to the life it has earned.”

“If you’ll forgive my forwardness, why not just kill it, your grace?”

The king grimaced. “Obviously, Zeus has cursed my family. What else would explain it? I cannot risk further fall from favor with the gods.”

Daedalus swallowed. He had been waiting to ask the question for some time.

“My king?”

The king was looking down at the maze with the air of a man hunting fish in a pool.

“The queen has only just given birth?”

The king smiled grimly. “Given life, and then breathed the last of her own.”

Daedalus licked his lips, which were drying too quickly. “Only—you commissioned me for the bull not four months ago.”

The king’s face was unreadable. “Yes, Daedalus?”

The inventor gave up. “A most unfortunate birth.”

 

The labyrinth’s doorway was the last thing to be finished. Wrought iron gates were lowered into place, amphorae filled with oil stood in place of lamps.

The inventor stood beside the king. His own son climbed the ramparts. The little princess watched from the ground, her skirts tucked around her legs.

“The maze is a thing of beauty, Daedalus.” The king made a gesture of benediction. Daedalus smiled, but looked beyond the king to his son. Icarus balanced along the outer structure. The palace guards watched him closely.

“This lock is most ingenious. Show me how it works?”

Daedalus stooped forward and showed the king the sliding cylindrical puzzle that locked the outer gate. It was as fine as anything he had ever built. For the first time since Daedalus had come to court, the king smiled.

“No beast could work that with their crippled paws?” he asked, and then laughed sharply. Even the guards winced at the sound. Daedalus saw Icarus descending from the roof and rushed to help him, eager for the excuse. In his hurry, his carelessness, he knocked the king. The king stumbled, and the crown that seemed eternally fixed to his head fell.

Daedalus gasped. Minos covered his scalp with his hands, red-faced and trembling with fury.

Daedalus earned a place in the labyrinth. Of course, they did not expect the designer of such an elegant prison to stay for long. Even after he escaped, Daedalus refused to talk about the court of Minos.

 

“So you see, I have been hungry for company ever since,” Phaedra said.

Theseus sprawled out on plush rugs, eating from a plate of figs. He was shining from the bath she had recently bade her handmaidens to give him.

“So you did not mind, even when you thought me a commoner?”

“Have you lived as a prince your whole life?” Theseus was silent. “Then it does not matter. You are who you are, and you are here to end suffering.”

Theseus scoffed.

“Was it not you who told me that?”

“It was.” Theseus swallowed a mouthful of fruit and washed it down with wine. “But I meant my people’s suffering.”

“All suffering is one suffering. We suffer too. Not only is my father hated and feared, but the whole kingdom. Our merchants are charged tariffs too steep to make a living, our sailors are pelted when they sail into port.”

“Yes, but my people’s portion of suffering far outstrips yours. Any relief besides theirs in my quest is incidental.”

Phaedra’s eyes sparkled in the dark. “But even so.”

She gave him thread and a kiss from lips as red as pomegranates. The fresco of the queen in the throne room was almost a mirror of the girl, though she had Minos’s chin and something diabolically clever hiding in her face.

 

The labyrinth stank. It stank of bones and old meat and fear. When the princess had played in it, it was smooth stone and exquisite carvings. Something had carved out a path of suffering through every hall. Lamps were broken or upset, any ornamentation was brutally scratched from the stone. The place was terrifying even before he got to the bodies.

The youths from the last year’s lottery. Theseus felt the skin on his back tighten. Most sprawled out where they had fallen, hands up to fend off some attacker, nude as Theseus himself. The sword he now carried had been wedged in a ventilation crack by the south wall, the sandals hanging from a torch. He took them, thinking of the youths who could have been spared with their blessing.

Theseus swallowed his fear and studied the bodies.

There were bite-marks, and flesh missing. But the flesh was only gone from a few select places, and not much was taken. Hardly the ravenous cannibal monster, a seabird would have pick the bones cleaner.

Theseus heard a shuffling of steps and stood. It was not weeping or wailing, so it could hardly be another youth.

Then the monster hove into view.

Theseus gagged.

The thing did not look like a bull. The horns growing from its head were strange, stunted things, beyond that the resemblance failed. The face was half-formed and twisted in agony. Its body seemed to have grown at different rates; one leg massive and the other still child-sized gave the creature its shuffling gait. Though the evidence lay before him, the creature did not look like an insatiable scourge. Its body was famine-thin, its cheeks and eyes hollow.

The creature put a hand out. Instead of a bellow, it gave a piteous mewl.

Theseus struck without thinking. Later, he could not tell the princess whether it was from fear or pity.

 

Phaedra watched him, dark eyes attentive. Her resemblances to her father seemed more pronounced in the half-light of sunset.

“So you have slain it. You know for certain?”

“Yes.” He did not tell her he struck it again and again, stabbing away the parts that looked human.

“Then I suppose I am yours?”

“Are you?” Theseus asked, “with so little courtship? With prince of a small kingdom who grew up as a commoner?”

“What else is there for me?” Phaedra asked lightly, “I am princess of a vainglorious kingdom, daughter of a slain tyrant.”

Theseus could not look at her. “So he really scalded to death in that bath?”

“Well,” Phaedra said, “he won’t be commissioning any more labyrinths.”

Her garnet jewelry sparkled like blood in the light of the sun. When they made love later that night, Theseus had to close his eyes, so unsettling was her appearance.

 

Something woke him. Something he could not place.

Years of training told him to breath naturally, ear out. No sound out of place, the boat gently creaked back to Athens.

His left hand cupped the princess’s head, his fingers dug into the thick waves of her hair. He flexed them, and felt it again. The thing that woke him.

Hardly daring to breathe, Theseus sat up. He parted the princess’s hair, finding two hard nubs crowning her scalp.

“It was quite obvious really,” Phaedra said.

Theseus started. Her eyes hadn’t opened. Had she been awake this whole time? Had she been expecting him to find them?

Phaedra sat up, sheet clutched to her breast. When he couldn’t see her body, Theseus couldn’t stop himself from imagining it twisted and horrible. In his mind, it looked like the creature’s body.

“I sent you in there to stop suffering,” Phaedra said softly, “do you still insist, even now, that you were the only one suffering?”

Theseus cleared his throat. “I told you. Any other cessation of suffering is incidental.”

Phaedra smiled. “And yet I thank you, prince.”

 

They did not moor in the island’s cove, but off the shore. Theseus and a few sailors launched a skiff, Phaedra’s couch loaded into the middle. Every swell shook Theseus’s heart, he watched Phaedra’s face, always. Even the shudder of landing was too much. He held his breath. Phaedra stirred, sighing prettily, but did not wake.

The sailors carried the couch to a small knoll, which would afford Phaedra all too clear a view of the departing ship.

Theseus kissed his ring and left it by her feet.

Phaedra opened her eyes just as the ship flew sails again. She smiled up from her pillows as the prince strode about on-deck, never looking back.

“And again,” she said, “I thank you.”

2 Comments

Filed under fiction