Friday, May 27, 2016

Tea and Death

April 14, 2016


"Why are you standing there? Come inside and shut the door behind you," said the old woman. Her hair was the consistency of dandelion puff, and it was pulled back into a tight bun, exposing a face lined with wrinkles and looking like dry tissue paper.

I started, looking around for a moment, and felt a chill wind behind me and shut the door, which was thicker than the span of my hand, and closed with a satisfying 'click.' The wood grain was silky smooth under my hand, and my fingers drifted over the cool, wrought iron filigree that swirled and whirled over the polished surface.

The house was small, but comfortable. The kitchen dominated the living space with a huge cast iron range that radiated pleasant warmth and a smell that was unmistakably cookies. I couldn't tell what kind of cookies - but they smelled of vanilla, chocolate and some kind of spice I couldn't put my finger on.

The old woman had set out a tray with a dainty tea service made of a pale ceramic that looked like it was carved from bone. Without even touching it, I could imagine the gentle rasp against my skin and the sound it would make as it clinked against my teeth. She poured two steaming cups of dark liquid. And though I assumed it was tea, the smell was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I couldn't place it or even begin to describe it.

"Don't just stand there, dear. Take a cloth and get the biscuits from the oven," said the woman.
As I pulled open the oven doors, the warm smell of baking cookies along with the full-force of the oven heat blasted around and over me. It was pleasant and overwhelming. I inhaled deeply as I pulled the hot tray from the oven, and felt tears spring to my eyes.

A brief vision of someone - someone I couldn't quite see or remember handing me a cookie that looked like one of the batch before me. Someone big and someone I loved, but they were a blur or a faded dream.

"Set it on the block over there," she said. "They need a little time to cool. Have a seat, love."

I sat and watched the woman bring the tray over, balancing it with an ease that belied her seeming age.

She set my tea on the table before me, and added a small, empty plate made of the same material as the teacup. I picked up the cup and cradled it in my hand - it did feel exactly as I imagined. I took a sip of the liquid and memories washed over and through me. They passed quickly, but all with perfect clarity - and new understanding.

I didn't see her rise. I didn't see her move across the table. But the woman was wiping my watering eyes with a soft cloth.


"You'll be alright," she said.

Then she went to get the cookies.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Purification


April 5, 2016



"Haven't you ever heard of a cover story?" Kel asked, as she packed up some bread and cheese into her haversack, her pale blue eyes locked on Ocheeva.

The argonian's eyes narrowed. "Of course we have, we are just concerned that you will bring undue attention to our sanctuary."

"You're being silly," said the Imperial. "When people see me, they don't see an assassin. They see the greatest mage of the Cyrods who laid low the King of Worms. They see a soldier who braved the horrors of the Deadlands to save...Well, save might be too strong a word... But close the gates at Kvatch. Why am I in Cheydenhal? Because I need to sort out some Mage's Guild business. The Count is still grateful to me for saving his twit of a son. And I'm this close to being Champion at the Arena."

Kel was setting out apples onto the table as she spoke.

"Fabulous," said Ocheeva, her voice crackling like a fire. "We need throngs of fans lining up at the sanctuary door."

"I'm careful. I've always been very careful," said Kel. "Haven't I always done a good job? Look at this dress, the scales, the ring - there hasn't been a bonus I haven't earned."

The argonian picked up and apple and shined it against the dark leathers of her armor before taking a bite.

"Fair enough. Look, Kel, I'm sorry, it just came as a shock. We're not used to having heroes in our midst," Ocheeva sighed.


"You know better than anyone that I'm not a hero," Kel said. But Ocheeva could no longer hear her.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Silver Streaks

March 29, 2016


Steph stared at the hair on her head and thought the term silver was a little overrated. If anything it looked like a filament of glass, clear and only standing out against the darkness of the rest of her hair. She knew some women could cultivate streaks of these locks, but she doubted she would be so lucky.

No, her mother's hair had a muddy, faded look to it when she had started to gray, and Steph was sure she would age in the same dull fashion.

It put her in a foul mood.

She looked at her reflection, meeting her own eyes and then frowned. There was a fleck in her eye. No, fleck isn't right - it was a streak that swept through her deep-brown iris. Her wide, dark eyes had always been her vanity, and now there was a pale stripe that kissed the edge of her pupil and swam through the color, and seemed to continue into the whites, though it was harder to track.

"What the hell," she muttered, leaning into the mirror, her fingers pulling the skin away, and she could see where the silvery color cut through the spidery red veins. Gingerly, she pressed her fingertip to the area, and felt nothing. As though she wasn't pressing her finger onto her eye - and when the whorls of her finger came in contact with it, it felt surprisingly cool. And hard. Like glass.

When her finger came away, the color - or lack of color - had already spread to it. She watched fascinated as her skin became at first shiny and silvery, then as though someone were showing her the meat and bone, but it all slid to transparent crystal as she watched. It crawled up to her first knuckle, and despite feeling nothing other than a faint chill, she found that once it had past the joint, she could no longer bend it. But that ceased to bother her nearly as much as her darkening vision.

She took a breath to scream, but by the time the air passed her vocal chords it just sounded like an errant breeze. She would have been impressed with how lovely the glass made her hair look.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Loose Ends

March 14, 2016


"This just in, it seems that when the Proto-organic beam from the alien spacecraft engaged with the already toxic atmosphere of the Earth it ignited the sky. Scientists - Well, the scientists that are left - are saying that it caused the radiation from the nuclear blasts that most of the major civilizations had detonated was reflected into the alien fleet. And though the alien craft are still in orbit we haven't been able to see any signs of life. Not that that matters Jan, because as you well know, there haven't been any signs of life on Earth for about a week now, but here we all are," said Tom, he smiled at the camera. His skin was roughly the color of day-old guacamole that had been left in the sun. His eyes, his pride and joy - the color of glacial ice, had long since clouded over with cataracts, but they didn't seem to affect his vision. Mike on the camera was in worse shape, with parts of his skin sloughing off as he took the live-shot. But he was still wearing the WMMT jacket, which contained the worst of it, and the headset had melded into the skin of his face as the nanites worked to repair the radiation damage as quickly as it happened. "Back to you, Jan."

"Thanks, Tom," said Jan. Her blonde hair was still perfectly coiffed, though her eyes had sunk back into their sockets considerably. The makeup she was wearing gave off the impression she was wearing an ill-made mask that was slipping off her face. But it was really just her face that was actually slipping off her skull.

"Word from Google is that their micro-technology has been working tirelessly to repair soft tissue from the ravages of radiation. However, we've just been told that our bodies are only able to tolerate the presence of these mini-robots because of the strange response the population had to the bio-agent known as Agent Jelly, that was introduced when Russia was able to launch the bio-hazardous material to key points in Europe, Africa, Canada and the United States. We're going to Tina, live... or whatever we're calling it now, outside of the capital crater. Tina?"

The shot cuts to a woman who is missing half of her face. When she speaks, a garble of syllables come out, that the nanites translate after a few moments. Techs at Google were kind enough to make the voice in everyone's head sound a little like yelling, so you wouldn't think you were insane. Most people hate it, but there's no one left to turn it off.

TRANSLATION: THANKS JAN, WE'RE LIVE OUTSIDE OF THE RUINS OF THE WHITEHOUSE. SURVIVING OFFICIALS CONFIRM THAT THE ASH FROM THE SUPERVOLCANO AT YELLOWSTONE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR SATURATING OUR ATMOSPHERE WITH RADIATION THAT WAS IGNITED WHEN THE ALIENS ATTACKED. WITH THE LATEST THREAT DEALT WITH, SURVIVING WORLD LEADERS ARE CONVENING FOR AN EMERGENCY CONFERENCE. THIS IS TINA VANKMEER REPORTING. BACK TO YOU, JAN.

The screen flickers back to Jan, who nods at the viewers.

"Thank you Tina. Many leaders have expressed thanks that all of these disasters have come to light. President Biden released this statement:

The screen cuts to a text overlay as Jan reads.

"This has indeed been a trying time for our nation and the nations of the world. No one was prepared for the attacks and the eruptions to come in such rapid succession. Then when Aliens abducted so many world leaders, we knew we had to act. The golden lining is that, despite the high casualties, those who survive seem impervious to heat, cold, hunger and thirst. Which makes rebuilding that much easier.

"We've come to the strange conclusion that anyone who has survived this long seems to be unable to die. This world shall rebuild - and with the alien technology now at our disposal - we can make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Stay strong. God bless America."

The camera cut back to Jan, and she shuffled some papers on the desk.


"Now a word from our sponsors," she said.