Tumblr Tuesday: Week 6

So…we took a brief vacation for week 5 (my mom was visiting, it was a good excuse) but today we’re back with a vengeance!  This week’s Tumblr Tuesday theme is “Revelation”.  Not in the biblical sense, but rather that part of the story in which the plot turns upon a dime and new vistas appear over the horizon, or the protagonist reaches the penultimate moment of their tale.  This isn’t the climax to the tale–this is that moment where the slow walk to resolution becomes a sprint, when what was hidden becomes revealed.

Submissions this week are for PEOPLE/A Person.  This can include an animal.  Ideally, an image that speaks to you of ‘Revelation’, but any picture of anyone (human or otherwise) will work just fine.  Submissions are due by Friday at noon.

Please submit an image! The last submission call got no replies, so nothing got written.  My goal is to get a story out, with your help, every week.  If you aren’t feeling inspired with this week’s challenge, please DO forward the submission call to folks who might be.  Thanks!

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World-A-Week Challenge: Week 3

This week’s image was submitted by Chris Richardson.  Thanks for submitting!  Lots of great submissions this week, but somehow this picture rose to the top.  This was a tough challenge for me, as I had to do a ton of rewrites before the story even started to take shape.  That said, I also really appreciate the challenge of what I tried to do with this piece.  I hope you do as well.

Without further ado…

I G N I S   F A T U U S

I remember the car first, I think.  I know it was black, and long, with wide long curves over the wheels.  I can see myself in the reflection of its paint and its drawn windows.  I am young, merely a child, but even then I could take stock of myself.  My cheeks are flush from the combination of the heat of home and the chill that fills the air.  My lips look a tad pale, and chapped with little tags of skin in the jagged cracks where the skin had compressed from the cold.  My hair is tucked under a hat, tightly pressed so I cannot see it.  My eyes are tight, my pupils seem wide enough to have swallowed whatever colours may have surrounded them.

I remember sneezing for the first few minutes I sat down, because there was so much dust on the seat in the back that for a moment it felt like I was traveling in a cloud.  When the cloud settled, I still couldn’t hear anything.  It was like someone had put really strong hands to my ears.  Everything sounded so far away, I couldn’t make out anything, not even the sound of the road passing beneath me as the car started and pulled away.  The windows rolled up as we began to pick up speed and then everything was a dark grey haze as it sped by.

It felt like we drove forever, me alone in the seat and the driver behind the glass far in front.  I don’t remember where my parents were.  To be honest, I don’t really remember my parents at all.  The best I can recall are vague and fuzzy shapes, like wool seen through those forever darkened windows.  Perhaps there was a woman in a dress, wearing a hat that made me think of a bell.  Perhaps a pocket watch dangled from a man’s hands, calloused but somehow kind.  I remember I was almost shocked when the car finally stopped.  The latches on the door unlocked with a loud click and the car sat there idle.

No one came to get the door for me.  So I reached out and opened the door for myself.  There was a small bit of snow on the ground, partially melted into puddles of icy brown amidst the uneven gravel.  We had pulled off of a road, and I carefully sidestepped the mucky pitfalls and stood on a more densely packed patch of stone.  In front of the car stood two gates wrought of iron, gilded with gold.  Lanterns sat upon each postern, but there was still light enough about for them not to have been lit.

The pressure in my ears didn’t ease up at all, in fact it seems like they were trying to pop the second I got out of the car.  It hurt a lot, and it made my head feel wobbly.  I was wearing my grey fall coat, and my white scarf.  Someone had given me the beret that matched for a present the night before, but I couldn’t quite place who.  What I could hear, though, was that click, louder than the car doors, as the gate on the right swung inwards.  There was a buzzing in my head, as if a hive of bees wanted out of the muddled grey flesh behind my eyes.  The gate creaked too, as if it had never been properly oiled and rarely used.  I heard a crunch then, as the car shifted in reverse and brutally pulled backwards, kicking up mud and rock as it turned away from me and slowly began journeying back down the road we’d come.

There were no birds that I can recall, none singing and none resting in the branches of those barren, dead trees.  Only they weren’t dead, just resting.  Resting gently in repose, until the sun and the earth once more coalesced into warmth and sunlight.  I walked up the drive, wide and more evenly covered in rocks that give way to fieldstone until I arrived at the doors at the front of the estate.  More lamps rested upon the walls on both side of the doors.  I remember them being impossibly tall and unnecessarily wide, big enough for four or five of me to walk inside linked arm to arm, with another set of us balanced on top.  I walked inside, and it took some time to close the door completely.  Polished stone on the floor made my footsteps echo loudly through the corridors that spun away to the left and right.  Above me floated a chandelier of faceted crystals and faux candles in concentric rings, illuminating a harlequin pattern on the ceiling’s arch as it fell onto the wooden lined walls.

No one greeted me, nor asked to take my coat or hat or scarf.  I removed them myself, and left them on the small, dark wooden table that nestled in the corner of the foyer.  I walked towards the left hallway, and then decided upon the right.  I don’t recall why, truly, perhaps just capriciousness on my part.  The hallway had many doors, many of the rooms open and the pale light of the winter sky poured through the windows revealing Spartan conditions.  A bed, a small desk, a wash basin.  On each desk appeared a notebook and a pencil, blunted but still capable of inscribing thought to page.  Pale, thick drapes framed the windows in each room.  A mirror sat upon the leftmost wall, reflecting an image of bed and desk both—or would have, if it had not been coated in a frost of dust that muted all but the very basic of shapes.

I explored the empty halls for some time, even as my shoes left temporary footprints on the cold stone.  I stumbled across several small libraries, the walls dressed in dark wood and chairs covered in black cracked leather.  Elaborate metal and glass floor lamps draped in cobwebs sat near the chairs.  Each library was the same, though each had different titles on their shelves.

I pulled a few books off the shelves, dusted off one of those lights and pulled on its dark, tarnished pull and was rewarded with a soft, barely flickering light.  After a time, the flicker stopped and I sat in one of those chairs and began to read. When I was tired, I found one of those empty rooms and laid down to rest my head.  The bed was large for me, but it was somehow comforting to be drowning in sheets and blankets, their warmth piling on top of me until I finally slept.

Over the years, the libraries became my refuge.  I read most of the books on their shelves, books on philosophy and religion as well as adventures and medical texts. Though I never saw any of the others in the Estate’s building, I often watch them rake the leaves, watch the foliage get caught in the weak tin spines and shred to dust.  This is the third day in a row that they’ve been raking.  The trees are long since bare, and the yard should be filled with the dust that once was chloroplasts, xylem, and phloem.  The trees surround the building like a shroud, offering shade but obscuring the world outside.  At least, that’s how I remember it.  My eyes were smaller then, and bewildered.  All I can see now is the canopy in the spring and summer, and the bare trees and the snow in the fall and winter from the windows in the rooms in which I dwell.

I don’t leave the Estate, and I don’t venture out onto the grounds.  I walk these halls by choice.

I do not know the others names.  I have not spoken to them.  I have gotten used to the silence here, crisp as it once was muddled.  I read and watch, sleep and rise from slumber.

Outside, the passing of seasons are as the rise and fall of leaves, the tracks of others mere eddies in the dust.

Tumblr Tuesday: Week 4

Thusly was born the fourth of the Tumblr Tuesdays!  Below is my picks for my favorites for this week culled from my tumblr stream. Links should work this week to the owners/original posters pages.  This is also the call for submissions for the fourth World-A-Week challenge!  The winning image and story will be posted later today, but I wanted the submission process to get back on track and not entirely fall off the rails.

This week’s World-A-Week Challenge category: ANYTHING GOES.  People, places, things or items–any image that speaks to you, of absolutely anything.  If nothing on the web (really?) appeals, go out and snap a picture of something fun or creepy with your phone.  I love the images that have come in so far.  I’m adding them to an ever-growing database of stuff to post in future challenges.  So thank you for making the Challenges the successes they’ve been to date!  All I ask, is no porn please.  So let the submissions begin!  You can either submit them via a link in the comments section of this post, or via email to latenightstirfry@gmail.com.

Tumblr Tuesday (Belated): Week 3

This Week’s World-A-Week Challenge: We’ve tried places and people, so that just leaves one last base category: Things!  Send me a picture of anything, cryptic or mundane, fantastic or humdrum, and I’ll turn it into a story!  We’re going to try submissions a bit different this time–submit by comment!  This time around, if you have a picture you want entered into the Challenge, just leave a comment on this post with the picture included.

Obviously, this post is 3 days late, so deadline for submissions is not until Sunday at 10pm.  That’s pretty much 2 full days worth of time to think of pictures you’d like to send in!  I don’t have a big baglog of “thing” photos on my tumblr, so I need you guys to submit well, and submit often.  Don’t be afraid of stumping me…I like a good challenge!

World-A-Week Challenge 2: Liberator

This week’s World-A-Week challenge is brought to us by Tom Barnett, who sent in this image via the latenightstirfry email submission box. I believe Mr. Barnett is the crafter of said image.  I claim no authorship or attachment to said image, and if you are the owner please contact me if you disapprove of the post.  Without further ado…

L i b e r a t o r

2040

Sneezing almost constantly, Alison couldn’t believe that her mother had let this much time pass without them going through their storage unit.  Granted, since they had moved it had become more difficult to get to the place, but the trains still ran most of the time and her mother’s almost OCD obsession with cleanliness should’ve had them visiting on at least a monthly basis.  Still, there wasn’t much left here, just a few trunks and bins that had been old even before she was born.

Not everything was available via the datasphere, despite what her friends said.  And sometimes it was satisfying to hold pictures, books, actual things in your hands rather than just get some weak holographic depiction of them, all ghosty and flickery.  So while it was dusty and she was convinced there were spiders here, she was willing to brave them for the sake of what she might find.  Her mother was outside, talking in a loud voice to her father though she couldn’t really hear what was said.  Too much of that was happening lately, and she never seemed to know what set them off.  It seemed to have gotten worse right when her headaches had begun, and when her mom had bought her the dark, almost elbow-length gloves she made Allie wear all the time now.

Anxious to get started and to ignore what was happening a doorway away, Alison shuffled through the storage cubes, finally settling on one covered in dust and cobwebs buried beneath a smaller stack of cubes in the corner.  She shuddered as she cleaned it off, her eyes desperately searching for the slightest movement of her eight-legged foes—but it appeared they were nowhere to be found.  Breathing a sigh of relief, she accidentally swallowed one of the billows of dust she’d kicked up cleaning off the cube.  She coughed and sputtered trying to get it out of her.

Once she settled down, she took the ring of keys out of her pocket and searched for one that fit the old cube.  It made her chuckle to even think about things like actual physical keys.  Who even used them anymore?  Her mother, obviously, and so now she had to go through the ten or so keys on the ring before she finally found one that fit and heard the familiar click and woosh that meant she’d successfully unlocked the box.  She opened it quickly, and leaned over, peering in to see what her mom could’ve kept inside.

Some picture frames, of course, though they were older and not even digital.  She recognized most of them as being her mom and her sisters, as well as her grandmother.  A book of photographs taped together, that seemed to be people she remembered her mom saying were cousins of hers.  Some sort of toy, with a detachable yellow head and strange hands that were in c-shapes, with hollow holes inside the legs for feet.  The character was dressed like something out of one of the old-school anime she and her mom watched on Sunday mornings, but somehow even more over the top.  A toy plane, though not like anything Alison had ever seen in the sky—this thing must’ve been a relic even when her mom was her age.  It was big though, and when she’d finally removed all that she thought she’d reached the bottom of the box.  Well, interesting enough, she thought, but I was hoping for something a bit more fun.  At least give me something to knock mom on about.

Alison went to drop the plane back in the cube, but her pinky slid against the fabric of the bottom and it slid away.  Well, well, well, she grinned, whatever do we have here?  She pulled the fabric away to reveal what looked like a very old cracked brown leather something, with something else inside it.  The larger something seemed to have longer, elasticized strips on its ends that maybe were ties of some kind.  It looked sort of like a bag, but with a whole side cut away.  Not very useful.  But what was inside it, though…that looked interesting, finally.

Old as the leather, maybe older, were what seemed to be some sort of goggles. Brass rimmed, the glass was dusty and fogged with grime even though the stasis box should’ve kept them preserved in a vacuum.  She glanced at the door quickly, to see if her mom had finished up berating her dad but, if anything, the conversation had only gotten louder.

Well, then, she won’t mind what she doesn’t know, giggled Alison, taking off her gloves and cleaning the goggles with them before stretching the brass and leather contraption across her head and sliding the lenses into place.  Whose were these, she wondered, and how did mom get ahold of them?  And then the whole world lurched.

2010

Molly hated how small she was.  He mom and dad had taken her to a few doctors, all of whom said that she was just maturing slower and that she’d catch up in a few years to her classmates.  Not a big deal.  So she sulked a lot around the house, and only John across the street seemed to want to play with her.  That was fine, as she wasn’t that big a fan of Monster High or some of the other ‘girly’ toys she saw brought and traded at school.  She was perfectly happy playing Avengers with John—and more happy to watch anime and read comics with him and his friends than she was to obsess over Twilight.

She loved old sci-fi movies, the cheesier the better.  She’d seen The Rocketeer more times than she could count, and she was convinced that her love for both movies meant that the Hellboy movies and Sky Captain ought to do a mash-up.  She’d even started a tumblr about it, though she was pretty sure she’d have gotten a stern talking-to if her parents knew that.

More than anything, though, she wanted to fly.  Not like Iron Man, though his suit was sick.   She loved the classic planes, bombers, and supersonic jets.  She had made her parents call her Amelia, after she’d read about Amelia Earhart in her encyclopedia a few years back.  She had even talked her dad into taking her to a local airshow and got to sit in a few cockpits with some real pilots, though she had been too overcome to say much beyond a quiet thank you to them before she left.  She searched for pictures of ships, and stories about them, and posted them on her bulletin board.  If a comic character had a ship, it went to the top of her stack.  So when she’d started to go through the attic to get some extra money from her parents so they’d buy her a complete Last Exile DVD set on eBay (she’d seen an episode on Netflix and talked about it for weeks afterwards), she figured she’d find some roly-poly bugs and organize all the junk up there in some way and call it quits.

What she hadn’t counted on, however, was that some of it wasn’t junk at all.  She found an old jewelry box made out of carved wood with what looked like gold handles on the top and some sort of crest on the top.  When she opened it, there were a bunch of medals inside.  At first, she thought maybe it was her dad’s Boy Scout medal box or something, but the more she looked at them the more she came to think that maybe the medals were legit.   So she’d taken them downstairs and shown her mom.  Her mom had gone tight-lipped at seeing the box, and when Molly opened it up and showed her one of the medals, what looked like a dark brown metal star attached to blue and white ribbon, her mom grabbed her stomach with her right hand while the left went to her mouth to hide her gasp.

“Those are your Grandpa Henry’s,” her mom said after a moment, still catching her breath from the surprise. “Wherever did you find those?”

“I was cleaning the attic like you asked me to, and there was an old cardboard box buried under a bunch of stuff up there.  I found this jewelry box inside, and then the medals were inside.  Did I do something bad, mommy?”

“NO!  Oh, no, my dear sweet little girl.  You didn’t do a single thing wrong.  It’s just been so long since I’ve seen these.  I’d forgotten we’d taken them from your Grandma Rose.”  She dried her last dish, turning away from Molly for a moment to lay down the towel, and said “Why don’t you show me the box you found those in? I think there might be something in there for you.”

Five years ago, Liz  wouldn’t have even thought of this, but her mother  had passed away and so much of what they’d inherited had been buried in boxes long before then.  Besides, she imagined her mother might approve of what she had in mind.  She followed Molly up the sharply angled, thin fold-out staircase up to the attic, pausing at the top to notice just how much work her daughter had done during the last few days to get the place in shape.  She was pretty impressed.  Molly’d labeled most of the boxes, her overly large cursive writing  covered them with lists of things inside some, whereas others just said “CLOTHES” in giant block letters.

Liz knelt down next to Molly, who was opening up the box she’d found her grandfather’s medals in.  There were old newspaper clipping inside, a few photo albums made of black paper with monochrome pictures taped to the pages.  Underneath the albums was one of her father’s spare uniforms, clearly pressed and folded years before when her mother had boxed up Henry’s things.  And beneath the uniform was what she was sure had to be there, lying on top of several sheaves of paper.  She glanced over at Molly, and her face was dumbstruck.

“Mom…was this Grandpa Henry’s too?” Molly whispered, somewhere between awe and confusion.  She lifted out the brown leather aviator hat, its chin strap falling out of where it had been tucked inside.  She turned it slowly around, one hand inside stretching the cap out as far as her hands could.

Liz saw how enraptured her daughter was and knew she’d made the right call.  She reached out for the hat, gently sliding it from Molly’s grasp.   “Yes, sweetie, Grandpa Henry was a pilot.  Well, he worked on a plane.  During World War II, your grandpa ran secret missions into France with some of his friends, dropping off spies and rescuing people trapped there by the Nazis at night. He worked in a little ball that came down beneath the plane, which he shot out of if the bad guys surprised them.  It was very dangerous, because there wasn’t room for even a parachute in the ball with him; he had to keep it inside the plane above him.”

Molly sat for a moment, her brown eyes wide and bright with what Liz thought might’ve been tears.  She reached for Molly, smoothing her straight chestnut hair out of her face.  Holding the back of the cap in one hand, she grasped the chin strap and loosened it as Molly sat perplexed.  That ended quickly, though, as Liz slid the strap underneath her daughter’s chin and slid the cap over her daughter’s head.

Molly was simply overcome, and started to cry.  Liz wished her father had lived long enough to have met this girl, so clearly after his own heart.  She often struggled to relate to her daughter, who already was so much of a tomboy and seemed to be becoming even more so as she entered her teen years.  Then again, Liz barely remembered him herself.  She remembered the feel of sitting in his lap, his hand and arm resting against her shoulder, she remembered what she thought was his voice as he played catch with her for the first time.  That’d been a disaster, but he hadn’t shown any disappointment.  He’d just scooped her up and carried her inside on his shoulders and tickled her as he put her down on the soft rug of the family room.  He even went to one of her tea parties once, the only human in a sea of imaginary friends.  Yes, he would’ve worshipped the ground Molly walked on.

“He must’ve been so scared, Mommy, to sit in a tiny little ball in the dark, waiting for someone to shoot first.”

“I’m sure he was, Molly.  But he was brave, too.  He knew that what he was fighting against wasn’t just people, but an idea he thought was evil.  And he was willing to be scared to fight that, so that someone else wouldn’t have to be scared.  He did it, so that we would be safe, and the people fighting would be safer.  So that it would all end sooner, so he could come home.  And he did.”  Liz reached into the box, as Molly let go of the deathgrip hug she’d latched onto her mother.  She pulled out her father’s goggles, gritty with sand and what looked like drywall dust. She handed them to Molly, who quickly put them on, the bronze frames still not dulled by the years.  She reached behind Molly’s head, chuckling at the mass of her hair spilling out of the bottom of the cap as she tightened the goggles.

“When I grow up, I’m going to fly just like Grandpa Henry.   I’d love to be a pilot, but if I can’t, I’ll do something else.  I’m not scared of falling, so they can put me in a ball if they need to.  I’ll protect you and Daddy, and John, and even Lisa down the street.  So you don’t have to be afraid.”

And then it was Liz’s turn to cry.

1944

 It might have been peaceful, even with the ridiculous amount of noise from the engines vibrating through the plane.  The moon was not quite full, the clouds from earlier in the afternoon had dissipated a few hours earlier, and the stars were bright this high up from the ground.  He could find his bearings by them, if he had to—though he was glad for the maps, too.

Ahead, the black  B-24, almost a twin to his own plane save for its black paint and lack of ball turret, started its descent into the French countryside.  Usually they floated above the drop craft, but after a few seconds, they too started a rather steep descent.  Henry  tightened up the goggles, smacked the bulwark a few times and when the others looked at him he motioned with his hands he was headed below.  The closer they got to land, the greater the chance they were going to be spotted or heard.  He wanted to be sure he was ready.

The guys gave him a lot of grief for the goggles at first, but that stopped after their first few firefights.  The goggles had been his dad’s, from World War I, which in turn had been given to him by one of his French compatriots when he was training at Saint-Maixent. His dad had been one of the first thousand airmen America had trained, and he was here to do honor to that as much as stick up for his country.  He refused to fly without the goggles, and his quick reflexes in the turret ball had already saved them more than once.  In the eyes of the crew, that gave him the right to wear whatever he wanted on his face, as long as his luck continued.

He took out the rough, grease-smeared picture of Rose, wearing the cornflower dress he’d bought her the week before he’d left, and his little Elizabeth with her pigtails and her yellow jumper.  Most of the fellas had girls waiting for them back home, but he was the only one on the plane who had a kid.  Boy, what a surprise she had been!  But he cherished every moment he had with her, even the tea parties where he had to guess where the other celebrants were because they only existed in her curly-haired head.  Looking down over the villages that passed beneath him like a river, he wondered how many fathers and daughters slept soundly there.  He didn’t begrudge them their time.  It just made him all the more eager to do his part, so that this hell of a war would end all the sooner.  He was proud to serve his country, and flying in the belly of the beast had its appeal he supposed, but the constant tension ate at him.

From the ground, sudden sparks of light made him refocus.  The grind of the engines combined with the wind shear of the descent sometimes made the entire turret shake, and keeping his aim on target was a challenge.  This didn’t look good.  As they got closer, the jet black 24 ahead of them evened out, trying to fly around the machine gun fire flying up from the ground.  It was as if someone had known they were coming.  One hand on the trigger, his other put the photo back in his breast pocket.  The moonlight finally let him see what was shooting at them.  His hand steadied, and he maneuvered the reflector sight until they were square on target.  He tapped the goggles twice for luck and pressed the button.  Machine guns whirred and fired as the ground guns turned their sights on him and his plane.  The Joes would have to be dropped off later.  He had to buy them enough time to get away.  The gunfire from the ground suddenly seemed a lot louder.  He heard a few cracks as some of them bounced or embedded themselves into the metal holding his turret.

Just breathe, he told himself.

Rose, honey.  I’m coming back to you.

2040

“What did you just say, Allie?” her mom asked her, looking at Alison with the pursed lips that always meant her mood was going to be rotten for the rest of the day.  She was kneeling down next to Alison, her arm draped over her shoulder.  Though her mouth said she was angry, her eyes looked worried.  Allie reached up to take off the goggles, and got a sharp shock when her hands came in contact with the bronze frames.  She actually jumped both because it had surprised her as well as how much it had hurt.  Her mother gasped though, and it took her a minute to figure out what had caused her mom to react that way. Her gloves had fallen out of her hands at some point, and her mom had seen her bare arms when she had taken off the goggles.

Molly took her daughter’s face between both her hands, and asked again, “what did you say?”

“I’m coming back to you, Rose.  You and Elizabeth”

Quickly, Molly took the goggles from Allie’s hands, throwing them into the box they’d come from.  Alison looked a bit pale, and her eyes were unfocused.

“I want to protect you, you and daddy, and John and…” Allie whispered, her eyes fluttering closed, trying desperately to stay open.

Molly’s voice caught in a sob.  She remembered that day, all those years ago, in her mother’s attic.  She’d worn her grandfather’s goggles and cap for years, eventually using the goggles as some sort of costume thing for some convention somewhere.  She’d never flown a plane, but she had flown.  The world had changed, and she’d changed with it.  But none of it had prepared her for what was happening with Alison.  That’s when the fights with Jack had begun, over how to handle it, and had spilled out to cover so much of what had laid between them over the last few years.  She didn’t doubt they both had what they thought were Allie’s best interests at heart.

This dear girl in her arms wanted to soar, just like she had.  But in a different direction, one which Molly didn’t even know how to describe.  And as the months piled on, it was getting harder to hide from Allie her strange affliction.  The doctors had tried to caution her to think of it as a gift, but what mother wants their daughter isolated like this, traumatized every time she touched anything—or anyone?

As Allie’s body snuggled into Molly’s embrace, her eyes saw nothing but moonlight spilling across the sky, pricked by stars that seemed impossibly bright.  She could hear, every now and then, her mother calling her name.  She just wanted one more second here, and then she’d come back.

Caught up in the mute, soundless beauty of it, she held just a single thought.

I want to fly.

Tumblr Tuesday/World-A-Week Challenge: Week 2

So Tuesday is happening on Wednesday again this week.  I’m a bit behind, but I’m on vacation so I plan on getting a bit ahead of the game going into next week.  I only got 1 image submission last week, but it was a doozy.  I hope you enjoyed the first story challenge.  This week’s Tumblr Tuesday images can be found here.  This week’s World-A-Week Challenge: People.  So send me any images that have, you know, people in it.  Do you like one of the images I posted? Want to submit your own?  Send submissions for this week’s challenge to latenightstirfry@gmail.com.  Lastly, Javan (the kind gentleman who sent in last week’s submission) sent in one for this week already…so here it is:

 

 

Also, going forward the deadline for image submissions for a Challenge will be Thursday night, at 11:59pm EST.

 

World-A-Week Challenge I: Everybody Talks

 This week’s Challenge Image was brought to you by Javan Nelums, submitted over Facebook.  The image is by JJasso, and is called Thekno City.  I claim no authorship or attachment to said image, and if you are the owner please contact me if you disapprove of the post.  Without Further ado…

E v e r y b o d y   T a l k s

 

Corin dashed through the neon patchwork of the streets, the garish lights of billboards and the corporate spires of the New City muddled by his steps in the ever-present puddles on the street beneath him.  It was December, but that didn’t keep the air from being thick with the humidity of the breath of the millions that lived above him, made impossibly more stagnant with the overabundant scent of the spices flowing from the vendors set up and down the street. He scrubbed the moisture out of the stubble on the left side of his head and took a moment to consider.

He’d arrived in the Old City only a few hours before, having just got into the station from Hong Kong a fraction of an hour before that.  Since then, he’d been wandering without a destination, trying to appear as if he was a Midlevel on a jaunt below, something that had become commonplace enough as to not gather comment.  Small flocks of squawking birds lit on street side heaters used to create circular patios to draw passersby into the shops, their mottled forms outnumbering the few patrons out at this hour of the night.

Few on this level could afford the shops and restaurants’ luxuries, only to work for them.  His father had been one of them, though in a different borough.  Corin had helped as a child, carrying food to the tables of those from the neighborhood fortunate enough that week to be able to order his cousin Sarya’s roasted dumplings, or those slumming from the wealthier Levels Above who came in for his aunt Marda’s pastries.  Traditionalism had been a major fad for several years before he’d walked away from that life, and some of the Midlevels still latched onto it, desperate to gain face with those above them.

The hem of his coat was slick with the mixture of sludge and whatever liquid passed for rain this close to the surface.  The biased leather trench had kept the chill away when he was Above, but he was roasting now that he’d reached the surface. He’d needed to hide, and they’d already been in the station when he’d arrived.  He’d developed some arcane instinct detecting when he was being watched over the last six months.  He’d had to, in order to have lasted this long.  So he’d taken the nearest shuttle without looking, hoping his lack of a plan might buy him some time—but in hindsight setting himself up in a part of town where someone like him stuck out like an out’chiya in full plumage wasn’t going to get the job done.

His steps were deliberate, though his gait must’ve looked peculiar to those who glanced at him as he shuffled past. They didn’t engage their curiosity for more than a moment before they dropped their eyes back to their menus and drinks.  He’d chosen this borough precisely because it wasn’t the sort of place you raised your gaze.  Once part of downtown, the Old City had found itself pushed further and further to the periphery of the ever-growing metropolis.  And in typical American tradition, the ethnic neighborhoods had been pushed to the edge of town as the powerful bought up the center of the city and began to build their spires, domes, and wealth.  He was definitely an outsider here, and he needed to get off the streets before his aimless wanderings made him appear…conspicuous.  He pulled up the collar of his coat to hide what he could of his visage and continued apace.

Corin shook his head to clear his thoughts, his lopsided mahogany bangs matting against the right side of his face.  Cass had loved the look, he remembered wincing.  He’d grown out all of it about a year ago, and she’d given him hell for it, asking if he’d decided to pursue a career as a urisen after all.  She’d been the one to get the trimmers and, after a few too many shots and a dare, he let her shave off the left side.  He should shave it all off.  Get it together, man.  This is not the time to fall apart. Focus. Keep moving. Don’t attract attention. He let the emotions slide off his face and put on a slightly askew, almost teasing grin.  He didn’t care if it looked mocking—that would suit him just as well.

The package bulging through the brown leather bag slung over his right shoulder had to remain intact if he was going to survive this, even if he didn’t understand what it was, or why he’d been chased across two continents for it.  Life as a courier had paid the bills, and kept him light on his feet, but the last year had kept him running almost nonstop, when he wasn’t in the air.  Glancing up, ships lit the sky, flying to and from the New City, disappearing as crackling streaks of light in the smudge that was the sky.  He felt his pocket buzzing, but he dared not answer the UBox.  Encrypted as it was, it was dangerous enough to have kept it on. Just in case.

More blocks than he could count later, he had to stop at the corner of yet another two streets he couldn’t pronounce to make way for some armored transport headed out into the suburbs.  He briefly stopped and contemplated trying to jump alongside, but by the time he contemplated it had long past and he took a breath.  Across the street, a man with a weathered, cracked  face looked up from his street stand and its barbequing meat, his hard amber eyes softening as he saw the tattoo on his neck.  Corin winced—obviously the collar hadn’t been enough to hide what had mattered most.  He tried to not let his exhaustion show as he met the man’s eyes, and nodded softly.  The man was about to speak when Corin started down the side street.  Safer for you to not get involved, he mused, if it came to that.  Whoever wanted what he was carrying, wanted it badly enough to put down his partners in Boston, and the contacts in AIC he’d reached out to in Portland.

Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realize he’d turned again down a small alley until he was facing the wall in front of him.  Too tall to climb, covered in that damn slime-mold that was a plague on the older buildings of this part of town, he was going to have to turn around.  Dead end, just like the last six months, he sighed, his shoulders slumping and the bag drooping towards the ground.  I’m not going to do this.

Blue goo fell from the sky, some skyward ship dumping its waste in front of him, as gulls and what might’ve been a corvus flew from the nearby heaters and landed to promptly feast on it, screeching at him to protect their feast.

The inevitable footsteps crept up behind him.