Tag: free

Marshmallows and Spider Webs

Bruce carried a tray of four mugs with steaming hot chocolate and set them down on the coffee table before his children’s eager faces.  They plucked marshmallows from the bowl to add to their cups.  Robert always took twice as many as his sisters, but the youngest, Isadore, didn’t mind, as she only ever wanted one.  She poked it with her fingertip and watched it bob and swell.  

“It’s time once more, my dumplings,” Bruce said to their bright faces.

They sipped their hot chocolates, and nibbled their marshmallows, and accepted the skeins of colored yarn.  Isadore chose a feathered silver, Mileta chose a thick, Tyrian purple, and Robert, as always, chose thistle green.  

Bruce picked up a fine skein of turquoise, and rocked back and forth in his chair facing the loom, creating a rhythm as he worked the shuttlecock through the warp.  The children followed his rhythm, Isadore and Robert using their fingers instead of needles, and Mileta linking the yarn in chains with her crochet hook.  

He sang a gentle song in his soft tenor.  

“Weave the thread, weave the thread
Where the weft meets the warp
And the needle the thread”

The children picked up the thread of the song and carried it along with their tiny throats, creating a rough harmony with their father.

“Weave the thread, weave the thread
Where darkness settles
And footsteps cannot tread

Weave the thread, weave the thread
Spin lines long as the world
And let the netted blanket spread

Weave the thread, weave the thread
Lift the needles high
Until we’re called to bed”

And as they spun their yarn, he told them a story of the first spiders who inspired men and women to spin and weave their own cloth.  Between the verses of his tale, the children repeated the chorus, “Weave the thread, weave the thread,” and he smiled and together they made a tapestry and a shawl, a blanket and a vest.

The children sipped the dregs in their mugs, and Bruce gathered up their evening’s creations while they brushed their teeth.  Then he tucked them into their large bed beneath Mileta’s purple blanket with Isadore’s tiny, silver rosettes, and piping courtesy of Robert’s favorite yarn.

Bruce tidied the main room and was washing the dishes when a knock came at the door.  He unhooked the latch and opened it with caution.  “Grandmother,” he said with a slight gasp.  “What brings you here this late in the year?”

Grandmother Ara entered, her form filling most of the door frame as she passed through.  She settled on the loveseat and spread her black skirts wide around her.  “Bruce, my boy, what a lovely tapestry you have completed this night.”

He went to the loom and glanced down at the piece he’d woven.  A blasphemous account, if one knew how to see the old tale through the threads.  “Thank you, Grandmother.  Are you well?”

“It is time once more to lay the lines,” she said, “and set the crossroads to rights.”

A weary look overcame him.  “Grandmother, I don’t have the strength.”

“Nonsense,” she said, then looked around.  “Much like this habit you have of leaving out the other verses of the Weaving Song.  Sing them with me this night, and we will set to our good work.  Shall we?”

He settled himself on the oval rug on the floor, his head hung low.  “Weave the thread …” he began once more, but this time he didn’t stop with “bed,” yet continued.

Weave the thread, weave the thread
Hook the prey with needle’s prick
And knot it ’til it’s bled

Weave the thread, weave the thread
The warp, the weft, the weave are all
Until we’re cold and dead”

“The threads wear thin, and there is much we do not wish to cross the boundaries.  Yes?”

“Yes, Grandmother,” he stood, and took her proffered hand.

“Have you seen your wife?”

Bruce shut his eyes.  “Joro has yet to return.”

“Do this work with me tonight, and I will offer what assistance I can to find her once more.”

They exited the house, and she draped a gossamer cloth across the lintel to protect the children while they slept.  

Bruce saw the rip in the fabric.  A slight tear small enough it might go unnoticed by the average person, but to the trained eye, or a curious mind, this opening would be enough to see through, and perhaps widen until it became a passageway.  Worse yet, it stood at a crossroads where the heaviest traffic passed for both sides of the Veil.

Grandmother Ara produced one tiny silver needle and one of gold.  She handed the gold to Bruce, who held it delicately between his calloused fingers, afraid he might bend it out of its slender curve.  His hand dwarfed the needle as he brought the finest white thread he owned to its eye.  With slow motions and only a sliver of moon to see by, he pushed the sharp tip through the top of the rip, and brought it down to the bottom, working with care to create an even warp with which to weave.

Though he sang the Weaving Song, and focused on his endeavor, he couldn’t avoid peering through the hole in the Veil.  Shapes of unknown beings moved.  The silhouettes of gods or monsters, the glint of light off of glittering eyes.  There danced the wispy presence of the possible and improbable, and though they had yet to see him, he found it increasingly difficult to avoid looking at them.

“The weft, my child,” Grandmother Ara said, and he stepped aside.

A chilled breeze made him aware of the sheen of sweat broken out at his brow, lip, and back.  He held fast to the gold needle, while Grandmother used the silver to close the gap and heal the rift.

From behind her, he watched the passing visions, now less visible as the Veil healed, yet in the hazy, remaining gap of star fields, he saw a bright figure pause and turn toward her.

“You,” came the slippery voice of one not of their world, and a slender finger poked through the hole, reaching for a strand of hair come loose from Grandmother’s lace cap.  “After all these years–”

The finger took hold, and pulled hard at Grandmother Ara’s head, which quickly looked fit to collapse under the pressure.  Bruce rushed forward and pulled the scissors from his coat pocket, snipping the hair and a bit of his grandmother’s scalp.

She fell backwards, clutching at her head and her heart, while he snatched the needle from her hand.  He had to finish the work, before the probing finger did more damage.

He pricked the finger, but it didn’t bleed.  The delicate threads began to tear, and the ripping sound brought him to his knees.

Not knowing what else to do, he sunk his teeth into the finger, and for a moment, his perception stretched further and further from him.  He saw the glow of all the threads on the earth and beyond it, spreading out with its knots and crystal dew drops.  He felt the tremors of the movement of billions on both sides of the Veil, and he knew this being would not stop until She taught his Grandmother a lesson, though he didn’t understand her offense.

He bit until the god-thing howled, a sound between broken woman and enraged beast.  The moment She withdrew Her finger, he set to work, weaving both needles at once.  “Weave the thread, weave the thread,” he repeated until his voice was hoarse.  He reinforced the delicate areas, and doubled over his own work to be certain nothing could get through.

When they returned to his home, Bruce could no longer stand.  The weaving of the Veil by two was tiring.  Repairing it alone took far more than he had readily stored.  His children were waking with the dawn, and they came out of their room to find their father lying across the rug, his cheeks sunken and eyes red.

“Oh father!  What’s wrong?”

Grandmother Ara, sitting once more on the loveseat, called them to her.  “You must weave, my sweet children.  You must call upon the song within you, and weave him a healing blanket to return his strength to him.”

“But Grandmother,” said the small Isadore, “we don’t know how.”

“Do not fret, child, I will teach you,” and she set them to the Weaving Song, teaching them all the verses, and they wove Bruce a blanket, and they knitted Grandmother a cap to cover her torn head, and by the evening, their song carried down the long lines around the world where their mother felt its rhythm, and started once more toward home.

The Daring Adventures of Captain Rafe Burley

When last we saw our hero, Rafe Burley floated in an antique spacesuit between the dark matter of the Andromeda galaxy.  Left adrift in space to die slowly by his nemeses the Tlorgons, he resisted the urge to shiver as his suit’s systems failed.

“Captain’s log. Andromeda galaxy.  Approximately three hours since the Tlorgon war chief jettisoned me into space.  Mission incomplete.  Failed to retrieve 43% of data before capture.  What information I was able to obtain is included in the drive attached to this suit.”

Rafe pauses and scans the sky before him.  Faint globular stars shine weakly through blurred vision.  It was too soon for his eyes to crystallize.  No, these were tears.

“This will be my final mission for Space Command Gamma-Z.  As I look out at the distant light of the Milky Way, I am reminded of a home no one of us knew.  If my remains are found, I request my body’s ashes be . . . uh, hey, uh Clarence?”

“Cut!” Clarence Curry yelled.  “What’s wrong, Mike?”

Mike Anderson continued to float in his suit, false tears blinking back from his eyes.  “Something might be wrong with this contraption. Is it actually supposed to be cold in here?”

Curry sent a scuttle rocketing over, its thrusters adjusting until it achieved near stasis next to Mike’s equipment. It performed a diagnostic and sent its data over to both Mike’s helmet and Clarence’s screen inside the station’s film booth.  RESULTS: ALL SYSTEMS CHECK COMPLETE. ALL SYSTEMS SOUND.

Clarence folded his arms with extra flair so Mike could see behind the observation window.  “Are we good then?”

“Yeah, yeah.  We’re good,” Mike confirmed.

The camera drones repositioned themselves after the diagnostic scuttle moved out of the shot.  “From ‘If my remains are found.'”

Mike dropped back into character.  Once more, the courageous, chiseled features of Captain Rafe Burley gazed out toward the Milky Way.  “If my remains are found, I request my body’s ashes be scattered among the ruins of Old Earth.”

Rafe’s suit responded on cue, “Warning. Oxygen levels at twenty percent. Sixty minutes remaining until systems failure. Return to the nearest ship or station.”

“Sixty minutes,” Rafe mused to himself.  “More time than I probably deserve, but far less than it will take for this emergency beacon to reach Space Command.”  He returned to his recording, “Oxygen reserves too low.  Captain Rafe Burley signing off.”

He hovered in space like a balloon bobbing gently on a breeze.  He looked once more at the Milky Way before shutting his eyes.  A single tear ran down his cheek.

Just then, a three-tone chime came over his headset.  Then again.  “Could it be?”  Rafe opened his eyes and looked around.  And there, in the distance, coming closer at rocket speed: RayRay the rocket hound.

Rafe was supposed to turn his body quickly toward the approaching robotic canine, but instead, his hands simply fumbled frantically with the front of his helmet.

Clarence yelled cut once more, and ordered the medics out.  “Get him in.  His feed isn’t coming in, and I think he’s actually losing oxygen.”

The moment the medics reached him, they infused his suit with warm air to breathe as they hurried him back.  Crew members rushed to Mike’s side the moment he was safely sealed inside the space station.  The prop manager worked off the safety seal to his helmet and Mike gasped for air, his face turning from purple to red.

“System,” he gasped. “Not. Sound.”  He collapsed on the cool white floor and the medics rushed him to the infirmary.

Clarence visited him when the doctor cleared him for visitors.  “Mike,” he said, leaning against the adjacent bedpost, “That sure was a close one.  It’s a good thing you gestured or we wouldn’t have saved you in time.”

Mike Anderson stared up at his director with eyes blue as ice and a gaze to match.  The gel kept his brown hair in perfect Rafe Burley style, even through the whole ordeal. “If you had listened to me when I first–”

“Yes, you’re right.  But the diagnostic scuttle said–”

Frag what the scuttle said! I could have died out there, and this isn’t the first accident.”  He looked away from the director.  “That’s it.”

“What’s it?” Clarence asked, his brow furrowing with a hint of worry.

“I quit,” Mike said.

Clarence’s worries confirmed, he straightened up, his mouth tightening into a line.  “You can’t quit.  You’re under contract.  Five films, and this is only the fourth!  You quit, and the studio sues you for every dime you have left.”

“No contract is worth my life.  Let them sue me.  Why can’t we just film these things in a studio like we used to?”

Clarence thought he saw an in.  “We could, but you know the audiences these days.  They swear they can spot a greenscreen, no matter how clean the picture.  They want their old time space dramas filmed in space!”

Mike studied the director once more.  He’d made up his mind.  He threw off his blanket, stood up, and said in his best Rafe voice, “This concludes the final Daring Adventures of Captain Rafe Burley.”

He turned on his heel and left.

 

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New Drug

Collins brought Mr. Atticus Benning his evening injection.  He swabbed his skin and inserted the rejuvenating fluid into his veins.  Atticus, being a man often in the spotlight, could not help but dramatize both his shock at the injection and delight at the receipt of its contents.  He sank back into his leather armchair, eyelids fluttering closed, and a faint smile blooming.

“Will there be anything else, Mr. Benning?” Collins asked.

With a distracted hand, Atticus waved away the valet and enjoyed the sensation, whether psychosomatic or legitimate, of feeling his heart beat stronger and his skin tighten.  “Eternal youth,” he purred to the empty room.  But what if the injections stop?

The next morning, he called his attorney and a half dozen connections who owed him favors.  He would ensure the injections would continue indefinitely . . . at least for those who could afford it.

“Compulsory?!” Paul sat aghast.  “Atticus, even I don’t think we can convince a majority in Congress to consider this.  There are ethical issues at hand.  Many of our friends run on a platform of moral authority.  The moment the opposition gets hold of this, the spin will destroy our whole party!”

“Spin it right back at them.” Atticus leaned forward toward his colleague across the restaurant table, the server quietly sweeping away dishes before his tie could be dressed in hollandaise.  “What’s more just than ensuring elderly people don’t die?  Add in a loving grandmother image and a message of patriotic duty, and they’ll be lining up to help.  Hit the college campuses, the high schools, just like military recruiters, but unlike war, no one will be dying.”

Paul considered it, his own hair beginning to turn gray.  The injections had begun to sound tempting, but at the current price, he couldn’t afford more than one a month, certainly not the daily doses Atticus was said to enjoy.

“I’ll see what I can do.  Perhaps we could convince clinics to pay them as we do for other blood transfusions.”

Atticus said, “Precisely.  I like the way you think.  Encourage Congress to open more clinics, and increase the payment by, hm, what’s the going rate for healthy blood sent to hospitals?”

“They pay donors around fifty to a hundred, sometimes more for repeat visitors.”

“A pint?” Atticus sprayed a bit of his scotch before regaining his composure.

“I know,” Paul said with a sour taste, considering how much he paid per cubic centimeter.

*

The papers gave contrasting headlines depending on who owned them.  Across most media, headlines praised the push by Senator Paul Ramsey to institute new compulsory blood donations of all healthy, young Americans between the ages of eighteen to twenty-five.  “With new medical science improving the lives of all, we have a moral obligation as citizens to ensure everyone can achieve a long, healthy life free of the ill-effects of aging.  Uncle Sam needs its most able men and women to donate monthly.  Not to end lives, but to save them!” read the frequently printed quotation.

The smaller papers and opposing media proclaimed him a vampire and spoke of the wealthiest people sucking the lifeblood of the young.  Atticus already worked on ensuring those outlets were acquired by more favorable shareholders.

The phone rang.  Collins answered it, and brought it to Atticus.

“Benning here.”

“Mr. Benning, this is Margaery Transon. We met at the Vice President’s ball last week.”

“Ah, yes, Mrs. Transon.  How good to hear from you.  What can I do for you?”

She went on in a shaky voice, desperation increasing as she told him of her need.  Her need for blood, and her limited funds, now that the going rate had risen.

“Well, I might be able to give you what you require.  What assistance are you willing to offer me?”

[Inspired by this article from The Guardian]

c. 2015, 2016 Raven J. Demers

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