Friday, May 22, 2009

Wordzzle 64 - Under water

This is my contribution to this week's Wordzzle. Wordzzle is a game in which each week word lists, used to create stories, are given on the blog Views from Raven's Nest. Participating users post their stories on their own blogs.

This is the eighth time I've played the game.

Ten Word Challenge:

What's that supposed to mean?,
sound first principles,
the key thing,

He pulled the curtain aside, and saw the albino Indian assistant there. He had thought someone might be there, but he hadn't really been expecting him, or anyone, actually. "Urk!!" he said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" the assistant replied. "You act like you've never seen me before."

"Well, I wasn't really expecting you. I wasn't expecting anyone, actually, but certainly not you."

"You're starting to hurt my feelings."

"Well, nothing personal or anything, but aren't you dead? We gave you a marble casket and everything. I'm sure you were in it."

"Yes, I can see the need for that. Can't have dead people laying around and stinking up the place. Sound first principles and all."

"Yes, um, well, that's true, but you make it sound so bad!"

There was a pause in the conversation. They continued to look at each other.

"I told you not to put water in the moat. I had a bad feeling about that," the assistant finally said.

"I had to put water in it. Without water, it was just a trench, and trenches aren't nearly as useful as moats. Besides, what would people think?"

"I fell in the moat and drowned. I'm sure someone pushed me."

"Well, it's a castle, full of intrigues and things like that. Castles always are."

"When I got my head above water and turned around, the only person I saw was you."

"I was nearby and heard a splash, and went out to see what had happened."

"Why didn't you help me?"

"I did, don't you remember? I got a board and held it out to you, so you could grab it and pull yourself out."

"You kept hitting me with it."

"I was just, um, trying to get it near enough that you could grab it."

"When I did finally grab it, and pulled myself closer, you managed to get the end of it against my chest and pushed down on it, pinning me under the water, against the bank. I couldn't get out from under it. You kept pushing and pushing until I drowned."

"Really, I'm sure this is a distortion of what actually happened."

"No, I was there, remember?"

"Well, even so, even supposing all that to be true, the key thing is, what are you going to do about it? You're dead. Do you plan to haunt me?"

"Yes, but not for long. While we've been talking, I've been moving toward you, and you've been backing up. Now you're on the balcony, almost up to its outer wall. On the other side of the wall is a long fall, with the moat far, far below. The wall is very low, low enough to sit on. I can easily push you over it."

"You're a ghost! You can't touch anything!"

"We'll see about that."

And the ghost leaped at him, and he did feel something, and stumbling back in terror he fell over the wall, and fell into the distant moat. He tried to get back to the surface, but somehow the ghost was there, sitting on his chest, and he couldn't get out, and he couldn't get away....

"He's dead," the doctor said. "Died in his sleep from all appearances. It was probably his heart, even though he was a bit young for that. Although I suppose someone could have killed him in some way that isn't obvious. It wouldn't be the first time something like that happened. All sorts of odd things happen in castles."

Mini Challenge:

under the surface,
grand design,

He looked around him one last time at the grand design of the doomed temple. Water was already washing over his feet. In a few hours, the whole place would be underwater. He took another headache remedy, similar in its effects to aspirin. He wasn't sure how much help it was going to be to him now, and it sure wasn't going to fix what was happening. It felt like the whole world was in agony, and was shaking itself like a wild beast. This was going to be one of those memorable times in history, he knew, one that people talk about in ages hence. Assuming anybody survived to talk about it. Another quake came, and more pieces of ceiling fell into the water. A wave washed through, splashing his legs up to his knees. He made his way unsteadily to the entrance. The trembling of the ground was almost constant now.

At the entrance he stood for a moment, leaning against a pillar, looking out at the city. Most of the buildings still stood, but the lower parts were covered by water. Beyond the city, the tall mountain also still stood. Would the waters cover the mountain, too? He didn't know. Perhaps, though, he had better try to make it to the mountain, and hope for the best. The temple was far above the streets, now invisible under the rushing waters. He would have to swim if he was going to make it anywhere. He looked at the water. All sorts of things were in it. Even bodies. It was moving fast, too. It wouldn't be an easy swim. He looked toward the harbor. It was hard to tell exactly where it had been, now. It had been wrecked, along with most of the boats, and people had already taken any of them that could still float. He knew there wouldn't even be a rowboat left.

Another quake hit, and the pillar he was leaning against tilted sharply. He tried to keep to his feet but was unable to, and slipped and fell into the rushing water. He was under the surface for a while, tumbling along, but finally managed to get his head above the water. Gasping for breath, he saw a long earthen jar floating nearby. He wrapped his arms around it.

Looking around, he tried to see where he was. He was surprised to find that he didn't know. He had lived here all his life, but everything looked different now. He could still see the mountain, but the water didn't seem to be carrying him that way. Unless he wanted to hang onto the jar until he died, he was indeed going to have to swim for it.

He let go of the jar and began to swim, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make any progress. The water was too fast, and he watched the mountain slowly move past him to the side. He swam for what seemed like hours, until he couldn't swim anymore and just paddled enough to keep his head out of the water. He watched the mountain recede in the distance. Darkness fell, then, and it was hard to see much of anything.

Something brushed against him in the night. Feeling it with his hands, he found that it was the branch of a tree. He felt his way along it and came to the trunk. He wrapped his arms around it and clung to it. After a while he managed to climb up onto it, and he lay there clinging to it, and finally fell asleep.

Sometime the next day he woke up. The tree was scraping against something. The water had carried him to another land, one that also had a mountain. He wasn't sure where he was, because none of the nearby lands had mountains that looked like this. Then he realized it was his mountain. The water had carried him in a circle and brought him back. Except now he was on the other side of the mountain. It had looked different because of that, and because he was so close to it, and because the lower part was covered in water. He got off the tree and back into the water, then made his way the few feet to the mountain and climbed up onto it. The mountain wasn't too steep here, but there were some steep parts he would have to cross to make it around to the other side.

He made his way slowly along. An occasional quake would come, and one even threw him to the ground, but they seemed to be lessening. Twice he came upon landslides that were too treacherous to walk upon, and he had to go back to the water to get around them. He found some fruit and berries to eat, and managed to catch a few fish, which he had to eat raw. He also came across a couple of streams. The water was muddier than he would have thought, and didn't taste good, but in the end he drank it. Days passed. He noted that the water was still rising. It was easiest to tell in the morning, for he could see that it had crept closer to him as he slept. He had not seen another living person during this time, just dead ones in the water and along the shore.

Coming around at last now to where he could see where the city was, he could see nothing of it at all. It was entirely underwater. During the next few days he made his way along the mountain to where he felt that the city was directly in front of him. He still couldn't see it. He walked along the edge of the water, trying to find it, but there was no evidence that anything was ever there. No evidence, perhaps, except for the debris along the water's edge. He decided to look through the debris and see if he could find anything useful. Most of it was broken in some way, and some things were just scraps. He found an occasional jug or jar that was still intact, some still partly filled with something.

He came upon, then, the top of a small table missing its legs. He realized that it was his table, from the temple. Not the big table, where he ate with guests, but the table he used when eating in his room. He picked it up. It was waterlogged, but not so heavy that he couldn't carry it.

He turned and started climbing the mountain. He had to find a high place to put it, some place he could make a permanent camp. It was possible the water would someday overrun it, but if it did he would find another place on higher ground. Along the way, he met some other people, some other survivors. They traveled on together, up the mountain. They walked for several days, finally stopping at a place that was almost level, a place far above the distant water. Here they would build their new city, and their new temple. It wouldn't be much of a city at first, and the temple would be smaller than his bedroom in the old one. It was a start, though, and something future generations could enlarge upon.

Mega challenge:

What's that supposed to mean?,
sound first principles,
the key thing,

under the surface,
grand design,

He looked beyond the curtain, out toward the edge of the world. It had been getting closer for some time now. Soon it would be close enough to touch. If it could be touched. What would happen then, when it was close enough to touch, and then too close to avoid touching it, and then so close that it passed over him? It was just a formless grayness, and no one seemed to be paying any attention to it. Airplanes flew in it, and airplanes flew out of it. Cars went in and out, too. There was nothing on the news about it. He couldn't help but worry, though. Were they all doomed?

He had thought at first it might be fog, but as time went on he became certain that it wasn't. He had seen fog before, and it wasn't like this. The transition line was a little blurred, but it was a very tight line, and very straight and flat. Nothing natural could be that straight.

He walked to the window and looked out at it. What was under the surface? Was everything still there? That was the key thing, he thought. Was everything still there. He got out a crystal ball someone had sold him long ago. It was supposed to have been made by monks in a temple in India. Were crystal balls made by religious Indian monks better than other kinds? He didn't know, but he had never been able to get it to work. Oh, sometimes he had seen some odd things in it if he stared at it long enough, but never anything he could figure out, and he wasn't sure it meant anything. Nothing was happening now, either. He held it up in front of his face, putting it between him and the grayness, and then moved it close to him, until it was almost touching him and he was cross-eyed looking at it.

"That's not how to make it work," a voice said from beside him.

"Oh, you again. I haven't seen you in a long time." He lowered the crystal ball.

"It's not been as long as you think. You don't always remember."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means the same thing it did the last time I said it."

There was a moment of silence. He didn't turn to look at him, but continued to look out at the grayness. He didn't like looking at him. He was whiter than an albino, and there was something strange about his appearance, but he couldn't remember exactly what it was right now. Finally he said, "Shouldn't an assistant be more helpful?"

"I sometimes help you, but I'm not your assistant."

They stared out at the grayness some more, or at least he assumed that both of them were doing it. He had no desire to turn and check. The grayness got closer and closer. The building across the street, a temple, faded out.

"I wish there was some way we could stop it. Or at least put up something like a wall or trench or moat, something that would keep it away."

"None of those things would make any difference. Nothing you could make would have any effect on it."

"Is this the end of the world, then, is it all over?"

"What you are seeing is a natural phenomenon. Though it doesn't usually happen in quite this way. Most people don't notice it because they aren't tuned to it, and most of them will be unaffected by it. Since you do see it, you will be affected by it, or at least you could be."

"But, what is it? What does it do?"

"It is the dividing line between your timeline and another. On the other side, things will be a little different. In some cases a lot different. Most people will remain in their current timeline, but some will cross over, and some, because of imperfect alignment or other factors, will cross to a different timeline than what is beyond the grayness."

"How can such a thing be?"

"Do you believe the universe was designed on sound first principles? Do you think it is all part of a grand design? If so, then this must, since it exists, be part of it. If you believe that the universe and everything in it has a scientific explanation, then this, too, must have such an explanation."

"That's not telling me much."

The grayness was just outside the window, then all of a sudden the window and curtains and wall faded away, and it was coming across the floor toward him. He quickly backed away. Coming to the other side of the room, he looked around desperately. Even if he made it to the door, he knew he couldn't get out of the building in time. And even if he did, there was no place he could go to escape it. He saw a bottle of aspirin on the dresser, and picked it up and threw it at the grayness. It disappeared into it without a sound. He put down the crystal ball and pulled open a drawer, looking for something else to throw. Seeing a marble, he grabbed it and threw it hard at the grayness. He knew there was a wall back there, if it still existed. He still didn't hear anything, but the marble came bouncing back at him. The grayness was almost upon him, now.

"Isn't there anything I can do to stop it?" the words coming out quickly, his voice tense and shrill.

"If you put your mind to it in the proper way, you might be able to move to a different timeline than the one that's coming, or even come back here. Such things can be tricky, though, and may not be an improvement."

"It's almost here, there's no time to learn anything, IT'S ALMOST HERE!" He put his hand out, trying to ward it off, then when his hand disappeared he jerked it back. "Help me! DO SOMETHING!"

"Here, take this."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw something being tossed at him, and he grabbed it with his hand and arm, holding it against his body, and then the grayness was upon him. There was a moment of lightness, which quickly passed. He turned around and saw the grayness receding from him, and then the wall faded into view. Looking down, he found he was holding the crystal ball. That was the thing that had been thrown to him. He stared at it, wondering what it meant. Then he noticed that his shirt was different, and his pants, and his shoes. He looked slowly around at the room. It seemed a little bigger. The dresser had moved to the side a little, and was now of a different design. The curtains were also different. Everything else seemed pretty much the same, or at least close enough that it was hard to tell.

He saw the bottle of aspirin, then, on the floor where it had fallen after he threw it. He went over to pick it up, but then saw that the bottle design was different and the label had changed. He straightened back up and left it there, not being able to bring himself to touch it.

He turned and looked at the window, then walked over to it. The temple was gone, in its place a supermarket. Some of the other buildings were different, too. There were still cars on the street. Some of them looked familiar and some didn't, but he didn't keep track of what they all looked like anyway, so he couldn't say if any of them had changed or not. He saw a plane in the sky. They still had those, too, though it didn't look like any plane he had ever seen.

He looked again at the supermarket. He had gotten used to seeing the temple there, and would miss it. But hadn't there always been a supermarket there? He looked at it blankly for a momant, confused. No! There had been a temple, of course there had been. But there also had never been a temple. In fact, he now remembered them building the supermarket, years ago. Before the supermarket, the area had held a bunch of little shops.

Other memories were also coming, of the city and the types of cars and types of planes and of everything else. Memories of his life, also. Big parts of it had been different, some better and some worse. He wasn't sure of the extent of it, he was just getting some highlights right now. He would have to think about it for a long time, going through things in detail, to see what all had happened. He still had memeories of his old life though, and the world as it had been. It was terribly confusing, and it was already hard to tell what had happened here and what had happened there. Maybe he never would get it fully straightened out, and occasionally refer to things that never happened, and have people look at him strangely.

He suddenly had a desperate longing to return, to go back to the timeline he came from. He held the crystal ball in both hands and glared at it, clenching his teeth, willing it to take him back. Nothing happened. It wasn't that easy, he guessed. He sank down to the floor and sat the crystal ball down. He rolled it around absently with one hand while he gazed at the wall and thought. There had to be a way. He had even been told this, by someone, though he couldn't quite remember who it was. He was starting to have memories, too, of actually doing it before, several times, but he couldn't quite remember yet how he did it. He had to do it, though! He had to! He had to get back!

Or did he? He was starting to get a feeling that this world was better than the one he had left and that his life was better here, and had been better for a long time. What about all those things, though, that had happened in his life, and that now never did? Some of them were important things, too. Well, other things had happened instead, and some of them were also important. Maybe he should stay here for at least a while. Maybe things really would be better. Only time would tell.

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Blogger Dr.John said...

Three great stories. It looks like you had fun writing them and that's important.
I loved the twists and turns of the plots.
Glad your taking part again.

12:07 PM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger Raven said...

Fascinating collection of stories. Your time travel one was wonderfully creative and absorbing. Well done.

12:07 PM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger Fandango said...

You are a long writer. We dragons are short and we all use the same words.
But you do develop your stories very well and we enjoyed reading them.

12:59 PM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger Richard said...

Three amazing stories. I enjoyed the one with the castle and ghost most because of the irony and justice themes.

1:02 PM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger CJ said...

Loved the ghost story.

10:28 PM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger ForestJane said...

I liked the first one the best too, perhaps because it was shorter?

Have a good weekend. ;)

10:32 PM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger Dianne said...

I love the notion of death by ghost!

5:38 AM, May 24, 2009  
Blogger bettygram said...

I also liked the ghost story.

5:44 PM, May 24, 2009  
Blogger gabrielle said...

I loved the first story. Have you ever read Edgar Allen Poe and The Tell tTale Heart?

the last one had a surreal feel to it. Memory?

9:30 PM, May 24, 2009  
Blogger Stephen said...

Thanks everyone.

gabrielle, I did read The Tell Tale Heart, as well as some other stories by Edgar Allen Poe, probably back in the 1960s or '70s.

11:40 PM, May 29, 2009  

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