Friday, September 04, 2009

Wordzzle 79 - Shadows and smoke

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 my entry number 23, for Wordzzle week 79.

Ten Word Challenge:

perpetual motion,
telephone pole,

I performed careful surgery on the Spam, cutting it in very thin, narrow slices, each one as identical as I could make it. I worked steadily, like a perpetual motion machine. When I had it finished I opened another can and began slicing that, and then another and another. Finally, I had done six cans. That should be enough. The thin slices were piled high on the cheap paper plate, the grease seeping out into it, making a widening stain. I would have to carry the plate with both hands under it, and then it would be iffy. I carefully carried it outside, and put it by the fire pit. I looked up and studied the sky, then looked in all directions. The line of telephone poles was still there, as before. It was not like the old days. I had never known the old days, but I could still say that.

I built up the fire, and when it was burning nicely, I took a slice of Spam and sprinkled it with powder that I had made according to the old ways, then tossed it into the fire. A puff of smoke exploded from the fire and went boiling upward, assuming strange shapes. I took another slice and did the same, and then another, watching the strange shapes the smoke assumed, in a language that was symbolic instead of alphabetical. I saw images of liberty and of proudness, of standing firm, and of preservation of the old ways. I threw in more slices and more powder. It spoke in flattery now. Perhaps I had used too much powder. Some flattery is good, only a little. I threw in some more slices and powder, and more and more, watching the visions in the smoke, becoming transfixed by them.

On a hill a few miles away, two workers paused in what they were doing. "Look at all that smoke! What's that crazy old man doing now?"

The other man studied it for a moment, then turned away. "Forget it, it's just more Spam."

Mini Challenge:


The shadows slowly swirled against the darkness of the sky, black on black, blacker than black, looking like a caterpillar slowly rotating around a central point. I felt like I was looking into the naked singularity at the heart of a black hole, but of course such things can't actually be seen, light ends at the event horizon.

It came closer, seeming to spread out in the sky while at the same time reaching toward me. Eventually I became enveloped in its blackness. All was black for a time, if it could actually be called black when nothing exists to compare it to.

I became aware, then, that I was standing on something, and the dim shapes of walls were beginning to appear. It never got very bright, though, and I could barely see.

I was in a small room, possibly gray, though it may have looked different fully lit. It didn't seem to have any furniture. A few feet in front of me was a doorway, leading to a narrow hallway, across which I could see the doorway of another room, and through the doorway another doorway beyond that, and one beyond that. I turned around and looked at the other side of the room and found it also had another doorway, and doorways beyond that. I turned back and faced the direction I had originally been facing. It seemed important somehow. Time seemed to pass, but I had no frame of reference for it. It could have been a long time, or it could have been fairly short.

Eventually I saw, in the dimness, two figures approaching, coming through the series of doorways. They moved slowly and solemnly, or so it seemed, though I had no way of knowing if they were actually solemn or not. After a while, they stood before me. One was about my height, which is tall, and the other was several inches taller. They wore dark robes with hoods, and their faces were hidden in shadow. I still could not see who they were. One of them spoke then, I'm not sure which. "Why did you come?"

I stared at them, not understanding for a moment, then finally said, "I did not come. Something like a shadow came out of the sky and put me here."

"That is incorrect. You summoned it."

"I didn't summon it. I have no idea how to do that, and I don't even know what it is."

"And yet, you are here."

"I am here."

There was a pause as the shadowed figures stood there, facing me, apparently watching me. After a time, one of them said, "We are waiting."

"Waiting for what?"

"Waiting for you to tell us why we were summoned."

This didn't seem to be getting anywhere. "Could you at least tell me where we are?"

"We are here and you are there."

"Where is there?"

An image of the earth appeared, floating in the darkness.

"We're on earth?"

"No. You are."

"But where are you, then?" This was getting confusing.

"We are on the ship. You are not. What seems to be your body is just a pale copy of it, barely physical, to be used while your attention is here. It will fade away when your attention departs."

"It seems real."

"They always do, to those that are in them."

"Why am I here, though?"

"We are waiting for you to tell us."

"But I don't know why I'm here! I've never been here before! I don't know anything about it."

"You have been here many times. You were here before you were there."

"I don't remember any of it."

There was another pause, possibly long, but I didn't really know. I was getting afraid that we were going to be locked here forever in a circular discussion when one of them spoke. "If you do not remember, then it may not be time after all. But then, why did you summon us?"

"I didn't summon you! I didn't do anything! You came to me!"

"We obviously did not. We are here and you are there."

"This is getting nowhere! Look, couldn't you just take me home?"

"Your attention is already home. Do you wish your body to be home as well?"

I stared at him blankly, then finally said, "This ship or whatever it is is not my home. My home is on earth."

"Your home is not on earth."

"It is too! It's on earth in a place called Florida!"

Something seemed to shift. Something in reality itself. The surroundings became blurred, then fell into focus again, more clear than before.

"You have said Florida, the word that was agreed upon. The signal. The plan will be executed. Has been executed." They turned away and started to go.

"Wait! What about me?"

They turned partly back around, hooded heads pointed at me. "It is not necessary for you to come with us."

"No! I want to go to, to earth, back to where I was."

"The plan has been executed. You are no longer there."

"I know I'm not there! I'm here!"

"Only your attention is on the ship. Your body is on earth, but not where it was."

"Why? What happened to it?"

"The plan was executed."

"But what does that mean?"

"Your body was moved to a place of safety, most likely to a specially fortified room, perhaps underground. We do not know where."

"But why would it need to be moved to a safe place?"

"Because the plan was executed."

"But what was the plan!"

"The timeline was adjusted. Earth now had an atomic war in 1983, caused by malfunctioning Russian equipment. Most of the northern hemisphere is destroyed, with large areas still radioactive. Without support from the north, the southern hemisphere is in chaos, with mass starvation, made worse by refugees streaming in from the north. A third of the population was killed in the war, and the population is still dropping rapidly. We expect it to stabilize at around 100 million."

I couldn't think of anything to say for a minute. Could it be real? "Why? Why was it done?"

"It was the plan chosen by you. You must look within yourself for the reason."

"But, but, I didn't..." Something hit me then. "You mean there are other plans?"

"There are many plans, but none of them can be executed without invalidating the current plan."

"That's okay! I'm don't want the current plan! Get rid of it!"

"What plan would you like instead?"

"I don't know! I don't have a name! I don't know any of their names!"

"We must have a name. We cannot proceed without it."

"I don't have one! Isn't there anything you can do? I feel like I'm talking to a robot! Can't you please just undo what was done? Just dump it?"

"Very well. We will execute plan Dum-Pit, as requested."

"What? Wait, I don't know what that plan is..." They were fading into blackness. "What's happening?"

"Your attention is returning to there," I heard faintly out of the darkness, almost a fading memory of words.

I opened my eyes and saw a swirling blackness in the sky, rapidly receding. I looked around. I was on a hillside somewhere, with a large city below, several miles away. I wasn't where I was before, but everything else felt normal. Even more normal, somehow, than it had before I left. It felt like it was for the better, though I didn't know what had changed and wouldn't know for some time.

I paused. Why did I think that? I couldn't be sure now. Oh well, plenty of time to think about it later.

I made my way down the hill toward the city.

Mega challenge:

perpetual motion,
telephone pole,


I took another bite of the Spam sandwich, and watched the shadows lengthen. This was taking a lot longer than expected. I had already been here a week. Spam was good once in a while, but I was getting real tired of it. The cans were handy to take on trips, but once opened they were no longer in a state of preservation, and had to be eaten fairly quickly. I had already gained ten pounds, or at least it felt like it. I would have gained more, but I found myself eating less often. Which might not be a bad thing, as the food wouldn't last forever. I would be out of the bread soon, and then I would have to start on the crackers. I would be out of the real Spam tomorrow, and then I would start on the store-brand copy. I doubted it would taste any better.

I took another bite. In desperation, I opened one of the small boxes of raisins and opened up the sandwich and sprinkled some on the meat. I closed up the sandwich and took another bite. It did seem to be better. At least it changed the taste. I finished the sandwich and wiped my hands on my already stained shirt.

I looked up. The buzzards were still circling, seemingly in perpetual motion. There was a time when I had tried to name them alphabetically, like hurricanes, but I couldn't tell them apart, and it no longer seemed important.

I had been on vacation, hiking, when a pack of wolves had started following me, then chasing me. I was running across a meadow, heading for the lone tree in it. It went straight up, like a telephone pole, with the first real branches about twelve feet above the ground. I don't know how I climbed it, but I did.

The wolves left after a few days, but I found I couldn't get down. I had gone pretty high to find some good, comfortable branches, and to be well away from the wolves, but I found I couldn't climb down much without getting stumped. I had tried several times, but I just couldn't do it. Below a certain point, I couldn't find any proper place to put my feet, and there was little to hang onto. If I fell, I would probably need major surgery, assuming I didn't die right away. I wasn't going to get any surgery out here, though. Just the buzzards, unless the wolves came back and fought them off.

I had tried my cell phone over and over, but there was never any signal. I was trapped here on the tree, in the middle of the meadow. It felt like I was on the singularity in the center of a black hole, a place from which nothing can escape.

I had packed a lot of supplies, but the food would be gone in a few days. I didn't know what I'd do then. Lose the ten pounds, probably. That and a lot more.

I had run out of water long ago, and would be in big trouble now if it hadn't been raining so much. I used a small frying pan and a cup to catch the rain, and then refill the water bottles. The rain probably wasn't too clean, coming down off the leaves like it was, and sometimes it included a few caterpillars, which I fished out. I was starting to think I should have stayed in Florida.

It was getting late, and soon I would have to tie myself to the tree again, to make sure I didn't fall off while I slept. I didn't have any rope, but I had managed to use the straps from the backpack instead. I used one strap to secure the backpack to the tree, and then put the other one around my waist. It was uncomfortable when I ended up hanging from it, but it beat the alternative.

I watched the caterpillars crawl along the leaves and branches for a while. I wasn't ready to eat them yet, but there might come a time.

I looked up. The buzzards were still there. I had yelled at them, trying to scare them away, but it didn't work. Flattery didn't either. I had even asked them what it would take to get them to leave, but none of them seemed at liberty to say. One of them landed, now, on a branch a few feet above me. I wondered how it would taste with raisins.

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Blogger Raven said...

These are wonderful! You really should be published if you aren't already. I always love they mysterious whimsical journeys you take me on every week.

9:31 AM, September 06, 2009  
Blogger Argent said...

I echo what Raven says above: you should be published! Three very tasty pieces this week.

Smoke signal spam! I love it! Didn't see that coming at all and so nicely paced and timed.

There is a terrific dreamlike quality to your second story. This is something you do so well in your writing. The pacing was so steady and the set words just disappeared into the story so naturally.

Spam and raisins, blechh! I love the very simple language in this piece, the voicing was very natural and you got the words in once again without it seeming overly contrived. I always look forward to your weekly posts and you never disoppoint.

12:33 PM, September 06, 2009  
Blogger CJ said...

Three great stories ---all a bit creepy, all a bit wonderful.

My Wordzzle is HERE.

2:57 AM, September 07, 2009  
Blogger Dr.John said...

You write great stories but long. Of course, the longer the story the easier it is to use the words.
But you are one creative writer.

3:46 PM, September 08, 2009  

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