Monday, November 25, 2013

The Call

For some reason I wanted to write a Middle Eastern story. Of course, knowing little to nothing about medieval Muslim culture, I probably screwed the pooch more than my fair share. The most glaring, I think, is an empty, yet stocked, bazaar during the adhan. Supposedly you're able to perform prayer wherever you might be able, as long as it's clean, but I decided to alter that, obviously.

Don't think too hard about it. I'll try to do the same.

The muezzin made his call. It floated from the minaret and into the city, a siren's song for the faithful. Turbaned men and veiled women rushed from the busy streets for their homes. Kabeer al Omar moved as well, though his purpose was not so holy. He had completed his prayers before the adhan, a sorry attempt at pardon. Perhaps Allah, Most Merciful and Supreme, would forgive him that one sin.

Perhaps He would forgive the ones that were to follow.

Omar hated the dry heat of the desert, and the thin robes were little protection against its blazing mid-day sun. The sun beat down like a smith's hammer during the day, while winter's fingers clawed at them during the night. No matter the years he spent here, Omar could not adjust. The peace that he had found in his heart never quite transferred to his form. Omar picked up his pace, short legs carrying him into the bazaar.

The shade of stone saved the Troll. The market's ceiling vaunted twenty feet into the air, making the giant feel as but a child in a room for men. The grim purpose on his shoulders did not help the feeling. Omar passed empty stalls, some filled with fruits, others lined with silks, all untouched by the greedy. Thieves knew better than to risk the wrath of Allah, Greatest Protector and Wisest Judge, during the call to prayer.

Murderers were different. While perhaps not brazen in their methods, they planned and plotted easily enough with whispered words in concealed corners. Not that anything was hidden from Allah, the All-Knowing. Still they tried, and it was left to ones such as Omar to find them. As the Troll came short of a fourway path, he could hear the bloody murmur of conspiracy to his left. 

".. must look as if a stroke," continued the fat man, bent with age. His spotted fingers stroked roughly through his beard, a nervous motion that plucked hairs. "A tragedy of time, of a rich lifestyle! Perhaps thabann sinn? Haadi?" 

The other man shook his head, pacing as he spoke. "It is far too late to change our plan, Nasir. Steady your hand and your heart!" cried the youth. His eyes blazed, a fire that only seemed to enhance the beautiful face behind a full beard. "When Selim arrives, we shall come upon him from both sides. His Janissaries shall part for those of our rank, and when they do--"

"We will die!" answered the elder. "We are administrators, Hasan, not warriors! We will be rent limb-from-limb, savaged beyond recognition! Dogs will feast on our bodies and vultures will commence the clean up! And that is only if we are lucky! What if Selim's giant comes for us? You have heard the tales of red rooms and missing men! That alone should have warned us, but here we are! Why did I let you talk me into this madness, this foolishness, hopeless endeavor? Allah, deliver me--"

The sharp sound of an open-hand against flesh silenced Nasir's triade. His trembling hand raised to a reddening cheek as the old man quaked underneath the youth.

"Allah would not abide such a beast on the throne! A man who kills his brothers, his cousins, what sort of man is that, Nasir? If he will murder his relations, then we will be nothing to him should he catch wind of our dealings! Gird your loins, for you sound more like a woman than any man I've yet known!" Hasan spit at the ground, fists tightening. "With Selim dead, we have the chance to rise beyond our means no matter what monster he might command! I swear on my name, Nasir, I will drag you kicking and screaming to the caliphate if I must!"

 So it was true.  They had embezzeled the caliph's money. Worse, they sought to steal his life. Even the smallest sin led to bigger temptations. Once man erred intentionally, it was hard to ever stop. It was a sad fact that they had started large and only had their ambitions grow. Omar had heard enough to pass judgement on the pair. It would be no sin to do his duty this day. Yet the Troll still closed his eyes, muttering a prayer. 

It was still on his lips as he turned the corner. "Gentlemen," boomed the giant. The two men spun in surprise. Nasir's face paled. Hasan's confidence faded. Omar took one step, then another. The old man's back pressed against a stall, while the youth's feet were stuck fast to the earth. They were mice caught in a serpent's gaze. They would not escape.

"I believe I need no introduction. I am called 'giant' by some. Others call me 'monster.' Allah Most High has seen fit to call me Kabeer al Omar. I am a simple man with simple tastes." Omar's lips began to stretch, first in what seemed a smile before too many teeth were on display. His lips parted, his red tongue edged forward, and the black space between beckoned. 

"I am Selim the Steadfast's Sin-Eater, and now I shall feast."

The muezzin made his call. It floated from the minaret and into the city, a siren's song for the faithful. Kabeer al Omar was among them. His heart was as heavy as his belly, but the Troll had done his duty. Prayer would ease his troubled heart -- it always did. As for stomach, time would heal that ache.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tea Party

Here's another foray into the world I'm writing. I've got a large document filled to the brim with races, history, etc. etc. Hopefully I'll be able to produce something substantial (such as a book) when I'm finished. Until then, I'm fine with writing short stories from different corners of it.

Snow was falling.

She hoped it never stopped.

Snow meant that Dr. Remington would stay in. He hated the slush and congestion of a snowlocked city, and she hated to see him go. Each venture out meant new subjects or forays into mischief, things she could not abide but was unable to protest. At least today, Jessica had him all to herself. She made to make preparations.

Jessica stepped away from the window. She had another name before, but it had faded like the day's snowflakes. She couldn't remember much before she had opened her eyes and seen the good Doctor, a crinkled smile on his blood-speckled face. He had given her the task of naming herself, a name all her own.

Jessica Eloise Shirley Sanderferd tackled it with zest. She did so with most things in life, evidenced by the flare of a frilly white tablecloth in her hands. It floated gently down to the tabletop, just slightly askew, before it leapt up again. As the cloth settled, Jessica walked around the table, smoothing away wrinkles with her tiny fingers.

"Perfect," she murmured.

Next came the chairs, five all in total. One for her, one for the good doctor, and the other three for the usual guests. She fetched them from the walls, first Lady Habless, a slovenly bear of leisure with stuffing emerging from her belly. Lord Iverness followed, a gorilla with a bright out-look despite his paraplegic status -- the Great War was a tragic thing. Finally was Mr. Whimsley, the dour, one-eyed rabbit. Jessica didn't care for his rough attitude, but she figured that tea parties were the only thing keeping him from the drink.

She couldn't very well turn him back to demon rum.

As Jessica set down each cup, turned just-so to the sitter, she let out a sigh of annoyance. "Yes, Mr. Whimsley, tea will be served soon. However, we must wait on Doctor Remington. As you well know, he is our benefactor. Would you care to displease him?"

The rabbit answered with moody silence.

As she set the teapot in the middle of the table, she heard a floorboard groan outside her door. He was coming! Jessica's ringlets bobbed as she looked around the room, looking for any preperations  gone askew. The place settings were immaculate, the china shined to a fine sheen, and the guests, while perhaps unhappy, weren't rebellious. No, it was all grand. All the scene needed was a final touch to be perfect.  She rushed to her chair with the energy of youth.

The door creaked open.

"We have been expecting you," said Jessica imperiously, teacup drawn to her lips. It was all about impressions, really. Jessica may have put effort into the occasion, may have rushed to have it completed, but she certainly couldn't act as if she had. This was her realm, where she stood first lady -- with that at stake, nothing else would do.

The doctor laughed before bowing his silver head. His gray hand settled at his heart, clearly agrieved at his poor behavior. "My apologies, Ms. Sanderferd. It is little excuse, but as you know, when Lady Science calls, we mortals have no choice but to answer." Jessica released a long suffering sigh as she nodded to Habless.

"I must agree, Lady Habless, we are much more attractive than science." Jessica peered over her cup with feigned annoyance. A lady must play hard-to-get, especially for a prize worth winning.  Truly, the doctor was the grandest prize of all. She waited, body tensed.

"If science was attractive as the two of you, I am afraid I would never leave her side." There it was, the silver tongue that he was notorious for. Jessica's heart fluttered even as she watched the skeletally thin man bow at his waist. He reached down to take Jessica's hand and her fluttering heart stopped, dead. His touch was cold and his kiss on her fingers even colder.

It was absolutely delightful.  Doctor Remington moved to his chair, a seat that made him look absolutely gigantic. He raised an empty teacup to his lips, testing a sip before frowning. "Lady Sanderferd, you know I prefer my tea not to be quite so steeped."

"A penalty for being tardy, I'm afraid," said Jessica with a wave of her hand, doing her absolute best to look unconcerned.  "I'm afraid I have no scones for today's tea, either. A casualty of our long wait."

The doctor laughed, furrowing the crow's feet at the corner of his eyes. He was an older gentleman, to be sure, while Jessica was a girl not yet in the flower of her youth. It was the unlikeliest of romances, to be true, but she could hope. She admired the fine lines of his face, perhaps too involved with the intricacies of the man.

"I'm sorry to say this is a business call, Lady Sanderferd." Immediately her back went rigid, her lips pursing bloodlessly. She might love the man, but she hated his "business." Jessica looked away, tiny fingers tightening around her teacup.

"I wish you wouldn't," she said quickly. "It's a snow day. You know you're not to speak of your work on a snow day." She hated how petulant it sounded coming from her lips, a whimper rather than a command. The doctor reached across the table, his hand settling against her own.

"I'm sorry my dear, but we'll soon have visitors," said the doctor. "You must be prepared for when they arrive. Else, it could go very badly for the both of us."

"But this is our time," she stressed. She felt tears well in her eyes, making the air shimmer. Why was he so cruel? "Why do you have to hurt people? Why do you have to take them from heaven?" The doctor's hand slipped up to her cheek. His thumb brushed away a stray tear as he offered a faint smile.

"Why must you hold tea parties and place princess?" he asked the child. "We do these things because they are a part of us. You are naturally regal, my dear. I..." Doctor Remington offered a lop-sided smile.

"I'm naturally a monster, I suppose."

Perhaps she should have hated the doctor. He had stolen her from heaven and now here she was, in a lonely room surrounded by stuffed animals and finery. She could remember nothing before she woke, and after she did, he was everything. The doctor began to explain, giving instruction and explantion.

Snow was falling, but Doctor Remington's words were even colder.

She wished he would stop.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Can't Go Back

Here's a bit of a change of pace. Instead of articles, I'm going to start to toss out some short stories. Little more than blurbs, really. Bits that establish my world in my own head. They'll probably be rough as hell, but I appreciate your reading them.

Bird Doublehead was terrified.

He had never been a brave man.  Brave men didn't stay quiet when women were forced to looms, and men into fields. Brave men didn't stand back as they watched outsiders uproot their people to some forsaken corner of creation. They certainly didn't watch while white men erect bonfires to burn the best of them.  He could still hear the howls and whines. He could still taste burnt fur and flesh.

Bird wasn't brave in the least, but he was mad as hell, and that was a fine replacement. His head leaned forward, peeking through the trees. In the distance he could see a trail of dust stretching up to the sky. He raised his forearm above his eyes, squinting as he fought the sun.

The horse-drawn wagon clattered along the dirt path, the frame bouncing over every stray rock and occasional pothole. Its passage from Georgia had not been easy, as evidenced by the torn tarp and wary horses. It was for good reason. The wagon brought the scent of rot and wine, of an old man used to sweet things and easy paths. On the bench was bent the Major, gut protruding as his gnarled hands squeezed the reins. He was a man in the winter of his life. Once he could face it was a smile and a laugh, but now all he could muster was the weariness of all those years.

Treason aged a man considerably.

Bird emerged from the treeline, his heart hammering against his chest. The horses came to a dead stop. Their broad nostrils twitched as the pair sniffed at the air. The horses' eyes rolled back until they were all white, panicked wickers and whinies filling the air. Still, they held their ground as not to defy the seated man.

Bird could easily have ambushed the Major, brought him low with a hidden snap and have been done with it. There was no joy in such a victory. He'd dreamt of killing the Major since he was a boy, fangs and blood haunting every single night. It was for this that he'd gone all this way West, across unknown country with a dagger hidden behind every smile.

Doublehead'd be damned if he didn't look the man in his eye before he killed him.

The Major finally raised his head. It was with mild disinterest that he studied Bird, as if he was just another rock in a long road. It was enough to make the younger man's blood boil. The old man finished his inspection with a sigh.

"You're Chief Doublehead's boy?" asked the Major.

"Bird Doublehead," confirmed the assassin. "I've been following you since Turkeytown, by Reddingville Way."

"It took you this long to catch up?" The Major laughed, a clipped, rough sound. "You almost missed your chance." He nodded to the wagon. "I ran into a few of your friends in Chanceton."

"Weren't no friends of mine. No friend'd take what's mine away." Bird took a step forward.  That's all the motion it took. The Major's hand settled on the rifle laying beside his seat.

"Don't be quick to join your Pa, boy. Turn around and just keep moving." He nudged his head forward, at the trail. "You've got a ways to go, and a new life to live. There's nothing here waiting for you but a quick end at my gun."

Bird Doublehead was terrified. He had never been a brave man, and he didn't want to die. Still, the pelt worn under his shirt bristled with fury. It ached to tear and bite, to make right what had gone so terribly wrong. It was filled with a rage that went beyond reason, and it swept the fear away.

"I mean t'finish what I started," said Bird, or so he tried. It was hard to speak between growing fangs and lengthening lips. The man dropped to all fours and as he did, the rifle rose. He could smell the panic coming off the Major, as sweet as honeysuckle, and he raced toward it.

The air filled with a bang and a roar.