Κυριακή, 2 Ιουνίου 2019

Midnight In the Blind Spot of Prometheus

Published in volume 14, issue 25 of Shlock! Magazine 



 
"No more, brother, no more," the Penitent said, before collapsing in the blue-tinted shadow of the hoar-trees.
He lay there, long-limbed and wide-eyed, his arms sprawled across the grim-shrubs, his fingers tangled against their skull-shaped warning facade. In the distance, the clanging, chomping noise of the Wasp came ever closer.
Up. Up, I gestured, but the Penitent stared up at me and nodded softly, pointing down at the red mess that were the soles of his feet, pulling up his dog-skin shirt to show the gangrenous wound, set against his ribs, laid out against his cracked and tearing skin.
"Tired. Hungry," the Penitent said, then nodded back at the stomping, clanking noise the Wasp made, crawling ever closer "doomed."
Close, I gestured again, pointing a patch of celeste colored grass, halfway covering the old sigil from the scripture of the Glow Church: a sun, surrounded by a trinity of gently curving blades.



"For you, close," the Penitent nodded and shoved at me, pointing out into the woods, toward the gently sloping ground. Like honey, the sunlight seeped through the trees, revealing the harsh, grey angles of the forbidden zone beyond.
The old song came to me, in the Church's tongue:
-Thees playse ees nat a playse ov honoor-
Again, I tugged at the Penitent, but he simply shoved me away, his withered arm suddenly filled with newfound strength.
"We'll meet again, won't we? Just ask God; ask Him to bring back the Runner and old Curious too," the Penitent said, groaning like an old man as he stumbled to his feet, fumbling with the row of mono-knives arranged on his belt. He held one up to the light, turning it to check its edge-so thin and sharp it was nearly invisible- and said "just don't forget the Penitent. I won't do well, out in the dark."
Remember, I gestured and the Penitent hissed at me, stomping his feet into the ground like he'd drive away a dog. The Wasp's whirring, skittering noises came closer, rising in frequency, then paused; I thought of it about to pounce, rolling back its hindmost row of legs, compacting its glistening body as it contracted its backside, releasing its stinger. I thought of old Curious' screaming turning into a gurgle as the sting went in and the blue foam came spilling out from the back of his throat and choked him, how his eyes faded into that shade of violet blue and I bolted into the vegetation, toward the forbidden zone.
Somewhere behind me, someone shouted a challenge, halfway heard through the sound of scraping stone. There was the barest whisper of branches of weathered metal and then just the sound of bare feet, slapping on hard, smooth rock, covered in hardy growing vines.
***
"God's stuck in the rock, whipped to it by his yellow regal robes," the Runner said, two days out of the  jungles of the Manhut'tan. They had been fumbling their way across the maze of thorns that had been set up since the days of the Glow Church, surrounding the place they'd called Anathema.
"Nonsense. God ain't stuck in the rock," old Curious spat, always eager to chip in with his knowledge of the Scripture "he's bound in iron, prodded and poked by many-fingered hands."
Drowned, I gestured, but old Curious simply waved  me away.
"I think he's just dozing," the Penitent said, always eager to chime in with a bit of blasphemy. We stared at him in horror, but Penitent just added "he wouldn't be much of a God, getting pushed around like that now would he?"
"Blasphemer," old Curious said and the Penitent shrugged.
"Heretic," the Runner said and the Penitent just waved him away.
"Tell the priest, if you can find one," the Penitent said and the others turned away, in  awkward silence. After all, the Glow Church had been gone a long time, their works and words only half remembered among their generation, all but lost to those born after their time.
Late that night, when we'd pushed past the thorn boundaries and the Penitent and I were stuck trying to map the way against the star-studded heavens, I nodded:
What if? Sleeping? Awake?
"Then I guess all we need to do is ask nicely" the Penitent said.
Eyes? Burning?
"Just don't look him in the face. Tiptoeing round his shadow might do," the Penitent said, his eyes halfway closing as he squinted against the starlight.
Danger? Church, I gestured but the Penitent had already lain himself down, gently snoring as he was sprawled across the wet grass. In the darkness beyond, two rad cats squared off against each other, dancing like fireflies in love.
***

The hard grey blocks at the heart of Anathema came closer, so tall they seemed to breach through the cover of trees, nearly touching the sky. A gash ran across them, one great diagonal slit that cleaved them from cloud cover to the teal moss in the ground, stretching out into the zig-zagging darkness beyond.
Above them, a word of binding, its letters still clinging on to the weathered rock-face. I read it out loud, the sounds coming out of me by rote:

                                                                                             "Waest Izol-esion Pie-lot Plant"

Cyan roots tangled around my foot, twisting my ankle as I came tumbling down into the dirt. For a moment, the world became nothing but a nonsense haze of pain and spinning color as I tumbled down, down and finally crashed into the too-smooth ground beyond.
Stomping out from the clearing, a hundred tiny legs clattering across the iris blue ferns, the Wasp came tumbling out, one eye run though by the Runner's mono-knives, stuck into its glistening skull all the way to the hilt.
Sanctuary, I gestured, making the sign of the Glow Church at it, willing it away. The Wasp paused, bobbed its smooth, flat head and then clicked its mandibles at me, as it came zipping toward the opening, almost too fast to see. I leaped back just as it cleared the distance between us, its carapace slipping through the opening, its legs clattering against the too-smooth surface of the slit before its head finally ground into a spark-spitting halt.
Not you. Never you, I gestured, laughing and the sound was all bent out of shape, even against the constant clatter and whirr or the Wasp's spinning wheel-teeth, the clacking noise of its vicious mandibles.
Forget you. Make sure, I gestured at the Wasp but it only lunged at me, uselessly swiping its mandibles at empty air.
***
"God is Glow. Beyond Him, naught but Dark. Notheen ov valoo iz heer." the Runner said, trailing down the final words of the half-forgotten prayer.
"Thees messetz iz ah wor-neeng ov denjer," the Penitent said, turning away from the makeshift mound of rocks we'd buried old Curious under. The blue foam still trickled out from the openings, seeming to shimmer as it seeped out into the light.
Denjer. Steel ther, I chimed in, making the Sign of the Glow. The Runner patted me on the back, as if to thank me. For all our piety, only old Curious had known the prayers.
"He won't be under there for long," the Runner said, as he followed the Penitent down the hillside, toward the edges of the blue forest. Out in the distance, the thorny spires on which God was bound, stuck out against the fading sunlight "we'll speak to God and he'll unmake it; the famine and the plague and the dead. He'll make it right."
Like prayer, I gestured.
"Aye, like the prayer" the Runner said, smiling.
"Let's hope you don't forget your verses then," the Penitent said.
***
Daylight fades into a sliver of starlight, then daytime comes again. In Anathema, time becomes nonsense and space is nothing but a series of slanted corridors, too-smooth walls covered in halfway faded signs.
Here, the sign of a lake, filled with dead fish, a man dipping in its waters as if in a baptism. Beside it, the sign of the man, coming apart like a paper doll, skin sloughing off him in layers.
Runner. Should have seen, I gesture at no one in particular, thinking of Runner, how he'd filled our water bottles. How many days had we drank from them? How long did I have left?
Past another turn, come the thorns, ascending from the ground. Among them, bird nests are laid out, their bedding withered and blackened. Malformed chicks look up at me, flapping their useless wings against the unforgiving ground. Their parents don't come, even after I take a few of the unhatched eggs and crack them, sucking whatever's in them without looking.
It tastes like old coins and rot, but I gulp it down.
Among the thorns,  there's another threshold, softly glowing. From inside there's the sound of waves, breaking against a shore. It's so small it forces me to crawl through it, across the weathered thorns that scrape at my belly and thighs.
The other side is an empty, warm place, peaceful like a womb. Warm water laps at my feet, making the cuts feel tingly. The floor slopes down into the dark, toward a point of light, revealing a mesh infested with greenish glowing algae that bobs softly in the half-light, so much like a beckoning hand.

And just beyond that, at the edge of the water, the shape of a man, wrapped in yellow tatters.
God? I gesture, but it doesn't respond. It simply drifts, slow as a mountain, toward me and I see that it is gaunt and withered and drowned, like in our prayers so I dip my legs into the water and I swim to him  and I hope I'll remember everything to bring the world back just right.
But more than that, I hope that he'll listen.
***
"Ask for green," a woman said to me, as she handed me the charm that hung from her neck.
"Ask for rain. Clean rain. Water, too," another man said, as he pushed a loaf of bread into the Runner's hands.
"Ask for the lumps to go away!" a hunchbacked woman called out, as old Curious lead us through the press of the crowd.
They asked for game and harvest and a new spring; they asked for cures to their ailments and for their dead to come back and I ran through the names again and again, even as I watched the cracked and drying patch of land we called Dixie fade away in the horizon.
"What are you going to wish for?" the Penitent asked me, as we reached the edge of the Charleoix jungle.
Remember. All of them, I gestured and the Penitent laughed.
"I guess it's a start," he said, as we began to trudge through the ferns, under the fading light.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

While this may defeat the original purpose of having the reader research the story themselves, this is actually a short based on the Waste Isolation pilot Plant (WIPP) made by the US government, as an experimental millenia-long warning against approaching nuclear waste dumps to the people of the future.

I hope you enjoyed this short story.


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