they set out together

90 seconds

For ninety seconds after, there was complete silence. Veronica knew this because although she was too dazed to move, she improbably found herself staring as at the second hand of an expensive silver watch.

It was one of the many unlikely occurrences that day held.

For ninety seconds, she observed the dark black line slowly make its orbit, marking off the seconds as reality adjusted. She wondered whose watch this was, and how it had ended up in her yard.

A bird chirped. Veronica looked up and realized that it was over. Nothing more was going to happen now. All that was left was to get up and try to assess the world as it was.

3 minutes

The realization that it was only self pity that held her down made it hard to stay on the ground, but she managed to avoid any movement for another three cycles of the second hand.

2 days

How many people lived on her street? Within a quarter mile?

If she was the only one left, then that made her what?… 1 in a hundred… 300?

Nothing would work.

It was easy to check on people. In their last moments everyone had left their doors wide open.

She hadn’t gotten the memo, another mystery. The static on radio was deafening.

The electricity was still on, but there was no internet or cell service.

How should that figure into her odds? 1 in a thousand?

4 days

There was nobody left in her neighborhood. In a few homes she found hasty notes:, to do lists of names, but no explanations.

It’s not just that they were gone. it’s that everyone else had seemed to know something was about to happen except for her and her husband. They had missed the invitation somehow.

When they had looked out the window and saw everyone’s cars with their open trunks and hoods open they had stepped onto the porch. Their neighbors were all lined up outside, waiting.

Had they seemed scared? She thought so, but she had been scared so who knows.She missed her husband, Ian, most of all. He had been calm, inquisitive. Naive.

2 months

With nothing else to do, she processed her grief surprisingly quickly. The world around her was full of possibilities and the only immediate concern so far was the dogs.

The outside world was keeping it’s distance. But the animals that had been left behind had become a serious threat.

Even the cats moved in groups, looking slightly unhinged. When she saw them prowl the streets at night in ever larger packs,  she imagined how betrayed they must have felt. They had given up their wild selves to build a life based on a certain kind of companionship and civilization. Then, with no explanation it was gone.

Her grief was in the past. The loneliness existed in the eternal now.

6 months

Slowly she had adapted to the mystery of her current circumstances. What had taken everyone? Should she trust the tap water? Why didn’t the car start? How would she eat when the perishable food ran out? Would they be back by then? How long would the electricity last?

She knew she had changed, but just how much was confirmed when she spotted a house-sized creature and did not scream. It was mostly robotic, and mostly spider shaped but with a humanoid torso and face. She was surprised of course, and afraid for her life, but she was not overwhelmed.

She hid, but it found her anyways.

6 months 1 day

In the end, all it wanted was some cake. She scavenged some, and they had a small birthday celebration.

6 months 3 days

He had been literally living in a cave and had no idea what had happened. But he offered this:

“Sometimes you just have to accept that the impossible happens and all the rules you knew before are gone. That happens and my ability to accept it when it does is one reason I have lasted as long as I have.

But…  not yet.  Let’s go visit the local power station. And if that doesn’t work well see if we can’t track down some aliens or old gods or something and wring an explanation out of them.

If you live long enough sometimes you find that you can do something, and even if not, it’s usually more interesting to try.”

6 months 1 week

She set her house on fire and watched as the irreplaceable memories held in the objects from her old life burned.

She opened up as much cat and dog food as she could find.

And they left together.

Tom Waits 1

My current goal as an author is to get my stories down to this level of efficiency :

Down by the Riverside motel,
it’s 10 below and falling
by a 99 cent store she closed her eyes
and started swaying
but it’s so hard to dance that way
when it’s cold and there’s no music
well your old hometown is so far away
but, inside your head there’s a record
that’s playing, a song called

Hold on

http://www.tomwaits.com/songs/song/145/hold_on/

My Star Wars Pitch

Kylo, Poe and Han Solo stop off in a seedy bar following rumors about the whereabouts of Luke.

As the camera pans the room, the audience sees a variety of bizarre, but strangely familiar alien forms.

Without warning, Hans face explodes. The music stops. In shock, the group is too horrified to respond when an alien walks up to the table holding a blaster. He stares at Hans slumping corpse and says “Message from Greedo, ‘How about a ‘heads up’ next time.'” Continue reading

Luke’s Cantrip

The first spell I really mastered was Luke’s cantrip. While on the road from Halrventon to Freesebon, Gera realized that Krashin was too busy being a demigod to actually teach me anything, so he took pity on me.

I was busy being a Very Competent Assassin. The kind who was able to take all of these adventures in stride, and so I didn’t realize quite how special Gera was and ignored most of his lessons.

But Luke’s cantrip caught my interest. Gera described it as : “Bringing part of the background into the foreground by focusing on it in the right way. Using your mind this way will create some tension that can function as useful first step for many of the more complex magics.”

Which is all true as far as it goes. Most use it as a sort of palette cleanser at the start of a big spell. But here’s why I love Luke’s cantrip: You touch the part of the universe that is raw and undefined and embrace that chaos. It opens the mind to the uncertainty that is always available to us.

Or, if you want to get mystical about it – the heart of existence is utterly indifferent to us. It does what it will by rules that we find unfathomable, no matter what the cost to those of us trying to scratch out an all too temporary life within it.

Mostly this strikes me as a problem. But Lukes cantrip makes it an asset in situations where you want a seemingly random number without using dice.

I most commonly use it when I need to make a decision.

This world gives us so little.

Immune to symbols 

When you are blind you do not see blackness. 

Find an object just at the outer edge of your vision, now turn your head away from it slightly.

The way in which you can no longer see it, is what Remo was contemplating.

He was at the periphery of a party wearing a jaunty purple felt hat he had chosen precisely because it did not suit him.

The music’s tempo increased. The lights seemed to pulse rhythmically. A heightened reality swirled, implying potentialities he dared not engage with.

He sat in a darkened corner with his eyes closed, trying to protect his consciousness from visions it couldn’t comprehend.

Remo had set out to slay the gods of his world, only to find that most of them were obsolete. Replaced by impersonal systems, they were highly evolved, highly adaptive. Yes they were fueled by human misery, but that was only incidental to their own survival. Now he was numb to the disappointment, with occasional pangs of fear at the degradation of his ambition.

When Jal-tok finally passed by, Remo felt the hidden dagger pulse, and prayed it would not give him away. Such aggression could not harm a god.

When Jal-tok fell to his knees, poisoned by tainted fruit and over-reaching ambition, Remo did not smile, and felt mostly sadness.

But he noted, not even gods were immune to symbols, when backed by the right dagger.

A Dream of Jedi

50 some odd years after the last catastrophic war, both sides have gone underground. The scene opens in the ranks of Watt & Stephenson Ltd. Watt & Stephenson Ltd. is one of the most profitable entity to ever exist.Its headquarters are opulent, and team with agents from both sides. Tensions are high after decades of subterfuge and counter-espionage. Wisecracks about Kevin from accounting being a Sith Lord are no longer met with nervous laughter, or denials.

On a giant indoor basketball court during lunchtime, a window crashes, and an undisguised rebel strides towards through the crowd. Weeks of careful planning pay off as they move past effortlessly past distracted security guards and make a dramatic speech in about sacrifice before being escorted away.
Everyone is silent for a moment.  The whoosh of a lightsaber rings out, promising to usher in the dawn of a new era.
At that precise moment, an unfamiliar, metallic voice sputters out over the speakers:
“Hey everyone, this is Milton. Most of you don’t know me, I am experimental accounting A.I. from the moonshot division. Before you continue down this decision tree, I’d like to highlight some features of the situation that seem most likely to change your mind.”
To those following the light path, Milton recounted the impact of the jobs they had created and the impact of the incredible economic stimulus produced by Watt & Stephenson Ltd. The combination of so much concentrated talent from opposing sides working within the confines of a corporation, each trying to rise in the organization and make space for their allies, had led to a rare combination of dynamic problem solving and big-picture thinking. Nobody was focused on the quarterly profits, but everyone needed the institution to exist and thrive. The result was peaceful economic growth that created opportunities for millions to lead a better life.
To those following the way of the dark side, Milton recalled the tremendous power Watt & Stephenson Ltd wielded. How no government dared to oppose its will. The freedom and agency that every high level member enjoyed. It recalled for them that their proclamations were rightly heralded throughout society as wisdom. Even when opposed, they defined the terms of the debate in ways that no political or religious figure dreamed of. Within the organization, and without, conflicts were resolved through the raw exertion of earned power, and the weak were given no quarter.
When Milton finished, the sense of immediate danger had passed. No more weapons were drawn. The balloon slowly deflated.
Although conflicted, most were relieved that they did not have to use violence and find out which of their co-workers would be on the other side when the final lines were drawn.
In the highest echelons, the wisest on both sides began to consider what channels would need to be opened to negotiate a meaningful cease-fire.It was a faint hope that they could save humanity from this self-inflicted crisis, but it was worth a try.

A bridge at the end of the world

There are places where the solid ground we depend on gives way to something less stable. The world we know, air we breathe, the creatures we face, the physics we depend on… all drop away.

In times of plenty, thrill-seekers come to such places, pulled in by the promise of testing their unknown boundaries.

But these were times of disorder, and harsh reality stole the thrill from those who adventure just for pleasure. And so, the bridge at the end of the world was largely abandoned.

Isa had lived on the mysterious stone bridge for a long time. Her home was thatched to the last and greatest of the pillars. A stone monument that rose into the sky, a scale model of an infinite tower. From town, on a clear day, it was just barely visible from St Josias. In times of plenty, the pillar alone would be worth a journey to the end of the world.

For Isa, the dark stone column was an anchor against the storms that raged all around. A piece of solid footing in a place of wind and uncertainty. Some days she resented it.

On a clear day, Isa could see for miles along the bridge. On this day she saw a black speck moving steadily towards her. She sighed deeply and set the water to boil.

**********

[This interaction plays with the idea of fate. The mysterious stranger is afraid, driven by their sense that their mission is to travel the world and accomplish seemingly minor tasks (shooing a butterfly off it’s course, picking up a marble from a busy road – and thus prevent it’s pre-ordained outcome ala chaos theory).

Further, according to the stranger, only those extremely rare events that actually have determinist outcomes are revealed to them. Everything else is powered by free will and random chance. The strangers tasks are a function of that law of indeterminism that otherwise deterministic events create the conditions for an agent of free will (the mysterious stranger) to potentially intercede. The stranger does not know what outcome they are preventing, good to bad, their only mission is to hold back the forces of determinism.

The stranger may not be the best judge of their own true motivations.]

– This is all backstory, not story, I don’t have the story here worked out or how much of that I want to shoehorn into it.

– They travel down the bridge and accomplish something trivial (perhaps after great effort)?

**********

The woman in black smirked when politely asked about her day. In response to Isa’s question she replied “A more interesting question, is why do you live here and invite the wayward strangers who appear into your home for tea?”

“As far as I know, I am the last bit of refuge on the bridge. Nobody makes it this far without reason. Some of them are worth hearing, and some only need to tell their story to be persuaded they truly want to turn around.”

“Are you going to try and stop me?”

“I don’t try and stop anybody. The suicides I try to comfort, and sometimes that reminds them that they don’t want to go. But you can see this place for what it is, and so I know you’re driven by a wider perceptive. I’ve yet to have much impact on those like you.”

Some more small talk. And then:

“What can you tell me about the bridge beyond here?” the woman in black asked.

“I have made it about three days in. The winds get louder and bridge narrows but the stone never gives way. The voices get quieter and more intense. They strike fear into me, and I’ve always turned around. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has gone further and come back.”

“The voices?”

“The bridge is a mystery, and may manifest itself differently to you. For me, my fear takes the form of voices that haunt me at and tug at the lonely parts of my soul

Not everyone has that experience. But I the ones who have no reaction at all have always scared me the most.”

….

I am hopeful that my quarry is only a days travel in. I was afraid I may not … well I was afraid.

Is your quarry a secret?

 

Insightful Commentary

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