Week 1 – Short story

Week 1 of Funtime Writersizing is over!  Comment with links to your blog so we can share stories.

See this post if you need context for the exercise.  Last week’s words were:

  1. pistachios
  2. elves
  3. social
  4. ant
  5. idiom
  6. sequence
  7. doubter
  8. achieve
  9. merchandising
  10. wild-eyed

Unfortunately, I failed to use “idiom.”  Not that there wasn’t opportunity, but when the story began to build, all my inclusions of the word felt intrusive and unnatural, so I skipped it.  I used the other nine, in addition to the setting (jungle) and condition (always dark) as listed in the rules from last week, and the goal, which was to keep writing, was accomplished.  I’m not being too much of a stickler about rules, because this needs to be fun and inspire creativity above all.  Hell, if it gets you writing, I frankly don’t care if you use any of the words or conditions at all. Hope some of you have joined me this week.

I’ll post this week’s words tomorrow.  SPOILER – don’t read below the line if you still want to do last week’s words.  Read on for the (largely unedited) short story.  And please don’t judge me for lack of revising and inconsistencies in the heavily accented dialogue.  And I made the “cover” just because I like makin’ pictures, and thought it helped break up the big chunk of text a little. You obviously don’t have to do that.  Thanks for playing!  🙂

A Beautiful Death

 Paeder rolled his heavy knuckles over the worn wood tabletop, cracking four pistachios simultaneously between each finger. There was nothing whimsical about this man, whose deliberate movements and the unvarying composure of his wide face perfectly matched his sober demeanor.  Jimsa watched him as he ate the brilliant green nuts one-by-one, and repeated the procedure.

Through the window just past Paeder’s shoulder, Jimsa could see the dark cobalt of the morn-day sky was clear, the milky band of stars still arcing low on the horizon.  The luminous cascades of white flowers tumbling from the pistache trees glowed brightest at this hour, sending pale blue leaf patterns spilling across the pathways leading into the forest.

The sweet scent of the tree flowers burst into the room anew with each new patron’s entrance, mingling with the homely aromas of frying eggs and fungus, and the deeper smell of the old, black glow-wood floors, with their stains of ale long past spilt.

The two men waited patiently on their mornmeals as more of the miners filtered in before work time, the tave filling with groggy men waking and mumbling greetings all around, the barkeep swishing her skirts and twirling her trays as she moved quickly through the commotion like a living mass of poetry.  In one of the deeply inset windows, the owner and shopkeeper of the tave carefully arranged his miners’ gear, merchandising his goods with a flourish to anyone who showed interest.

Paeder continued slowly eating the pistachio nuts, neatly stacking the canoe-shaped shells after each set of four was finished as Jimsa studied him.

Paeder was an off-worlder, not one of the Reejies who’d originally been sent to settle this dark planet.  Jimsa, who was born to tenth generation parents, himself, and was quite native now, envied Paeder’s golden skin. Though quite pale, it was far warmer in color than that of the men born here.  Paeder, because of his off-worlder’s genetic deficiency, was required to visit the vita-lamp facility monthly in order to stay healthy. After each of his treatments, Jimsa thought, he was heartbreakingly beautiful in his exotic brown skin that shone with the trapped light of a thousand golden stars.  Jimsa’s native white-rimmed, washed-out eyes and glowing porcelain skin would have burned under the harsh light of Paeder’s home star.  Jimsa leaned back in his chair.

“Tell me about your star.” Paeder’s dark brown eyes moved from the bar to Jimsa with an expression of mild surprise, as if he’d forgotten the younger man was there.

“It be big an’ yeller.  An’ hotter’n ye can reet bleeve.  I dun miss ‘er doe, no I dunt.  I’m mech gladder here in da good night.”  Jimsa was pleased with this answer, and the hint of a smile crossed his lips.  He would get a story today; Paeder being in such a talkative mood was a treat.  This emboldened him.

“Tell me about when the elves came, Paeder.  You were there, yeh, when they first came to your world?”

“Ware comes yeer intrest in dat grim ol’ tale, I dunno. But we’ll tell ye.” He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. His eyes glazed as his mind went back to that old place.

“Well, thar we be one lateday at da tave.  We was fuller ale and none too fastish on we boots.  Weed ain’t had no elfs fer leastwise two, tree cenchries, but it was dare in da chilluns books an wifeteels.  We was shore they aint even beed real, if yeel be wantin’ da plain troof, and he who did, well, he wooda bleeved them creatures was dade for alltimes.”  He paused, cracking four more nuts and placing one on his tongue.

“So dare we beed, joyin’ da coolish eventime an’ drinkin’ we beers, goldie not yet past down o’er da horizon, when dis wild-eyed lowlander, Meedy Krale, she bus down da damn door and stand dare in da mid’luv us screamin’ her fool heed reet fittin’ to kill.  She flinged her arms round and sayed, Meedy sayed:  Da woodmen’s all dade, dey is!  Da elfs, dey’s comin’ agin and ye best bleev dey’ll kill us all! I did seed wot turble deff dey bringed wif me own eyes, an now I BE DADE, TOO!”

Their morningmeal arrived, and Paeder paused to neatly devour the soft blue leaf filled with fungus.  It had only been lightly fried, and a pale spark still emanated from an undercooked section of gill that protruded from the wrap. Paeder pulled on a clay jar of fermented pistache flower tea, washed down his food, and continued speaking as Jimsa shoveled eggs into his mouth.

“Ole Meedy Kreel, now, ye unnerstand, she was prine to da bottle.  Twerent a day goed by wot she weren’t seed in da streets reet snooked. We all laughs, we does, an turnt back t’our own bidniss. Good ol’ drunk Meedy jes standed dare, she did. She swayed a li’l on her two feets and den, shore, reet thar in da mid’luv the tave, she do start undressin.  Slowlike, she taked off her cloves, a piece by piece, till she beed proper nekkid, Meedy did.”

Outside, the bell signaling the start of the day sounded, and the men filtered out of the tave and made their orderly lines as they awaited the Keepers’ arrival from down along the high hill.  The atmosphere was social; the men joked and laughed, shared the mundane details of their lives, lives that would be spent in darkness. Spent, for the most part, mining the precious plant material that would make other men wildly rich, there in the whirring, glowing jungle before them.

Jimsa pushed his plate away and reluctantly rose, hoisting his pack and straightening it to even the heavy load. He and Paeder found the empty space in queue where they belonged, where they stood day after day, and settled themselves in to wait for their orders.  Jimsa shifted his weight from left-to-right, stretching his legs for the impending hike.  Paeder alone stood still amid the restless shuffle of the miners’ lines, staring out into the dark sky as the band of stars slowly made its way higher.  After a moment, he began to speak again, his voice subdued.

“We seed da lines wot crossed ‘er whole bein’ – all ‘er skin, branchin’ out all o’er like tree ruts, and dey was all greens and blues, pulsin’ and growin’ bigger and longer widder ev’ry heart beat. All sudden-like, me neighbor, Berchan, he blew in troo da door, an widdem, a  bright blast o’ light, da very last o’ da day. Soon as dat shaff hit ol’ Meedy, she fair turnt to stone before our eyes, and den a multitude of vines did burst reet from widdin herself, coverin’ up her nekkidness wit more flow’rs’n ye could figger, each one o’em lookin’ jus like dem tiny purple creachers wot we seed pichers of from long past: Elfs!”

“Dare no longer beed a doubter among us, an we all of us jumped up from we seats reet quick an dun pourt out da tave wid as much speed’n we could runt. It beed too late for some; soon as we hitted dat good light, failin’ wit night doe it was, a score more fell behind, succombin’ ta dem killer blooms jus as Meedy had. Dem beautiful flowrs o’ deff, dey wrap up we frens an neighbors an whoever else dey could ‘fect, leevin’ jus dey sad statues behine, crumblin’ white persons, reet freezed in terror, all spread out crost da streets an walks.”

The Keepers arrived, then, and the Paeder stopped speaking as the ranks of men became silent, tightened their lines and readied for the long walk into the jungle, where they would spend the next long mission eating dry rations and sleeping restlessly on thin blankets among the living and shifting roots of the glow-wood groves. The Keepers made their announcements and barked their marching orders, then melted into the background, the rough-throated captains of the men calling out direction to the ranks and signaling the beginning of the work journey, which would last a full revolution of their moon cycle.

They marched onto the wide path, then, the thick white sand crunching beneath their heavy boots, each row consisting of off-worlders stopping momentarily to be sprayed with the hormone meant to deter the giant flame ants that would fill a man’s veins with liquid fire and send him screaming and smoking into the ultimate darkness of death.  They covered their faces with thin cloths to protect their flesh from the ravages of other tiny insects that could, with a feathery touch of gossamer wings, cause the flesh to swell and burst with fiery blue purulence that took weeks to heal and left behind thick, ropy  scars.  There were other horrors there, too, hidden in the tangle of sparkling branches and flowers and fragrant clearings, but the natives of this place were unaffected, and so Jimsa stepped aside and did not take the spray with Paeder.

The men protected themselves the best they could under the circumstances; exposed flesh was fair game, and most, after receiving a bite or two, were wise enough to take precaution over comfort.  The Keepers provided enough chemical to keep the beasts from devouring them while they worked, and then the men would be forced to return to that small village, one of only several strongholds carved out on the planet’s surface, for respite. Jimsa, though wearing clothing that would protect him against scratches and small insect bites, left his face and hands naked.

As they found their stride and warmed up, the men began to talk amongst themselves again, their voices falling flat against the leafy walls and ceiling of a softly glowing tunnel of vegetation hollowed around the well-worn path.  Paeder remained silent for some time, and Jimsa concentrated on synching each breath with the crunch of his footsteps to pass the time. The glow brightened as they neared the site, where stood the first of the Mothertrees from which they would be coaxing a viscous, glowing milk for transport back to seven worlds of light. There, it would be used as fuel, more efficiently producing power from a single filtered ounce than the energy of all their massive daystars combined.

Paeder and Jimsa, as Clearers, were among the first to arrive onsite. They did not pause to rest, but immediately and with great efficacy began the process of erecting the complicated array of equipment they would need to temporarily free the Mothertree of her insectoid denizens to make way for the Milkers.

When the buzz radius was constructed and secure, the Clearers set the current, and the bark of the Mothertree appeared to twitch and melt as the hoard of crawlers and fliers and biters and stingers struggled to escape the painful whine of ultra-high frequency sound waves. What was left behind was the Mothertree’s smooth, wide trunk with its papery bark coming away in wisps, emanating light, ascending far overhead and spreading her lacy canopy over the smaller pistache trees and other native flora.

Jimsa, Paeder, and the other Clearers now stood back, making way for the Milkers, who carefully tapped the trunk with the silver spiles by which the Mothertree would give her lifeblood.  The tree seemed to swell and then exhale a vast breath of overwhelmingly beautiful perfume that settled down over the clearing around her base and made the men quiet with dreaminess.  Into this silence, as they watched the thin trickles of light flow from the tree into their glass receptacles, Paeder spoke, not only to Jimsa, but to all the crew, who, already made intoxicated and languid by the Mothertree’s chemical defense mechanism, listened quietly as his resonant voice continued a familiar story.

“O’ course, we runt straight aways back home, ‘coz when a man seed sumpin like dat, well, his first thoughts beed only o’ protectin’ ‘is fambly.  But we wasn’t privy to da faks, see, none o’ weed understood what we seed dare at the tave and in da streets.  We thinked it were da elfs wot kilt dem folk, see, coz dem flow’rs ‘peared like proper littul folk, complete-like wit arms an legs an faces.”  A collective sigh passed through the group. “How was we to node we be takin’ dat foul affliction straight back to our wifes an childruns?”  Paeder’s voice was bitter.  “How was we to node dat by comin’ to dis place here, justa make a proper livin’, weed our ownselfs bringed back wot wasted our one true home?”

“How,” he choked, “was we to node?”  A murmur of assent rippled through the men.  Paeder cleared his throat. “So, Jimsa,” he continued conversationally after a few moments, “dats wot happen’d when da elfs came.”  He clamped his mouth closed and turned his head away from Jimsa’s fascinated stare.

And Jimsa tried to imagine a place inhabited just by birds, feathered jewels that swirled and dipped on bright currents and landed in silent towns filled with statues that burst and crumbled as the virulent orchids, powered infinitely by the daystar’s light, continued to thrive and overtake every other living creature within the reach of their greedy tendrils.  He tried to imagine how such a plant could have come from this tranquility, this benign home of his, and how it could have changed in nature so much and so quickly that it could have overtaken an entire world.   A tender little vine tip swayed toward him and caressed his ear, brushing against him with a friendly touch as if to ease his troubled mind.  His heart beat in tandem with the pulse of the forest.

Jimsa would never see that golden world, or any like it; the danger would be too great for its other inhabitants, and all who ever came to his world or were born there were effectively prisoners for the duration of their lives.

Paeder now stood as the timer chime sounded, and signaled the crew to join him. The phials were now full with blue light, and despite their drowsiness, the crew followed the release sequence without even thinking: remove the taps, seal the tiny holes left behind with a salve against infection, pack their precious phials in soft cases, disassemble the buzz radius. The trunk of the Mothertree was already obscured with insects by the time the men departed the clearing for the next mine site.

The men trudged along the path, silent in the aftermath of Paeder’s story, all still remembering how their new-found riches had turned to dust when they’d come to know what terrors they’d brought from their new workplace and unleashed upon their home.  Those who’d survived the Great Death were all here now, and with no one at home needing money, they’d simply stopped taking salary and only lived on what was provided.  The off-world leaders of the operation did not argue with their stance, and the profits were immense.  They were reassured that their tireless service to the Empire brought great honor to the memory of their deceased families as the body count grew and the eighth colony fell to utter ruin in its silent quarantine.

Doomed to a life in darkness, exiled from any planet lit by a daystar, they would quietly work to provide power that would light the way to progress and discovery for places in which they were unknown and unloved, anonymously laboring toward the achievements of the greater good, until the end, when they would die in darkness, and darkness would keep them.

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