Dragons stalked the streets, puffing out smoke and clattering their mechanical wings. Gulligan sighed. Rush hour. A dragon who had the bad sense to scuttle in front of Gulligan found himself violently kicked. The iridescent creature rolled end over end and hit the curb, sending up a cloud. Brittle things, Gulligan thought, for all their noise and pollution. Pieces of silvery scales lay like dust, drawing the trajectory of Gulligan’s kick.
Gulligan mumbled an apology and kept walking. The three-inch pest began to swear in its own language. Gulligan understood, but pretended not to. From behind he could hear metal scraping against the charred asphalt and knew the dragon was coming after him. Gulligan stopped short. Sure enough, he felt the sting of warmth and impact as the dragon rammed into his calf. The smell of his own seared flesh was immediate, but Gulligan did not flinch. Again the dragon came at his feet. This time, Gulligan lifted his leg at the last moment, sending the animal reeling.
Each sized up the other.
“Your kind never watch where you’re going,” the dragon said in the common tongue.
Gulligan snorted. “You landed right in front of my foot.”
“You shouldn’t even be on the street. The streets are ours.” The dragon pruned its ruffled scales, pulling out the chipped ones. New ones would grow back. Old ones littered the ground. The lightest metal flakes began to quiver. The dragon narrowed its eyes and backed away. He wondered that the boy hadn’t cried when he burned him. Realization began to dawn.
Too late. The dragon recognized the hum of electricity, saw the boy’s eyes vacate the avatar. Dead eyes were the last thing he saw. He and countless others were crushed to the Bombshell Boy Electromagnet, society’s solution to the dragon problem.
Random thoughts: Judging for CFF taught me more about writing than countless hours spent butt-on-chair, a little phrase I picked up from this article. It’s helpful to boil writing down to this simple, if crude phrase (I cleaned it up). Kind of reminds me of Nike’s Just Do It. Both find power in pith. Succinct advice. Not confusable. How to write? Sit down and write. Nothing’s easier than freewriting. Oh yes… what I learned from judging– understandability is more important than finesse. If I can’t understand a story, I can’t appreciate it.
I decided to try my hand at the assignment I gave my 13 & up class this week: 500+ words using one of the seven basic plot types and using the picture to the left as a prompt. Confession: I didn’t decide on a plot type first. The picture was inspiration enough. I just began writing. I can totally tell I’m in the middle of C.S. Lewis’ sci-fi book, Out of the Silent Planet. I did have trouble wrapping this up though, and I believe it’s because I didn’t settle on a plot type or have a plan. As usual, I wrote myself into a corner. Too-much-time later, I figured out an end. Good thing I spend lots of time driving. It’s great for plotting. Now that it’s done I believe it falls under the plot type tragedy.
Hear No Evil
All prisoners wore red; it was mandated. Years ago, some clever administrator dubbed it the perfect prison garb, as red did not exist naturally on Zoya. Making the cloth was costly. First, the larvae had to be imported from their native planet. They were freeze-dried for the journey, then defrosted and spun in oxygen-rich vacuums– a noisy affair, as the larvae screamed in agony during the process. Weavers were always of an earless species, as was thought humane.
Once the larvae were unspooled, the cloth could be brought into the light. Then it was sewn onto a prisoner where it reacted with the epidermis, creating an even deeper, unnatural hue. Milan had laughed as they stitched the suit into the cerulean skin of his ankles, figuring he’d tear it out the first opportunity he got. They sewed it into his pink wrist flesh too, and his neck.
Thankfully he didn’t have ears, so he didn’t hear his own screams. He did note, however, that his mouth opened and closed and a great rush of air pushed out his throat. He’d seen others do it before, so he knew he ought to be embarrassed. The administrators tricked him. He didn’t figure on them stitching a seam up the sides of his legs and torso, embedding the live threads into his heart. If he tugged even slightly on the loose string at his ankle, he immediately felt an excruciating pain in his chest. The red suit would stay, and Milan’s life as a free citizen of Zoya was over. They let him keep his home in the Mottled Wood, they even gave a stipend for his pets. Pets were good for combatting depression, they said. Pets didn’t talk back or criticize. A man with pets might be rehabilitated.
The first step toward rehabilitation was to admit guilt. This Milan would not do.
Every day a representative from the Zoyan Mental Health Services would knock on his gate at precisely 2:00 PM, tea-time in Zoya. Milan was expected to put out tea (they provided it in the stipend, ginger as he requested). The representative sat on the wicker chair, Milan on the floor cushions. His kind never used chairs. They were to talk about his feelings. Was he sorry yet? He’d eaten company property, after all.
How was Milan supposed to know they took seven years to digest? He never would be sorry, he told them. The larvae were delicious.
Milan was sentenced to Indefinite House Arrest.
“What if I leave?” he asked, with his usual sass.
“Anyone with ears will hear you a mile off,” answered the judge, “We provide you the tools and the environment. Rehabilitation must be a personal choice. Free will above all else.” The judge pointed to the Zoyan crest of an eagle as he said this.
“I’m not free,” complained Milan.
“You’re free enough.”
Milan, wanting to make the best of house arrest, decided to make a pet for himself. The ones they provided were lame: a toy rhino and a pillow beetle. To grow what he wanted required a special solution. Luckily, the library delivered, and he was easily able to make the solution once he had the recipe. The other ingredient wasn’t easy: his big toes, chopped off at the first knuckle. They grew back of course, but it was a slow process. He had to wear white cotton socks and slides around the house until the healing was complete.
Every day he stirred the jar, noting with satisfaction that after ten days the toes dissolved and stretched like yeast dough and began to resemble an offspring of the phylum Chordata. The representative nodded in appreciation. “Coming along nicely,” he said, “Art is good for rehabilitation.”
“Yes,” Milan agreed.
“How does it make you feel?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m still growing it. My feet hurt.”
“Yes. Well, I assume you’ve been adequately provided for?” The representative nodded to Milan’s pets and the jar.
“Oh yes, after this it will be enough,” Milan assured him.
“What are you making?”
“You mean you don’t know? They used to live on Earth. You are human, yes?”
The representative, clearly embarrassed at not knowing, changed the subject to that day, Milan’s last day on the job making the very fabric that now enveloped his skin. Milan threw up his hands. “Even if I apologize, I’ll wear this suit forever. What’s the point?”
“At least you’d be free to leave the house.”
“I stand out like a zit.”
“Only on Zoya. You could eventually leave.”
It dawned on Milan that leaving was precisely what they wanted him to do– once the larvae were digested of course. Though the representative was sipping tea and engaging Milan in talk, his attention kept returning to the glass jar. Milan pretended not to notice. When the tea was gone, the representative, a naturalized human, bowed to Milan and thought his farewell. For a human he could think quite coherently. Most simply could not separate their inner thoughts from those they wished to send as communication. It was a drawback to having ears.
Milan wondered if being assigned to him was a sort of departmental punishment. Though he had no ears, Milan could imagine how difficult it was for the representative to ignore the tormented calls of the larvae as his system digested them. The screams went on and on, like a siren, so Milan was told. He heard nothing. The rhino’s ears had been lanced, and the bug didn’t have any, but his new pet… through the thick glass Milan could see the tiny mouth opening and closing. Was that what drew the human’s attention?
Milan eyed the glass-encased prisoner. A stubby wing struck out and hit the glass. “I don’t receive you unless you think.” Milan tapped the side of his head as if that explained everything.
Already it didn’t seem to like him.
Milan sighed. “Do you hear them too?”
In answer, the penguin banged so hard on the glass that it quaked on the table.
“I can eat you too, you know,” Milan said, “And I wouldn’t be a bit sorry.”
“Welcome, we’ve been expecting you,” my butler, bored and composed to near unconsciousness, greeted me with half-closed lids.
“Poppycock,” I snapped, and hefted my suitcase into his gnarled hands. With surprising deftness, they received it. He did, however, stumble a few steps backward into the arched portico of my family’s estate.
“The only time you’ve ever expected me was when I passed between Mummy’s thighs.” I brushed past him toward the grand staircase.
“On the contrary,” he said, “I expected they’d send Little Miss to boarding school, especially after the stunt she pulled with Chef. Not a morning passes, but your father doesn’t miss Chef’s sausage cheddar quiche.”
“Yes, well, she deserved it. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll ask you to unpack my things. I’m dying to play with the kittens. Mummy said they hang about the garage?”
“Yes. She has me feed them every day. They’re her favorite toys of late.”
Swatting his question away, I bounced up the wooden stairs. Mummy enchanted them exactly how I demanded. The extra-springy landing popped me all the way to the top step.
“Octavian!” I called down, “fetch me Daddy’s dissection kit. I want to practice. Haruspication was my favorite class, you know.”
“I’m not surprised. Will Little Miss be needing a chicken then?”
“No, I’ll make do.” I doubt he missed the flint in my glance. The threat. Irritation flitted across his angular, bone-colored face. The deep creases bracketing his mouth twitched.
I didn’t care, what could he do to me? I was practically a credentialed witch. One semester to go.
From behind, I heard the distinct flick, felt the air rush. The smack, the sting against my backside.
Our shape-shifting butler retracted his tentacle. “Didn’t expect that, did you?”