Monday, November 8, 2010

Herr Doctor

Thirty days into the project, Dr. Heinrich Brandt decided to give up on finding gold.

Thirty days without one strike. Hot South African sun beating on their backs. Dust storms destroying equipment. Laborers starting to revolt; an indestructible boulder blocking the dig; and to top it off Dr. Heinrich Brandt had just met a dead person. She stood in the cavern which yawned open behind the almost indestructible boulder--a stubborn black thing that ate all his TNT before collapsing--and stared at him, eyes wide under a heavy, sequined hood. Her skin was grey, completely grey, and it wasn't because she was dirty. The only color on her face belonged to gold piercings, dotting her nose and eyebrows.

"Hello," he offered.

She responded in no language that Brandt understood, but pointed at the shattered remains of the boulder, waving away dust raised by six separate explosions. Her words were agitated, fast; every few syllables, they rose into questions.

"Guten tag," Brandt attempted.

She screamed, turned, ran.

Thirty days into the project, Heinrich Brandt decided gold was no longer quite so interesting.

Ricket in Aislesland

Magic affects soil a bit like radioactivity: that is to say, you don't want to eat anything raised in magic-infused soil. Things grow wrong, or not at all; you plant a field of turnips, you get a field of cucumbers; you eat a potato, you turn into a potato. Most places didn't have this problem, unless more than a few casters decided to spell each other out of existence there, and the usual fix involved a fence, a sign, and a grave for whoever ignored the first two things. Any infused area was small.

But then there was the Center.

The Center was lush, green country: forests grew thick, and gentle hills covered in grass resided wherever forests didn't. It was of course in the very middle of Aislesland, because in a world of magic, locals had little use for imaginative names. It was also, as the legends went, where magic came into being. It was not a good place for growing crops.

Except, for some reason, beans. If you could put up with the occasional magical weather, the sometimes-marauding fair folk, and the odd patch of dirt that screamed when you plowed it, it was a positively lovely place to grow beans.

Ricket Barr hated beans more than anything save magic. As the sole owner and operator of the Barr family bean farm, situated on the edge of the most magical place in the world, this meant he started every day angry and ended every day drunk. His father, the late Antham Barr, lived much the same way and died at 45, leaving all he owned to his 15-year-old son. Since this included the farm and all its obligations, the only thing Ricket hated nearly as much as magic or beans was Antham Barr.

A decade passed after Antham's death, a decade full of alcohol and monotony and, mostly, a decade's worth of beans. Ricket celebrated this ten-year anniversary the same way he'd done so anniversaries one through nine: a trip through the woods to the neighboring town and as many pints as he could get from the Leathern Bottle before old Broader kicked him out.

It was halfway home, Broader's curses still ringing in his ears, that Ricket found himself at knifepoint and remembered there was something he hated more than Antham, magic, or even damned beans: Folk. Rare as dragons and twice as likely to kill you. Also known as The Good People when they were listening, and Those Bastards when they weren't. Sometimes they sported wings, or skin like tree bark; this one had eyes like a barn cat's and fangs to match. Ricket knew about the latter because under her hood she was smiling at him.

She stood a head shorter than Ricket, a fact that did nothing to draw his attention away from the thick, chipped blade she pointed at his heart. Her cloak was mottled brown, something like a beetle's shell, and her dagger was mottled gray, something like a blade which had been used many a time and cleaned almost never. He took a long, deep sigh, and, remembering the tales of Folk negotiation, pointed out the most important thing he could think of.

"Broader has my money," he said. He wished he could sound masculine while saying it, but it came out, as many of his drunker words did, in something like gravel meeting squeak. "And source knows I don't have much else."

She responded in singsong, discordant notes no one standing on two legs should've been able to make and gestured with the dagger.

Friday, August 13, 2010


The water tasted like garlic. Don't know why. I spent ten minutes on the bottle alone, then twenty more searching the car. No food in the car. No spices in the car. Not even a garlic-scented air freshener in the car.

Two people in the car, but as far as I know people don't have garlic in them, not even after they die. Nothing poisonous in the car, anyway, so I drank the water, and the water tasted like garlic, and it was the first water I'd had in two days, so I didn't complain when I drank it.

I complained a little after. To Sean. He was looking for gas in the car and, since he was swearing a lot, I guess he wasn't having much luck. I found him kneeling by the gas-door-tank, sucking on a hose half the time and spitting out fucks and shits the other half.

"Their water tastes like garlic."

He looked up at me and I took a step back. Had to. Sometimes, his eyes were like a fist coming at you. He sounded like a hundred cigarettes soaked in gasoline smelled, which was normal, minus the gasoline.

"They had water."


He stood. God, he was so tall. Taller than the car, definitely taller than me. I tried to hide in my hoodie but it didn't really work, like it never worked, and he grabbed the hood and almost lifted me, like he always did.

"You drank the fucking water."

"Yeah." That was hard to say.

He dropped me. My heels went out from under me and I fell next to the car, scratched my palms on rumble strips. I couldn't worry about them because he was staring down at me, even taller then, tall like God. He pointed at the gas tank with two long fingers. Stabbed the side of the car with them.

"I have been sucking gas out of this thing for half an hour and you have been drinking fucking water?"

"It tasted like garlic." I couldn't help it. It really did, like a bottle of garlic bread, but I knew from his eyes and the way he pulled back his hand that it was the wrong thing to say. So I made up for it, quick, desperate: "They have more."

He turned, first with his head and then the rest of his body, to look through the window. They were tinted black, but he pressed his face against it, and I knew he could see the case of water sitting behind the bodies. I wonder if he noticed the people were holding hands.

"It tastes like garlic?" He said. Trying to look at the water and back at me at the same time. The punch was still in his voice.

"Like..." I couldn't talk. My throat felt dry again. But I knew I couldn't stay quiet, either. "Like garlic bread."

Sean started laughing. Really hard. He laughed until he was on his knees again, almost level with me, leaning against the car and hitting it over and over again. Till his voice was soft, and then he laid down, next to me on the freeway, for once my eyes higher than his.

"Good find, Jen." He closed his eyes tight and breathed heavy. "Good find." We sat there for a while, him breathing and me scared, and then he helped me up and told me to "grab the goddamn gascan." That's when I relaxed. He didn't say goddamn when he was angry.

The sun was going down and my hoodie wasn't good enough. I found a scarf in tthe front seat, next to what used to be the lady. I wrapped it around my neck three times and then I dared to bother Sean. He was checking where I wouldn't.

"Can we sleep now?"

Sean didn't look up from the man's pockets. They were jeans once, the tight kind, so he was having a hard time. "Not yet. Just...yes." He drew out a pack of matches and laughed, throwing them into the lady's lap. Piled next to gum and some pictures of kids who weren't in the car. "Just a few more cars. Go on ahead."

I looked down the freeway. Chicago looked as far away as the day before, and the line of cars still went on forever. "Okay."

I felt cold and out of nowhere missed my parents so much I couldn't breathe. Then I moved, not fast, to the next car and hoped there wouldn't be any dead people.