March of the Straw Men

 

 

I hear the rustle of a thousand footsteps marching through the empty field behind the house.
I know it is the straw men who have come for me again. They said they would be back, though, at the time I didn’t believe them. The sound is getting closer and I look through
the window. Their voices sound like a strong wind blowing through thickets of grass. I hear their tiny yelps and calls.

Clamoring for me.
Calling out to me.

Who are the straw men?
They are men of straw.

Who am I?
I wish I knew.

I hide in my room, scared of something silly and surreal, of a dream come to life. They quickly surround the house and seep in – sliding through every crack, every crevice they can fit their bodies through. They seem to be everywhere now, these straw men, that are afraid of fire and horses and goats. They come like the wind in the night, as I lay in bed, waiting for them.

Maybe they will take me away. Maybe they will build a new house, a house of straw, to protect me from the chill rain and the heat of the sun. Maybe they just want to create a bed for me to rest on. Maybe they will make me join them. My skin, my body, my organs and brain, my heart, all transmuted to straw. Then I would march with my straw brothers proudly.

The straw men speak among themselves as they swarm through my wide open door, as they come for me in my room. I see them scurry towards me, their straw bodies and faces, their movements seem to reveal an almost human-like nature. I want to hold them in my arms and squeeze them because they love me. They flood in like a liquid sea of straw, the horde leaving no space on the floor vacant.

Then a small group bump into my table, knocking a lit candle over from its perch.

Fire erupts and flames are everywhere. The straw men run in panic like ants whose hole had collapsed. They fall as their bodies are consumed and crumble into oblivion. My friends, my enemies, the straw men were burning to ash. The fire spreads quickly. I watch sadly as they drift lazily up to straw man heaven in a cloud of smoke. The fire burns out, along with the last of them.

I watched the straw men march.
I watched the straw men defeated.

The ashes blow away with the wind.
The window is open and I am cold. My blanket does little to keep me warm.

I drift off to sleep now.

Maybe my dreams will be sweet.

The Cyrocade

I traveled near

I traveled far

I went to bed

and when I awoke

I was in the land of the Cyrocade.

I saw a sign that read:

“Ahead is the Cyrocade.”

and another:

“Beware the Cyrocade, for it is your Doom.”

I thought to myself:

“Should I go on? It appears to be the only way to go, so I must.”

Resigned, I started on to meet my fate.

I walked a short ways until I happened upon a cave,

it was decorated with old tapestries and lit by torches.

The firelight reflecting off the hangings

gave the entire cave

an eerie purple glow.

I went on in and there

sitting on a throne of gold and bones

sat a wild eyed, lanky madman

wearing an odd mask that covered all

but his eyes and mouth.

His grin went from ear to ear

and he stood to greet me, bowing low.

Then he did something peculiar;

He leaped to the ceiling and stood upside down.

“Good gentleman, how are you staying up there?” I asked it.

The Cyrocade grinned again and

I suddenly felt very dizzy

and was overcome with a sense of vertigo.

I realized I was falling to the cave ceiling.

“A duke, a king, an emperor perhaps”

He paused, “but a gentleman I am not and good,

I am never.

And to answer your question,

gravity doesn’t exist, the ground just sucks us to it. It inhales.”

He mimed being pulled to the ground by a mighty breath.

“And exhales.” he said, leaping into the air and unto the ceiling (floor?)

To my relief he came down again without

flipping the cave upright once more.

“Let us feast!” he proclaimed

snapping his fingers.

Odd little men seemed to crawl out of

every crack, crook and crevice in the walls.

They quickly set up a grand table and two large wooden chairs.

Within a blink they were gone.

“What are we having?” I asked.

“Oh you will see soon enough my good friend,” the Cyrocade said

ominously flashing teeth through his grin.

“Perhaps a game to pass the time?” he suggested.

I nodded.

“Hmm,” he tapped his fingers against the wooden table. “Riddles?

No, that is trite. Chess perhaps? I don’t have a board.

Maybe we should just talk.”

I nodded again.

“I bet I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering what is behind my mask!”

I actually wasn’t thinking that at all

but curiosity suddenly struck me.

“Well my foe, all the treasure in the universe couldn’t convince me to remove it

from my face. But I’ll ask anyways, what do you have to offer?”

I fished around in my pocket and found

four coins: three dimes and a nickel.

“That will suffice, now come closer.”

I drew near.

“Now grasp it.”

I put my fingers around the edges of the mask.

“Now pry it off of me.”

I pulled.

I gasped in spite of myself

by what I saw.

It was silly and surreal, my own face but twisted.

Stretched and distorted as seen through a

funhouse mirror.

Even the eyes I recognized as my own

though they gleamed with an alien madness that

was frightening yet familiar.

Was the Cyrocade mocking me?

It howled with laughter as I recoiled in terror.

It slapped the mask from my hands and was quickly upon me.

His strength was overwhelming as it pinned me to the ground.

It’s mouth open wide.

He consumed me.

I traveled near

I traveled far

I went to sleep

And when I awoke

I felt as though nothing happened at all.

I looked at my hands and they seemed normal enough.

I climbed out of bed and

Looked in my mirror.

My face reflected back, my face and nothing more.

Relieved I began my daily routines.

I was the same as always, a normal person.

but a gentleman I am not.

and good? I am never.

The Every Thing

Once upon a time, I saw something strange. It slowly trickled in from the shadows and took on shape and form. Before I had a chance to run or gather my wits, it had completed its manifestation. The Every Thing had arrived. I had always thought the Thing was a myth but there it stood before me as real and true as anything (which isn’t very real or true at all but real and true enough). Its skin was the shiny opalescent black of eternity, giving the impression of constant movement even as it stood still before me. Its eyes glimmered with a fiery light, like liquid fire. I was overcome with a sense of curiosity that was matched only by my intense fear, but I stood my ground. Running from a monster like the Every Thing was only inviting it to pounce.

“I am the Revolution. I am the Every Thing. It is your time, traveler, and it is you I have come for you.” the voice seemed not to come from it but rather from everything else but it. The walls, the floor, even my body (and soul?) spoke these words while the Every Thing stood silent.

“But why?” I asked.

It began to pace back and forth, a thoughtful gaze fixed on me.  Perhaps it was considering granting me clemency. Perhaps it was just trying to find a proper angle to attack.

“You must return to the cycle. You must be CONSUMED so you can be reborn.” It spoke while continuing its dance-like rhythm, its ebony talons tapping hard against the cold ivory tiles.

“Come at me then,” I said raising my arms threateningly. I knew a creature such as this was too righteous to be reasoned with but maybe a being like me – powerful and sublime – stood a chance against it.

It paused a half second before it bound into the air and was upon me. Its body seemed to stretch outward in all directions and envelope me like a net. What was once a monster of limited size had become limitless. All above me was the Thing and I fell backwards sprawling unto the floor. Its flesh was cold as it pressed against my skin and the blackness leaked underneath me like liquid until there was no white floor at all. All around me was total blackness, it crushed me and burned me. I felt disassociated with reality, the passage of time no longer seemed to hold any meaning. My existence seemed to consist of being devoured and digested for all of eternity. Trying to keep my mind intact, I felt it all slipping away, my thoughts and memories fading like a dream – as I frantically grasped for them, I only caught air. Then I felt as though I was nothing at all. I had no self, no ego, no body, no mind. I was no longer aware of ever being anything at all.

9 months later I was born.

and here I am.

The Giant

There once was a mighty giant. He was 20 feet tall, had the strength of 1000 men and wore a crown made of tarnished steel. He lived in a small hut near a mountain where he happily spent his days doing giantly things. One evening though, he began to feel very tired. You see, giants don’t sleep, at least not like humans do – instead, he would close his eyes every night and stare into the blackness of eternity and never feel rested.

He made his bed and laid down. He did not bother to lock his doors because he knew that those who trifled with giants were fools that would crumble with a wave of his mighty fist. He pulled his blanket over his body and drifted into a deep and well deserved slumber.

Smelling their opportunity, the creatures of the forest knew this was their chance – though they didn’t hate the giant, they longed to taste his blood on their sandpaper tongues. At first, a few brave ones crept through his door and into his house and skittered toward his bed.  They began to nibble on his legs and he did not stir. The others gained courage from the sight and soon his entire house was filled with the thirsty beasts.

He only needed to open one of his fiery eyes and they would scurry for cover.

But alas, he was very tired and did not wake. He could not wake.

…and the creatures, slowly but surely, rent the meat from his bones, leaving only a skeleton.

The Warlock

“We’ve arrived too late.” the princess said with despair, “all is lost.”

The Warlock looked down at the carnage. The city lay in ruin, smoke billowed up from the burnt out shells of buildings and homes. Lines of soldiers wearing the dark steel armor of the black infinity marched along the streets scanning the rubble for any movement. Those that were found were dragged away screaming – once they were branded and taken to the mines, there would be no escape for them.

The Warlock adjusted his broad leather hat before removing his cloak and tossing it carelessly to the side. He then removed his gloves – one finger at a time – revealing grimy calloused hands underneath.

“There is only one thing we can do in a time like this.” he said, mostly to himself.

He fished around his coat pocket and pulled out a small metal tin. He carefully selected a pungent smelling herb from it and carefully broke it down. Licking his finger, he laid it in a line along a small square of paper and rolled it. He then pulled out a zippo, put the paper between his lips and puffed slightly before exhaling a fine stream of smoke.

“Uh…” said the princess, “is that a joint?”

The Warlock handed it to her. She took a hit and shrugged.

the end.

It could be worse

“You know, I don’t think we deserve to be here,” said the Mad Bumbler leaning against the bars of his cell, “we didn’t do anything that everyone else doesn’t do – what is a king but just a man pretending to be one?”

“I only have two things to say to you. One, I knew this was a bad grift from the start. Two, next time you think up something like this, don’t bring me along,” Daisy responded, scratching his 2 day scruff and scowling.

“And I have just one response” said the Bumbler, patting his cot and lying down,”at least we didn’t have to pay for a bed to sleep in tonight.”

“Even so, we sleep this night sober and without soft curves to keep us company,” grumbled Daisy.

“Bah, it’s good for us,” replied the Bumbler, “too much luxury will make us soft!”

“Ha! HA HA!  This from the one who insisted on separate suites with deluxe baths last night. You worry about MY softness?” the big man snorted.

“When we travel with savages, we sleep on the dirt under the stars. Last night we were noble aristocrats, so we slept under silk sheets. Tonight we are criminals, so we have these cots, chains and cold floors. Tomorrow, who knows?”

After 10,000 Years in the Cage of the Nihilist Gods

“I cannot believe” the warlock paused for emphasis, “that I have to spell out what has to be done.”

Theodore inhaled sharply before sighing. “It appears so.”

“Your fleets are out of position – the nearest Returners cannot close the distance in time. Corzin’s ships will be through the gap and into open space WITH the Dimensional Oubliette in tow before ANYONE can block him.”

The Warlock glared with impossible rage. These were the most powerful beings in the universe, Masters that made him appear but an amateur trickster in contrast. Were they so immersed in unfathomable dreams that they no longer recognized themselves as tokens on the game board?

“Except us, you twice-damned fools! We can go hold the gate of Orim ourselves!” The warlock  grabbed the bars of his cage and shook them futility. “What other choice do we have?!”

The cage swayed back and forth – the creaking chain echoed throughout the chamber.

Theodore glanced at his siblings – Alue closed her eyes softly and Rudario furrowed his brow and stroked his thin beard.

“You would have us dirty our hands?” Theodore asked.

“You are already SOAKED in blood. You ALL are drowning in it! Are you MAD?” The Warlock screamed.

Alue walked over and grabbed the cage firmly, halting its inertia (and creaking).

“Peasant.” She hissed, locking her eyes with the Warlock. “We are quite mad – but that is of no consequence or concern of yours. Besides, what do you care if Corzin escapes?”

She leaned forward with her face between the bars of the cage and mouthed “tr-ai-tor”

The Warlock lunged foward but was held back by the iron* shackles around his wrists and neck.

Alue coolly leaned back and smiled.

“We … misplayed our hand and underestimated our opponent.” she continued, “these things happen. Even to us.”

“Indeed,” Rudario replied, “Corzin has proven quite resourceful, I am impressed. And now he has the Null Beast, or will once he cracks the Nth lock.”

“All the more reason.” the Warlock snarled, “that we stop him now.  RIGHT NOW.  Before he has the opportunity!”

Theodore fished around in his pocket before revealing a tarnished iron* key.

“Quite right.” Theodore said, tapping the key against the bars of the cage. He inserted the key into the lock and turned until there was a barely audible click. The locks the bound him opened with the sound of hidden mechanation. “Good luck then.”

Theodore then looked at his cohorts, who nodded dispassionately to him. In the space of a blink, all 3 were gone – to where? I do not know.

The Warlock rubbed his wrists, grunted and kicked the cage door wide open.

More bullshit, as usual.

The Elevator

There is a long empty expanse in the infinite tower that covers miles and takes days to traverse. Passage is provided by elevators that range from mostly functional to rickety death traps. The more you can afford, the better and safer your journey.

Tuggs Turtle stows away inside a large crate and gets loaded along with other cargo on to the 3rd freight elevator. He feels lucky, this was one of the better ones. Inside the elevator sits an automated Victrola that rattles wistful tinny notes from within its metal cage. Once the music warbles its way to a labored, melancholy close, a brass arm operates like clockwork, swinging around and flipping the ceramic record over. The needle drops and the song begins anew.

Peeking out, he sees a middle aged woman wearing a silk shawl and a prim hat, in the style that was de rigueur with the wealthy ladies. When she notices him peering out, she regards him, (and, really, the entire situation) with disgust. Perhaps the luxury elevator was being repaired and she was forced to slum it by going freight – or perhaps, she chose this lift for discrete passage.

Having been noticed, Tuggs climbs out and sits down, sighing deeply. He stretches his bones and ponders in silence. Finally, he produces a black metal tin and selects a prerolled joint from it.

His companion smells it, and stares at him.

Finally, after a time, she asks, “may I take a hit?”

Everyone knows that the long empty space in the infinite tower was created by a large earthshake which caused the anchors and tethers of the frame to collapse. An untold number died as city upon city folded into one another.

Which is why it is intriguing when the woman whispers conspiratorially to him “You know, my ancestors are the ones who caused the destruction that created this gap.”

The elevator, particularly the freight elevator, is one of the loneliest places in the tower. Having been trapped in such an intimate space with strangers, hurtling through nothingness, Tuggs is familiar with elevator confessions. But even he is intrigued by this one.

Her story unfolds thusly: her family was part of a cabal that deigned the corruption and filth of the city levels beneath them had reached an untenable, hopeless state. They decided that a cleansing fire was the only way to let them start over and build a better world.

She tipped the joint slightly to dump out some ash.

The inferno blazed as planned, but it broke through the fire breaks and ignited in all directions. The thing about fire is, it is impossible to truly control. And it is indiscriminate as to what it burns.

The powers that be had a choice – detach the anchors of floors below and let them fall, or risk the fire burning everything.

“My grandmother says that’s why I am the way I am. She thinks the guilt of being part of that destruction has left an indelible mark on the soul of our blood line.”

The Victrola begins skipping, stuck on a loop. Its monotonous stuttering echoes throughout the elevator. The cage temporarily keeps them from fixing it, but after a few moments, Tuggs manages to locate a long metal rod and slides it through the gaps, knocking it hard enough to put an end to the music entirely. A thin smile plays on the woman’s lips. They share a brief moment of victory before contemplation creases her face.

“I don’t know about blood lines. Or souls.” she says. “But I do think things are probably hopeless.”

Tuggs selects another joint from his tin.

This time he passes it to her, giving her the first pull.