Monthly Archives: November 2015

Steadfast – part 5

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook.

I was unprepared for what I saw. It was an ever-busy, fast-paced, steamrolling assembly of clocks and men working with the seamless nature of a printing press. Great gouts of steam hung thick and high in the vaulted brick ceilings as various teams worked their trades. Some made arms and others sold them. Various vendors sold or bartered clothing, trinkets and metal wares. The bakers baked bread and the butchers hung carcasses of unguessable animals. It was unbridled industry and it was furious to work.

“Ho there!” cried the guard above the din. “What’s this here?”

The lead rat removed his night goggles, revealing a boy no older than sixteen yet roughed about the edges and rugged from his dank work. “A real fancy clock. This one’s going to the Spartan.”

The guard raked about me with his eyes, shook a curt nod and waved us along. Again I followed the leader as he weaved through the underground market of vendors and bobbed past stalls of oddities.

We then entered the heart of this industrial hive where rats of every shape and size were trained, stationed, and stood guard. It did not matter if they were mechanical or flesh. This long hallway of soldierly wonders brought my own memories to the fore and I gazed in awe at men and machines working unum. One soldier; one unit; one machine; one purpose.

At the end of the hallway sat a desk, tall as a lectern and long as a table and constructed of spare cogs, rods, and other metal. Behind the desk perched an old man, gazing down his beaked nose at us through pie-thick lenses. The Spartan. He said nothing but only arched one shaggy white eyebrow.

The other rats bowed. I stood rigid.

The old man motioned for the lead rat to rise and speak.

“We found him wandering about the tunnels. Dumped there.”

The Spartan then motioned for me to step forward and waved the rest of them off. All three rats turned and marched off into the bustling steamy industry, leaving me.

My new captor dismounted from his perch and disappeared completely behind the desk only to reemerge around the side, approaching with cautious curiosity.

“State your rank and identification,” he spoke with wizened authority.

“I am a toymaker from the city. My name is Ajax.”

He hummed and poked my arm which caused me to recoil. “Epidermal upgrades,” he said. “You weren’t always a toymaker. Your build and design betray the truth. A soldier originally?”

I nodded.

“Acquired by the toymaker up top?”

I nodded again.

“Well, you’re free now. You belong here,” he said.

“What is here?”

“We’re all outcasts of one kind or another, Ajax. We’ve been cast away as either mechanical garbage or human debris. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is that we don’t fit in up there. Down here we can do anything. We can be anything.”

“But I don’t belong here,” I said.

“Oh no?” the Spartan said. “Where do you belong?”

My mind ran through every memory, every reason, every charge and there remained no satisfactory answer. This underworld of steam and brick, men and clocks, flesh and machine lured me toward it with a siren song of freedom. There was indeed a part of me, a strong part that saw the reason in all of it. To belong here was logical. Then I thought about her, my ballerina. She was topside in the city and trapped behind a slip of ownership. I also thought of Eunice and I knew I must return. From somewhere deep within arose a stubborn resolve. “I don’t belong here.”

The Spartan’s white, caterpillar eyebrows arched. “Interesting,” he said, more musing under his breath than out loud.

“At least not right now,” I said.

“Not right now? But why?”

“Love.”

The Spartan’s curious eyes transformed into intense and suspicious orbs, glowering. “Love? But clocks can’t love. There’s no such programming for it.”

“I know,” I said.

“Then how can you speak of love? You can speak of loyalty, and trust, and even companionship. But you can’t possibly speak of love.”

“Yet I can speak of love because it is a choice. Not a feeling, not an attraction, and not even lust. It is a choice, a decision. And I can speak on that.”

The Spartan rubbed his chin and hummed with his eyes closed. “I like you Ajax. Under normal circumstances I would permit you to go but your upgrades are too valuable. Your ability to feel and your obvious emotional upgrades are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You are indeed a fancy clock and you will remain here. I insist.”

The conversation was over. The Spartan motioned to two guards and placed me under arrest.

Once again my hands were bound and they led me through more labyrinthine corridors until the guards halted in front of a bulkhead completely oxidized and the color of a turquoise stone. They opened the formidable door and I stepped inside. One of them unbound the manacles from my hands and they closed me in, without a word.

Yet I detected something. It was faint but my olfactory sensors smelled a trace amount of salty, sea air.

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Steadfast – part 4

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook

Scurried, hushed footsteps reached my ears. Soft yet unmistakable, more than one something approached. My arms moved before I even realized my paralysis had left. It felt amazing to control my own motion again, yet I remained restrained by my hempen bonds.

To my own amazement I discovered the fall had not adversely affected my functions. Nothing was broken. I rolled over and sat upright, feeling with my hands along the slick wall until I found a jagged edge of concrete on a corner. Rubbing up and down, I used the grit to sand away at the rope. It was arduous and monotonous. My ears kept alert, tuning into the shadowed shuffles growing louder and coming ever closer. The echoed reverberations shortened with every minute.

Were those eyes glowing in the distance? I shook my head and continued to saw the rope—up and down, up and down. I glanced again and knew there were at least three sets of glowing green eyes watching me from the darkness. The shuffling ceased and they were still, watching and observing. Was I to be their prey? I posed no possible threat in my circumstance. I would be at their mercy if they attacked.

I continued to saw the rope and I could sense it fraying, loosening its biting grip on my wrists. The shuffling recommenced and it was even closer than I expected. They knew my weakness in bondage. I stood upright and ceased trying to free my bonds while awaiting my fate. I was set to become spare parts for illicit rats.

One set of green orbs bobbed in front of my face and then settled to stillness, searching but for what I could not know. The two others looked me over from the flanks before joining the first pair in front. All three persons now faced me.

“What you think?”

“I think he’s one of ‘em.”

I felt bony fingers pinch my skin and I shrugged at it.

“He can feel. I’m not so sure.”

“It’s an upgrade,” the first voice spoke and then the green eyes came close to my face. This rat’s breath smelled of putrefaction, dieting on garbage. “You’re one fancy clock big boy. You be any trouble?”

I shook my head.

Silence.

“Cut him.”

A blade slid between my wrists and the rope slipped away.

“Follow.”

The labyrinthine lay of the sewer tunnels ran and intersected many times over. I followed the leader and the two toadies followed me. The darkness moved only slightly away in any direction where their soft green light touched and was enveloped once more when departed. We turned left and crossed a small bridge. Water ran by us along this tunnel and the moist scent of mildew clung to my olfactory sensors.

After several silent minutes of lefts, rights and crossings, we now faced a rusted bulkhead shut tight. The leader rapped upon the metal door, ringing out a dull and tolling tune: Dada-di-dada. Di-dada-di. The rhythm echoed through the course of tunnels behind us and eventually lolled to silence. Then I heard the clanking and shuttering of metal on the other side, and sure enough the bulkhead opened.

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Steadfast – part 3

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook

For the longest time I sat powered down. It was what Eunice referred to as sleep but I was never unconscious, only mildly aware of my surroundings. I heard showers of glass outside. Immediately I energized and saw three persons in black shattering the storefront window. My precious dancer thankfully ran back into the store to hide.

I ran outside and crossed the street, confronting the vandals. “This is private property!”

The three of them turned and faced me. The black cloth masks covering their faces made them appear as agents of death—the three ghosts of Christmas future.

“Here’s the clock,” spoke one.

“Bag him.”

The last vandal brandished a bronze stun device. “You’ll never get your heart now, tin man. The reverend says hello.”

I turned to run but jagged streaks of blue light skewered me. My every motor function ceased and my body gave way to gravity. I couldn’t move or talk. Yet I could see and hear while paralyzed on the ground. They set upon me with rope and were quick to their business tying me up and loading me on a cart. The finale came with a black burlap sack tied over my head.

The cart’s wheels clacked against the cracked asphalt below and I could sense they were taking me west to the bay. I wanted to strain against my bonds but none of my motors or gears responded. It was truly unnecessary that they even tied me up, so I listened upon their conversation.

“Where you going after this?”

“Tavern. You?”

“Burly-Cue.”

“Gross. You know they got clocks dancing there?”

“Do not.”

“Yes they do.”

The third one finally barked. “Shut your holes. We all got our coins; we’ll all spend them as we please.”

They lumbered on with the cart in silence until the final halt. The third one spoke again: “Alright lads, let’s do our business and be off.”

The burlap sack lifted from my eyes, pulled by one of the brutes but I couldn’t tell whom since none now talked. They all looked alike.

They hoisted me up together, carrying me like three men would a log and held me over a deep hole. It was darker than any blackout I’ve ever known and the sharp smell of methane arose from the abyss and assailed my nostrils.

“So long tin man. You’re finally home where you belong,” said the leader of the trio.

Heaved and tossed over, I fell into the hole, swallowed whole and watched as the indigo light of night shrank from the size of a gaping maw into a pinprick. Down. Further. Into the abyss I fell. Into the heart of hell I dropped. The last thought to roll through my mind like a marble through a Rube Goldberg machine was this: at least Eunice and my ballerina were safe.

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Steadfast – part 2

Steadfast is a serial short fiction piece.

To start from the beginning, go to part 1.

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook

In the morning, I walked through the city park. It grew unkempt and wild as the fields of my battle memories. My hands glided as spread wings over the hairy tips of the tall grass, scratching against my palms. The morning mist enveloped me as a womb around the unborn, moving wherever I went and never departing. I cast my eyes about, raking the untamed surroundings and vigilant as ever. There were things about myself that could not change, steadfast and always the soldier.

The growth of decay in the city spread like a fungal infection and most of the once proud, tall buildings remained uninhabited and desolate. They were the monuments of our war, consumed and choked by the ever-reaching vines of nature’s green wrath seeking to return the vacant habitations of dead men back into her care.

I left the park and ventured through the streets of the city jungle, constantly shadowed by the overhanging canopy of broad, emerald leaves. The scent of woody, lush decay surrounded me as a reminder of its pleasant peace. I turned a corner and entered the true heart of my city jungle. It was the only place fully populated by the surviving, law-abiding citizens. Yet there were those who refused to abide by any reason of common law and they resided in the outskirts of civilization like the medieval outlaws of history. Eunice called them rats.

Upon turning the corner to my own street where the toy shop resided, it was then my eyes caught sight of her. In a store window she stood, perfectly poised on one leg in the graceful statuesque tableau of a dancer caught in motion. I stepped toward the glass, wide and full of wonder about the beautiful, single-legged woman. She blinked and then gazed directly upon me. Her mouth curled mildly at the corners as she relaxed her pose, and then I saw her other leg descend from behind and stand flat with the first. She was like me, albeit a newer model and she showcased the store’s clothing as something of a sentient mannequin. Her eyes traveled down toward my own prosthetic leg and somehow I knew the magic evaporated. I stepped back, preparing to turn away forever but her hand reached outward, touching the glass. She then resumed the humanly impossible ballerina pose on one leg and smiled fully. I brushed the pane with my fingers where hers met mine and returned her smile.

“Ajax, is it?” spoke a voice from behind.

I turned to face the city’s only civic leader and remaining faith authority, Rev. Harquinn. I nodded.

“What are you doing here on your own?” she stated.

“I have permission to venture out,” I said.

The reverend’s sharp upper lip curled into the shape of a horn, sneering. She knew my owner and I could read her puckered disapproval of what I was: a bucket of bolts. Her dark eyes cast upon the beautiful store model, who stood poised again and paid no attention to us. Then she looked back at me with a look that told me everything. She knew the tender moment that transpired between the dancer and I.

“Your mimicry doesn’t fool me, tin man. How can you express the desires of a soul when you clearly have none?” she said.

I remained silent. There was no satisfactory answer. She turned and stalked around the next corner, cheerfully singing a hymn.

Glancing at the window once more, I could see the dancer again looking at me with concern upon her face. It was apparent that she too had some emotional modifications. I shrugged my shoulders and crossed the street to the toy shop. Once inside I sat in a chair, gazing out the only storefront window at the graceful splendor poised across the way. I did not move all night.

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Steadfast – part 1

Steadfast Cover 25% shrink copy Steadfast Kindle Ebook

My first memories were of the war, of lining the extensive web of ditches, shoulders squarely set against those of the soldiers on either side. Upon orders yelled above the din we all brandished our new rifles, climbed over the walls and charged as wild boars through tall grass into the wild, red beyond. We knew no fear and no anxiety. It was in our coding.

Ordinance dropped from heaven on high, shredding soldiers upon impact, leaving craters filled with leaflets of pseudo-epidermis and shattered iron. I fired ahead at the stationed targets while charging in a zigzag. This too came as natural as a newborn suckling. Somehow I just knew what to do. The location ahead must be captured at all costs.

It was then I fell. My legs gave way and I toppled forward into the grass. When I looked down, my left leg laid adrift, detached and sawn asunder by machine gun fire. There was neither pain nor shock, but instead remained a drive to move forward. I pushed up and hopped on my one good leg. Within seconds another rain of metal teeth cleaved me across the chest and I fell upon the grass. My energy left me and my vision blurred to stark gray before settling upon dusk and then black. I was Pvt. 1st Class S7839, and I was no more.

***

Upon waking I discovered not only had I been spared a military melting, as happens with most manufactured soldiers who fall in the field, but I had been given upgrades and was now under new ownership. I had not been trashed for spare parts and neither was my designation S7839 anymore.

My new owner was a trained third generation toymaker by the name of Eunice. She too named me: Ajax. Over a lengthening shadow of weeks she mended my broken chassis, replaced cracked or missing gears, and eventually repaired my outer husk of false skin so as to appear presentably human. The only thing yet missing was my leg. Eunice fashioned a light prosthetic connecting from my knee to the ground, a peg leg with a spring foot. Her slender, arthritic fingers were unable to keep up with the repairs and so she equipped me to perform the work both on myself and building windup toys of all kinds. As one final kindness, Eunice gifted my skin with the sense of touch, a hitherto anomaly to my brain circuit. I had never known such overwhelming sensations. The prick of pain and the caress of compassion shocked my awareness of my own existence.

One evening I sat at the table assembling windup mice as she rocked in her chair by the fire. I could see her thoughts askance, veiled and somewhere distant entirely.

“Eunice,” I said.

“Yes Ajax.”

“Why didn’t you have my memory wiped after you bought me? Why have you let me remember the war?”

She rocked, back and forth, and she closed her eyes. “Because everyone has a history, Ajax. You came from somewhere. You experienced things. I may own you according to the paper hanging on the wall, but I don’t own your memories. Those belong to you alone.”

I never asked her again.

 

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Dear Lord, I Have Issues

The title of this entry is tongue-in-cheek yet serious. God has been patiently circling me about to face some of the deficiencies in my character; it’s those things I’ve built walls around to protect myself from being hurt further. Ultimately these things have been hurting me as they’ve caused me to keep myself from trusting God as my Heavenly Father.

My wife and I have been reading the book of Acts, and I’ve noticed how the early church would confess to one another their sins and struggles. Somehow there was a divine release of their burdens to God once all was brought to light, allowing healing to then take place. In the spirit of the early church, I will be making confessions over my long held strongholds.

Much but not my entire struggle against God has been in my identity: as a man, as a husband, and as a father. All three of these things tie into what it means to be a man, and yet I’ve been injured in each area separately. Almost all of the injuries have come from the various father figures directly connected in my life, each one imprinting their warped, frustrated views of manhood. As a man myself, I can readily identify the broken pieces in my father figures.

But until recently I have only just begun to identify them in myself. And it hurts.

I need to speak out in authority over my struggles, to let them be revealed in the light. Here is my confession of those painful things long held within the chambers of my heart:

Trust: Ultimately I don’t trust God as a Father because he is a father. I’ve been let down or injured by the “fathers” in my life and I pretend that I don’t want or need them, so I pretend I don’t need to Trust God.

Vulnerability: I don’t like being vulnerable with God. It’s too trusting. In the past I’ve tried to be vulnerable with people I considered “safe” but this never ends well and has caused me to build up walls I don’t know how to take down.

Reward: Everything I’ve ever been taught has been through punishment and reward. I’m supposed to expect reward for doing things right. Good pay for a job well done and blessings for obedience. I’m supposed to expect punishment for failure and consequences for doing the wrong thing. Yet when I’m not rewarded for doing well, I’m disappointed. Consequently when others aren’t punished for their wrongs, I’m hurt and confused. Mistrust then ensues.

Appreciation: I’ve always needed and expected “the nod” of approval, to receive the recognition for doing well, working hard, or being steadfast through a storm. When I don’t get that, I worry that what I’m doing is worthless, which translates into “I am worthless.”

Courage: I struggle with exercising courage to put forward the things I’ve been called to do. I do this due to a fear of failure. I can’t count how many times I’ve created something special, but when it comes to taking a risk and getting it out, I worry. In those rare moments of bravado when I set aside my concerns and I do push something out, any momentum is lackluster. I then tend to pull back, lick my wounds, and it becomes harder the next time to create something special and try to share it out.

I’m learning that where I struggle indicates there is some need I have to be met. I don’t know how to meet it on my own. So I respond in struggle with God and myself.

***

I’ve been struggling with all of these things for years, but it has just now come to my attention that the stories I’ve been writing in my spare time are fused with these themes of struggle.

I can’t outrun God, nor should I hide from man.

Categories: On Faith, On Life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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