(Challenge 58 Bracket Champions)
2014 Spring Equinox Open
A dried, pressed rose
A glass house
A conveyor belt
Archived, Moving Image SPC69-96
Inside Steampunk Camera model HOLO-07, designed for holographic interludes, a tiny servo goblin badger’s feet pinwheels a tiny conveyer belt, producing moving image 543-5:
Under the glow of a moon a dark figure sits atop a building – not of the organic kind, mind you, because of the threat of synthetic garlic bulbs constantly sprouting, growing tiny legs, taking chase to intruders – and peers down on a colony while sounds invade its ears: laughter, weeping, anger, ground vehicles humming down busy streets, air vehicles blasting overhead in the clouds.
Tonight this dark figure has a taste for something different, an unusual Need, slithered from its receptors. The hunger claws the walls of the figure’s stomach, possibly enough intensity to power a growth tank, cloning a dried, pressed rose. The figure licked its lips. Using its Time-Slip program, quicker than the blink of a flesher’s (human’s) eye, the figure winked out and reappeared in a dark alley, crouching on all fours. The aroma of Need was close.
Smile. Five clicks from the figure a Schizo (bum) slept under large pieces of Holoboard – one with microscopic Feelers which slipped under the flesh, activating heat sensors – snoring away, unaware of the dark presence that, now, stood over him like a vulture birthed from a black vat. The Schizo shifted in his sleep, smacked his lips, grumbled a few words and, if you listened close enough, you could hear the low whirr of dreamland data being processed. Voices… The figure Time-Slipped again, long enough for a ghostly couple to appear and pass by at the end of the alley, walking hand in hand.
Wasting no time, the dark figure sprinted like a cat toward what Need molested its taste receptors. Searching around corners, buildings, a glass house converted into a church with a large hologram of a cross in neon burning into the darkness, a store, a hospital, a bank, and a hotel, the figure narrowed the search, noticing the back of a flesher all alone, standing on a street corner.
Curls of smoke rose in front of the flesher’s face, shaping into tiny samurai shapes at war with one another. Crimson eyes gazed intently at the flesher while the sweet aroma of Need made the figure’s receptors scream. A small nip was all that the figure needed… Swiftly, the dark figure that wore pale flesh around its bones, a large splash of jet black hair atop its head, and harbored a palate full of razor sharp points, this post-cadaver’s transmogrification developed by Vladdick, Inc.*, stood in front of the man who was startled and took a step backward. Crimson eyes gazed down, meeting the eyes of the frightened flesher in front of the hotdogs gyrating over controlled, nuclear heat-driven burners. “One hotdog please,” the dark figure spoke, the vocal-recognition rattling like bones. “Easy on the synth-ketchup. Leaves such a nasty after taste, you know…” *“Love vampires? Wish to be one? Well, you’ve come to the right place, fella!”
Danielle Lee Zwissler
I met him at the airport. He had the most beautiful blue eyes that I had ever seen. It took me a few moments to catch my breath once our eyes met over the conveyer belt where we had just picked up our luggage. Our hands touched…briefly. But it was a moment in life that I will never forget, for I had touched a soul for the first time…for the only time. My heart sped up, my palms were sweaty. I looked down, and he walked away. How could someone walk away after that?
That afternoon I got the job for American Airlines. It was something that I needed and wanted at the same time. I would finally have something to fall back on–just in case. I have always been a ‘just in case’ girl. My parents weren’t reliable—my father gambled away most of his life savings and my mother was a drunk. She was in and out of rehab most of my life, as I was in and out of foster homes in between benders. I always had a suitcase packed along with my doll Sarah and a funky looking camera my grandfather gave me. It was sad really, a life of a little girl—roaming from place to place, always prepared for adventure.
I learned from childhood not to live in glass houses. There was always something or someone better out there. I knew that from the moment I left for that first time. “Never throw stones” was practically my mantra. I hadn’t had the best childhood, and I wasn’t the best person in the world either. It was something I was constantly working on.
After I got to my hotel room, I decided to take a look at the beach before turning in. Immediately, I felt my heart hammer in my chest. The man from the airport was there; I just knew it.
“You,” a male voice said.
I turned in the direction and was assaulted by the sea blue eyes. “Yes.”
It was as if two worlds collided into one that day. We came together shortly after in a kiss that I will never regret for the rest of my life. It was he that I was made for.
The rest of the night was spent in his arms, legs tangled, hearts entwined, a vase full of beautiful red roses beside the bed.
Jessop closed the journal and placed the pressed rose back in its place. He wiped his eyes once before going out into the hallway. He pulled a black case down from the closet and wiped the dust from its outer shell. He unlocked it slowly, taking small choking breaths before he grasped the Glock in his hands.
He walked out into the garden where his wife was tending her roses and waited for her to look up. Two bullets later, they both lay in a pool of their own blood, rose buds scattered everywhere like ash.
Had Jessop read the last page of the journal, he would have seen the words The End and realized his wife was finally fulfilling her dream of being a writer.
The Green Glass Jar
The Caribbean night was heavy with expectation. Sea salted the breeze. The airship sailed low, bumping its belly on turrets and pointy roofs, wind vanes and widow’s walks.
Somewhere along the shore, a green glass jar left a gloved hand, tumbled into the surf, and sank between octopi arms and giant squid.
A monocled captain and a circus girl searched for the ruby filled jar in all the wrong places.
“Is that the Big Dipper?” she asked from the bow of the ship. He pointed the telescope upward, just as they passed a soot-faced man in a little wooden chair, sitting atop a pole. At sunset, he cranked the lights on. A copper and brass camera hung around his meaty neck.
He snapped her picture as she floated past.
An owl with riveted eyes turned his head all the way around and back again.
In the distance, the glass house glowed like a kaleidoscope of cats and candles. A conveyor belt of crocodiles and Komodo Dragons ran round and round the outside. A purple-robed lady sat waiting, smiling to herself.
Her shoes were filled with sand.
“Is that the house?” she asked, long hair blowing into her goggled eyes.
“The one and only,” he said.
“She doesn’t look so fierce,” she said, “not as ferocious as you described her.”
She strapped one foot, then another into leather repelling gear.
“Just wait,” he laughed.
“You’re saying that because you were once married to her,” she said.
“I may be saying that because she’s kept me from the treasure I stole fair and square” he said, winking and lowering the airship to a manageable height with a pair of rope pulleys. She hoisted herself over and onto a thick horsehair rope, flipped upside down and hung by her stockinged legs, velvet gloves moving with expertise. Swaying in the Caribbean breeze, she watched the woman sip from a cracked teacup and turn a yellowed page. Two cats and a Philadelphia Deringer warmed her lap.
“Why would a woman with a million dollars’ worth of rubies in her chimney live in a glass house?” she whispered back to her accomplice.
“She’s always been somewhat of an exhibitionist,” he said, biting his cigar.
Bats flapped and scattered above the rooftops. In the distance, the man on the pole was only a shadow against the moon. Lights glowed all around.
“Don’t forget to use the dried pressed rose,” he said.
“What?” she hissed.
“The rose, in your hip pouch. It’s filled with sleeping powder,” he whispered, “You’ll need it.”
She summersaulted into the room through an open stained glass window and tiptoed to the chair, as quiet and unseen as a Barbados Bullfinch before dawn.
The purple-robed woman’s hair stood on the back of her neck. One side of her mouth twisted into a wicked grin.
The circus girl withdrew the rose and crumpled it into her tea, in time for the last sip.
Then she made her way to the stone chimney and looked up.
But there was no jar of rubies, only the navy blue sky and a diamond-studded dipper, hanging alongside an overripe moon.
Allison toyed with the remote shutter control for her father’s camera, gazing around her photo studio, a gorgeous glass-house spilling over with the burnt orange grace notes of sunset. She wanted the light to be just so.
Her father had taught her about light, just as he’d taught her about photography, telling her again and again a photographer is only as good as her equipment.
This camera, now, the one she faced, had been her father’s claim to minor fame. How it came into her father’s possession Allison could only guess. It was a miracle of engineering, producing instant photos of the kind popular in the twentieth century. Not the digitized prints that dominated the twenty-first century, no; this camera produced prints from a wide slot at the bottom, never needing new film, new batteries, new anything.
Allison tried to dissect the camera once, after she’d taken the picture of her father with it, wondering how it did what it did, but the tarnished screws refused to budge, preserving the mysteries of the camera’s inner workings.
Her father had brought the camera home shortly before her mother died, but restricted himself to still life, refusing to take pictures of people, despite his growing reputation, despite their frequent fear of mortgage day.
Allison hadn’t understood why until her eighteenth birthday, when she’d ventured into the attic, drawn to the top of the house by something, some conveyor belt imperative pulling her inexorably to the locked chest her father stored there.
She’d found the key that morning, hidden in a false bottom of a drawer in her father’s desk. She’d known what it fit immediately, having badgered her father often to let her peek inside the chest. Allison thrust it into the lock, feeling it turn easily as tumblers surrendered to the invasion.
There was only one item in the chest. A spectacular picture of her mother, dead seven years past, clearly a product of her father’s camera, so alive Allison could smell the sandalwood of her mother’s hair.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she’d demanded.
He’d said nothing, eyes black and unreadable, but motioned for her to follow him. Allison strode after her father, seething anger and betrayal. He opened the studio door, set a crimson perfect rose before his camera, and clicked the shutter.
He handed her the picture, and she gasped at the perfection of the image, feeling the very essence of rose-ness pulsate through her fingertips. Then, she recoiled, horror-struck, at the desiccated flower screaming in its crystal vase.
“I took a picture of your mother the night she died,” he whispered. “I didn’t know…how could I know?”
Allison shrugged the seventy-year-old memory aside, looking for the picture of her father among the dozens of images peopling the plaster inner wall of her glass studio. She found him, at the center of her gallery, next to her mother.
“I’m coming, Father,” she husked, pressing the remote lightly, hearing nothing as it tumbled from her dying hand.