Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Tithe

The Tithe
by
Bobby Derie

Down in Corn Rock, the first pregnancy in a girl's life is a solemn occasion.

I say a girl, because most of them is girls. The older women don't try to hold off the younguns, not at that age. The unspoken agreement is that it's better for them to get it over with, while they are young. Because it's not so sad to lose a baby when you're fifteen or sixteen, as it is when you're twenty-six or thirty, and might not have another.

That's not to say every child is taken. Maybe eight or nine in ten. Just enough to give the young girls hope, for when their wombs quicken, or to lay on worry for them as maybe aren't ready to be a mother. And there's a body of lore about it, unspoken among the menfolk, that the women know by watching and doing. How the babe has to be born for it to count, and if you go ask the midwife for the right herbs or go into town for an abortion, the loss may fall on the next pregnancy.

Some families left, rather than face what might happen. One or two came back, after. Some with children, others empty-handed. It didn't seem to make no difference. If there's a rule for the thing, it's not something to my calculation.

The girls can feel it too. The tension in the air. The not-knowing. It's a kind of madness at times. We've had years at school...the whole of the tenth grade class may have swelling bellies, ten or twelve girls, and ain't a one of them wondering who'll be the lucky one. Whose baby will be born alive.

Well, I say lucky.

Those as survive the tithe, they ain't always quite right.

But that's another story.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

A Sending of Bricks

A Sending of Bricks
by
Bobby Derie

That there are powers beyond my senses and conception, I take for granted. Only a fool would argue against gravity or electricity, for though we cannot see these things they affect us every day, and I acknowledge those adepts who are initiated into their secrets. So too, I must now admit to a belief in stranger forces, which obey lesser-known laws, that some few who are knowledgeable of may manipulate to their own ends.

Once, I was more skeptical. The steel-eyed woman looked at me curiously as she held her cat - she was one of those bird-boned folks, dressed all in shades of grey, and sometimes it seemed to me that it was the cat that was holding her, rather than the other way around - and she did not care for my skepticism. I asked for proof, as any good science-minded fool would, and she promised to give it in the days to come.

We finished our tea, and I left.

At home, I had just taken off my shoes when a sharp pain stabbed me in the foot. Examining my sole, I found a lego brick, bright and gray, had been left in the carpet. I need not say that I owned no legos at the time, and had not since I was a child...but I picked up the offending brick, and placed it on the counter.

Later, as I lay down to sleep, I felt another stab - and peeling back the covers, found another plastic brick hiding in my sheets. There was no question of having misplaced the first brick; that had been a 6 x 2, this was a 4 x 4. Taking up the offending building block I placed it beside its mate on the counter.

The next morning there was a brick in my shoe. I nearly chipped a tooth on the plastic board hidden inside my breakfast burrito. They were never so frequent as to occasion immediate alarm; always they seemed to poise hidden in ambush for the moment when my guard was down. Too, they did no serious harm, although the imprint of the sharp corners and little divots was marked in many places on my flesh. It became a necessity to check the toilet seat before sitting down, and to shake out shoes before putting them on, but I considered the whole thing little more than a joke for some days.

On my counter, the pile had grown unmanageable. I spent a pleasant hour building it into a little gray house, along the same floorplan as my own. It was almost disconcerting how accurate it was - I, who had not snapped lego-to-lego in a decade, found my hands moving with great surety as the pieces snapped together. When I was finished, the plan was almost perfect - down to individual bits of furniture. Only one thing was missing.

That night, my fiance came over. She admired the house, and pish-poshed my sending of bricks. Her skepticism and practicality are part of the reason I love her. In due time, we enjoined to the couch for our scheduled appointment with the streaming television service and a bottle of wine. Hands slipped beneath shirts. Clothes came off. In the fullness of the evening, she was riding on top, screaming at the screen that Cersei was a bitch and she hoped the mad queen would die...and then a sharp pain halted the proceedings.

She clambered off, and we observed the ruin of the condom. It had burst around the sharp edges of a grey lego-man's foot, and the broken latex oozed gently against my thigh.

"You," my fiance said with great deliberation. "Need to go talk to her and tell you that you are sorry."

Of course, I agreed.

###

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Measure of a Man

The Measure of a Man
by
Bobby Derie

Overhead, the green sun burned. On the ground, two men fought. One was a little taller, a bit more broadly built; his long arms swung in a crushing blow, wincing as his knuckles cracked against bone. The second man fell to his knees, blood pouring from a broken nose. He glared upwards, the green light glancing off of his bald head, hatred and something like respect in his eyes. With a sigh, he sat back on his heels, looking up at his foe.

Scrapes and bruises marred the taller man's features. His face looked gaunt and draw, the blue eyes were bloodshot. All over his skin and body were tainted a sickly greenish pallor that was more than the light of the star overhead.

"How," the kneeling man said. "How do you do it?"

"There's an idea..." The standing man took a lungful of air as though it pained him. The breeze picked up, sending the tattered remnants of his cape fluttering. "That people build themselves up. They have a career, a life, a home, clothes...love, reputation, ideals. And something can happen to tear all that down. An accident, a disaster. Or maybe someone does it on purpose, out of spite."

The tall man leaned over, staring into his opponent's eyes. "When that happens, you have the opportunity to rebuild. Because those things that are taken from you, are just things. They aren't what you are. Sometimes you have to decide for yourself if you're going to be the man of yesterday..." He stretched out a hand. "...or the man of tomorrow."

Lex Luthor looked away from those imploring eyes to stare at that hand.

###

Friday, December 21, 2018

Too Cold For Beer

Too Cold For Beer
by
Bobby Derie

It was too cold for beer.

Alice had the bright idea of keeping them in the salt water tank. As the temperature dropped, the cans had started to sting our fingers whenever we fetched them. Bernice was the first one to get frostbite, so we switched to gloves, and when Jazza sank our last one in the tank, Alice had come through again with a kind of hooked pole to fetch them out.

When it got cold enough that we had to break a rime of ice before we could fetch a brew from the depths, we started calling it ice fishing.

The outlines of people started to blur then, muffled in layer after layer of clothing, shapes only barely humanoid. Any exposed inch of skin was vulnerable. We had to strap heat-paks to our body, let the warm glow diffuse a little, and we were still cold. It was an act of will to undo a scarf, expose chapped and cracked lips for a minute to take a sip...even beer below freezing tasted warm in comparison to the air...and then it happened.

Bernice popped open a cold one, and it exploded in her hand. Her good hand, too. Instant expansion, liquid beer to beer ice. That little difference in pressure, the sudden expulsion of trapped gas and influx of cold outer air...that did it.

It was officially too cold for beer.

###

Friday, December 14, 2018

Starland

Starland
by
Bobby Derie

In west Texas, ride on into the sunset. Off of the roads, towards the distant mountains. Through the broken fence and out onto the range, where rattlers sleep and do not break the silence. Out into the Starland.

Overhead, the heavens stand in dark blue-black, and the moon hides her face, but the stars look down and burn so bright that you can pick up the trail. So long as you hold your breath you can see the shadows move between the scrub oak, strange shapes half-familiar in the eternal night.

The air grows cool and still about you, as the air in your lungs burns for release. There are names for the shadows - Apache and Tonkawa, Kiowa and Caddo - and stranger folk, with their clubs and spears bladed with glass, looking south.

Their eyes are not for you, riding by. Though you brush against their buckskins and buffalo-hides, feel the feathers scrape against your arms. Always they look back, from whence they came, and where they go again.

The eyes grow dim, darkness creeping around the edges, but the horse knows the way. On through the Starland to yesterday.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Curb Stomp

Curb Stomp
by
Bobby Derie

My lips have tasted gorgondy
I have know the embrace of Shambleau
I have gazed awhile at an original Pickman
To the Flame of Udun I'd not bow down
But this was a different thing.
- "The Dreamer Whose Dreams Came False"

The gods came slumming through the city. They moved in packs, skin too clean and bright. Artful broken veins might muss their features, the carefully selected missing tooth. Bright hot things come down to earth for a while, to taste the pains and aches of flesh, to mingle among the milling humans. Misery tourists.

It was hard to say which were the worst. The artists tried hardest to fit in, seeking their muse in exquisite suffering, wanting to get the bodies and clothes just right to claim street cred. The randy bucks and does, eager to get laid, not caring who or what they left behind. Reformers who wanted to wave a hand and multiply the saran-wrapped sandwiches at the food bank, to heal the sick and leave them in poverty.

They all left. That's what set them apart. That was their option.

The Bloodz sniffed the godpack out quickly, spread the word in taps on the pipes. The bright things moved together, a little pantheon, luxuriating in the wet, smoggy air that brought tears to their eyes and burned their lungs. All part of the authentic experience.

They had a guide. A god of the hunt, maybe. Head buried in her stained hoodie, eyes flashing as the Bloodz thickened around them, and the herd of normal humanity thinned. Too late, she must have realized that the godpack was being guided, away from the strip of bars and restaurants where the tourists might pass unnoticed. She hissed a warning.

The brick caught her in the mouth, jaw fracturing, spilling teeth and blood over the chest of the leader, a hairy-chested tracksuit-wearing asshole with a patriarchal beard and gold-rimmed sunglasses. He roared, a miracle at his hand, but the Bloodz were converging then. It was work for crowbars and linoleum knives, sharpened screwdrivers and small lengths of pipe filled with concrete.

There are gods of war that think they know battle, but there's no glory in getting your ass kicked in an alley, two or three moving on you at a time. They came for pain, and they got it. Not the experience they wanted - the hangovers and deprivation, the slow grind of life as their bodies broke down to lack of care and overindulgence or just age. This was the swift ticket back to their personal Valhallas, blood bootheels crushing into the thin bone of temples, two or three together slamming the pretty skulls into the sidewalks until they cracked and spilled.

The Bloodz saved the guide for last. She had been here longer, and they saw why as they cut the hoodie away. Her arms cradled the swollen belly, broken fingers at odd angles.

One of the demigods showed the tourist the knife.

"Don't worry mom," the Blood hissed, as two others rolled the god onto her back, pinning her down to expose the dome of her stomach. "We'll take care of our new brother or sister."

###

Friday, November 30, 2018

Impact

Impact
by
Bobby Derie

"Lots of people talk about 'impact.'" Her voiced echoed oddly through the empty warehouse. "'This person had such an impact on me,' and all that. Metaphors."

His wrists and ankles twisted and pulled at the zip ties, mouth chewing at the knotted sock she had crammed into his mouth...wiggling, worrying, trying to get free, get away...but he stopped when he heard the distinct tap of metal against concrete.

The head of the sledgehammer was only a few inches away from his foot.


"I hate metaphors."

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