Sunday, October 23, 2011


This is a short story that I wrote one day back when I was still working in New York City. I was taking the train to work when I got a strong urge to write a short, enclosed tale. Got most of it done before I arrived at work.


Phone Call

Gelo R. Fleisher

Mary Garbah rolled her car to a stop as the light turned red. Taking the opportunity to free up her hands, Mary took her phone out of its holder, scrambling to plug in the headset before the light turned green. She moved with unnecessary haste; she was taking a scenic route and a quick glance into her rearview mirror showed that there wasn’t anybody behind her. But Mary was a stickler for efficiency, and she would be loathe to keep things held up, even at an empty traffic stop.

The earphones were set snugly on her head just as the light turned green. Proud of herself, Mary eased on the gas, and pressed the speed dial to her mother’s number. The phone rang several times without anybody picking up; it always did.

Mary looked out the car window as the phone continued to ring. Autumn had just started to settle in, and it was chilly enough to have the heater on, but the grass outside was still green and the trees that glistened under the bright sun were only just starting to show subtle hints of red and yellow.

She liked driving this way to her mother’s. It was mostly undeveloped property, flat and rugged with a just few office buildings interspersed here and there. Watching it all pass by provided a peaceful and quiet interlude in her otherwise hectic weekends.


Mary was a little startled by the pleasant, matronly voice that answered the phone. “Hey mom, it’s me.”

The voice on the other end immediately brightened up, “Mary, oh, it’s so good to hear from you. Do you want to talk with your father?”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to bother him.”

“It’s never a bother to talk with one’s children, let me get him.”

“Mom, it’s okay. I can talk with him afterwards.”

The voice sounded concerned. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. Just feeling a little depressed, you know, with the birthday tomorrow.”

The voice sighed. “Deary, forty-seven is not old. When you are eighty-eight then you can complain about getting old. Besides, the older I get the less it all seems to mean to me. I mean just yesterday, well I think it was yesterday, I was working on the flowerbed and I will tell you, the whole day must have passed with me there in my overalls, working away with the trowel and shears in my hands. The next thing I know Joseph is calling me in saying that the neighbors are coming over, you know the Hansons? Such nice people.”

“I didn’t know you had a flower bed.”

“I just had one put in. Mr. Hanson, he was a doctor back when he was younger, says that it’s good to keep up the hobbies of our youth. It helps keep the mind and body active. We used to have a small garden when we lived in Dayton you know, but you were probably too young to remember. I just sort of let it lapse after we moved to Cincinnati. Now is as good a time as any to get back into cultivation I suppose.”

Mary still a little surprised. “What do you grow?”

There was a beeping noise that came from the phone. Mary looked away from the road for a second to glance down at it. The small icon that symbolized the power level was blinking. “Damn, the battery’s dying on the phone. I forgot to bring the recharger and I’m...”

Mary heard her mom suck in her breath on the other end of the line. “Mary-Anne Garbah, watch your mouth. There’s no reason for me to hear that sort of language from you. I do hope you don’t speak like that around Jennifer and Andrew.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Mom, it’s not the fifties anymore; ‘damn’ is not a swear word. People use it all the time.”

“Well call me old fashioned, but I thought I raised my little girl better than to blaspheme. Your phone, what make is it?”

“Astra, I told you that last week.”

“Well, I’ve heard that Conducive’s is a better model, maybe you should buy that one.”

Mary let out a sigh. She’d had this conversation before and didn’t feel like repeating it. “Hang on mom, I’m just getting off the freeway, I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Her mom must have noticed the irritation in response, and her tone softened. “I’m sorry for being such a bother, it’s just that we both miss you and worry about you. You don’t realize how much we cherish these calls. I tell you, the things that they can do with technology these days. Why I remember when I thought radio was a wonder to behold.”

Mary looked back out at the scenery; the sparseness of the freeway was giving way to the small suburb that was between her and her mother’s place. As she stopped at another traffic light, she saw a young mother pushing a pink stroller down the sidewalk. The mother was young, must have been in her late twenties, bundled up against the wind in a green jacket. They reached the edge of the sidewalk just as the light turned green. The mother looked over and said something to the child, the words mute behind Mary’s car doors. As the car began to move again, a pang of wistfulness touched Mary’s chest. “Mom, what’s it like to grow old?”

The line was silent for a second. “To be honest Mary, I didn’t really think about it as it was happening. But I don’t think it’s so bad. As long as you don’t have too many regrets and have people to talk to, it’s not bad at all. You know, I was thinking the other day about how helpless you were as a child, why I couldn’t leave your side for ten minutes without you crying. You couldn’t walk or even feed yourself. You totally relied on the people that loved you. Maybe it is justice that you end your life having to rely on those who love you as well. Just make sure to hang tight to the ones you love.”

Mary was silent, not knowing what to say as her mother’s place came into view.

“And how are David and the children?”

Mary turned into the parking lot, taking the key out of the ignition, grabbing the phone and opening the door. A chilly wind gushed past, making Mary stuff her hands in her pockets. She raised her voice slightly to fight the sound of the wind. “Good. David’s still working on the novel, and Jennifer is going to graduate from college in three weeks.” Shivering against the cold, she quickly opened the back door of the car and picked up the half-dozen tulips she’d bought for her mother. Mom had always had a soft spot for tulips.

“Well, I will mark it on my calendar. Joseph and I will definitely be there.”

The day was still bright, with only a few clouds dotting the pristine blue sky. She almost had to squint as she made her way out of the parking lot and into the grassy field. She walked along the orderly rows of crosses and monuments, trying to find her mom.

“I’ll tell Jennifer that, I know she’ll appreciate it. She really misses you. You know I still miss you too sometimes, even on the phone it’s not really the same.”

“Well, don’t be too eager to see me just yet, I don’t think David would appreciate that. I’ll still be here at the end of the day, and you always have my number.”

Mary smiled, her eyes scanning the horizon. “Ok mom, I’m almost there. I love you, talk to you soon.”

“I love y...” The phone beeped, and the line went silent. The small screen that showed the time and signal strength was dark. The phone had run out of power and shut down.

After a few minutes of walking, Mary found the right place. She took her time, enjoying the scenery and the peacefulness of the cemetery. She idly thought that being laid to rest wouldn’t be such a bad thing if she could be laid here. Just hang tight to the ones you love. Mary stopped at her parent’s tombstone, a large grey and white edifice with black lettering cut into the stone:

Janice Garbah Joseph Garbah
1937 – 2023 1932 – 2019

He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully

Between her parent’s names and her father’s favorite bible verse, was a carved picture. Her parent’s faces were etched in perfect detail into the smoky marble. It was an engraving of a photograph taken on their fortieth wedding anniversary. Dad and mom’s faces, touching at the cheek, dad with thick glasses, thinning hair and a teeth flashing smile. Mom, looking as proper as ever, her hair made up in an elaborate bun. Even through the stone she could see the contentment in her mother’s eyes. Mary took off one of her gloves, kneeling down and tracing the outline of her mother’s face on the cold marble.

She’d always meant to ask mom what it all looked like from where she was, what she saw as Mary spoke to her on the phone. Could she hear what she said without it? Probably mom would just shrug.

The wind picked up, shaking the boughs of the trees that lined the cemetery, and sending crisp leaves bouncing along stone monuments on the grassy hill. Shivering slightly, Mary stood up, placing the tulips on the side of the headstone. Putting her glove back on, she said a quick prayer.

Opening her eyes, her gaze lingered on the picture on the headstone. She could almost feel her mother close by. “I love you too mom.” Then turning around, she went back to the warmth of the car.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bloody Red Tape - Part II

Last week I posted the opening scene of a short story about bureaucrats in a space empire and their attempt to get the upper hand in a succession fight. The story was going to be called "Red Tape" and this week I'm posting another scene from it.

I ended up never finishing Red Tape, and as I was putting this post together I realized again why: the whole setup was just too complicated for a short story. My goal was to have it be between 5,000 and 7,000 words (about 25 pages long), but with the various plot machinations going on and all the infodumping that needed to be done, there just wasn't enough space to get it all in there. I could have made the story longer, pushing into novella territory, but the material was just too grim for me to really enjoy writing about it at length.

The back story for this particular scene is as follows: the narrator is a low level bureaucrat (he runs the state ballet) who has managed to get some compromising images of a high-level power broker fooling around with one of his ballerinas. He's planning on using these as blackmail as part of a power play, however the secret police (the 'ISG') don't want him to succeed...

pic link


Red Tape
Gelo R. Fleisher

It had been a good fifteen minutes since I had arrived in the opulent office and I was still all alone. I slouched deeper into my plush red chair, and booted up a game of solitaire on my communicator. I was a few games in when I finally heard the sound of one of the ornate wooden doors being cracked open.

I sat up in my chair, craning my neck to see who had just walked in. A pale, sickly-looking man clutching a briefcase was holding the door open for an old man. The old man was dressed inconspicuously enough, with a tailored black suit poking out from under a drab brown overcoat, but I immediately recognized the face.

The old man was Kaspar Chernopov, head of the ISG.

My heart started beating faster as I jumped up out of my chair to greet him. Did he know about the ballerina and the blackmail? How could he know? I hadn’t told anybody. The Federacy’s chief spymaster walked towards me, flanked at a respectful distance by two aides wearing black wrap-around visors. The sickly man with the briefcase closed the door, and remained standing next to it.

My lips started flapping before my head had thought of something to say. “”

Chernopov ignored my yammering and settled into one of the large, plush chairs, gesturing for me to take a seat. Everyone had heard stories about the old man, of people who had crossed him and were dragged down to the interrogation pits, of his spies infesting every nook and cranny of Federacy’s bureaucracy, and of the old-fashioned file cabinet in Chernopov’s office that was supposed to house the deepest secrets of people from all walks of life.

As I dropped back into the chair, my eyes flitted to the two aides who had marched in with Chernopov. They were still standing, one a few feet from the old man, and the other a few feet from me.


So these weren't aides at all, but bodyguards, probably pumped with so many nano-chems and reactives that they could snap my neck before I’d even known what I’d done wrong, and without breaking a sweat as they went about it. They stood impassively, their twitching eyes hidden behind black visors, their fists resting loosely at their sides. I slid my gaze over to the sick-looking man with the briefcase standing at the door. I had no clue who, or what, the hell he was. I could feel the collar of my uniform squeezing against my neck and a damp sweat forming on my skin.

Chernopov cleared his throat. I jerked my eyes towards him. The spymaster looked his seventy-eight years, with a slightly gaunt face that was carved deep with wrinkles. A crown of white hair hung to the back of his skull, ringing a bald pallet that made his forehead seem larger and more broad than it was, like some bizarrely intellectual Neanderthal. He looked at me through two thick-rimmed glasses perched on his blunt, hooked nose. I wondered what information was being projected on the back of the glasses into those piercing blue eyes, made no less clear by the age that seemed to be tugging at the rest of his slender frame.

I flinched back into my chair as he lifted up one of his bony arms.

It took me a second to realize that he’d stuck his hand out towards me, like he wanted me to shake it. Not knowing what else to do I gripped the extended palm with sweaty hands, pumping it up and down profusely. “Sir, this is a great and unexpected honor!” His grip was stronger than I was expecting, and I felt my knuckles crack as he squeezed. I let go. Chernopov smiled thinly and folded those taut fingers against his chest.

He began speaking in crisp, clear tones, a cyrillic accent adding a lilting quality to his words. “It is good to meet you Colleague Barents. Would you like some tea? Perhaps a cookie?”

I stared at him stupidly.

“Coffee then?”

Um, no?

“Yes please.”

Chernopov waved at one of the bodyguards. “Did you say you wanted a cookie?”

Hell no.

“Oh why yes, how kind of you.”

One of the bodyguards soon materialized besides us with our drinks and cookies, and for the next fifteen minutes we had one of the most boring conversations of my life. Chernopov asked about next month’s performance season and commiserated at how tough it must be to keep all those artsy prima donnas in line. After seeing my share of ISG jackboots stamping around, arresting ideological offenders and turning their brains into tomato soup, I would have thought Chernopov would have been a bit more on the crude side. But no, the guy knew his classical ballet; Vaganova, Cecchetti, the whole nine yards. He even laughed at my bad jokes and clinked my coffee cup in a toast to my managing this important facet of the Federacy’s cultural heritage.

I have to admit, by the time I excused myself (I did have the blackmail material to drop off after all), I was downright flattered. And just a little bit confused too. If this wasn’t about Hanzer and the ballerina, then what? I mean, did the head of the secret police normally have high tea with nobody pencil-pushers like me?

As I walked towards the ornate wooden exit of the room, the sick-looking man with the briefcase tugged the door open for me. Nodding to the man, I turned around to wave goodbye to Chernopov when a sudden dizzy spell that washed over me. I felt my knees buckle as I toppled forward, I could feel bile rising in my throat like and wanted to vomit. The sick man helped right me as I lurched out the door.

I stood there doubled over in the hallway outside, taking deep breaths as my senses slowly returned to me. From behind, I heard the door click shut.

Oh shit...

The synapses in my brain stared firing, throwing out all sorts of crazy scenarios, all of which were most likely true. What an idiot! I should have ran out of that room as soon as Chernopov walked in. Of course they knew about the ballerina. I had been so flattered that a bigshot like Chernopov was paying attention to a nobody like me that I hadn’t bothered thinking what exactly I was doing. I’d just met with the head of the secret police and his goons had probably been filming the whole thing. Right now they had to be sending cute little snapshots of the meeting to Secretary Puzo. I was sure there would be a real nice shot of us clinking teacups.

Puzo, that paranoid crank, would think I was going behind his back, trying to get cozy with his enemies. He’d abandon me and without his protection, the ISG could bring me down to their dungeons without anyone complaining. Hell, Puzo might even be the one who gave the order. I could feel the sensation of the ISG men shaving my head, getting ready to screw in the brain scorchers. No! I had to, call Puzo and explain what happened, and fast.

I reached into my pocket, grabbing for my communicator. My hand came back nothing; my pockets were empty, the communicator gone. The sick man with the briefcase, he must have taken it off me when I bumped into him.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

I wheeled back to the ornate door, yanking at the handle, but the damn thing was locked. I banged on door with both my hands, shouting for someone to open it, but remained shut. Still faint with delirium, I staggered down the hallway, looking for someone, anyone I could grab a communicator from. I banged on doors as I ran down the corridor, my hands raw, the knuckles soon bleeding.

I stumbled about, banging helplessly against the interminable hallway of locked doors, my fate at the hands of Chernopov’s goons growing larger and larger in my mind. I’d confess immediately when they brought me down for interrogation, sign anything, give them every name, anything to stop them from putting me under torture. But it wouldn’t matter, they’d make an example of me for all the other upstarts who tried playing with the bigs. They’d have to get some bruises on me first, for everyone to see. Punch me around a bit, maybe run my fingers through a vice one by one, and then they’d start getting creative, cerebral. They’d inject liquid fire into my veins, the nano-chems hooked up to a control panel so they could cause my my nerve endings to start firing pain signals into my head as they played them like a piano. Then they screw in the brain scorchers and rewire my neural pathways by force, making me see all sorts of hellish images as my grasp on reality fell apart at the molecular level. And after they’d had their fun and I was a walking vegetable, it would be my turn to be trussed up for public execution and have my brains liquefied in front of my colleagues.

The images swirled about me, colliding in a feverish terror. The world was spinning, I was panting, my lungs burning as my chest heaved. I dropped in a heap on the ground. I lay there, sprawled out on the floor, my body frozen with fatigue and panic. Tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But as I sat there, a miserable, shivering pile, I saw the outline of an orange jumpsuit out of the corner of my eye. It was a janitor, walking out of of of the offices. He stopped when he saw me. “You alright?”

I pushed myself back onto my feet, wiping my face in a pathetic attempt to hide my miserable state. “I, I need your communicator.” I hated how desperate my voice sounded. 

The janitor looked at me warily. With my suit disheveled, my hair a mess, with tears and snot smeared across my face, I would have avoided me too.

“Please give me your communicator.”

He looked at me, blinking in confusion. I dropped back down on on my knees, grabbing his jumpsuit with trembling hands. “Please. See, I’m begging you. Please. Give me your communicator. Please.”

“Sir, it’s against regulations, I could lose my job if...”

My head was pounding, I didn’t have time for these excuses. “Who do you work for?”

“Vice Director of Maintenance Halloway.”

My voice had a hysterical edge to it as I started shouting at him. “You want his job? You can have it! Don’t want to work anymore? I’ll retire you and your family on an early pension. Whatever you want! Just give me your communicator!”

Still looking at me warily, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, black pad.

I grabbed it greedily with shaking fingers, dialing Secretary Puzo’s number. After an interminable pause, I heard his voice on the other end of the line. “Who is this and how did you get this number?”

At the sound of Puzo’s nasal voice, a sensation of palpable exaltation flooded out of every pore in my shaking body.I found myself unable to speak as the words choked in my throat. Tears threatened to pour down my face for a second time, I’d never been more happy to hear another person’s voice in my life. I leaned shakily against the wall. My voice trembling, I spoke “Hi, I...” my voice choked up. Coughing, I tried to continue. "I...I landed a meeting with Kaspar Chernopov, you know the head of the ISG”.

“I know who he is.” I could hear the deep tinge of suspicion in his voice; he was probably looking at the photographs already. “Yes, and I think we need to meet right away, in person, this line isn’t secure. He told me something about you and his plan to replace the General Secretary.”

Puzo was quiet. “You’d better not be shitting me Barents.”

“No sir, never sir.”

“Fine. You’ve got half an hour to get your fat butt up here.”

“Oh thank you sir. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have know idea what this means.”

“You had just better not be wasting my time.”

“No sir, never sir. I’ll be right over sir.”

As he hung up, I heaved a sigh of relief. I was saved! The sensation was eurphoric, but fleeting. As the bliss of my salvation faded, a burning anger began to course through me. I could feel my face and hands growing red. I wanted revenge. I accessed my home database and immediately cancelled the monthly ballet tickets of every ISG employee under the vice-ministerial level. Yes it was petty, but I was pissed and this was the stick fate had given me. That done, I lurched back down the hallway, furiously thinking about what the hell I was going to do next.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bloody Red Tape

I've always been a big history buff, and one of the time periods I've been most interested in is the post-Stalin Soviet Union. After watching this series, and reading this book on the political machinations that brought Mikhail Gorbachev into power, I got to thinking that it might make for an interesting sci-fi story.

I was going to call it "Red Tape" and it was going to be about a group of bloody bureaucrats in this space empire who were scheming to get their faction into power after the death of the empire's most recent dictator. I took it as a bit of a challenge to try to make pencil-pushing a tense spectator sport, and I think it would have been a pretty engaging story too.

But, the further along I got in writing it, the more I just got disgusted with these...bastards I was describing. I ended up just not having the stomach to finish it, and put it aside. Maybe one of these days I'll finish it up, but for now I thought I'd stick up the introductory scene of the story (warning: it has some graphic depictions of violence). The goal was to convey the flavor of the world as well as set up what was at stake if the main character's faction lost out. So, without further ado...Red Tape.


Red Tape
Gelo R. Fleisher

The scented breeze emitting from the ventilation fan drifted rather pleasantly across my face as the soldiers trussed up my colleagues for their public execution. They all looked in pretty bad shape. Their eyes were glazed over and their shaved heads were interspersed with purple welts where the ISG thugs had hooked up the brain scorchers to rip their confessions out of them. They should have just confessed at the start and saved themselves the trouble. If I am to be honest, I have to admit that I would tell the Intelligence Services Group absolutely anything they wanted if I was ever unfortunate enough to find myself brought down here for interrogation.

There were forty or so of us observers in the audience, decked out in our gray suits and datapads, and sitting in rather uncomfortable stools bolted to the floor. We were in one of the public auditoriums that abutted the main ISG prison complex, and smell of gloom and misery seemed almost palpable in the air. The whole damn place was clunky and cold, a far cry from my normal surroundings higher up on the Pinnacle Station. The walls were made up of thick slabs of interlocking black metal, scrubbed to a scratchy shine and reeking of thickly applied antiseptic. Harsh white lighting blared out from large flood lights hooked up at random intervals and illuminating the slick pit of the execution chamber.

The motley group of twenty or so condemned were close to me, if I had stood up and stretched out my hand I could have touched the nearest one. They were all dressed in the same drab gray suit that I had on, the outfit standard to the legions of bureaucratic functionaries of the Trans-Union Federacy. The only splash of color on them (besides the muddy purple of bruised skin) was a pair of epaulets on their slouching shoulders. Their epaulets were red, indicating that they were part of the Ministry of Defense. Mine were green - Ministry of Culture. In front of us, teenage soldiers were tying each of our erstwhile compatriots to metal poles, their arms stretched and clamped into place above their heads. They’d already been pumped with the nano-reagent that would cause the cell walls of their neurons to burst on command.

Flick of a switch and their brains would disintegrate into pink jelly.

As the Vice-Functionary to the Progressive Artists Trade Association, I was afforded a front row seat in the spartan auditorium, with a gaggle of my underlings arrayed behind me. I hoped that none of the debris of execution would splatter on my suit; I had an important meeting to go to after this.

As the soldiers finished their work and moved to the side of the arena, a lieutenant with a face like a fist stamped out onto the field and glared at the victims. “You, the convicted, had the responsibility to arrange for the protection of our glorious Premiere and failed. You stand guilty of gross negligence in the execution of your duties, of failing your nation, your Party, truth and reason, and the peoples of the Federacy. You will now face the only punishment fitting for such wretches and traitors. Redeem some shred of dignity for your posterity and die like patriots.”

The lieutenant pulled a small baton from his waist, put his thumb against a black button on its crown and raised it skywards. The coup de grace was about to be delivered and I put on my best scornful stare, staring at the space above the victim’s heads. There were rumors that the ISG kept tabs on anybody who looked away and I’d rather not be on their radar anymore than I had to be.

The lieutenant pressed the button. The fallen functionaries writhed in unison, struggling against their bonds, shouting incoherent gibberish and horrid screams as their minds were liquefied in front of us. I did my best to remain contemptuous in the face of their death throes, but it was hard not to display some reaction to the morbid scene. I felt my stomach churn as one of the prisoners vomited, blood streaming from his eyes.

It was over in a few mortifyingly long seconds, and the condemned all lay dangling against the poles, lines of blood dripping out of their noses and ears. One of the executioners, a gangly kid whose uniform was too large for him, ran up to the prisoners and started jabbing each body with a sensor-tipped bayonet, making sure nobody still had heart function.

The lieutenant turned to face us, stamped his foot down and raised a closed fist. “The Federacy is Strong! The most cultured! The most rational! The vanguard of the future!” I clapped as politely as I could and began to shuffle out. This was the dirty aspect to the preservation of power, but the better parts were beckoning for me up ahead. As I turned and filed away from the field a shot rang out; the kid must have found a survivor.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Journey to the End of the World

I've been working on larger projects for a long while now and was feeling the itch to start writing smaller, more experimental pieces. I mentioned it to my friend Ioan who suggested that I start writing flash fiction to match his newest art pieces. Only limit is that each story has to be less than 1,000 words. Here's the first one.

It's for Ioan's piece 'Journey to the End of the World' (I'll post a link when it goes live). My first pass after seeing the pic was to just do a whole lot of description, like a panning camera angle across the scene. Then I got to thinking that that's what Ioan was for, and so I erased all that and decided to make small story set in the world Ioan had painted. When I looked at the pic, I remember thinking how they would keep the airship in working order, then my mind drifted to the powder monkeys that used to man British warships, and the rest flowed from there. The downside is that you're going to need to see Ioan's picture first if you want to get the whole scenario, but then it's a great image.

Edit: here's the picture (link to Ioan's portfolio here, make sure to leave a comment):

The story is in first-person present tense, never tried it before, so hopefully it does Ioan's work justice.


Journey to the End of the World
Gelo R. Fleisher

There’s nothing below me for a thousand spans except sheer, rocky cliff faces and the occasional whisp of cloud. Above me, through a hazy morning mist, the mountainside has turned itself inside out, looping in a giant arch next to which the captain has moored the ship. Worn corbels and arches of some long abandoned ruins lay pocked about the twisting incline as the crewmen scurry about them like ants picking over the bones some a long dead giant.

The view is breathtaking, but I don’t feel particularly moved. I’m cold, miserable, and the man next to me stinks. First Mate Darrow blows his nose into his palm, flinging the phlegm off the side of the ship into the abyss below and wiping the rest of it on his shirt. He flashes a sneer at me, a mouthful of rotted yellow teeth on display. “You ready ta’ move?”

I nodded, pulling my overcoat tight against my ribs. We were standing on the uppermost catwalk of the airship, the bulbous curvature of the air balloon looming in front of us. I checked the tightness of the length of hemp tied around my waist and reached forward, grabbing onto a fistful of the loose, flowing canvas.

The higher up its surface we move, the sharper and colder the air gets. The winds sheering off the cliffs are getting pressed together and come blasting down the inverted gullies in chilly gusts. By the time we are crawling like worms along the very top of the balloon, the winds are strong enough to knock grown men flat on their asses and slipping right off the side. The rigger boys splayed out before me are even more at the winds' mercy.

The boys (the oldest one hadn’t seen more than fourteen summers) had been press-ganged in Marjoun, fated for the slave markets at NeuCharsi. I can see them squint their almond eyes against the blowing wind, their swarthy skin touched by a light blue from the cold and their gangly limbs shaking as they hold tight to the rippling canvas. They're lined up in one long row across the top of the balloon each with a loop of rope tied to their waists, linked together one after the other in a long chain, ten in all.

Squinting my eyes against the wind, I look to my left, at the white ruins resting along side. Ratlines have been slung between the upraised columns, the ship rocking gently against its restraints. I see the gangmen heave a fat, leather hose up the ratline and onto the top of the balloon. A noxious yellow gas is leaking out of its front, the smell of it carried to my nostrils by the hissing gales. It stinks of sweet onions and old eggs. It was this gas that allowed the ship to float as it did, and only in these high mountains could you find it bubbling out from cracks in the earth.

The gangmen finish heaving the heavy hose up the side of the balloon, right up to the feet of the first of the rigger boys. Darrow turns to me, shouting as his unkempt hair whips across his face. “Alright fancy britches, the men done their piece, now it’s thems turn.” He points to the rigger boys, gesturing to them with his hands. “Grab the hose! Pull!”

The boys press themselves flat against the canvas, grabbing onto the rough fabric with trembling hands as the winds flow over them, oblivious to what Darrow is yelling. The ones closest to the hose are trying to move away, coughing as the errant fumes belch out. I cup my hands and shout. “Kinari! Utsalla beni hatous!

The rigger boys closest to he hose start crying, their tearful wails nearly drowned out as the force of the winds pick up.

Darrow is besides me, slapping his hands on his knees and swearing at the boys. “Dammit! You tell ‘em they’re goin’ over the side unless they start movin’!”

I look at this bastard besides me, hatred seething in my chest. “Kinari! Ustalla, kinari ath beni hasith!” I get up on my knees, gesture at the boys with one of my arms, making pulling motions towards my chest. Pull! Pull up the hose and you will be saved! My hands are growing rigid in the ceaseless breeze.

Finally one of the boys grabs at the hose with one hand, lurching the fat pipe slightly across the surface. The others, see him, and feebly pull at the hose, moving it slowly between their ranks, towards me and Darrow.

Ma’halla, kinari, ma’halla!I continue my gestures, praying that they listen. They were moving now, the hose crawling like an obese slug lurching across the balloon. Good! You keep tellin’ ‘em to push harder!” Darrow leaves my side, crawling in front of me, towards the boys and the encroaching hose. Kinari! Fisté! Fisté!” I see Darrow grab the front of the hose from the boys, jamming it into an opening in the balloon. The skin tube jerks about as a valve is opened below and the noxious gas began to surge through it, belching its contents into the guts of the balloon.

* * *

It’s been half an hour since the boys were pulled off the top of the balloon. I sit next to them on the lower catwalk, one of younger ones pressed up against me, shivering under a ratty blanket. His skinny knees are knocking together, his teeth chattering. Not knowing what else to do I pat him on the head. The sun is piercing through the yellow fog now, lighting up the mountains and spires laid out ahead as far as the eyes can see. I point and tell the kids.

You have done well and are brave. The hard work is done. Now you must enjoy the view.

Hello World

Hello World.

My friend Ioan Dumitrescu finally convinced me to start putting up some of my fiction on the web. Feels a bit like taking of all of your clothes in public actually, but guess you've got to start sometime.