Inktober 2022: Week 5

Oya everyone!

WE DID IT!

One more year of Inktober, right on time! Mmhm! I’m not racing to post this before midnight at all! Everything is fine!

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Day 26: Ego

I sat at the kitchen table. My fingers tapped in a convoluted rhythm. I was surrounded by silence but in my ears, static and ringing.

My mind gave a helpful harmony to the loud quiet. I contradicted myself in overlapping spirals. My every thought shot down by another, which in turn was invalidated by a different voice, which in turn was dismissed by something louder. 

I wish they were actually different voices. I could tell them apart, then. I don’t know which one is me.  I want to know which one is me.

I sat at the kitchen table and stared into space, fingers tapping along to my own personal cacophony. 

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Day 27: Snack

“Are you good?” 

Ash looked at Raz. She looked at him for a couple seconds. He could practically see the buffering circles in her pupils.

“Yeah I’m good.” She blinked. “Why, what’s up?”

He waved a hand in front of her face. “Are you serious? You look dead.”

“On the inside, baby,” she said, snapping fingerguns at him.

“No, like,” He took her hand. “You’re shaking a lot and you’ve almost fallen over like six times just standing still. And you’re lagging.”

“That’s normal.” 

Raz gave her a look. 

“What? It is!”

“When was the last time you ate?”

Ash opened her mouth to respond, paused. Buffered a bit more. “Oh. Yeah, that might be it.”

“Yup. Sit down, I’m making you food.”

“Raz, you don’t–”

He poked her shoulder. It really did not take much to knock her off balance, and she ended up in the chair. She pouted at him. “Fiiiine.”

“You’re welcome,” Raz chirped as he opened the cupboard.

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Day 28: Camping

Oli runs from tree to tree as fast as he can. Sticks clash against his armor as he scoops them up and clutches them to his chest. 

“Stay close, bud,” Sophie calls out. She’s crouched next to the little fire, poking it with a stick to make it flare up and eat more of the wood. Her hair falls over her face from where it has slipped out of her braid.

Oli runs back to her and drops the pile of sticks. His tail waves wildly. “I will!” he chirps. “Don’t worry, Sophie, I’ll keep you safe from the forest beasts.”

“Thank you, Oli,” she says gently. “You can set up the tent, okay? While I cook the food?”

He nods so hard his ears flop into his face. “I will do it! Time me, I can do it so fast.”

Sophie rubs her face to hide her smile as the young Deiredh warrior stumbles about, tail whipping around til it blurs as he pulls fabric and knots cords and finagles it all over the off-kilter poles. He has gotten . . . better, in the week or so they’ve been traveling out here. The very first time he tried he got so frustrated he went at the poor tent with his sword.

(You can still see the mended places)

By the time the food is done cooking, the tent is constructed, and Sophie trusts it not to immediately collapse once they enter. 

“Good job, buddy,” she says, holding out her arm. His eyes light up and he trills, diving to snuggle against the woman’s side. She ruffles his hair and holds him tight as she looks up at the stars peeking through the trees. 

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Day 29: Uh Oh

Most people are aware of what aether feels like. Warm and yet soothingly cool, slightly buzzy, feels sort of fuzzy against your brain when you’re near it. It makes almost a sparkly noise if you listen really closely. 

In general, it’s nice to be around. In certain cases it’s overbearing, like when a certain anomalous nuisance gets emotional. But in general. It’s chill. It’s good.

That’s what you think when you feel the first brush of it, out in the woods. That’s aether, that’s fine. You know what that is.

But it seems a little off. It’s not as comforting as it usually is. Rubs you the wrong way, sort of. 

The more you feel it the more you start realizing that, well. It doesn’t really feel like aether at all. It’s like the same melody, but in a different key, and the person playing is hitting a lot of wrong notes. The fuzzy feeling is more like static. 

It’s getting closer. 

You don’t know if you should leave, because you still feel the pull of the aether. It says safe, it says healing, it says calm. But the static is just growing louder. You can feel it in your bones. In your stomach. On the back of your neck and down your spine.

You don’t leave. 

And that is when you see it.

At the very first glance, it’s like the aether. It seems familiar. But the longer you look. The less familiar it is. 

The shape of a man. But the limbs are too long. The arms hang down, the twitching fingers next to the knees that stick out too far. Clothes hang off the frame like rags on a scarecrow. 

It comes closer. 

The clothes are ragged. You can see through them in many places. Most of what you see is not skin. It is metal. Rusted, scuffed, grimy. There are places where you can see the skin melded with it. It puckers and twists at the join, roughly stitched or bolted together. It makes your stomach turn to comprehend the pain it must cause. Wires stick out. Gears turn with little clicks. 

It stops moving. 

It turns to look at you.

The fear that grips your throat is in no way dampened by the wrong aether-feeling. The face is wrong. What draws your eyes first is the smile. Twisted. Lopsided. Too wide, much too wide. Half is scarred lip and crooked teeth. Half is stiff metal and sharp blades. It doesn’t stop smiling. 

Greasy strands of hair almost obscure the eyes. Almost. They glow. One with a dim shimmer, only in the iris. The other is a broken automaton optic that sparks and flickers with a sickly purple-grey. Both of them stare at you. The smile widens, somehow. 

It laughs. 

You tear free of the call of the distorted aether.

You run. And you pray it does not follow.

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Day 30: Gear

“Are you sure about this?” Gray winced as the helmet on his head tipped down over his face. He reached to push it back into place and stabbed himself in the forearm with the ‘armor’ strapped to his biceps. 

“Well you probably won’t die,” Reagan said cheerfully as she attached some more cardboard ‘armor’ to his shin with duct tape. 

“And if you do, we’ll just drag your body out and have a Viking funeral for you at the pond.” Mark was very serious. Too serious. Much too serious for his current activity of drawing flames in dry-erase marker on the oversized football pads on Gray’s shoulders. 

“I don’t think I want a Viking funeral.” Gray peered nervously at the hole they were about to send him into. It was just the crawlspace under Mark’s house. All the parents said that it was perfectly safe and fine. But they also said to never go in there, ever. Mark insisted that the only reason was because there was some kind of monster or creature down there that ate things, namely socks and kids. Reagan thought the logical explanation was that it was a narrow space filled with dirt and spiders and that obviously parents wouldn’t want kids going down there, it was just a bad idea.

Gray was of the opinion that it didn’t matter one way or the other, he didn’t want to go in. But here he was. Getting geared up for an extraction mission. 

“Hey, why am I the one going in?” He asked after a moment. “It’s Mark’s house. And it’s your necklace.”

Reagan looked at him like he was crazy. “Because I am allergic to mold, and there’s absolutely mold in there. And if Mark goes in his parents will be all mad because they tell him not to every other week.”

Mark nodded in sad agreement. 

“Plus, you’re the smallest.” 

Gray let out a breath. “Fine. Yeah. I’ll be fine. There’s not actually any creatures down there.”

“You can definitely believe that if it makes you feel safer!” Mark tugged a tight knot in the rope around Gray’s ankle. “Alright. I think he’s ready.”

“I do not think he is ready,” Gray hissed, but he was being steadily pushed towards the gaping maw of the crawlspace.

It smelled like dirt. The dirt was cold, despite the heat outside. Dirt and dust and yeah, probably mold. Reagan had been right about that. He crawled deeper inside until the sun couldn’t reach him anymore. Spiderwebs crinkled against his helmet. 

It felt like hours. It felt like seconds. He could hear the floor creaking above him as Mark’s brothers and sisters ran around inside. Dust fell with every thud. 

Eventually he found what he was looking for. Gold heart-shaped pendant, thin gold chain, sitting in the dirt of the floor. Right above it was the crack in the floorboards Reagan had lost it down. There were a few other things down here as well. Small toys, papers, beads, hair ties. Gray decided to leave them be. His only mission was the dainty necklace that now sat clutched in his winter-gloved hand.

The rope on his ankle tugged twice. “I’m okay,” he yelled back. “Found it!”

Turning around was an ordeal, but with a little claustrophobic finagling he managed it. He had never crawled so fast in his life. They dragged him out as soon as his hands touched daylit dirt and the three of them celebrated Gray’s survival and success with a watermelon. 

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Day 31: Farm

There are five cows out in the backyard. Sometimes they get out. They like mulberry leaves. Chickens and ducks out under the trees. They never stop making noise. They like to get underfoot. There used to be goats. They got into and out of everything. Ate mom’s trees and flowers. The babies were the best, though. Dogs, never less than two. Usually three. Old man, old lady, crazy puppy. Protectors and pests both. At night, they bark at the coyotes. Howl with them. Cats everywhere. Open a door, cats run in. Walk outside, tiny rolls of thunder as they run across the deck. Lots of orange and lots of brown stripes. All named. Kids running around. In the fall and spring mostly. When the world feels alive and fresh and exciting, and you think maybe this is when things change. They don’t. But for that moment outside with the old buildings and the trees and the animals and the wind and the tiny flowers, they could. 

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And that’s that! I really hope you enjoyed, I certainly did. Not one of these was written day-by-day but that‘s fine, that’s okay, you get the content and that’s all that matters. I really hope you did like it though. Why don’t you leave a comment, maybe? Which story was your favorite? Was there anything you noticed that caught your eye with this batch? Any thoughts at all? I want them, I want the comments, please give me comments.

Ahem.

Anyhow, thank you so much. I’ll see you next week with . . . . something! Something for sure!

(p.s. here’s the link for all 31 stories! )

~Ace

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