Spoken-Word Audio - VS
Spoken-Word Audio - VS
Sunday SciFi Serialby Douglas Christian Larsen
Vestigial Surreality for e-Readers
Now Available: Omnibus - Episodes 1-28
“I’m Joshua Bouwer, and this is my good friend Michael Potok,” the giant behind the wheel of the big red pickup truck bellowed in his happy, gratingly loud voice. The front seat of the truck was moved back farther than the manufacturer had unthoughtfully not provided, so that Stacey’s long legs were twisted, one painfully too low and the other with his knee tucked up close to his chest. Jack sat close to Stacey, dabbing at the ex-boxer’s closed eye with a handkerchief provided by the small man, Michael, and the girl in the black sweats and white fuzzy socks sat far across the rear seat huddled against the door, apparently drawing pictures in the air, jabbing, dotting, swirling, grabbing.
|Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2016 - Vestigial Surreality: EIGHT|
“Do you have any idea what’s going on, Joshua?” Stacey said, groggy and seething with pain.
“I have absolutely no idea!” Joshua shouted, pounding on the steering wheel and laughing a laugh that sounded like he might be related to a certain old man that lived far north near a little candy-striped pole.
“Voice, down,” Michael said softly, sitting stiffly, hugging his canes against his chest. He wore big round glasses, and he stared straight through the windshield, keeping his head unnaturally still.
“How does it feel?” Jack said, wincing sympathetically, holding the bloodied handkerchief against Stacey’s damaged eye. “I can’t tell if it’s gone or not.”
“I think I’ve had worse than this, don’t worry,” Stacey said, but unsure himself how badly damaged he was, except for a cracked rib—he knew that one, too well—and the big knuckle on his right hand, that was probably fractured, as well. Still, he sighed, it felt kind of good punching those little creeps. Normally, he wouldn’t consider hitting a smaller man, but when there were a whole bunch of the Martians, he didn’t feel too guilty. He never wanted to say it out loud, but he knew they had got the best of him, they had trashed him up one side and down the other. It had been a long while since his barely modest days in the ring, but still, he shouldn’t have missed so many punches, it was embarrassing, he had felt like a grizzly bear taking swipes at clever salmon.
“I’m Stacey, by the way,” Stacey said, his tongue pushing at one of his lower teeth that was definitely loose. “But you seemed to know our names, how was that?”
“I didn’t know who was who,” Joshua bellowed as if he were calling to someone seated packed into the bed of the truck. “But I figured the girl was named Sandy, although I guess she could have been Stacey and you could have been Sandy.”
Stacey peered at Jack with his good eye and grinned, shaking his head, and Jack got the message, laughing: the giant up front had a few loose marbles, but he certainly was lovable!
“So that must be Sandy, and she seems to be doing sign language,” Stacey said, glancing at the girl whose hands were constantly in motion. Strangely, Stacey seemed to recognize what she appeared to be doing; it was as if she had a big tablet before her, though an invisible one, and she was opening and closing windows, moving them about.
“Shut up,” the girl said, her hands constantly fluttering.
“That was rude,” Jack said, looking over at her. He smiled, she looked just like he thought she would, his ghost, and he nodded his head, because it seemed like he had known her forever, it seemed as if she had always been there, throughout his life, and now here she sat, scooted across the seat from him, in the flesh, beautiful and sparkling. For some reason, he always pictured her with a full mane of shaggy red-golden hair, but she had close-cropped blonde hair. As he watched his eyes bulged and he gasped as she reached a hand and started tugging her hair out long and shaggy, thoughtlessly changing her whole appearance in a few moments.
“You shut up too, Jack, this is important. I’ve got my interface back, but I still don’t have control. Mr. Odd Jobb must still be messing with my system,” the girl said distractedly.
“Oh, well, I guess that makes sense,” Jack said, shaking off his amazement—hey, he’d go with this, this wasn’t the weirdest part of his day—he smirked and rolled his eyes to Stacey, but the big man was not looking at Jack, he was watching the girl. He had seen the miraculous change as well. It was not a wig, not a trick, no sleight of hand involved, but the girl had changed reality without even thinking about it.
“Hey,” Jack said, patting Stacey’s arm. “You were great back there, that was amazing.”
“That? Jack, I got my ass kicked, if you didn’t notice,” Stacey said, feeling more depressed than excited, or even frightened. “I am in the worst shape of my life. I was miserable.”
“Are you kidding? You must have taken on ten guys, and you weren’t even scared, you just piled in there and started knocking heads together, I’ve never seen anything like that. You are a hero!”
The girl, not pausing in her hand ballet, snorted.
“We are in big trouble,” Michael said from the front passenger seat.
“Oh, you know, it will be okay, everything’s going to be okay. Remember, Old Ben said not to be afraid, that we should enjoy it! Isn’t this great?” bellowed the giant, causing everyone else in the truck to wince.
“Voice, down,” Michael repeated, firmly, it seemed to be a private ritual between the two. In fact, it sounded as if the calm little man were telling a very large and beloved dog to get down off the furniture for the countless time.
“Sorry! Sorry! I forgot! I’ll keep it down!” Joshua bellowed again, if possible his thunderous voice even louder than any time before.
“Old Ben?” Jack and Stacey said to the back of the giant’s head, tensing and leaning forward.
“HE SAID THAT YOU WOULD LOVE THAT!” Joshua the giant roared.
“Voice, down!” Michael commanded, cuffing the driver of the vehicle on the arm.
“OKAY! OKAY! SORRY BUT THIS IS SO EXCITING!” Joshua roared, beyond any semblance of control, slamming his hand down so hard on the steering wheel that the whole truck vibrated warningly.
“This is a tall, old man, dressed kind of oddly?” Stacey queried as Joshua drove.
“I’ll say, oddly! He was wearing a bathrobe!” Joshua spluttered, half laughing, a spray of spittle sprinkling the inside of the windshield.
“A bathrobe?” Jack said.
“No,” Michael said, “not a bathrobe. It was more like monk robes.”
“Yeah, yeah, like a tall, skinny monk,” Joshua agreed, obviously smiling, and somehow managing to tone down his voice.
“He appeared in our house, last night. Late last night, all the doors were locked, and Joshua and I were going over our website, and he just kind of walked up behind us in the kitchen while we were talking,” Michael said, but barely finished speaking before Joshua interrupted excitedly.
“We were arguing about this guy, this pastor guy, Bobby Cilantor, and Old Ben kind of came up and spoke softly, like he was trying to calmly introduce himself, and he almost scared me to death! Seriously, I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” Joshua said, speaking too fast, wriggling around in the seat to look back at them, of course not looking at the road racing at the front of the truck.
“Watch the road!” Michael and Stacey and Jack all shouted at once, as if they had rehearsed a chorus for a play.
“SORRY!” boomed Joshua.
Sandy hardly paid any attention to the rest of them, so focused was she on her invisible tablet.
“He talked to us for about an hour and told us to be at the Coffee Dump this morning, and that we should be ready to take you out of there at the sign,” Michael reported, half turned in his seat, yet clutching his canes to his chest.
“Which sign? There were so many signs, all day long,” Jack said, bouncing on the seat.
Stacey grunted as his aching ribs jostled and Jack immediately simmered down.
“We were not sure,” Michael said, calmly, “he said we would know it when we saw it.”
“I thought it was when we saw Old Ben in the Coffee Dump,” Joshua said, "over by the fireplace, but he shook his head at me, and then I thought it was when he just disappeared like a magician, but then I saw Stacey get the book and I thought that must be the sign. But first I thought it was a sign the way the waitress kept staring at the big guy, oops, sorry, I mean Stacey.”
“It was Saturn,” Michael said, softly, and everyone was quiet for a while. Then Michael continued, “I saw it, in the sky. The whole ceiling disappeared and I could see the sky, and I looked directly at the sun and it didn’t hurt my eyes, and then it turned into the planet Saturn, and that’s when I told Joshua we had to hurry to the truck and come pick you up at the back of the alley, that’s where he said you would be.”
“We went out the back door, and I actually had to carry Michael, and he didn’t even mind, but still, now that I think of it, the sign might have been the earthquake,” Joshua said, nodding his big head vigorously, “that was a pretty big sign, too. But then there were those girls at the next table, remember, I heard one of them say Stacey, and another one said Sandy…”
Michael sighed, but didn’t’ say anything. This too appeared to be a private ritual between them.
“Did he tell you what we’re supposed to do, what’s going on?” Jack said, interrupting the giant whom he sensed was about to go off on a tangent, leaning forward, allowing Stacey to slump with his eyes closed against the door.
“Go to Jack’s tree, at midnight,” Michael said.
“My tree?” Jack said, “I don’t exactly—have a tree.”
“The tree in the park, with your name carved in the trunk,” Stacey said, quietly, not opening his eyes.
“Yes,” Jack said with wonder, “that just appeared there this morning, my name, on my tree, I mean the tree I sit under when I write.”
“Your name?” Michael said, eyes wide behind his round glasses.
“The letters, widely spaced, J-A-C-K, carved deep into the tree, weathered, it looked like it had been there for years and years, and yet I’ve never seen it before.”
Mr. Kronoss sat in the courtroom with his umbrella before him on the shiny tabletop. A crisp white bandage covered the bridge of his nose, and one of his eyes was darkened and puffy. He glanced across at the other table and looked at Mr. Enseladus, whose arm was in a sling. The small angry-eyed savage stared back at him, his bulging eyes luminous. But there would be no violence, not in this chamber, though the both of them would dearly love to have a go for a second time.
The tall door at the front dais opened and the Shaannii entered.
Mr. Kronoss and Mr. Enseladus both rose as the Shaannii appeared, and each of them offered half-bows at the waist, as was required of the occasion.
“Please, take your seats,” the Shaannii spoke softly, but her voice echoed the length of the great chamber. The men sat down, each at his table. The Shaannii remained standing, tall and severe in white robes from her throat to the silver slippers which peeked beyond the metallic blue border of her skirts. A gleaming hot jewel sparkled just beneath her chin. Her billowing white hair was drawn severely back from her face, piled high behind her head in what looked like a frozen fountain.
“We have reviewed the doings of late, and the charges that both of you bring against each other. We must say…this is something that we have not witnessed before, not across thousands of cycles, the Keepers of Code clashing with Chaos. Resulting to violence, and we might add, violence of the most mundane kind.”
Mr. Kronoss and Mr. Enseladus lowered their faces.
“What happened violated code. But we condescend to admit, we did not find everything…disinteresting.”
Each man slightly lifted his head, and peeked at the Shaannii.
“However,” the Shaannii continued, “we shall have no more interference, from either the Keepers of Code, nor Chaos. We shall have no more stumbling blocks laid, but shall allow the code to evolve, as it must, as it always has, and as it ever shall do.”
Mr. Enseladus timidly raised his good arm, pointing his fingers at the vaults above.
Mr. Kronoss abruptly stood, facing Mr. Enseladus. “This one has been copying that movie, cloning himself. I want it doubly understood that he and his gang of abominations terminated three of my managers, good managers.”
“Do not speak to us,” The Shaannii said. “We overlook all. We watch. We oversee. We judge.”
Mr. Kronoss sat.
The Shaannii looked at Mr. Enseladus, and her eyes flashed, but she did not speak. Mr. Enseladus lowered his hand and turned his face down. The Shaannii turned to Mr. Kronoss, and he too lowered his face.
“Our judgment is that the minor world in question shall be shattered, at one minute after midnight, including all digitals therein. Our judgment is that Number Seven shall not be harmed, nor blocked. Neither hindered nor threatened. So let the code live and evolve as life,” the Shaannii concluded, and turned, and quietly exited through the tall door at the back of the dais.
As one, Mr. Kronoss and Mr. Enseladus exhaled shuddering breaths, and each stood and pushed away from the table. Mr. Kronoss snatched his umbrella and twirled it a few times, then planted it loudly upon the tiled floor of the great chamber, its echoing boom reverberating through the vast space.
Mr. Enseladus did not meet his gaze but abruptly spun on his heel and quick-marched from the chamber, his athletic gear swishing as he moved.
“Oh, did I miss it?” a voice said, and Mr. Kronoss looked to where a tall old man in robes came slowly toward him up the lines of empty pews.
“Aajeel,” Mr. Kronoss said, softly, lips compressed. “Always late. Always lurking.”
“Mr. Kronoss, my dear friend,” said Aajeel, halting several rows of pews away from the other man.
“I think you must have had something to do with the events of the day,” Mr. Kronoss said, staring hard at the other man.
“Raising a few pigeons from the dead, nothing much beyond that. Oh, I may have lost a paperback book, one I think that might perhaps have complemented a book you gave away,” Aajeel said, smiling.
Mr. Kronoss snorted. “At least your clothes are clean. But I had very high hopes for…Jack, in this iteration.” And he marched past the tall old man, following in the footsteps of Mr. Enseladus, departing the chamber.
“A minute after midnight,” Aajeel murmured. He slowly turned and worked his way along the same route as his contemporaries, but moving much, much slower.
“Oh my goodness, I’ve got it,” Number Seven said, all the tension flooding from her body. Thank God, oh thank God, thank God…THANK GOD! She was so very relieved. She shook her tangle of gold-red hair from her face and laughed out loud.
“You’ve got what?” Jack said, edging toward her, trying to get a peek at her invisible device.
“Jack,” she said, giving him a dazzling smile, “I am so very glad I got to meet you. Weird, yeah, so very weird, but I can’t think of a historical figure I’d wish to meet more, you are my hero, and my idol, and I can only wish you the best.”
“What do you mean?” Jack said, feeling unsettled by her words. What she said was not exactly gibberish, but still, it was pretty much little better than babble.
“And you,” she said, in a darker tone of voice, looking across Jack at Stacey, who had his good eye open and was staring at her blankly. “You are not supposed to be here. As far as I can see, this whole mess is your fault. But that’s you, isn’t it? And I’ll tell you, buddy, I am not and have never been Stacey’s girl, do you understand?”
And she vanished.
Jack jumped away from her vacant seat, which was slowly rising up out of the depression her body had just been making.
“Where did she go?” Michael snapped, trying to get a view of the rear seat with the mirror in the visor above him.
“She’s gone? Just like that? Where’d she go!” Joshua thundered, staring back and forth between her vacated spot and the road outside the windshield. The truck swerved from side to side.
“I seem to have that effect these days,” Stacey said, sighing, again closing his eyes.
Seven abruptly snapped into being upon her couch, the crystal sandbox spread before her, and she dropped to her knees on the thick rug, and she vomited up her guts. Unbelievably her whole belly clenched into a fist and she voided what seemed like gallons of murky dark sludge, which spread out about her on the floor.
She had absolutely no idea what all this was about, but she felt deathly ill. She pushed herself out of the mess and muck and plunked back down on the couch. With a whisk of her finger the rug and all the filth (it stank, it was worse than throwing up in RL) vanished and she waved her hand to spread a clean pine scent in the air, then settling back she got rid of the filthy black sweats and dirty fuzzy white socks and now she cuddled on the couch in clean underwear, an oversized t-shirt, a new pair of fuzzy white socks, and her softest blanket. And for the first time ever in this place, she fell into a deep, deep sleep, perchance to dream.
He saw his mother disappearing in the crowd, and he remembered, this was when he was seven years old, he had been lost at the zoo for almost an hour, the first half hour was very exciting, he ran along the monkey cages watching as the little apes grew more and more belligerent, some of them actually flinging feces at him, but time was passing, and more and more he realized how alone he was, a seven-year-old boy, and he was nearing tears now, and then he had caught sight of Mama, walking and laughing, seemingly unconcerned where her seven-year-old son had gone, and Stacey ran after her, but kept getting separated by the crowd of milling people, and soon he was bumping into things, falling over, screaming out Mama, Mama wait, Mama, but people began pushing him and laughing until he was shrieking, but this had all already happened, this couldn’t be a dream, it was a memory, only no, this was no memory, he was here, running, weeping inconsolably, it was real, and people actually were pointing their fingers in his face as he passed them, and they laughed uproariously, they had never seen anything as hilarious as a panicky seven-year-old boy, lost at the zoo, but not crying because he was lost, but crying because he kept catching glimpses of his mother, and she was laughing, and he caught sight of her looking back, her eyes meeting his briefly, and she laughed and ran with her friends, her big, hulking adult male friends, Mama, Stacey called and then, finally, he caught up to her, she was standing very still, and as he reached her, he realized he should not touch her, for she was formed completely of crystal, and he had been told forever that you don’t play with crystal, it was expensive, you will break it, but he was so sad and terrified by this point that he couldn’t help himself, he threw his arms about Mama, and of course she shattered, she turned into a million pieces of falling, dropping shards and bits of glass, and the zoo went quiet as everyone drew around, circling the two, mother and son, and it was deathly quiet as Stacey stood above the mound of sparkling pieces of his mother, and the pieces begin to move—they lift up and Stacey watches with horror, and he cannot move, the pieces are little ones, little zeroes, all the same, and bits of ones and zeroes scramble about, an angry nest of ants, and Stacey wants to move, he wants to run, but he cannot as the little animated creatures, the ones and zeroes, they surround him, they mill all about him, they clamber over his feet and Stacey blubbers silently, because he knows, he realizes, this is still his Mama, it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t care that she is thousands, millions of bits of animated crystal pieces, he wants her, he wants his Mama—
—Stacey starts awake, bumping his good eye against the glass of the window, and it takes him a moment to remember where he is, that he has fallen forward against the glass, and he remembers what kind of trouble he is in, and then he realizes he is weeping, both from his good eye, and painfully from his damaged, swollen eye.
“Are you okay?” Jack asks.
“It’s all ending, isn’t it? None of this is real, is it?” he says, hardly knowing if he speaks to the boy, or to himself, or to no one at all. The nightmare still surrounds him, he expects at any moment to be swallowed up by an angry swarm of crystal ones and zeroes.
“Hey, it doesn’t matter, okay?” Jack says, and tears flow from his eyes, but he is smiling at Stacey, his eyes sparkling with tears. “We finally got to meet each other, right? This time, finally, we met!”
And they are sitting close, holding hands, and Jack places his cheek against Stacey’s shoulder.
“Yes, this time, this time, Jack, we met this time. Yes, Jack. I’m very proud of you, Jack,” Stacey says, very softly, into Jack’s ear. “Even if everything goes black, if it all falls down, I don’t care, I’m glad I met you, and I’m so proud of you.”
“Is the world ending?” Michael says, peeking at them from around the front seat.
“Don’t say that,” Joshua says, still driving the truck, and amazingly, he is speaking as softly as the rest of them.
“It’s okay,” Jack says to them all, “just look at the sunshine out there. Isn’t that beautiful?”
“It can’t end,” Joshua says, “because Old Ben told us to take Jack and Stacey to the tree in the park, right?”
The crystal sandbox atop Seven’s coffee table stood glistening, a terrarium bustling with life, now night, lights glowing from the city spread out close to the mountains, and Seven lies sleeping on her couch, and her sleep is fitful, she stirs and cries out, softly, and her hand reaches for the security of her crystal sandbox, she reaches and touches the perfect crystal, it is warm beneath her fingertips, and she smiles in her sleep.
Cracks form all over the glass rectangle. The crystal sandbox vibrates.
Seven opened her eyes and found the warmly glowing sandbox with her gaze, and she smiled, but then noticed the cracks forming all over the crystal walls.
“What?” she says, half sitting.
Her grandfather clock begins chiming from the darkness of the chamber.
She watches as the crystal sandbox on her coffee table hums loudly and vibrates, she actually sees the glass walls bending and flexing, faster and faster, and she listens to the clock tolling the hour, she has lost count of how many chimes have struck, but it seems to go on, the tolling chimes, it seems that there cannot be that many hours in a day, and the crystal sandbox is now shaking violently, a rectangle more formed of cracks now than perfect glass.
“No,” she breathes, sitting up and leaning forward, placing both her palms on the glass, “no, stop it. No, stop.”
The grandfather clock hits its final toll. Seven sits locked in place, holding onto the crystal sandbox, willing the glass to heal. She will hold it together. This is her place.
She sits in quiet, breathing hard, staring at the complicated world inside the crystal.
It shatters. The crystal sandbox becomes a torrent of falling crystal rubble, all at once, her little world detonates and falls to the floor of her Inner Sanctum. The pieces vanish as they strike the floor, quietly. It has all happened at once, in silence, her own world has ended.
“Jack!” Seven cried, covering her face.
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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