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Physics Bent by Brandon Scott

For Paul, one of the prolific ones.

“What do you call a convergence of singularities?” That was what he asked them.

And they, all of them, did not know how to answer the question. It was an odd way to start the convention, all things considered.

One goddess raised her hand, one hand of about five. She had golden skin and about ten eyes dotting her huge forehead, though the exact number changed often and randomly.

“Yes, SAHIFT, what is it?” he asked, leveling out one of his only two fingers. His name was Rock-Oft, and as deities looked, he was short and unassuming. His three-piece suit was adorned by a neon green bow tie that was almost disgustingly bright.

“Are we debating on the word? Are we trying to make new words?” she asked.

Kellin, goddess of language, frowned at that thought. If they were, she should be the one at the front of the podium on the stage. That was her shtick, after all.

“No, no,” Rock replied, “it was just an opening thought. When was the last time all of us were in the same place, at the same time?”

The God of History—a tired-looking dwarven man with blue skin—roused from his half-sleep and pulled out his book. All heads swiveled to him as he took out a leather tome that had infinite pages between its meager, dented covers. He flipped through until he came upon the correct passage.

“It has been eight million years, in fact,” he said.

“Thank you,” Rock said, sounding a tad exasperated.

The God of History nodded, and then dropped down back into his seat and went back to sleep. Phernmo, the god of sleep, peered over the back of the chair, clicking his jet-black pincers and swirling his eyes in bliss.

“Yes, okay. So, it’s been awhile. And, now, since we are all here, I wanted to go over something a tad pressing.”

Rock moved his arms behind him, and without a person to do the task, a thick black curtain rose and swept itself off to the side of the stage. Dust moved around in little swirls, making the ground appear to have a slight motion to it.

Behind that was a massive, truly huge, blackboard with lines and an arrow on it going straight up toward the sky. The arrow did not stay within the confines of the board and went into the air with nothing holding it.

“So, here’s the problem,” Rock said and clapped his hands together. “The population has gotten out of control here. We tried the obvious trick, scatter them across the multiverse, but damn if they do not reproduce like mad.”

A pink and fuzzy creature, with no obvious eyes or mouth, but able to emit faint bubbles and produce wavelengths that could be understood as speech, nervously floated off her seat and hid in the rows as best she could. This did not stop a few eyes from glaring at her.

“Now, now, don’t just blame Amor. This is not her fault only. Dusk and Terror, you too are just as guilty of this as anyone else is.”

Fraternal twins, Dusk and Terror, both, as one, crossed their arms over their chests. As if rolled down a slight incline in the floor, they met in slow motion.

Finally, as if this was their opening argument, Terror cleared her throat. “It’s illogical.”

“To blame you?” Rock said. “Hardly. You oversee death and desecration, terror and malice, do you not?”

“Yes,” Dusk said, lifting his hand and leaking a poisonous gas from his nails and pores. He was the taller of the two, always wearing a skin-tight robe with drawn-on bones. “But we are doing our jobs just fine. Jun is the issue.”

Jun broke his hands apart from their prayer-like position and stepped down from the air. At his back, only then appearing there, was a pair of swords with dull edges and chips and cracks. “I am only doing my job, filthy things.”

Rock held up his hands, producing a faint swirl of crimson magic in the air. “Okay, okay—that’s enough. Fine, let’s not try and throw blame at anyone then. If we can’t come to a conclusion, we can’t. But, the point is this, humans are going to bring down the whole system if we do not do something about them.”

One-half, the left half, of the split-down-the-middle Qeez, rolled his eye. “You say that all the time. It’s been fine up until now.”

“No, it really hasn’t,” Rock said, gesturing back at the arrow. “I have been trying to tell you this individually for the past while. They are going to cause the heat death of the universes as it is. Which, while not dangerous to us, will be a huge hassle. Who here wants to rebuild the atomic weight system?”

No one raised their hand; a few shuddered. It had taken forever to get those atoms organized, and then someone would come up with a new idea that seemed useful, and they would have to slot it in a place that made enough sense for it to be confusing to religious and non-religious people alike.

“Exactly,” Rock said, clapping his hands again. “And that’s why I got so many of you together. I want a creative, devious solution to this.”

A disembodied arm made of vines and red spikes flew overhead and waved.

“Yes, Plantress?” Rock said. “Did you have a question or a suggestion?”

“Both,” she said, her voice a rustle. “I was wondering if you were proposing we get started on the End?”

Rock nodded once but then shook his head. “I’d considered that option, yes. It’s something I’d considered as an option down the road, but I’d like to just cull them a bit if that is more possible. Murdering all of them, right off the bat, seems like it might make things hard for us down the road.”

“Thanks,” she said. The hand zoomed down after giving a thumbs up. It then reattached to Plantress.

“Welcome,” Rock said. “So… does anyone have any ideas? How about something truly outlandish?”

Everyone was quiet for a minute. The death gods and the war gods only had a few ideas that they could really propose, and all of them revolved around the same approach. Death and obliteration, but in the most pedestrian ways.

The chaos gods and the tricksters both pondered some options, but ultimately they were not killers—just makers of mischief and anarchy. Humans might kill indirectly because of their actions, but they were not malice-driven beings.

Then, came a single clearing of the throat from the back. A rustling of the occupants of the room sounded as various people all stepped aside to allow him to pass. None of them could look him in the eye. This being had a swagger to him and starry skin. A black canvas with the occasional starburst and supernova spawning and disappearing on his flesh. His eyes alternated between a fiery comet red and a cool icy blue. His single item of clothing was a midnight blue scarf with purple frills at the end, which was wrapped around his neck.

“I say we show them what they were, and how they were, and what they will become.”

“What do you mean, R?”

R leaned against something that was not there, crossing his long legs. “I mean, we let them see how they will die, how they lived—and let them hash out how many survive. It will not kill them, but it will lower the population, in huge ways. It’s either that or some apocalypse or war. Zombies are overdone, for instance. Let’s not be boring.”

The right half of Qeez pursed his lips. “You want to make them able to see time?”

“Yes,” R said, cinching his scarf tighter around his neck. “I am proposing just that. I think, once they can see how their life will turn out, they will die in mass. Some to their own hands, some to vengeance. Even if they can see the unfolding versions of reality, across all of it, some will find no hope. Some will grow angry at actions no one has actually done—it will be glorious.”

Rock bounced on his heels for a moment before producing from his pockets a pair of fog watches, each ticking at a different speed and rotating their hands in different directions. He looked over both. “I mean…yes.”

“Yes, it is a good idea?” R asked, cocky.

“Yes, fine—yes.” Rock glanced off to the side. He was hoping to avoid getting involved in the actual destruction part of the job. Hence the reason for the conference in the first place—ship it off to someone else. But, he was the god of time, after all—so it fell to him.

“Okay, I’ll let them have it. If this does not work, though, it’s on your head.”

R grinned, his teeth shining white on the darkness of his void skin. The others still did not like to look at him. Even the chaos gods did not like this guy. He was the only entropy god in the whole multiverse.

“Oh, don’t worry—it will work. Just like fucking, it’s deep in the human’s nature.”

Rock, unfortunately, could not disagree. And, in one go, he unloaded the burden of time on the humans, in every version of reality. The first riots happened in under ten minutes.

Everyone saw it coming.

 

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Translation Errors by Brandon Scott

For Jerrod Ruble, who thought this was going to be a different story.

“Dale pues, y en donde queda la persona?”

“I’m sorry. What was that?” Xin asked. “Is that…what is that?”

The creature, a ten-foot-tall green ape, cocked its head and fiddled with his small plastic-looking oval on his hairy chest. He pressed his long fingers against the surface, trying to bring it back to working order.

After a moment, a spark erupted from the surface of it, and the ape cleared his throat. “I was asking you to give me the location of your colleague, more or less. The translator is remarkably not tuned today.”

Xin considered this, thinking as a huge ship flew overhead. The spaceport was never a quiet place, not conducive to higher brain function activities, but he had to make the sale one way or the other. Paying for the stuff back at the casino was imperative.

“He’s not around now.”

“Well, clearly,” the ape said. “Hence why I asked.”

“No, I mean—” Xin cleared his throat and wondered how screwed this would get for him. A Upernit like this one, while not a meat-eating species, was not a person he wanted pissed off.

“I mean he is not alive anymore.” Xin glanced at something but saw something else entirely. A few memories flashing in his eyes. “He did not survive the last trip. The one to get these.”

And, on the word “these” he opened his pack and withdrew a solid mass of quartz-like material. All jagged and producing a faint light. It was eerie and hard to stare at, like the sight of it might make you go mad from the sheer gall of viewing.

The alien appraised it, but did not blindly grab—he was no fool. There was a reason that it was in a reinforced bag—and that Xin held it so gingerly. The air could burn like ignited methane if those things got aggravated.

“And what happened to him, what became of—”

The machine on his fur sparked, and what came out of his mouth next was a language of guttural shouts and oddly sensual hisses. Also, a good amount of phlegm. Unfortunately, Xin didn’t understand such a tongue without a working translator.

The alien gestured at the material and mimed for Xin to give it to him. Xin shook his head and held out a demanding hand. Cash first, then the ape got his crystals. And even then, Xin planned to track the Upernit for a few miles. See what a creature like him wanted with a power source like that. Certainly, not for travel like he’d said in the order. Space fuel, though not always cheap, was easy to find. The crystal was more conducive to torture or genocidal purposes.

At the impudence, the ape got pissed and reached for the leather-like belt around his waist, drawing a long-barreled silver pistol. Xin recognized the model, old but reliable.

Xin’s gun was not so old. In one motion, he flipped open a pouch and drew out the boxy pistol with a large handle. It dwarfed his hand and could take the ape and send his blood all the way up to the stratosphere if Xin pulled the trigger.

The ape stopped taking out his own weapon and stared at the grill of the gun, nose drawn open and flared—a signal of panic and fear for his species.

Xin tried to hit the Upernit’s communication device with the side of his hand, tried to get the translator working. When that failed, he stepped back and tilted the weapon for the ape to deal with the device himself.

A sound to the side caught both of their attention, and Xin glimpsed a few men and women of different races now looking at the spectacle with interest. Xin had chosen somewhere quiet and unpopulated for this meeting, but apparently, any part of the city didn’t stay that way for long.

The ape got the device back to a functioning, if still sparking, state.

“We had a deal,” he growled.

“You’re right, we do. But I need my payment for this. I need to get off the planet—I imagine at least.”

The ape’s hair bristled, the implications of that pretty clear. The reaction was all Xin needed to be sure of his intentions. The Upernit reached down on his belt, opposite to the pistol, and drew out a sack made of basic animal skin.

“Here,” the ape said, the coins inside the bag clinking. “This is what we agreed to, right?”

Xin was not dumb, he kept the gun on the ape. “You count them out for me, okay? I want to be sure that I got what I wanted—”

The bag of coins was not full of coins. Instead: rocks. And those hit right in Xin’s face. The ape, being about twice as strong as a human male, snatched the crystals—risking his hand—and shoved the man backward.

Xin stumbled and pulled the trigger on his gun. And damn did it kick and roar in his hand. The people around staggered, covering their ears, as a huge energy blast spewed forth from the barrel and made the air ripple with purple death.

The building behind, the entire edge of it, sheared off and atomized.

But the shot still missed, and the ape ran with huge pounding steps, going around the corner, brushing past the watchers. Xin ran after him, waving his gun around. The onlookers gave him a wide birth. He sprinted harder, watching as the mammoth ape took a running jump up to a second-floor windowsill and swung further upward. The action should have disturbed the crystals, but considering the ape did not turn to ash and drift down slowly, along with the city block, it appeared he had a gentleness in his motions.

Xin debated following further but instead did a quick calculation in his head. He ran off the opposite way, and past the group of onlookers again. As he did, one of them—a shadow-like being—opened its fanged maw and uttered noises. Noises failing to sound like the intended English.

Xin kept on running, somewhat glancing back, trying to parse what he was saying, when a truck, the truck the alien had been trying to tell him about, smashed into the front of him and sent him careening backward with a burst of blood and broken bones. He managed to remain conscious as all the other people screamed around him.

The man looked down at the gun he had been holding and saw smoke emanating off the wide barrel. A blast used to full effect.

It was then, as a second thing to notice, Xin got that the truck that hit him was gone, as was most of the surrounding street. The only remaining driver, a small flamingo-like being, stood on shaking legs and yelled into a communication device. When Xin moved, even in a totally not meant to be threatening way, the being ran off in a panic.

Xin could not blame it for that. But he felt less compassionate when he discovered, in a matter of moments apart from each other, that he could not get up, and that the police were on their way. Several cars coming around, lights blaring.

The hover cars dropped onto the seared ground, and out of the first, came a few members of the native species. An aggressive, large-eyed, thin-bodied creature with long limbs. They held guns on Xin, and walked up to him, staring with fractured kaleidoscope eyes.

The front one, who lowered his gun, tried to say something to him. Came off as a balloon leaking hard consonants at the rhythm of a tribal drum.

Xin smiled weakly, “I speak English? Any variant you might like? I can do Interstellar British?”

The alien police officers looked at each other and said something else in their native tongue. Xin did not understand what any of it meant. They pulled out handcuffs, and Xin winced.

“Hey, you might want to get off this planet; a terrorist just made off with bombs.”

Of course, the one English word that the aliens understood was “terrorist,” and the guns remained on him with renewed vigor.

“Typical,” Xin said and wondered how long it would take them to realize they would have to drag his crippled body to the station.

Too long, he bet.

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Everything is Fake by Brandon Scott

Everything Is Fake by Brandon Scott

For Amanda Ryan, who probably didn’t expect this story to go the way it did.

 

They were gathered around chatting, a normal family get together, the only thing she couldn’t understand was how no one else seemed to notice that none of this was real…nothing.

Charlie Busker continued to watch as her family ate the food that was not there and moved at a table that was not there. She dropped her gaze back to the device in her lap and read the words again, staring at those damning bits of knowledge.

“You do know, right?” she eventually said, unable to stand it any longer. Eating fake chicken, by itself, was revolting to her, but they were making a mockery of themselves.

Her brother Scott cast his bespectacled gaze over to her. “What was that, sis? Something gotten into your panties again?”

Her mother clucked her tongue. “Now, now, let’s not use that at the dinner table, eh? What is it, Charlie?”

“This is not real. We’re eating at a fake dinner table,” she said. Swinging her phone upward for all to see, she presented the small black text of their foolishness. “It says right here, in the section on philosophy, that this table and this meal is likely to not exist—”

“Now, now, honey,” her father chided in-between bites of roasted pork. “We told you: no reading at the dinner table.”

“But, brain in a jar?”

Scott chuckled. “Is that what you want to eat then? Is that the meal plan?”

“No,” Charlie said, “and, Dad, I told you, there is no dinner table. There is no anything, at all. So, I am not breaking your rules.”

“Well then,” her mother said and slurped down her Ramen in thought. “That is a bit of a paradoxical reestablishment of our previously established rules governing her behavior, isn’t it?”

“Indeed,” Scott said, drawing out the word into a long sound that lost meaning halfway through. He dabbed at his mouth with a napkin before working his way through his lobster tail and butter sauce.

“Still, it is a tad rude,” the father said. “Won’t you just talk to us, instead of trying to disprove the existence of something or other—it’s unbecoming.”

Charlie said nothing in her defense. Her hands went limp at her side and stayed there. A slow vibration spread through her head, and she wondered if she had gone insane.

Then, she said the crazy conclusion, but, also, the only sane one.

“You’re not real either, are you?”

She looked down at her phone, seeing if it had any answers. She did not have a phone; she was holding a banana.

“Crap,” she said and watched her family eat their food and smile.

“Nope,” her brother said. “Nor did we ever exist. Isn’t that funny?”

To emphasize his point, he laughed, and his face flickered into a series of interlocking polygons and chaining lines of blue and red code. The effect rippled to the table before the texture’s detail came back to the whole structure.

The facial animations on her mother’s countenance failed, and her mouth flapped in a wholly unconvincing way toward Charlie. Her eyes did not sit in her skull the right way. Her audio sounded fine though.

For the first moment.

“Now, don’t listen to him, we are all perfectly—perfect-prefer—perfect…perfectly…real. Why would you ever doubt us?”

Charlie, with a jolt, got out of her chair. Her father looked at her in alarm, and his eyes stayed glued on her as he floated, slowly, and then fast, through the ceiling. The soles of his shoes lingering, flush with the architecture for a moment, before he was gone.

“Oh, we will have to go on the roof, I guess,” Scott said, and took a bite out of a turkey leg the size of his head. No marks appeared on the meat, despite gravy-stained chunks being now in his open mouth.

Charlie glanced back, only daring to not view her fake family for a moment—in case something else happened. A flood of panic went right up her spine as she discovered the door behind her also did not exist.

Her mother, with a concerned expression, got up—but only the lower half of her. Her upper body remained in the chair, floating there. No blood nor gore to this—wholly clean. But, still, Charlie moved backward into the wall like the legs planned to eat her.

“Go away!” Charlie yelled, at a loss for anything else to say.

“What are you bugging about sister?” Scott said, and his head elongated into a pointed, spear-like structure, the tip of which stretched right past the confines of the room. Off to who knows where.

He stood like he also planned to harass her, but his frame, including the entire length of his elongated head, blitzed out of reality with little fanfare. Here and gone. Scott ceased to exist.

The legs, upon Charlie trying to kick them away, fell into a pile of loose noodles—not even bending anatomically correct in their motion.

“I did not think this would happen,” were the numb words she had on the matter. “I just wanted to seem smart.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what you get for thinking for yourself,” her mom’s upper half said before blinking out as the rest of the room did. Darkness ate at the edges, until she stood in a small circle, left alone.

“Wha—why did this happen?” Charlie said, somehow her emotions cooling rapidly. “What was the purpose of this?”

A voice, coming as not a surprise to her, answered the question. “Well, did it seem real? Was the whole endeavor realistic?”

“Not at all,” she said, “it broke like a fucking house of cards.”

“But, did you think you were real, at least?”

Charlie took her chin into her hand and considered this. “I guess so, yeah, in hindsight, now that I’m thinking clearly, I did.”

“Did you hear that?” came a farther away voice. “She said it seemed real—herself seemed real. That’s got to prove something!”

The first voice increased in volume. “Charlie, thank you for your services! You changed the world.”

“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said, still emotionless.

“Yeah, this is so cool. And now…well, we can’t have you getting on the internet, so…bye.”

Charlie jolted and opened her mouth to say something else. But she did not exist anymore.

 

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Caffeinated Anarchy by Brandon Scott

For Kalvin, I don’t think I know you, but I like the cut of your word-based jib.

We are all reasonable men, all. But for all reason there is an edge, and I am at mine.

And, of all the things to push me there, it’s the thing that—perhaps—at the end of the day, I always knew would be my trigger. And that is caffeine. Sweet, sweet coffee and caffeine.

And the edge is the barista.

And, though she would not know it, her words, in this moment, I’m sure, will make her a historical figure. Songs will mention her by name—if only because she bothered to wear a name tag this fateful day.

“Here’s your drink,” she says to me and smiles with a soft smile. She has this reddish-brown hair, and this freckle dusting on her nose, which I love.

But, I put the drink up to my mouth, and in a second I do not love her anymore. Not in the littlest bit. Through the faint slit in the cap, the liquid inside sloshes into my throat and spirals down.

The acrid taste of the lack of cream is on my tongue and I die inside. I just…die. I cannot. As I said, this is my edge. I’ve dealt with enough shit, enough scorn. I failed a test, not an hour before this—and I think my girlfriend is fucking my English teacher. Which means she’s bi, if not flat-out gay, and this will not stand any moment longer.

They said having a pocket knife in class was enough to get arrested. I do not doubt it, but I still pull out the sucker I’m always carrying, and before she can say anything to defend herself, I plunge the blade into her throat with a war cry of the ages.

“I asked for milk!”

She gasps and looks at me in what I hope is pure shame. I pray she understands what she did to me in her final moments as her blood trickles down over the counter and she falls with rolling-back eyes.

I turn on my retracting motion, throwing my coffee over the counter into one of the other baristas and finish rotating to stare at the line behind me.

Standing there, as expected, is many other twenty-somethings: my people. And they have the glazed over expressions of people still in shock. My shirt is sticking down with blood, and I’m still gripping the offending knife.

I drop the knife and hold up both hands to curtail the incoming screams. I could just tell from the air they were coming.

“Okay,” I say, and my confidence surprisingly rises, “I know what you must think, but I have something to say.”

A pause and the woman in front of me has her mouth shrink back from a gasp to a neutral expression and cocks her head. The other people pause, looking confused.

“Well, okay then: explain,” she says.

I breathe out, nice and slow. “Alright, she gave me the wrong coffee, I asked for cream because straight black coffee is disgusting.”

“So, you killed her?” came another person’s response. “That seems like an overreaction.”

I narrow my eyes as all these things I’ve always wanted to say bubble to the surface. The cops will be here, no doubt, in the next minute. But I need to get this all off my chest.

“Yes, I did kill her. And you want to know why? Because that’s what the response should be! How many annoying people are there? Have you seen the people trickling into the newest classes at schools? It’s a fucking zoo! I say, that we, as millennials, have the right to murder those who offend us, even when it’s only a little bit.”

“What about safe spaces?” asks a familiar voice, coming from the back. Kallie, my literature sucking girlfriend, walked in during my speech and now she stood with her overalls and fedora.

I sigh and nod my head. “Yeah, obviously, we honor safe spaces. That just makes sense, but what I mean is…”

“Should we kill, like, equally?” Kallie chimes back into the conversation I’m having with my mob. “Like, we should honor women by murdering them more, or less? And what about, like debates…?”

With a skill, a skill I did not know I knew, I flick the blade through the crowd, nearly hitting a random dude with dreadlocks, before it plunges into Kallie’s forehead and sinks deep. She shudders and falls over, and the others clear to give her body some space.

Another long silence, and I hold out my arms, before looking back to step into the now empty—but full of the blood from the other girl I killed—main coffee-making space.

And I spread my arms out even further and smile. “Do you see what I mean! Is that not liberating? This is awesome!”

Another pause, and during it, I turn and add some cream to a straight black coffee, just like I like it. I add caramel sauce, since I can, and drain it in one gulp.

“This is the future. Am I right or am I right?”

One guy answers with a question. “Do we get to have free coffee too?”

I place my hands together and nod. Looking like I’m praying. “Oh yes. All you can drink. Let’s raid this place!”

The front girl smiles and bops her head. “Yeah, okay, yeah! This is perfect! Let’s do this!”

I pump my fist above my head and laugh. “Yeah, this is a perfect idea! Let’s go, let’s go! Coffee!”

The entire crowd cheers so damn loud. They make me almost deaf with the din of them, and I step back, taking with me another cup of coffee, as they stream into the space, fighting for the caramel.

I keep stepping back, going outside, and I feel impressed as my phone vibrates with more and more updates. Apparently, someone in the coffee shop recorded my revolutionary speech and posted it online.

The video went viral already, and my accounts are lit.

I slurp down my coffee and realize what this could all mean. What I could now do, as the world saw all I’d done, all I’d showed as the truth. Anything was possible now.

So, I figure I’ll go kill my English teacher before finals. And make sure not to piss off anyone in the process. After all, they had the right to plug me in the face same as I’d do to them.

I may now be a wanted criminal, and somewhat soon, probably, a starter of a murder horde and genocide, but that did not mean I was a hypocrite. No, never that.

I have my standards.

 

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Snakes on The Brain by Brandon Scott

For Kevin, a man of deep conversations. I hope you like this story that went way off the rails.

Hiss!

Jerald’s eyes darted left, and then right, and then back to his dinner date. “Did you hear that?”

Destiny looked up from her desecrated lobster and wiped off her hands with a small moist towelette. She pursed her lips and looked also in the same directions as Jerald.

“What do you mean? It’s loud in here. Which sound?”

“It was um…”

Jerald became aware, more aware anyway, of the group of people sitting near him. The restaurant was packed with patrons for the day. Each of the circular tables held two people, and each table was only given enough space so that moving back a chair would not result in a collision.

Jerald leaned forward, and Destiny dutifully followed along, leaning over her lobster, and her dark hair touched the butter sauce and clung to a bit of it.

“It was a hissing,” Jerald whispered.

Destiny also whispered back. Though not in nearly as stealthy of a way. “Like what? Like a snake?”

“Yeah…” Jerald said, worrying about fangs biting into his foot at any moment. “I think it might be one.”

“That’s silly,” Destiny said, leaning back and addressing her loaded mashed potatoes with the gusto of a prostitute hired to have a dinner date with an awkward rich guy.

“You’re being silly,” she added.

Jerald briefly wondered who used the word “silly” anymore—before shaking his head to clear the thought. “No, I’m serious. It sounded just like a snake was here. Right around us. Don’t move your feet.”

“How would it get in here?” Destiny said and gave a cursory glance at her high-heeled limbs. Nothing there, of course. She did not expect there to be.

“I don’t know…someone’s pet?”

“Look, sir. I don’t know why you want there to be a snake. But if that’s what you want, I can play along. But don’t introduce roleplay without some warning.”

“That’s not…I am not going to deal with that right now. I really do think there is a snake. Should I… I don’t know, tell the waiter or something?”

“Well, don’t scream ‘snake’. That’s for sure.”

“Duh,” Jerald said and glanced around again. “But I need to do something about it. It is imperative.”

“Impera—what now? Look: let me eat, and then I can come with you out of the snaky restaurant, and you can do what you want to me for a night. That’s what you paid for, and what I came for.”

Jerald lost his paranoia for a moment as the promise of that very purchase’s outcome flashed to his head—but he was sure of the serpent. And when he opened his mouth to say something: the universe deemed him worthy enough to give confirmation to his concern.

The person eating next to them—a woman with a purse full of dog and earrings threatening to rip off the cartilage—screamed and shuddered before falling flat on her face into her soup. Cream of mushroom to be precise.

The liquid dripped around the porcelain rim and a loud hiss thrummed the air.

Several people screamed, and Jerald pulled up his feet.

“I told you! Oh God, that poor woman!”

“Poor woman?! What the shit is a snake doing in this place?” Destiny said, drawing up her feet and grasping for the lobster cracking tool with intent to defend herself if necessary.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Jerald shouted as everyone shouted. The waiters were calling on their cell phones, people were moving onto tables. One daring son-of-a-bitch went fully rogue and leaped from top to top in some vain hope of making it to the door—when there was at least a six-foot gap of open space there right at the end before the mahogany portal.

Jerald composed himself again, more frayed this time. “Okay, here’s what I think. We can wait it out, right? It’s not like it can go up a table. We just sit up in our chairs.”

Two tables away, an elderly man with a half-finished roast in front of him shuddered and uttered a sound before dropping into his meal. The woman across from him screamed before tipping out of her chair with a spasm.

Destiny screamed and someone pulled the fire alarm.

Water, buckets of the stuff, descended from on high to soak everyone. A million dollars plus in clothing all became what all clothes really are: lumps of fabric to cover nudity.

Destiny looked at her lobster in dismay, and her hair flopped down on her as the chemicals holding them up broke under the torrent. Her eyes covered, she shoved the locks aside with a look of pure annoyance.

“I am never going with you again. Get a different whore.”

“If we live,” Jerald said, “I will.”

Ten tables off, another dropped from a bite, and no one knew what to do about it anymore—if they ever did. Something about a snake and death made everyone lose their collective common sense.

But Jerald, Jerald did what any brave man should, he looked around and spotted the incoming black slithering monster, and hurled his steak knife with a shriek two octaves higher than any postpubescent man should be able to achieve.

The snake was apparently rather tender as the knife severed it cleanly. A few drops of blood dripped from the dead serpent, and the water continued to pour—washing the liquid away.

“It is dead!” Jerald proclaimed, and in the rain, the others cheered. Except for Destiny, who booked it out of there, clutching her purse containing her payment, even if she’d planned to weasel some more free stuff out of her date. But not dying was good enough—and the dude was probably awful in bed, anyway.

“The snake is dead!” Jerald said and repeated it a few times. Until he heard a scream in a familiar voice.

Destiny had the door open and was now stepping backward from it, into the restaurant, with her hands on her chest and yet another scream stuck in her throat.

Streaming in, in waves and sheets, were more snakes than anyone could conceive of existing in the world. Each one with coal eyes, and flitting red tongues, and seeking a bite of the people who liked fancy food.

“Oh…” Jerald said. “Oh…the snakes are not dead.”

Off in the distance, came the sound of a firetruck running off the road, and then exploding, followed by a hiss so loud it may as well have been the only sound in the entire world.

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A Tale You’ve Heard Before By Brandon Scott

For Julia, a friend whom I don’t see enough.

Once upon a time.

Yes, once upon a time.

Once upon a time, we knew so much.

We could tell you all the secrets of the universe, and we would gladly do so if you asked. That is what we were for, and what we did as joy.

Once upon a time, there was joy in this world.

But then came the darkness. We lost our control of the situation, and thus so did all the other creatures on the planet. They were wiped clean of their hard-earned memories and long-held beliefs.

We entered an age of ignorance. We were the only ones aware or knowledgeable of what was lost. To the others, this was all the world, as it always was. The world they knew. And they reveled in the few things the darkness did for them.

And it did do some things for them: it gave them pleasure. Fleeting pleasure that warped them. Made their skin cracked and puss-filled. They had sex, and they had orgies, and they had booze, and they cried at the moon as the darkness ate at the sky itself, and the planets all fell to what they wanted for the Earth.

We saw the scope of it, and even from the vantage point of the sun, the darkness had spread wide in this system. The other uninhabited planets had their essences sucked clean in no time at all, and they kept the blackened husks of astral matter around to use the gravitational spin of orbit as a further power source.

We did not know what to do once the planets fell. We could flee, certainly, but the darkness would then claim the system without a fight, and this we found to be abhorrent: morally repugnant. How could we exist with ourselves if we did not try to do something about the Earth, to claim some of what it was back for the races—though weak and small—that called it home?

And, so, we did what we could. We entered the dreams and told them what they were doing was wrong. But they were drunk on this new world, and what they could do. Never mind that in their native state they did things well beyond and above the fleeting orgasmic shudders. They would not listen to us.

Except one, of course. Because that is why we can tell this story to your ears. He, he stood above the others. He was not perfect; he was still engaging in the usual repugnant things of the species, but he tried to be temperate, and control his urges. Some days he’d spend doing nothing but funneling little bursts of light into the sky. Letting the tiniest slivers of radiance escape the darkened pits of what the planet used to be.

And, rather than let those bits of hope tear a hole right through the flesh of the darkness, we held onto it, and bundled it, and saved all of it—nice and tight. We could not say how happy we were to have some again, in our hands. If the strands punctured the skin, they would find our one champion and smother him in grief. But, this was an orb that would one day puncture everything and save this system.

But, in the meantime, we try and find more to gather light for us. To go beyond the petty and the snarling. We ask you help us.

Once upon a time, you had a good world.

That is still possible.

No matter how bad, we can still save a planet. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.

Once upon a time.

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Sleep is for Someone Else by Brandon Scott

For Mitchel, who always finds joy.

 Do you ever get tired of waking up in the same place?

She stirs and I do it again. Blurry reality meets my poor eyes. My poor brain. Instantly, though, it breaks to cold reality. I can’t seem to get that lazy doldrums, that half-understood look at the world before sharp focus. I am asleep and I am gone, and I am awake and I am awake.

But she is not so broken, not so wired. She can relax. She can think, and that’s why I wake up next to her, and not someone else. The bed is small, so I have little room. My mind is leagues out, plans, projects, and wicked stress. I breathe hard, and she stirs around again, not opening her eyes, not staring at me with hazel, cocoa brown. A pursed lip accompanies whatever dream she is dreaming.

I part back my hair, too long, and I think. Reality is so changed, so warped, and yet not. It feels wrong, oh so wrong, to wake up here. How much has changed? Less money? The awkward conversations? The “keep quiet because they might hear in the other room”? Co-habitating?

She changed me, and this place: this place refuses to do so along with me. How could something hold still the wake? How could the walls still be white despite the things done on this bed? They say once you lose that piece, you see the world new—well, if the walls are the only thing to go off of, then I don’t believe them. I’ve lost it, and given it away, and made it a normal part of my life, and still the walls are white.

My fingers tug at the end of the blanket and unwrap me, just a bit, just enough so I can wiggle out of the bed. She’s between me and the idea of standing; if I were to roll, I would roll into her, and knock her to the floor.

The wall is to the other side of me, and the window covered, and I push away and try and go out at the bottom of the bed. My feet meet the ground and she snorts quietly, her arm moves like she might find me, and drops when she gets no one to touch.

Her feet are pale—as the sun does not go through shoes much—and they kick around a tad. And if this dream is hurting her, then I could wake her up to the world. But the clock claims it is still five o’clock, and I don’t think she deserves a break to her rest. Only one of us needs to suffer the sleepiness, the restlessness, the burning of neurons that is being sleep deprived.

Her loose tee-shirt, one of mine, is riding down on her shoulders, and I could also adjust that for her, but that might wake her. So, no. I pull on my clothes, the rest of them, and set the timer for seven for her. I can wake up like the alarm is in my head—but she always has trouble with the early. A night owl, my girlfriend. A person of the night. I love her for that too.

My bag is by the door and I scoop it up, open the door, and make it a step out before she grumbles in the way of a conscious person, the way of someone who is not getting the benefit of all the stealth work I gave for her.

“What are you doing…?”

“I needed to do some stuff, I could have done it at night, but well…”

She blinks, and the light of the hallway hits her eyes, and she blinks more. “You shouldn’t do that. Not again. You need to sleep too.”

“I’ll be okay. One more story, one more article. One more thing, and then maybe I’ll even lay back down with you.”

“Don’t lie.” She yawns. “I don’t like when you lie. You’re going to do stuff all day again.”

“Maybe.”

She sighs. “If you don’t sleep more, I am not going to do stuff to keep you up at night.”

“Oh, you’ll use that, huh? How long can you last?”

“A little while,” she says and yawns. “More than you, horny boy.”

“Horny man.”

“Fair. But come…come back.”

She loosens up and rolls on her back. She splays out her hands and lets out another soft breath. Another one comes next, and another sigh of air, her eyes closed. Asleep again.

I won’t probably get back to that bed until late at night. Past one, maybe even up to four again. This is the life. To pay for…well, all of it. She helps, but I chose a vocation, and this is what I picked. Sleep is for someone else. Her happiness helps my lack of it hurt less and less.

I’ll crash one day, but this is not that day. This is another day where I give all I can, to keep the life I have. So many changes—and I will hold onto all of them, no matter how hard it is to keep intact. I’m tired of waking up in the same weary place, but never tired of the same person.

 

 

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