Oct. 19th, 2012 09:43 pm
talonkarrde: (color)
As part of a writing duel with[ profile] mahmoth, on the subject 'Nightmares', to be written in two hours and be between 450 and 550 words. 


To the good doctor:

I have long since kept a journal, not since my days as a young boy, but this letter is the closest thing to it. I write to you to plead for asssistance, and to establish some sanctuary in a confused world, one that seems to be escaping from me, day by day.

These words, freshly inked, already serve some purpose in grounding me, so that I remember that these dreams, these hallucinations, these night terrors - they are not real. And yet, how real they seem, doctor. I hope you have seen a case like mine.

It has been weeks since they started - before that, I dreamt as others did, of life and other-life, of many things that made no sense at all. There were nights where I woke with sweat upon my brow, but also nights when I was disappointed that I was to wake at all, so happy were my visions.

But not recently.

Three weeks ago, my dreams started becoming curiously regular. Instead of the usual dreams that I have had: of falling endlessly, of flying, of seeing myself in a mirror, I started dreaming of parts of my ordinary day. I would 'wake up' in the dream, go through my morning rituals, and then go to work, all as I do normally. Sometimes, the dream would start midway through the day, others at the end, but in all cases, there was nothing fantastical - except, of course, that I woke up from them.

It was odd enough that I consulted a doctor, of course, but there was really nothing too malicious and the doctor simply told me that it would pass with time.

Then the dreams changed and became fantastical - in the morning, I would be shaving, and my reflection would smile at me, and then start crying tears of blood as 'I' cut my throat. At work, my mug of coffee would have a cockroach writhing in it, despite being completely clean the second before, and then a flood of them would drop from the ceiling. These nightmares — no longer dreams — did nothing for my rest, but at least I knew they weren't real, I woke up, abruptly, just a bit after.

Last week, it turned worse. Instead of fantastical occurrences, my nightmares turned ever more subtle. In one, my wife would not speak to me at all; in another, my coworkers berated me for a bad presentation. They were in dreams - but they were so realistic that I could not be sure whether they had happened! In the last few days, I have apologized for things I've never said, and not responded to things that had, because I was sure it was simply a nightmare.

From yesterday, I have a wound in my right hand — my wife lost her patience and I believed I was in a dream; I stabbed myself in the hand, but I was not dreaming.

Last night, in my dreams, the wound was there.

I have learned something, in these last few weeks, that I would share with you, doctor: the fantastic is not scary, for it is not real. What is terrifying, what is to be feared, is the mundane, when it is turned against us. It can drive a man to do terrible things.


Dec. 18th, 2010 05:00 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
It’s studied in school nowadays, you know. They make the psych students sign a release, informing them that they know the images will be highly disturbing, and then they show them everything.

The projector flashes through a timeline, showing the students the cell phone and DSLR pictures from shortly before it happened, the three videos that recorded everything and weren’t destroyed, and then a composite sequence with a death toll in the corner rising as each minute ticks by, based on what the investigators were able to reconstruct.

Many of the students vomit.
It starts at 7:22 p.m., and the Knights have just scored a touchdown. Out of the fifty thousand spectators, some thirty-eight thousand of them are local and rise out of their seats, a human wave; the noise is immense and can be heard across the river, downtown. The ESPN cameras pan and follow the wide receiver that caught the pass, number 37, and follow his joyful victory dance and salute to the crowd. The band starts to play their touchdown theme, and the camera zooms back out, to encompass the entire section of the stadium.

There’s a hundred foot screen up there, in clear view of just about everyone, and it displays the score, showing the home team up by 3 now; and below the score, there are occasional twitter messages that give congrats and shoutouts.

At 7:24, there’s a message that says the following: @vendetta: the bombs are set. goodnight, fuckers.

On the two spectator feeds, you can hear a couple people wonder how that made it in there, but someone comments that idea that someone was just smart enough to get a stupid message past the censors, or maybe they selected the wrong message to post. Most of the crowd doesn’t even pay attention to it, as the QB’s setting up to start the next play.

At 7:25, the power flickers in the entire stadium; and when they come back on, the floodlights that illuminate the field start going out — except for the sign, the only brightness left, the only thing the eye’s drawn to. And now it starts flashing between two messages, the first one and this one:

@vendetta: and in the light you will behold the glory - not of the lord, no. but look for the poison gas.

There’s confusion at this point, wondering what’s going on; the crowd is a bit more tense but not panicky yet, and you can hear people urging calm and peace, that the lights will be back on soon. In one of the cameras, the one recovered from the right side, about thirty rows up, you hear a male voice crack a joke and then ask the concessions employee for a hot dog as he waits.

At 7:29, the lights come back on. Exactly twelve seconds after that, as the announcer is saying that the game will continue despite unfortunate ‘technical interruptions’, there is a greenish gas that is spraying out of every single section, spaced out to be every ten rows down.

The death toll counter increments almost immediately - a John Doe, never identified, has a 9mm glock handgun on him, and though he is three seats from the exit he begins firing immediately, shooting six and climbing over their bodies to get to the exit; it is later found that he runs to the bathroom and proceeds to commit suicide.

Across the stadium, there are more people trying to fit through the exits that can possibly fit, and injuries and fatalities rise as any sense of humanity is lost. Even without the video feed, as tears slip pass closed eyes, the sounds persist, an unnatural, horrifying racket.

At 7:32, on the ESPN video, you hear a voice saying ‘cut the feed, cut the fucking feed’, and someone in the studio does so; there’s no one manning the camera anymore.

At 8:09, two thousand, four hundred forty-five people are dead. One of the cameras has been dropped and stepped on but you can still see the horror of an exit through the broken lens; the other one is rolling, pointed at the field, where people jumped to escape.

Broken glasses. A bloody trumpet. A phone showing a failed call to 911.

At 8:14, the unmanned ESPN camera shows a team of EMTs and paramedics come into the declared hazmat zone, ignoring the prohibition, and start triaging and treating. By the end of the triage, they run out of tags, and start marking with markers on foreheads. One of the dead is player #37.

At 8:25, the hazmat team comes in and finds out the bitter, terrible truth.

The congressional investigation ended with this line: “This attack took the lives of more than two thousand civilians and was accomplished with the use of a twitter account and thirty cans of colored, compressed air. There were no bombs, no weapons of mass destruction, and no motive. We have no recommendations at this time.”
talonkarrde: (Default)
"We are like salt, from earth," he says the first time, a cloaked figure that stands forward from the others, in the shadow of their ship, on the edge of the African plain. It's a male, the biologists unanimously agree. He is bipedal and has long, thin claws that remind too many of Freddy; none of the hundreds of reporters draw near.

The claws are too long to obey the Golden Ratio, the biomathematicians say, and wonder what insights they can give us. Perhaps a deeper understanding of the universal constants, perhaps a different way of looking at the fundamental basis of math entirely. But they do not share; they only ask for us to respect their land, a few small enclosures on various continents that they pay various few governments generously for, though not in the advanced technology they surely hoped for.

The line is studied and debated endlessly. 'Salt? of/from earth?,' flies across chatrooms, research labs, thinktanks. In the public, it becomes a greeting: "We are all salt of the Earth," the President starts in his State of the Union; in the military, it becomes a curse: "Those fuckers think they're going to salt our Earth?". In academia, the scientists are as divided as the rest of the world, with as many hypotheses as there are stars.

Was it the shared carbon-based biological structures they were referring to that made it so that they could easily consume the same resources we did? Was it a psychological statement on how they saw themselves, plentiful and common, an essential part of everything?

Then, the Tarkin incident, which taught us two very important lessons.

Fifteen military cameras observed a jeep crashing through the fence that had been the separation between the two species. Five spy cams, previously smuggled into the enclosure, caught various footage of the young men shooting indiscriminately through the compound, yelling out xenophobic slurs. Most of the damage was superficial, as the aliens knew enough to hide from the bullets, but two of the xenos were less fortunate.

They had been walking through the streets and were unfortunate enough — or distracted enough — to step out in front of the charging jeep; the footage reveals that the male never saw it coming and was thrown fifteen feet by the initial impact. His cloak was torn away, giving us the first look of their translucent torsos, their arrowlike heads, their long, long claws. The humans brought the jeep to a screeching stop, and as the female stood there, emptied their clips into her fallen companion. Around the world, analysts and advisors watched the blood flow — red, of course, because of the hemoglobin.

And then, when the footage leaked, the world saw it too.

When the male died, the female collapsed, registering no signs of life on the biomonitors, even though she was completely uninjured. It was an effect we would only come to understand much, much later, but it was the most important thing learned in early contact.

The second lesson was that they could be killed with conventional force.

"We will be the salt sown across the fields of Earth," he says, precisely five years after the Tarkin encounter. With each claw, he casts a fistful of dull crystals before him. There are no reporters now, and the world watches through the lens of a single videocamera placed five hundred yards away.

His gesture is unmistakable and his words leave no room for misinterpretation; everyone understands the mal-intent. After the xenophobic incidents, the widely broadcast protests, and the gradually aggressive border skirmishes, there were few that didn’t think a struggle was inevitable, an open struggle to establish the dominant species of the planet.

They were never caught unprepared again, after the first loss of life. When a lone pilot in a small, single—engine Piper made it through the military blockade and crashed into what the analysts thought was a school in one of their towns in Asia, they saw it coming and evacuated the building. As soon as the fire stopped, they started rebuilding the school, right over the plane and the unfortunate pilot. The next day, there was no sign it had ever happened. We never had a chance to negotiate for the return of the body.

When the President decided it was too dangerous to have an exo-town in America and ordered the military to "gently but promptly" relocate Colony 6, the soldiers reported finding nothing but buildings; the aliens had taken everything that could be moved and vanished sometime during the night before. In another unmistakable gesture, all the cameras and sensors we felt that we had so intelligently smuggled in had stopped broadcasting during the night.

Containment, the committee on military affairs recommended. No one knew what they could do, except that they could do things we couldn’t. In the words of a maligned but honest defense official, “We simply don’t know what we didn’t know.” And in that atmosphere, no one wanted to be the first to commit troops to what could easily be a snipe hunt — or significantly worse, a massacre. The various world leaders agreed, even the most militaristic, and the blockades were doubled or tripled in strength, with walls built, guns pointing in, jet fighters continuously on standby.

It was a week later when we collectively realized that our blockades had the same effect as trying to bail out the Titanic with a child’s toy bucket. Civilians from every single part of the world — the first reports came from Brazil, the Pacific Northwest, New South Wales, the Alps, and the Serengeti, simultaneously — reported seeing single Xenos stalking through the land. It was always only one, and many called it a ruse to draw us away from their towns, towns that still went through their normal schedules. At first, we ignored it, until the secondary reports came in, a day or two after the first sightings.

Where they went, everything died.

Our best scientists confirmed the practical findings, slowly piercing together how it happened. Everywhere they had been, there was a zone of death in the ecosystem. A biological weapon, a parasite or virus of some sort, some suggested, but the biologists didn’t agree — preliminary studies indicated no infections or foreign presences. Then someone put a slide of the Brazilian fern cells under a microscope and we saw the cytorrhysis and crenation, and we finally, bitterly, understood the meaning behind the alien’s words.

They weren’t just a declaration of war; they were a blueprint of the exact actions they would take.

The cells died, you see, because of the pressure difference. They had learned how to locally affect the osmotic pressure, and twisted it so that the outside was significantly more concentrated than inside the cells. The water floods, out, the cells collapse, and the organism dies.

We knew the basics — we had known for years the application of it and used salt water, sometimes, to kill weeds. We knew how important it was to keep the balance of salt in our bodies. But this weaponization of a chemical property itself, this ability to effect such changes and then simply walk away; it was something we could never counter.

We couldn’t just roll over and die, of course. But when we attacked, as one, globally, there was nothing there, again. The tanks rolled into empty buildings, the bombs fell on ghost towns that no longer held the Xenos that we had seen walking through the streets days before.

And then the reports came: they were coming closer and closer to our major cities, our population centers. The hearts of our countries...

“We are,” he says, “the salt of the Earth,” His skull is now round instead of flat, his hands still long and thin, but with stubby fingers instead of claws, his chest pale instead of translucent. He stands before the United Nations and smiles, and it is a chilling smile, lacking any grace whatsoever.

They walk amongst us now, absorbed into the waters of humanity, and it is very, very hard to tell the difference between us.

They have won.
talonkarrde: (Default)

I stand in the open doorway of an old Victorian house, a multi-story antique with peeling floral wallpaper and wooden floors. There are closed doors on both sides of the hall every few feet, and portraits hang between them. I do not see the dust I expect from an abandoned house; the gilded frames shine dimly, the doorknobs are smooth to the touch. After a few tries, I find that all the doors are locked; my only choice is to proceed forward.

The floorboards creak as I walk past the portraits, feeling their heavy stares fall upon me. When I look at them more closely, I find that the subjects depicted — mostly young men and women, though there were a few families — are all faceless. The poses are natural, some sitting against a sofa, others standing together in a family portrait, but their faces are all pale blank slates, devoid of any features, as if God had set up the easel and then refused to draw on it. It makes me uneasy, and I walk faster.

As I make my way down the hall, each scrape of my shoes is magnified, and I feel the portraits' anger and disapproval growing with each creak and whine I cause. Dreams have their own logic, and I take off my shoes and socks, placing them neatly under the blank faces of a family of four. I look upon the empty faces and imagine my family, and it is easier than I expected — almost too easy.

The house is quiet as I continue, gingerly testing each board, silently passing the rows of gilded frames and the empty faces immortalized in them. As I near the end, I start feeling eyes upon the back of my head again; when I pass the final portrait, I turn around and understand why.

The photographs have faces now, young and old, male and female, with high, proud cheekbones and long, thin lips… but they do not have eyes, only blackened pits. They smile, but when I look closely at the closest one, a young mother carrying her her infant, I see a trail of black flowing from where their eyes should be — they are crying, their smiles grimaces of pain.

I let out a low moan that is twisted by the acoustics of the hallway, and in response, I imagine clicks as doorknobs are turned. I turn and run, no longer brave enough to remain in the house, and my bare feet slap against the wooden floor hollowly as I flee for the door that stands at the end of the hallway, the exit.

It is freedom from this madness, and it is only twenty steps away.

But with each step I take I feel something calling me back. Though it has no voice, it is a feeling that I have left something important behind, a feeling that saps the strength from my legs and brings sweat to my brow as I slow to a jog, and then to a walk. Too late now I wonder if the ancients were right about homophones and what I was leaving behind was my soul, but I continue forward with a desperate hope in logic.

Fourteen steps later the door suddenly looms much taller; the muted lilies and poppies in the wallpaper extend far above my head, and the floorboards are closer than I remember. I have fallen to my knees, though I do not remember doing so. I try shuffling forward on all fours and the world spins – I grasp for something, anything, and find nothing.

When I come to, I am lying on my side, and my nose is noticeably swollen. My fingers come away dark and wet, and when I look at the floorboards, I find that there are small pools of blood. When I notice that they are closer to the door, as if I had rolled back towards the center of the house after passing out, I curl up in a ball, rocking back and forth. I am a prisoner.


After a bit, I stop shaking: I understand now that I can not leave a part of me behind.

And so I retrace my steps, heading back for those carefully placed shoes, steeling myself to resist the stares. As I pass the first portrait, though, it is not their glares that fall upon me, but rather their screams. I hear the cry of the infant and the keening wail of the mother. A young man's agonized sob joins in from my right, begging for escape, and with each step, the cacophony increases in volume. Before I am halfway there, it is deafening, and I bring my hands up to my ears; with only three more steps left, I feel wetness seep between my fingers and the world spins again.

When I come to, I see again through the trail of blood left on the floor that I have fallen back four, maybe five steps. I lie there, listening to the whispers and wails in my head, and look at my shoes, neatly placed and an infinite distance away. Horrified, I watch as the blood seeps into cracks between the floorboards, until there is no sign that it was there in the first place. I sob, and the tears disappear as they hit the floor.

I crawl back to the midway point, wiping my tears on my sleeve in a futile act of resistance. The floor is pulling me down, inviting me to rest and sleep as the house consumes me. I waver, looking around for for hope - a window, another exit, anything at all but portraits. I frantically try the doors, every one, and find them locked. Locked. Locked...

Then I see the portrait. A gilded frame with a young man standing, barefoot, dressed in a blue dress-shirt and slacks. He smiles, like all the others, and his eyes are black pits. It is a pretty reflection of who I am, clean where I am bloodied, standing straight where I am bowed over, and I back away as the screams begin again, this time my own.


A/N: Halloween inspired darker rendition of the topic.


talonkarrde: (Default)

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