They Did Not Come Prepared.

class portfolio, fiction

Exhaust shrilled out from between armoured plates as the engine ground to a halt. The soldier was trapped. Its treads, which had performed so well in factory settings, had become bogged down in the infirm west coast mud. It was the last of its platoon, the last of a noble battalion sent from home to lay waste to the infestation of organic life that had taken seed on the foreign soil of this unfortunate dimension. The mission was organized with such expediency that the conditions of the other world were barely considered.

The soldiers had never encountered plantlife so dense, or indeed, at all. The first to emerge from the portal grazed against a branch of salal and immediately shut itself down for decontamination. Its brain ejected from its armoured shell, and fell into a puddle, where it was crushed by the heavy treads of its comrade. Its last thoughts were an explosion of brilliant blue errors spread in sparks across its circuit board. The killer, a unit whose serial designation was S-002, was mortified.

“What has happened,” it signaled in panic. “What has become of S-001.” Its treads squealed as it rotated on the spot, sensors erupting in a frantic search for input.

“What has this unit done.”
“S-001 understood the mission,” assured unit S-003. “The circuits would have been damaged by the water. You did what had to be done. The core data of S-001 will be preserved in the central mainframe.”

They had not been tempered to withstand such levels of humidity. Rain thundered against their armour and sloshed against their treads. On the first steep incline, half their number slid backwards into the ocean and were lost. Just as the survivors reached the plateau, S-004 rolled over a root, tipped up and fell on its side. Its sensors coated in mud, it shrieked a distress signal on all frequencies as gravity dragged it slowly down towards the water. Its weight carved a trench in the wet ground. It rocked back and forth as it attempted to right itself, but its cylindrical body made it impossible, and its efforts only hastened its descent.

The path was too narrow for its comrades to turn around and offer assistance – but brave S-003 attempted against all odds. For a brief instant, articulated claw clasped articulated claw, but S-003’s top-heavy frame toppled. It went rolling down the mountainside, shattering many young trees. It was dashed against the rocks below. The last signal sent out by unit S-003 displayed thus:
“This unit could not perform its duty.”

S-002 replied,
“Unit S-003 fulfilled performance specifications.” It remained within communication distance of unit S-004 until the ocean claimed it. The two of them exchanged memory files they had shared with units S-003 to S-006 in commemoration of their performance. S-004 accepted its fate with dignity.
Alone, unit S-002 trudged on for days. Every rotation of its treads grew slower, weaker, until it could move no more. The hateful mud, filthy with rotted organic matter, clogged its every gear. It swatted at salal and fern with its articulated claws, but knew it would be overgrown.

“We did not understand the mission,” signaled the lone soldier, its output set to all frequencies. It had registered the termination of each of its comrades, and knew that not one of them remained, but some bug, some broken piece of code, caused it to signal against all hope to any possible receiver.

Rain poured from the loathsome thick leaves of the trees overhead. Gouts of water burst into steam against the soldier’s overheated chassis. The engine revved a few more times, sent mud frothing in all directions, to no effect.

Sensors indicated the humidity had begun to damage its circuits. Its chronometer was the first of unnecessary systems to shut down. It would never know how long it remained there before it succumbed to silence. Articulated movement followed as rust ate its joints. Its sensors went dark. Its signal began to fade.

“We did not come prepared.”


The crossword puzzle was too much for him.

fiction, in-world

He shouldn’t feel badly about it. He was attempting to work his way through a crossword puzzle from a paper infamous for its use of uncommon vocabulary and questionable historic content. Described as impenetrably obscure by even the hardiest of crossword puzzlers.

The vocabulary of the man who designed this puzzle has been compared to the pages of seven dictionaries from seven different centuries, all removed from their covers and shuffled. He is impossible to speak to because he litters his speech with references to history and pop culture, and has yet to decide on a single word for “hello”. Such is his love of language that he does not realize that this makes him seem like a bit of a prat, and cannot comprehend the idea that not everyone has the energy to keep up with more than a few decades of colloquial terminology at a time.

He sees his puzzles as a way to try and introduce other people to the beauty of language.

It doesn’t work.

The damned crossword puzzle

fiction, scene

After half an hour’s pacing back and forth he elected to pull the dictionary away from its sedentary life on the bookshelf and drag it into his struggle against the crossword puzzle. Eventually, he gave up, returned the dictionary to its clean patch on the dusty shelf. Any crossword that employed the use of the word “caliginous” was too much for him.

He folded up the paper and kneaded his forehead with his knuckles.

At home again.

fiction, scene

Neil was given leave from work, advised to avoid loud noises, bright lights, crowds, public places, stressful situations, anything that might aggravate the Condition.

He sat in his apartment alone with the blinds shut. Waited. Tried to keep himself busy. He took long showers. He devoted more time to a crossword puzzle than his attention span had ever allowed him before. He thumbed through books he’d read a dozen times. He slept. Dreamed unpleasant and fractured dreams.  Waited. Dusted. Swept. Organized his clothing, pantry, books. Gave up. Let the dust settle. Wracked his brain for ways to pass the time. Two weeks. Waited.

The darkness of his empty apartment soaked into his skin, dragged him down like a damp sweater. The Condition grew until it was big as half a grapefruit. It twitched. Stretched. Plucked at the back of his shirt. He ignored it.

He eyed his bookshelf, at the cigarette box perched above the books, a little mute dare. It had been a while. He reached up, plucked the cigarette from its packet, as one might pick a flower. He sniffed it. Wrinkled his nose. It was stale. He dropped it and fell back into bed, betrayed.

Rolled onto his back, stared at the ceiling. Became aware of the ticking of the clock on his bedside table.  Realized he’d been like that for almost an hour.

Time to go for a walk. Clear his head. Get something fresh to eat.

The Dictionary

fiction, in-world

The dictionary is a combination dictionary-thesaurus, the second largest book on his shelf, after the Collection of Twelfth Century Vrellenie Nature Poetry. Since that particular volume’s arrival, the dictionary has lost its humble but serviceable role as bookend, and so, bears it a certain amount of mistrust.

The sheer variety of vocabulary contained within the offending book makes the dictionary insecure of its thesaurus component. Neil has a certain mistrust of any book that contains more than six variants of the word “green”.

The light bulb overhead stuttered and hummed, bleached everything all but colourless.

fiction, scene

Seated on the examination table, Neil’s skin took on the hue of a paper bag left in the sun. The doctor looked like a tea-stain on paper. When Neil lifted up the back of his shirt, the Condition retracted and squirmed. The doctor held up a light, cold and bright as the colourless light bulb overhead, but steady. The Condition extended its tentacles, wound around the light, plucked it out of the doctor’s hand, and tossed it to the floor. The doctor looked Neil in the eye, crossed his arms.
“Not very helpful, is it?”

Neil shrugged. He didn’t appreciate being poked at, either.

The First Appointment

fiction, scene, writing

The doctor asked for Neil’s medical history, took a blood sample, and palpated his back, running cold fingers over what they called his “condition”. The Condition extended two sinuous tentacles and swatted the doctor’s hands until he learned to respect its personal space.

“Interesting,” said the doctor, and rubbed the backs of his smarting hands. “Very interesting. I don’t suppose this runs in your family, does it?”

“No,” said Neil. “No it doesn’t.”

“I’m sorry,” replied the doctor. “That’s not very helpful, is it?” He shook his head and sighed. “The test results will be in within two weeks. We might know what to do by then.”

“I stopped smoking, you know,” Neil said, his voice taking an involuntary rise in pitch. “Eat my greens. Walk every day.”

“That’s good of you,” said the doctor.

Neil tried to keep his voice steady when he asked if the doctor thought his condition was malignant.

“It is unclear at this point,” said the doctor. “But I would characterize it as irritable. Perhaps a bit surly.”

Neil’s head fell into his hands. He didn’t look up from his feet until he got home.


fiction, scene, writing

This is Neil Vernon Parr.

Don’t mind him. Most don’t. He prefers it that way.

He’s fond of large, heavy books heady as a cup of strong black coffee, books with an air of importance about them, an air of age and an aura of dust particles that glint in the evening lamplight as he settles down to read after a long day at work.
It’s just as well he likes the look of drifting dust – he’s been lax on the finer touches of cleaning of late.

It’s been a rough week.

Neil’s Bookshelf

experiment, fiction, scene, writing

He thumbs through books he’s read a dozen times…

There aren’t many books on his shelf; once he’s done reading, he only keeps the ones with parts that stick in his head and give him the impression he’d be worse off forgetting. He’s fond of old, heavy books based in history and off-the-wall speculations on what most would consider pseudo-history.

A Collection of Twelfth Century Vrellenie Poems (translated by Stanley Fish)

The Maiden Voyage of the Amalthea (and the curious events that followed) by Verosa Ribbons

The Ruins of Alkhaven Roads

The Dictionary

The Amphigorvian Railway

There are others.

There is also a noisy metal box of the sort used to hold paper and coin currency, with a little locking latch. The box sits on the bottom shelf, pressed against the left hand side of the bookshelf. The sticker on top, peeled from the front of a cigarette packet, reads

Tobacco and Prose.

It matches the label of the little box perched atop the bookshelf. A single pale cigarette peeks out of the opened top.

The Ruins of Alkhaven Roads

fiction, in-world, writing

A nifty compilation of journalistic and folkloric articles regarding the ancient roads and paths that are said to stem from Alkhaven, and the dead ends they lead to.

Neil is aware that the reason the roads lead to so many dead ends is that the smallest villages never paved their own roads, and often laid few foundations, so when populations shifted towards the larger cities and towns, and these settlements emptied of people, they left little trace behind but for the end of an old road and a few stone walls.

This does not stop the skeletal villages from being some of the creepiest places Neil has ever been. Common sense dictates that they are haunted, much as he’d never admit it.