Waterfoul – Part 2: How it spreads

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/fiction/@mobbs/waterfoul-part-2-how-disease-spreads

waterfoul.jpg

The clarity of mind she felt when seeing the ducks on the news was unlike anything she had felt before. At least, that’s what her suicide note claimed. It was only local news. Just regional, nothing spectacular. But she understood. All her predictions were laid out on her tea-stained notebook, albeit with little useful help in guidance towards, say, a cure or preventative measures. She probably didn’t have a clue.

Her work log described foreboding results with what she considered was an abject failure; chimps ripping out each other’s intestines, mice de-worming each other… to put it mildly. But she claims in her writing that the genes involved with tuberculosis resistance in humans was the crux of her study, and insists humans would be safe from the effects.

Those studying her work corroborated the idea in principle, saying even chimps, a mere 2% difference genetically, lack our resistance to this particular bacterial disease, though chimps have greater malarial resistance to compensate.

‘If true, if all of it is true, we may be looking at little more than a pond infection. I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen pond jellyfish clog up machinery, seaweed drowning hundreds of individuals. Let’s not jump to alarming conclusions’ Dr Jack Zhang said, seemingly to nobody.

The rest of the forensics team were idly watching the news looking for more up-to-date info:

The duck the old, gay men first observed disappeared, as if running away from a crime. Shortly after, the bird that should have drowned worked its way feebly towards the men’s general direction. When it managed to get up on land, within inches of the bench they sat, it simply shook its feathers and waddled away like it couldn’t even see them.

The men, however, were quickly distracted by the reeds beyond the far side of the pond. A swan, neck all contorted, emerged with an aggressive stance, feathers all ruffled. It made room for a water runway and set off into the air, one leg dropping from the sky, bouncing off a child’s pram.

The news continued. The family of the child didn’t even notice the decapitated leg nearby until the baby was firmly strapped in, crying. Presumably because it saw the leg.

The parents saw a duck with half its face missing approach them, and they quickly decided to leave. The husband was ready to release a hefty football kick of course, but considered it could have an infectious disease, and left with his family, a good distance between him and the bird.

‘All we need, is to find a one-legged swan. They typically go to the same brooding grounds, so we simply call the animal control officer, get a team assembled and stamp this fire out before it spreads.’ Dr Zhang, louder this time, head blocking the TV.

Confidence oozed from him. This is easily containable. If it even needs containing in the first place. Just a precaution. Then again, it ain’t tuberculosis, whatever it is.



1

The two men left their interviews, furious that the journalist started questioning their sexuality ON LIVE TV, as if that had anything whatsoever to do with a… zombie duck crisis. What is WRONG with people?? they both thought, more or less in verbatim.

It was time anyway, they had a flight to catch. In all their years together, they had never actually taken a proper holiday. Sure, they did a fantastic road trip from Arizona to Maine, and England was good too but it felt more business than anything. India, however. India was a whole new world. India would be a place to die happy.



2

‘You should really change her nappy before we leave, we don’t want a repeat of last time’ Lisa demanded

‘Me? I did it last time, I thought we agreed to alternate all disgusting chor… besides, she won’t let me do anything without going all mental at me ever since she saw that…leg’

‘Ok Lewis, ok fine. But if we aren’t willing to give things up and just do each other a favour sometimes, instead sticking to these bureaucratic counselling bullcrap rules, Japan is going to be another regret in our memories. Ok let’s just chill. It IS my turn.

But you better drive fast, ok?’

‘Works for me’



3

Dr Zhang was discussing the most likely locations based on the swan’s tag with the control officer when one of his hired goons came up the hill, swan’s wing in hand.

‘Yes! He can’t be far, unless he can fly with his beak.’

The hunt was on. Within minutes, they found a hobbling swan, twisted neck over a trash can, gobbling away at some sausage meat. The officer and his team made quick work catching it – but made sure to keep it alive, as per Doctor’s orders, and they headed back to base.



4

Night was waking. The crescent moon nowhere to be seen. Stars had their chance to finally impress. A shadowed figure approached the park bridge. She, or he, looked busy. Looking for something. Their nose was active, like a rabbit. Dressed in home-made rags, the barefooted individual directed their gait to a meaty smell towards a trash can.

The homeless soul took whatever scraps they could and stuffed them in pockets, took a few bites of this and that, and hobbled off more jovially than before, into the night.



Hope you enjoyed this first of hopefully an ongoing story!

Waterfoul – Part 1

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/fiction/@mobbs/waterfoul-part-1The cracked mirror reflected a broken woman. Her eyes; windows to panic, her hands withered with stress. Despite the summer weather beaming in from barely 3 feet away through a cracked pane of glass, the light upon the mirror seemed monochrome. At least to her.

She was out of time. Her grant was running thin, and she had spent all year meddling with things that ought not to be meddled with, not least because it was simply over her head. Over anybody’s head, she reckoned.

She took a step back to see whether she could get away with going into the public eye as long as the average person kept to their own personal space, decided she passed despite the wine stains on her sleeve, and left her tiny bathroom.

On the table in the hallway, her life. Everything she had worked on in a single test tube. A failure, in essence. With notes of ridicule. Not even close to what she was going for. Tests on nematodes? They ate each other. Tests on mice? They ripped each other’s skin off. Tests on chimps? She didn’t even want to recall that afternoon. Bloody Mondays.

Self-pity had made her late. It was time to submit her death juice.

The elevator was strangely tall and thin, thinner than yesterday it seemed. Perhaps a projection of her chances of success.
She was to pitch a product, yet she had no product to pitch. She could lie, but people would find out within the hour; a quick sampling of the formula would see to that. She could replace it with the strawberry milk in her handbag and get a better response.

My life is a joke, she thought. Ugh…They shouldn’t be burdening a single individual with a task for an entire industry in the first place. What is this, slavery?

31st floor.

One last ditch effort to check a bathroom mirror to see if her disdain for existence had improved… nope.

What to do… What to do…

Banging her toecaps apathetically on the bathroom wall, drying her hands for longer than is sensible, she had an epiphany.

That’s it! Fuck ‘em!’

She quickly opened her handbag, pulled the test tube out and poured the substance down the drain.

Nobody should get their hands on this. Could be consequences.

She went down the elevator, now wider than ever, and left the building, never to return.



The park was quaint, not in the ‘sales pitch’ kind of way, but genuinely quaint. A small bridge over a small stream – seemingly pointless really – the cracks in the wood filled with moss as old as the park itself. A few benches dotted around here and there with the occasional retiree occupying it, passing time. Two old men were feeding ducks in a quintessential duck pond. Bread is not good for ducks, guys.

In fact, it looks like the ducks were not doing well at all.

‘Hey jim, look a’ that one… you seen a duck keep its head under the water that long b’fore?’
‘Uh I guess, I dunno. How long?’
‘I been watching for like, nearly 10 minutes. How long can a duck hold its breath?’
‘Err, Google says… no more than 5… but I see its tail still moving about all duck-like so you must be countin’ wrong’
‘Nah, I ain’t countin’ wrong, you bloody fool’

The duck in question was indeed failing to drown itself. But if the two old folk had been in the water for closer inspection, they would have seen that was not the intent. The duck was gorging.

Below the water, a second duck, as dead as the first duck ought to be. The first duck was passionate. Its upper beak was driven like a spear into the spine, the lower beak hanging loosely, floating aimlessly, attached to the duck’s body by a mere strand of tendon. But the furious bird was far more focused on driving its face deeper into the spine, deeper. Must go deeper.

Eventually, the bones completely separated, and the corpse floated to the surface.

The seemingly possessed hell-duck finally lifted its head from the water, looked around, and casually made its way to the reeds. The old men stared in disbelief.

The Cave Pt II

Phraya-Nakhon-cave-Thailand

Convex walls, rising up through the dim, blue light. Mosaics created from scraps of failed crafts plastered the sides of the temple, while the front was embellished with reflective metals mined from the cave’s precious foundations.

The benefit of mining, one scholar once explained, was that their very home expanded over time as they became richer in commodities. Everything had been discovered to have a use; rocks for weapons, farming and building; metals for decoration and culinary experiences; soil for gardening and glow worm breeding – which had proved to be outstandingly unsuccessful.

Many believed Alaff was displeased by the idea of exploiting the glow worms to such a degree. The intellects tried to teach that it was simply the altitude the worms were not comfortable with mating in, but nobody was honestly quite sure. Either way, the intellects assured they were making progress on ways to simulate higher altitudes. In the mean time, the village had to stick to the rapidly declining stock of roof-worms, while accepting that their life would be lived in darker and darker conditions.

When it came to food, the village thrived quite comfortably on a wide diet involving largely meat and fish, but many delicious fruits and vegetables managed to survive without the sun. It was noted years before that the inexplicable glow emanating from somewhere around the centre of the cave seemed to boost crop yields, and there was in fact a specific ratio described by mathematicians on exactly how much energy appeared to exude from a particular level of brightness. The glow was steady and somewhat limited in distance, extending just a few hectares from the brightest point, but it was enough.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the temple was surrounded by crop fields, tightly packed and blooming taller every year as plant adaptation allowed for more energy efficiency and tolerance for short roots. As population increased, the more rugged plants were cast to the outer edges and given more space to grow. with growing population, farms and ground space, the only resource on the decline was light.

——–

Alaff was in a grumpy mood. Some people had sinned, and although it was none of Alaff’s business really, Alaff felt disrespected. The worms Alaff placed among Alaff were a one-time offer to show Alaff’s altruistic backbone. Alaff did not expect the people to start utilizing ‘science’ in order to basically learn to take Alaff’s kindness for granted.

Alaff wanted to do something about it, but Alaff was in a good place right now, just like everybody else. At the very least, Alaff had no intention on replenishing the clearly dying breed of worms. They could figure it out themselves. Alaff didn’t require lighting as the humans did, Alaff created Alaff’s own, blue-lit gas after indulging in Alaff’s favourite offerings from the people. The glow would linger for millenia if need be, but the humans were gracious and kind, so Alaff would usually allow a steady stream to float down, directly below Alaff’s usual upper-rung hangout, above the temple where Alaff felt most at home. Alaff was unaware that humans could even sense Alaff’s light, let alone utilise it.

——–

As time went by, crops were yielded, homes were expanded and families were enlarged. Darkness came to be at a rate rapidly enough to think about, but subtly enough to ignore the smart people’s desire to do something about it.

Doing things about stuff seemed like effort for most people, and so in a world of plenty, doing stuff was the black sheep. It was better to live in the shade and work on how to get more shiny metal.

Some architects argued that reflecting the dimmer light with shiny metals could enhance the overall glow of the colony, even reaching those far-off corners. Other figures of importance pushed the increasingly popular idea that figures of lesser importance should move into the darker areas, leaving the brightness to the brighter minds.

Hierarchy was on the return.

——–

To be continued…

The Cave Pt. I

Concave walls, towering impossibly into the miraculous light above. Their very peaks lurched over, acquainting each other in the middle.

Below this natural dome, darkness ruled. The light above served as a beautiful monument of nature, and increasingly frequently, a delicacy. But when it came to lighting their way, the people had to consider other methods.

Using a lightly sewn wicker-style jar, the glow worms were transported around the village until their light died out, at which point they were swiftly thrown into the nearest stew.

Getting the glow worms in the first place was an achievement to behold. A member of the village would, over time, carve a ladder into the walls straight to the top. The higher the rungs climbed, the more hooked the carvings became, allowing a person to grab and hang from the acutely angled tops with relative ease.

Of course, anyone who has ever tried such rock climbing would know it to be easier said than done. Those permitted to climb for glow worms were trained and tested, ritualised and awarded the rite to the right to the harvest.

Money and trade were not significant characteristics of this secret underworld civilisation; all commodities were considered to be in abundance, and so all could take whatever they wished – if they had the know-how.

As centuries passed, knowledge spread exponentially. There were once rules to prevent this progression in a desperate attempt for hierarchy, but in a world of plenty, hierarchy is the black sheep.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before every wishful thinker was clambering up the rungs, higher and higher until they either fell to their deaths, exhaustively climbed back down or achieved their goal of a handful of worms.

But worms could only breed so quickly. They rapidly became scarce, the pseudo stars above started to fall into darkness.

—-

Below, hues of dark blue penetrated the central setting from an unknown source. This led to the village’s natural inclination to a higher power, and they had thus constructed a majestic temple directly in this navy glimmer.

The walls of the temple opposed the cave. Slightly convex, they could be slotted perfectly into the segment of cave wall they were facing. This slightly eggshell design was built to withstand forces believed to be pressed upon the people by a vengeful God – the same God that had forced them to retreat into the cave in the first place and now struggle eternally with ventures into the outside world in case He had some free time to slaughter the slightest sinners.

The villagers hadn’t a name for Him, but they had a name for their protector, Alaff who, to be honest, didn’t do a great deal. Any day that went by without incident was generally assigned to Alaff and the village pretty much settled with that.

Exceptionally, praise for the plethora of food and abundance of water in such a drab, dark location was given to the people, the workers, the architects. Those who sat down and furrowed their brows until something sustainable came to mind. Needless to say, Glow worms were also praised for their inevitable involvement.

——–

Alaff looked down on the villagers from some disused upper rung, idly ‘keeping watch’, protecting them all from whatever they pleased. They didn’t really expect much of Alaff, so it never did any harm to take a break here and there.

Alaff knew the other guy was weak. The very thought of entering The Cave spelled certain doom, because Alaff was bigger and more suited to the darkness. Should He threaten The Cave and cause the lights to go out, Alaff will assure a final breath from Him.

Alaff knew he was an effective bluff. And that was more than enough. 

——–

To be continued…

Granite, Bullet, Bib

A new story based on three randomly generated words. The words must be incorporated in some way into the story. 500 word limit. (Not a final edit – I noticed my irritating habit of changing tense at seemingly arbitrary moments)

As the prion disease spread, millions of artists across the globe were frantically painting their final portraits, writing their final novella and composing their final concertos. They were all infected.

The disease in question is particularly disturbing, and devastating to the creative field. The prion digs into the host’s mind. It forces an altered state in which basic motor function is inhibited, balance decimated and, perhaps worst of all, imagination reduced to mere nursery rhymes and schoolyard puns.

Artists, a population already affected by large bouts of depression and addiction, were immediately warned of this. Unfortunately, the global bullet famine meant it was going to be very difficult for most to end it all before their dignity rescinded; these days, everyone’s an artist.

There are two forms of treatment. The first is psychological. As various scientists published studies around the world, it became apparent that the area of the brain responsible for creative thought is the location the prion resides, and thus, the more one attempts to imagine, the more rapidly their health declines. Needless to say, results were very promising for those willing to immediately give up their artistic careers.

For those more valiant artists, there was the dietary option. When it was discovered that the alcohol famine was a result of a single cult of thieves who believed it was the only sinless beverage provided by God, it wasn’t long until their apparent immunity to the disease was discovered. Without hourly doses of liquor, the cult followers rapidly turned violent and cannibalistic, hence their sensationalized nickname – Cannibal Corp.

For most of the artists, this double edged sword was all that was needed to remedy the pandemic: Give up creative thought, give up alcohol. But there was always going to be the stubborn few. Globally, these few totaled a couple of million. This persistent bunch had accepted their fates and it was only a matter of time before they were all wearing strait jackets and bibs, drooling over a canvas or keyboard.

The solution came when a young scientist decided to spend her Nobel Prize money on an inhospitable and therefore bargain island in the South Pacific Ocean. Not one to miss out on a chance to save humanity, she created the first Island Hospital. With well over a million victims, it was only fair to give the island autonomy, economy and political reform.

The Grand Republic of Amicable but Neurologically Impaired Tenebrose Ergophiles, or Granite, became the new symbol for quick and easy solutions to mankind’s problems. It was also a great way to allow the more promising, less prominent artists of the world to bloom.

Nobody ever knew what became of the citizens of the island. Nobody ever checked. Occasionally, nearby sailors would find a blood-stained bottle floating towards them, page after page of inexplicable nonsense within. Looking up, they would see bizarre sculptures carved into the rocky cliffs, eerie but beautiful melodies echoing through the mist as they sailed away to more civilized lands.

The entire history and future of The Universe in 999 personified words.

Image

Peacefully, the three-dimensional universe coalesced into a series of two-dimensional plates. Within those plates, little balls began to form from the debris. Over a little time, oceans and atmospheres formed and life flourished on several particular globes.

Intelligent life came somewhere towards the end of life’s overall run and inevitably ruined it for everyone aside from the resilient few. Ravens – a rather nifty bird, of all things – did pretty well for themselves on Earth, taking advantage of pretty much everything humans threw at them.

Several species of bacterium and smaller creatures had no trouble with adapting to various chemical poisons and radiation, and intelligent life inevitably rose again and again, each time being annihilated by themselves as if it was some sort of tradition.

In the end, however, life just kind of gave up throughout the Universe and left it to the elements to roam free, no longer manipulated by curious minds.

By this point though, the Universe is pretty cold. Mr. Entropy has been messing the place up and causing atomic chaos and now there is so little order that energy has just sort of spread out like a regular tub of butter over 46.6 billion slices of toast.

Since temperature comes from the interaction of atoms, there is no longer any temperature because everyone has isolated themselves in their own little patch of the Universe. There were once good days where atoms would jiggle around together emitting heat, since kinetic energy – movement – is the one true form of energy – but I guess after a while you kind of get bored of each other and drift apart. Eventually you’ll stop expecting Christmas cards altogether. I’m pretty sure that’s what Entropy means.

They are consequently collectively destined to decay into nothingness all by themselves. Galaxies were, are and will continue to be things of the past, and at the end of time – a little before 3 o’clock if I calculated it right – temperatures will reach absolute zero (-273.15°C) and penguins will have to find themselves a new, slightly warmer universe in which to reside.

Atoms are a lot like penguins; without coming together and sharing body heat, the penguins tend to get cold and inevitably die alone. A lonely atom cannot share its kinetic energy with its ‘friends’ once it is isolated, and probably wouldn’t even if it could. I’m pretty sure that’s what the Law of Conservation of Energy means.

Of course, there is a solution to all this. If the atoms could just solve their issues with each other, we might see them starting to group up again and get a few barbeques started. This obviously generates heat and we’ll immediately be getting back on track.

With enough friendly atoms, the combined mass would create gravity. Not much is needed, and since it’s a natural result of their turning up to the party, nobody will really mind. Eventually, the party will be so popular and attractive – so to speak – to others that they will have fellow atoms queuing round the corner. Some particles, like electrons, may even turn up to multiple parties simultaneously.

Perhaps rival parties will form elsewhere and other gravitational sources will attract other extroverts, and perhaps some smaller, introvert-friendly invitations might prop up here and there. Something for everyone.

Without even realizing it, there will be numerous groups forming into various elements again like the good old days as a result of interacting with each other and trading various particles here and there. Helium being the most extraverted of elements was always the most popular, and pretty self-absorbed. So they ended up at pretty much every party along with Hydrogen and to a lesser extent, Lithium and Beryllium. These guys are pretty lightweight and light hearted though, so it took some of the bigger parties to create enough pressure to get the more stubborn, introverted elements like Magnesium and Carbon to come out. They did this by means of a strange ritual of colliding into each other at speeds incomprehensible to intelligent life forms since past. Mg and C tended to hang out with the other 80 or so losers in the bedrooms of these parties, aka, the core of stars and other similarly troublesome places. But given enough time, enough interactions will give them the energy needed to see what all the noise was about outside.

Eventually parties come to an end, often due to the particle police coming about the noise. Given that a typical star party might reach constant volumes of about 290db, this is understandable. So with the police ruining it all, the star will explode. It was getting on a bit anyway. The atoms will have to dash before they get caught and so they will once again get sprawled all over the place.

But wait; now all the introverts are out and about. What will become of them? Well, essentially the same as everyone else. The gravity will be spread out, but not nearly as much as the aforementioned butter scenario, and so it will drag everyone back to what I suppose will be the after party.

Clouds and clouds of atoms will whirl themselves together in renewed two-dimensional plates in a three-dimensional universe – solar systems – and once again clump together in significantly smaller parties, as if to keep from troubling the neighbors – how considerate.

Before we know it, more Earth-like planets will form. Jupiter-like planets were and will be always more common, since Helium and Hydrogen really are the true party goers. But hey, Iron and Carbon don’t mind the occasional chill out session and that is what places like earth will consist of.

In time, carbon will clump together and form life of its own. Carbon has always been the most creative atom in the universe so quite a lot of diversity will come from it, just like last time. But hey, who knows, maybe it will avoid the whole ‘intelligence’ thing and stick with what works; bacteria and, at most, the occasional raven.Image