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…

Desert, Coin, News.

Desert Music wailed. Sirens glowed with tortured howls.

‘Any news?’
Nothin’.
‘Alright, well, it’s November so to follow the sun t’morrow at the crack a’ dawn will lead southeast to this here river’
That there river is a long fuckin’ way.  
‘Yeah well. I ain’t sitt’n through anuva o’ those nights’
Suit yourself.

She re-wrapped her scarf, nice and tight around her skull, the remaining end tucked over the back of her neck. Her makeshift overalls would need to be replaced soon. She made a conscious effort not to trip over and further tear the scraggly parts dragging behind her like a gothic wedding dress, not least because they were covered in shit. Toilet paper was hard to come by.

As the sun collapsed into a flattened blob on the horizon, Desert Music continued its wail. Sirens howled unrelentingly, and wildlife simply couldn’t help but get itself into a frenzied chorus of barks, crickets and hisses. Cacophonous buzzing above portrayed an army of absurdly large beetles emigrating northwest. Below, sand rustled and floated in the wind, an army in itself. Unstoppable, infinite and disorganized, it would perpetually attack her face, with or without scarf protection and silently rub her skin away.

Perhaps those bugs’r runnin’ away from summat.
‘Or doin’ a nightly hunt, jue to return to their luscious southeastern home by sunrise. Whaddyou know about bugs?’
Exackly as much’s you.
HAH, TOUCH
É, MEIN FURHER.
Guys, I wanna sleep. Long day t’morrow, probly’

She took her mind to the stars, the best place to find dreams. She thought about the stars as navigation through the night to avoid the blazing heat of day, but she knew that would just mean a rigorous contest with the blazing freeze of night. Sometimes, burning sunburnt skin is preferable to frostbite. Skin cancer would be preferable to all, if it was quick. She had no idea, but that’s where her dreams took her.

Desert Music howled, sirens wailed, skin crawled. As the ripples in her forearm increased in depth, her throat started to induce vomit. But there was no food. When vomiting without food, large bugs tend to come out. And out they came, in their thousands, flying northeast. As soon as they dispersed, she desperately started sucking up the lake on her forearm to avoid dehydration, but it tasted cancerous. Her teeth instantly started to rot. Knowing they were weakening at the gum line, the sirens wailed harder, and harder, trying to shake them loose. Her head was screaming, the stars were falling. Many dropped lightly into her shit-stained hand, making her conscious of her naked self. Only, she was different. Focussing in the mirror, she saw, to great relief, her body in its original state; clean, white, slender. Above, golden coins continued to drop, making it hard to wade through to get a closer look at herself, smiling –

WAKEY WAKEY, RISE AND SHINE. Y’DON’T WANNA BE SETTIN’ OFF AT HIGH NOON AGAIN, DO YA?

Eyes open, she felt her arm. Burn-associated pain shot through her. She was awake.

‘Shit’.

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.

Vowel Conductor Quilt

This is a story for a collaborative project in which three randomly generated words are given to writers. The writers have to create a 1,000 word story containing those three words in some way, and then artists will draw or paint a visual representation of that story.

This is a second edit so I re-posted it.

 

The clock stroked 47. The damn cogs were acting like cats sleeping on the ratchet wheel, refusing to move. The minutes wanted to tick on, kind of, but the fur was just so indulgent, it was better to just stay put.

Enjoy your relaxation time while you can, Clocky, ‘cause I’m gonna enjoy smashing your smug face in just as much in a minute.

Assuming it can get past the next minute at all, that is. The boy’s watch did admittedly look quite smug at – almost – ten to 2 in the afternoon, the shadows from outside the window casting a sort of thoughtfulness on its v-shaped grimace. Rapidly passing trees caused an occasional epileptic flicker on its crystalline surface as he stared at it, dejectedly.

The man of 35 years thought it would be a good idea to catch the bullet train specifically to counter his problem of impatience, but it only seems to have heightened his expectations and warped time against his will. There was only about 38 years left in him. It was hardly fair to waste half of it on a railway track.

He closed his eyes and hoped the change in perspective would solve things. It was quiet on the train, one thing to appreciate over the crappy 2-cart shit-mobiles presumably dragged along rhythmically by an aging horse on the track of rhythmic popcorn.

As the popcorn popped more and more frequently, the boy got out a bowl from his backpack and started to drag it along the tracks outside the window.

Mother always told me to keep my hands inside, but why miss an opportunity like this?

He thought about that for a moment, noting that windows in trains are not usually so low-set, and rarely do they have white wooden frames separating the glass into four segments like an old country house.

After scooping up a good amount of bloated corn, he shoved some – ready buttered – into his gob before snuggling down into his quilt, kittens on his lap, and pressing play. Not a fan of horror movies, this night was destined to be a predictable disappointment, but there was nothing else to do. He took a glance at the faded sunset outside the window and checked his now remorseful looking watch. For a moment, it looked like it was struggling to keep its protest against time going.

I knew I’d have the last laugh. Smashing your face doesn’t even seem worthwhile anymore.

He felt no pity for his companion. They both had a fruitful relationship of many years to look forward to. Then again, it doesn’t seem like Clocky was looking anywhere. 48 was just an idea on the back-burner to be brought back into focus when all other ideas had fallen through.

The movie started, regardless of the non-existence of time, and set a lovely opener up, destined to be ruined by atmospheric nonsense involving teenagers scaring each other for fun which later inevitably develops into various slicing and dicing of young flesh. But for now, there was an enjoyable landscape of meadows and deer, hills and clouds, with some rhythmic beats in slightly off-set 6/8 time signature. He could hear the notes clearly in their cacophonic overtones: C, A, G, E and D.

It was a Mildly Decent albeit dissonant sound of a string section tuning up, destined to become trashy with bass pedal ostinato and heavy accents later on. He bent over and picked up a handful of grass, just because. Something about human evolution seemed to drive him to pick grass from its peaceful slumber and scatter it all over the green city with torturous joy.

As he watched the wind blow them away from everything they held dear, he spotted another deer in the distance, galloping rhythmically away from him, as if knowing he could never catch up to it, but eager to prove its point anyway.

Why are you so competitive? What did I ever do to you, deer?

He chuckled at this pun before walking non-threateningly towards the rapidly shrinking hooved mirage, its cloven toes dancing seemingly in a 6/8 time signature.

Another look at Clocky showed it was tempted, but still hesitant. The second hand was probably the strongest influence on the cogs, doing its damndest to push on past the thirty second mark, but it was clearly something that would get done faster on double wages. I mean, it was New Year’s Eve.

He looked back at the window and saw his wife washing up, smiling back at him.

Thank God there’s no danger out in the country that could take her away from me.

Or Gods, for that matter. He sat there on a tree stump wondering if God was listening. If man was created in God’s image, then does that exclude women? Were women made as a side project? Did we men originally divide like bacteria before he started messing around with sexes?

These were all unanswered questions in the scientific community which he would one day strive to answer, but for now he would continue looking down wondrously at the earth from his heavenly cloud.

It was fascinating that what He created as humans were so vastly different from each other, but they all seemed to look and act exactly like Him.

I really outdid myself this time, He thought out loud, careful not to be overheard by the ants below.

He zapped a few deer with his Zeusian rod and took another look at Chronos.

8:48 p.m.!

It was a victorious day on the mountaintop, one to be celebrated with popcorn and music. Just two more minutes until the end, give or take human error.

His mood now transformed, the seconds seemed to fly by in a free-flowing, 6/8 rhythm. This was odd; ticks should be in 4/4. Ticks don’t swing their rhythms. To make things more concerning, each tick was accompanied by a choral wail. Dramatic vowels of the sopranos pierced through the thick orchestral layers.

The musical piece reminded him of something, some sense of duty. He stared ponderously at his rod, or baton, as it appeared to be. The more He focused, the darker His surroundings became, and the clearer the music became. He twisted his neck all the way around and looked back through the window. A worried looking audience was staring back at Him.

They’re dressed nice. I wonder what the occasion is.

He looked back at his baton, watched it shiver violently in three dimensions. Behind, where the darkness loomed, was the suspected orchestra, intently battering dissonant chords they had all practiced so much. They didn’t even need a conductor.

Zeus got up from his knees, took a final dejected look at Chronos’s smug face, and fainted. The music stopped.

The audience applauded.

He smiled.