Friday, August 4, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

The skin comes off easily. His knife work is strong. His hands are strong, too. Butcher hands, made for blade and meat. It is early morning, and the hunt was successful. His people will eat well today. He puts his hands under the skin, peels it back. He takes small bites of the heart, raw, to hush the agony in his stomach. He will not eat more before returning to the village. He is strong in this way.

There is a soft glow coming from the east. It unsettles the man, and his uneasiness is revealed in the way that he hunches to his work. There is a frantic need to hurry. He can feel it. He doesn't know why, but he trusts these feelings. He always has, and he has lived when others have not. He knows he must listen to his intuition.

The carrion birds are in the tops of the trees, awaiting their feast. They will not come near until the man leaves. They know what his arrows can do. The ravens respect the man, but they also fear him. They are grateful for the scraps he leaves behind.

He pulls dried mushrooms from the leather sack around his neck. He munches a few and then waits for his vision to sharpen, for his eyes to be opened wide. This is communion. He did not have to use the mushrooms for the hunt. Instead, they will speed the process that gets him back home.

These are just natural things. You don't need to be upset. The man kills his own kind? So, what? Many animals do this. This is part of the natural way. And the ravens have come to love the distinct taste of human meat. 


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, the reveal is done so well. It makes you go back and reread to get how unsettling it is now.

    2. i had a weird feeling it was going that way. The same grimness of The Road. Echoes man's need for ultimate power.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. This is a masterly piece. It’s simple and down to earth. There’s no flashy verbosity. There are no long run-on sentences. It’s basic and truthful; just elementary close-up magic, one image at a time. You’re drawn, breath by breath through the narrative. You see what the man sees, sense his emotions, feel through his hands as he prepares his snatched meal before the light of the day brings the trouble he senses approaching. And then Dan wrong-foots us and we have to re-frame everything we’ve read.



    Molly was giving me grief again. I’d thought I’d never hear from her again after her transmutation, but that hadn’t been the case. She was absent from the physical world for about nine months before she came back, albeit as a disconnected voice that I’d been able to turn off whenever I wanted.

    That had been frustrating for her, but I’d been in control. But then she’d found a way around that.

    “You don’t know what you’re missing,” she said, activating the TV in my room and speaking through it. “There’s so much we can do here in the next realm that would be impossible in the physical world.”

    She sent a flare of images through the screen. There was a mishmash of startled faces, flailing hands, and mouths, backed by a soundtrack of moans, which rose quickly to a crescendo and then maintained its volume, its voices rising in pitch until they disappeared into the ultrasonic. A subsonic pulse beat through the floor, making my teeth vibrate as the tremors passed through my feet.

    “That would be illegal in forty-five of the ninety states,” I said, lifting my feet and crossing my legs, ensuring I’d no direct contact with any of the structural features of my flat. “And in seven of them, you’d be threatened with immediate disconnection from your primary power source.”

    “You were never this prudish when I was alive,” Molly said, using Voice of God mode to make everything in the room shudder in time with her words. ”We were both physical then. Limited, unimaginative drones, living a mayfly existence. Small and inconsequential. Minnows in a minuscule environment.”

    “Yes. Yes. Yes. You never tire of reminding me of that. You were always wanting more. Never satisfied. Even when we broke heaven, it wasn’t enough. What are you going to do when being omniscient stops being a thrill? Where will you go when the final level feels played out?

    There was a pop and then an absence of noise as the circuits disconnected. I knew she’d still be listening. She was never not present. Twenty-four-seven, three-hundred and sixty-five. There was never a nanosecond when she wasn’t watching.

    The Transhumanists had begun like a cult, offering intangible benefits distant enough from our earthly reality to seem fantastic to everyone troubled by being bored but affluent, the people who’d had everything but still wanted more. The rest of us just continued. We were limited in every fundamental way; finding new ways to spend our money was never a problem. Finding enough to cover the essentials; that was the limiting factor of most people’s twenty-four-hour days. Sleep was a luxury when you had to lease your body to pay the debts you’d accepted to stay alive.

    Transhumanists made our lives worse by not existing. But they also offered a solution which stole even more from the ones they’d left behind.

    The main problem with being uploaded was the physical footprint you needed to stay alive. Your body could be recycled – there were benefits to anyone who wanted a transplant, provided you could wait for an organ that had been freed from its user’s need to use it to remain alive – but there was always going to be a need to power the mainframe that ran the simulations and to find a secure place where it could be built and maintained. There would always be a need for the uploaded to interact with the people they’d left behind. Our robots and simulants were too primitive and limited for people who’d grown used to being demi-gods in their own pocket infinities. A timeshare in a physical body was the best way to solve their problems, needing none of the uploads a clone would require to make it functional enough to cope with the limited tasks they needed us to do.

    I was glad it would be impossible for Molly to demand I enter a timeshare contract with her. The result would be frustrating for us both and potentially fatal when she decided to take her impatience out on my physical body.

    The law was still an ass, but it was even more essential in a shared realm world.

    1. Genuinely scary. You can certainly imagine the likes of Musk availing themselves of this.

    2. Agreed. This is super disturbing. Great writing. Really awesome concept. I think you should submit this someplace. - JD

  3. @JD Mader—nice twist there at the end. I love stories that do that.

    @Mark A Morris—that's a chilling future you've envisioned!

  4. Part one

    Where we began was when so much ended. Luck played its part for us, such a scatterment up north when the bad thing happened most everyplace else. Three of us first, another boy and a girl, both gone now, so no need to return names the world took from them anyways.

    We met the bard John Hefford, and he would chant, “This is airless, and we are careless, adrift upon a tundra. Mountains loom then soon recede. Sieveloads of snow sift and settle on everything.” Like he saw how words could magic the world into being. Or out of it.


    When it felt right, we made our way south to meet the approaching spring, neither of us in any special hurry. Turned out it was one of them seasons; the greens furtive and greyish, skies hiding their shame in anonymity.

    I was a mere boy, wide of eye and stupid. But lucky is all.


    Lucky in all the ways. Meghan was my first and last. We met without an iota of suspicion and laughed because of it. She smelled naturally of nutmeg, a “fortuitous confluence of terminology” that always made John Hefford laugh. That was how he talked: “fortuitous confluence of terminology.” I coulda listened to him say such things till the sun burned itself out. Which I half believed would happen tomorrow or at least real soon.

    When John slept, Meghan and I would dance like colts under the warm and endless blue, breathing each other and the wild honeyed-tea fragrance of sweetgrass, breath of the prairie, breath of the quiet, quiet world.

    1. Part two

      John shaped me with poetry, teaching me the melodies and the chords of life, relating harmony and rhythm alongside the rhyme of a river with a stand of golden aspen, the late glissando wisps of mare’s tails sweeping the last light of a tired sun.

      The day we met the buffalo, a hunched and half benign monster from an old picture book, we knew we might be saved. For another turn of the world, anyway.

      Meghan laughed with joy while I practiced my indulgent balladry under the beast’s guarded stare. Front-loaded fist of gristle and bone, appleseed eyes, bunched ursine shoulders, its back an atlas, tectonic patchwork in relief. Great head hung low and heavy as a dull bell swung from a busted chapel. Horns like crescent moons. Baritone snorts blowing sandspouts in the dust. Only a mite less ready for his sacrifice than us, his sacred and shivering executioners.

      Now and then. Echo and rhyme.

      Under cold starlight, fed and slaked, we praised his unknown name.



      Clad in furs, we wandered west to the sea, cyclic in our itinerancy, and lost on the way a kindly and maddened John Hefford to the high and frozen crags. First time I saw Meghan cry. First time I cried since the bad thing. Maybe even since I was small.

      Started to see dead settlements and dry old bodies, but the far surf called us westward beyond the places men and women once gathered, beyond the crumbling highways and rusting railroads and once-fertile valleys. Beyond mineshafts and quarries and clearcut hillsides. Beyond the scarification of the land. Out to the western seas and coastlines smudged by mist.

      Others were there first, but they were goodhearted and took us in while the seasons returned at least three more times, we soon lost track.

      Another Spring

      We were improbable, Meghan and I, entwined with languid ease beside hot spark beachfires, under the spilled milk of impossible stars. A low distant report, more feel in the shift of the sand than sound, might have alerted us, but we were happy in ways not even wordsmiths can express. Only when the hiss of the surf drew back like an intook breath did we get to our feet. And the world blinked. And echoed the tale of its past, the long cascading narrative of gentle lands atop dark clandestine fury.

      John Hefford had taught me another word, I recalled then. Tsunami.

      The world’s music ain’t always melodic; it can be sly and harsh and artless with dissonance.

      I clasped Meghan’s spidery hands, painful in their pulse of warmth, and we watched the dark regrouping ocean. Beside ourselves in every sense.

      Like all things that must die when life is at its unexpected best, we’d been tricked.

      Like words, luck lasts till it don’t.

      The waves came in quietly and everywhere like a wolfpack.

    2. This is classic David, but with a twist. It’s the usual eloquence but presented in bite-sized chunks. He gives us his trademark panoramic narratives, engaging us with the characters, paging us through their lives in a stop-motion history. And then he ends it, leaving everyone hanging imagining the trauma to come, making us work at ending their stories ourselves.

      Another wonderful piece of writing. But that’s what we always get.

    3. I love the little chunks. This made me think of Jo (seasons). It's interesting to see your words used so economically. Really cool.

  5. He set it all on fire,
    crawling, the urban light
    stifled by night,
    the all-seeing lamps dented
    in straight lines walk on down,
    stealing the air’s pure

    Streaking the wind,
    scraps of newspapers,
    in big, bold letters,
    speak a lack of gratitude,

    1. The stacking here is awesome. I love the way the second part flows. - jd

  6. It’s the main highway leading in,
    they join the line, succumb, sublime,
    sheep leading the sheep in line.

    They are the silent forgetting time,
    driving one by one as though in mime,
    warming themselves against the grime.

    It’s a depth of infinity you can’t lure.
    It hides beyond the light bearer,
    peers into the pitch and will endure.

    1. This is kind of haunting. I think this could be interpreted multiple ways, too. Really cool poem. - jd

  7. This is such an unsettling piece. Which is a strength for sure. I was uneasy the whole time. - jd


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