Thursday, June 30, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: LittleWatchGirl

This week's challenge was here. I just noticed that I was at exactly 1000 words (MSWord says), so I guess I'll stop.

In Which LittleWatchGirl Plans her Obsolescence so She Can Retire

TrainMaster (catch phrase: "Keeps the trains running on time!") couldn't have sent FutureMan over to me to explain how the campaign was supposed to work because I was the best person to explain it. In fact I felt like I was the weak link. When your superpower is about office meetings, you can't be expected to be good with weapons. They had chosen mine for me thinking I'd be good with springs and winding.

Perhaps TrainMaster had heard that I'd asked SteamBoss who would be going on this campaign.

SteamBoss (catch phrase: "Black belches bad; white belches good!") had said "What do you mean?"

I'd said, "Is anyone I hate going?" SteamBoss couldn't see my eyes. Wearing goggles all the time protects your secret identity. My superhero name is LittleWatchGirl, and that's all you need to know about me.

SteamBoss had said "I don't know, who do you hate?"

He knew, of course. Everyone had by then heard the story of me yelling at FutureMan, "Stop being so tardy!" at least twice on a campaign a couple of weeks ago. And then I had told CoalTinker (catch phrase: "Darker, deeper, grimmer!") "I don't think I should campaign with him anymore," and MechUrchin (catch phrase: "Fly like the wind!") had turned it into a rule the next week, telling me expressly, "You aren't allowed to campaign with FutureMan," as if I needed someone else to tell me that.

So of course, I told SteamBoss, "Just FutureMan, actually."

And he'd told me no one had signed up that I didn't know about except for the crew from Canada of course, and whoever else from the continent, and New York and Chicago. But I didn't hate them yet because I'd never met them.

TrainMaster must have heard both these stories, actually, and now he'd sent FutureMan over to me to find out how to get to the dirigible airfield.

"We'll have to shoot our way in," I said. "We'll get to the gates and then all at the same time we'll storm the airfield. But the problem for me is always that I overwind my railgun in the heat of the battle." I actually wrecked the spring and now it's the punchline of all the jokes here in the clubhouse.

"How hard can winding be?" FutureMan said. "You just. . ."

I tuned out. Maybe what I hate is, (and I've decided I don't hate him--just the way he leans over the whole dim sum tray when he eats, and dresses so informally, and turns everything into a boring lecture) he asks the same question over and over until he gets an answer he can use.

I glanced over at TrainMaster, who was talking to MechUrchin over by the gas barbecue. This was a really bad picnic. I was freezing. Nobody cool was around, just a bunch of kids and has-beens who didn't really come out anymore except for the social events. Some of the kids were theirs. Maybe there was a connection.

Finally FutureMan wound down with "I don't really have a railgun."

So I took mine out. I wound it. I clicked the ready switch and shot a bullet through the announcement about this lame-ass barbecue. It was above a sign about the New Orleans campaign, complete with spelling mistakes), and I was describing the whole time what I was doing, on the off-chance that FutureMan might try to replicate it at some point with his own railgun.

"And here's the part where it all went horribly wrong for me. See, it says to wind to here, and I clicked here, and it didn't work, so I gave up and wound some more, and then it was over-wound, and I couldn't get it to release. But I see it's working now." Because it was. "So we shoot our way to the dirigible that we'll steal. MechUrchin can pilot it, and then it's like two days to New Orleans, and we make the big easy run on time, and then we can come back, having spread the word of timeliness to the heathen swamp people. No offense intended, if you're actually from the swamp in the future."

"No, I'm not," said FutureMan. "What about getting there at the same time?" He was clearly no longer interested in my railgun, if he ever had been. I released the spring so it wouldn't wear out.

"We'll all be flying down together," I said. "So that shouldn't be a problem."

"How will we meet up before that?" FutureMan said.

"We're all storming the airfield together," I said. "I don't know what time it's at, but me and CoalTinker and TrainMaster and MechUrchin and everyone will synchronize our watches off Big Ben, so one of them can give you the information."

"I'll just go with you, then?" FutureMan said. "I don't really keep time by Big Ben." That's when things went really weird for me. I mean, who doesn't keep time by the biggest clock in London? I always have.

"If you remember to set and wind your watch, it will keep time for a couple of days," I said. I mean, for a normal person. For me, that's my superpower.

"I don't have a pocket watch," FutureMan said.

"Why not?" I said. "How do you survive?" Everything we do is pretty much about keeping time.

"It just seems like it would be too easy to forget to wind it," said FutureMan. "There's the two hands, and you have to remember the big one and the little one and know what they're point at, and it always just seemed like too much effort. In the future, people will have digital watches that just show simple numbers. They'll be able to get the time from satellites, or sync to the atomic clock."

I looked at him, and for the first time I felt pity instead of revulsion. Why did he want so badly to be in the Punctuality League, when we'd be obsolete in his future?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Familiar

The challenge was here. My sister had read the “dollheads” challenge and asked what happened next, so when I was thinking about robots (and I hate robots) I wanted to find a way to make one in Bucklepunk world.

A familiar would have warned her before the man was in sight of the house. He'd come up the streambed, hopping one stone to the next, balancing in an imaginary duel. She didn't recognize him, but his fancy dress said he was official.

Abigail and her daughter Susannah had hidden in the burnt-out shell of their house, made not a sound as he wandered through the yard, poked at the garden, the foundation, the pottery shed, the wires she'd run to the mill to siphon power from the waterwheel. After a tense hour he left, back the way he'd come, towards the mill.

"We need a familiar," said Abigail.

"It would give us away," said Susannah.

"Not if no one recognizes what it is," said Abigail.

Always the familiar gave witches away. It followed too close, or looked at someone with just a bit too much perspicacity. Well, Widow Martin was having none of that. Now her beloved black cat was dead in the disaster that had befallen her house, she could start over.

The wires to the waterwheel were still alive, but they couldn't bring her dead familiar back to life. She had already tried that, affixing them to the dead cat whilst they were quiet. When the wire had hissed to say the waterwheel was running, her cat had not sparked to life.

"What is that burning hair smell?" Susannah had asked. She was collecting nuts in the yard.

"Just the cat," said Widow Martin.

"You're desecrating the corpse," Susannah said. She was trying to get the squirrels in the yard to eat out of her hand.

Abigail Martin was not going to eat her familiar, not even a leg. Not even if it had been a rooster.
One did not eat one's familiar. One buried it proper. "It's just an animal, now the soul has fled," she said.

"So it was in life, it is in death." The girl was half witch already.

"If my plan works, he will be in life again," said Abigail. Surely raising the spirit of a familiar and replacing it in its own body was hardly wrong at all.

She ran a string through the cat's nose and put it in the creek. The water ran hard enough to drive the meat off the bones, but not enough to wash the bones downstream.

Several days later, she dragged it up again. The little fishes in the water had done their work well. Nothing was left but bones and cartilage.

Eyes she had aplenty, so she inserted those first. She ran wires through the spine down to the tip of the tail, so it could swish again. Wires ran through pulleys down the back legs; tiny wheels fit in the knees and feet.

Susannah stayed out of the workroom. She was training the squirrel.

"Rodents make poor familiars," said Abigail.

"A squirrel is not a rat," Susannah said. "People think they're cute, on account of their tails. Penemue will go unnoticed, the way a larger creature couldn't."

Abigail didn't recognize the demonic name, but didn't look it up, either. If the rodent could be taught to bring nuts to the house, it might get them through the winter.

She tied the string of wires together into a large knot in the skull of the cat. When she was done, ceramic armour fleshed out the body and hid the wires. Demonic symbols shimmered red and black on the clay. A long fine loop of wire connected the cat to the lines that ran from here to the waterwheel.

The wire hissed back to life.

She watched the cat. There was nothing.

"Perhaps you'd like to try a squirrel," Susannah said. "Penemue has friends. With all your experience you'd be up and running in no time."

The clay turned white, and the glaze hardened, but no life animated the cat's limbs.

It was a disappointment to have to do a ritual to bring Metathiel back to his body, but she'd run out of non-witchcraft options. She'd sent Susannah to bed. The squirrel had run back to its nest in the black walnut tree in the yard. It wasn't a real familiar; it just liked the seeds Susannah gave it from the stores.

"Metathiel?" she said when she was done.

The cat twitched, the spirit acclimatizing to its new body.

"Metatron." The floor shuddered.

Not quite right. "I charge you to guard this domicile," said Abigail. “Let’s see how you do with that.”

Many hours later, the bone and ceramic cat still stood, at least. "Someone is coming."

Susannah was in the garden, coaxing her squirrel to tend the lavender.

The same smallish man again walked toward the house, moving across the streambed without a stick. Abigail came out the burnt-out side of the house to greet him.

"Your neighbor has complained about you stealing from his mill," the man said.

She glanced back at the garden, but Susannah appeared to have had the sense to hide. "Surely we can make a trade," she said.

"You have nothing he wants." The man was her age at least. He had a very large forehead, probably cursed. "He claims you're a witch, messing with things you don't understand."

She gestured behind her at the cat, now sitting on its haunches. "If I didn't understand, how did I do that?"

The man made a face, part apology, nothing he could do. "Just a warning, for now."

"Not witchcraft -- science," said Abigail Martin. A scientific familiar should be above scrutiny. "It’s not even an animal. It’s powered by the wheel downstream.”

“It’s not connected,” said the man.

The wires had fallen loose, and yet the cat turned its head.

“But perhaps I should take a closer look at this science, before I render judgment.” The man turned and walked off back downstream.

Susannah poked her head out from the foundations of the house. “Sure you don’t want a squirrel?”

Monday, June 20, 2011

How I learned to do Crow

Crow is a yoga move wherein you crouch down and put your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Then you put your knees on your elbows and launch forward to balance on your hands.

I was first introduced to crow when I was doing the Monday night yoga class at the Y. I, and most everyone else, would roll from our toes to our hands and back, never really committing ourselves.

Then one class I fully committed, and did it for about six seconds, before falling off onto my knees, getting some of my most spectacular bruises EVER. I was able to show them off for a couple of weeks. They were awesome, because everyone seems to think yoga is so gentle.

Anyway, after that bad experience, I was back to pathetically rolling from feet to hands and back, no commitment, no risk, week after week.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was screwing around at my Acro class, and the boy asked what I was trying to do, and I showed him, and he crouched down, hands shoulder-width apart, and launched into the pose, which he held for an extremely irritating ten seconds or so.

And that's when I was able to do crow. Because if the boy can do it, then there's no reason why I can't. It was all in my head.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Axilism

The challenge was here. I found most of the stuff at the prompt’s link pretty horrible, like really women-hating even. And I only got to the end of the As before I found my title. This story may be offensive to some--triggering, maybe. But it’s the story I wrote.

It was Greer’s idea. He phoned me up. "Dude, we're going to have a rape gang down in La Salle Park."

Rape gangs hadn't really come up in grade 8 sex ed. Maybe Greer knew, because it came up in the grade 10 version. "You going to come by and pick me up?" I said.

"Nah, it's getting late," said Greer. "It's getting late. Meet us there at 2."

I threw a bottle of water, three apples, and three granola bars into my backpack, along with my cell. Greer never eats the apples I bring, but I packed one for him anyway, just to be polite. I figured Johnny would be coming with us too.

We met at the edge of La Salle park. If Buffalo is the armpit of America, then it’s not a very sweaty one, at least not in November. Flurries were just starting to fall when we set out to have our rape gang. Lake effect. It was no big deal. We're used to it.

On a good day there are lots of people running. You’d think, being the day after Thanksgiving, that all the people who aren’t interested in shopping would be out trying to burn off the calories they’d eaten yesterday. Maybe we’d come too late in the day. Maybe the weather had driven people off.

It can be quite beautiful by the lake. The running path is only a fence away from the water. We hid in the bushes to wait for an appropriate female.

The first one to pass had a running buddy, a man.

Greer was ready to go. “I can take him.” And he probably could. He was probably six inches taller than that guy, and weighed maybe 50 pounds more. If he kept growing, he'd be as big as a troll by the time he was 18. And the other guy would be winded, while Greer was still fresh.

“Not a good choice,” said Johnny.

“I’m sure a better one will come along,” I said.

And they were already past, so we would have to run to catch up, taking away our advantage, so Greer let it go. The woman wasn’t that hot, anyway. Too skinny. They both were.

"Do you even know what a rape gang does?" Greer said.

"Yeah," said Johnny. But he's even younger than me. I bet his testicles haven't even descended yet.

It was starting to snow a little harder.

"Her?" I said, about a solo jogger.

"Dude, that's a dude," said Greer. He laughed at what he thought of as a joke.

"Her?" I asked about another one.

"I was hoping for something a little closer to our age," said Greer. "Not like statutory rape, but maybe a coed or something."

"Only old people say coed," said Johnny. He was wearing a hat and everything, as if his mom had dressed him before he left the house.

Greer was just wearing a hoodie. It was a thick hoodie, though. And he had more bulk to keep him warm. Both Johnny and I were a lot leaner than him. He stamped his feet a bit, though. Vans aren't that warm.

“We’re going to have to move closer if this keeps up,” Greer said.

“What, out of the bushes?” Johnny said.

“Pretty soon, we’ll be able to stand right in the middle of the path, and wait for a woman to hit us,” I said. This was really boring. There weren’t many runners out at all. I took an apple out of my pack and bit in.

The whole thing was gone, and I was wiping my fingers on my jacket before putting my gloves back on before another woman passed us.

“I hate apples,” said Greer, mostly just to break the silence.

“We know,” said Johnny. “You’ve mentioned it before.”

A woman in a red sweatsuit came trundling along, more speed walking than jogging, but not doing too badly.

“Shall we go for that one?” Johnny asked.

“Not my type,” said Greer, who probably would have preferred the well-muscled skinny one who went by earlier.

“But we can catch her pretty easy.” I took a granola bar out of my pack, unwrapped it, ate it.

“Who brings snacks out for a gang rape?” Greer said.

“I’m hungry,” I said.

“You should have ate before you came,” said Johnny.

“Want one?” I asked.

“Sure,” Johnny said.

“You?” I held the last bar out to Greer.

He shook his head. “Should wait 45 minutes after eating before you go in the water.”

“I’m not going in the water,” I said. The air was just below freezing. Lake Erie wasn’t frozen yet, but the snow was starting to stick to the grass. I shrugged and unwrapped the bar, and ate it myself. You burn a lot of calories, shivering. You don’t want to wear too much, when you’re out for a gang rape. I needed the energy.

“Wait 45 minutes before having sex, then,” said Greer.

“I find that really hard to believe,” I said. “What about if you’re licking whip cream off her?”

“It’s okay to eat during sex,” Greer said. “Just not before. Like it’s okay to suck in water when you’re swimming.”

“We call that drowning,” I said.

“it’s an old wive’s tale, anyway,” said Johnny.

We waited a while longer. Visibility was dropping. We could barely see the path now, except when a person was running on it. Mostly it was men. We weren’t raping one of those.

The sky faded from light grey to a slate blue. The streetlight near us winked on and highlighted our position, so we picked a different shrub to stand behind. This one had no leaves, but people weren’t really looking around much as they ran anyway. I’d forgotten, since I spend most of my time inside doing homework, how early darkness falls this time of year.

“Maybe we should have done our rape gang in the mall,” said Johnny.

“You got any other food in there?” Greer said. He took off his gloves and stuck his hands under his arms.

“Just apples,” I said.

“I’ll have one of those,” said Johnny.

I handed him one. They were green, tart, and crisp. Also, very cold now.

“I hate apples,” said Greer.

“Want some water?”

Greer accepted the bottle and took a swallow.

There wasn’t much wind blowing off the water at this level, but the snow was starting to accumulate on the path. It swirled gently, and the chunks of snow got bigger and bigger, like the inside of a snowglobe.

Greer handed the water bottle back. “Let’s move out onto the path.”

If a jogger came, they would basically run right into us. We couldn’t see more than ten feet ahead of us. They would be crazy to be out running around in this, anyway.

“Fuck, I am cold,” Greer said after a while.

“Are we even still on the path?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Johnny. But there was no way to tell now. The snow was up to the top of my running shoes. My feet were really cold.

“Look, let’s give it up,” said Greer. “Come back tomorrow. Clearly everyone is afraid of a little snow.”

“Maybe they’re afraid of being raped in the park,” I said.

“Idiots,” said Greer.

I wasn’t quite sure what direction we were facing. Certainly we couldn’t see the water. I couldn’t see the nearest lamppost. It felt like we were going uphill, then downhill. We must have been on an earthworks surrounding the parking lot.

Johnny was in the lead, a dark mass in the near-dark. “Shit,” he said.

“What?” Greer said.

“We’re at the water.”

I stepped forward, and in two paces I'd hit the railing too.

“Fuck,” said Greer.

We turned around and started back up the hill again.

“I can’t see anything,” Johnny said, and stopped, and I walked right into his back.

“Well, don’t just stop,” said Greer.

“What direction do we go?” Johnny said.

“Keep going,” I said. “The water is behind us now.”

But after a few minutes, we could hear the delicate hissing of the snow on the water again.

“Shit man, stop leading us in circles,” I said to Johnny, but it wasn’t like I was like I was going to do any better.

“Hey, you got any of those apples left?” Greer said.

"You never eat apples," Johnny said. “We’re all going to die out here.”

I held out the last of the apples.

Greer took it, and I could hear the sound it made as he bit in. “Wow, I must be hungry, because this is kind of good.”

Thursday, June 09, 2011

What Flows Downstream

The challenge was here. I had the world BucklePunk in my head (someone had tweeted it in an offhand manner) and in my interpretation, it’s Steampunk populated by Puritans, who didn’t have steam power... so not steampunk at all.

“You should check the run down to the waterwheel,” said Cotton Brown.

Technically, that was Cotton's job. They had portrayed the situation as a win for everyone -- the mill got an assistant, and Cotton was out of the village, so everyone's daughter was safe. In reality, it was just a win for the town, with a spy at the mill. Nathaniel Proctor had never asked for an assistant, anyway.

He sighed and went outside. The morning air smelled like honey, and hummed with the sound of bees. Of course, bees led to screaming, followed by accusations of being afflicted by a witch. Everything was a potential plague in Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The run above the sawmill was pulled over so it wouldn't turn the waterwheel; he'd disengaged it before the storms had rolled in last night. With the run free, it picked up interesting detritus.
Once Cotton had found a twig shaped like the devil; Proctor had let him take it to the reverend, who now used it to frighten children and test witches. They had found apples, a shoe with foot bones still in it, and the nests of wasps and birds.

The water ran high this morning. Among fallen branches and dead wood, at least a dozen eyeless doll heads stared up around the figure of an angel and a jumble of toy soldiers. Proctor picked up a dollhead. It was surprisingly solid, but light enough to float. There was little question where they had come from. Leaving her broken, witch-afflicted trash was a new low for Widow Martin.

Proctor put the dollhead back in the run and went down to the workroom. “Just dig a hole and bury it all.”

“I can’t in good conscience do that,” said Cotton. “The devil is in those toys.”

"If the devil is in them, it's because he's upstream," said Proctor. If anything had the devil in it, it was those heads and soldiers. He hadn't seen Widow Martin sneaking around last night. Not for days, actually.

“Should let the reverend know about them,” said Cotton. “Taking them into town special would be the righteous thing to do. Or I could go myself, bring someone back.”

Proctor fully expected they'd be back right quick, too. No one wanted Cotton on the loose in town. After his time here, Cotton would be full of pent-up energies.

Cotton was a diligent spy, but uncreative. He didn't realize the lamps Nathaniel Proctor had rigged were not run on whale grease, that the rooms weren’t strictly warmed by hearthfires. No reverend would understand that water, not the devil, made the energy that flowed through wires and move the gears. Probably touch the wrong thing, fry himself, and then Proctor would be burning at the stake as a witch.

“A better idea,” Proctor said. “Let’s go upstream to the source.” Better that the logs pile up outside a day or two, than have visitors in the mill.

Cotton looked crafty, skeptical, but buckled his shoes and followed Proctor out.

Everyone knew of the Widow Martin, though no one had seen her this year or last. She had run off, rather than marry the man her son had chosen for her, and taken her daughter with her. They all knew where she was; it was just a matter of finding the time to bring her back. Obviously she was a witch.

It took longer than he had expected to walk up the creekbed. Cotton tended to get tangled in the vines, slip on moss, lose his balance on wet rocks. But after midday they came to the house.

Proctor had expected something larger, and probably less burned. God's judgment, no doubt, and clearly happened last night. The provenance of the doll's heads suddenly seemed obvious.
Widow Martin stood knee-deep in the creek below the house, picking dishes out and putting them on shore.

“Good day, Widow,” he called out as they approached. The creek bed was eaten away on one side of the creek, and Proctor could see why she had chosen this place to live, because the grey clay just fell into the water. Not a good place for a mill, though.

“Good day,” Widow Martin called back. “come to lend a hand? We’ve had a bit of a disaster.” She was a striking woman still, though well past her prime.

He waded into the water and fished out another doll's head, this one broken in half.

“I’ll take that,” said Widow Martin, and reached for the evidence. Proctor tried to show it to Cotton before handing it back, but the oaf was looking the wrong way.

“Big storm last night,” said Widow Martin. “Cleared the air.”

“Strange it hit your house,” said Cotton Brown. “Of all the houses in these woods.”

“Could be it hit every house out here,” said Widow Martin, noticing Cotton for the first time. She glanced up at the house, where her daughter must be.

“Would have heard,” said Cotton.

Proctor wasn’t so sure. He picked his way through dishes broken teacups and saucers in the rocks, and stepped out of the water.

“Surprised it didn’t hit your mill in fact,” said Widow Martin. "Thought the fire had travelled up the line.” She gestured at a wire that ran from her house down through the trees downstream. She must have traded for that, her dishes to the same smithy where Proctor got his wire, and the other tools he couldn't make himself.

“So this is my fault?” Proctor said.

“Your mill, to which that wire attaches,” said Widow Martin. “Though it only fires my kilns intermittently.”

She smiled. Any charge he tried to bring against her -- theft, witchcraft -- would lead to a charge of witchcraft on himself. He looked at Cotton Brown.

Cotton Brown, idiot that he was, missed the tension completely. “How is your daughter?” He glanced up to glimpse the shadow of the girl in the cottage.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Take Down the Lot of You

The challenge came out on the Friday before karate camp. My first thought was “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but that’s kind of been done. I was in the dojo, marching in line, and I started catching sight of my toenail polish, and the floor was terrible. And this year we didn’t have to cook for ourselves, but in previous years we did, and often people would discuss what food item it might have been that made them sick.

The first thing you do when karate camp starts is to deal with the floor. Savannah set pairs of junior belts to running back and forth across the room with whippy straw brooms.

"There's a better broom in our cabin," said Tonio. "You could come with me and get it." This to Savannah, of course. When they did pairworks this weekend, she wouldn't be partnering him.

There's a real broom in the dining hall," said Susan. "Wide, with felt."

"It's probably sticky with fallen foodstuffs?" asked Tonio.

They swept the leavings out the door, lined up and bowed in.

The floor was gritty and the air was damp. The teenaged girls had already started taping their feet against blisters. At least, as they marched in rows up and down the room, they were travelling with the grain of the wood.

Savannah's eye kept catching the glinting of her toenail polish, a metallic midnight blue. The fine grit on the floor felt like sliding, ayumiyashi, over the little arms and legs of beetles. The hunger was getting to her.

It was maybe 10pm when all 30 of them headed to the dining hall. The white belts had left training early to put out muffins and tea, apples and water.

Then they headed to bed in the rain.

Back at the women's cabin, there must have been a screen loose or a door open; at least fifty bugs flew around the light. Perhaps the 20-minute bug-killing frenzy got them all wound up. Savannah didn't feel like she lay awake for five-and-a-half hours, but it didn't feel like she'd slept.

"Leave me alone, I'm not coming," said one of the other women when they tried to peer pressure her into getting up for the 6am run. She never showed up for early morning training.

They swept the floor again, but to no avail.

"Maybe we should sweep with the grain, rather than across," Savannah said, but there wasn't time. Sensei had clapped for them to line up again.

The third senior-most black belt had been running with them, but never made it into the dojo.

"What kind of muffin did he have last night?" Tonio asked. There had been five kinds. Maybe one was bad. He stood too close. Savannah fantasized about giving him an elbow to the ribs, or maybe the nose.

They trudged through ninety minutes of training, mostly basics and self-defense, and headed to a breakfast cooked by the green belts.

"What's up with this floor, eh?" Chuck said. "It's like they applied sealant to it without cleaning first. What's with all the grit?"

"And it won't come up," said Savannah. "We've swept it twice."

"Maybe they didn't sand it," said Tonio.

"Maybe they sanded it, and didn't clean it after," said Chuck.

He went to his cabin after breakfast, and they never saw him again.

"Do you think he's been drinking the water?" Susan asked, back in the dojo for the midmorning session. "I wonder if it's potable. I always drink bottled water here, myself."

"It's town water," said Bob. "They cook with it."

After a light warmup and some kata, Sensei set them to pairworks. He threw Susan, who got up looking rather green.

"Grab a partner," Sensei said.

Savannah turned and bowed to Tonio, who was the only one left at her level. He took the attack position.

"Watch out for my junk," he said, but his heart wasn't in it. He kicked her in the head, as the black belt had done to Sensei. She blocked, grabbed his kicking leg and stepped in behind his supporting leg. From there, it was nothing but a hip flick to make him fall on his back. You wouldn't think that was enough to make anyone feel ill.

Still, before even lining up and switching positions, her stomach was rolling. She landed on her back, made a quick roll onto one knee and the other toe, then up into fighting stance, where she swayed. It was the spins.

She was breathing through her mouth. It wouldn't close. A bead of sweat rolled from her upper lip to her chin. Somehow her elbows rested on her knees. She listed sideways until her back touched the wall.

"I don't think I can do that again right now," Savannah said.

Tonio was beside her, also against the wall. "Me either."

"It was a good throw, though," said Savannah.

"It's a good technique," Tonio said. "I could use it in a fight."

"If someone actually kicked you in the head," said Savannah.

Water might help. Her bottle was in her gym bag by the door. She trailed her hand along the wall for support, only vaguely aware of the other karateka still tossing each other around. She got to the door without having tripped over her bag. Fresh air might be good too.

But she'd forgotten the five steps down to the path to the dining hall. She missed the step down. Then she was on the ground, on her hip, hard on the paved walkway. She didn't think she'd hit her head, and blinked a couple of times to focus. The building was up on blocks to level it out on the uneven ground.

The ground underneath glistened with jewel tones. She rolled onto all fours to crawl closer.

Bug carapaces, great mounds of them, lay where they had swept the dust from the floor. Heads, thoraxes, and abdomens, pincers and antennae, segmented legs in metallic forest green, turquoise, rich ruby red.

It must have led to some kind of parasite, maybe merged with a strain of foot fungus run rampant. During warmup their hands had been on the floor. No one would have washed them before last night's snack. Their gis had been on the floor, rolling around. They had pulled on belts, tugged down jackets.

Savannah wondered if puking would help. Well, it didn't much matter, because she would be doing it anyway.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Out there -- May 2011

"Dolphin". Still at market #1. I need to stop being so disfunctional and figure out what's up with that.

“Bezoar”. At market #1.