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Authors: Aelius Blythe

Stories about things

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Stories About Things

by Aelius Blythe

 

 

 

Public Domain

(Creative Commons CC0)

 

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kopimi

 

 

Introduction

(Don't worry, it's short.)

 

These are stories about things.

Some from this world. Some from otherworlds.

Small things. Disconnected things.Meaningless things.

Just things.

 

~A.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

Part I. Thought and Memories: things of thisworld...

Teacups

Time

The Name

Maple Syrup

The Swing

That Night There Was No Dinner

First Impressions

 

 

Part II. Fairies and Things: things of otherworlds...

Sun Set

Shark

The Dinner Bells

Leaves of Trees

The Bear Would Starve

Space

 

 

 

Part I. Thought and Memories: things of thisworld...

 

 

 

ONE

Teacups

 

Dirt.

That was a more pleasant smell.

Dirt didn't smell dirty. It smelled likelife and it smelled like growth and it smelled like comfort.

It was more pleasant than this.

This was old and it smelled like old.

Like oil mixed with dust mixed with ragsmixed with closed doors and no airflow and dark. Like the smell ofan old barn. Like the smell of someone's grandmother's houseforgotten on a lot with too many trees grown up around it.

The smell of neglect.

The china was cold.

It shouldn't have been. It should have beenwarm, it should have been hot–too hot to hold and filled with teatoo hot to drink.

He wiped a finger around the flowers. Thepaint was fine, thin, almost flat, but he'd always been able tofeel the designs on the cup, just a little bit.

He couldn't feel them now.

The flowers were covered in dust, and thedust was all he felt.

She wasn't like this.

He bent down to the shelf. He shouldn't, heknew he shouldn't. His back seemed to know it, it stiffened as hishead tried to bend down to the little china cup. He shouldn't. Nothere. Not in the place of closed doors and no airflow and dark. Nothere. But his head bent down anyway and his nose brushed the dustat the bottom of the teacup and he sniffed.

The dust went in his nose.

The dust and the oily smell of the dark andairless antique shop.

He turned away.

His eyes shut and he straightened up andturned away from the shelf. He turned away even though his eyeswere shut, because he didn't want to face the cup.

It should smell like the ground.

It always had.

The tea in the cup had always smelled likethe earth after a warm rain. He never tasted it, but he would smellit. As a child, he hated the smell of his grandmother's tea.

Now, the memories were sweet.

It shouldn't be here.

The dust and the smell of the dust and thedark and the forgotten air of the antique shop was no place forthis cup. But there was no place for it now.

It shouldn't be here.

He opened his eyes and looked back at thecup. It looked sad. It looked like it missed the heat of the waterand the steam and the smell of earth just like he did.

A sticker on the handle said $25. He'd onlygotten $5 for it.

But he did not have $25.

One hand brushed out and swept the cup tothe ground.

Out of it's misery.

"Oops," he said, because he felt like heshould.

"Hey!"

An old man hobbled out of the back room, buthe was too slow. The teacup lay shattered on the ground a belljangled and then the door banged shut.

 

 

 

TWO

Time

 

Dr. Ellis had nearly given up on time travel.He had built a solid theory, as well as a solid machine (several infact,) but it was all useless. The machine sat in his laboratory,and the theory sat in his head because he had not yet devised amethod to power them with. He had tried nuclear power, solar power,hydrogen fuel and even a wood-burning stove. None of it worked.

The answer came to him one day when he wasvery hungry. He was considering a slice of cherry pie in a storewindow, the sweet goo pouring out of the flaky crust, yellowed withbutter under a large swirl of cream. For what seemed like an hourhe stared, tried to remember how much cash he had in his pocket andstared some more. When the bakery manager came out, Dr. Ellis wasstartled out of his trance. Wiping a little drool from the cornerof his mouth he apologized, blushed, and hurried away, but notbefore catching sight of the clock.

"That's it!" he shouted, then blushed againas passers-by stared.We've had the power source with us allthis time,he thought, silently this time.

And so they–that is to say, people–had. Foras he walked away from the store and the cherry pie, he noticedthat barely two minutes had passed, yet surely it was an hour! Heknew then: themindpowers time.

And we are the machine!he thought intriumph.

Upon arriving home, he scrapped all his oldwork and began to work on a new theory using the human mind as boththe vessel and power source. He experienced great success in thisventure. Soon, he could, in theory, make hours race ahead,allowing, for example, one to experience the end and beginning of adull dinner party without any of the in-between parts that made itdull. Or, he could slow seconds down to a near stand still allowingmore time for enjoyable things, like love-making, cherry pie, andgood books.

There were two problems with his research.First, though he could slow down time or speed it up into thefuture, he had not yet figured out how to go backwards. Hehypothesized, however, that this was possible, and kept working atit. Perhaps a combination of factors could exert enough force onthe mind to make it turn backwards.

He tried many formulas to achieve this. Forexample: a lecture on the tree-ant's sleeping patters plus fulllogarithm tales plus a twelve foot pile of manila folders to befiled. That one was pretty close; it managed to bring time to anear standstill. But still it would not go backwards.

The second problem was the interference ofthe subconscious. If left alone, it would drag the host through thedull moments, expanding seconds into hours, and collapse hours intoseconds during the fantastic moments.

Dr. Ellis theorized that this was anevolutionary mechanism, and quite a powerful one. Nature wanted theorganism to realize just how boring the boring moments were, so itwould avoid those in the future. The organism also needed to getthrough the fantastic moments quickly so that they could seek outmore and more of these. While no doubt a biological advantage, thiswas exactly the tendency he wished to counter.

The subconscious problem was a particularbeast. The doctor worked obsessively on it. He thought it wasrather as if the subconscious controlled walking. One could try allmorning to arrive at work, only to end up at the theater or thebakery.

To solve the problem, he tried many methodsof distracting the subconscious. (Would it falter for a raspberrytorte? Or a well-proportioned blonde?) If it were distracted longenough, then the conscious mind could sneak off through time. Healso tried tricking the subconscious mind into inverting itsnatural patterns (would a caramel cheesecake make work meetings flyby? Would a persistent itch make a holiday last forever?) Thesubconscious, however, was a stubborn and well-disciplinedcreature. It had made its patterns and stuck with them likecement.

Still, he worked and he worked. One night, ashe was fiddling with a distraction contraption he'd built, he cuthis finger on a piece of aluminum foil. He tried to ignore it, butthe blood dripped all over the contraption and ran onto his notes.He went to the bathroom to find a bandage.

He opened the door, with the non-bloody hand,and walked into the bathroom. There was somebody there! He jumpedin alarm, shoulders twitching, hands shaking. Seeing the stranger'sreflection, he whirled to accost the intruder. But his knee gaveway, spilling him to the floor. When he looked up, the stranger hadgone. Shaking, knee throbbing, he stood, gripped the sink. There!He was back! Slowly this time, but still trembling he turned hishead. But as he did, the stranger turned away. They turned back andstared at each other, the mirror in between.

Dr. Ellis looked at his own drooping skin andpale eyebrows.

"No!" he yelled. "I don't know how to go backyet!"

He stumbled back to his desk. His notes wereall in disarray. He clawed through them desperately.

"There must be a key in here somewhere!"

Crimson drips fell from his finger.

Through stacks of diagrams and formulas hiswithered hands searched.

"I know I can fix it...I know I can fixit..."

The faster he searched, the longer hisgrizzled hair grew. Joints groaned and stiffened. His concave cheststruggled to expand enough for air.

"There must...be a way...to go...back."

His head spun, and the panic grew wilder. Hishair grew faster, and his joints grew slower. His breaths grewweaker.

Thunk.

The cement floor ground against his bentback. Failing fingers clutched a stack of papers. Pupils, quicklyclouding with cataracts, strained to see.

"How...how..."

Then time stopped. At least, it did forhim.

 

 

THREE

The Name

 

Goddamnit.

Everyone else was tried not to let theirsobs drown out the eulogy.

Not me.

It wasn't that I wasn't sobbing (but Iwasn't.) It wasn't that I wasn't listening to the eulogy (but Iwasn't.) It wasn't that I wasn't totally remembering what a greatguy the dearly departed was (Of he was. Who needed reminding?)

Goddamnit!

It wasn't any of those things.

It was the name.

What was it?

Hewasa great guy. Totally. Fun,energetic, handsome; the kind everybody liked. That was the reasonthey all attended his funeral. That's why I was there, anyway. Iremembered the laughing, good-natured, slightly drunk face verywell.

But not the name that went with it.

Mother always used to scoff at the peoplewith funny names. But I remembered every single Dallas or AnfernyI'd ever met. My mental landscape was full of Toms and Justins, andJessicas and Katies. They were as common as paving stones andslipped by without notice.

Could have been Justin. Could have beenTom.

Tom... Tom?

The name started to insert itself into thememories.Tom.That could have been it.

No stop that.

It would have been awkward if it slipped outof my mouth. Or itwouldbe awkward if it turned out that itwasn't actually his name. For all I knew, it could have been. Butif not, would "Oops, wrong funeral," get me out of that one?

There must have been some mention of hisname in the "Dearly Departed" clause. Too bad I was trying so hardto remember it to pay attention then.

Then,

Oh.

JACK, it said on the temporary gravemarker.

Oh. Jack. Right.

 

 

Got back to the apartment.

"How was whasisnames funeral?" said theroommate. "Whatwashis name anyway?"

"I don't know, but the ceremony wasgreat."

 

 

FOUR

Maple Syrup

 

Syrup dripped slowly, not like blood. Syrupwas sweet, too, but Chi didn't know what blood tasted like. Rusty,maybe, from the iron, iron like in magnets. He used to think thatwas why people stuck to the earth: they had metal in them, and sodid the planet. He didn't think that anymore. If it were true, thenwhy did dead people stick just as hard as living people, even whenall the blood was drained out? Why didn't they go floating up away?He used to think that was why they nailed coffins shut.

Sip. Click.

The flask snapped back in its seat on his hipwhere a magnet stuck it in place. Mother thought it was rum, and helet her think that. Rum didn't work, though. Rum erased what maplesyrup remembered. Other people drank, remembered things that didn'thappen and forgot things that did. Chi wanted to remember whathappened and forget what didn't.

Sip. Click.

 

 

The store itself was not the temptation. Notthat Chi could ignore the rows upon rows of maple sugar cookies,gallons of syrup, lollipops in the shape of maple leafs, and tawnyfudge squares. He couldn't. He was a good boy, though, and hewasn't tempted by the things that he shouldn't have.

The temptation wasn't the cookies and syrupand lollipops and fudge; it was the key. The key hung on the wallby the door after dark when his parents had gone to bed. He lookedat it every evening at six, when his mother and father locked upthe store and brought in the key. Sometimes, he would get up in thenight, come downstairs quietly, and stare at the little piece ofsilver hanging on the peg by the door.

 

 

Sip. Click.

It was funny that the taste hadn't gone awayall these years. Chi had thought that eventually he would get usedto the sticky sweetness of the syrup and wouldn't be able to tasteit. But he still did. Maybe it was a symbiotic relationship--thesyrup and the memories--one kept the other alive. The memorieshadn't faded, and the taste was part of the memories. The tastekept alive the memories, which kept alive the taste... Whatever thereason, the maple sweetness was just as clear as the day he'd firstdrunk it, and it recalled that time perfectly.

Sip. Click.

 

 

"No, we're not supposed to!" Geo had said thefirst time they snuck into the shop after dark.

Chi agreed. Theyweregood boys, bothof them. But rows of sweets, stacked neatly in a dark storeroomwill sing to any young child, and Chi was listening. Now that hestood, key in hand, with his parents sleeping in the house, heheard their song loud and clear. Geo was not really trying toresist anyway; he was just making a token protest to fall back onlater when they were caught. All Chi needed to do was make thetoken argument to cement the deal. It was the standard contract oflight mischief. So he said,

"Who'll know?"

He took one of the little jugs of syrup andpoured it into their two bottles (white ones that you couldn't seeinside of.) The shelves only took a little rearranging to concealthe empty space. And the empty jar of evidence they buried by atree. They sipped the syrup slowly so it would last. It wasn'tdifficult, though, like eating a chocolate bar slowly is difficult.No one can drink maple syrup except drop by drop, one sip at atime.

 

 

Sip. Click.

It went in a metal flask now instead of awhite water bottle. He was almost grown now, and grown men whodidn't play sports and worry about nutrition and hydration andthose sorts of things didn't carry around water bottles everywhere.No one carried around hip flasks either, but Chi did it anyway. Heneeded something to carry the memories in, and the flask had comewith a nice holder with a magnet.

"Don't dwell," they told him, all of them,parroting each other. "Look ahead of you, not behind you."

But he wanted to look behind. There wererocks back there, and if you weren't careful you could trip. Youhad to look. His mother put it a different way.

"Don't run backwards," she said. "Don't runbackwards."

And don't push, either, he would add,but silently in his head so she wouldn't hear it.

Sip. Click.

He sipped the syrup carefully, one drop at atime. And he remembered carefully, one moment at a time. There wasonly one thing he couldn't remember.

Sip. Click.

Sip. Click.

Sip, sip, sip.

Click.

No matter how hard he tried, no matter howcarefully he went over the memories, there was one he could notrecover. For ten years, maple syrup held all the memories exceptthat one.

Why was he angry? He couldn't remember.

Sip. Click.

 

 

Push. Thud. What were they fighting about? Itmust have been something important. Itmusthave been. Butif it was so important, then why couldn't he remember?

Sip. Click.

Slip.

Crack.

"Geo? Geo?"

That was the moment when he forgot. He hadbeen angry, he knew he had, but at the sharp crack of bone on rockand the thud of Geo's body hitting the ground, he forgot.

The blood ran fast, and so did Chi. He ranand he ran, back to the house, though his stomach and chest and hislegs all cramped up, and he couldn't breathe fast enough to getoxygen to the muscles.

He ran for his father and mother, then hismother ran for the doctor down the street, and someone ran for thepoliceman.

"Geo's hurt," he'd said, and everyonelistened because they were good boys and never got intotrouble.

They all ran very fast back to the fieldbehind the house. But the blood ran faster. It was all out of Geoby the time Chi got back with help.

 

 

Sip. Click.

Drinking water would give him more energy. Ifhe had more energy then he could run faster. But Chi didn't runanymore. There was no reason to. Blood was like water, and it ranfast. If you had a race with blood, it would always win, no matterhow fast you ran. Maple syrup ran slow, and you didn't have to raceagainst it. He was done racing.

His mother thought he was too slow.

"You have to get out of the room," she'd say."Get a job, meet some friends."

She wanted him to go forward instead ofbackwards. Chi didn't think he wasgoingbackwards, though.He waslookingbackwards, and that was an entirely differentthing.Lookingbackwards was important, even when you werestanding still. He had to see what was there. There was somethingback there, and even if everybody else didn't see it, he hadto.

Sip. Click.

 

 

"What happened?" they had asked.

All of them, the doctor, the police, hismother, asked the same question. His hand still held a baseball.He'd forgotten about that too. When he looked down at it, itanswered for him.

"Accidental?" they'd said, already noddingsadly, because these were good boys and when trouble happened, itwas an accident.

"Yes," Chi said. "He was running backwardsand tripped on the rock, smacked his head on the pile. He wasrunning backwards to catch a ball."

"Yes," his mother said. "He comes out withhis friend to play baseball all the time," she explained, and theynodded. You could see the worn grass between the bases - threetrees and a shrub for home.

They were good boys and it was an accident.The grass was wet, and he wasn't looking behind as he ran back.Slipped and hit the rock too hard. Too bad, they said, shakingtheir heads.

"That's why you don't do that," his mothersaid, crying. "That's why you look where you are going."

"It was baseball. He was running to catch aball. He was looking at the ball. You do that in baseball."

 

 

Sip. Click.

Ten years of drinking maple syrup had rottedhis teeth prematurely. Chi didn't care. Teeth could be fixed, thepast couldn't be. He wondered if memories could be. He wanted tofix his memories.

They weren't broken that bad,hethought.

Everyone else's were worse because they onlylooked ahead. The taste of the syrup had recalled the day for him,recalled it crystal clear, for ten years, except for the one thing.Sip after sip of maple syrup, flask after flask, jug after jug, andhe could not remember why he was angry. He could not remember whyhe pushed Geo onto the rocks. That had been wiped from his mind themoment the other boy fell, and no amount of looking had brought itback. He kept trying anyway.

Sip. Click.

 

 

FIVE

The Swing

 

When the swing fell again, the tree died.

That wasn't how it was the first time. Then,it had been just a matter of getting a new rope and stringing itback up. They couldn't do that anymore because there was nothing tostring it up on.

 

 

The first time, Bridget has seen the ropemake a graceful arc from bough to ground. It had sounded like acandy bar snapping in half (not one of the gooey ones, though–acrisp bar. Like Crunch or Hersheys, not Twix.) A soft, crisp pop,then the arc. Broken from hours of carrying her up into the sky, itwas a beautiful, not a sad injury.

She had shared the wound then, too. The seatdisappeared from beneath her, somehow falling much faster than herown body and the rope's. Of course, she should have been holding onlike her father always said to, but she liked to drape her armslightly around the ropes. That way, it was more like flying.

That time, she really had been flying. Herbody was weightless, not like a bird struggling to keep itselfaloft, but really weightless like the air itself.

For a second.

She saw the broken rope falling beside her,and wondered how it felt to finally be free of the tree. Theylanded beside each other in the leaves which crunched beneath them.It sounded like applause.

 

 

The second time the swing fell, there was noapplause, and no flying.

The saws screamed so loudly that Bridgetcouldn't even hear the snap of the branches. She imagined it musthave sounded like a much bigger bar of candy - maybe a solid blockof chocolate filled with nuts.

The branch with the swing went first becauseit was lowest. The swing fell silently, or at least whatever soundit made was drowned by the hysterical saw. It's branch made a softwhumpagainst the ground, which was again brown withleaves.

Bridget couldn't help cringing, just alittle, remembering the bruising fall. The swing and the branchlaying beside each other reminded her of her and the rope layingbeside each other, looking at each other. But she had been happythen, despite the bruises, and she couldn't imagine the ropefeeling sad either. Both the swing and the branch looked sad now.They hadn't flown, just fallen. The grace was gone.

Maybe that was why the leaves didn'tapplaud.

She looked for one second, then another limbfell on top of the first, then another and another. Then the trunkjoined the pile and the screaming finally stopped. For a while shejust stared at the pile, unsure of whether she were looking at itfrom the outside or whether she were still trapped down there onthe ground with the swing.

 

 

SIX

That Night, There Was No Dinner

 

The filet mignon was tempting, but the stewedtomatoes were heavenly. Of course, Cora's attention was not caughtby dish itself, but on the one who could transform the hated foodinto such a delicious piece of art. The medley of spicesmasterfully blended made the single tomato into an entire meal initself. After that first bite, she paid little attention to theother dishes. The other chefs were good, but they were onlyhuman.

Caleb was a magician.

She read his nametag when she snuck back tothe makeshift kitchens to investigate the origins of the miraculoustomato dish. He was there cooking, surrounded by a cloud of spices.Those spices would always linger in his hair and his clothing. Hermother argued, scornfully, that Cora had only fallen in love withthe scent and the spices but not the man.

"He isn'thandsome," the older womanwould protest. "And he can't afford to make himself so."

Cora disagreed.

Her mother's party had brought the twotogether. Her insistence on gourmet and fresh-cooked refreshmentsfor her aristocratic guests was responsible for Caleb's presence inthat neighborhood, one in which he would never have been seen outof uniform. Her mother was responsible for their meeting. But shehad skipped the tomatoes that evening, and hadn't cared who madethem. It was only when the cooking dared to woo her daughter thatshe even noticed him.

Cora's pleading never bought her mother'sapproval; but Caleb's talents in the kitchen could tempt it. Whenshe eventually deigned to try her son-in-law's cooking, she atleast had to admit that her daughter's heart–or perhaps herstomach–had never stood a chance against that charm. Even thestubborn heiress couldattempt toforgive the pale, rotundman his looks and poverty for one of his homemade meals.

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