Fiction, Tales of Adventure, Uncategorized

Tales of Adventure, Episode 1: Screwhammer Finds Love

Now, lemme tell you: Regus Screwhammer is a dwarf. And I don’t mean he’s some squat hairy guy with an excessive love of stonemasonry. No. He is, for sure, but I mean he is dwarf with a capital D-W-A-R-F. Drinks that vile, soured goat’s milk concoction of theirs like wine. The kinda guy you don’t take home to mama unless your mama is four feet tall and can out-wressle a bear.

Screwhammer is my partner. We find things for people. Information. Individuals. Objects of interest. Not always glamorous as it sounds, and sometimes—well, sometimes it gets downright dangerous, and that’s when a guy like me wants a guy like Regus Screwhammer at his back. He’s brutal in a scrap, loyal to his friends, and he loses nunna his capacity when drunk or dosed up.

But Screwhammer ent what anyone would call a romantic. (He’ll say otherwise, but that’s just to get in your britches. Of course, he’s never dishonest about his intentions. He might just mislead a little.) Which is why this is wunna my favorite stories about him.

Screwhammer drinks at almost any place he likes in Amity, because his coin is solid—and because when it isn’t, he’s got that kinda rep. But mostly he drinks at the Horse Trough, a rowdy but friendly little joint center of the lower city. I don’t go there anymore, myself. Bitter memories.

Once, though, we was there together, soaking up the ambiance. Cider, stout, absynthe, whatever we could find, us and a handful of tagalongs. Now, the Horse Trough being a pretty low place, rough and all that, it gets your regular, expected degenerates for such a joint. We was near the back as usual, filling up our tanks, enjoyin the rowdy music, when we hear a hush that starts near the fronta the room and ripples toward the back. We look over as everyone stills for just a moment: the double doors swing shut behind what has to be the most elegant elf I ever seen, stepping delicately through the crowd. Think of it: a watering hole full of drab brown folk and suddenly a rainbow lances through. I ent much for poetry, but if I were, I’d say that were it.

Then someone lets out a monumental belch, and the place spins up again. The man who’d been about to punch that other man—he had stopped to watch the elf, put down his fist, and now he sits back on his stool confused.

Conversation strikes up. Malvar sez: “D’you git a look at em?” by which he means the elf. “‘igh class ‘z wot. Ent ortta be in ‘ere.” “Ha!” said Screwhammer. “You donno holler.” Laramy makes to argue: “That elf, he gonna bring ‘is frenz, and they all gon’ bring theirn, and pretty soon the Trough is gonna be the Silver Goblet or sumthin’ posh wut won’t let us in, and won’t none of us have a place to drink.” Several of the others grumbled agreement. But Screwhammer just says “If I kin drink at the Brass Envelope, then the elf kin drink here.” Everyone knew how select the Envelope were, how it were talls only and really just rich talls only and never let the shorter humankin in, save strangely enough for Screwhammer. And no one wanted the Trough to become as closed-off as that place. So we just left it at that.

We went back to talking for a bit, something non-subjectal y’know like any other evening at the watering hole. But after awhile it became apparent something were happening over at the bar. Raine looked over, then looked back at the resta us and said “ Somethin happenin ov’at the bar.” Sure enuff, some small scrub was talking to the elf, all awkward like. He had two drinks in his hand; he offered the elf one, a fancy-looking goblet. The elf held up a hand stop-like. The scrub gestured the goblet forward, but eir hand didn’t budge. Scrub stepped back, looked to either side, ruddier than before. Shrank back into the crowd.

Now this were nothing abnormal, someone getting rejected, but with the high-class elegant blue-and-green, the scarves and the flowing outfit, the perfumed hair, the elf definitely were. Abnormal, I mean. And so anything to do with em, became so too.

We and just about the whole common room figured the small scrub had gone and made the wrong assumption, for why he was waved off. But pretty soon, another suitor came knocking, and the elf let him go with the same gentle wave. And then another, and another, fellas, ladies, etc.

By this point, news was making its way around the bar. Every now and then, someone’d get up the gumption and go get rejected. We was watching for a while, appreciating the comedy. Then someone—Raine, I think—started in at betting, at first on rejection or success. But when it were clear enough the elf wouldn’t say yes to no one, we started betting on who would give a go when, and sometimes too at what point of the night the elf would say get fed up and leave, or whether eventually anyone would be able to give em a drink.

After a while, no one else were going up, and the Regular Crew were getting bored. Finally Raine said “Malv, you go give em a try.” But Malvar replied, “Naa, ‘m right comfy ‘ere. You go on yerself.” Raine said back, “Ha! Don’ need me no elf prince or princess.” And then Callum the Ponce said “You only say that because you know you don’t have a chance,” which got Raine all ruddy and brung up laughter from the rest of the Crew. Raine muttered something about Callum not knowing enough about the subject to do any better, but the sorcerer just cocked his head and raised an eyebrow: “Why don’t you stick to purchasing your companionship, Raine. Witticism is like fencing: you shouldn’t come unarmed.” Callum always was better with his words than with his spells.

This banter goes on for a while, with eventually money thrown on the table for whoever wants to be brave, but no one actually wants to give it a try, they all just want something to bicker over. So it remains moot, until at last Screwhammer, who had been silent all the while, says “Fukkit. I need another drink,” and gets up. And we all stare as he heads to the bar with the whole stasha for-the-elf drink money jutting out between his thick fingers. Here’s how it went, according to him:

I steps up next to the elf and says to the bartender, “Two Dragon Fin Stouts, aye.” The bartender slides ‘em over, I picks ‘em up and hands one sidelong to the elf, sayin’ “Here.”

“I don’t drink that”, elf says.

“Ye do now,” says I.

“Excuse me, little man?”

(Here I gets a mite surprised like. I known Regus Screwhammer ten-odd years and he ent never let no’ne talk downa him.)

“Ye been sippin’ that dainty amber nectar, the same cup, all evenin’. Expensive stuff, I wager. An’ yiur dressed nice, too. So ye don’t come down to places like this often. Which means yiur here fer the color, the novelty.”

“And if I am?” the elf replies.

“Well, ye shedn’t be drinkin’ the same stuff yiu gets in yiur fancy upscale bars. Ye should try what the regulars drink. And this,” I raises me mug, “is the best o’ that ye can get here.”

There’s a beat in which the elf stares at me, one eyebrow lifted. Then twitches a smile, raises the second mug, an’ downs the whole thing.

So I cheers: “Aye! There’s a good elf!” An’ I claps the elf hard on the back. Ey looks over at the bartender an’ says “Another, please.” The bartender gives it up an’ now it’s my turn to be impressed. The elf knocks back the drink, looks me in the eye, an’ says real loud an’ real slow an’ real clear, “What’s next, small one?” as if I shed be impressed an’ leave well off.

Well, the room just about went silent there and then. Like I said, Screwhammer never once let anyone call him small or talk down to him, and every regular in the place knows it. So they’s just waiting to see what he do. But I can see—he’s too intrigued by the elf, so he lets it slide, doesn’t even notice like. He just quirks one eyebrow to match the elf’s and says “Aye.”

Then he gives the bartender a little nod, and the bartender takes out two small glasses and reaches up high for a dusty bottle. He wipes it clean with his rag and sets it on the counter with a bang. The jolt jars something inside the container, and little orange-yellow sparks swirl up through the murky liquid, leaving curls like feathered clouds or licks a flame. I got no idea what the drink is myself, but the elf sure knows, and eir eyes light up. Screwhammer looks at eir, an intense stare, not quite a challenge.

Ey cocks eir head yes. The bartender pours. Screwhammer grasps the two glasses, hands em one. Then he turns his attention to the business at hand. Ey, about to do the same, stops, watches. Screwhammer takes the glass, holds it up between his fingers, lets the lamplight filter through the liquid. The twitch of something behind his mustache. Then he closes his eyes, brings the rimma the glass to his nose, inhales long and slow. A smile creeps out into the open. And he puts the glass to his lips, draws a slow, gurgling sip. I can hear him taking in air to mix with the liquid in his mouth. Who woulda thought he were a connoisseur?

The elf, for er part, makes a little moue of approval, and does the same with eir own drink. Whatever it is, ey holds it in eir mouth a while, eyes closed, inhaling deeply before ey swallows.

Then ey looks over at Screwhammer and says, simply but not without appreciation, “You’ll do.” Screwhammer looks back at em, almost sidelong, eyes unreadable, and bursts into laughter. And from that point on, the two are inseparable. They down drink after drink, some quickly, some slowly. After a while I give up even watching.

Then, eventually, Screwhammer comes up to me. “Aye, Jerem!”

“Aye,” I say back, measuring. “We’re missing you over here, Regus.”

“Sorry, lad. This one’s too fun!”

“Aye, I get you. But me and the boys, we about to tear into some card. You in?” I say this, but the Regular Crew done give up elf-watching a half hour before. They’re already in at the card.

Screwhammer chuckles. “Aye no but I’m no’ done with the elf yet. We’re drinkin’ buddies now.” He grins.

Ah, well. Guess I’m out my usual partner. “No worry, mate” I say. “Why don’t you bring em over and join?”

Screwhammer’s smile disappears. “Not tonight, Jerem, mate. Lissen, we’re goin’ inty town a bit, find The Appleplum.”

“Oh?” I say. The Appleplum is an Upscale Establishment. Very posh. Screwhammer has never been let in before. It’s a sore point with him.

“Aye. Elf says ey can get me in. Worth a shot, I say.” He’s grinning wicked big now. Like the ripe world about to fall off the tree into his hand. “Yiu could come if ye like, ey won’t mind. Jest yiu, though. No’ the rest.” He nods in the directiona the Regular Crew.

“Right, cheers. Regus, I think I’ll stay here,” I say. “Callum ready to try me again at Gambit, an’ the boys is curious whether he learnt any useful since his last drubbing.” Shit hell, another night and I would’ve gone with him and spared the Ponce his embarrassment. Just not feeling up for the hoity-toity I guess. And mayb I want to let him have his fun.

“Aye, mate. I get you.” And he claps me on the shoulder and turns to head back to his new companion. Then he half turns back and adds, “Don’t wait up! I’ll see yiu at the office tomorr’.”

I nod and turn back to the card before the duo are even into the street.

***

“So?” I ask when Screwhammer kicks open the office door in the morning, looking fresh as last Wainsday’s ale. “You get in?”

Regus Screwhammer shakes his head. I’m about to press him over it, when he gives me the biggest shit-eating grin: “Ah, no. No, we den’t. But Lordy it was good!”

“Tell, tell,” I adds. Screwhammer’s bender stories is always delish.

“Well,” he says:

We left the Horse Trough when ye saw, and we stuck on down to the Mission District, ey an’ me. I’m anxious as never—yiu know me, I den’t get anxious. Ey says “Little man, if you are nervous, you can go back to your little dingy joint. It will not bother me.”

So I quirks an eye at em and grins shark-like an’ sez “Noo, I’ll be comin’ with yiu I thinks. Yiu’ve got an air about ye.”

“Do I?” ey looks bored and astonished.

“Aye. Yiu look all hoity but ye know how to find fun. I can tell that.”

At that, the elf snorts the most dainty snort I ever ‘eard. Which makes me give em a sly sidelong look which ey matches and then we starts laughing, rocking on our feet as we moves down the street.

Which is why we don’t quite see the Pickies move out from where they was leanin’ on a wall, least until they circled us up.

“Screwhammer,” the Boldest sez. “We doon’ wan’ yoo. Jess step ooway froom the eelf an’ we’ll leeve yeh be.” E’s got a nervous edge to ‘im.

I laughs at that. “Oh, I den’t think so, gents—“

“—Hey!” one of them interjects.

“—an’ ladies. Laddies an’ ladies. Heh. See, the elf ‘ere is me Drinking Buddy. An’ I den’t quit me Drinking Buddies, sure, not in a scrape.”

“Oh, you are adorable, Little Man,” the elf says, a wry smile on eir lips.

“Shut it, Elf,” I sez back. “It’s the rules. Safety first, ye know.” At which ey laughs out loud.

But the Bold Pickie ent happy: “Screwhammer, Ahm serioos. Ditch the eelf an’ yoo’l ‘ave noo haarm.” I ken see ‘im shifting ‘is grip on ‘is cudgel like ‘e worried.

“An’ if I don’t?” I sez.

“Weell, if so, I aant responsible.” And ‘e grins sharkteeth, but there’s a fierce fear behind it. E’s about to step up, and there’s a dainty hand on me shoulder, and the elf whispers “It’s okay, Little Man. Let them. They’ll learn a little lesson.”

I looks at em and I sees ey’s sincere. So I sighs and frowns, but I steps back a bit. ‘Course, as the Pickies swarm in, I can’t resist sticking out a foot and tripping one. Does me liver good to see ‘im tumble face down in the dirt!

Well, now the Pickies close in on the elf, wary but predatorial, and I’m casual but ready to spring in. We’re all about for a surprise.

When the Bold Pickie raises his cudgel to strike, the elf becomes a whirlygig of motion, eir scarves and skirts and cloths streaming about em as ey dances and flits amongst eir foes. Pickie after Pickie takes a swing and connects with air only, their target no longer there. Jerem, yiu shoulda seen it! A thing of glorious beauty, was it. Ey moved almost slowly like, and not a one could touch em. Weaving amongst the Pickies, and eir blows were like gentle touches, but the Pickies, they crumble anyway, till finally, eir dance done, the elf lowers eir arms. All about em is the prone bodies of the gang. Not a one moving. Not a one awake.

So I walks over, nodding approval. The elf looks unperturbed. For good measure, I gives the stiff I tripped a good kick in the eggs, and when the elf quirks an eyebrow I shrugs: “E were about to get up an’ go at ye again, that one were. I saved ye.”

At which ey laughs, high and sparkling, and I ent no poet, but it’s like the greatest mead I ever had, that sound.

“So,” I ask Screwhammer, “You went to the Appleplum after that?”

“Oh, nae. We jest went back to the elf’s lodging and screwd like little rats,” he says, and starts laughing. 

It was the oddest sight to behold. Screwhammer has this expression on him that is like nothing I ever seen him do. It ent until he adjusts his britches with a happy sigh and says “I’m seein’ em again tonight. Maybe we’ll try an’ get in there this time,” that I realized what it is: he’s in love.

“You’ll tell the Regular Crew, won’t you,” he adds. Then he picks up the Job-Finding Bodkin, hefts it between his fingers, and eyes the Client Wheel. “All right, Jerem. Give ‘er a spin. Time for a new customer.”

 


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Uncategorized

Butterfingers?

Althea, out of the blue, this morning: “I want butter on my toes!”
Me: ??
Me: “What? You want to put butter on your toes?”
Althea: “Yeah! Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”

There was no explanatory context. No one had recently had toast, nor had we talked about it, nor was she pretending she had toast.

Originally posted on my personal Facebook account on November 1, 2016.

Uncategorized

Hektor, Seeing (Audio)

I’ve been practicing reading my work—a misleading term because I feel it’s more like performing, almost acting. No, it is performing. Even though it isn’t acting. Maybe live voice acting, or something close. I actually have a lot to say on the subject, but I’ll save that for another post. (Tl;dr: simply reading is boring; adding gravitas to words produces “poet voice,” which is silly; you need to express—act—the emotions of the work.)(Tl;dr the tl;dr: feel the emotions in your body, let them out in your voice.)

Instead, right now I’m just going to share a quick practice recording that I did for a friend. It needs work (e.g., on the plosives), but it isn’t half bad. In fact, I daresay it’s a damn sight better than most of what you’ll encounter at poetry readings across the anglophone world. (Just to be clear, I’m not talking about content—amazing poems can be read poorly, and poor poems can be read really well. I’m talking only about how the content is presented vocally.)

Here it is.

Poetry, Uncategorized

The Moth

The Moth

A moth, I flutter
                ‘bout thee, flame.
I am silent. I pantomime my desire.
For thee, bright delirious fire, I pine.
In thee myself I find
Mute, dancing,
An inaccuracy in motion,
                      sketched,
A charcoal glimmer of
   light reflected;
       seething,
            wanting,
          aching, afraid.

     I burn, love:
                   thou hast burnt me.


© 1999 David Clark

Comments: I wrote this poem sometime in 1998 or 1999 for a girl I was in love with. I gave it to her as a Valentine’s Day gift, I think, hoping it would be sweet and romantic. I’m not sure what she really thought of it, but in retrospect a year later, I realized that the piece was far more expressive of our actual relationship than I had wanted to recognize at writing.

Originally, as now, the thirteenth line read “aching, afraid.” Years later, I showed the poem to my M.F.A. thesis advisor, Kate Knapp Johnson (who is fantastic, by the way), and she suggested removing that one first word. I think I see her point—it may border on the cliché, perhaps, and “seething” and “wanting” are possibly enough—but I keep going back and forth between the two possibilities. There is a very nice rhythm set up by “seething, wanting, aching,” with three trochees (BAH buh BAH buh BAH buh), which is then broken by the iamb of “afraid” (buh BAH); the same pattern and pattern destruction are echoed in sense, as well, since the first three words are all more positive, and describe an attraction, a desire, while the fourth is more negative, and indicates a repulsive force. This sort of build and shift places a whole lot of weight on that one, final word.

At a talk once, the late, great Thomas Lux, discussing lists, emphasized the importance of getting each term, and especially the last one, right. Done well, a good list packs efficient, powerful punch. He was, at the time, I thought, talking mostly about choosing words in terms of how their meaning plays together, but clearly meaning isn’t the only thing you need to consider; something that Lux certainly knew and meant even though he didn’t explicitly spell it out for us. In that spirit, I think I might opt to keep “aching” in, at least for now.

This poem was first published in Small Press Collective (a student literary journal from Reed College) in 2000, I believe.

Nonfiction, Uncategorized

A Return

New year, new face, renewed self. Despite all the horrible news in the world, I am positive: already much good has also come out of the bad, with millions organizing and becoming active voices in their local, regional, national, international communities. That alone is inspiring, but on a more personal level, I am also coming alive and active in different ways. Looking forward to exploring that here! Stay tuned for a change of pace, and a change of space.

Fiction, Uncategorized

Mariana

We stood back fifty or so paces from the forest’s end, unsettled. We were used, by now, to the monolithic presence of trunks—wide as towers—the stunted, dark-dwelling shrubs/undergrowth. The phosphorescent moss. Even when we encountered ravines, crevasses, one could always make out the other side, dim glow-light at least. Here, though, there was none of that. Beyond the last few wall-like mammoths of living wood, for the first time in seven months, there was only unnerving blackness. No one wanted to go further. “Alright, break!” I called.

The others set down their packs, squatted or bounced, stretched their legs. Moved around.

“Thom, with me please,” I said. Our blond mop of a cartographer stepped up and uttered my favorite word: “Sir.”
I exhaled long, steadying myself. “Let’s have a look at this, see what it is, what we have to do about it.”
“Yessir.” A slight croak, covered by confidence, or feigned confidence.

We stepped forward, a heavy reluctance trailing around our ankles. The comforting pillars around us gave way to emptiness, and suddenly, after over 6 months of marching among primeval giants, we looked out into void.

We stood at the edge of the earth. Below and in front of us, the forest floor dropped off steeply and disappeared. Above us, the air was dark and still, and I could see the ancient timber sinews stretching out beyond our lamplight, patches of moss dimly visible along them. I could only assume that somewhere far above us, great branches arced out into the abyss to join with their twins on the other side—the twins I could not now make out. Hence it remained black, impenetrable beneath the leagues-distant canopy.

Yet when I looked at last out from my vantage point at the edge of the trees, it was not into mere darkness, no. I stared into something terrible and atavistic. A great, vibrating emptiness. There was nothing out there, nothing beyond the dim rim of our light. Our torchbeams reached/struck out into blank space, searching, searching—

I remember as a child shining my little dynamo torch into the night, hoping to see the beam trace its line into the dark. This was like that, save that where, as a boy, I caught hazy cloud-sketches of leaves, branches, here our little light was swallowed by infinite black. No object to reflect anything back to us. No trees, no other lip, and looking down, no bottom. Just, for a little distance, the earth on our own side sloping into emptiness.

By Thom’s calculations, rough as they were without stars, we were some 1600 leagues from our starting point, and theoretically nearing the other side, the end of our long trek. The mythical deep forest, through which we had moved these past months, and to which we had grown accustomed, had enveloped us, cocooned us. Shielded us. As we marched deeper, further from sunlit lands, the life that moved in the deep grew stranger. We grew used to the unusual, expected the unexpected. Now, though, that same primordial bastion of strange, unexpected life had just thrown up something unexpectedly unexpected. In the middle of the boundless forest, a strange place absent of vegetation, life.

Thom spoke up, a breathy whisper that barely carried, trailed off as if swallowed by the void: “It’s…”

I rocked my head in a small nod. One way or another, all the other gullies, cracks, and canyons we had faced had a way across, even if it meant going down through them. But here—here was an abyss with no boundaries.

No. That could not be. Somewhere on the other side of this monstrous null space, was land. Trees. And after that, Asia. There could not be, on our round planet, a crack in space leading to nowhere. An end to reality. There would be no end to our journey, until we reached Formosa.

Shivering, I shook off the despairing mantle and said to Thom, “Look. Nothing within reach of our light out there.”

Thom uttered, trance-like: “No.”

“Nor right, nor left. Only down.”

“Even that’s more tumble than trot, sir” he added, coming out of his stupor.

“Well. Let’s get back to the group.”

The others, of course, were disbelieving. I told them they could go look if they liked, and most of them did. They returned, sobered. I spoke up: “Now. What are our options? Thom, where are we, do you reckon?”

“Ah, by my calculations—rough, mind you, hard doing this with no stars—we’re maybe 1600 leagues from San Fran. Mostly west, a little south.”

“Alright, 1600 leagues and seven months west-southwest. Where does that leave us?”

“Well, if we’ve kept our bearings right, we’ll be nearing the other side, relatively speaking. Maybe another 400 to 450 till we reach Taihoku Prefecture. We’re four fifths of the way there. Still long, but…”

“So then another month and a half ahead of us.” Grumbles followed my estimate, though not from everyone.

“Except that there chasm got us blocked.” That was Pierce. Pessimist, but a good man in a scrape. Followed orders, too.

Jill Tomlin chimed in. “Well, yeah. Praps. But we ain’t tried to go around it yet. An’ it don’t take much down here to be dark as Satan’s arsehole. Could be there just ain’t no moss t’other side to light us up our way.”

“Could be. Could be we don’t know.” Jameson, always practical, stood up, brushing off his pants. “Way I see it, we test first before giving up. Find out if there is another side we can reach easy from here. If not, we find out if we can go around.”

“Sure,” I said. “Good thought. So here’s what we’ll do.”

———
“On my mark,” I said. Jameson held the flare rifle to his shoulder, waited. The others stood nearby, a few paces back from the abyss. “Fire!” I shouted, and Jameson’s flare raced out into the dark, a gleaming bead. We traced it as it flew, arcing up over nothing and then slowly down, down, down, down. No sound as its light fell away.

Everyone was silent, taking it in. “Thom?” I asked.

After a few seconds, he replied. “300 meters out. Nothing. Too far anyway for our ropes.”

“And down?”

“You see it. Just keeps going, getting smaller. Like a little star.”

“Yeah, a little star swallowed by the empty ether.” Pierce sounded grumpy. “All this work, we have to turn back.”

“Alright, now. We’re going to split up. Jill, Thom, Pierce, you’re with me. Jameson, you’ve got the rest. We’ll go north, you go south. Travel light, leave our main packs here. Take only the minimal supplies and tools. Try to get as far as you can in half a day, following the rim, then stop, turn back and meet here. Red flag I’ll nail to the tree to mark the location. Let’s go.”
———
Some four leagues later, we halted not far from a small outcropping that jutted/stuck into the abyss. We had kept just inside the line of trees during our march, and the deep, unsettling blackness of that endless dropoff had faded to an uneasying hum. Stepping out from behind their shield, the vast alien emptiness of it poured onto us, threatened again to drown us, sweep us away. There was nothing beyond the rim of the abyss, a great nothing that rested here in this secret part of the world like a monstrous, lurking predator. Hiding behind the trees, we had dimly felt its presence, but coming out to the edge was as if it had suddenly turned its gaze on us and was hungrily preparing to pounce. It was too big, too vast to exist, and yet it did. It was the incongruence one wants to ignore, but that is too real, cannot be pushed under the carpet.

We stood in silence. Shining our torches further north, we saw only continuation. And beyond, the dim glow of tree-moss diminishing into the near distance and the dark. Jill was the first to speak. As always, it was poetical. “By zounds I done seen enough o’ this void. It ain’t ne’er gonna end. Long’r than God’s cock it is.”

I nodded. “We”ll turn back here, then. We’ll place a marker, first, though. Thom.”

Thom stepped, fumbled in his pack, pulled out a folding spiked rod and unfolded it, attached a small version of our expedition’s flag to it, and jammed it hard into the soil. The banner picked up and fluttered nicely in the fair constant wind that poured through this abyss.

We left the marker and the remains of the boar jerky remonte-esprit we consumed on that outcropping, and turned back toward the place where we first met the abyss.
———
Jameson stepped forward, wiped grime and sweat from his forehead. “Took you long enough, sir.”

“We stopped for tea on the way.”

He chuckled at my reply. “What’d y’see?”

“Just keeps going north. No way of knowing how far, nor if it’s getting any narrower.”

“Or wider,” added Thom.

“Or wider,” I confirmed. Jill rolled her eyes and said “Not like that’d be useful fer us to track.”

“What did your team find, Jameson?”

“A stair.”
———
It wasn’t a stair. Not exactly, not as we knew it. Not hewn (rough or smooth), not built—more a vague jumble of boulders and earth. But it would do. No way north, no way south, no way across, and too far out to turn back now. I turned up my lamp, looked back at the crew, and stepped down onto the first monolithic step.


Notes

This story was a response to the writing prompt “Overnight, the world’s oceans have been replaced by vast forests inhabited by strange creatures. You are on an expedition to find a lost ship in what used to be the middle of the Atlantic“.

In retrospect, I think starting at the lip of the Trench means that I sacrifice the potential buildup of atmosphere that would come from describing a long trek through dark, ancient forest, and thus the emotional surprise of removing the claustrophobic insulation of the trees all of a sudden. Instead, I end up focusing more on the act of exploring, the decisions made in the face of such a radical departure. I’m not sure if it’s as interesting, in the end. Certainly not as dramatic.

I also toyed with the idea of ending on evidence of some strange civilization (i.e., the stairs are actually carved or built, and clearly not of human proportions, and the team decides to descend all the same).