Welcome to the bookshelf.
One end of the studio was home to all manner of illustration and design. Now, as you turn around, you find a realm of ink and paper. A realm of the written.
Before you and atop an ancient wooden desk, sits an old typewriter, its multicoloured lights still blinking, an unfinished document held in its carriage like a lapping tongue.
Surrounding it, papers and notes, a great pile of them taking any space not reserved by supplies and machinery.
Above the desk, sits a wide bookshelf of multicoloured volunes, each one no doubt home to a world unto itself.
Intrigued, you begin reading them.
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#4 - The Almond Field
I wrote this story nearly a year ago and revised it a few months ago, and I just dug it out again, so I've decided to post it here. Enjoy!
On that fateful day, I woke in a room without windows, to a song without sound. Silently it hummed in my head, phantom beats stirring me from sleep, until I drowsily propped myself upright, upon which it fell truly and finally mute.
I found a harsh fluorescent light glaring down at me from a beige popcorn ceiling. Where the music once occupied my ears, the rectangular fixture now emitted a constant hum-buzz. Awash with unnatural, orange-white light, the walls bore that same shade of beige, though alongside a faded floral wallpaper one would have found in a late-twentieth-century house.
I pulled myself from bed, set my bare feet against the rough carpet, observed my surroundings.
No windows. Nothing at all, save for the four walls around me and the ceiling above with that uncanny fluorescence, not even a bed stand.
Did I check all four walls, though? When I looked again, there it was, a door just adjacent to my bed.
Inside was a washroom, all porcelain tile and beige walls, if rather creeping with mildew at the edges. There I stripped off my garments and showered.
The water smelled of sweet almonds.
When I returned to the bedroom, a hallway sat opposite the washroom, with something of a natural blue light reflecting against its end.
I stared, then shook my head. I recall the sight baffling me to no end.
I remembered there being a wall where the hallway was. I remembered…
I remembered nothing, no sense of before, as if all that occupied the hard drive of my memory had begun when I had woken up.
Not without apprehension, I trudged towards and through the hallway. At its end was another room, this time with no fluorescent lighting.
It had windows on all sides. All four sides. When I turned back, the hallway was gone, the pathway to the bedroom sealed.
I peered out one of the windows. A soft blue light filtered in, an early morning glow, a lonely essence of dim day. Beneath it an endless, flat expanse of dull green grass stretched to the horizon on all sides. A cloudless sky lay above the grass, a shade of blue of which something seemed ever so slightly wrong…
A knock on the door. Where did the door come from? Wasn’t there once a window there? Rap, rap, rap, it sounded nonetheless, three thumps in quick succession, and then silence.
In that moment, my heartbeat rose to my throat. Backed firmly against the wall, I breathed deeply to calm myself. It had all been so silent; I could hear my own limbs moving, a sound like grinding wood. And then the knocking, so jarring, so… alluring? I suddenly found myself with an overwhelming curiosity. What could disturb me here? What was here? Perhaps I could find another person out in the field, and find out what it was all about.
A pair of shoes waited for me by the doorstep. I slipped them on, and opened the entrance to my fate.
The air outside was neither cold nor warm, and smelled faintly of clipped grass. The slightest breeze blew by, carrying with it the scent of sweet almonds. There it was again, almonds, beneath the morning dew. Was it morning? This place felt like morning to me, but I could see no sun by the horizon, no sun in the sky, only a diffuse silvery-blue light everywhere.
I did not know how much time passed as I wandered. Wherever I was, it didn’t care to provide me with a watch or phone. The field truly did seem to stretch forever, that infinite expanse of Astroturf-like lawn and almond breeze. How the loneliness struck me, then! Not a single thing stirred here, no human or creature, no living thing. My heart ached, desperately, to find something, to see even the slightest change in the landscape. Still, nothing came.
“Good lord,” I exclaimed after some time. And that did the trick. I was religious, after all.
Memory began to flood back into my mind, a forest stream gorged by spring rains. Memory… of… a small town huddled against the Seine, and deep within the rolling verdant hills of France.
I was a photographer. That was it, a photographer who preferred the obsolete medium of film, who wandered the big city’s bidonville to capture the haunted corridors of abandoned buildings onto thirty-five-millimeter, and make a decent profit selling my prints to complement my accounting career. And one day, I had traveled down the wrong corridor…
A noise pulled me from my thoughts. It was a rustling at first, something stalking along the grass, and then it became the most awful grinding noise, steel fork against porcelain plate, sandpaper against flesh, bone against concrete. It was pain and terror and everything in between. I cowered at first, covering my ears by instinct, then I turned back and looked.
What I saw in the far distance could not be described as a creature. A biologist would, given the unlikely opportunity to study the thing, not classify it as a living thing in the slightest. An “entity” would far better befit its nature.
The entity consisted of a bundle of cables, twisted and knotted into a collection of spindly limbs stretching about eight feet high. Beneath the haunting blue light, its coloration approximated that of burnt flesh, a dark, glistening maroon that pulsed unnaturally along its length. At first glance it might have resembled a man with its upright posture, and upon being noticed by me, it paused long enough for this resemblance to settle, only to once again break it by lumbering into motion. It pulled itself along the grass as no Earthly being would. It tumbled and rattled, and where the grinding and creaking had halted before, it began again.
The entity ran towards me. It chased me.
I ran. I ran as I never had, driven by my basest animal instincts. My lungs burned and my legs grew numb, but still I ran. I needed not look back, for the entity’s harsh scraping always followed me at close distance.
It was there, all of a sudden. Another house, just like the one I’d left. Hell, it might even be my own.
Salvation. Oh, thank God, salvation!
The entity began moving faster. I could feel it. But the house drew closer, too. All I needed was to reach that stalwart frame of wood and brick. Closer, closer, closer to the house, closer to the entity. My vision darkened at the edges. My breath grew faint and ragged. My heartbeat drummed a heavy chorus of fear.
I reached the door. I grasped its knobby handle, twisted, and… it was locked. I rattled it, pulled it as hard as I could, but it did not budge. With all my might, I kicked the door, but still it gave no ground. In a last act of polite desperation, I knocked it, rapped it with raw knuckles, three thumps in quick succession. The entity could not be more than ten meters from me now. Panic pierced my chest coldly, a long, sharp icicle of January blizzards. Grinding, creaking, scraping, it was all so loud, so unbearably loud…
How foolish I had been to run, to save myself.
I am free now. That entity gifted me, though through a metamorphosis of inhuman pain, a beautiful and strong frame. My frail human limbs, I have exchanged for great appendages of cognitive condensate, and my weak mind has been transformed into an exquisite construct of flawless thought. No longer do I fear entities, for I am one now. And I am free… free to explore this realm of the forgotten, this realm beneath the reality I once called home. Ever my wanderlust yearns for new fields to explore, new corridors and new tunnels, and should I ever stumble upon a human I will be sure to pass on to it my gift.
It is only my duty.
The music sings on.
#3 - Dorian Gray fanfic, part one
After reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, I began thinking of the ramifications of being able to make people immortal by painting them. If this process could be reproduced and done on a large scale, what would happen to the world? As the original Dorian Gray takes place in the 1890s, how would such a drastic new discovery change the events of an ever-changing, increasingly industrialized world? This is not your usual fanfic. This is one that explores the devastating toll that painting-based immortality takes on human civilization, and follows the journey of Sibyl Vane——long thought dead by everyone that knew her in the original book——who lives on thanks to the immortality she stole from Dorian Gray by murdering him and staging his suicide. Oh, and I actually wrote this over a month ago, but I added a bit to it today, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to post it.
1889 - Astronomers across the world notice a new red star appearing in the sky. Using parallax calculations, they determine it to be approximately 1.2 light-years away.
1890 - Basil Hallward paints a portrait of Dorian Gray, unknowingly using lapis lazuli pigment containing traces of a mineral known as “soul powder.” This soul powder--normally inert like all examples of the mineral--has now been activated by the arrival of the red star. This causes Dorian to become immortal, with all damage to his body instead incurred to the painting.
The same year, Dorian rejects Sibyl Vane’s romantic advances, and plotting her revenge Sibyl fakes her suicide and disappears.
1908 - A hardened Sibyl returns from her exile in France and murders Dorian Gray, staging it as a suicide. In the process, she gains Dorian’s immortality and eternal youth, though this process remains poorly understood for the whole novel.
1909 - Sibyl returns to France and once again takes up her acting career, and quickly becomes a celebrity in the emerging motion picture industry.
1910 - Through newly built long-range telegraph/radio infrastructure, reports emerge from around the world of people who have seemingly become immortal
In March of 1910, a village is discovered in Afghanistan that is seemingly immortal. It turns out they have achieved this by creating crude paintings of themselves using soul powder as pigment, which they extracted from a lapis deposit below.
Shortly afterwards, an experimental Zeppelin airship is deemed perfect for an investigation mission through the mountains of Afghanistan and is deployed to collect lapis samples.
Through experimentation, within less than a year the rich and powerful discover that if their portraits are painted with soul powder, they will become ageless and all damage incurred to their bodies will be transferred to their paintings. Only when their paintings get destroyed do they receive this damage all at once. Top-secret painting storehouses are established.
1914 - By this point, fleets of airships from the great European powers are flying across the world, prospecting for lapis deposits containing soul powder. They are equipped with radiation counters to detect the signature radiation that the powder emits, and high-explosives to blow away surface biomass from the typically buried deposits. Demand for this resource is exploding, as it basically means immortality for anyone who can pay. At the same time, portrait artists are earning bank from “imprinting” people who wish to become immortal. Of course, the native inhabitants around the lapis lazuli deposits are driven out.
Photographs made from film emulsions containing soul powder also work to make subjects immortal, though the effect is both temporary and does not impart damage to the subject once the effect wears off.
Political tensions are rising in Europe, and on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to Emperor Franz Joseph, visits Sarajevo, capital of the recently annexed provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, he is assassinated, beginning World War 1.
Not only is World War 1 a political war in this timeline, it is also a resource war, as every nation is vying for control of soul powder extraction sites.
1920 - Six years in, the war rages on, now mainly over soul powder. Airships are a common sight both for military and commercial use, as they bomb cities, destroy u-boats, transport people and cargo, and extract soul powder. The entire world is at war, from North America to Europe to the Middle East to East Asia. Shit is getting real. In addition, super-soldiers are commonly deployed in war, getting their photos taken with soul powder-infused film before tearing through battlefields with no resistance.
By now, Sibyl Vane is the biggest silver screen star in France, and is very rich and influential. However, she is growing tired of acting for propaganda films, and people are starting to grow suspicious of her agelessness. Quietly, she disappears again.
One day, Sibyl is contacted by a mysterious airship captain, who wants her aboard his motley crew of sky sailors. When asked who he serves, the captain only replies that his crew works for the greater good. After learning of the existence of her brother’s grandchildren, and the danger they face in Frankfurt, Germany, Sibyl agrees, and she is welcomed aboard the privateer airship Coral Mirage.
The Mirage has been tasked by a mysterious organization with a secret mission in Germany. The Germans are developing what they believe to be an atomic weapon, and the Mirage needs to stop them before they bomb London.
Driven by her continued ties to her estranged family, a sense of duty, and a desire to not return to her acting career and remain hidden, Sibyl accepts the mission. With the Coral Mirage, she sets off on a grand adventure of spy drama, political intrigue, and airship action, in order to stop the Great War and save the world.
December 17, 1920
Sibyl Vane waited for the others to leave earshot, and leaned toward the barkeeper.
“The usual,” she said, smiling despite her tiredness.
The barkeeper raised an eyebrow at Sibyl, and then her eyes shot wide in disbelief. “Sibyl?” She quietly exclaimed, warily looking from side to side. “I almost didn’t recognize you without makeup! Aren’t you supposed to be at the studio for that new propaganda film?”
Sibyl shook her head. “Nope. I quit. Bilked them out of their paycheck. Who were they to use my face for their political messages? It didn’t sit right with me. I needed the moral release,” she explained, taking her drink.
When she looked back up, that expression of disbelief had not left the barkeeper’s face.
Sibyl only laughed. “Grass is always greener on the other side, hmm? And treason be damned, the French government warehouses are chock full of war films—enough to last until we all kill each other.” She raised her glass. “So what do you say, then, ‘keep? To the Great War.”
The barkeeper rolled her eyes, and clinked a bottle of cold beer against Sibyl’s glass. “To the Great War.”
The two of them downed their drinks.
Sibyl stared down at her glass as the barkeeper left, stared at that solemnly bare base. In the hushed ambiance beneath the bar’s dim light bulbs, the reflection staring back at her seemed to shimmer, ripple. Change. Was it only her imagination, or did that face become someone else? In a moment she was looking at an ethereal image of Dorian Gray, sprawled dead on the floor of his attic, the scene made by Sibyl’s hand to resemble a suicide. She shuddered and tore her eyes away.
I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve any of it——the fame, the fortune, the eternal youth.
Where to, from here? She could never appear in full to the public again, and that realization brought a wave of unwanted melancholy. Oh, despite it all, how she had enjoyed the silver screen, when it had begun all those years ago. There, at least, she could be someone new every day, Charlie Chaplin’s girl on Monday, moon maiden on Tuesday, trench man’s mistress on Wednesday. Behind the winding film, it all carried a charm grander than any Shakespearean play. She would miss it. She would mourn it.
And then what? Perhaps she could leave Paris and return to London, but what could she return to? Her mother and brother were certainly dead, both, and in the midst of war the city had become anything but pleasant. Better the image of those grand Victorian monuments remain in her memory, then for her to face the crumbling reality and have her imagination tainted.
She ordered another drink, and considered traveling the world. That could certainly help her leave Dorian behind. But while the grand national parks of America, the lush jungles of Africa, and majestic mountains of Persia were all beautiful by themselves, the people there no doubt would mar the experience. These days, she thought, everybody was at everybody else’s throats. And already many were at hers. It occurred to her to look around the bar, and make sure she was safe.
It was then that she noticed a cloaked man at the corner of the room, all tousled hair and grizzled beard and hunched in a chair too small for his form. He was looking at her, had no doubt been looking at her for some time.
Another crazed fanatic? No, that look was deliberate, sober, somber. And one of the man’s eyes, as he turned to sip his beer, was hidden behind an eyepatch.
Oh, what the hell. She stood up, found her footing disconcertingly unsteady, and slowly walked to join that strange figure.
“Want a signature?” She said, settling down to face the man. She found her drink gone again, her hand clutching an empty glass.
“Nah.” His voice sounded exactly as Sibyl expected it would; gruff and condescending. “I never really got films. Why just watch adventure, when you could have it for yourself?”
Sibyl rubbed her temple. A gentle headache had begun to spread there, from the alcohol or otherwise. She didn’t care. She found herself smiling. “Ah, a thrill seeker, are you? I know that accent; I bet you volunteered for the British forces right when the War began, and when things started getting bad you deserted and came to France. I’ve seen your type, telling the grandest stories while doing the least fighting. How’d you recognize me?”
The man shrugged. “I got the news. France’s biggest movie star quits the industry. It’ll be all over the headlines tomorrow, I bet. ‘Course, these people—” he gestured around the bar “—have no clue yet, but when your whereabouts hit the broadsheets it’ll be all they talk about.”
Sybil squinted at him. “How do you know? You a German spy? You an Imprinted immortal? Trying to get me to work for the Kaiser? If there’s one thing I like even less than working for my own country’s war effort, it’s working for another’s.”
“This isn’t your country. But ya don’t consider Britain your home anymore, do you?”
A barmaid passed by their table. Sibyl waved her over, and ordered a half-pint of beer. At length she drank from it, savoring the bitter flavour. She set it down loudly and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Manners be damned, she was no longer an actress, and she would never be again.
The eye-patch man stared down at her with… unease? He crossed his arms, as though waiting for her to say something.
“What do you want,” Sibyl said, “Captain Blackbeard? Money? Recognition? Companionship? I’m sure we could work something out, you and I.”
“Captain Blackbeard. That’s endearing. No, I don’t want none of that. I want your help.” The man took a photograph from his coat pocket. On it, was what seemed to be an ordinary cargo airship, though its long gas envelope and fins bore no mark of nationality or corporation. “My name is Usal Murray, and I’m captain of the independent airship Coral Mirage. We’re privateers, all of us, privateers from all across the world, and we could use someone with your skills.” He held out his hand. “Well?
Sibyl chuckled. Then that grew into a hearty laugh, until she could no longer contain herself. She only stopped when her chest began to hurt.
He’s insane. I’m insane. Good god, everyone these days is——
“Your brother has grandchildren,” Usal said. “And if you don’t help us, they’ll be in danger.”
Sibyl froze. Suddenly the past rushed back to her in a great wave, and she bit back a curse.
“James Vane died drunk in the forest,” she muttered, eyeing the door. The rain outside pattered like artillery against the glass, a barrage of heavy droplets falling from the cerulean silver sky, falling like dying Europe, falling like fractured America, falling like ravaged Asia. She felt as though it were slowly washing her away, too.
“Yes. They tend to do that, when seeking vengeance for a sister they thought dead. According to the records he sired an illegitimate daughter, though he never knew of her. She and her children live in Frankfurt, Germany now. Ya want to help them escape conscription, or do you want to be a former movie star, forever?”
#2 - Ghosts, part one
This one was inspired by a conversation about what my friends and I would do with our bodies when (or if) we die.
On the far outskirts of London, England, lay a small cemetery. It was a cemetery much like any other, and when dim and dreary days came it often found itself home to many mourning wanderers. Most were of the living.
Perhaps of most note, beyond crumbling tombs and twisted gargoyles, beyond blooming daisies and creeping vines, was the willow tree that stretched proudly from the heart of the cemetery. Its trunk stood tall and stalwart, and on hot summer days, its long branches trailed roping leaves that cast cool shade onto the cemetery’s living visitors. On those days, it was home to trilling birdsong and the shrill cries of adventurous children.
When wintertime saw its leaves lay bare, however, it was home to something much more alien, much deeper within. Through flannel and fleece and woolen mittens, some claimed it spoke to them. Nonetheless, among the living, most dismissed those silent whispers, regardless of what truly lay beneath its weathered bark.
It was among the dead that the willow tree’s true nature hinted itself to the world. And it was during the reign of Queen Victoria, that the ghost of a sickly youth befriended the willow tree. Never would they leave the tree’s side, and ever did the other ghosts and spirits watch them converse in soft tones to its wavering branches.
For a time, the tree and the ghost were happy. Even when the world began to change, even when factory smoke choked the skies and aeroplanes pierced the clouds, in each other they had found refuge beyond the veil of death. For the willow tree had once been alive, too, had loved and hoped and laughed and cried, and still from times of empires and conquests did it carry aging memories of a past life.
Then, the veil of death began to fall. Outside the cemetery lay a world in whole, and the machines its people built had at once become ever grander and finer, until they crept toward the powers within the living mind, and even beyond.
Somewhere beneath the ancient metropolis of Manchester, was a laboratory. Were the laboratory a place of honor and purity, it would have sat above the ground, but the people that worked it held ambitions that would horror even gods. With funds from a man of abhorrent wealth, they captured an untimely dying man from his bed and took his very soul from his skull and spine, whereupon they trapped it in a vessel of steel and silicon. And as he woke, screaming with no mouth, they cheered in glee.
Yet even by the night, the laboratory workers had not realized their mistake. And when they did, their ghost-machine had escaped to the surface, lumbering along makeshift pneumatic limbs. The machine that had once been a man ran, ran southward for days until his batteries ran dry, and in the end he collapsed under a towering willow tree surrounded by crumbling headstones.
As it slept, the Victorian ghost watched. And as the Victorian ghost roused the willow tree from slumber, the two realized the machine man heralded the coming of a new age.
The world was changing, and they could no longer ignore it.
On the outskirts of London, England, were many wanderers. Not the ones who came to revere the dead, but the ones who could not find home anywhere else. In makeshift and mobile homes they lived, for the land of this land had come to be held in the hands of the scarce few, who drove its cost beyond the reach of most common people.
That is not to say these lost wanderers did not revere the dead. One wanderer in particular, who lived within his grandfather’s camper van, could see ghosts. It should be known that only the mad may see ghosts, and so outcast from the other wanderers, he often found companionship among the dead.
When he was not working, he visited many cemeteries. And one day he came upon a small cemetery, smaller than most, which sat under the shade of a grand willow tree.
What he found under the tree… Well, here begins the story of ghosts in an age of machines.
“Over there,” the man said, pointing ahead. “Looks like someone threw out a perfectly good robot.”
His companion pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Really? This again, Scott?”
“No, I’m serious this time, Mabel. Dead serious.”
Slowly, Scott approached the pile of metal beneath the willow tree. Though a few dim lights still shone across its body, it lay motionless, asleep, almost dead save for the weak impulses still leaping through its printed silicon brain.
Scott knelt by the robot’s side, and carefully rested his hand on its dirtied casing. There was something of a reverent air about it, and as he revered the dead, so too did he the robot. Somehow.
“Well, lad, you look brand new,” he said, searching it for a serial number. “Shame they tossed you out like that.”
Something moved in the corner of Scott’s eye. Something ethereal, ephemeral, like rippling white cloth. When he turned to look, however, he saw nothing, only Mabel further away with her crossed arms.
“Leave it, Scott. We’re running out of time.”
“One moment,” Scott said, both to the robot and to Mabel. “I’ll be right back. Ah, you’ll like this.”
To be continued... Maybe.
#1 - Relic of the twenty-first century
Alright, here's my first piece of writing for this website. The idea for this came from a conversation with a friend about what kind of house we'd like to have in the far future.
I may be one of the lucky ones. If we finally slay the dragon of aging within my lifetime, and I get to partake in its spoils, I'll live for a long time yet. And when the years stretch into decades, and the decades stretch into centuries, I'll find myself on a desert world light years away, living somewhere quiet beyond the bustle of urban civilization. Among alien shrubs and extrasolar cacti, my home will be a small hut with a crackling fireplace to read and write by, and a soft Persian rug to rest my feet on and remind me of home. With a warm drink in my hand, I'll watch the infinite vistas of outer space stretch into the darkness outside my window, the Milky Way arch over the clear night sky. And when I grow tired of the view (which, perhaps, I never will), I'll have a clunky radio which I sometimes use to tune into galactic broadcasts, and an ancient CRT television to catch up on dramas, and maybe even guest accommodations for the occasional wanderers that pass by my place. Most of the time, however, I will craft grand stories and paint elaborate artwork to share on my interstellar blog. All these years, and my passion for creating art from imagination has never waned. And sometimes I will play Minecraft.
Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'm not all I seem to be; maybe I'll live a double life. Sometimes I'm a simple artist and writer, and sometimes I'll open the floorboards and flip a switch, and the hill just outside my home——which is in reality an elaborate hologram——will flicker away, revealing a massive rocket silo. Within, sits a modified space freighter bristling with radiators and weapons. I'll climb in the cockpit, feel that familiar adrenaline rush as the pulse-fusion engines rumble to life beneath me, and blast off into outer space, where I'll travel the stars and journal and photograph everything I see and do, venturing into the very fringes of the wormhole network that connects civilized space, prowling the streets of neon city space stations for black market jobs. And when I come home and write all too realistic adventure stories in my blog, my fans will wonder how, just how I know the exact process of smuggling Pleiadan Spaceleaf across the interstellar border guard.
Wherever I go, whatever identity I take, I’ll lead a humble life most of the time, but I’ll have seen far more than any mortal. And when adventure calls, I’ll answer in stride, with a trusty starship under my command, and sometimes a motley crew of outcasts. Most of the time, I’ll admire the stars from afar. But always, I’ll know the stars are mine, and I need only look under the floorboards for adventure. And sometimes, when the myriad broadcasts beaming across spacetime grow quiet enough, I’ll turn on my CRT tv, and tune to a hyperspace channel countless light years away. Though the signal is weak and laden with static, I recognize the late night show host right away and chuckle at their jokes. They were one of my oldest friends, from high school back on Earth. Out paths had crossed, once, and in these times those paths still grow close like parallel lines, but I know even the wormhole gates cannot bridge the space that the years have driven between us. I recall the others, the ones I met along the way, the ones who took the anti-aging treatments. Some rose to greatness, some faded into obscurity, and some became like us, made mellowed and modest by the centuries. Most of us have grown far, far apart by now, leading vastly different lives, but we all share one thing. We are all relics of the twenty-first century. We all survived a century of change and turmoil, and we all live on in the flourishing human civilization we saved long ago.