August 10, 2020, 08:51:43 AM

Author Topic: [JUL 2020] - Old Man's Tale - Submission Thread  (Read 284 times)

Online ScarletBea

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[JUL 2020] - Old Man's Tale - Submission Thread
« on: July 04, 2020, 09:22:50 PM »
JULY: An Old Man's Tale


An old man's tale... told in the small hours in a forgotten tavern, on the death bed or to the shining eyes of a child. Filled with unbelievable stories, wars or regret. Told by an old woman because why not? "Old man's tale" is just a catchy phrase, told, or sung or cried or thought. Listen to them, they might be wise or foolish but you'll learn something in any case.

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Offline Caith

Re: [JUL 2020] - Old Man's Tale - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2020, 10:26:05 AM »
The Emperor's Merit

Spoiler for Hiden:
This is how it happened. It could have gone another way. The militia men might have drunk themselves insensible and the night would have drifted to an end. They could have kept their original good humour, buoyed on rough wine and cheap brandy. But that night, just when it could have gone another way, Oldjon came to Tumey's tavern.

The militia men's blood was up, that much was clear. Chasing down reavers, unsuccessfully, for day on long day. Blood had been spilled. Lives lost. All on their ledger, none on the reavers. The village folk, who were paying good coin for the militia; room, board and drink, were, by turns, surly, ill-tempered and angry. Tumey excepted. 
Oldjon, himself perennially surly, ill-tempered and angry, was ever a ready feature in Tumey's. For reasons never ventured, Tumey seemed altogether content with a patron who oft scared away more business than he garnered. Likewise, the issue that Oldjon never passed coin for his drink. Ever.

So this is how it happened. As Oldjon shouldered through the crowd, the captain of the militia blocked his way. Kicking out a stool, he lifted his booted feet to rest on it, his legs becoming a barrier between Oldjon and his destination. Why did the captain do it?  Drunken mischief? The need to pick a fight he could win? It doesn't matter. Only that he did it, matters.

“Tell us a tale, old man,” the captain roared. “Entertain me and my men. For you have the look of a man who knows a tale or two.” The captain spread his arms wide, as if passing a blessing on his words, on the crowd, on the tavern.

“And should I refuse?” Oldjon answered.

“Why, there will be consequences,” the captain said. He tipped his tankard at Oldjon, peering at him over its rim. “Significant and serious consequences.”

The common room grew quieter now, intent on where this happen-stance might lead. “Indeed?” Oldjon said.

 The room grew quieter still. This was an unexpected retort, from a man who never hesitated to use a curse when a civil word would suffice.  Aside from supping  drink, whatever else the body of the tavern were doing now became less important than the captain and Oldjon, who motioned to Tumey to fetch him ale.

“If it pleases my captain?” Oldjon asked, gesturing to the stool where rested the captain's feet.

With a flourish of his hand and a smile, the captain swung his legs clear and bade Oldjon sit. The pot boy scurried over with Oldjon's pint mug, as he settled himself. And from it,  he drank deep, his swallows and the crackle of the fire now the only sounds to be heard.

“I am an orphan,” Oldjon began. Whispers chased each other round the room at this announcement This was more of his life than Oldjon had saw fit to reveal in years. Much would be made of this, or so the gathered patrons thought.  By the end of the night it would be all but overlooked.  “As a child, I was passed from yon work house to this or that orphanage and back. Each one , the domain of pederasts and martinets. Until such time as I reached the halls of Master Andrei and there I stayed until I grew to manhood.”

The captain belched and guzzled more wine. “This is a shit tale, old man. I fear the consequences will be grievous.”

Oldjon's gaze on the captain betrayed nothing but when he continued, his voice held some warmth. “Behind his back, we called him the old man. To his face, he was always 'Master' or 'Master Andrei'.”

Now the next wonderment of that oft-recalled evening came. Oldjon, he smiled in a knowing way, that surprised those who looked upon him, for this was not the Oldjon they knew of long days.

“I remember,” Oldjon said, “I remember he smelled of pipe tobacco. There was ever the sharp taint of spirits on his breath. He was quick with a clout or a pull of your ear, if a bed wasn't made tidy or a pot wasn't washed clean. Care for the pot and it will care for you, he would say. Yet he would roar and clap at any game in the yard and he would see to skinned knees and tears after nightmares with equal and gentle measure.”

“Truly a prince among men,” the captain drawled.

“No prince, he,” Oldjon said. “Only a man worthy of respect.”

The captain waved this away. “Pray continue, before we die of old age.”

“A condition I doubt  will ever trouble you,” Oldjon replied.

Now there was silence. Now we knew. This evening would like as not come to an ill end. The captain shifted in his chair, making it creak under him. “Go on,” he bade Oldjon. “Spend your time wisely.”

“Then I would finish my tale.” Oldjon lifted his mug and drank once more. “One summer evening , Master Andrei and I, making our way home.  This on a bridleway and approaching us, a squadron of cavalry, all fine in polished leather and purple cloaks.” This brought some low comment from the room , for only the Legion of the Inquisition wear the purple and nought but fear follows them.

“I pulled at Master Andrei's sleeve and urged him to step off the way, lest we be struck down. He laughed and held me fast and winked at me. 'Not this day' he said, 'Watch. And pay heed.'

The captain of the horsemen sat stern on his mount and called for the way to clear. Master Andrei gave him a companionable nod and made no inclination in that direction. The captain then drew his sabre. 'As you wish,' he said to Master Andrei, who  fetched in his jacket for his pipe, and thus displayed to the captain of horse, an ornament that he forever kept pinned to his waistcoat lapel, an eight point star of gold with a stone of blood- red at its centre,  the sight of which had a singular effect on that captain, who sheathed  his sabre and bowed in his saddle. And thus it was that I stood on a bridleway in the evening sun, while to either side, a host of the Inquisition trotted past, their swords raised in salute.”

Oldjon supped at his ale, accompanied by a chorus of slurps, clatter of mugs, and whispered speech, for this was as eloquent as Oldjon had waxed in many a season. He wiped froth from his beard, then continued. “I asked Master Andrei. Cautious, mind. For I was feart for his wroth, for reasons I could not name. 'What is that you wear?'

He regarded the gold on his chest, as a man regards trouble of the most serious. 'It is the Emperor's Merit' he said. 'Those who bear it, carry with them ever the Emperor's thanks and blessing and pardon for all crimes, past, present and future.' He winked at me then and smiled. 'Or so he said when he pinned it on me'.

Made bold by curiosity, as only youth can be, I ventured further. 'Were you very brave, for the Emperor himself to give it you?'

 Trouble owned him once more. 'No lad. There are many baubles for brave acts. The Emperor's Merit is for those who do that which other men cannot or will not do.'

Though I near shook with fear, I asked him. 'What things, Master Andrei?'

He would not look at me then. 'Unspeakable things,' he said.”

Oldjon sat back. The room was hushed,  none spoke, save Oldjon himself, who took up his tale once more. His gaze fixed the militia captain. “I was spellbound by that gold star. It haunted my days and my nights. I was told the red stone at its centre was a drop of the Emperors own blood. Forever, I harboured the fervent wish that one day, Master Andrei might make a gift of it to me, so I worked hard and comported myself such as I thought would please him.”

Oldjon flicked his hand, to chase his own words away. “The idle fantasies of a young boy. Of course he never relinquished it. Not to me nor to any other living soul.”

 Now, Oldjon leaned forward over the table, slow and with dread purpose. His hand searched in his jerkin and fetched out some item, that he laid on the scarred tabletop, before the eyes of the militia captain. An eight pointed gold star set with a blood red stone.

“In due time, I grew to manhood and, in the service of the Emperor, I earned my own.” Oldjon sat back, his tale done. “Now, my captain,” he said, “Let us talk of consequences.”

1470 words
« Last Edit: July 07, 2020, 11:25:27 PM by Caith »

Offline Jake Baelish

Re: [JUL 2020] - Old Man's Tale - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2020, 08:26:40 AM »
Vagabonds and Miscreants

2000 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Two old men entered that night. The first, an ancient trunk of a man, strode across the room and parked himself in a shadowy corner. The second, younger, though still with decades on any other patron therein, plonked himself on a stool by the bar. Watching them were a handful of regulars, each with gazes fixed on the arrivals.

The latter man yanked down his hood, wiped rainwater from his nose. “A large one, fella.”

“And your friend?” the barkeep intoned.

The elderly gentleman twisted back, eyeing the man who’d preceded him. “Not so sure as I’d call him a friend. He won’t be having aught anyway, shouldn’t think.”

“Huh? If he won’t be drinking, he’ll have to go outside. We aren’t a charity.”

The old man shrugged.

“Sir!” the barkeep called, “Sir, I must—”

“Must what?” the latter man asked. “Ask him to leave?”

The barkeep straightened up. “As I said.”

“Wouldn’t ask that of him if I were you.”

“With respect, you aren’t the proprietor here.” His voice faltered though, something in the man’s look. “Why shouldn’t I?”

That haggard face twisted into a sneering grin. “Where’s my drink? I’m gonna tell you, but needs my whistle wetting afore.”

The barkeep took out a tankard and began filling it, widening that ugly grin. “This’d better be good,” he said, sliding and spilling some of the beer across the bar. “And after, you’d better be prepared to buy two more. For you and for him.”

The beer coursed down the old man’s throat in hefty gulps, some found its way down his straggly beard. He didn’t seem to mind. He slammed the vessel down already half drained. “You’ve no idea how good that feels. Now, where were I?

“Right! That man over there, name’s Vargan, he’s been about a long time. Longer than me by a long shot. And he’s faced some shit in that time, mark my word. What I’ll tell you is just a chip of it.

“Well, this one time, before some of you were born, I’d wager, he was travelling about with a boy; might’ve been his son, he never even knew himself. And they was travelling about and they was hungry. Hadn’t been able to find aught. Pretty dire, by his account. Well they happened across a malignity of goblins. A malignity, not sure they even use that word anymore. This was before the wars, see. But these was more pleasant times atween us folk. So he and his lad – twelve, perhaps, and Vargan over thrice that – approached as you do and asked if they could sit; share some of their scran.”

The choked sound of a man spewing beer broke the flow. “Sharing a meal with goblins?”

The storyteller nodded. “As you says. What? You think they ate human flesh? I know goblins do, but back then, they knew what’s good for them. No, they’d cooked up a stew of rabbit, squirrel and whatever else I s’pose they could find.

“Won’t pretend it was a pretty sight. Goblins has always been a grizzly lot. Three of them, there were. Two were just your ordinary, scrawny pot-bellied things, all loose limbs and flopping bits, leaving naught to imagination. Vargan didn’t give a toss, course. The third were something though: colossal it was, bigger than a tall man, though still barely taller than Vargan, and with the greatest gut you’ve ever seen.

“So there they were, stinking up the place with their odour and their cooking, when Vargan looms over and ‘asks’ if he and his lad can join them. He makes a show of clutching his Great Sword.

“Well, goblins weren’t about to refuse. They shared what they had and when finished requested something in return.”

The barkeep eyed the man in the corner.

“Big man refuses, naturally. Not his way of doing things, see. Hadn’t mentioned aught in return. The goblins raged, but what of it? He’d a Great Sword, after all.”

“That’s it?” the barkeep asked. “They just let him off?”

“Who says I was finished? He and his lad slept close by, and then, in the dead of night, when even Vargan is asleep to the world, they stole away with both the boy and the Great Sword.”

A man snorted at the end of the bar. “Should’ve killed him.”

“They should! As I said though, different times. Killing a man like Vargan would’ve been a good way to start trouble. He had a Great Sword; he was known. They knew that.

“They took the boy to their grotto and gots to discussing what to do with him and eventually the big one, Jabber his name was, grumbled about being hungry.

“ 'He’s right, Jeet,’ says another. ‘We ain’t eaten enough, this little one stole our supper!’

“ ‘What you wanna do, Jipp?’ says Jeet, the slightest one.

“ ‘The boy looks juicy, don’t he?’ Jipp snarls, salivating a bit too much.

“The boy, gagged and tied, shakes his head frantically. He wants to plead, course, but how can he? He sits amidst his captors in an alcove at the end of the grotto. Ahead is a small round hall, a single oak pillar supports the cracked ceiling above and looks like it’s seen better years; beyond that a narrow corridor was the only way out.

“Praise be to goblin stupidity. They get arguing about eating the boy, a thing then unheard of in ages. It’s while they are bickering that a shadow looms through that narrow passage, dark and grim. Vargan had come for his lad.

“Course, they’d left the sword out there in the hall. Jeet, the small one, makes a run for it but he’s no chance of lifting the thing, and Vargan is on it in a flash, anyway. So little Jeet runs back and the trio grab their puny cooking knives, much to the amusement of our friend over there. Then one of them sticks it against the boy’s throat, and that wipes the smile off his face.”

The patrons listened wide-eyed.   

“He lowers his weapon and says, ‘I won’t use this, if you leave the lad alone. And drop your knives.’

“ ‘You’ll crush us!’ Jeet snaps. Probably the smartest of the three, all told.

“ ‘You have the numbers,’ says Vargan.

“ ‘Kick your sword over here. And we’ll drop them’

“ ‘I’ll kick it to you,’ says Vargan, ‘if you’ll fight me one at a time.’

“That stumped them for a bit, but after short deliberation they dropped their knives; Vargan followed by sending his weapon skidding across the grotto. The boy, meanwhile, forgotten at the back, twitches and wriggles, working body, fingers and toes for one of those dropped blades.”

The old man took another great gulp of his beer, almost polishing it off. “Now, the fun begins.

“The two smaller ones slung big Jabber forward. The great oaf blundered, fists flailing.

“Vargan caught it with a hammer fist to that gelatinous gut and pounded the stunned brute with half dozen more.” The teller abruptly cough-laughed. “Jiggling the whole time, it was! Vargan beats it up against the cave wall, then drills it with a knee. That drops it. Last thing it tries, after crawling to its feet, is another charge. Vargan; and to this day I don’t know how he manages this; falls to a crouch, grabs its middle, and stands up. He flipped that thing up and over like a pancake. Jabber slammed so hard on his back it’s a miracle his spine didn’t shatter.

“t'others knew then they were fucked. The soft one, Jipp, grabs the boy, not noticing the loosened ties, and puts him in a chokehold.

“Vargan don’t give two shits, course. He storms over. Jeet, the smaller one, gets out the way and starts pawing for one of them knives, but big man don’t care. He grabs Jipp’s mangy hair and yanks that arm away before tossing him across the hall, idiot’s back cracks hard on that oak beam.

“Now Jipp is on his knees, grovelling. Promises to let the lad go, throws out a hand of clemency and all that.
Gets a nod for his efforts, too. Vargan takes the hand and helps the scolded fella to his feet.

“Speaking of ‘should’ve’, that goblin should’ve run while it could. Stead it tries a kick or two. Don’t need me to tell you how it looked when Vargan took it like a beast and stared spears into the little shitfiend.

“When Jipp’d got done wetting the floor it started pulling and thrashing. Next thing an elbow’s smashed its teeth out and it’s on all fours. Not pissing about, Vargan grabs it by the head and makes it face his lad. Takes all of two seconds to snap that head wrong ways. Pretty sure some spit popped from Jipp’s gob before he fell on his gaping face.”

A few throat clearings and neck rubbings from his audience told the old man his story had lost none of its magic. Time for the close.

“Jeet’s next; one arm behind his back: two friends down; couldn’t be too careful.

“‘Drop it,’ Vargan tells him.

“Jeet sneers, lets the knife fall from his hidden hand. A snide one though, was Jeet, catches Vargan in the balls and even a big man ain’t standing that. He drops and the goblin is on him. Slapping, pawing, clawing, clubbing, even scratching! He’s grinning too. Little runt actually thinks he can win!

“Doesn’t last. Vargan takes every blow until the throbbing tween his legs lets up enough, then clutches the runts thighs and slams him on his spine.

“Jeet, whining and writhing, scampers back to where they’d left the boy. But wait! The boy is reaching for that forgotten sword! Enraged, Jeet shoves him back into the alcove and pulls a lever. A rusty barred gate drops with a clang, locking the lad inside.

“He turns with a snarl, only now it seems fearless, like how dare this little bastard and his thief dad come here and fuck with him and his friends. Can’t says I blame him!

“A smack from big man knocks that fearlessness right out of him. His head snaps back, body clatters against the bars. ‘Please,’ he begs.

“Too late for that. Man charges and smashes him through that rusty door – it collapses with them both on top of it.

“ ‘Time to go, lad,’ Vargan says flatly. He turns to the whimpering goblin. ‘You’re lucky I’m letting you live. Wouldn’t want to upset things.’

“Back in the hall, Jabber had reached all fours. Vargan pondered him with hungry eyes. Decided none’d trouble over an accident. He slams the Great Sword into that great oak pillar; it shattered instantly. ‘Go, lad,’ he says. And the boy does. Jabber looks dumbfounded. Confused fool gets up and begins propping what’s left of the pillar. Vargan leaves him to it.”

The old man finishes up his single beer.

“And then?” the barkeep beckoned. “What happened after that?”

A shrug. “Must’ve collapsed. Later they found the entry blocked. The lad swore he could hear cries behind the rubble. Who knows?” He observed the disbelieving looks of the patrons.

The barkeep smirked. “Nice story. A bit far-fetched; but nice.”

“You’d better believe it.”

“Oh, I can believe it. Now, am I gonna have to ask again?”

“Actually, I think we’re done.”

“Not so fast, you haven’t paid for that one, yet.”

“I don’t think I will be, either. No money, see? We just travel about, getting by with what we can.”

The barkeep’s hand caught the elder’s wrist in a flash, a dagger appeared in his other. There was a sudden tense shuffling at various occupied tables.

“Lad?” The first man stood. A giant, even with all those years. Must’ve been close to a hundred.

The storyteller’s eyes rolled. “I hate that he still calls me that.”

Despite the man’s age, the barkeep’s clutch loosened and the patrons settled a little in their seats.

“Time to go, lad,” the big man said.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2020, 04:02:03 AM by Jake Baelish »
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Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: [JUL 2020] - Old Man's Tale - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2020, 12:38:12 PM »
The Old Man Knows That Time Goes By

176 words (poem)

Spoiler for Hiden:

The old man knows that time goes by
Uncaring of the lives of mortal ken
Ages pass in winks of the eye
And no soul can ever return to them

He thinks of lives long gone
And friends whose names are lost
To time’s ravaging
Of places once called home
Families turned into ghosts
By temporal savaging

There is more to look back upon now
Than the future holds for this old man
Memories weigh heavy on his brow
Near the end of his allotted span

On aching bones he rests
His achievements all done
In glorious days gone past
Survivor of life’s tests
Those years beneath the sun
Have left their marks and scars

There are no words for all that he has seen
No painting to do it justice
He alone the witness has been
The sights on his memory encrusted

There lies now but one task before him
One task for a man so old and frail
To take the pen and compose the hymn
The story
The song
The old man’s tale


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Offline Nora

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Re: [JUL 2020] - Old Man's Tale - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2020, 01:47:49 PM »
WOOH it's wild to be back people!

Here comes The Teacher in at 1530 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
The teacher scuttles past her charges, her long limbs trailing through their rows, caressing their naked crowns, claws clicking against status sensors in a reassuring ritual, a litany of green, green, green, all green, all students doing well, until she reaches the orange one.
She folds herself around his station. It takes some time and a lot of tactful calibrations to recall a child from active training. Abruptly ending simulation would risk neural damage.
Once the emergence launches she steps back and watches, squinting her rheumy eyes, a bit worried, a bit fidgety.
The nursing cocoon sloughs off the child's back, opening up like some perverted memory of a wilting flower. The synaptic plug retracts first, long blue tendrils coiling out of the nostrils, surrendering the child's mind to his own volition.
Then the mouth is freed, the tubes for air and food both retracting with heaving heaps of mucus.
The child retches, moans, young hands reaching blindly.

"I'm here!" the teacher exclaims, extending all her forward limbs in a reassuring embrace. "Focus on breathing, remember how you did last time."

The child sobs, struggling to stand on legs that have grown much since he was last out of a pod.

"You're alright. You're doing great," she croons, sorting her organics into a friendly face with a warm smile.

The boy squints up at her, eyes unfocused.


"Do you remember your name? Your designation?"

"Val-" he coughs, spits up the last dregs of phlegm, "I'm Valian, designation 45ARNAS0026 of the fighter units."

"And what colour am I displaying now?"


"Very good!" She brings her face closer to his, still smiling, to show her satisfaction, to reassure. "Do you know why you were brought out?"

"I received a general summoning, teacher. No details. Do... do you know why?"

"No, I only received the notification to prepare you for a formal review. It is the training board, so it has to do with your career."

She produces a shift for the boy to wear and helps him into it. Valian's expression is hard to puzzle out, but she figures it is one of worry.

"You will be alright, Valian," she says, caressing his face with a sensory tendril, "I monitor you every day, and I know how hard you work. I shouldn't say this–but you are top of this batch for orbital physics and biomecha engineering both."

The child blushes, pats his clothes and puffs his small chest out.

"If my teacher is proud of me then everything will be alright!"

The teacher keeps her smile immovable and says nothing more. She hates to make promises on things so far out of her power. Instead she gives him directions in a little data pad and sees him off to the door.

She then heaves herself behind her station and peruses data to try to pinpoint what went wrong with her student, to no avail. She broods, unhappy with herself. An orange light is rare. Rarer than a red one, even this far into the ship's breeding stacks.
She feels it deeply, this potential failure. Both for herself, for her record, and for the child. Valian. Off to his review without a clue of what failing to please the assessors would entail. But the teacher knows all too well, and she frets for hours, until the door hisses open and Valian walks back in.

"What news, child?" She asks, scurrying over the pods and down to the walkway.

The child doesn't look up, and she feels her gorge rise.

"Valian? Speak."

"They said my combat simulations showed a "tendency for mercy that was outside the acceptable range". They said I'm not suited for attack fighters anymore... They want me to change my career track."

Water floods the child's eyes and flows down his cheeks. Tears, she remembers. The child looks up, as startled as she is.

"It is called crying," she says. “It's a biological manifestation of strong emotions. A healthy parameter. There, it will pass!"

She pets his head, his cheeks, pulls him into a hug, unable to voice just how reassured she is. She feels his arms wrap around her and her heart burns. Everything is so much harder here, the stakes so much higher. She sighs and releases him.

"Have you considered it already?"

He smiles through his tears.

"Maybe, I could become a teacher too?"

"No!" she blurts out.

The child looks up at her, and she thinks, fast, about that no, and about the best way to justify it. She remembers her previous body, and the one before that. The spinal surgeries, the months spent upside down in vifluid as her consciousness slowly learnt to accept her new body map. How she's forgotten the feel of her original form, and the way she thought and felt then too.
But that was to be endured. Most placements come with invasive surgeries. It doesn't compare to the decades she spent teaching at the higher levels. That also had to be endured, but for what? She remembers the packed rows of children, too many to name and remember, monitored by software and only vaguely in her care. Though, of course, she was the one who had to disconnect those whose light came red, who had to wake them and lead them out of the rows, not to the door but to the shute, to convince them to take the nice slide, the fun ride to the recycling reactor that would sort them out on a molecular level, give them a better use than the machine space they took. She remembers none of their designations, but she counted them, and it took the last of her humanity and more, she thinks, before she earned her final promotion.
What can she say to this hopeful child? That the best he could hope for is to make it to a stack where the fail rate is under five percent?
Two hundred years of ship time, and she has nothing to say to defend her job. She is a mediator who turns the children out of the nurseries into young adults ready to commit to life paths she has no experience of. Students don't so much graduate as survive, and every one of these survivors has nothing but great memories of their time with their teachers. The AIs make sure of that. The reality is so different, outside of the simulations, out in the darkness, under the glowing canopy of green lights, her swollen body reclining against her station’s gel pads, the clicking of her many metal-composit joints resonating through the wide chamber as she types out training programs and answers queries from her wards.
The sum total of her wisdom lies in meta-calibrations and tweaking of drug compounds. What sort of pride can she take from that? She keeps at it, she must, it's all she's ever known. She can't in good conscience push any child of hers into this career.
She worries of course, that being a freighter or an engineer might be just as bad, or worse. Maybe she's about to doom little Valian to an even more terrible destiny, how could she know?
It is like a pit opening under her, this realisation that there is nothing she can say that would not frighten, no insight to share with this blank slate of a young man that would not bend him out of ways.

"I think," she says, making her tone conspiratory, "that your kind heart would make you a great teacher. One has to care... A lot. But no teacher needs all this knowledge on orbital mechanics and all that science you are so talented at. It would be wasteful for the ship, for someone like you to become a teacher."

"You think so?"

"Truly. The ship needs engineers too, and freighters, if you'd still like to be made into a flying unit. How about I put you through some extra trials and we'll work out what's best suited? Maybe navigator or charter?"

The child nods, looking happier, almost excited. He disrobes and she lifts him up under her belly and back to where his cocoon awaits. Valian easily surrenders himself to her ministrations. She plugs him back in, each step done by rote, until the pod sews itself back up and the light flashes yellow, for simulation launch.

The teacher waits patiently now for it to turn green. Green to soothe her nerves. Green like success, like life, another test passed, another hurdle cleared. Like another day closer to graduation. When it comes on she sighs, and lifts herself higher into the rows, her long limbs stretching out, carrying her forward through her brood, all studying so hard, dreaming of their future lives in the ship that bore them, so innocently in her trust.
She’ll do her best to give them that future. It’s her job, the only thing she knows how to do. She has to believe it’ll be a better life than her own.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2020, 09:50:56 PM by Nora »
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline Kindly

Re: [JUL 2020] - Old Man's Tale - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2020, 04:57:26 PM »
First ever entry, yay! Here is The Last Old Woman, at 1932 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
  The doorbell tolled as if for a funeral. Ellen, as she called herself in this lifetime, waited in the sunshine on the pretty gravel path, her body held still as the rocks lining the lane, hands clutching a leather handbag. Her eyes rested squarely on the door handle. If anyone had seen her, she would have unnerved them. Something in the stillness of her stance would have told them that this was a hunter, a tiger stalking its prey. But of course, no one saw her. She had chosen her time well.


  The doorknob turned, and I fixed a professional smile on my lips. I had thought to play at hesitating, winning a moment of study by feigning shock at the shriveled up, disheveled thing before me. As a wrinkled hand stretched towards me, though, I found my shock was real. This creature was truly old; old as I'd never previously seen. A mass of hair in hues of grey and black tumbled down her shoulders, which stooped as if something heavy was pulling them to the ground. Blue, watery eyes smiled at me in invitation, and I followed her into a murky hallway. ”From the newspaper? Ellen? Oh, call me Triss.” The floor was completely covered with rugs, our steps soundless as we made our way through her home.
  We sat down in wicker chairs on a glassed-in veranda at the back of the house, birds chirping in the garden, sunlight coming in through spotless windows. It was the backdrop of a dream too good to be true.

  ”The world never suited me”, she said, her voice like an old, creaky floor. She sipped at her tea, and I just couldn't stop watching her. Her face stretched and came together like an accordion;  I'd never seen so many wrinkles before. This must be what old age looked like.
  She put her cup down and continued. ”Or perhaps I didn't suit the world. As a child, I hid in corners, under tables. When I got a bit older, old movies were my refuge. There, the world made sense. There were old people, there. And children. There seemed to be so many children, then.”
  ”She never wanted a child, but my mother and I grew a little closer when I was in my thirties. For a while, I wondered… Had it been better for us to continue estranged?”
I forced myself to meet her gaze. If I didn't, it might make her suspicious. ”She couldn't accept your decision not to transition into a new body?”
”Wouldn't believe I was serious, at first. She kept asking me if I was unhappy with something, what she could do to help.” She pushed a gray lock of hair behind her ear and chuckled. ”Even offered me money, the mad old thing. I agreed to this interview for her sake, you know. A last chance to explain myself to her, make her understand.”
I smiled, though it required a concious effort. ”I'm sure it must be difficult for her, losing her daughter. Do you think she felt that way when you made the decision too?”
She brushed a fly off of her freckled arm and shook her head. ”No, I don”t think that was the issue. Mainly, I guess she just couldn't understand why I wouldn't do it. By that time, she had transitioned and was younger than me. She loved every second of her new-found youth.”
I sat straight in my chair, feet flat on the wooden floor. We might finally be closing in on the point. ”That is the question I'm sure most readers will ask themselves too. Why? Why not transition?”
”I'm not sure I can articulate it. I suppose, in a way, it started with Jared.”
My heart skipped a beat. Fortunately, I had an answer ready. ”And who was Jared? An old boyfriend?” She laughed, but shook her head.
”No, no, it wasn”t like that. Heading into my twenties, I was a part of a rebellion. I was an artist, you see.” She smiled, her face becoming years younger.
  I forced myself to recline into the chair, hands clinging to my coffee cup. Happy memories, really? ”Oh, an artist? And that's how you came into contact with Jared?”
”Yes, there was a whole group of us, a small collective. We painted, using anything you can think of. Of course, we never had enough to eat, or any money to pay rent, but it was the happiest I'd ever been.”
Her eyes glittered, a wistful look coming into her face. Of course, I couldn't have that, couldn't let her stray from the subject. ”And did you make many friends among these artists?”
  She looked at me as if to ask a question, tilting her head a little, but continued. ”Some very good friends, yes. Of course, they will all be two bodies away by now. We haven't kept in touch. After Jared died… Jared kept us together. He was our glue. More coffee?”
I accepted, heart pounding, hands clutching the cup tight. This was it, the time come.
”And what happened to Jared? How did he die?”
Her lips clenched like a vice and silence spread through the parlour. At last, she spoke, her voice quiet. ”An accident. He fell down a cliff.”
”An accident? Awful, what a tragedy. What happened?” My voice sounded like a bad impression of every film journalist I'd ever heard. She looked at me, her head cocked. For a moment I was afraid she had found me out, but she continued unabated. ”I'd rather not get into that. I let go of Jared a long time ago.”
Did she, now? How lucky for her. Some of us were still living with what she'd done. I barely managed to hold my voice steady as I answered her. ”But this must have formed your world view, happening at that age. Can't you speak a little more about it?”
  Her eyes closed off, became empty, but I couldn't let her get away now. ”Many people I speak to find that talking about a tragedy like this, telling the story, helps them put it behind them.” When she still didn't react I added: ”Unless you were somehow the cause of this accident? Was it your fault?” I heard my voice as if from afar, a broken thing I didn't recognize. Her eyes fixed on mine; recognition dawned in them. I scrambled, but couldn't think of a single thing to say to walk this disaster back.

”Elsa?”, she whispered, as if afraid to disturb a ghost.
I stared at her, her face looking older than ever in slack-jawed openness.
”I know you killed him. The police couldn't find the evidence, but you did it. Now, I can't save him, of course, but I can do this one thing for him: make sure his murder doesn't pass unnoticed. I came for your confession; you will give it to me.”
She closed her eyes. ”No, no, Elsa. It wasn't…”
”It's Ellen, now.”
”Ellen. You're wrong. You don't-”
”We all knew you did it, of course; it was obvious. You never were a very good liar.”
Tears where glistening in her eyes now, heartbreak written clearly in every wrinkle on her face. I surged to my feet, fists firm on the table. ”Oh, you're sad now? You're the one who took him away! You knew we where made for each other, meant to build our lives side by side. There could be no place for the rest of you there. The others accepted it, but you never could. Of course you killed him.”
She looked down at the hands in her lap, then back at me. Her lips shivered into something resembling a smile. ”Elsa, imagine meeting you again”, she said, her voice weak, shaking. ”I recognize your eyes now. You've changed your looks, but you kept your eyes the same. I'll-”
”Tell me how you killed him, then I can leave.” I couldn't let her turn this into some sort of cozy reunion. ”I'm sure I don't have to point out how easy you have made it to hurt you, wasting away like this.”
She sighed. ”All right. I'll tell you what happened, that day. You, I can tell.
”He did tell me he was leaving. Of course I was hurt, sad. But he was so happy. I'd never seen him like that before. At last, his joy drew me in, as always. We sang on our way down that hill. Laughed.
”He walked the railing where it curved over the edge of the cliff. Felt like flying, he said. And then… A girl went by on a bike. Must have been ten, eleven years old. A boy followed, no older.”
Her hands hugged each other in her lap, eyes downcast. I sank back into the chair and sat still, scared to move, as if startling her could make her stop talking.
”The boy steered his bike through the curve, knocking into Jared's outflung hand. It was a boy, Elsa! A little boy! I watched Jared sway on that railing, topple backwards down the precipice. He didn't scream, as he fell. But his eyes where larger than I'd ever seen them before. I'll never forget that face. He looked… surprised.
”It was an accident, Elsa. When I finally made it down that cliff he was lying there, unmoving. He was still alive, though his body was twisted, beaten out of shape. Later, they told me his back was broken in three places.
  He looked into my eyes, then. Recognized me. Knew he was dying, of course. ”Triss”, he said. ”Don't let them blame that kid. Promise? Hard enough to live with as it is.” Then he began saying something else, but I couldn't make it out. And just like that he… was gone.”
I wiped away the tears dripping from my chin onto my chest. My hands wrapped around my body, trying to stop the shivering. It was an accident after all, a stupid accident… Somehow, now, I didn't doubt that Triss was telling the truth. It was a simple story, easy to fabricate and impossible to investigate, but I believed her. And I had been right too; she had been lying. That's why we'd all suspected her, after all. ”Oh, Elsa”, she said, and something in her voice told me his death had struck her as hard as it had me. Suddenly, I was enveloped in her arms, her old frame leaning over me, cradling me. She smelled like lavender and coffee.

  We said our farewells in the hallway, in an unspoken agreement never to meet again. Before I left, I had to ask the question I should have asked as soon as I walked through the door.
”Triss, if you didn't blame yourself for his death, why this? Why choose to die?”
For a long time, she didn”t speak.
”What I witnessed in his eyes, lying broken on that hard ground, was a life unfinished. Tragic, in how it had been cut short. But Elsa, that is what I see every day! Every face I meet looks the same. Everywhere, people living half their lives. They fling themselves off that cliff willingly, gratefully. All for a chance to live the same half life all over again. Never changing, never growing. I will live my life to the full.”

And what would I do now? I'd spent two lifetimes living buried alive within my loss. If at all possible, I suppose it was time to, finally, live the rest of this lifetime free.