Chaos Divinum

So, after a long, long LONG time finally again an entry towards the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge – though I have to admit, while it fits the bill of the challenge “Talk about the divine” perfectly, it’s not quite flash. Rather it’s part of a much bigger – fanfiction – story, for which it serves as the exposition/character introduction, but if it hadn’t been for the word minimum being over the actually word count here, I would have liked to let it stand as it was, so I feel like it works well enough on its own terms. And since to me it felt much like an excercise in wordcraft at the time of writing, it kind of meets the spirit of the challenge, if not obeying by letter. And before this introductory post gets longer than the actual ~1200 words of the piece, I’ll shut up and hope you enjoy.

 

CHAOS DIVINUM

 

The sand burns bright and hot under his naked feet, but he pays it no mind. The heat makes the air around him shiver with distorted images. Spectres of light that might lead travellers astray, flit by in the baking sun. While they are looking for the relief of an oasis their hope turns into ash every time they climb a dune.

They have led a traveller into peril indeed, as he can see some distance away. A figure on a camel, both animal and man slow and weak in their movements, hours, maybe minutes away from folding up and succumbing to exhaustion and thirst – soon to be a rattle of bleached bones ready to be covered by the ever wandering dunes of the desert.

He turns and watches the man for a time, considering his fate for a moment; the impact of his life, lost or gained, laid out before him in the blink of an eye. It is not a great destiny; an ordinary life, unremarkable and brief. Neither his descendants, spread out across the continents, nor he himself are going to cause a particular ripple in history with either their existence or obliteration.

He turns his back to the man, looking out towards the massive mountain range he’s been heading for and curls his toes in the sand for a moment, feeling the small grains trickle past his skin. Then he takes the next step down the side of the dune. His feet sink into the malleable sand, leaving tracks that will shift and smooth out with the next gust of wind. Still, he feels the vibrations travel down deeper into the earth, to places that are no longer hot and bone-dry, but humid and porous. Drops of water gather in answer to the clarion call from up above and slip through the minuscule spaces between the ground stone to rise to the surface. By the time he has reached the valley of the dune, his steps do no longer sink into the shifting sands, but leave distinct imprints in the packed desert soil, moisture gathering in the places where his heels leave the deepest tread.

In the lowest dip of the valley, a small reservoir has already formed when he crests the dune on the other side and he feels the seeds in the ground, having lain dry and dormant among the kernels of sand, waiting to soak up the water greedily. They will sprout and grow soon enough, forming a splendid haven around the spring for a time, but in the immediate future, there is the traveller clawing his way up on foot from the other side, no longer willing to burden his beast, lest it topple and crush him.

He looks back then, watching from afar as the traveller spots the pathetic little puddle that will save his life by chance. Watches him scramble down with an air of disbelief about him until he gets close enough to the shallow pool to bury his face in the water completely, coming up with little clumps of mud sticking to his eyelashes and beard, his tongue tasting the sweet water on his chapped lips.

He stays for a few more moments, observing the traveller cup the water in his hands to drink, drag down the reins of the mount to take his place and smiles. Then he turns once again towards the mountains behind which lies the sprawling city of Damghan, the place he actually has in his sights.

 

The sun has sunk and risen by the time he reaches the ridge, climbing the mountainside with ease. He lets his eyes wander over the fertile valley to the left, more and more signs of life and humanity appearing on the horizon, until he can see the entire bustling city from the top of the range. On the ground, it is a sprawling marketplace, made rich by the turnover of the Silk Road, merchants with their camel trains passing through almost daily on their way to trade with the Christian kingdoms in the West. It is filled with rowdy, random movement, sounds and smells challenging the senses, but from up above, there is direction to it, the flow of people in the streets like blood rushing through the veins of the settlement. The roofs are square and bare or covered in tents and rugs, colours washed out by the blistering sun.

He looks upon one of the beating hearts of humanity, a place wrested from the desert in daily struggle while his spirit wanders down into the cracks, beneath even the stone, were the face of the earth isn’t hard and unyielding, but ever changing and fluid, where masses beyond understanding meet and fight in an eternally slow dance. There is a rift here, two giants meeting with a clash hundreds of years in the making. Less a battle than a brush of shoulders between two unstoppable forces acting as the immovable object towards each other. He has been watching out for this moment, waiting for this time and place to meet, but for some reason he cannot wrench his gaze away from humanity, even as he steps on a flint in front of him, grinding it into the dust, sending another call down, way down, where the moment has come.

It takes a while for the giants’ brush to travel back up again, first fine tremors that the people down in the valley cannot feel, even if they were looking out for it. The animals sense it of course, the horses skittish and disobedient all of a sudden, unsettling their masters who cannot fathom what agitates their beasts until the tremor turns into a tremble at their feet, travelling up into buildings, shaking dust from the roofs. By the time they realize what is coming, it is too late, rifts are opening up that rip streets apart and swallow houses, even though to the giants, they are no more than what a split fault line of dry skin on your fingertip would be to you. He watches fear and anger and terror sweep the settlement, shaking the humans in their spirit as the quake shakes their bodies before they are consumed. Finally the cracks have travelled all the way back up to where he stands, the seemingly unmoving mountain no match for the echoes of the force way down below. It splits, stone and gravel giving way, slipping down into the valley with a thunderous roar. And in the blink of an eye, the earth has buried hundreds of thousands of its creatures in terrible silence. Standing above, his toes dug into the new-born edge of the precipice, this time, his smile has teeth.

 

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Circle of Life – Fragment

So, I decided to post this fragment of my story that I wrote for the ‘Opening Sentence’-Challenge (thanks to John Matsui for that wicked awesome piece), but couldn’t finish because RL got in the way. But I want get out of my abyssmal track record of not managing to post something once so far and satisfy certain people – they know who they are – with the knowledge that I’m still writing.

There is more to this story, and once I have two not so tired brain cells to rub together, I’m determined to revisit it, but for now it mainly stands as a writing exercise in dialogue as it turns out.

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Life’s never quiet when you’re a mortician married to a banshee.

One expects people of my profession to be drawn to solitude – or at least bear it well – given that by and large, our customers tend to be the very silent type.

I guess I’m kind of an oddball that way, since my choice of partner means that silence and death rarely cross paths in our house, even though they’re both intimately woven into our lives.

 

In fact, the folks that end up on my table sometimes develop a predilection for talking back when my husband comes around to pick me up from work. He’s always been apologetic about that, but I don’t mind so much – I do like to fill the silences with idle chatter to pass the time and it’s definitely a plus when your counterpart can add their own perspective on days that are long and slow.

 

“Oh my God, I just got these boobs fixed a couple of months ago and look at me now!”

Then again, you have to be prepared for some unusual conversation starters.

“Can you at least make sure to put me in a proper bra for the viewing? I spent five grand on those and I’d like people to notice my nice rack at least once before they put me into the ground.”

 

I can’t help, but sweep my eyes over the body of the young woman I’ve just finished cleaning. It is a nice pair, even if they’re fake, but looking at the left side of her face that’s caved in by the steering column of her car, I don’t have the heart to tell her that an open casket isn’t going to be in her future.

“Sure dear, don’t you worry about a thing.” Towards my husband, who is most likely lingering in the hallway, I call out: “Hi Honey, just a sec. I’ll be right out, just finishing up here.”

“That’s alright, Catherine, I’ll be outside.”

 

For a supernatural creature who trades in the secrets of the dead, he’s remarkably squeamish about my workplace. He says that death didn’t use to be this clean and the cold white tiles and chromed instruments creep him out. It’s somewhat of an in-joke in our family, but that’s one of the reasons I married him. It also helps that he’s incredibly good-looking in my opinion and quite possibly one of a kind – male banshees are born no more than once or twice in a couple of centuries after all. But it’s those odd little quirks that have nothing to do with his pedigree and everything with his personality that drew me to Thomas in the first place.

 

I fridge my young car crash victim and close up shop for the night, before walking out and slipping my arm into the crook of Thomas’ elbow.

“So… where are we going out tonight?”

He looks at me with a mischievous smile.

“What makes you think I’m taking you anywhere? Maybe I just came to pick up my wife for a quiet evening in front of the TV with the take out I picked up along the way.”

I slap him on the arm with the back of my hand.

“Because I know you haven’t forgotten today’s our anniversary and I have a quite fancy bit of underwear on underneath these clothes that I’ve been waiting for you take off me all day. Provided the entertainment delivers of course.”

He looks predictably intrigued at the prospect and I count myself lucky that after five years of marriage, I can still pleasantly surprise my husband with a statement like that.

 

“Good thing I did indeed have something other than couch surfing in mind then.”

“I knew it!”

“Yeah, yeah, you got me there. Come on, we still have a bit of a drive ahead of us before we get there.”

I let him tug me towards the car with a big grin on my face, but my eyebrows do shoot up when I see that he’s got camping gear packed in the back seat all the way to the top of the car roof.

“Darling, that looks like more than a romantic evening date.”

 

It’s his turn to smirk as he nudges me towards the passenger seat.

“That’s because we’re eloping to a romantic get-away, you and I.”

“But… I have work!”
“Not anymore, I’ve talked to Dave and Britt and got you the rest of the week off. We’ll spend the long weekend up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

“But… what about the kids?”

“Relax, your mother is taking the dogs, I’ve already dropped them off at her place. You know how she loves to spoil them, they’ll be fine.”

 

“And about two pounds heavier by the time we get them back,” is what I mutter under my breath, but of course my dear husband’s sharp ears pick it up anyway and he laughs while pulling out of the parking lot.

“They’ll live,” he says with the absolute conviction of a person who deals in death every day, and I realize that I’m about to pout away the beginnings of a spectacular weekend over technicalities that he obviously considered when he made plans.

“Fine, fine, you thought of everything. Can you tell me where exactly we’re going now?”

“I already told you! Our exact destination is going to be a surprise, but I’m sure you’ll be thrilled. Trust me.”

I smile at him fondly.

“You know I do. Alright, have it your way. Whisk me away, oh Prince Charming.”

 

He takes one hand away from the steering wheel to reach over and tug my fingers towards his lips, keeping one eye on the road when he softly kisses the back of my hand.

“You know I love you, right?”

An unexpected tightness seizes my throat accompanied by a pleasant tingle running up my spine.

“Yeah, I know, now quit it you big lug, or I’m going to have to start acting like a girl.”

“Can’t have that now, can we?”

“Shut up and drive.”

Water Ways

Just a bit of imagery practice, really, nothing fancy, but I really like some of the twirls and embellishments of the language, so they needed a home.

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The stream gurgles wild and free, inviting pebbles to dance along the bed. Their little treads call up puffs of sediment, murky footprints in the crystal clarity of the water. They don’t make the journey in haste. Keeping the pace of the ancient mountains they once were, they are certain they will reach the great water at one point or another. It matters little to them. Time carries a different meaning for stone than man.

~*~

The trek of the stones downriver is a natural rhythm, part of the stream’s life as much as the insects zipping over the quiet, swirling pools or the tiny brook fish filling its waters. They’re all watched over by a splendid, busy sprite, who takes her duty rather seriously.

She studiously directs the water into beautiful swirls and curls around the big boulders and nudges little clumps of larvae out of the quickest currents, lest they get dashed on the stones. Everything has its place in her world of natural art and she flits up and down the stream constantly to keep it in order.

~*~

Today is much the same, but for one thing.

One of the great disturbers has found their way into her waters. She immediately hears the discordant splash of the fall and rushes uphill from where she was just braiding the underwater ferns into flattering patterns. Normally, when one of the human-folk shatters her peace and quiet, it’s with great fanfare – waving about with their arms, stomping with their legs and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

This one is different though, silent after the initial spatter, bobbing and weaving in her currents without the usual ruckus. She finally reaches the place upstream where his human intruder floats. It’s one of their men, face smooth with youth and hair brown as river mud, flowing around this head like a crown.

She swims along beneath him for a moment, watches his closed eyes and the tiny bubbles of air that slip past his lips to escape to the surface. The metallic sting of life blood she tastes in her waters makes her shy away. She is not one of the gods who take blood for sacrifice after all. But the fluid that leaves a faint trace in the water for only seconds as it leaks, combined with the motionless drift of the body, let her know that this young man will not survive in her charges embrace.

She flits around him indecisively a few times, wondering whether she should let him die, take the sacrifice to strengthen her stream with the power of a life. But the stubborn human heart keeps beating, raging against the fleeing air with force and she finds her nature to protect and cherish stronger than the temptation.

She cannot touch him, once he is out of the water, so this endeavor will have to be successful on the first try. She feels ahead, finds a spot just in front of the downstream rushes, where a large, flat boulder quiets the water into smaller swirls before it makes its path past the narrows and picks up speed on the slope. She lets the water flow through her hands when he floats towards that boulder and waits for just the right moment to tug the currents up so a surge of water lifts him up to the slab of stone and cascades into the rapid on the other side.

For a moment, she fears that he will slide back down, but his legs just bob a little and settle in the quieter waters. She waits, brushing off the currents that caress her and call her to a joyous play of fetch down the river rapids. The human is still, silent as she does not know them and quiet trepidation creeps up on her as she can’t see him draw a breath.

More seconds tick by and with each one, the water grows colder with her fright. Finally, his chest shudders and heaves, some stray drops of river water escaping with a cough. She welcomes them gratefully back as they trickle down over the moss and granite surface. She hears the air rattle cruelly in his chest, taking back her natural domain from the water that invaded and makes to leave the young man, now that he can fend for himself.

Before she can sweep away, however, his eyes open – light amber, like the gems that come tumbling down to her depths sometimes from the mountain – and pin her there, as if he sees her image, fractal and blurred, not meant for mortal eyes to gaze upon.

He weakly moves his hand to sign the cross of the new jealous god and she flinches, ready to flee. But he follows the gesture with a kiss to his thumb, bringing it up to the center of his forehead, a druids greeting that strikes a chord inside her.

“Thank you,” his voice is thread and hoarse. “Thank you, noble spirit, for your kindness.”

He worships the old gods and the new and he sees her, even though she’s not meant for mortal eyes. What a very peculiar fellow, indeed. So, for the first time in her long life, she wants to answer one of those humans who have never been more than a nuisance to her. She doesn’t have a voice he will be able to hear, but her river does.

The stream rises about her, water swirling over plants and gurgling over stepping stones in a new melody. He smiles down at her like he understands before turning his face into the warm embrace of the sun.

Under A Green Sky

And just under the wire (and with the predictable busy RL work schedule growing pains) another entry to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge, this time One Amazing Sentence. I’ve tried to link in ryanjamesblack’s sentence in the body of the text, I hope it works. Anyway there were so many amazing sentences to choose from, I could have written a dozen stories. But this one just made this very particular character spring to life in my head like that. It’s probably way funnier in my mind than it is written down, but hey, I hope you enjoy it anyway.

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One of the scientifically proven facts about the success of the species that has labeled themselves homo sapiens sapiens – and what an apt and arrogant description, calling oneself knowing, wise two times over – is that humanity is bloody good at adapting to everything and anything. Provided the world is prepared to be changed according to their pesky desires and comforts. Still, it has to be said of us as a species that we’re quite resilient in our ultimate quest for survival and incredibly inventive, too, especially concerning the things the human mind is able to accept and work with as a new truth. It comes as no surprise that once our superficially treasured, yet ultimately discarded homeplanet could no longer hold or sustain our numbers, humanity would set out to find new worlds fit to be our cosmic safety net.

So, with an inordinate amount of money, ingenuity and effort poured into the endeavor by a race confronted with its dying home and its own mortality, we actually found our way into a universe that was so much bigger than the scholars could have dreamed. Professional pioneer became a coveted and quite lucrative career that I – as an adventurous and profit-minded person – found myself a comfortable niche in.

Despite the incredible technological advances and mind-boggling revelations of the ever expanding universe though, some of the fundamental problems of survival stay the same. Which is how I found myself in my current perilous situation, stuck on an outback trek to the as yet uncharted lower continent of a border planet: Gigantavultures circled overhead, sand sharks below, while in the midnight middle there was me, arguing with a pile of diesel drenched dinosaur bones over why they wouldn’t just ignite already and save me from the desert night deep freeze.

“But you’re DEAD!”

“So? That’s no reason to treat a brother like fossil fuel, man, not cool!”

Sentient remains, when they had first been discovered as one of the planet’s special quirks, had sounded like a real hoot, setting the scholarly types to swoon. Turns out, it’s much less of an advantage when you are bound by the Inter-Planetary Code of Conduct that expressly forbids to harm, marry or molecularly alter any creature that is able to give consent. Or withhold it, as it were. It’s not a perfect system by a long shot, but getting the Enforcers on your ass for an offense like torching something against their will is never a good idea. I had to change my strategy.

“Think about it, you’d be able to do a good deed, even from beyond the grave, saving a traveler in need!”

The skull clattered a little with its enormous teeth, while the vaguely disembodied voice hummed as it considered the argument. I cast my eyes around furtively. The vultures were less of a problem, they considered humans an insignificantly small and not particularly tasty prey, but the sand sharks were a different matter altogether. They had the ability to pick up on minute vibrations in the shifting sands of the desert, so even sleeping I was liable to sound like a great meal. However, they would certainly be deterred by the heat signature of a blazing fire.

“Come on, don’t you have it in you to be charitable at all?”

“See, I’m not unreasonable, but if I let you torch my bones, I wanna get a little something something out of it, too.”

Bargaining, at last, something I could actually work with. In the end, quid pro quo makes the world go round.

“Well, is there anything I could offer you, to make it worth your while?”

A pile of brittle bones shouldn’t be able to put on an expression at all, but the dino-head suddenly had a definite air of shiftiness about it.

“You’re one of them dudes, one of them pio…peonies…”

“Pioneers.”

“Yeah, one of those, right?”

“I am.”

“And you’ve been to all sorts of places, correct? Like exotic outer quadrant shit.”

“I’ve been around the block a few times, yes.”

And I already had an inkling where this would be going, too.

“You know about the Illyrian Falls?”

“I know of them, yes, most beautiful vistas of the fifth quadrant.”

“Ok, tell you what, I’ll do you a solid, let you light me up. And in return, you’ll gather my ashes, take me to the Falls, so I can get a taste of them. We got a deal?”

The Illyrian Falls, where an extraordinary gravitational pull attracted stardust from all around to polarize it and spew it back out over an asteroid ridge like a waterfall of rainbows, was one of the most amazing places the mapping efforts had uncovered so far. They were also about three solar clicks off course from my itinerary and the detour would be a bitch on fuel costs. But if the choice lay between putting a stack of money on the pump or waiting around while the moisture in my cells slowly turned to ice in subzero desert temperatures, there wasn’t really a question to be asked.

“Alright, Deal. I survive tonight; you get your ride to the prettiest corner of the universe.”

“I’d say that’s a good deal then. But don’t you think about dumping me in a subpar tourist trap ‘roid field instead; I will haunt your ass!”

I didn’t think that was an idle threat. And 500 lbs of pissed of dinosaur bones would certainly make for one massive pain-in-the-ass poltergeist.

“I hear you. I’m a man of my word.”

One last muttered “you better” was mostly drowned out by the woosh of the igniting diesel when I finally threw a match to it. And not a moment too soon, as it turned out, judging by the scuttling ridgeline in the sand just a mere five feet away from my steel-toed boots. I dragged my pack closer and set up my small traveling pallet as close to the blazing warmth of the fire as I dared. Might as well get some shut-eye for the long trek back to the way station in the morning. After tucking myself into the thermo-wrap, I looked up into the vast beauty of the dark green, starlit sky and let myself be lulled to sleep by the faint flap of gigantic wings and the occasional crackle of a bursting bone.

The Amazing Sentence

My entry to this week’s Terribleminds Flashfiction Challenge, reposted here for archival purposes. It was to be the most amazing sentence one could come up with to spark someone into doing the front end and the back end of the story. I can’t attest to the amazingness of my sentence, but I sure wanna know what happened before and what’s going to happen after.

—————————

The stars are falling, falling all around them, so she guesses now is the time to find out whether the clerics of the temple are right and their world will be reborn from the ashes – or perish forever, like it never even was.

The inevitable…

…real life strikes. I was very determined to finish the Flash Fic challenge with the end of a story this week, but then due to a sick colleague one six-day workweek turned into two, turned into probably three and I haven’t even had the chance to read all the wonderful stories offered for continuation, much less work on any.
But I will finish the Challenge in my own time (it’s not a contest after all) because I feel this story deserves a (temporary) end. Cross your fingers for me this weekend.

Clank II

So… coming in just under the wire, my second entry to the Terribleminds Flash Fiction challenges, continuing a tale first posted by Clay Ashby. It’s entirely not as well thought out or revised as I would have liked, but with a phone call on Monday, my entire week off turned into an entire work week, so plans had to be adjusted accordingly. Anyway, here is the original story with my own continuation following.

Clank by Clay Ashby

My eyes opened with a metallic clatter. A single dim lamp reflected its yellow hue on the ceiling above. Instinctually I was able to sit up and balance myself on the table. At least I think it was instinct because I certainly don’t remember ever doing it before. My legs dangled over the edge and my feet didn’t quite touch the floor. The thought of lifting myself off the table and falling, even just that little bit, worried me, but I did it. My feet clanked on the rusty floor as I stumbled, trying to find my balance. With my feet spread wide I was able to stabilize, so I lifted my head to look around.

Large gears turned inside the walls, visible through crumbled sheets of wood and iron. My head began whistle, beginning at a high pitch and increasing until it was nearly impossible to hear. The sound was terrifying and at first quite annoying, but the mild vibration was soothing, and it seemed to help me keep my balance. I took my first step, a step that was a little too big, but my foot landed on the floor and held firm. The vibration inside my head was helping me. I was sure of it, so I took several more steps. No problem at all! The vibration in my head made it almost easy.

There was only one exit from the room, a dark hallway. I decided to go. I didn’t really have any other choice. Every step I took was loud. It made me uncomfortable, like I was being watched. I tried to step softly, but it was no use. Metal contacting metal simply could not be made quiet. The hallway continued on without ending and my deliberate steps made progress slow. The glow of lamps from the room behind me began to fade. With every step it faded more. I wasn’t sure how much further I could go, so I stopped, unsure if another step forward would be wise. I was able to turn my head all the way around and look at where I had come from, a faint yellow spot now. There didn’t seem to be any reason to return, except fear. The room was vacant and square, with nothing useful inside. My only option was to move onward into the darkness.

I took only one more step, no clank. Imagine if I had turned back at that moment. I was only one step away from a new type of ground, but I would have never known it. With my arms slowly flailing, in search of obstacles, I continued into the pitch black. Still no clank from my feet. The silence combined with the dark made me feel like I was walking into nothingness, but that eerie feeling was certainly better than the creepy clank from before. At least I felt hidden now.

When my face met a solid steel door I thought I had finally made it to the end. I leaned into it and pushed. The metal moaned from stress and a few rivets popped, but it gave way easily enough. Unfortunately this door, my supposed salvation, revealed almost certain doom.

Clank II

The light outside the door was stark and blinding after the complete darkness of the corridor. But even after some time to adjust, it lost little of its brightness, illuminating a landscape profoundly different from the one I had first found myself in.

In front of me, a thick and strange jungle opened up, trees so tall I couldn’t make out their crowns, their bark covered with lichen and moss, some of which glowed with a dazzling fluorescence. The ground was moist grasses and mud, patches of impenetrable mist wafting between the tree trunks. I stood there, transfixed by the vast marvels unfolding before me, but the whirr in my head urged me on despite the fact that I had no way of knowing which dangers awaited me going forward. It seemed, however, that my feet had stood idle long enough and my first step outside was not happening entirely out of my own volition. The earthy ground sunk beneath my heavy steps as I picked my way forward into the forest, sometimes causing little puffs of acrid gas and steam to rise around my feet.

At first, I figured I was making good progress, the gaping hole of the steel door vanishing behind me among the vegetation. But the ground turned into a watery sludge under my feet and soon it became a squeaking effort to even move them out of the mire at all. By the time I had to admit that going further might not be at all advisable, I found myself in a rapidly expanding bog, spattered up to the armpits with little drops of mud and no trunks or roots anywhere near enough to grasp onto. With great trepidation, I realized that not only was it impossible to move my lower joints up and onward, but I was sinking into the ground and every tiny movement accelerated my decent.

Now, one might think that finding myself slowly being swallowed whole with no way to escape the quagmire would be enough to stall my breath with paralyzing fear. However, the understandable apprehension about the impending loss of life and limb faded into the background when, for that very reason, my mind finally became aware of a number of facts that had been there the whole time, but failed to puzzle me until now. The metallic clank of my feet on the ground, the turning of my head all the way around, the squeaking in my joints, the breath that should be wheezing in my lungs from the panic and that just remained a rigid, muted ticking sound. It all was thrown into stark contrast as I watched my steel fingers weave and grasp and slowly sink under the muddy surface with the feeling that all of this was very, very wrong. And so, instead of wondering what fate might await me once I was fully submerged, only one thought kept on rattling around, echoing in the empty chamber of my head.

What the hell has HAPPENED to me?