Flash Fiction Friday: Cargo

Today, I became entranced by this painting by Yuri Swedoff (http://instagram.com/yurishwedoff):

yuri-shwedoff-white-castle-3-for-internet

I’m regular on reddit.com/r/imaginarywastelands, basically post-apocalyptic abandoned porn for the DeviantArt crowd, and in the year or so I’ve been lurking there this is best thing I’ve seen.  I don’t recall seeing Yuri’s work on that subreddit before but I hope he keeps contributing. Just gorgeous. 

I also watched this video:

So I put them together.  Wrote a short piece about people trying to make sense of the fantastic after the Fall. I’m not sure how well it works. I’m trying to describe things from the point of view of a person who doesn’t understand what he’s seeing, but it was a fun exercise. I realize that short story really doesn’t work very well if you have to include an introduction.  Maybe it works well enough on its own, though. I’d like some feedback on this one, if you’d be so kind.

Cargo

Dottie-Going-There is making the connection, out there every morning by dawn at the work line and Teacher sees that of course, knows she’s the best student he’s got. She gets the posture right, just like the Teaching Book tells them, teeth and all, smiling. Dottie-Going-There moves her long, thin fingers about the buttons, over the new paint on the rows of the buttons, red and white pigments like the Leaving Thing in the book, when it sat on the pillar of smoke and took the Old Ones with it.

Dottie-Going-There is first out and pretty soon Teacher hears the crunch of feet on gravel and two skinny figures crossing now, over the cleared lot from Aytch Kew. That’s Jon By Fire and his brother Simon Tell ‘Em. Teacher smiles a gap-tooth smile but he’s gotta be hard on them.

“All this day sleep, you two! Maybe you make the connection by dreamin’ now, yeah? Yeah.”

“Just hadda go make do wit’ it” Jon By Fire yells out and they both speed up to a trot, the thick black rubber on their feet, cut right from the burn rings and strapped on with rope, making a loud slap slap slap that bounces all ‘round the walls of buildings.

They shuffle by and over to the button books by Dottie-Going-There, who never looked up, never stopped smiling, kept her fingers making out the right rhythm, do-dat do-dat do-do-do-dat. Good girl.

‘Course, that bit wasn’t in the book. Teacher just figures if the Old Ones are gonna take the connection they might like a nice rhythm, that way they’ll know it’s real people sending it out. Jon By Fire and Simon Tell ‘Em take their spots by Dottie-Going-There, put on the connection hats all the Old Ones in the book had, the one big circle over the ear and the long curve around the mouth and start out the rhythm, start smiling, start making the connection, too.

“That’s good now!” Teacher says, and gives Jon by Fire’s head a good rub and heads off to Aytch Kew to make his prayers.

Most of the buildings they can’t go in, most are falling in on themselves and all the bad sharp things he’s seen take people when they get cut, the wound turning hot and red and the black spreading up the veins until they get so hot it’s like they’re fire and then they die and don’t come back. In Aytch Kew he’s up to the roof, still a good roof, still keeps the rain out, and he strikes flint in some dried grass and brings the fire. Then Teacher puts the fire in one of the burn rings and steps back, watches the fire catch and move around the lip, the thick black smoke rising up and high.

He strips off his robes and stands bare chested except his medallion. A plastic rectangle on some ribbon that belonged to an Old One, left behind for him, for whoever figured out where they all went, making him Teacher. He was Jimminy Two when he found it but now he’s Teacher. He looks at the card, the marks on it like the marks on the buttons in the button books and the Teaching Book. Teacher knows there’s gotta be meaning there but it doesn’t bug him much that he doesn’t know what it is. They’ll find out when they make the connection and go there, go high high, go to the moon, yes.

The card’s got a face of an Old One smiling at Teacher, the same smile they all got in the Teaching Book all the time, letting you know how happy they are that Teacher’s making it all right again. His gaze turns back to the thick black smoke, tall now, spitting out of the burning ring, the fire setting the ring free and sending it high high. It was the smoke that did it. He worked it out, and he was just young when he did it.

Jimminy on the Road loved the Teaching Book, right when he found it he loved it, and hid it so no one could burn it like they burned the others. They could start fires with something else, damn them, this was special. And in the book the Old Ones had big long lines of black windows like the button books have, but their black windows had all sorts of marks on them, too. And they’re all smiling and then the Silver Men, waving out to Jimminy Two from the book and walking into the big Leaving Thing, the red and white thing like nothing he’s ever see or gonna see. Wings like a bird and a huge red barrel on its belly. The Leaving Thing, the biggest and best thing the Old Ones ever made, bigger and better than the huge skeletal buildings he sees on the horizon, all falling in and the sun behind them making them look pure black.

Jimminy was 10 when he was looking at the book and the Leaving Thing on the page, sitting on the column of pure white smoke. He was looking at it by the light of a burning ring and saw how fire turned the ring into smoke and the smoke went high high. He knew he had to make his own place like the Old Ones had. Convince anyone he could that they had to hit the button books they found sometimes, smile like the Old Ones smiled and let the Silver Men up on the moon they were still here. That some of the people got forgot when they left in the Leaving Thing. Let ‘em know that and they’ll come back.

It took him a fair bit of trying but he got others to believe.
Showed off the smoke from the burning ring and showed them the Teaching Book and the white smoke and most of them just laughed. Then one day he was walking on and out of a settlement and looking for the next one and Dottie-Going-There came running up after him and she believed.

That was five years ago. He’s got better than 20 now, the New Ones. He sees more coming out now, across the big square, walking out from Aytch Kew. They sit down at their button books and make the rhythm, make the connection. A few others are painting their very own Leaving Thing, mocked up from barrels and boards and bird wings and glass.

Teacher throws his head back and his arms out now. Yellin’ like hell.

“You see us yet? You far away but you see us yet? You gonna hear us soon! Come on back now!”

And down in the big square two of the New Ones, working on the new Leaving Thing, make out the four most important marks in white paint. The marks on all the signs and medallions and all over the Teaching Book over and over.

NASA, they write. N-A-S-A, over and over, giving it the right touch, cause the Old Ones are gonna see ‘em soon and they wanna look good when that day comes.

NASA. He holds the image in his mind and holds his arms out and damnit when they make the connection that’s gonna be the first marks he wants to know, and the Old Ones will teach him. Teach the teacher, yes.

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