Internal Irony, part 5

“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”

— Marion Zimmer Bradley

It is inevitable for a father who has been present in his children’s lives, to know without conscious thought when a child nearby slumbers.  As you slipped into a deep and peaceful rest, I drew my pipe and pouch from my messenger’s bag. Carefully I filled the bowl with a portion of my remaining supply.  Fishing a branch end from the nearly dead coals, blowing gently on it, I brought it to the tobacco, and drew in the cherry-rich smoke I had come to… appreciate; that would be the word… over my years here.

Around us the voices of the night whispered.  I heard the barred owl call out, and thought how rare that riddle-filled call must have been in the city just three years before.  Nature was overtaking the habitation of your kind. I looked up into the open sky fringed by the lush canopy of the park’s oak trees, and listened to the chatter of the universe.

“Why didn’t you attack?”  I addressed that which inhabited you.

(Would you not have killed her along with me?)

I considered the Fell’s question.  The deeper meaning being not “you would have killed me,” but “you would have killed her.”

(Why didn’t you kill?)

This required another draw on my pipe.  And another. “I didn’t sense you were a threat.”

(Yet, you sensed me.)

“Long before you arrived.”

We remained quiet for a long time.

“Why aren’t she and you both dead?  In three years’ –”


I waited for the Fell to explain.  The Reveal happened just over three years before, as you would remember.  But this one was saying you had been… infested… for six years. So I waited out the answers to my many sudden questions.

(I came earlier.  As a scout. No, that’s not totally accurate.  I came pretending to be a scout — took the place of a scout.  One who I… decommissioned.)

Decommissioned.  I worked with words for most of my time on this earth; I can sense implied meanings.   I waited, working the pipe.

(Because of the girl.)

I considered you as you lay, curled on the grass.  Too many questions presented themselves. My mind pressed the necessity to start small, progress slowly.  “Why isn’t she a dead shell? Your kind–”

(Only the pre-invasion forces.  I’m not one of them. I am a… thinker.)

“A philosopher?” I offered.

(Um… no.  A teacher.  Although that’s not exact, either.)

“So you are able to inhabit without eating the host?”

(Yes.  I am not… a parasite.)

I was back to looking at the stars.  My pipe was finished. “Why her? Why did you come for her?”

It was a long time before the Fell answered.  (Have you ever been led… somewhere… to do a thing…?  Something you don’t fully comprehend? And you don’t know why… or how you are being led?)

As the Fell asked me this, I found myself seeking a particular star — tiny and scarlet among the multitude.  Finding it, I sighed, “You have no idea.”

(Then listen.  And please try to believe what I am going to tell you.  We came tonight because we have been watching for you. Some things I do not know, except that you are part of a plan.  Perhaps to save her. More probably, if you will believe my extrapolation, to attempt to save this… ) he paused, (her word is ‘planet.’)

“It is the word.  But your kind has already–”

(The infestation was only the first wave.  The invasion is coming soon. They are more powerful.  They will clean the planet of extraneous life.)

I was sitting up now.  “What do you expect me to do?”

(I brought her because I was certain you would know.)

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1    Part 2   Part 3   Part 4

Internal Irony, part 4

“It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends;
and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason.”

— Jules Verne

Did I know you were on your way when I built that fire?  Perhaps.

What I recall most clearly is that it was a brilliant night.  The highways of the skies were lit, as they had for three years, with the absence of mankind’s banishment of the dark.  Honesty bids me say this to you: this planet has been inhabited by little children pretending to be big. A race that is as afraid of the dark as this one has been is ultimately — and deeply — afraid of itself.

Not that anyone has asked me.

What I also remember was that I had found this beautiful park, touched only by the fingers of nature, in the midst of a derelict city.  Your city. I hauled my wagon into the brush, and I built a fire.

A truth I believe to be universal among sane beings is that you rarely find animosity at a campfire when the builder greets you with peace.

You came out of the darkness.  I watched you step gracefully into the light, a beautiful creature.  I guessed you to be sixteen. That you were still in one piece told me you were a host.

This confused me, because nearly every human that carried the Fell husked out after the first year.  Their parasitic nature overwhelmed the hosts — those that didn’t die in battle with those who were immune.

What further confused me was, though the Fell certainly recognized me, you did not attack.

As beautiful, as frail as you appeared, the certainty came to me that the Fell within you was all that had kept you whole these past few years.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.  You nodded. “Do you mean peace?”  Again a nod. “Then sit with me and share what I have.”

You didn’t speak through the meal.  I wondered if you were capable.

“Thank you… sir,” were the first words I heard you speak.  Your voice carried me back to a sanity I thought I had outrun.  A warming light, a meal, and the stars, after the fire died, brought us into an alliance both uneasy and perplexing.

I had to wonder why.  It turned out I wasn’t the only one to wonder.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1    Part 2  Part 3

Internal Irony, part 3

“I felt myself being invaded through and through, I crumbled, disintegrated, and only emptiness remained.”

— Stanislaw Lem

You told me you thought you were thirteen when the Fell… were.  We don’t know when they arrived — and can never know — do we? If your memory is exact that makes you sixteen; seventeen at the most.

Most of your memories, your deepest memories, of parents, friends have evaporated into that for which you are the host.  Many of them are mingled with the thoughts of the Fell within. And that is sad.

What you do remember is the nights you hid wherever you could.  Hiding from the unruly. Those who for whatever reason did not fall under the sway of the Fell.  Mostly men after a while. Men who looked at you as prey.

The first night that you slept in the open on a roof, the stars as a nightlight, you were awakened not by the sound of their footsteps.  Something inside you caused you to go on alert. Two of them much bigger than you came up silently. They grabbed you quickly, roughly. Clawing at you, at your clothes.

What you described to me wasn’t a struggle.  You recalled the first one’s look of shock as he went over the edge.  He never cried out. The second one threw out his hands, signalling surrender, as you gripped him by his exposed flesh.  You who had never seen a boy, neutered a man in the blue-blackness of night. His death was an agony you carried with you for many days and nights.

Eventually, the attempted assaults — the deaths at your hands — brought you to the place emotionally where every warrior must come if she is to survive.  You stopped seeing them as humans; merely threats. You can’t even tell me how many men and women you have had to battle.

In that alone we stand on even ground.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1

Part 2