n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
Young Niko stood beside his uncle in the museum hall. He turned the steel engraving over and over in his hands, his mind doing somersaults along with it. A flash of white light exploded behind his eyes, followed by a cascade of images that rivaled the waterfall in the etching. He saw a great wheel, twirling under the force of the frothing waters. The vision faded; Niko breathed a wistful sigh that echoed in the large and empty corridor.

"See these falls, Uncle Pavle?" he said, holding out the portrait.

Offering only a cursory glance, Pavle gave a noncommittal grunt.

"Someday," Niko continued, "I am going to America to harness their power."

"What will your father say?" Uncle Pavle snorted.

"Nothing good, I'm sure," Niko admitted.

"You know what he wants for you," Pavle chided.

"But is that truly my destiny?" The boy's voice, just beginning to change, cracked. "Ever since I was small, I've known I was meant for greater things."

Pavle cleared his throat and said nothing.

"One day when I was scarcely old enough to speak, my cat Macak came in from the chill. I stroked his back, and the sparks danced and crackled beneath my hand," Niko's voice quavered with passion. "Then a halo of light surrounded his body, as if he were a saint or an angel. It was then I knew."

"Hm?" Pavle shot the boy a distracted look.

"That mystical power, Uncle," Niko continued. "It is my calling to master it."

"Your father expects you to join the priesthood," Pavle said.

"Yes, Uncle," the boy replied, a small smile curving his lips. "But perhaps I'm meant for a different path."

"Hmmm," the older man mused. "Perhaps you are, at that."

* * * * *

Niko walked in the city park with his friend Anthony. The sun hung low above the horizon and the evening breeze blew soft and clean. It was good to be out in the fresh air, good to feel strong and healthy again. The illness had seemed to last an eternity. Unable to work or rest, he was tormented by too-bright lights and sounds that echoed like gunshots. Doctors had come and gone, unable to provide any remedy, finally giving him up as a lost cause.

He was better now. The puzzle had saved him - the riddle of alternating current and his need to solve it.

"Have you made any progress?" Anthony's voice broke into his thoughts.

"I have the answer," Niko replied.

"That's wonderful - " Anthony began, but Niko silenced him with a wave of his hand.

"I have the answer," he began again, "somewhere inside my mind. The solution is there, waiting for me to find a way to express it."

Anthony's smile faded. The two men paused, watching the sun as it slipped below the horizon. Pink and orange streaks began to trace their way across the evening sky. Suddenly, a verse crept into Niko's thoughts.

The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!


Niko didn't realize he was reciting the words aloud until he saw his friend's forehead crease with confusion or perhaps concern. By then, he was in no position to explain himself; he was too absorbed in the task at hand. Snatching a stick from the ground, he began to sketch a diagram in the sand. Behind his eyes, the solution was drawn in perfect detail. Throat constricting with excitement, he watched it come to life.

* * * * *

In the quiet of his empty office, Niko's pen scratched against a sheet of paper. Late nights at work were not uncommon for him; his daily hours were from 10:30 am until 5 the following morning. Tonight, however, was different.

He finished writing the letter and signed his name. With a leaden heart, he sat back and examined his handiwork.

Dear Mr. Edison:

It is with great sadness that I resign my position at Edison Machine Works, effective immediately. Thank you very much for the opportunity you have provided to me. I wish you the best in all your future endeavours.

Sincerely,
Nikola Tesla


Sighing, Niko placed the letter on his desk and began to pack up his few belongings. He was starting to wonder if coming to America hadn't been an enormous mistake. Perhaps when his pockets had been picked on the way to his ship, he should have taken it as an omen. But how could he, with his letter of recommendation in his pocket and his goals so firm in his mind?

Upon arriving in the Land of Golden Promise, he'd been taken aback by its spare and stark appearance. Buildings were rough and utilitarian, as were the people inside. Still, Niko had been able to put his misgivings aside in the excitement of meeting Edison, the man who would help him realize his dreams.

Edison had dismissed his statement that alternating current was the future of electricity as "utterly impractical". Even so, Niko had been sure that things were looking up. After all, the man had hired him on the spot to redesign his generators, promising a payment of $50,000 upon completion. It was a foot in the door, and surely Edison would come around to his point of view sooner or later. If not, Niko would have a small fortune with which to seek the backing he needed elsewhere.

All those hopes had been dashed in the space of a 5-minute conversation this morning. Bursting with pride, Niko had approached Edison in the hall and informed him that he'd finished redesigning the dynamos. The other man had nodded brusquely and continued walking.

"Sir," Niko had asked, "Might I inquire as to when I shall receive my payment?"

"Payment?" Edison had chuckled. "When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke."

Personal effects gathered, Niko pulled on his coat. Taking one last look around the room where his dreams had lived for the past several months, he turned off the light and walked out the door. It was a joke, all right, and he was the punchline. Still, he was determined to have the last laugh.

* * * * *

Niko stood at the back of the crowd, hat pulled down over his eyes and shoulders hunched. Up at the podium, his former employer had already begun his rhetoric.

"Think of direct current as a river flowing peacefully to the sea," Edison called out. "Alternating current, on the other hand, is like a torrent rushing violently over a precipice. Unpredictable. Dangerous. Uncontrollable."

Edison paused. Voices buzzed in affirmation. When they were silent, he continued.

"Even lethal."

An approving murmur rose from the audience. This was the part they had been waiting for.

"Topsy here is crazed," Edison said, gesturing with a flourish at an elephant, slumped and forlorn. Chained to post a few feet away, the enormous beast was outfitted with sandals of wood and wire. Large men flanked her on both sides.

As the throng pressed closer to the stage, the drone of voices took on an almost fevered pitch.

"Topsy has murdered three people," Edison said, "and her handlers have called for her execution. You'll find that alternating current is the perfect tool for this deadly job - and for no other purpose."

The crowd rumbled in anticipation. A consummate showman, Edison let them wait before nodding to his technician.

Stomach churning, Niko watched as the switch was thrown and smoke billowed into the air. Without a sound, the elephant jerked briefly before collapsing onto her side. By the time the scent of burning meat reached him, it was already over. Inside the pockets of his overcoat, his fingers curled into angry fists so tight his nails bit into his palms.

Niko's ears rang with the shouts of the crowd. Despair flowed over him like an incoming tide. All his efforts would be for nothing if Edison's smear campaign succeeded. His whole life, he'd worked for nothing but this one goal. Time and time again, this man had made a mockery of it, and all in the name of egotism and greed.

The familiar white light flared behind his eyes, blinding him to all else. Gone were the park in which he stood, the people, the despair and anger. In their place came the images, etched in his mind's eye with a painful clarity. He saw himself, lying in bed at age 17, extracting his father's promise to send him to University if only he'd live. Studying at the Polytechnic Institute, hell-bent on a conquest the world thought impossible.

Lightning flashed again; the scene shifted. Dirty and exhausted, he stumbled home after digging ditches for $2 a day. The vision changed; he was building his invention at long last. With no blueprints, he'd used only the picture in his mind. Brought to life, the machine worked just as he'd imagined. One final burst of white heat - he was signing the contract that would bring his dream to fruition.

By the time the world returned to normal, the crowd was dispersing. Head pounding, Niko stood alone and watched them go. The scent of singed flesh still hung in the air, but he barely noticed. None of that mattered now.

All his life, Niko had always found a way. This time would be no different.

* * * * *

The air in the small room vibrated with activity. Around him, engineers were abuzz with frenetic activity, but Niko remained calm as he watched the falls crashing over the rocks. The rushing water was just as it had been when he'd seen it in his mind's eye as a boy. In only moments, the dream would come full circle. All his life, he'd known this day would come.

In his five years as a consultant for the Niagara Falls Power Project, he'd been questioned over and over. Would the machines really work? After all, they'd existed nowhere beyond his own imagination. Investors and engineers on the project had been reluctant to believe the devices would function as well in reality as they did inside Niko's head. As they waited now for the switch to be thrown, their anxiety was palpable.

Niko himself had no doubts. The visions had brought him to this point, against all odds. They would not fail him now.




This entry tells part of the life story of Nikola Tesla, the man who made AC electrical current possible. For anyone who's wondering, yes, he really did experience visions and no, I didn't know this when I initially chose to write about him. It was obviously fate. If you're interested in reading more about Tesla, you might check out his autobiography.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
Young Niko stood beside his uncle in the museum hall. He turned the steel engraving over and over in his hands, his mind doing somersaults along with it. A flash of white light exploded behind his eyes, followed by a cascade of images that rivaled the waterfall in the etching. He saw a great wheel, twirling under the force of the frothing waters. The vision faded; Niko breathed a wistful sigh that echoed in the large and empty corridor.

"See these falls, Uncle Pavle?" he said, holding out the portrait.

Offering only a cursory glance, Pavle gave a noncommittal grunt.

"Someday," Niko continued, "I am going to America to harness their power."

"What will your father say?" Uncle Pavle snorted.

"Nothing good, I'm sure," Niko admitted.

"You know what he wants for you," Pavle chided.

"But is that truly my destiny?" The boy's voice, just beginning to change, cracked. "Ever since I was small, I've known I was meant for greater things."

Pavle cleared his throat and said nothing.

"One day when I was scarcely old enough to speak, my cat Macak came in from the chill. I stroked his back, and the sparks danced and crackled beneath my hand," Niko's voice quavered with passion. "Then a halo of light surrounded his body, as if he were a saint or an angel. It was then I knew."

"Hm?" Pavle shot the boy a distracted look.

"That mystical power, Uncle," Niko continued. "It is my calling to master it."

"Your father expects you to join the priesthood," Pavle said.

"Yes, Uncle," the boy replied, a small smile curving his lips. "But perhaps I'm meant for a different path."

"Hmmm," the older man mused. "Perhaps you are, at that."

* * * * *

Niko walked in the city park with his friend Anthony. The sun hung low above the horizon and the evening breeze blew soft and clean. It was good to be out in the fresh air, good to feel strong and healthy again. The illness had seemed to last an eternity. Unable to work or rest, he was tormented by too-bright lights and sounds that echoed like gunshots. Doctors had come and gone, unable to provide any remedy, finally giving him up as a lost cause.

He was better now. The puzzle had saved him - the riddle of alternating current and his need to solve it.

"Have you made any progress?" Anthony's voice broke into his thoughts.

"I have the answer," Niko replied.

"That's wonderful - " Anthony began, but Niko silenced him with a wave of his hand.

"I have the answer," he began again, "somewhere inside my mind. The solution is there, waiting for me to find a way to express it."

Anthony's smile faded. The two men paused, watching the sun as it slipped below the horizon. Pink and orange streaks began to trace their way across the evening sky. Suddenly, a verse crept into Niko's thoughts.

The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!


Niko didn't realize he was reciting the words aloud until he saw his friend's forehead crease with confusion or perhaps concern. By then, he was in no position to explain himself; he was too absorbed in the task at hand. Snatching a stick from the ground, he began to sketch a diagram in the sand. Behind his eyes, the solution was drawn in perfect detail. Throat constricting with excitement, he watched it come to life.

* * * * *

In the quiet of his empty office, Niko's pen scratched against a sheet of paper. Late nights at work were not uncommon for him; his daily hours were from 10:30 am until 5 the following morning. Tonight, however, was different.

He finished writing the letter and signed his name. With a leaden heart, he sat back and examined his handiwork.

Dear Mr. Edison:

It is with great sadness that I resign my position at Edison Machine Works, effective immediately. Thank you very much for the opportunity you have provided to me. I wish you the best in all your future endeavours.

Sincerely,
Nikola Tesla


Sighing, Niko placed the letter on his desk and began to pack up his few belongings. He was starting to wonder if coming to America hadn't been an enormous mistake. Perhaps when his pockets had been picked on the way to his ship, he should have taken it as an omen. But how could he, with his letter of recommendation in his pocket and his goals so firm in his mind?

Upon arriving in the Land of Golden Promise, he'd been taken aback by its spare and stark appearance. Buildings were rough and utilitarian, as were the people inside. Still, Niko had been able to put his misgivings aside in the excitement of meeting Edison, the man who would help him realize his dreams.

Edison had dismissed his statement that alternating current was the future of electricity as "utterly impractical". Even so, Niko had been sure that things were looking up. After all, the man had hired him on the spot to redesign his generators, promising a payment of $50,000 upon completion. It was a foot in the door, and surely Edison would come around to his point of view sooner or later. If not, Niko would have a small fortune with which to seek the backing he needed elsewhere.

All those hopes had been dashed in the space of a 5-minute conversation this morning. Bursting with pride, Niko had approached Edison in the hall and informed him that he'd finished redesigning the dynamos. The other man had nodded brusquely and continued walking.

"Sir," Niko had asked, "Might I inquire as to when I shall receive my payment?"

"Payment?" Edison had chuckled. "When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke."

Personal effects gathered, Niko pulled on his coat. Taking one last look around the room where his dreams had lived for the past several months, he turned off the light and walked out the door. It was a joke, all right, and he was the punchline. Still, he was determined to have the last laugh.

* * * * *

Niko stood at the back of the crowd, hat pulled down over his eyes and shoulders hunched. Up at the podium, his former employer had already begun his rhetoric.

"Think of direct current as a river flowing peacefully to the sea," Edison called out. "Alternating current, on the other hand, is like a torrent rushing violently over a precipice. Unpredictable. Dangerous. Uncontrollable."

Edison paused. Voices buzzed in affirmation. When they were silent, he continued.

"Even lethal."

An approving murmur rose from the audience. This was the part they had been waiting for.

"Topsy here is crazed," Edison said, gesturing with a flourish at an elephant, slumped and forlorn. Chained to post a few feet away, the enormous beast was outfitted with sandals of wood and wire. Large men flanked her on both sides.

As the throng pressed closer to the stage, the drone of voices took on an almost fevered pitch.

"Topsy has murdered three people," Edison said, "and her handlers have called for her execution. You'll find that alternating current is the perfect tool for this deadly job - and for no other purpose."

The crowd rumbled in anticipation. A consummate showman, Edison let them wait before nodding to his technician.

Stomach churning, Niko watched as the switch was thrown and smoke billowed into the air. Without a sound, the elephant jerked briefly before collapsing onto her side. By the time the scent of burning meat reached him, it was already over. Inside the pockets of his overcoat, his fingers curled into angry fists so tight his nails bit into his palms.

Niko's ears rang with the shouts of the crowd. Despair flowed over him like an incoming tide. All his efforts would be for nothing if Edison's smear campaign succeeded. His whole life, he'd worked for nothing but this one goal. Time and time again, this man had made a mockery of it, and all in the name of egotism and greed.

The familiar white light flared behind his eyes, blinding him to all else. Gone were the park in which he stood, the people, the despair and anger. In their place came the images, etched in his mind's eye with a painful clarity. He saw himself, lying in bed at age 17, extracting his father's promise to send him to University if only he'd live. Studying at the Polytechnic Institute, hell-bent on a conquest the world thought impossible.

Lightning flashed again; the scene shifted. Dirty and exhausted, he stumbled home after digging ditches for $2 a day. The vision changed; he was building his invention at long last. With no blueprints, he'd used only the picture in his mind. Brought to life, the machine worked just as he'd imagined. One final burst of white heat - he was signing the contract that would bring his dream to fruition.

By the time the world returned to normal, the crowd was dispersing. Head pounding, Niko stood alone and watched them go. The scent of singed flesh still hung in the air, but he barely noticed. None of that mattered now.

All his life, Niko had always found a way. This time would be no different.

* * * * *

The air in the small room vibrated with activity. Around him, engineers were abuzz with frenetic activity, but Niko remained calm as he watched the falls crashing over the rocks. The rushing water was just as it had been when he'd seen it in his mind's eye as a boy. In only moments, the dream would come full circle. All his life, he'd known this day would come.

In his five years as a consultant for the Niagara Falls Power Project, he'd been questioned over and over. Would the machines really work? After all, they'd existed nowhere beyond his own imagination. Investors and engineers on the project had been reluctant to believe the devices would function as well in reality as they did inside Niko's head. As they waited now for the switch to be thrown, their anxiety was palpable.

Niko himself had no doubts. The visions had brought him to this point, against all odds. They would not fail him now.




This entry tells part of the life story of Nikola Tesla, the man who made AC electrical current possible. For anyone who's wondering, yes, he really did experience visions and no, I didn't know this when I initially chose to write about him. It was obviously fate. If you're interested in reading more about Tesla, you might check out his autobiography.
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
Fred lifted the bottle of rum, tipped his head back and took an eager swallow. Liquid fire seared his parched throat, and a contented sigh escaped his lips. It wasn't his drink of choice, but it would do just fine. Under the circumstances, he was grateful to have it at all.

At their last stop in New Guinea, he'd fought tooth and nail to keep his own bottles aboard. Every last ounce of fuel could mean the difference between life and death, and they were leaving all but the most essential cargo. Fred argued that the navigator's sanity might become their saving grace, but somehow the pilot hadn't understood why that required whiskey.

Now here they were, stranded on this coral reef in the middle of nowhere, but at least he'd finally gotten his drink. The remains of the old ship proved they weren't the first to make an unexpected landing here; they might also be their salvation. A quick search of the wreck had yielded a few tins of sardines, some dried peas, and of course, the blessed liquor. These supplies would hold them over for a few days, by which time they might be rescued.

And if not, I might just get a sailor's burial after all, he thought wryly.

The irony was not lost on Fred. He'd given up two decades at the helm of a ship for a career as an aviator, but it seemed the ocean had laid claim to him nonetheless.

Learning to fly had never been his real goal; his first love and true skill was navigation. The sea and stars spoke to him, whispering the way to go. He was an expert with charts and sextants, but a healthy dose of guesswork and a sailor's intuition were two of the finest tools in his kit. In seven short years, he'd become one of the best aerial navigators around.

His skill hadn't been enough this time. They'd gotten off course and been unable to get their bearings again. With their fuel tanks almost empty, an emergency landing on the coral reef had been their only real option.

The sound of footsteps broke into his reverie.

"Anything?" he asked, knowing the answer the moment he saw her face.

Amelia's critics loved to question her talent as an aviator, but her spirit and determination were indisputable. Her gap-toothed grin shone from the pages of papers and glossy magazines, a beacon of hope to guide a nation in dire need of it. Fred had learned quickly from working with the her that the smile was not just for show; she had a love for life that few could match.

At the moment, however, that smile was nowhere in evidence. Her eyes were chips of ice and her face was set in grim determination. Today, she was nobody's lighthouse; all she wanted was to find her own way home.

* * * * *

Fred swirled the ice cubes in his drink and sighed. He hated parties like this - industry mixers where the only point was to see and be seen.

At least there was free booze. He took a healthy gulp of his whiskey, relishing the warm glow as it spread through his chest. Scanning the room, he wondered where the hell Larry was. He'd only come because his friend insisted there was someone he needed to meet.

"There you are!" Larry's overly enthusiastic voice came from behind him. Fred turned to greet his friend, and his heart sank. This was who Larry wanted him to meet?

"Fred, meet Amelia Earhart. Amelia, meet Fred Noonan."

A no-nonsense man, Fred had never been overly impressed with Ms. Earhart or the whirlwind of publicity surrounding her. Sure, she'd achieved feats no woman and few men had managed, but she'd also crashed several planes in the process. Besides, Fred found it hard to trust a pilot who spent as much time writing books, giving lectures, and even designing clothes as she did in the air. Was she an aviatrix for the sake of flying, or for the love of attention?

Still, it wouldn't do to be rude. Taking another slug of his drink, he offered his hand.

"Ms. Earhart," he said coolly.

"Please, call me Amelia," she replied, "They say you're one of the best." Media darling or not, he had to admit she had a firm handshake and a great smile.

"They say you wreck a lot of planes," Fred said. The words were out of his mouth before he knew it. This was another reason he didn't like parties. Larry groaned beside him. Cursing his lack of self-control, Fred drained the rest of his whiskey in one swallow.

"You're a man who speaks his mind," Earhart replied, "I like that."

She was still smiling, and it didn't look forced. Fred had to hand it to her - if nothing else, she certainly had spunk.

"Well, enough small talk," Earhart continued. "I asked Larry to introduce us for a reason."

Fred's head was spinning. She'd asked Larry to... what?

"Are you still working for Pan Am?"

"Yes, for almost seven years now," he replied, not adding that he'd quit in a heartbeat given half a reason. He was drowning in the airline's bureaucratic nonsense.

"Ever thought of leaving?" she asked, seeming to read his mind.

"Well, I'd like to open a navigation school someday," he said.

"Before you do that, would you consider joining me on a flight around the world?" Earhart asked.

This was certainly unexpected.

Why the hell not? he thought. If nothing else, it should get me plenty of publicity for the school I want to open.

Fred shook Ms. Earhart's hand and gave her a genuine smile. "I'd be honored."

* * * * *

Fred watched apprehensively as the roiling sea pounded the shore.

"We need to move inland," he said.

"But we can't leave the plane behind," Amelia argued, "Without it - without the radio - how will anyone find us?"

He opened his mouth to tell her they'd probably abandoned the search by now anyway, but the words withered on his tongue.

A week had passed, and she'd never once given up hope. She made it her mission to raise someone, anyone, on the plane's radio. From dawn until dusk, every hour on the hour, she sat at the controls, shoulders squared, jaw set.

"I'm sure they'll find us sooner or later," he said weakly.

"Fred, don't coddle me like I'm some sort of child! If you don't believe they're going to find us, just say so." Her blue eyes drilled into him, freezing him in place.

"I'm sorry," he said, and meant it. Heaven help the man who underestimated this woman.

In the months since he'd signed on with her, his feelings had changed from grudging admiration to real respect. Amelia worked twice as hard as most men he knew and rarely complained. If she'd wrecked a few birds, it was only because she was forever impatient to fly farther and faster, her ambitions outstripping her level of learning.

She did have skill as a pilot, though, and a cool head in a crisis situation to boot. When they'd decided to land on this godforsaken reef, she'd pulled it off without a hitch.

"What makes you think they've given up?" she asked, her eyes and voice softer now.

With her cropped and tousled hair, freckled nose and trim figure, she could easily pass for a girl in her early twenties. Fred felt an almost irrepressible urge to protect her, even knowing it was the last thing she wanted. Instead, he gestured toward the surf as it pummeled the reef.

"If the water stays this rough it'll dash the plane to bits in no time, and us along with it," he said, "and if they are still looking for us, there's not much chance a rescue team will get close enough to see us here anytime soon."

Amelia nodded slowly.

"Let me try the radio one more time," she said, "and then we'll go."

* * * * *

Nighttime in the forest was peaceful, resting under a roof of leaves and lulled by the drone of the insects. Fred leaned back against a tree trunk, watching the moonlight filter through the tops of the trees.

Two weeks had passed since they'd found the campsite. The trek inland had been brutal, requiring them to hack their way through tightly interwoven bushes higher than their knees. Had they been equipped with machetes, this task would have been formidable; with nothing but his pocket knife, it was near impossible.

Fred couldn't have asked for a better travel companion. Though the sun beat upon them until he was on the verge of collapse, Amelia never flagged. She never complained aloud, though at times Fred caught her muttering what sounded suspiciously like swear words.

The campsite was in a clearing shaded by magnificent tall trees whose leaves formed a green canopy. Fred supposed the people from the wrecked ship might have camped here. Whoever had occupied the area had left behind a makeshift shelter and the remains of a fire circle.

It was as good a place as any to stay. The forest offered protection from the sun, and was home to many birds and small turtles that they could catch and eat. With a nearby shore unblocked by brush, they could easily hunt for fish and clams by the sea.

Their existence might have been almost idyllic had it not been for one major want. They'd found no fresh water anywhere on the island. When it rained, they used shells and empty bottles to collect the precious drops.

Fred had sacrificed his beloved rum for the greater good. His argument about the antiseptic properties of alcohol had failed to impress Amelia, who rightly shot back that he was only going to drink it anyway. Though he'd pointedly asked when she planned to donate her glass bottle of hand cream to the cause, his protests were little more than bluster. What good was alcohol anyway when you could be dead of dehydration at any moment?

Apart from that argument, they'd gotten along well. When they weren't foraging, they'd sit in camp and share stories of their loves back home. Fred told Amelia about his new wife Bea, and Amelia regaled him with stories of her husband George and her lover Gene.

Amelia was a study in contradictions. She worked like a man and wore men's underwear in the name of convenience, yet faithfully applied lotion every night. When a crab nearly three feet across came up to their campsite, she wasn't the least bit squeamish about smashing it with a rock and eating it for dinner. However, after a week of observing the enormous crabs, she became enamored of them and refused to kill them anymore.

Fred found this juxtaposition of toughness and vulnerability quite endearing. He was certain that it was best for him to keep this sentiment to himself. To do otherwise would surely earn him a fate worse than death.

At night when he couldn't sleep, he wondered what would become of them. If they never made it home, how would they be remembered? Would the world remember Amelia as a great pioneer, or a careless adventurer prone to crack-ups? Would it remember him at all?

"You couldn't sleep either?" Amelia asked, startling him out of his thoughts.

"No," Fred replied, "I'm worried about our water supplies."

"Good thing you got rid of the booze, then," Amelia teased, "It's dehydrating. Besides, it makes you snore."

"I don't snore!" Fred protested.

"Right, and your boots don't stink, either."

"You know, Amelia, I'm really glad I've gotten to know you," Fred said changing the subject, "If I could choose anyone in the world to keep me company while I died of thirst on a deserted coral reef, I'd choose you."

"Don't be silly," Amelia said, "I'm sure we'll be rescued soon."

"We'd better be," Fred retorted, "I'm all out of rum now, so who knows how long I'll be able to put up with you?"

Fred didn't know if they'd make it another week, or even another day. He was sure that no one out there was still looking for them. But he was comforted by the knowledge if there was any way for them to get by, Amelia would be the one to find it.

She was tricky like that, and she never gave up.




This story is based on one hypothesis about what happened to Amelia Earheart and her navigator Fred Noonan. There's no definitive proof, but of the alternate theories out there, I think it's the most believable. It's unfortunate that Amelia and Fred probably died shortly after this, but I'd like to think that they really were friends.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
Fred lifted the bottle of rum, tipped his head back and took an eager swallow. Liquid fire seared his parched throat, and a contented sigh escaped his lips. It wasn't his drink of choice, but it would do just fine. Under the circumstances, he was grateful to have it at all.

At their last stop in New Guinea, he'd fought tooth and nail to keep his own bottles aboard. Every last ounce of fuel could mean the difference between life and death, and they were leaving all but the most essential cargo. Fred argued that the navigator's sanity might become their saving grace, but somehow the pilot hadn't understood why that required whiskey.

Now here they were, stranded on this coral reef in the middle of nowhere, but at least he'd finally gotten his drink. The remains of the old ship proved they weren't the first to make an unexpected landing here; they might also be their salvation. A quick search of the wreck had yielded a few tins of sardines, some dried peas, and of course, the blessed liquor. These supplies would hold them over for a few days, by which time they might be rescued.

And if not, I might just get a sailor's burial after all, he thought wryly.

The irony was not lost on Fred. He'd given up two decades at the helm of a ship for a career as an aviator, but it seemed the ocean had laid claim to him nonetheless.

Learning to fly had never been his real goal; his first love and true skill was navigation. The sea and stars spoke to him, whispering the way to go. He was an expert with charts and sextants, but a healthy dose of guesswork and a sailor's intuition were two of the finest tools in his kit. In seven short years, he'd become one of the best aerial navigators around.

His skill hadn't been enough this time. They'd gotten off course and been unable to get their bearings again. With their fuel tanks almost empty, an emergency landing on the coral reef had been their only real option.

The sound of footsteps broke into his reverie.

"Anything?" he asked, knowing the answer the moment he saw her face.

Amelia's critics loved to question her talent as an aviator, but her spirit and determination were indisputable. Her gap-toothed grin shone from the pages of papers and glossy magazines, a beacon of hope to guide a nation in dire need of it. Fred had learned quickly from working with the her that the smile was not just for show; she had a love for life that few could match.

At the moment, however, that smile was nowhere in evidence. Her eyes were chips of ice and her face was set in grim determination. Today, she was nobody's lighthouse; all she wanted was to find her own way home.

* * * * *

Fred swirled the ice cubes in his drink and sighed. He hated parties like this - industry mixers where the only point was to see and be seen.

At least there was free booze. He took a healthy gulp of his whiskey, relishing the warm glow as it spread through his chest. Scanning the room, he wondered where the hell Larry was. He'd only come because his friend insisted there was someone he needed to meet.

"There you are!" Larry's overly enthusiastic voice came from behind him. Fred turned to greet his friend, and his heart sank. This was who Larry wanted him to meet?

"Fred, meet Amelia Earhart. Amelia, meet Fred Noonan."

A no-nonsense man, Fred had never been overly impressed with Ms. Earhart or the whirlwind of publicity surrounding her. Sure, she'd achieved feats no woman and few men had managed, but she'd also crashed several planes in the process. Besides, Fred found it hard to trust a pilot who spent as much time writing books, giving lectures, and even designing clothes as she did in the air. Was she an aviatrix for the sake of flying, or for the love of attention?

Still, it wouldn't do to be rude. Taking another slug of his drink, he offered his hand.

"Ms. Earhart," he said coolly.

"Please, call me Amelia," she replied, "They say you're one of the best." Media darling or not, he had to admit she had a firm handshake and a great smile.

"They say you wreck a lot of planes," Fred said. The words were out of his mouth before he knew it. This was another reason he didn't like parties. Larry groaned beside him. Cursing his lack of self-control, Fred drained the rest of his whiskey in one swallow.

"You're a man who speaks his mind," Earhart replied, "I like that."

She was still smiling, and it didn't look forced. Fred had to hand it to her - if nothing else, she certainly had spunk.

"Well, enough small talk," Earhart continued. "I asked Larry to introduce us for a reason."

Fred's head was spinning. She'd asked Larry to... what?

"Are you still working for Pan Am?"

"Yes, for almost seven years now," he replied, not adding that he'd quit in a heartbeat given half a reason. He was drowning in the airline's bureaucratic nonsense.

"Ever thought of leaving?" she asked, seeming to read his mind.

"Well, I'd like to open a navigation school someday," he said.

"Before you do that, would you consider joining me on a flight around the world?" Earhart asked.

This was certainly unexpected.

Why the hell not? he thought. If nothing else, it should get me plenty of publicity for the school I want to open.

Fred shook Ms. Earhart's hand and gave her a genuine smile. "I'd be honored."

* * * * *

Fred watched apprehensively as the roiling sea pounded the shore.

"We need to move inland," he said.

"But we can't leave the plane behind," Amelia argued, "Without it - without the radio - how will anyone find us?"

He opened his mouth to tell her they'd probably abandoned the search by now anyway, but the words withered on his tongue.

A week had passed, and she'd never once given up hope. She made it her mission to raise someone, anyone, on the plane's radio. From dawn until dusk, every hour on the hour, she sat at the controls, shoulders squared, jaw set.

"I'm sure they'll find us sooner or later," he said weakly.

"Fred, don't coddle me like I'm some sort of child! If you don't believe they're going to find us, just say so." Her blue eyes drilled into him, freezing him in place.

"I'm sorry," he said, and meant it. Heaven help the man who underestimated this woman.

In the months since he'd signed on with her, his feelings had changed from grudging admiration to real respect. Amelia worked twice as hard as most men he knew and rarely complained. If she'd wrecked a few birds, it was only because she was forever impatient to fly farther and faster, her ambitions outstripping her level of learning.

She did have skill as a pilot, though, and a cool head in a crisis situation to boot. When they'd decided to land on this godforsaken reef, she'd pulled it off without a hitch.

"What makes you think they've given up?" she asked, her eyes and voice softer now.

With her cropped and tousled hair, freckled nose and trim figure, she could easily pass for a girl in her early twenties. Fred felt an almost irrepressible urge to protect her, even knowing it was the last thing she wanted. Instead, he gestured toward the surf as it pummeled the reef.

"If the water stays this rough it'll dash the plane to bits in no time, and us along with it," he said, "and if they are still looking for us, there's not much chance a rescue team will get close enough to see us here anytime soon."

Amelia nodded slowly.

"Let me try the radio one more time," she said, "and then we'll go."

* * * * *

Nighttime in the forest was peaceful, resting under a roof of leaves and lulled by the drone of the insects. Fred leaned back against a tree trunk, watching the moonlight filter through the tops of the trees.

Two weeks had passed since they'd found the campsite. The trek inland had been brutal, requiring them to hack their way through tightly interwoven bushes higher than their knees. Had they been equipped with machetes, this task would have been formidable; with nothing but his pocket knife, it was near impossible.

Fred couldn't have asked for a better travel companion. Though the sun beat upon them until he was on the verge of collapse, Amelia never flagged. She never complained aloud, though at times Fred caught her muttering what sounded suspiciously like swear words.

The campsite was in a clearing shaded by magnificent tall trees whose leaves formed a green canopy. Fred supposed the people from the wrecked ship might have camped here. Whoever had occupied the area had left behind a makeshift shelter and the remains of a fire circle.

It was as good a place as any to stay. The forest offered protection from the sun, and was home to many birds and small turtles that they could catch and eat. With a nearby shore unblocked by brush, they could easily hunt for fish and clams by the sea.

Their existence might have been almost idyllic had it not been for one major want. They'd found no fresh water anywhere on the island. When it rained, they used shells and empty bottles to collect the precious drops.

Fred had sacrificed his beloved rum for the greater good. His argument about the antiseptic properties of alcohol had failed to impress Amelia, who rightly shot back that he was only going to drink it anyway. Though he'd pointedly asked when she planned to donate her glass bottle of hand cream to the cause, his protests were little more than bluster. What good was alcohol anyway when you could be dead of dehydration at any moment?

Apart from that argument, they'd gotten along well. When they weren't foraging, they'd sit in camp and share stories of their loves back home. Fred told Amelia about his new wife Bea, and Amelia regaled him with stories of her husband George and her lover Gene.

Amelia was a study in contradictions. She worked like a man and wore men's underwear in the name of convenience, yet faithfully applied lotion every night. When a crab nearly three feet across came up to their campsite, she wasn't the least bit squeamish about smashing it with a rock and eating it for dinner. However, after a week of observing the enormous crabs, she became enamored of them and refused to kill them anymore.

Fred found this juxtaposition of toughness and vulnerability quite endearing. He was certain that it was best for him to keep this sentiment to himself. To do otherwise would surely earn him a fate worse than death.

At night when he couldn't sleep, he wondered what would become of them. If they never made it home, how would they be remembered? Would the world remember Amelia as a great pioneer, or a careless adventurer prone to crack-ups? Would it remember him at all?

"You couldn't sleep either?" Amelia asked, startling him out of his thoughts.

"No," Fred replied, "I'm worried about our water supplies."

"Good thing you got rid of the booze, then," Amelia teased, "It's dehydrating. Besides, it makes you snore."

"I don't snore!" Fred protested.

"Right, and your boots don't stink, either."

"You know, Amelia, I'm really glad I've gotten to know you," Fred said changing the subject, "If I could choose anyone in the world to keep me company while I died of thirst on a deserted coral reef, I'd choose you."

"Don't be silly," Amelia said, "I'm sure we'll be rescued soon."

"We'd better be," Fred retorted, "I'm all out of rum now, so who knows how long I'll be able to put up with you?"

Fred didn't know if they'd make it another week, or even another day. He was sure that no one out there was still looking for them. But he was comforted by the knowledge if there was any way for them to get by, Amelia would be the one to find it.

She was tricky like that, and she never gave up.




This story is based on one hypothesis about what happened to Amelia Earheart and her navigator Fred Noonan. There's no definitive proof, but of the alternate theories out there, I think it's the most believable. It's unfortunate that Amelia and Fred probably died shortly after this, but I'd like to think that they really were friends.
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
237 BCE - Carthage

The sky was almost completely dark as General Hamilcar Barca stood before the altar. Lifting the shallow libation dish carefully so as not to slop any liquid over the sides, he poured its contents onto the rough stones before him. In the flickering torchlight, he watched as the wine darkened the masonry like a spreading bloodstain.

May the blood of my enemies soon flow as freely.

It wasn't just that the Romans had humiliated him on the battlefield, though that was bad enough. After the war, many of his troops had revolted. He'd been forced to go into battle once more, against his own men. The Carthaginian Senate had been no help, so he'd been forced to turn to Rome for assistance. To add insult to injury, they'd seized a king's ransom in land and silver as their price for helping him quell the mutiny.

Though he couldn't retaliate directly, Hamilcar had a plan. Soon he would sail to Iberia, where he'd rebuild his wealth and also his armies. Though it might not be during his lifetime, his losses would be avenged.

As he began to prepare the sacrificial goat, a jagged flash of blinding white light split the bruised heavens. Until now, the evening had been clear, with no sign of an impending storm. This could only be an omen of favorable things to come. After all, what better response could the god of the skies send to a man named for lightning itself?

"Hannibal!" he called out, his voice echoing across the plain.

"Yes, Father?" His eldest son's voice, as yet clear and unchanged, rang out from somewhere in the blackness. A moment later, the pale oval of his face swam into view. Then he stepped into the light, a slim figure in simple robes, dark curls spilling over his broad shoulders. Though he was only a boy, he carried himself like a man.

It was time he learned to fight like one.

"Son, do you wish to accompany me to Iberia?"

The boy's eyes shone, and for a moment he was speechless.

"Of course, if you're not ready, I understand," his father gently teased.

"Not ready?" Hannibal all but squealed with delight, for once seeming precisely his age. "Of course I am ready. I've spent my entire life preparing for this!"

The elder Barca smiled inwardly. "Well, if you are certain..."

Reaching out, he clasped his son's hands firmly within his own. "If you are to join me in battle, there is one thing I must ask of you."

"Anything, Father," came the breathless response.

Guiding the boy's hand to the carcass that laid on the altar before them, the general spoke gravely. "Swear to me, son, that as long as you live, you will never be a friend to the Romans."

The flames of the torch painted shadows across the boy's cheeks. His dark eyes were filled with fire.

"I swear it on my life!"

The spreading warmth of pride suffused the older man's heart. All three of his sons showed great promise, but this one was special. Quiet and thoughtful, he had a quick mind and was eager to learn the ways of combat. It was this boy who would someday restore Carthage to its former glory.

It was only a matter of time.

*****

216 BCE - Capua

The luxurious comfort of the city was anything but relaxing to Maharbal. During the treacherous march through the Alps, he would have given anything for a warm bed and a full belly. Now, however, he yearned to be anywhere but here.

As his father's wine had once spilled across the altar stones, so had the blood of Hannibal's foes flowed over the plains of Cannae. The earth had become slick with it; the river had run red. As the cavalry commander, Maharbal was no stranger to killing. Still, even he had been disquieted by the sight of the corpses piled over the killing field on the morning after the battle.

His uneasiness had quickly been replaced with a certainty that they needed to keep moving at all costs. He had begged Hannibal to let him bring the cavalry to Rome immediately, but the commander had refused.

Always a bit impulsive, Maharbal had lost his temper. He had shouted, "So the gods haven't given everything to one man; you know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but you don't know how to use one!" Then he had stormed off, too exasperated to discuss the issue any further.

Perhaps it was imprudent to speak so disrespectfully to the most deadly military commander that Carthage had ever known. This hadn't been the first time Maharbal had done so, and it probably wouldn't be the last. His sharp tongue and fiery disposition often got the better of him.

Having served under his father, most of the inner circle had known Hannibal since he was little more than a boy. It was a close-knit group comprised of both blood relatives and chosen family. Crossing the frozen Alps, though it had nearly killed them, had only strengthened their bond.

One might expect that a journey into near-death from exposure and starvation would breed distrust of the man responsible. Indeed, many thousands of the mercenary troops who had begun the journey with them had defected along the way. Hannibal had let them go, saying that the last thing he needed was a contingent of men whose loyalty was questionable.

In the inner circle, there had been no defectors. While they'd respected his father, they were completely devoted to Hannibal. It wasn't just that they admired his brilliant tactical mind and his ability to do whatever the enemy least expected, though of course they did. He was brilliant (and sometimes knew it all too well), but beneath that he was also a compassionate and approachable leader with a wicked sense of humor.

He valued fealty and honesty above all else, and provided the same in return. Fearless in combat, he fought and slept on the hard ground beside them. Unafraid of criticism, he would never penalize an adviser for speaking to him as Maharbal had done. He welcomed their insight and trusted them implicitly.

However, that didn't mean he always listened to their advice.

Hannibal had argued that even now, the Roman armies still far outnumbered his. They had been dogged by fatigue and hunger since they'd left Iberia. The five-day march to Rome would deplete their resources even further. Little would be left for a siege against the seat of the mighty empire.

Instead, the commander had sent his youngest brother Mago home to Carthage. Loaded down with baskets of golden rings from the fingers of slain Roman nobles, he would plead their case to the Senate. Faced with this display, Hannibal was sure they'd send additional resources. Renewed, they would continue their advance on Rome.

He had a point. Each new victory saw another mass defection of Gallic warriors once loyal to the empire. Already the wealthy and beautiful city of Capua had literally burned its bridges with Rome in favor of an alliance with them. It stood to reason that others in Italy would soon follow suit.

Despite these positive omens, Maharbal was certain that this hesitation would be his beloved leader's undoing. Older by more than a decade, he hadn't forgotten how the Senate had failed to come through for his company in the first war against Rome. It could be years before they sent reinforcements. It could be an eternity.

The Romans' numbers would always be greater than theirs. No fresh troops, no new allies, could change that fact. The bloodbath at Cannae had shaken the empire to its core, and their only chance was to strike before that shock had subsided.

There was nothing to be done, though. Maharbal had said his piece and it had gotten him nowhere. Even now, the window of opportunity was closing. If they left today, it might already be too late. It was better not to focus on things he could not change.

Instead, he'd make the most of his time in this beautiful city. Unlike most of his countrymen, he was not burdened with overly developed moral sensibilities. There were many pleasures he could enjoy here. He had a warm bed for the first time in ages and he might as well find someone to share it with him.

It was out of his hands, and there was no sense troubling himself with the matter any longer. He prayed that he was wrong and Hannibal was right. One way or the other, they'd find out soon enough.

It was only a matter of time.

*****

206 BCE - Croton

Hannibal stared moodily across the lush grounds of Hera's temple. Ten years had spilled away like wine from a cracked vessel, and he was no longer a young man. Nor did the gods, if they had ever existed, smile upon him as they once had.

The temple grounds, hectic with blooms that could take a man's breath away, were home to some of the most lovely women imaginable. Though they hung within his grasp like figs, supple and ripe for the picking, he was unmoved by their beauty. He'd had little taste for such conquests even in his youth, and his capacity for pleasure was in short supply these days.

Maharbal had been right - he knew that now. More than a decade in Italy and a host of battles won had brought him no closer to winning the war. Instead, he'd been pinned in place as he watched it all slowly slip from his grasp.

His armies were outnumbered more than ever by their foes. The Romans' supply of conscripts was virtually inexhaustible, and his own dwindled by the day. Though his alliance with Capua had afforded him food and shelter, it had come at a cost. His obligation to protect the people of the city was at odds with his goal of driving further into the heart of Italy.

The Gallic lands to the North were too far to stray, and he could no longer venture there to enlist more troops. The elders of Carthage had been no help. Unimpressed with Mago's theatrics, they had been loath to send money or fresh soldiers.

Capua was gone now, the earth around it scorched and the city itself fallen to the Romans. They'd paid dearly for their allegiance to him. When the empire had overtaken the city, its people had been beaten to death with rods. The survivors had been sold into slavery.

It had been hard to find new allies since then. Instead, his army struggled to keep the footholds they had left.

Since the day he'd sailed for Iberia on his father's ship, he'd been a soldier at heart. Tearing across the countryside, striking fear into the hearts and minds of his enemies - it was what he lived for. The Romans had long since learned not to engage him, and battles now were few and far between. This waiting was a slow and painful death.

In Iberia, the Barca lands were now lost, and he supposed his wife Imilce had gone with them. Though their marriage had been largely political, he'd been fond of her in his way. There had been no time to mourn her loss, though, before he'd received news of his middle brother Hasdrubal's death, in the form of his severed head.

Never had he felt so alone. Though he had a reputation for bloodlust, he'd always been blessed with the love of friends and family. Now most of them were gone, lives burnt up like sacrifices to gods he'd never been sure he believed in. He'd never realized how much he relied upon them all.

Arrogance had been his undoing. Maharbal had tried to warn him and he, basking in the foolish glow of his latest victory, had not deigned to listen. Now, like so many others who'd loved and helped him, his old friend was dead. Their blood was on his hands.

So many lives lost, and for what?

He had never been an emotional man, but he'd wept upon seeing his brother's face for the last time. In Hasdrubal's wide, unseeing eyes, he'd seen the fate of Carthage. Like all the others who'd stood with him, the people of his homeland would soon be lost.

It was only a matter of time.

*****

183 BCE - Bithynia

The Romans were coming for him.

Hannibal was no stranger to escaping under cover of darkness. It was a tactic he'd used countless times when he was still a brash young commander. Though he was an old man now, he was still always prepared to leave in a hurry. It was a necessity in his line of work.

Exiled from his homeland, he'd reinvented himself as a consultant of sorts. Currently, he worked in the court of King Prusias of Bithynia. His official title was "city planner", but he provided assistance with many other sorts of planning as well. Sometimes that planning involved catapulting pots of snakes onto the ships of the King's enemies.

It was a living, but it didn't make him any friends. As always, he kept his ear to the ground. Tonight, he'd heard that the owner of the snake-plagued ships had asked the Roman empire to intervene in his dispute with King Prusias. This sort of intervention was never good news for him.

Gathering a few possessions, he slipped into an underground passage just down the hall from his quarters. Creeping through the tunnel, he made as little noise as possible. Subterfuge was harder with an aging body that didn't work the way it once had.

All of a sudden, he heard shouting and the sound of running feet. The King's guards were almost upon him before he knew it. Pulling a flask of wine from his pocket, he drank deeply. The poison would kick in any minute, and he'd escape once more.

It was only a matter of time.




When I was 12 years old, I took a summer course about the ancient Roman empire and became obsessed with Hannibal Barca and the Second Punic War. I was supposed to write a paper for the end of the class, but got so sidetracked by researching Hannibal's conquest that I never actually finished the paper. The same thing almost happened to me when I went to write this entry.

Because history is generally written by the victors, most of what we know about Hannibal and his people is written from a Roman perspective. I used this book and this website for the majority of my research. When in doubt, I made things up.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
237 BCE - Carthage

The sky was almost completely dark as General Hamilcar Barca stood before the altar. Lifting the shallow libation dish carefully so as not to slop any liquid over the sides, he poured its contents onto the rough stones before him. In the flickering torchlight, he watched as the wine darkened the masonry like a spreading bloodstain.

May the blood of my enemies soon flow as freely.

It wasn't just that the Romans had humiliated him on the battlefield, though that was bad enough. After the war, many of his troops had revolted. He'd been forced to go into battle once more, against his own men. The Carthaginian Senate had been no help, so he'd been forced to turn to Rome for assistance. To add insult to injury, they'd seized a king's ransom in land and silver as their price for helping him quell the mutiny.

Though he couldn't retaliate directly, Hamilcar had a plan. Soon he would sail to Iberia, where he'd rebuild his wealth and also his armies. Though it might not be during his lifetime, his losses would be avenged.

As he began to prepare the sacrificial goat, a jagged flash of blinding white light split the bruised heavens. Until now, the evening had been clear, with no sign of an impending storm. This could only be an omen of favorable things to come. After all, what better response could the god of the skies send to a man named for lightning itself?

"Hannibal!" he called out, his voice echoing across the plain.

"Yes, Father?" His eldest son's voice, as yet clear and unchanged, rang out from somewhere in the blackness. A moment later, the pale oval of his face swam into view. Then he stepped into the light, a slim figure in simple robes, dark curls spilling over his broad shoulders. Though he was only a boy, he carried himself like a man.

It was time he learned to fight like one.

"Son, do you wish to accompany me to Iberia?"

The boy's eyes shone, and for a moment he was speechless.

"Of course, if you're not ready, I understand," his father gently teased.

"Not ready?" Hannibal all but squealed with delight, for once seeming precisely his age. "Of course I am ready. I've spent my entire life preparing for this!"

The elder Barca smiled inwardly. "Well, if you are certain..."

Reaching out, he clasped his son's hands firmly within his own. "If you are to join me in battle, there is one thing I must ask of you."

"Anything, Father," came the breathless response.

Guiding the boy's hand to the carcass that laid on the altar before them, the general spoke gravely. "Swear to me, son, that as long as you live, you will never be a friend to the Romans."

The flames of the torch painted shadows across the boy's cheeks. His dark eyes were filled with fire.

"I swear it on my life!"

The spreading warmth of pride suffused the older man's heart. All three of his sons showed great promise, but this one was special. Quiet and thoughtful, he had a quick mind and was eager to learn the ways of combat. It was this boy who would someday restore Carthage to its former glory.

It was only a matter of time.

*****

216 BCE - Capua

The luxurious comfort of the city was anything but relaxing to Maharbal. During the treacherous march through the Alps, he would have given anything for a warm bed and a full belly. Now, however, he yearned to be anywhere but here.

As his father's wine had once spilled across the altar stones, so had the blood of Hannibal's foes flowed over the plains of Cannae. The earth had become slick with it; the river had run red. As the cavalry commander, Maharbal was no stranger to killing. Still, even he had been disquieted by the sight of the corpses piled over the killing field on the morning after the battle.

His uneasiness had quickly been replaced with a certainty that they needed to keep moving at all costs. He had begged Hannibal to let him bring the cavalry to Rome immediately, but the commander had refused.

Always a bit impulsive, Maharbal had lost his temper. He had shouted, "So the gods haven't given everything to one man; you know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but you don't know how to use one!" Then he had stormed off, too exasperated to discuss the issue any further.

Perhaps it was imprudent to speak so disrespectfully to the most deadly military commander that Carthage had ever known. This hadn't been the first time Maharbal had done so, and it probably wouldn't be the last. His sharp tongue and fiery disposition often got the better of him.

Having served under his father, most of the inner circle had known Hannibal since he was little more than a boy. It was a close-knit group comprised of both blood relatives and chosen family. Crossing the frozen Alps, though it had nearly killed them, had only strengthened their bond.

One might expect that a journey into near-death from exposure and starvation would breed distrust of the man responsible. Indeed, many thousands of the mercenary troops who had begun the journey with them had defected along the way. Hannibal had let them go, saying that the last thing he needed was a contingent of men whose loyalty was questionable.

In the inner circle, there had been no defectors. While they'd respected his father, they were completely devoted to Hannibal. It wasn't just that they admired his brilliant tactical mind and his ability to do whatever the enemy least expected, though of course they did. He was brilliant (and sometimes knew it all too well), but beneath that he was also a compassionate and approachable leader with a wicked sense of humor.

He valued fealty and honesty above all else, and provided the same in return. Fearless in combat, he fought and slept on the hard ground beside them. Unafraid of criticism, he would never penalize an adviser for speaking to him as Maharbal had done. He welcomed their insight and trusted them implicitly.

However, that didn't mean he always listened to their advice.

Hannibal had argued that even now, the Roman armies still far outnumbered his. They had been dogged by fatigue and hunger since they'd left Iberia. The five-day march to Rome would deplete their resources even further. Little would be left for a siege against the seat of the mighty empire.

Instead, the commander had sent his youngest brother Mago home to Carthage. Loaded down with baskets of golden rings from the fingers of slain Roman nobles, he would plead their case to the Senate. Faced with this display, Hannibal was sure they'd send additional resources. Renewed, they would continue their advance on Rome.

He had a point. Each new victory saw another mass defection of Gallic warriors once loyal to the empire. Already the wealthy and beautiful city of Capua had literally burned its bridges with Rome in favor of an alliance with them. It stood to reason that others in Italy would soon follow suit.

Despite these positive omens, Maharbal was certain that this hesitation would be his beloved leader's undoing. Older by more than a decade, he hadn't forgotten how the Senate had failed to come through for his company in the first war against Rome. It could be years before they sent reinforcements. It could be an eternity.

The Romans' numbers would always be greater than theirs. No fresh troops, no new allies, could change that fact. The bloodbath at Cannae had shaken the empire to its core, and their only chance was to strike before that shock had subsided.

There was nothing to be done, though. Maharbal had said his piece and it had gotten him nowhere. Even now, the window of opportunity was closing. If they left today, it might already be too late. It was better not to focus on things he could not change.

Instead, he'd make the most of his time in this beautiful city. Unlike most of his countrymen, he was not burdened with overly developed moral sensibilities. There were many pleasures he could enjoy here. He had a warm bed for the first time in ages and he might as well find someone to share it with him.

It was out of his hands, and there was no sense troubling himself with the matter any longer. He prayed that he was wrong and Hannibal was right. One way or the other, they'd find out soon enough.

It was only a matter of time.

*****

206 BCE - Croton

Hannibal stared moodily across the lush grounds of Hera's temple. Ten years had spilled away like wine from a cracked vessel, and he was no longer a young man. Nor did the gods, if they had ever existed, smile upon him as they once had.

The temple grounds, hectic with blooms that could take a man's breath away, were home to some of the most lovely women imaginable. Though they hung within his grasp like figs, supple and ripe for the picking, he was unmoved by their beauty. He'd had little taste for such conquests even in his youth, and his capacity for pleasure was in short supply these days.

Maharbal had been right - he knew that now. More than a decade in Italy and a host of battles won had brought him no closer to winning the war. Instead, he'd been pinned in place as he watched it all slowly slip from his grasp.

His armies were outnumbered more than ever by their foes. The Romans' supply of conscripts was virtually inexhaustible, and his own dwindled by the day. Though his alliance with Capua had afforded him food and shelter, it had come at a cost. His obligation to protect the people of the city was at odds with his goal of driving further into the heart of Italy.

The Gallic lands to the North were too far to stray, and he could no longer venture there to enlist more troops. The elders of Carthage had been no help. Unimpressed with Mago's theatrics, they had been loath to send money or fresh soldiers.

Capua was gone now, the earth around it scorched and the city itself fallen to the Romans. They'd paid dearly for their allegiance to him. When the empire had overtaken the city, its people had been beaten to death with rods. The survivors had been sold into slavery.

It had been hard to find new allies since then. Instead, his army struggled to keep the footholds they had left.

Since the day he'd sailed for Iberia on his father's ship, he'd been a soldier at heart. Tearing across the countryside, striking fear into the hearts and minds of his enemies - it was what he lived for. The Romans had long since learned not to engage him, and battles now were few and far between. This waiting was a slow and painful death.

In Iberia, the Barca lands were now lost, and he supposed his wife Imilce had gone with them. Though their marriage had been largely political, he'd been fond of her in his way. There had been no time to mourn her loss, though, before he'd received news of his middle brother Hasdrubal's death, in the form of his severed head.

Never had he felt so alone. Though he had a reputation for bloodlust, he'd always been blessed with the love of friends and family. Now most of them were gone, lives burnt up like sacrifices to gods he'd never been sure he believed in. He'd never realized how much he relied upon them all.

Arrogance had been his undoing. Maharbal had tried to warn him and he, basking in the foolish glow of his latest victory, had not deigned to listen. Now, like so many others who'd loved and helped him, his old friend was dead. Their blood was on his hands.

So many lives lost, and for what?

He had never been an emotional man, but he'd wept upon seeing his brother's face for the last time. In Hasdrubal's wide, unseeing eyes, he'd seen the fate of Carthage. Like all the others who'd stood with him, the people of his homeland would soon be lost.

It was only a matter of time.

*****

183 BCE - Bithynia

The Romans were coming for him.

Hannibal was no stranger to escaping under cover of darkness. It was a tactic he'd used countless times when he was still a brash young commander. Though he was an old man now, he was still always prepared to leave in a hurry. It was a necessity in his line of work.

Exiled from his homeland, he'd reinvented himself as a consultant of sorts. Currently, he worked in the court of King Prusias of Bithynia. His official title was "city planner", but he provided assistance with many other sorts of planning as well. Sometimes that planning involved catapulting pots of snakes onto the ships of the King's enemies.

It was a living, but it didn't make him any friends. As always, he kept his ear to the ground. Tonight, he'd heard that the owner of the snake-plagued ships had asked the Roman empire to intervene in his dispute with King Prusias. This sort of intervention was never good news for him.

Gathering a few possessions, he slipped into an underground passage just down the hall from his quarters. Creeping through the tunnel, he made as little noise as possible. Subterfuge was harder with an aging body that didn't work the way it once had.

All of a sudden, he heard shouting and the sound of running feet. The King's guards were almost upon him before he knew it. Pulling a flask of wine from his pocket, he drank deeply. The poison would kick in any minute, and he'd escape once more.

It was only a matter of time.




When I was 12 years old, I took a summer course about the ancient Roman empire and became obsessed with Hannibal Barca and the Second Punic War. I was supposed to write a paper for the end of the class, but got so sidetracked by researching Hannibal's conquest that I never actually finished the paper. The same thing almost happened to me when I went to write this entry.

Because history is generally written by the victors, most of what we know about Hannibal and his people is written from a Roman perspective. I used this book and this website for the majority of my research. When in doubt, I made things up.
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
This is shit, Yossi thought.

He rocked the stiff military-issue chair backward onto its rear legs and heaved a mighty sigh. The sound echoed in the stillness of the desert. The sun hung languidly in the bleached sky, glinting across the rippling waters of the canal and unconcerned with Yossi's plight.

After spending Pesach on duty, he'd looked forward to a quiet Rosh Hashanah at home with Yael and their two little ones. When he had been called to serve at the Milano strongpoint instead, he'd written a letter of complaint to the Minister of Defense. Surprisingly, the man with the eye patch had responded, releasing all of the 68th Battalion from service except for a skeleton crew. Perhaps Yossi had not been the only one to protest the deployment.

In exchange for a leave during Sukkot, he had volunteered to remain at his post. At 2 and 4 years old, Meir and Avital weren't really old enough to appreciate the High Holy Days anyway. A chance to go on a weeklong holiday with his family later was well worth missing them now.

Milano was a ghost town, as neglected as the rest of the Bar-Lev Line. The Line had been built to guard against an Egyptian invasion, but it had been years since anyone truly believed such an attack would come. Half of the strongpoints that comprised the line had been shut down, and the remaining forts had fallen into disrepair. Duty here was as an exercise in futility. Reserve units, mostly students and men well past their prime, manned the stations, bringing books and games and anticipating no action.

Today was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yossi had expected the solitude of the nearly-abandoned base to be meditative, an opportunity for reflection. Instead, he felt oddly disconcerted. Worshiping with a congregation of sand and rocks and accompanied by the only the whistling wind, it was easy to imagine that God had already passed judgment and found him lacking.

And the real hell of it all is that I can't even have a damn cigarette.

Sighing again, he pulled his father's old olivewood snuff box from his left breast pocket and tapped its lid firmly with two thin fingers. He opened the box and took a pinch, rolling the finely ground tobacco briefly between his thumb and forefinger before inhaling lightly. The sweet aroma filled his nose, and he dissolved into a violent fit of sneezing. He wasn't a fan of snuff, but it was all he was allowed during the fast.

He'd barely recovered his composure when he saw the commander approaching. There would be a briefing in the mess hall in fifteen minutes. Stretching his long legs, he stood up and went inside to wash up. He welcomed the distraction.

* * * * *

Crouched in a scrubby juniper bush, Yossi ate for the first time in over 48 hours. It was an unimpressive spread: canned beef and tuna, crackers, pickles and olives. After the unintentional extension of his Yom Kippur fast and a long trek through the desert, however, it tasted like heaven.

Only minutes into the briefing, the commander's talk had been interrupted by loud explosions. Artillery shells had torn through the air, part of a military action they'd all thought impossible. The inexperienced reservists had panicked, diving for cover. The commander had sent him to the observation tower to see what was happening while he took the rest of the troops to the bunker.

Up in the tower, Yossi had rubbed his eyes in disbelief. The detonating projectiles weren't the worst of it; hundreds of Egyptian troops were advancing across the canal. A flotilla of rubber boats sailed over waters that had been calm less than an hour before, loaded down with men dead set on breaching the Bar-Levi Line.

By the time he'd made it back to the bunker, two members of his company had already been killed by shrapnel. Still, everyone had been certain that the air force would quash the Egyptian war efforts in no time. They'd rejoiced at the ear-splitting roar of the first planes flying overhead, only to reel in horror moments later as they watched the aircraft being gunned down. No reinforcements had come; no one had expected any to be needed and none were available on such short notice.

The impossible had happened. The Egyptians were staging an all-out attack. And from the looks of things, they were winning.

Only a third of the soldiers from his base were here with him in the desert now. Terrified and bedraggled, they prayed, some for the first time in years. One of the men had managed to escape with his tallit, and they took turns using the prayer shawl, each offering his own words to the heavens. When the tallit was passed to him, Yossi entreated God to allow him to see his wife and babies again.

As if in answer to his supplication, the sand beneath him began to vibrate with the thundering approach of a tank. The prayer shawl clutched around his slender shoulders, Yossi almost ran toward the sound, then hesitated. A member of the armored corps would be able to tell an Israeli tank from an Egyptian one simply by listening to the sound of its treads. He himself was only a reservist, far more learned in Torah than in the ways of war.

We barely made it out of Milano alive, and we've got no more food, he thought. We're ill-prepared and won't last much longer out here. And if the enemy's tanks have already advanced this far, there's a good chance we won't be rescued in time anyway.

His feet made the decision for him, and Yossi tore up the hill in the direction of the tank. He crested the ridge, waving the borrowed tallit like a white flag. Squinting toward the horizon, he began his prayers anew.

Please God, let it be one of ours.




[This story is a fictional account of the beginning of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Although there were signs that the Egyptians were planning an attack, the Israeli government did not believe the Egyptian army had the resources to engage them. Their overconfidence coupled with the observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, left them woefully unprepared when the Egyptians quite literally brought out their big guns. If you are interested, here are two of the resources I used in researching this story. There really was a soldier named Yossi stationed at Milano strongpoint that day, and the prayer shawl really was instrumental in his rescue. However, I've taken quite a few artistic liberties with the other details of his story.]
n3m3sis43: (Default)
This is shit, Yossi thought.

He rocked the stiff military-issue chair backward onto its rear legs and heaved a mighty sigh. The sound echoed in the stillness of the desert. The sun hung languidly in the bleached sky, glinting across the rippling waters of the canal and unconcerned with Yossi's plight.

After spending Pesach on duty, he'd looked forward to a quiet Rosh Hashanah at home with Yael and their two little ones. When he had been called to serve at the Milano strongpoint instead, he'd written a letter of complaint to the Minister of Defense. Surprisingly, the man with the eye patch had responded, releasing all of the 68th Battalion from service except for a skeleton crew. Perhaps Yossi had not been the only one to protest the deployment.

In exchange for a leave during Sukkot, he had volunteered to remain at his post. At 2 and 4 years old, Meir and Avital weren't really old enough to appreciate the High Holy Days anyway. A chance to go on a weeklong holiday with his family later was well worth missing them now.

Milano was a ghost town, as neglected as the rest of the Bar-Lev Line. The Line had been built to guard against an Egyptian invasion, but it had been years since anyone truly believed such an attack would come. Half of the strongpoints that comprised the line had been shut down, and the remaining forts had fallen into disrepair. Duty here was as an exercise in futility. Reserve units, mostly students and men well past their prime, manned the stations, bringing books and games and anticipating no action.

Today was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yossi had expected the solitude of the nearly-abandoned base to be meditative, an opportunity for reflection. Instead, he felt oddly disconcerted. Worshiping with a congregation of sand and rocks and accompanied by the only the whistling wind, it was easy to imagine that God had already passed judgment and found him lacking.

And the real hell of it all is that I can't even have a damn cigarette.

Sighing again, he pulled his father's old olivewood snuff box from his left breast pocket and tapped its lid firmly with two thin fingers. He opened the box and took a pinch, rolling the finely ground tobacco briefly between his thumb and forefinger before inhaling lightly. The sweet aroma filled his nose, and he dissolved into a violent fit of sneezing. He wasn't a fan of snuff, but it was all he was allowed during the fast.

He'd barely recovered his composure when he saw the commander approaching. There would be a briefing in the mess hall in fifteen minutes. Stretching his long legs, he stood up and went inside to wash up. He welcomed the distraction.

* * * * *

Crouched in a scrubby juniper bush, Yossi ate for the first time in over 48 hours. It was an unimpressive spread: canned beef and tuna, crackers, pickles and olives. After the unintentional extension of his Yom Kippur fast and a long trek through the desert, however, it tasted like heaven.

Only minutes into the briefing, the commander's talk had been interrupted by loud explosions. Artillery shells had torn through the air, part of a military action they'd all thought impossible. The inexperienced reservists had panicked, diving for cover. The commander had sent him to the observation tower to see what was happening while he took the rest of the troops to the bunker.

Up in the tower, Yossi had rubbed his eyes in disbelief. The detonating projectiles weren't the worst of it; hundreds of Egyptian troops were advancing across the canal. A flotilla of rubber boats sailed over waters that had been calm less than an hour before, loaded down with men dead set on breaching the Bar-Levi Line.

By the time he'd made it back to the bunker, two members of his company had already been killed by shrapnel. Still, everyone had been certain that the air force would quash the Egyptian war efforts in no time. They'd rejoiced at the ear-splitting roar of the first planes flying overhead, only to reel in horror moments later as they watched the aircraft being gunned down. No reinforcements had come; no one had expected any to be needed and none were available on such short notice.

The impossible had happened. The Egyptians were staging an all-out attack. And from the looks of things, they were winning.

Only a third of the soldiers from his base were here with him in the desert now. Terrified and bedraggled, they prayed, some for the first time in years. One of the men had managed to escape with his tallit, and they took turns using the prayer shawl, each offering his own words to the heavens. When the tallit was passed to him, Yossi entreated God to allow him to see his wife and babies again.

As if in answer to his supplication, the sand beneath him began to vibrate with the thundering approach of a tank. The prayer shawl clutched around his slender shoulders, Yossi almost ran toward the sound, then hesitated. A member of the armored corps would be able to tell an Israeli tank from an Egyptian one simply by listening to the sound of its treads. He himself was only a reservist, far more learned in Torah than in the ways of war.

We barely made it out of Milano alive, and we've got no more food, he thought. We're ill-prepared and won't last much longer out here. And if the enemy's tanks have already advanced this far, there's a good chance we won't be rescued in time anyway.

His feet made the decision for him, and Yossi tore up the hill in the direction of the tank. He crested the ridge, waving the borrowed tallit like a white flag. Squinting toward the horizon, he began his prayers anew.

Please God, let it be one of ours.




[This story is a fictional account of the beginning of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Although there were signs that the Egyptians were planning an attack, the Israeli government did not believe the Egyptian army had the resources to engage them. Their overconfidence coupled with the observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, left them woefully unprepared when the Egyptians quite literally brought out their big guns. If you are interested, here are two of the resources I used in researching this story. There really was a soldier named Yossi stationed at Milano strongpoint that day, and the prayer shawl really was instrumental in his rescue. However, I've taken quite a few artistic liberties with the other details of his story.]

Cesspool

Sep. 10th, 2012 02:51 pm
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
Life here in Buffalo Creek was different before the flood. We were family, all of us.

Everyone looked out for everyone else, and no one was ever alone. All the families had the same little four-room houses, with one bedroom for the parents and another for the kids. Everyone got all they needed at the company store and no one was better than anyone else. Our doors were always wide open. You could pop by your neighbor's house any time you needed to borrow something or just wanted to chat. People were cheerful and always had time to talk.

We kids all played together, laughing and running through the grass. There were blue skies and sun and shade trees. If we got tired, there was always a pitcher of ice cold lemonade and a plate of cookies waiting for us in someone's kitchen. We came home dirty and sweaty and late for dinner more times than not. Our mommas might scold us, but no one ever stayed mad for long.

The mommas all looked after each other's kids without a second thought. Whenever a new baby was born in Buffalo Creek, all the women and girls came around to rub the new momma's feet or make her a cup of tea. There were always more than enough pairs of arms to love on that little one while its momma got a bit of sleep. The daddies all worked in the coal mines. Mining was dangerous and everyone knew it, but no one thought of doing anything else. It was good money. When someone did get hurt, everyone else pitched in to make sure his family was taken care of.

That was the best part. No matter the burden, you never had to bear it alone. If you were sick, someone would appear like magic with a steaming pot of soup. If you were sad, people would come by to comfort you. You never even had to ask - people just knew what it was you needed and were always eager to provide it. Hardly anyone ever moved away. Why would they want to when they had everything they needed right here?

That all changed the day the black waters came crashing down, twenty feet high or more.

Momma and I barely made it to the hills in time; Daddy wasn't so lucky. We clutched each other tight as we watched the flood take out a church, carrying cars and houses right along with it. Some of the houses still had people in them - you could see them at the windows. All around us, people were running and screaming and weeping. Some were praying to the Lord Our Savior and others were just standing there in shock. Momma and I watched as everything we had ever loved washed away in a swoosh of dirty water.

I've had nightmares ever since - choking, strangling dreams of being mired in thick black gunk. No matter how hard I struggle, I can never get my head above the surface. When I wake, I'm shuddering and gasping for breath. It feels like I'm screaming but no sound comes out.

Maybe the others are plagued by these dreams, too. I'll never know, because people here in Buffalo Creek don't talk like they used to. They don't look out for each other, either. After the flood, it was like people just stopped caring for each other. Cheery smiles were traded for dazed, unfocused expressions and slack jaws.

A lot of people left, but Momma and I stayed because we'd never known any other home. I was hoping that things would get back to normal sooner or later, but they never did. Trailer parks were built for the people who'd lost their homes and after a while, new people moved into some of them. It was strange not knowing all my neighbors anymore; even the people I grew up with seemed like strangers now.

The doors of all the houses were closed and locked up tight. When you ran into people along your way, they never seemed to have time to talk anymore. Mommas didn't watch each other's little ones or stop by to chat. They never let their own kids out of their sight, and the kids didn't want to run and play anymore anyway. It was almost like the whole world had ended instead of a dam collapsing. People drank and screamed and fought as if it were the End of Days. Men took each other's wives and beat their own and no one looked out for his neighbor anymore at all.

Momma went to work in the mines. We could have gotten by on the settlement check she got from the coal company, but she couldn't stand to sit there and do nothing, all alone like she'd never been before. I knew how she felt and I started to think about getting out altogether. Before the flood, I never would have thought of leaving. Now it wasn't the place where I'd grown up at all. It was cold and empty and sad and I wanted no part of it.

Though I'd never had any schooling, Momma always told me I was smart as a whip. Some of the girls in Buffalo Creek couldn't read at all, but I taught myself to read the Good Book and the newspapers Daddy brought home from the company store. Here in Buffalo Creek, women only kept house or worked in the mines, but out in the world there was something called Women's Lib. Girls went to college and became teachers and nurses and maybe even lady doctors.

Jameson was one of the engineers who came to town to investigate the dam that broke and caused the flood. With his fancy degree and his sweet smile, he had me under his spell before I knew it. Tall and thin with dark hair and liquid brown eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, he felt like home. When he held me in his arms, I felt loved and warm and whole like I used to feel all the time before the black water came.

Even though he had lots of schooling and I had none at all, he never treated me like I was stupid. He told me that there were people out in the world who thought that dam wasn't built right and the coal company was responsible. As the weeks went by, he got more and more angry. The dam, he said, would never have held. It was just coal sludge on top of dirt and water with no supports like it should have had.

Buffalo Creek was kind of like that. We thought our community was rock solid, but when the waters came, it all washed away. There was no structure underneath to hold it up.

After Momma went to bed at night, I'd sneak out to the trailer where Jameson stayed. He held me and stroked my hair and talked about taking me with him when he left. I could go to school to be whatever I wanted to be and we'd build a new life together. Out in the world, I wouldn't need my neighbors or the coal mines or the company store. We could have everything we needed, just the two of us.

Then I got real sick. For weeks, I couldn't keep anything down, not even soup or water. In the old days, all the women in town would have fussed over me with cold compresses and home remedies but now not even my own Momma was there to take care of me. Jameson was worried and never left my side. Since our old family doctor had left town for good, I finally went to see the new doctor who'd moved into the trailer camp nearby. When he told me I was pregnant, I nearly fainted from shock.

When I told Jameson, he got real pale and looked like he was going to throw up instead of me. Then he said it would be okay - we'd get married and raise the baby together and I would be a great momma. After I started to feel less sick, he took me into the city and let me try on any dresses I liked. He smiled as I twirled and swirled like a little girl in layers of lace and white.

I told him it was bad luck for him to see me in my dress before our wedding day, but he just laughed. An old wives' tale, he called it. With his soft voice and college words, anything he said felt like God's honest truth.

But as the weeks went on, I started to wonder if I hadn't been right after all. Jameson was pale and even thinner than before; I thought maybe he was sick. He didn't hold me like he used to, and his nose was always in his books and charts. I tried to talk to him about the baby, whether it would be a boy or a girl, whose nose it would have and whose eyes, but he didn't seem to care. His eyes were flat and hard like closed doors. When I asked him what was wrong, he said everything was fine. So I kissed him and pretended that he didn't feel cold and empty just like the town that used to be my home.

Now here I am all fussed up in my pretty dress and veil, and Jameson is nowhere to be found. The wedding time came and went, and the preacher man sent went over to the trailer where he stays. There was no answer at the door; it was unlocked and all his things were gone.

Momma held me while I sobbed. It's the first time she's touched me since the day of the flood. She stroked my hair the way she used to when I was a little girl, the way Jameson used to do. Then she said it would be okay - I don't need a man to go out into the world and make something of myself. I can still go off to school if it's what I want. She'll quit the mine and keep my little one and it'll be like old times; we'll help each other because that's what we do here in Buffalo Creek.

She painted a pretty picture of how we'd make it all right, but then it was time for her shift. So Momma got changed into her mining clothes, lit up a smoke, and went off to work. Now there's just me and my flowers and fancy dress, all alone except for a baby whose daddy is gone.





The original inspiration for this story was the photograph below by James Stanfield.



Additional inspiration for many of the details of this piece came from the real-life story of the Buffalo Creek Disaster, which occurred in 1972. A coal waste impoundment dam burst, sending over a million gallons of sludge-infested waters over the 16 thriving coal mining towns of Buffalo Creek. Many were killed and injured, and even more lost everything they owned. Despite overwhelming evidence that the accident was caused by poor construction and negligence on the part of the coal company that owned the dam, its owners declared the tragedy "an act of God". If you are as fascinated by this story as I have become, you might enjoy this essay that I found here about the survivors of the disaster (link downloads the essay as a .doc file).

This piece was originally written for LJ Idol intersection week. The wonderfully creative [livejournal.com profile] everywordiwrite wrote an alternate version of the story behind the photo which can be found here.

Cesspool

Sep. 10th, 2012 02:51 pm
n3m3sis43: (Default)
Life here in Buffalo Creek was different before the flood. We were family, all of us.

Everyone looked out for everyone else, and no one was ever alone. All the families had the same little four-room houses, with one bedroom for the parents and another for the kids. Everyone got all they needed at the company store and no one was better than anyone else. Our doors were always wide open. You could pop by your neighbor's house any time you needed to borrow something or just wanted to chat. People were cheerful and always had time to talk.

We kids all played together, laughing and running through the grass. There were blue skies and sun and shade trees. If we got tired, there was always a pitcher of ice cold lemonade and a plate of cookies waiting for us in someone's kitchen. We came home dirty and sweaty and late for dinner more times than not. Our mommas might scold us, but no one ever stayed mad for long.

The mommas all looked after each other's kids without a second thought. Whenever a new baby was born in Buffalo Creek, all the women and girls came around to rub the new momma's feet or make her a cup of tea. There were always more than enough pairs of arms to love on that little one while its momma got a bit of sleep. The daddies all worked in the coal mines. Mining was dangerous and everyone knew it, but no one thought of doing anything else. It was good money. When someone did get hurt, everyone else pitched in to make sure his family was taken care of.

That was the best part. No matter the burden, you never had to bear it alone. If you were sick, someone would appear like magic with a steaming pot of soup. If you were sad, people would come by to comfort you. You never even had to ask - people just knew what it was you needed and were always eager to provide it. Hardly anyone ever moved away. Why would they want to when they had everything they needed right here?

That all changed the day the black waters came crashing down, twenty feet high or more.

Momma and I barely made it to the hills in time; Daddy wasn't so lucky. We clutched each other tight as we watched the flood take out a church, carrying cars and houses right along with it. Some of the houses still had people in them - you could see them at the windows. All around us, people were running and screaming and weeping. Some were praying to the Lord Our Savior and others were just standing there in shock. Momma and I watched as everything we had ever loved washed away in a swoosh of dirty water.

I've had nightmares ever since - choking, strangling dreams of being mired in thick black gunk. No matter how hard I struggle, I can never get my head above the surface. When I wake, I'm shuddering and gasping for breath. It feels like I'm screaming but no sound comes out.

Maybe the others are plagued by these dreams, too. I'll never know, because people here in Buffalo Creek don't talk like they used to. They don't look out for each other, either. After the flood, it was like people just stopped caring for each other. Cheery smiles were traded for dazed, unfocused expressions and slack jaws.

A lot of people left, but Momma and I stayed because we'd never known any other home. I was hoping that things would get back to normal sooner or later, but they never did. Trailer parks were built for the people who'd lost their homes and after a while, new people moved into some of them. It was strange not knowing all my neighbors anymore; even the people I grew up with seemed like strangers now.

The doors of all the houses were closed and locked up tight. When you ran into people along your way, they never seemed to have time to talk anymore. Mommas didn't watch each other's little ones or stop by to chat. They never let their own kids out of their sight, and the kids didn't want to run and play anymore anyway. It was almost like the whole world had ended instead of a dam collapsing. People drank and screamed and fought as if it were the End of Days. Men took each other's wives and beat their own and no one looked out for his neighbor anymore at all.

Momma went to work in the mines. We could have gotten by on the settlement check she got from the coal company, but she couldn't stand to sit there and do nothing, all alone like she'd never been before. I knew how she felt and I started to think about getting out altogether. Before the flood, I never would have thought of leaving. Now it wasn't the place where I'd grown up at all. It was cold and empty and sad and I wanted no part of it.

Though I'd never had any schooling, Momma always told me I was smart as a whip. Some of the girls in Buffalo Creek couldn't read at all, but I taught myself to read the Good Book and the newspapers Daddy brought home from the company store. Here in Buffalo Creek, women only kept house or worked in the mines, but out in the world there was something called Women's Lib. Girls went to college and became teachers and nurses and maybe even lady doctors.

Jameson was one of the engineers who came to town to investigate the dam that broke and caused the flood. With his fancy degree and his sweet smile, he had me under his spell before I knew it. Tall and thin with dark hair and liquid brown eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, he felt like home. When he held me in his arms, I felt loved and warm and whole like I used to feel all the time before the black water came.

Even though he had lots of schooling and I had none at all, he never treated me like I was stupid. He told me that there were people out in the world who thought that dam wasn't built right and the coal company was responsible. As the weeks went by, he got more and more angry. The dam, he said, would never have held. It was just coal sludge on top of dirt and water with no supports like it should have had.

Buffalo Creek was kind of like that. We thought our community was rock solid, but when the waters came, it all washed away. There was no structure underneath to hold it up.

After Momma went to bed at night, I'd sneak out to the trailer where Jameson stayed. He held me and stroked my hair and talked about taking me with him when he left. I could go to school to be whatever I wanted to be and we'd build a new life together. Out in the world, I wouldn't need my neighbors or the coal mines or the company store. We could have everything we needed, just the two of us.

Then I got real sick. For weeks, I couldn't keep anything down, not even soup or water. In the old days, all the women in town would have fussed over me with cold compresses and home remedies but now not even my own Momma was there to take care of me. Jameson was worried and never left my side. Since our old family doctor had left town for good, I finally went to see the new doctor who'd moved into the trailer camp nearby. When he told me I was pregnant, I nearly fainted from shock.

When I told Jameson, he got real pale and looked like he was going to throw up instead of me. Then he said it would be okay - we'd get married and raise the baby together and I would be a great momma. After I started to feel less sick, he took me into the city and let me try on any dresses I liked. He smiled as I twirled and swirled like a little girl in layers of lace and white.

I told him it was bad luck for him to see me in my dress before our wedding day, but he just laughed. An old wives' tale, he called it. With his soft voice and college words, anything he said felt like God's honest truth.

But as the weeks went on, I started to wonder if I hadn't been right after all. Jameson was pale and even thinner than before; I thought maybe he was sick. He didn't hold me like he used to, and his nose was always in his books and charts. I tried to talk to him about the baby, whether it would be a boy or a girl, whose nose it would have and whose eyes, but he didn't seem to care. His eyes were flat and hard like closed doors. When I asked him what was wrong, he said everything was fine. So I kissed him and pretended that he didn't feel cold and empty just like the town that used to be my home.

Now here I am all fussed up in my pretty dress and veil, and Jameson is nowhere to be found. The wedding time came and went, and the preacher man sent went over to the trailer where he stays. There was no answer at the door; it was unlocked and all his things were gone.

Momma held me while I sobbed. It's the first time she's touched me since the day of the flood. She stroked my hair the way she used to when I was a little girl, the way Jameson used to do. Then she said it would be okay - I don't need a man to go out into the world and make something of myself. I can still go off to school if it's what I want. She'll quit the mine and keep my little one and it'll be like old times; we'll help each other because that's what we do here in Buffalo Creek.

She painted a pretty picture of how we'd make it all right, but then it was time for her shift. So Momma got changed into her mining clothes, lit up a smoke, and went off to work. Now there's just me and my flowers and fancy dress, all alone except for a baby whose daddy is gone.





The original inspiration for this story was the photograph below by James Stanfield.



Additional inspiration for many of the details of this piece came from the real-life story of the Buffalo Creek Disaster, which occurred in 1972. A coal waste impoundment dam burst, sending over a million gallons of sludge-infested waters over the 16 thriving coal mining towns of Buffalo Creek. Many were killed and injured, and even more lost everything they owned. Despite overwhelming evidence that the accident was caused by poor construction and negligence on the part of the coal company that owned the dam, its owners declared the tragedy "an act of God". If you are as fascinated by this story as I have become, you might enjoy this essay that I found here about the survivors of the disaster (link downloads the essay as a .doc file).

This piece was originally written for LJ Idol intersection week. The wonderfully creative [livejournal.com profile] everywordiwrite wrote an alternate version of the story behind the photo which can be found here.
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
Sweating in the sticky Louisiana heat, 8-year-old Dobie spread his haul out on the grass in front of him. He'd scored twelve candy bars, all the chocolate he and Jean could eat. There were Baby Ruths for him, Hershey bars for Jean, and a couple of Snickers bars for good measure. After all, who didn't like Snickers?

I'm gonna be real sorry I didn't listen to my mama, he thought.

His hands trembled with anticipation and a healthy dose of fear. It was always a bad thing when he didn't listen to his mama. Mama had told him time and time again that stealing was bad, but sometimes the devil just got in him and he couldn't help himself.

He knew that stealing was a sin, but he'd be damned if he'd go back and apologize to Old Man Maynard, who always peered at him over his glasses and whispered the R word when he thought Dobie couldn't hear him. Today, he hadn't even bothered to whisper, shouting after him as he ran, spitting out not just the R word but also a string of curse words that'd have mama washing his mouth out with soap if he repeated them.

Sweet Jean would never call him the R word. She never talked to him like he was stupid, the way other people did, all slow and overly patient. She spoke to him like she'd speak to anyone else, and he loved her. Picking up his forbidden treasure, he swallowed his fear and sauntered down the road toward her house.

*****

Sweating despite the air conditioning in the small and lonely room, 38-year-old Dobie spread out the twelve candy bars on the fake-wood top of the table in front of him. Just as he'd requested, there were Baby Ruth, Snickers and Hershey bars.

If only I had listened to Mama in the first place, I wouldn't be in this mess now, Dobie thought. It's always a bad thing when I don't listen to my mama.

His hands trembled with trepidation and the effort of making his twisted, arthritic fingers tear open a wrapper. He stared down at the gray-tiled floor and wished that Jean could be with him now to share this feast. Hunched stiffly in his plastic chair, Dobie bit into the first candy bar, remembering.

*****

Mama made him promise not to drink when he came home to visit for the weekend. He was visiting on a weekend furlough from Camp Beauregard, where they'd sent him the last time he'd gotten caught stealing. Mama knew he tried to be a good boy, but she knew the devil just got in him sometimes too. She didn't want him to get in any more trouble.

He should have listened to his mama, but instead he went and sat out back of Fred Harris's store, drinking with his friends. They spent the evening sipping cold beer and sweet cognac. On their drinking nights, no one called him names and there was no smart or stupid. There was just him and his buddies, sitting out under the stars and telling yarns.

The cognac made his stomach hurt. He started to feel like he was going to puke, so he stumbled to his Grandpa's house to lie down. He collapsed on the couch and fell asleep.

He woke up to someone shaking his shoulder. It was a policeman and he said he had to come with him to the station. He said they'd be there all night and all morning and all the next day 'til he got to the bottom of things. The policeman kept asking about a white lady and a knife and Dobie was scared and confused.

Dobie knew he shouldn't disobey his mama. He knew he shouldn't drink and that stealing was a sin. He knew that sometimes the devil got in him and he couldn't help himself, but he also knew he didn't kill that white lady.

*****

Dobie unwrapped and ate one candy bar after another, savoring each bite. He thought about Jean and how she'd never doubted him this whole time. He thought about the hat she'd given him, a black ball cap with the words "Fear Not" sewn on the front. He wished he still had that hat, but they'd taken it when they brought him here to the death house to wait for his execution.

Dobie did fear. He feared a lot, but he was trying to be brave.

Warden Cain had asked him earlier if he wanted to be taken to the execution room in a wheelchair. Ever since the arthritis started five years ago, he walked all slow and bent and the other inmates in "The Farm" made fun of him. Dobie just ignored them. He was used to being called names. It hurt his pride, but he wouldn't let them see that.

Dobie would be damned if he'd be rolled to his death in a wheelchair. If he was going to the death chamber, he was getting there on the two feet God gave him.

Warden Cain had tried to get Dobie to have his last meal with him, too, but Dobie'd said no. The warden liked to share the prisoners' last meals, because it was the Christian thing to do. Dobie had heard about the meals the warden had taken with other prisoners who'd gone before him. They were big affairs with fancy white tablecloths and special food and guests of honor and singing and prayer.

"I ain't going to eat with those people," Dobie had said to Sister Helen, "It's not like, you know, real fellowship. When they finish eating they're going to help kill me."

Sister Helen was the nun who'd been coming to see him in jail for the past eight years. He liked Sister Helen. She never talked to him like he was stupid, and she said she was going to write his story in a book someday.

Dobie was afraid of death, but he wasn't afraid to eat his last meal alone. He knew that God loved him and his mama loved him and Sister Helen loved him and Jean did too. He was alone in body but not in spirit.

Hands still shaking, but heart a little steadier now, Dobie unwrapped his last candy bar, a Snickers. He pictured Jean's sweet face, her kind smile, and her beautiful eyes. He pretended they were sharing the candy bar, just like they'd done on a hot summer day long ago.

He was alone, but he was at peace.



This piece is based on the true story of Dobie Gillis Williams. He was convicted of murder based on shaky evidence and an alleged confession that was never recorded. He was executed on January 8, 1999 despite having an IQ of 65 and no known history of violence. The quoted text in this piece are Dobie's own real words, taken from excerpts of his story in Sister Helen Prejean's book.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
Sweating in the sticky Louisiana heat, 8-year-old Dobie spread his haul out on the grass in front of him. He'd scored twelve candy bars, all the chocolate he and Jean could eat. There were Baby Ruths for him, Hershey bars for Jean, and a couple of Snickers bars for good measure. After all, who didn't like Snickers?

I'm gonna be real sorry I didn't listen to my mama, he thought.

His hands trembled with anticipation and a healthy dose of fear. It was always a bad thing when he didn't listen to his mama. Mama had told him time and time again that stealing was bad, but sometimes the devil just got in him and he couldn't help himself.

He knew that stealing was a sin, but he'd be damned if he'd go back and apologize to Old Man Maynard, who always peered at him over his glasses and whispered the R word when he thought Dobie couldn't hear him. Today, he hadn't even bothered to whisper, shouting after him as he ran, spitting out not just the R word but also a string of curse words that'd have mama washing his mouth out with soap if he repeated them.

Sweet Jean would never call him the R word. She never talked to him like he was stupid, the way other people did, all slow and overly patient. She spoke to him like she'd speak to anyone else, and he loved her. Picking up his forbidden treasure, he swallowed his fear and sauntered down the road toward her house.

*****

Sweating despite the air conditioning in the small and lonely room, 38-year-old Dobie spread out the twelve candy bars on the fake-wood top of the table in front of him. Just as he'd requested, there were Baby Ruth, Snickers and Hershey bars.

If only I had listened to Mama in the first place, I wouldn't be in this mess now, Dobie thought. It's always a bad thing when I don't listen to my mama.

His hands trembled with trepidation and the effort of making his twisted, arthritic fingers tear open a wrapper. He stared down at the gray-tiled floor and wished that Jean could be with him now to share this feast. Hunched stiffly in his plastic chair, Dobie bit into the first candy bar, remembering.

*****

Mama made him promise not to drink when he came home to visit for the weekend. He was visiting on a weekend furlough from Camp Beauregard, where they'd sent him the last time he'd gotten caught stealing. Mama knew he tried to be a good boy, but she knew the devil just got in him sometimes too. She didn't want him to get in any more trouble.

He should have listened to his mama, but instead he went and sat out back of Fred Harris's store, drinking with his friends. They spent the evening sipping cold beer and sweet cognac. On their drinking nights, no one called him names and there was no smart or stupid. There was just him and his buddies, sitting out under the stars and telling yarns.

The cognac made his stomach hurt. He started to feel like he was going to puke, so he stumbled to his Grandpa's house to lie down. He collapsed on the couch and fell asleep.

He woke up to someone shaking his shoulder. It was a policeman and he said he had to come with him to the station. He said they'd be there all night and all morning and all the next day 'til he got to the bottom of things. The policeman kept asking about a white lady and a knife and Dobie was scared and confused.

Dobie knew he shouldn't disobey his mama. He knew he shouldn't drink and that stealing was a sin. He knew that sometimes the devil got in him and he couldn't help himself, but he also knew he didn't kill that white lady.

*****

Dobie unwrapped and ate one candy bar after another, savoring each bite. He thought about Jean and how she'd never doubted him this whole time. He thought about the hat she'd given him, a black ball cap with the words "Fear Not" sewn on the front. He wished he still had that hat, but they'd taken it when they brought him here to the death house to wait for his execution.

Dobie did fear. He feared a lot, but he was trying to be brave.

Warden Cain had asked him earlier if he wanted to be taken to the execution room in a wheelchair. Ever since the arthritis started five years ago, he walked all slow and bent and the other inmates in "The Farm" made fun of him. Dobie just ignored them. He was used to being called names. It hurt his pride, but he wouldn't let them see that.

Dobie would be damned if he'd be rolled to his death in a wheelchair. If he was going to the death chamber, he was getting there on the two feet God gave him.

Warden Cain had tried to get Dobie to have his last meal with him, too, but Dobie'd said no. The warden liked to share the prisoners' last meals, because it was the Christian thing to do. Dobie had heard about the meals the warden had taken with other prisoners who'd gone before him. They were big affairs with fancy white tablecloths and special food and guests of honor and singing and prayer.

"I ain't going to eat with those people," Dobie had said to Sister Helen, "It's not like, you know, real fellowship. When they finish eating they're going to help kill me."

Sister Helen was the nun who'd been coming to see him in jail for the past eight years. He liked Sister Helen. She never talked to him like he was stupid, and she said she was going to write his story in a book someday.

Dobie was afraid of death, but he wasn't afraid to eat his last meal alone. He knew that God loved him and his mama loved him and Sister Helen loved him and Jean did too. He was alone in body but not in spirit.

Hands still shaking, but heart a little steadier now, Dobie unwrapped his last candy bar, a Snickers. He pictured Jean's sweet face, her kind smile, and her beautiful eyes. He pretended they were sharing the candy bar, just like they'd done on a hot summer day long ago.

He was alone, but he was at peace.



This piece is based on the true story of Dobie Gillis Williams. He was convicted of murder based on shaky evidence and an alleged confession that was never recorded. He was executed on January 8, 1999 despite having an IQ of 65 and no known history of violence. The quoted text in this piece are Dobie's own real words, taken from excerpts of his story in Sister Helen Prejean's book.

Pandemic

Sep. 10th, 2012 01:54 pm
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
December 8, 1918


Where the hell is that damned doctor?

I look out the parlor window for the hundredth time, pushing back the heavy green drapes. Rachel spent so many evenings stitching away at those curtains, pretending to scold when I made her laugh so hard her needle slipped. She glowed with pride the night I hung them up.

Outside, it's growing dark, and there's still no sign of old Doc Weems. He should have been here an hour ago. With so many ill, though, perhaps the delay is to be expected.

Back in the bedroom, Rachel's still asleep. The room is getting dim, so I turn on the reading lamp. Its stained glass shade is still chipped from the time she knocked it over. Rachel's always been a little bit clumsy.

Only this morning, her cheeks were rosy with health. Now they are pale and waxen, and her lips have a blue tinge I don't like. Huddled under a pile of blankets, she shivers and murmurs incoherently. I lay a cool cloth over her forehead and sink into the leather chair at her bedside. Pulling out the folded newspaper I've tucked beneath my seat, I read the same headlines over and over.

I hear the sound of the bedclothes shifting and look up. Rachel is sitting up, dark curls rumpled and brown eyes too bright.

"Abel?" Her voice is barely a whisper.

"I'm here, darling," I say, taking her hand.

"I'm so cold," she says, her voice faint.

"I know, Gracie." The old endearment feels awkward now. Everything does.

Rachel opens her mouth to speak again, but a fit of coughing overtakes her. It seems to go on forever; I can do nothing but watch as she struggles for breath. When the paroxysm finally subsides, she's even more ashen than before. Against the deep burgundy of her housecoat, her skin looks almost bloodless.

"It's... it's bad, isn't it?" Her words come in gasps; I watch in horror as she wipes blood from her lips.

"Don't talk," I say, "Rest."

Her eyes are already closed again when I hear the knock. I leap up and run for door. Throwing it open, I usher the doctor inside. Flakes of snow cling to the shoulders of his wool overcoat and his hair is windswept. There are bruised-looking hollows beneath his eyes. It's after seven at night and he's probably been seeing patients non-stop since dawn.

"Good to see you, Abel," he rasps. "Wish it could be under better circumstances."

"Do you want some tea?" I ask, taking his coat. He nods, and I go into the kitchen to make it as he opens his black bag.

I have to search for the aluminum kettle. Rachel's mother bought it for us as a housewarming gift, and that's the last time I remember seeing it. Under normal circumstances, the kitchen is Rachel's domain. By the time I return with the doctor's tea, he's finishing his examination. I hand him the steaming cup and he sips from it with a grateful sigh.

"Can you help her, Doc?" I ask.

The doctor looks away, his shadowed eyes sad. It's all the answer I need.

* * * * *

August 27, 1911


Sighing, I attach the handmade placard to the front of the table. I step back and admire my handiwork. TIMEPIECE REPAIR - BEST PRICES, SATISFACTION GUARANTEED. It's not the most clever slogan, but it will do. Sitting down in the chair behind the table, I take a deep breath, only to gag as the stench of manure fills my nostrils.

Just my luck, getting a table next to the livestock.

Annoyed, I scribble a note - "Back in 1 hour" - and attach it to the sign. There won't be many customers until after the horse races anyway. I set off across the grounds to see the sights.

The stroll does me a world of good. A nice breeze is blowing, and the air is fresh. By the time I reach the front of the park, my mood is much improved. I pause for a moment, enjoying the happy buzz of the people around me and the scent of fried dough.

All of a sudden, something smashes into me from behind. I stumble and pitch forward, eyeglasses falling to the ground. Blind as a bat without my spectacles, I fumble for them in the dirt. As I find them and shove them back onto my nose, I hear a feminine voice from above me. Peering through my now-dusty lenses, I see a young woman's anxious face staring into mine.

"I'm so sorry! I've never been the height of grace, but - " A blush spreads across her cheeks.

"Exactly how tall is Grace?" I ask, dusting myself off and getting to my feet.

She laughs. "Well, I guess about my height..."

"I suppose I'll have to call you Gracie, then." I offer my hand. "Abel Simmons."

"Actually, my name's Rachel Malden." Her hand is tiny but her grip is firm.

"If it's all the same to you, I'll just call you Gracie." Her face turns an even deeper shade of red, but she keeps trying to make conversation.

"Exciting, isn't it?" she asks, eyes shining with enthusiasm. "The first county fair in over a decade!"

"I'm here for business, not pleasure," I tell her. "I'm an inventor, but it doesn't always pay the bills. I've got to take extra work when I can get it." As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. I've had this conversation countless times, and it never ends well.

"An inventor?" Her eyes light up. "Like Thomas Edison?"

Oh boy, here we go again.

"Well, not exactly like Edison."

"What sorts of things do you invent, then?" she asks. This is where things always start to go awry.

"Well," I hedge, shuffling my foot in the dust. "I'm sort of working on... a time machine." I wait for it. At best, there will be confusion - at worst, laughter and ridicule.

One of these days I'll learn to make up a convincing lie.

"A time machine?" she shrieks.

Here it comes.

"How wonderful!" She claps her hands in childlike excitement. "Can you really do it?"

Well, this has never happened before.

"I'm still in the planning phases," I tell her, "but I believe it can be done."

A voice crackles over the loudspeaker. "ALL PIE CONTEST PARTICIPANTS, PLEASE REPORT FOR JUDGING."

"Oh, I've got to go," Rachel's face falls, but brightens again a moment later. "Say, do you like apple pie?"

"I've been known to eat a slice or two." To tell the truth, I'm not a fan of sweets at all. I'm also not opposed to seeing more of this woman. She may be lacking in the coordination department, but she's not bad-looking. Besides, she actually seems interested in my time machine.

"Splendid! The pie contest is being judged in an hour. Will you still be here?" When she smiles, I revise my opinion of her looks from "not bad" to "beautiful".

"I'm here all day, Gracie," I say. All of a sudden, the thought no longer fills me with dread.

* * * * *

Winter, 2057


The wind whistles as I step out into the street. It must be cold here - the people rushing past me on all sides are dressed in layers of puffy clothing. Though I'm clothed in only a lightweight shirt, I'm drenched in sweat. My head is spinning and I should be in bed, but I can't turn back now.

I won't let this damnable ailment claim me, too - not when I'm so close to finding the cure.

I'm surrounded by enormous structures of glass and steel. Most of them are adorned with enormous flat panels, like the projection screens in the cinema but in living, breathing color. Brilliant patterns caper across them, constantly shifting. The streets, wet with rain, are bathed in the shining hues of the screens.

I'm delirious. This can't be real.

Gritting my teeth against waves of dizziness, I push my invention into a darkened alley nearby. The simple act of moving the time machine saps what little strength I have left, and I have to sit down to catch my breath. Spots dance before my eyes and everything blurs together.

Not now. Not when I'm so close to getting her back.

I bite my tongue hard. The taste of blood fills my mouth and I snap back to reality. After a few moments, I'm able to get to my feet. Stepping out of the alley, I breathe in the cold night air. My head pounds as I contemplate my next move.

"Please make a selection," a metallic voice intones behind me. I jump. Looking over my shoulder, I see a small screen on the side of the nearest building. On its white background is a red cross, along with the words CLINIC MACHINE.

"Well, that's an unbelievable stroke of luck," I mutter to myself.

"Whaddaya mean, compadre?" The gruff voice comes from behind me, and I let out a yelp of surprise. I turn to face a short and scabrous man. Raising his right hand, he spreads his fingers in a strange salute. Though I do my best to mimic his hand gesture, my fingers will not cooperate.

"I'm looking for medication, and lo and behold - a Clinic Machine."

"One on every corner, man. Hardly a miracle." The little man grins, baring long yellow teeth.

Shuddering, I tip him a curt nod and turn back to the machine. The screen now shows a moving illustration of a finger touching a small square. Below that are several options. With a trembling finger, I touch the one for INFLUENZA NANITES.

"Scanning... please stand by," the artificial voice replies. A moment later, I flinch as a loud buzz issues from the Clinic Machine and it speaks in a tone that sounds almost angry. "Error! Credit implant not found!"

Stinging tears of frustration fill my eyes. I beat my fists against the metal surface of the building and howl with rage.

"You're not lookin' so hot, compadre. Why don'cha let ol' Chester help ya out?"

"Can you tell me where to find a credit implant? I'm very ill, and my wife..." The words catch in my swollen throat.

"Tricky, those," Chester says, forehead creasing. "Gotta get the holo-imaging right and all. For that, ya wanna see Big Davey."

He pulls a billfold from his pocket and opens it up. With a small whoosh, it expands into a case the size of a picnic basket. After rummaging inside it for a moment, he holds up a cord with a single metal prong protruding from one end.

"Plug in," he says, "and I'll upload the map for ya."

"Plug what in?"

Chester looks at me as though I've just sprouted horns and a tail. "Y'know what? Never mind," he says. Stepping up to the Clinic Machine himself, he asks, "Whaddaya want?"

"The influenza cure - one for me, and one for Rachel."

"Ya know how to work these?" he asks a moment later, holding out two shiny metal syringes. I shake my head.

"Lemme do it for ya, then. Won't hurt a bit!" A searing pain spreads through my arm. My knees go weak and I clutch at the metal wall for support. By the time I've recovered, he's holding the remaining syringe out to me.

"How can I repay you?" I ask, pocketing it.

"Don't worry about it - we're buds now," Chester cackles, then dissolves into a fit of hacking. "Wacky Weed," he gasps, "Stuff'll kill ya. Want a pinch for the road?"

I shake my head.

"Seeing Potion, then? Visions that can't be beat!"

"No, thank you! I've got to get home to my wife." I'm already backing away toward the alley. In the distance, a klaxon begins to wail.

"Ya better get outta here, compadre," Chester calls after me. "Sounds like the popies're onto ya. Those Clinic Machines, they got silent alarms and all."

* * * * *

December 8, 1918


Restored to health, I step out of the time machine into my own backyard. It's a quiet night, and I hear nothing but the crickets and the crunch of my shoes over the light dusting of snow. Reaching my back door, I slowly turn the knob.

Locked. We never lock the back door.

I fumble in my pocket and pull out my house key. Shivering in only my shirtsleeves, I slide it into the lock. It doesn't turn.

What in the blue blazes?

At last, I climb in through a window - at least that isn't locked. I make my way to the bedroom, heart hammering in my throat. The room is dark and there's a sick smell in the air. I hear the sound of labored breathing.

"Rachel?" She moans but doesn't respond.

But she's alive, and soon I'll have her back for good.

I turn on the yellow-fringed reading lamp. Grateful to see her alive once more, I take in every detail. Her dark curls spread over the pillow and her skin is pale as milk against her dark green nightgown. The only color in her face is the blue cast to her lips.

Tears fill my eyes and my throat closes up. Even near death, she is beautiful.

Fishing the syringe from my pocket, I administer the injection. Rachel stirs for a moment, but her eyes remain closed. If my own experience is any indication, the nanites should begin to take effect in less than half an hour. Somehow, that still feels like an eternity.

I can't just sit here waiting. Looking for a way to pass the time, I go out to the hall. As I consider making a pot of tea, I hear a scratching at the front door. Crossing to the parlor window, I part the gauzy blue curtains and look out.

No sign of a carriage. There's no one out there.

When the scratching continues, I fling open the front door. Crouched before me on the stoop is a large orange cat. With an indignant meow, it brushes past me and disappears into the back of the house.

Ridiculous creature, acting as if it owns the place.

I snort in annoyance, but decide not to chase after the animal. Instead, I go to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea. This time, I remember exactly where the kettle is. Reaching into the cabinet, I pull it out - only to nearly drop it in surprise. Staring at its shiny copper surface, I try to make sense of what I'm seeing.

The tea pot I used on the night Rachel died - it was aluminum, not copper.

My stomach drops into my shoes as the realization hits me. The lamp, the curtains, even Rachel's nightclothes - none of those are right, either. But what does it mean? Did I do something wrong?

It's too late to turn back now. Tea forgotten, I return to the bedroom. My chair no longer sits at Rachel's bedside. Feeling as though my legs might give out at any moment, I sink to the floor. Minutes stretch unbearably as I sit cross-legged, waiting for her to come around.

After what seems like hours, I hear the sighing sound of movement against the sheets. Looking up, I see that Rachel is awake. The orange cat is beside her, and she's stroking its fur. Her eyes meet mine - lucid, but they show no recognition. Confusion and then alarm flit across her features. She gathers her breath as if to scream.

"Gracie, it's all right. It's me, Abel."

"My name is Rachel. Rachel Malden," she says, the fear still in her dark eyes. "Who are you?"

Pandemic

Sep. 10th, 2012 01:54 pm
n3m3sis43: (Default)
December 8, 1918


Where the hell is that damned doctor?

I look out the parlor window for the hundredth time, pushing back the heavy green drapes. Rachel spent so many evenings stitching away at those curtains, pretending to scold when I made her laugh so hard her needle slipped. She glowed with pride the night I hung them up.

Outside, it's growing dark, and there's still no sign of old Doc Weems. He should have been here an hour ago. With so many ill, though, perhaps the delay is to be expected.

Back in the bedroom, Rachel's still asleep. The room is getting dim, so I turn on the reading lamp. Its stained glass shade is still chipped from the time she knocked it over. Rachel's always been a little bit clumsy.

Only this morning, her cheeks were rosy with health. Now they are pale and waxen, and her lips have a blue tinge I don't like. Huddled under a pile of blankets, she shivers and murmurs incoherently. I lay a cool cloth over her forehead and sink into the leather chair at her bedside. Pulling out the folded newspaper I've tucked beneath my seat, I read the same headlines over and over.

I hear the sound of the bedclothes shifting and look up. Rachel is sitting up, dark curls rumpled and brown eyes too bright.

"Abel?" Her voice is barely a whisper.

"I'm here, darling," I say, taking her hand.

"I'm so cold," she says, her voice faint.

"I know, Gracie." The old endearment feels awkward now. Everything does.

Rachel opens her mouth to speak again, but a fit of coughing overtakes her. It seems to go on forever; I can do nothing but watch as she struggles for breath. When the paroxysm finally subsides, she's even more ashen than before. Against the deep burgundy of her housecoat, her skin looks almost bloodless.

"It's... it's bad, isn't it?" Her words come in gasps; I watch in horror as she wipes blood from her lips.

"Don't talk," I say, "Rest."

Her eyes are already closed again when I hear the knock. I leap up and run for door. Throwing it open, I usher the doctor inside. Flakes of snow cling to the shoulders of his wool overcoat and his hair is windswept. There are bruised-looking hollows beneath his eyes. It's after seven at night and he's probably been seeing patients non-stop since dawn.

"Good to see you, Abel," he rasps. "Wish it could be under better circumstances."

"Do you want some tea?" I ask, taking his coat. He nods, and I go into the kitchen to make it as he opens his black bag.

I have to search for the aluminum kettle. Rachel's mother bought it for us as a housewarming gift, and that's the last time I remember seeing it. Under normal circumstances, the kitchen is Rachel's domain. By the time I return with the doctor's tea, he's finishing his examination. I hand him the steaming cup and he sips from it with a grateful sigh.

"Can you help her, Doc?" I ask.

The doctor looks away, his shadowed eyes sad. It's all the answer I need.

* * * * *

August 27, 1911


Sighing, I attach the handmade placard to the front of the table. I step back and admire my handiwork. TIMEPIECE REPAIR - BEST PRICES, SATISFACTION GUARANTEED. It's not the most clever slogan, but it will do. Sitting down in the chair behind the table, I take a deep breath, only to gag as the stench of manure fills my nostrils.

Just my luck, getting a table next to the livestock.

Annoyed, I scribble a note - "Back in 1 hour" - and attach it to the sign. There won't be many customers until after the horse races anyway. I set off across the grounds to see the sights.

The stroll does me a world of good. A nice breeze is blowing, and the air is fresh. By the time I reach the front of the park, my mood is much improved. I pause for a moment, enjoying the happy buzz of the people around me and the scent of fried dough.

All of a sudden, something smashes into me from behind. I stumble and pitch forward, eyeglasses falling to the ground. Blind as a bat without my spectacles, I fumble for them in the dirt. As I find them and shove them back onto my nose, I hear a feminine voice from above me. Peering through my now-dusty lenses, I see a young woman's anxious face staring into mine.

"I'm so sorry! I've never been the height of grace, but - " A blush spreads across her cheeks.

"Exactly how tall is Grace?" I ask, dusting myself off and getting to my feet.

She laughs. "Well, I guess about my height..."

"I suppose I'll have to call you Gracie, then." I offer my hand. "Abel Simmons."

"Actually, my name's Rachel Malden." Her hand is tiny but her grip is firm.

"If it's all the same to you, I'll just call you Gracie." Her face turns an even deeper shade of red, but she keeps trying to make conversation.

"Exciting, isn't it?" she asks, eyes shining with enthusiasm. "The first county fair in over a decade!"

"I'm here for business, not pleasure," I tell her. "I'm an inventor, but it doesn't always pay the bills. I've got to take extra work when I can get it." As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. I've had this conversation countless times, and it never ends well.

"An inventor?" Her eyes light up. "Like Thomas Edison?"

Oh boy, here we go again.

"Well, not exactly like Edison."

"What sorts of things do you invent, then?" she asks. This is where things always start to go awry.

"Well," I hedge, shuffling my foot in the dust. "I'm sort of working on... a time machine." I wait for it. At best, there will be confusion - at worst, laughter and ridicule.

One of these days I'll learn to make up a convincing lie.

"A time machine?" she shrieks.

Here it comes.

"How wonderful!" She claps her hands in childlike excitement. "Can you really do it?"

Well, this has never happened before.

"I'm still in the planning phases," I tell her, "but I believe it can be done."

A voice crackles over the loudspeaker. "ALL PIE CONTEST PARTICIPANTS, PLEASE REPORT FOR JUDGING."

"Oh, I've got to go," Rachel's face falls, but brightens again a moment later. "Say, do you like apple pie?"

"I've been known to eat a slice or two." To tell the truth, I'm not a fan of sweets at all. I'm also not opposed to seeing more of this woman. She may be lacking in the coordination department, but she's not bad-looking. Besides, she actually seems interested in my time machine.

"Splendid! The pie contest is being judged in an hour. Will you still be here?" When she smiles, I revise my opinion of her looks from "not bad" to "beautiful".

"I'm here all day, Gracie," I say. All of a sudden, the thought no longer fills me with dread.

* * * * *

Winter, 2057


The wind whistles as I step out into the street. It must be cold here - the people rushing past me on all sides are dressed in layers of puffy clothing. Though I'm clothed in only a lightweight shirt, I'm drenched in sweat. My head is spinning and I should be in bed, but I can't turn back now.

I won't let this damnable ailment claim me, too - not when I'm so close to finding the cure.

I'm surrounded by enormous structures of glass and steel. Most of them are adorned with enormous flat panels, like the projection screens in the cinema but in living, breathing color. Brilliant patterns caper across them, constantly shifting. The streets, wet with rain, are bathed in the shining hues of the screens.

I'm delirious. This can't be real.

Gritting my teeth against waves of dizziness, I push my invention into a darkened alley nearby. The simple act of moving the time machine saps what little strength I have left, and I have to sit down to catch my breath. Spots dance before my eyes and everything blurs together.

Not now. Not when I'm so close to getting her back.

I bite my tongue hard. The taste of blood fills my mouth and I snap back to reality. After a few moments, I'm able to get to my feet. Stepping out of the alley, I breathe in the cold night air. My head pounds as I contemplate my next move.

"Please make a selection," a metallic voice intones behind me. I jump. Looking over my shoulder, I see a small screen on the side of the nearest building. On its white background is a red cross, along with the words CLINIC MACHINE.

"Well, that's an unbelievable stroke of luck," I mutter to myself.

"Whaddaya mean, compadre?" The gruff voice comes from behind me, and I let out a yelp of surprise. I turn to face a short and scabrous man. Raising his right hand, he spreads his fingers in a strange salute. Though I do my best to mimic his hand gesture, my fingers will not cooperate.

"I'm looking for medication, and lo and behold - a Clinic Machine."

"One on every corner, man. Hardly a miracle." The little man grins, baring long yellow teeth.

Shuddering, I tip him a curt nod and turn back to the machine. The screen now shows a moving illustration of a finger touching a small square. Below that are several options. With a trembling finger, I touch the one for INFLUENZA NANITES.

"Scanning... please stand by," the artificial voice replies. A moment later, I flinch as a loud buzz issues from the Clinic Machine and it speaks in a tone that sounds almost angry. "Error! Credit implant not found!"

Stinging tears of frustration fill my eyes. I beat my fists against the metal surface of the building and howl with rage.

"You're not lookin' so hot, compadre. Why don'cha let ol' Chester help ya out?"

"Can you tell me where to find a credit implant? I'm very ill, and my wife..." The words catch in my swollen throat.

"Tricky, those," Chester says, forehead creasing. "Gotta get the holo-imaging right and all. For that, ya wanna see Big Davey."

He pulls a billfold from his pocket and opens it up. With a small whoosh, it expands into a case the size of a picnic basket. After rummaging inside it for a moment, he holds up a cord with a single metal prong protruding from one end.

"Plug in," he says, "and I'll upload the map for ya."

"Plug what in?"

Chester looks at me as though I've just sprouted horns and a tail. "Y'know what? Never mind," he says. Stepping up to the Clinic Machine himself, he asks, "Whaddaya want?"

"The influenza cure - one for me, and one for Rachel."

"Ya know how to work these?" he asks a moment later, holding out two shiny metal syringes. I shake my head.

"Lemme do it for ya, then. Won't hurt a bit!" A searing pain spreads through my arm. My knees go weak and I clutch at the metal wall for support. By the time I've recovered, he's holding the remaining syringe out to me.

"How can I repay you?" I ask, pocketing it.

"Don't worry about it - we're buds now," Chester cackles, then dissolves into a fit of hacking. "Wacky Weed," he gasps, "Stuff'll kill ya. Want a pinch for the road?"

I shake my head.

"Seeing Potion, then? Visions that can't be beat!"

"No, thank you! I've got to get home to my wife." I'm already backing away toward the alley. In the distance, a klaxon begins to wail.

"Ya better get outta here, compadre," Chester calls after me. "Sounds like the popies're onto ya. Those Clinic Machines, they got silent alarms and all."

* * * * *

December 8, 1918


Restored to health, I step out of the time machine into my own backyard. It's a quiet night, and I hear nothing but the crickets and the crunch of my shoes over the light dusting of snow. Reaching my back door, I slowly turn the knob.

Locked. We never lock the back door.

I fumble in my pocket and pull out my house key. Shivering in only my shirtsleeves, I slide it into the lock. It doesn't turn.

What in the blue blazes?

At last, I climb in through a window - at least that isn't locked. I make my way to the bedroom, heart hammering in my throat. The room is dark and there's a sick smell in the air. I hear the sound of labored breathing.

"Rachel?" She moans but doesn't respond.

But she's alive, and soon I'll have her back for good.

I turn on the yellow-fringed reading lamp. Grateful to see her alive once more, I take in every detail. Her dark curls spread over the pillow and her skin is pale as milk against her dark green nightgown. The only color in her face is the blue cast to her lips.

Tears fill my eyes and my throat closes up. Even near death, she is beautiful.

Fishing the syringe from my pocket, I administer the injection. Rachel stirs for a moment, but her eyes remain closed. If my own experience is any indication, the nanites should begin to take effect in less than half an hour. Somehow, that still feels like an eternity.

I can't just sit here waiting. Looking for a way to pass the time, I go out to the hall. As I consider making a pot of tea, I hear a scratching at the front door. Crossing to the parlor window, I part the gauzy blue curtains and look out.

No sign of a carriage. There's no one out there.

When the scratching continues, I fling open the front door. Crouched before me on the stoop is a large orange cat. With an indignant meow, it brushes past me and disappears into the back of the house.

Ridiculous creature, acting as if it owns the place.

I snort in annoyance, but decide not to chase after the animal. Instead, I go to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea. This time, I remember exactly where the kettle is. Reaching into the cabinet, I pull it out - only to nearly drop it in surprise. Staring at its shiny copper surface, I try to make sense of what I'm seeing.

The tea pot I used on the night Rachel died - it was aluminum, not copper.

My stomach drops into my shoes as the realization hits me. The lamp, the curtains, even Rachel's nightclothes - none of those are right, either. But what does it mean? Did I do something wrong?

It's too late to turn back now. Tea forgotten, I return to the bedroom. My chair no longer sits at Rachel's bedside. Feeling as though my legs might give out at any moment, I sink to the floor. Minutes stretch unbearably as I sit cross-legged, waiting for her to come around.

After what seems like hours, I hear the sighing sound of movement against the sheets. Looking up, I see that Rachel is awake. The orange cat is beside her, and she's stroking its fur. Her eyes meet mine - lucid, but they show no recognition. Confusion and then alarm flit across her features. She gathers her breath as if to scream.

"Gracie, it's all right. It's me, Abel."

"My name is Rachel. Rachel Malden," she says, the fear still in her dark eyes. "Who are you?"
n3m3sis43: (Default)
Hi! I'm [livejournal.com profile] n3m3sis43 and sometimes I write stuff. If you're interested in reading some of it, here are some stories I'm proud of and my continuing projects. The bulk of these were written during LJ Idol and some of them need reworking. I'm always open to constructive criticism. Feel free to friend me if you're interested in reading more! I usually don't bite.


Historical Fiction )

GIANT STORY KATAMARI OF DOOOOOOOOOM (aka continuing projects)

Cliffton Series )

Straw Man and Sam and Daisuke stories )

Peripherally Related )

Profile

n3m3sis43: (Default)
n3m3sis43

March 2017

S M T W T F S
   1234
5 67891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031 

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 17th, 2017 07:39 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios