eM:I-elle, A Techno Fairy Tale.
Part 1: There Was...
Written By Ivan Overmoyer
Illustrations by Anna Overmoyer
Copyright (c) 2014, All Rights Reserved
(In case you missed it, Chapter 1 can be found here)
The days were explosions. Bright sun flash reached over ground and house and swiped its gaze over the underneath before it disappeared over the eyelid rim of CitySky. Light faded over the day until it was nothing and night again. Cycles of life passed this way neverchanging and he remembered days for the life lived, not as the world did: day after day, after fading day, forever.
He woke with the sun’s hello and dressed. His clothes were not fine, but thick and warm, worn, . With new sunburst still in mind he walked through the small stone house and outside without eating. The back door of the house faced Stalkward, away from the sun, and this was the way he went. The world was bright, silent, just waking and still, but for the faint chip chipping of his father's hoe in the distance. He stood and leaned against the stone wall, wrapped arms around himself, waited.
Far off was a leany shack where the poet dwelt, over on top of the shallow hill and far aside the village bounds. Its thin walls pushed at the wind, strained to stay upright. He watched, he waited.
Chip… Chip… Chip… Chip… Chip…
He saw nothing through her slight window. Even here he would see the flicker from her candle, or darkness as her face blocked frame but today there was nothing and no one and he was tense, no sense of time, only worry and suppressed panic. He waited.
“You're up early. Eaten?”
His father's voice and only now he noticed the faint chip chipping had turned silent. His father was tall, lean muscles grasping his neck, held stubbly head over shapeless pigskin coat. Worn headscarf covered what was left of his hair and he peered down at his son with large black eyes.
“No,” he replied, answering the man’s gaze with his own eyes. He too was tall, but not as much. With a thick woven shroud around him of deep brown, he had dun hair shaggy to match. His stubble was not as dark or thick enough to match the elder’s Scruff, but those who didn’t call him Cabel knew him as Young Scruffy, son of the old farmer.
His father rumbled, “You worry again.”
He timidly replied, “I do.”
Old Scruffy looked to the poet’s house. “She’s stayed longer in seclusion than this, but you’ve not lost appetite over it. What cause have you now?”
A shiver shook the young one’s frame. “She’s not stirred in seven days from there, though she had only enough supplies for three.”
“Starvation doesn’t come in four days,” the old one said.
“But weakness does for one as frail as her.”
“Then she has found some other food source.”
The young one shook his head. “The hill is barren, the grasses too sparse and hard to eat. No moss pigs burrow there and the only meat is ilvi.”
“Any who eats ilvi gets exactly as he deserves.”
“She would not,” Cabel said quick, “you know that.”
The old man was solemn. “You think something has happened to her.”
“I fear the worst.” He looked at his father. “I have to go to her, help in any way I can.”
“You want to bring her food.” It was no question the old one asked, he knew his son’s intentions. Anyone else would have beaten the boy.
“If she cannot provide for herself.”
“Do what you must.”
Old Scruffy hefted hoe to shoulder, turned treaded slowly around the house. The garden lay Edgeward and he had work undone. Cabel waited to hear his father’s hoe before he pushed his weight from the wall and onto his soles, giving the poet’s leany shack one last look before he headed downslope toward the village.
squat in a shallow valley, walled on all sides but edgeward where the sun peeked every morning. Most were small farms, little plots of peaty chilling ground where grasses and dark berries grew beside the wooden storehouses and pokey dwellings. Cabel trod the path, punchdust with pig skin shoes.
The village centered on a wide pond trickling in and out from each side. A strong, slow stream, the shape a malformed pancake, deep dark and cold hiding sinister creatures and barely edible animals. Over the trickling-out sat a large paddle wheel pushing around slow with a steady rhythm of squeaks and groans coming from the building it drove, a sad wooden box with a shallow curve top.
And he pitted streets nodding their hellos, stopped by the water's edge, drew buckets or skins, went on their way. Others with satchels of sustenance. Cabel continued on to the box himself with trepidation and a nod here and there to those who greeted him. A woman, older, left as he came upon the door and he held it for her and she murmured a thankyeson, was on her way and Cabel slipped through. t
The creak-and-groan was louder inside but what meager light shone through the dusty windows revealed none of the machine that produced it. Most of it was hid, and the main room was small with naught but a counter and a scale and a door within. A rotating shaft along the ceiling. A bell sounded as the entrance closed. The door behind the counter was left standing open and a gaunt hairless man came swift through though stopping just beyond the frame to scan Cabel, toes to scalp with sharp blue eyes under a heavy brow.
“Hello young one,” he said in a mild voice, “and what might you be here for today?”
“I need to make a withdrawal, Smith. Please.”
The heavy brow raised. “A withdrawal it is, then. For you took some five days worth of bread last time. This hour precisely in fact, am I right in thinking you went hungry yesterday?”
“Day before,” Cabel said, “I could not eat.”
“Feeling sick then are we.”
“A withdrawal. Please.”
“Still your nerves young one.” His teeth showed oddly clean. “How much do you wish to take out this day?”
“Eight days of meal.”
“That leaves you with four until the next fortnight. You are sure?”
“Yes.” Cabel stood firm though his jaw shook.
“Far be it from me to question.” Smith bowed his head, slipped backward through the door. “Wait here for me.”
Cabel had not realized his meager balance. He would have to work extra to stay fed, but it would not be so bad. He could stand some hunger, and his back was strong.
Smith returned with a sizeable sack of dun brown cloth, plomped down on the counter’s top. “Here it is,” he said. “Will there be anything else this morning? Credits to tell perhaps?”
“None today but… might I ask after another?”
Smith’s head turned slowly sidewise, blue eyes narrowed. “You might. Who will you be asking after?”
Cabel took in a shuddering breath. “Emielle. The poet.”
“Ah…” and the word escaped as a breath. “Not thinking of charity are we?” His claw released the top of the sack and Cabel snatched it before the edge could fall.
“That’s none of your concern.”
“I should think so,” answered he, “but it’s a fool who gives food to the likes of her when he has barely enough for himself.”
“But who else would?”
“And that…” Smith backed slowly into the shadow of the back room. “That is none of my concern.”
“You answered not my question!” called Cabel.
“You already know it,” came the grumble though the walls, and Cabel left huffing.
Now was his journey homeward and Cabel went with the sack over one shoulder. Fortunate was he, he knew, to live in his father’s house. But he worked for his own food whether Smith knew it or not, repairing walls and roofs of those who could not themselves, and the old ones spoke well of him. He would deal his meal as he pleased. Upon return the house was vacant and he went to his room to split the sack, scooping the meal to earthen jars. Then he struck out to the hill, out to where the poet dwelt.
Over dirt and rock and clumps of red grasses, pushing up the incline step by step by step, feet forming rhythm in his mind and matching it with his lungs. It drew in his mind and hardened his body, protected him from the cold. It was a long walk to her dwelling over a path trodden enough to be barely visible. He kept his eyes to the ground. The wind swirled around him, a long-haired dancer breathing in his ears and laughing him on his way, mocking his knotted worry. He knew that his father was right and starvation would not come to her so soon, yet he still feared that it would be one step closer to losing her singular mind forever. That would be difficult for him to bear.
The trance broke when he arrived at her dwelling. His feet stopped and tingled, his legs wobbling, still wishing to continue, his breath kept running, confused, why did we stop we were doing so well The ancient structure stood there in its gray stone and grayer mortar, square angles jutting from the loose hilled ground like a single jagged tooth. A metal door and a stone block corner with the other two walls constructed from discard metal and wood, broken pieces of ancient things, patched holes and ragged. Any color had all turned to gray and brown and it pushed against wind rain and snow. He raised his hand and knocked upon the metal door and the whole structure seemed to shake as the door gave in its frame, begging him to stop.
Wind answered the knock and nothing more, howling in hollows, holes in walls. Cabel pressed the door handle which scraped and ground in itself and let the door open with a sickly pop, grating over the floor and he pushed it closed behind him. Sack fell from shoulder and landed hard on the ground a sifty sigh. It was no warmer inside but with less wind.
“Emielle?” He called her name but heard no answer and ventured a step through the tiny room toward the blanket that covered the door and the plank floor bobbed under his feet. “Emielle, are you there?” A cold wet tapped his bare ankle and he startled, shouting sudden fear, but it was only a long furry ilvi and its damp nose and it stared into his eyes with amber orbs. Ears pressed back against its neck, and it had a dark mask on a white face. “Gdjaaaa-aaaaa-aaaa.” He swung his arm angrily at the thing for frightening him so. The creatures made him uneasy and he did not fancy them touching him without his permission or prior knowledge, but he knew better than to strike them. These, awas even worse. “What do you want, ilvi? I have food but not for you.”
It rocked forward, batwings rising earily above its head, sniffing attention to sack and meal, then bounded arcing past and under the blanket door. Cabel followed and pushed through blanket to the room beyond. Surrounded by broken furniture and scrap cloth. He saw across the space an ilvi brown of face sitting erect and alert distrusting with its eyes, another curled a ball of grey in sleep beside it. The one he followed in had turned to his left and he saw the snuffling behind two wooden crates, bending toward human figure on a cloth pile.
She lay alone shrouded in old cloth a thick shirt and torn pants in layers, limbs folded fetal with breathing shallow and tear tracks sideways down her face. Hair dark short and wavy scattered around her head and shading eyes.
His breath stilled and he knelt by her, wishing but not daring to touch her cheek. The ilvi stared up at him. “Em-mielle?” He whispered the word like a secret that he did not want known, but her eyelids fluttered open and she saw him.
“I didn’t know you were coming.” Her eyes were still unfocused and her words were weak.
“I didn’t tell you I was.” He stared into, fascinated by her eyes, the strands of rich blue as they stretched back and forth reading his face. “I… brought you meal,” he said, and she smiled, he could not help to do it himself. “I will prepare it for you.”
As he started to stand she moved her hand gently to his knee. “Oh… leave me some dignity,” she whispered. “I’m not helpless utterly.” He froze, stopped by her gesture and she leaned up to her knees. She offered a hand to the ilvi for a quick sniff and scurry off under a table as she stood, gazing sleepily at the room around her. She wiped the tear tracks from her face. “And I dreamt of the sky,” she murmured. “Thank you, Mung.”
“Why did you sequester here for so long?” He watched as she slipped slow and silent across uneven stone floor. Her stove was nestled a metal pan under metal hood under metal pipe rising through crooked roof against a stone wall between Senegal and Bijou’s table and a stack of fuel blocks.
“The brothers were gone. They would be hungry upon their return and worried were I not here. Gone so long I had to wait. And so I did.”
“Gone…” he stared at her setting the bricks of woodmoss in the stove. “Gone where? Not stealing more books again…”
She lit the stove with a sulfur match, scraped against the ground. “What else?” She looked back at him.
She lit the stove with a sulfur match, scraped against the ground. “What else?” She looked back at him.
“You would bring the Empties here? You mustn’t let them do such things!” With anger or unease his hands shook, unsure which.
“Even if I wished them not to they could not be stopped.” Bijou ever upright gave a yawn as Emielle ran hand over head ears and neck. The stroke shivered his spine, leaning into it and they could all sense Cabel’s discomfort. “Their nature dictates what they do, not my word. The books they would hoard even were I not here.”
“But you don’t need to encourage them!”
“I will do as I please,” she said stiffly and her words kicked at his stomach.
“I… I’m sorry,” he said, his anger shrinking to regret. “I worry for you, that’s all. If the Empties came and took you away…” Here he halted.
“They would come for the ilvi and me. They would leave the village alone.”
“But your work… would all be lost! If that… I couldn’t…”
She smiled and put her hand on his shoulder. “Someday it will all be lost anyhow. I do not write to be remembered, I write because I must.”
“But what about me, or my father? We love your work, would you deprive us?”
She touched her forehead to his. “If they stopped stealing books, it would have the same effect.” She smiled wider. “Worry not.” She went back to the stove, retrieving a small metal cauldron from a hook inside as the fire sputtered bright.
Cabel sputtered as well. “But… your poetry comes from within you! You don’t need the ilvi for such beauty, you are an artist on your own!”
She looked up at him from scooping some cupfulls of meal into the vessel. “And I suppose you can patch the wall of a home without mortar, or build a door without wood and metal?” He deflated yet again. “Cabel, we do not tell each other how to work.”
He sighed deep and slow. “Nothing I say can persuade you?”
She smiled. “Nothing.”
He turned toward the door, eyes sweeping ilvi asleep around the room. There was so much about her he didn’t understand. “Just promise me this as thanks for the meal… be careful. Don’t get taken. I would not want my charity to be in vain.” He stepped away, back toward the rocks and dirt and cold, pulling his cloak tight around.
“Wait,” she said, and he stopped and she scurried to her bed, pulling out her journal, flipping through tattered remains of ilvi dinner. She pulled a page, folded and held it to him. “Here. Take this, and know I will be careful.”
He took the paper as an egg and held it close to his chest. “Work well, and please take care of yourself.”
“The same goes for you.”
And he nodded and left.
In the wind he unfolded the scratchy sheet and read as he trudged.
The night is old as I fold my tent
and set out for another day, toting rations,
bed and damp canvas, striking out
against the untamed plain for somewhere
I’ve never seen.
That somewhere out there I’ve never been to,
where there’s water and sky
where the ground isn’t mirrored by a floor above
my head and everyone grows as tall as they can
because they can
without fear of bumping their heads on the sky.
know I can get there if I just keep
walking against the untamed plain,
back loaded with rations and damp until
I get tired and set my tent
to recharge for another day of walking,
rest and repeat
to continue on until I reach
Breath issued joining the wind around him as he held the poem to his chest with lines still fresh in mind. A smile broke his lips and he hunched his shoulders as he shivered, not from cold. This he would add to his collection and treasure. He folded it up following the creases she had made and held it close, pretending it was her.
The small stream that fed into the river that ran into the village went past a path which led to the poet’s house, not far from the spring of its origin, a crater in the earth surrounded by ground-scrubbing bushes where water bubbled up from an ancient pipe in a dark abyss down below. She would walk the path by the familiar sound of the trickling stream with a light metal bowl in hand to the spring then claw her way down the crater wall to the water. Stomach wining with anticipation, she kissed the water, sucking the cold through her before dunking the bowl, freezing it to her finger flesh.
Clambering out to the path with bowl sloshing overhead and water veins running down over hand. She felt the ilvi stir in the house.
Senegal bent his neck into the cauldron, forepaws on the edge, tasted meal with his nose holes. It tasted to him sour, spoiled yet rife with tiny animals, sweet and acrid at once and it tickled. He sneezed and jumping backed away from the cauldron batting at his nose.
Must you do such things? Bijou stood still in his spot, orange eyes glancing down at his brother below.
It burns at my curious nerve, he reproachful replied, looking up at Bijou. His head bobbed with constant sniffing. I understand not how they are nourished by such substance as this. Strange creatures they are.
Well you’ll learn nothing by sticking your nose in their food.
It is a place to start at least. Where would you have me look? Then distracted by a newer smell, Senegal wandered off to a corner, scratching now and then at the stony floor.
Such things are not for us to know. It was Monk now, opening a single sleepy eye from his curled up mass under chair. We eat our food, they eat theirs. It matters not the hows or whys.
Bijou yawned. Leave him his wonders as he will. He is young yet, he will learn soon enough.
With a snort Monk’s eye closed again only to be opened once more as Bango leapt from her shirt pile onto Senegal’s back, a blurry white shriek of joy. Monk sighed loud letting his distaste be known, but neither youngster noticed. He curled tighter.
Get off me, I’m smelling!
You did so straight into my trap, thief! Do not deny, you’re after my hoarded shinies!
I thought I smelled beetles, you nit, now get off! And with a dark grunt from his throat Bango was flipped on her back and her quarry scattered off a flurry of clacking claws, jumped to book pile to chair and back to table, glowering down at her.
Come and face me you currish coward!
Leave me alone, Bango, I’m right off the mood.
Oh come, Senegal, you’re less fun than Terak.
And so be it.
Bango shook herself a shiver running down her back and looked about the room. Fine! Where is Mung, he’ll play with me.
Terak yawned her way out of a sleeve and out of silence. He went off after the human, he did. For once patience, sister, he’ll return again soon.
Humph. Always following the Starchaser he is. What hopes he to gain from following her springward?
It’s not the Starchaser he follows. It was that Odann boy. Terak rolled slowly on her back gazing at her sister with ears flattened to the floor. I know not what he wants from that one. Mung is a strange one he is.
A grunt and a hop and Bango loped out through the cloth door and squeezed through the hole in the front room outdoors. White fur glinting over rocks, through scrub grasses, picking carefully along faded path. She followed the faint footprints and claw marks aided by Mung’s lingering musk, but her sharp eyes saw no movement ahead. By and by she stopped, planting her backside in the dirt, ears flattened and she concentrated.
Mung, where are you! Come homeward, I’m bored and no one will play with me! Anyway, you ought not chase Odann, you’ll scare them. You’ll bring naught but trouble. She waited, listened, stopping only once to let her hind leg thump-scratch an itchy earwing. Mung! Come home, come back! You’ll worry the Starchaser! Gusts roamed the scarred plain, ruffled clumps of grasses and played with her senses, bringing smells that did not belong and sounds that churned in her earscapes and it dried her eyes. Mung!!
Bango, stop your worry. He approached from the side, crawling to her off path. She snapped her eyes freezing on him plodding forth under shadow and scrub. None saw me. If I can skulk through CitySky we need not fear a few Odann. He was calm but his tone uneasy and his nose did not twitch as he walked. She popped up at him and he refrained from flinching as her teeth found his neck skin and shook hard. Half his size, she shook herself.
You frightened me, bully! Brute! What shall happen when the Starchaser comes in and finds us both gone, what will she think then?
Wonder you truly? He whipped his head knocking her hold from his pelt and she rolled to her feet, prancing in circles around him as he plodded paw over paw homeward. I think she will know exactly where we are.
She would know better if we stayed put. What do you out here, why follow the Odann boy?
I followed him for the poem.
I see, thought you’d steal yourself a snack, did you? Naughty is Mung.
I only wished to smell. I do not steal the Poet’s words, only taste them on the wind unless freely given.
Then your nose is so brown it stinks!
Or rather it smells.
She charged his belly and whumped him on his side. A rotten punster you are. And bounced on ahead.
Mung rolled back to standing and shook the dust from his fur. Quick wits make for quick feet it’s said. His rump angled high a twitching tail as he folded for a spring. And so shall I catch you! He sprang barreling after the bouncing youngster who shrieked in excitement and took his chase.
It was warm gruel the meal made and her stomach grumbled happy as she ate. The fire warmed the little house with sputters and pops across from her bed where she sat savoring the malty grain taste slipping through mouth and throat. Senegal from his table bed sniffed curious at the steam from the cauldron and sneezed, throwing his balance from the perch. He tumbled whumping to the floor and jumped up, shook body from front to end.
Her head tick-tocked left and right as she smiled at the young ilvi. “That will do you no good, to your stomach or your head.” Senegal sneezed again and scurried to a corner, nose to ground. Another mouthful heated and soothed her angry throat and she felt it with eyes closed. “And Monk, where is your brother? He goes hungry and your haul is hidden.”
Monk looked up with a yawn and stretched from under table as the poet ate. He trundled his frame through cloth door, poked his front through the outside hole to find sounds of scuffle and play. Two ilvi tumbled in a wrestle of claws and teeth among the scrubbish weeds beyond. When you are quite finished dirtying your pelts the Starchaser would like you inside. Mung has a meal coming.
Mung’s brownish bulk shook itself to standing, the younger one in his teeth struggled in vain. Thought I to be punished with hunger, Mung thought with firm grip on Bango’s napeskin. He dragged her toward the hole as she kicked and grunted.
Punished why? Monk pulled back through the hole aside for his brother. You’ve not misbehaved that I know.
Naught been naughty? Let me go, I’ll give you a thrashing!
Mung shook her through the hole. Quiet, Bango. You’ll not be rude to Monk. He dropped her and she ran with a squeak through the cloth door.
You’ve been punning with her again, haven’t you?
Monk’s disapproval tickled him. A little harmless fun only hurts the bugs. Now what’s this of a meal?
You were unfed upon our return, were you not? Monk clacked away through to where the poet sat. Come, why thought you to be punished?
Mung followed after. I gave her a fright is all.
The poet sat where Monk had left her. The empty bowl by folded knee, her lap now held her blank book where she tore out another verse.
One night I dreamt a tower
piercing through a crust of snow
and I looked not at its apex,
just the crystal down below
where the sources of our lifeblood
told us all there is to know.
Full of stories, full of wisdom
giving food, that we may grow.
Within the crystal mirror
we were beautiful and clean,
clever children of a mother
who could see us through a screen
of a window in the tower
with the glorious polished sheen
and we never even knew her
but we knew she was our queen.
Numberless our masses
standing straight in golden hive
as we watched the preparations
for the ones yet to arrive.
There I was, inside this heaven,
and I felt my spirit dive
and I felt my heart still beating
but I did not feel alive.
The paper held to Mung's nose, she smiled as he sniffed and his eyes of glassy orange scanning her face. Fearful, no claws resting on her lap and the faintest shiver with the shallow whuf whuf of the nostrils.
“There is no poison here, Mung. A long awaited dinner. You did not truly think I would let you go hungry?”
A moment more hesitation, then a ginger tug with foreteeth. The paper slipping soft whispers through thumb and forefinger and Mung blinks, backing away. Bijou watches envious from his perch on the table. The poet watches, curious as the ilvi slinks away. She does not know his hiding place.
Through a hole in ancient walls Mung slipped his way through a maze of dust and dirt and fiber, coming at last through to a small metal space lined with scraps of dry blank paper and cloth snips. Sat down and curled in nolight, dinner in his teeth he set it lightly in the nest. The Odann boy clutching paper to its chest trudged through the wind and cold, a foolish youth flashing through the Ilvi's mind, tracking scent of poem.
The secret lies in our food, not in theirs. He whuffs and sniffs and tastes the air for the heady scent the poem gives him and he tries to understand.
Eventually hunger takes over, and Mung dines alone.
(To Be Continued)
(To Be Continued)