Poetry-Thing Thursday: Scars

Scars run deep,
in tissues that seep,
with blood and pus,
and memoried wounds that weep.

Steel sings sharp,
begs played harp,
from creatures with wings,
hanging o’er the body-covered tarp.

Words whispered from tongue,
in a madman that’s hung,
the sound knows no end,
bellows ever his lung.

Let snow blow and fall,
‘pon mountaintops tall,
and follow their slopes,
‘til warmth comes to call.

For in giant’s steps,
comes sadness that slept,
for the soul once ablaze,
knows not what it kept.

So remember each scar,
they’re important by far,
and no matter where you go,
each one sets a bar.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: White Wolf, White Wolf

White Wolf, White Wolf
the path is calling you, Wolf.
The Swallow is gone.
The winter’s to come,
and love’s violet eyes,
remain cold and numb.

White Wolf, White Wolf,
with silver and steel, dear Wolf.
The scars that you bear
are more than skin-deep,
and the path is aligned,
with frost-borne keeps.

White Wolf, White Wolf,
wraiths come today, my Wolf.
Fight for your love,
or freeze in new loss,
for the frost comes unbidden,
like it or not.

White Wolf, White Wolf,
of lands long gone and lost.
Find comfort in violet eyes,
raven hair,
black and white cloth
for the Swallow is flying,
and you’ve no choice but to watch.

Short Story: These Damn Games

Keith Munson was dreaming. He knew it. The only other explanation was… There wasn’t one. None. Any were too fantastic, too impossible to be real. He’d fallen asleep at his computer again, that was it. Head on the keyboard, drool at the corner of his mouth. The sounds of chaos caused by random key presses interfered with his sleep, guided his dreams. That had to be it. All he had to do was wake up. Close his eyes. Open them. Be awake.

He closed his eyes, opened them…

And was still staring through the cock-pit of a single-seat fighter. Beyond the glowing, holo-HUD and the transparent view-port was the most immense blackness he’d ever seen; space. Space was a never-ending black fabric; eternally unrolling around him. He was alone amid it, joined only by pinpricks letting through some other, more ethereal universe’s light.

But it couldn’t be real. There was no way. He was a small-town kid from a flyover state. He lived and worked on O’Doyle’s farm, shoveling horse and cow shit or hefting bales of hay. In winter, he plowed rural roads for odd cash, tided himself over on money squirreled away from warm months. He lived in one of O’Doyle’s retrofitted pole-barns; a loft apartment roughly the size of a usual master bedroom. The only difference was an attached bathroom and a few, simplified essentials like a gas stove and small fridge-freezer combo. Often enough, they were stocked with overflow produce from O’Doyle’s across the farm.

The only other things Keith owned were a computer, some clothes, and a bed.

The computer was hooked to a fiber-line net-connection he and O’Doyle had installed at great expense and effort. It connected them to a nearby city’s telecom infrastructure, granting net-access at the highest possible speeds. Combined with his gaming rig, Keith was his own sort of rocketeer each time he sat down.

None of that explained this though. People had barely breached space. There were still problems with the real rocketeers. They hadn’t figured out the math or tech on the fighters he knew as sci-fi. More importantly, this fighter was his. It was the same fighter he logged into every time he booted Galactic Conquest. How he was in it,he didn’t know. He didn’t want to know. He just wanted it to end.

He stared vacantly; nothing around him. Not immediately, anyhow. His first instinct was to run, flee. Then, he remembered where he was; where he’d been. The crushing reality of a warzone and possible death terrified him into a caution that replaced his outright disbelief.

He had to know where to go. Somewhere safe. Somewhere no-one could harm him. A medical ship! Neutral ground.

But the nearest one was light hours away. Would take days unless he engaged his jump drive. His jump drive could be easily tracked though, identify him as a hostile invader. A jump drive could be easily destroyed until it leapt away.

But he had no choice. Jump, or sub-light assurances of capture or death… or drifting forever, until his O2 ran out with his life– and his ship became a tomb for some scavver to pick clean. He couldn’t let that happen. He’d do what he could to get to safety, then figure the rest out.

He gripped the controls, recalled watching his avatar do it. There was significantly less confidence in the act. Still, the sticks felt right in his hands.His left-hand throttled up. G-forces slammed him back before his inertial dampeners kicked in andgravity released him. The stars moved now, slowly but with a definite certainty.

His right hand pitched, rolled. Artificial gravity kept him in place, left him feeling small but powerful. He throttled up, felt the blast of Gs, the release of compensating dampeners. The stars were coming faster now, cantering at him with a ready, dead stare.Keith breathed deep, mimed the button presses used to engage the jump drive. The growl of the drive core rippled through the ship.

Screams pierced his eardrums. His whole body trembled. Adrenaline flooded his veins. The three-hundred sixty degree sensors HUD lit up before him. Six targets had dropped from jump-speeds and were closing.

Keith choked for breath, mind fumbling for action. His left hand drove the throttle up fully on instinct. The G-forces were tenfold before the dampeners compensated again. The only thing that kept his insides from exploding in the split-second before compensation was the ultra-advanced G-suit. It could protect him from just about everything but explosions and the vacuum of space; two things greatly concerning at the moment.

Translating from keyboard keys to throttle and stick was less difficult each second, but Keith needed time. Time he didn’t have. The piercing alerts meant charged weapons. His hand instinctively flicked a button, shut off the alert.

The first impact came; a glancing blow. He barely felt it. Nonetheless, the transparent field of blue appeared over his cock-pit, dissipating absorbed energy. It was good; energy weapons were manageable so long as they didn’t hit too hard all at once. Missiles and Rail-guns were a different story altogether.

Another hit; stronger, direct. The shield lit up. The ship choked from the power required. A few switches diverted all power from weapons into shields and engines. The jump-drive rattled his teeth, spurned forward by the increase.

A third hit. Direct, not as jarring. Either he was getting used to it or the shield had strengthened. It wouldn’t last. He had only one chance to escape. With a breath, and an instinctive set of movements, Keith hit the afterburner for a boost. He spiraled up, back, toward the onslaught of ships. Instinct and tactics would force the pilots to break formation, split apart for fear of weapons fire.

They did just that, splitting down the middle. Three broke left, three right. Keith blasted through their former center. The jump-drive charged. His left hand thumbed “engage.” The ship blasted into FTL, disappeared from known space.

In a blink, he emerged outside the medical ship, throttled down to cruise, and engaged the automated docking procedures. His heart raced, body sweat beneath the G-suit. Whatever the hell had brought him here, the fight was too real. Then again, it was just real enough. Realer than any game could be. He wasn’t sure how to get home, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know just yet.

O’Doyle himself stood before Keith’s computer, hand at his chin. Beside him, the local Sheriff took down everything he’d said. Everyone knew everyone in O’Doyle’s area. Everyone knew him, knew Keith, knew of their friendship, work, and living arrangements. Nonetheless, O’Doyle couldn’t help but fear for suspicion to turn on him.

The Sheriff patted his shoulder, “Don’t let it get to you, O-D. From what I hear, there’s been six or so cases like this. Kids just disappearing. All that’s left’s a running video-game. There’s no evidence of foul play. No notes of running away. One girl even had a cup of tea next to an open tea-packet– hadn’t even put it in to steep yet. It’s these damn games, O-D, they do weird shit. We’ll figure it out eventually, get Keith back home.”

O’Doyle sighed with a deep sadness, “I hope so.”

The Sheriff led him out, hand on his shoulder.

Somewhere no one was certain existed, Keith stepped down from his ship and into a universe entirely new, yet undeniably familiar. He’d make the most of it… for now.

Short Story: Immortalized

She didn’t know how to say it. Writing it was easier, but speaking it was difficult. A few days ago, she couldn’t have even done that. Thinking of it was still painful, but before– in the first moments following it– even thoughts had failed her. Now, here she sat, staring at the log-in screen of her own computer, in her own gaming chair. Beside her, his empty chair and blank screen inflected a terrible grief on her heart. It choked her up, what needed to be done, but she had to do it.

It was like that old adage of “the show must go on.” Only it wasn’t a show. For her, it was life. Life had to go on. Most people found comfort in that, solace in the idea that it’d one day end. They held vain hopes of reunions. She didn’t. She had only the grim reality of the lonely present. They’d met through a screen, just like the one she watched now. The character had been different then; blue-gray skin in place of the pasty white. Black hair where it was now bright red. The bright palettes of high-level armor had adorned the elf-body though, as it did now. She remembered the first time she ever saw him, in-game. Love at first sight didn’t exist for her. It wasn’t going to either. Through avatars of druid bulls, archer-orks, or anything else the game manifested, it simply couldn’t.

His words, those were real. His actions, by proxy at first, were real too. The twelve years of love, happiness, and marriage since were even more real.

All of it had come from a raid night. she’d been invited to join his guild for the chance of epic loot and hordes of XP, in exchange for healing magic. No-one had any idea what they’d started. Before long, she was up all night with him, playing after the rest of the Guild had retired. She’d always been his support, his crutch. Even after things had gone from game-life to real-life. His upbringing had left him with more emotional baggage, but he managed it with a rogue-like agility that defied the tank-builds he played.

She understood that paradox better than anyone: He’d always thrown himself into the thick of things to save others. The scars on his face and back said so. They were small, subtle, but there. She remembered them as well as the earthen hair and eyes she’d caress and stare into. Most of all, she remembered how he’d gotten them, a story he’d only told once. It was all the times she’d needed.

He’d been quiet, voice softer than a mouse’s. He’d come home from work one night as a teen, later than usual. His father had decided to take out his pink-slip on his sister. He fought back for the first time that night. His sister cowered, bloody and bruised in a corner, as he was beaten almost to death that night. His parents told the paramedics he’d fallen down the stairs. They’d hid the little sister in her room. Everyone knew the lie, but Martin kept quiet for his mother’s sake. The belt marks were too distinct. The scars from the buckle obvious. It had gouged skin like a garden rake to chaff.

A friend of his informed the police soon after. They raced over and caught Martin’s father in the act. As far as she knew, he still hadn’t shown his face. More than two decades had passed. But Martin held no grudges, especially at the end. That he was gone now was unbearable.

She took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and keyed in her password. A prompt flashed for a secondary authentication, and she typed in a pass-code sent to her phone via text. The loading screen with its mini-game about cute elves went untouched. It dissolved to the field where she’d last logged out beside him. They’d played for hours and hours together, expecting an end. Yet somehow, they both knew when it was the last time. They’d returned to the field where they’d first met, where she’d first joined the guild to raid, and stood beside one another to watch the animated landscape.

There was a resignation in Martin then. He just held her hand, in game and out, and stared into the distance. It was as if things had come full circle. Only Martin could say what or how. Even now, her eyes leaked to think of that sad despair in his ailing grip.

She wiped an eye, keyed in a command to pull up the guild-chat menu. All but a couple of the regulars were on. It didn’t surprise her. It was prime farming time. After-work hours were guaranteed to find the full-Guild in voice chat. The couple that weren’t there were still friends. She had to wait. It was only a few minutes before they appeared, almost in tandem. She cleared her throat, wiped away a few more tears, and slipped on her headset. She sent invites to join a party, at her location, to everyone. Another few minutes passed before the twenty-odd people had assembled before her in-game.

Like Martin before, she felt something had come full-circle. She stood in the same field where she and Martin had first met. Where she and everyone had first met. The assembly armored creatures stood in two lines before her, sensing what was to be said. They felt no need to rush her, nor could have for anything in the world.

Her breath shook. Her voice warbled and wobbled. “You are mine and Martin’s best friends. He loved you. As I do. Like f-family.” She involuntarily sucked air through her teeth. It rip the hearts from every guild member. “That is why, I feel it my duty to…”

She sucked air again. No one moved. The avatars merely watched, awaiting the inevitable words. Not even they wished to sully the moment with idly animated movement. It was obvious the group was as heart-sick and grieving as she was.

“I feel it my duty to… tell you Martin’s battle with cancer ended this week.” A near-imperceptible slump of shoulders appeared from the assembled creatures– or the players’ grief was so thick in the air, it felt that way. “He w-wanted me to th-thank you for everything you’ve done. If it were not for your kindness, the last few months would’ve been unbearable. I f-feel the same. You’re the family neither of us has had but wished for. I can only thank you for that, for me and for Martin.”

The field sank once more into silence. It lasted a long moment before a character suddenly materialized from thin air. Judging by the rare, exclusive armor, and the lone markings of “GM” and a single name, it was one of the game’s admins– the big wigs that worked on it, and whose power in this place exceeded a God’s.

He looked to the assembled characters. “Forgive my interruption. I understand this is a time of great pain, but my presence was requested by Mr.Fluffers.” He said as a random guild-member bowed amid the assembly. “You’ve lost a member of your guild. I understand the depth of that bond. So in your friend’s honor, I give you this.”

With a flashing spell-cast, a statue in the place where Martin would have stood beside her– where he had stood, time and time again. Cast in bronze, and identical to his character, his name was inscribed on its base– the ultimate honor any player could ever hope for. The GM turned to eye Martin’s wife and friends.

“I didn’t know him, but seeing his friends– his family– here today, I know he was a good man that kept good company. I am truly sorry for your loss. I dedicate this field in his honor, to be known as Martin’s field. It cannot remove your loss, but it can assure you he will be forever remembered.”

With that, the GM knelt, and placed a glowing, golden flower at the base of Martin’s statue. The rest shuffled over to do the same. She cried openly on the voice chat, more from gratitude than grief. She knew some bonds could not be broken. Death only made them stronger. But so too, it seemed, some people transcended death itself. Their spirit was so powerful a force as to become immortalized in ways man could never have imagined. For her part, she was just glad to have known him. To have loved him. Even if their time together was shorter than she’d have liked.