Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Insulated Man 4


The house was still devoid of books but for him and the heavyset, dark-eyed man across the room from him who wore a red kimono, and stood in the door to the hallway. “I can help if you want to escape. Brahmen isn’t looking for you, since he believes you contained. You have to decide now.”

The Scribe unfolded himself, standing slowly, feeling the muscles in his legs stretch and hearing the creak of the floorboards underneath. “Escape,” he said. His voice was strange, dusty and cracked from disuse. He looked at the man with the dark eyes a little more closely. There was something familiar about him, about his eyes.

“Come with me,” the dark-eyed man said. He turned and went to the kitchen and opened the door that would have been at the back of the house had it been tethered to its former position. “Through here.”

The Scribe, docile and aching, stepped through the door into a night full of stars, tree limbs and leaves and fresh air. A comet streaked across the indigo sky, trailing flames. The path they walked was filled with white gravel and sand and felt good on his bare feet. Ahead of him was a grey chalet with roofs pitched at steep angles and lit with color and life. “Welcome to the Altneu Mittelmark,” the dark-eyed man said, stopping at the gate to the property. “You will be safe here in my home.”

Overwhelmed by the smells and sights and sounds of night, the Scribe followed the heavyset man in his red silk kimono up the smooth path. Sculpture, large potteries, flowers, fountains and bushes were new things to him though familiar as recalled through the cobwebs of ancient memories. He remembered sand, heat, trees and grass from their smells. Rocks, sharp and white in the moonlight ringing the inner high walls of the property, were also familiar. He stayed to the path behind the dark-eyed man and absorbed as much as he could.

Inside the chalet (another word that sounded familiar and new at the same time) the Scribe collapsed. The dark-eyed man came and helped him back to his feet. “Sensory overload,” he said. “You will acclimate yourself soon enough. The chalet is welcoming if you’re expected.”

Back on his feet, the Scribe was shown by the dark-eyed man through hallways decorated with small portraits of unfamiliar people to an apartment that was larger than the house of books had ever been. His host bowed to the five women waiting there. “You are in good hands, Scribe,” he said. “I will visit with you come the morning after you have slept.” He left the apartment, sliding a door closed behind him. The Scribe faced the women and felt warm.

He was bathed by Myoki and Anna; dressed by Lispeth and Ingrid; fed by Selannah. The women all made small talk after introducing themselves but did not ask him any questions. Each one was attentive and devoted to his comfort and he did his best to be a gracious guest. He had been such a creature of habit in his role as Scribe, he could not sleep when Ingrid and Selannah put him to bed until they crawled in on either side of him and held him until he gave into his fatigue. He did not dream at all.

* * *

“I trust that everything has been satisfactory?”

The Scribe nodded. A magnificent breakfast was laid out for him and he had been trying one of every item on the table when the dark-eyed man had entered his apartments. Then he smiled and said, “Yes, thank you.” He stood and offered his hand in greeting. “I know I have another name that I cannot recall, but I am Brahmen’s Scribe. Formerly of the House of Books.”

The smile that crossed the dark-eyed man’s face like a shadow across the sun fled quickly. “I am Strangiato, a Seeker for the Powers that Be,” he said taking the Scribe’s hand. “I also had another name, as do we all who serve the Chondria in the battle against Brahmen’s evil.”

The Scribe started to speak but stopped.

“Go ahead,” Strangiato said.

The insulated man smiled, a wan thing he wasn’t used to doing. “When will Brahmen take me back?”

Strangiato’s laughter was not comforting in the least, but it was genuine and filled the room. “Never, if the Chondria have anything to say about it, and we do. You are my guest for the duration of the war between the states of being.”

“Guest is perhaps another word for prisoner,” the Scribe said. They sat now at the breakfast table as equals.

Strangiato said, “You are not a prisoner. I have transportation to take you wherever you would like to go, whenever you would like to go.”


Strangiato did not answer, only looked impassive.

The Scribe leaned forward. “What states of being? What does that mean?”

“The thinking mind and the feeling mind are two very different states, yes?”

The Scribe nodded.

“Without consciousness, one cannot be said to feel,” Strangiato said. “Are we only defined by our positions, our roles? You, for instance, are the Scribe, I am a Seeker, but that is not all that we are, is it?”

“I have only been the Scribe for as long as I can remember.”

“Did you feel that some things you have experienced here are familiar? You admitted that you had a name that you could not remember, so even though you were Brahmen’s Scribe, you were someone else before.

“Continuing to imagine that you are only Brahmen’s Scribe is one state of being, but not the only one you can imagine, surely.”

“I am confused,” the Scribe said. He sat back in his chair and frowned.

Strangiato said, “The states of being are many and varied, as are the creatures of the universe. Brahmen seeks to usurp the natural order of all that has been and should be. He, for lack of a better definition, is Evil and the Chondria are Good. There are many more entities involved who fall on one side or the other.”

The chalet suddenly lurched under the two men, tossing the Scribe to the floor. Strangiato stood and left the room more quickly than his size might suggest he could move. There was shouting in the hallway outside the Scribe’s apartment, and he stood at the door afraid to go through.

Steeling himself, he put his hand on the door handle and felt nothing but the cold brass and scrollwork as he thumbed the latch and opened the door. Emboldened, he ran toward the clamor that kept rising.


The Wolf’s voice chilled him. He was feeling and hearing and was exhilarated at the prospect of finding a new state of being. He came to the courtyard where Strangiato was, complemented by a brace of women and men, some of whom he’d seen in the chalet. All were looking over the top of the wall at the silver eyes of Brahmen’s enforcer scanning them.

“You have no power here, Wolf,” Strangiato said. “This house is well-defended.”

A wolf’s laugh is terrible to hear. “WHERE IS THE SCRIBE? HIS MASTER WOULD HAVE HIM BACK.”

The Scribe drew in a deep breath and held it. Memory suddenly crashed on the rocky shoals of his mind, whitewater spraying high into the air and he shivered with the second wave, the third. He remembered the nets, the traps, the pain of the torture that had taken his memory. He remembered Brahmen's laughter and taunting. The Scribe closed his eyes and stretched his neck. The sound of his memories crashing in on him invigorated him. Refreshed, he narrowed his eyes.

“I am here, Wolf,” he said in a quiet voice. “I have been a slave long enough.” His voice became stronger, more sure, commanding. He stepped out into view of the wolf looking over the high walls of the chalet. The Scribe shucked off his kimono and stood facing the wolf. Naked and radiating strength, he began to work his fingers and hands in patterns that Strangiato and the household staff knew well. “You cannot take me back.

“Your master is not mine. This house is protected by the Chondria and wards of my own devising.” Strangiato and his entire retinue looked at the Scribe, recognizing his power and his office.

He worked sigils and signs, spoke words not designed for the human vocal system and a golden glow traced his movements. The Scribe’s fingers wrote elements in the air, his eyes rolled over white and the Wolf began to shrink.

“Open the gate,” the Scribe said to Lispeth, who ran to do as instructed. “Bring the wolf inside.” She swung the double gate wide and stepped outside, careful to stay on the path. Lispeth took the smaller wolf’s nape in her thin hand and guided the trembling animal into the chalet. Selannah and Ingrid rushed behind her to close the gate.

The Scribe stood in front of the Wolf and the wolf’s silver eyes looked up at him. “How dare you?”

“Brahmen dares, sorcerer.”

The Scribe smiled, crouched down to meet the wolf's eyes as an equal. “You are a pale thing, wolf, in my eyes now. I have my mind, my life and Brahmen will beware.”

He stood and looked at Strangiato. "Kill him and send me the creature's blood. I will make ink of it. Send the head to Brahmen." The Scribe turned his back to the wolf and walked back into the chalet toward his future.

Confused? It's okay, the Scribe's story will continue in Sender, which will appear early in 2010 and conclude in June of 2010 with all the other characters that have been introduced here in The Long Range. I promise it all pays off in the end!

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for ...Like They Are

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Insulated Man 3

A note about this week's episode: Towards the end there is a lot of blank space, this is intentional. Please keep scrolling downward to get to the end. You'll know when you get there. Thanks, Jason


Back to work: order must be reestablished and space must be made for the next delivery. Jimmy was gone, the house was a shambles and most certainly all sorts of alarms were going off in regions of the Plemora that he had no wish to ever see again. Sorting the charred books from the ones that were still in good condition, the Scribe was grateful to get back to his routine. He was relaxed and feeling content piling the third stack of books back in its place when he felt another rumbling.

This was different, more like giant steps. He made his way to the window and opened the heavy curtain to look out.

On the hill above the house of books was a supernaturally large grey wolf with glowing silver eyes. It moved closer in flashes, a time-lapse hiccup. Six steps brought it to the front porch. He could hear the wolf’s breath on the door, rushing through the cracked weather-stripping around the jamb. The room was getting hot and he undid one button on his shirt.

“WHO HAS BEEN HERE?” The wolf’s voice was gravel and glass tossed carelessly across corrugated aluminum in a hail storm. It echoed in the tiny house, in his head. The man in the house of books fell to his knees. The wolf snorted and stepped off the porch with the impact of a train wreck. Heavy thuds around the side, around the entire house. The wolf was sniffing everything.

The man in the house of books got back up. He stumbled to look out the bathroom window and saw the wolf’s grey back and tail. Following to the next window in his bedroom, the insulated man saw the wolf’s eyes glaring through the glass. “A CRIME AGAINST BRAHMEN HAS BEEN COMMITTED,” the wolf said. “YOU WILL BE PUNISHED.”

The Scribe stumbled and fell. Breathing heavily, he tried to regain his feet. He had no desire to return to those darkest marches of the Underworld, he would have to make a stand of some kind. The wolf’s unearthly howl unnerved him.

He ran towards the front door and grabbed the doorknob, holding on despite the heat and needles that stabbed through his hand, up his arm, across his back. He grunted, trying to turn the doorknob with all his might. The pain and strain was too much and he let go, falling again to the floor. His hand, his arm, his shoulders and back were screaming in agony. He passed out without a sound.

* * *

The buildings are dark on either side; bullets are spinging concrete shards all around. You see her across the street. You take a step towards her and a bullet rips through your shoulder, sending you to the ground. You shout her name and crawl to your hands and knees.

The sniper above and behind you is picking his shots now, aiming directly ahead of you as you make your way to the opposite curb. The spray of pavement hits you in the face and you’re bleeding but you’re standing up, walking. She’s still there, frightened and hugging herself. You call her name again.

A figure comes out of the shadows and stands next to her. You know him. You shout her name and run until the sniper’s bullet drives hard into your foot. You spin head over heels, landing hard on your back. Angry, scared, you remember you have a pistol of your own and you draw it, aiming at the sniper who is now in full view. One shot startles him, the second kills him. You roll and turn to the shadows across the street.

She’s gone, but he’s still there.

You’ll never get her back, he says with a smile. you’ll never get out,

You fire your weapon in anger, something you’ve never done. You squeeze the trigger until there are no more bullets to send into the shadows. Only laughter comes back to you.

You struggle to your feet. When you step on the foot with the bullet in it and you scream and fall again. You grit your teeth and push up; get to standing and keep as much weight off the foot as you can, limping on the heel.

Making it across the street, you find no one in the shadows. You limp into the alleyway and see dumpsters, abandoned cars, posters for Russian films, porn magazines littering the gutter, one sock and a bra. In silhouette at the far end of the alleyway, two figures are walking around the corner to the right. There’s no blood on the ground.

You gimp down the alleyway at the best speed you can manage, gritting your teeth from the pain. When you gain the corner, you stop to catch your breath and take a quick look and duck back. They are going up the winding stairs toward the museum. You have to hurry. There’s blood in your mouth now and you look at your left shoulder: your shirt is stained red all the way down the sleeve and your side. You’re getting cold, time is running out.

Fast as you can you limp/run to the concrete stairs that will take you to the museum’s mezzanine. Halfway up you stumble, creasing your skull, finishing your chase. He comes to the top of the stairs.

Don’t fuck with me, he says. I tried to warn you. You should have listened.

Let her go, you say. She’s nothing to do with this.

He shakes his head and laughs. Fool.

* * *

The house of books was grave quiet when he woke. He ached: his joints creaked and groaned in protest as he rolled to his hands and knees, then sat against the door. The Scribe’s head spun. He closed his eyes, tried to regain composure. Opening his eyes, he saw the books were gone. The stacks of books, the carefully arranged piles in neat rows that he could navigate throughout the house were all gone.

He could hear the emptiness of the house: the creak of floorboards, the wind blowing outside, a window gently rattling. The Scribe stood, carefully, painfully, and walked through the only home he could remember.

They were all gone, his books.

He hadn’t written in half of them, but he had always thought of the books as his and there had never been anyone different to correct this thought. The occasional delivery never brought interaction with anyone, only books and the ink he needed to write in them. They always appeared inside the front door and never on a regular schedule. They were all gone now.

The char marks of Jimmy’s escape were still in the living room, but no other sign there had ever been anything else in the house. His bedroom was devoid of furniture and his clothes. The kitchen still had a chair but no food in the cupboards, the refrigerator, or the pantry.

He was being punished.

The light was leaving. He flipped a wall switch and nothing happened, no light came on. He went to the faucet and turned the coldwater tap and nothing came out. He heard his footsteps as he ran to the front door and tried the knob, but it didn’t budge. He pounded an impotent fist on the door and he breathed in gulps now. He turned back and ran back to the kitchen and stopped: he hadn’t heard his footsteps back. He opened a cupboard door then slammed it shut: nothing. He couldn’t hear his breathing, either. He punched a wall and felt nothing, heard nothing. No sound, no feeling.

This wasn’t just punishment, this was retribution.

He couldn’t affect the environment. He went to the windows again and realized it wasn’t just dusk, it was dark. There was nothing out beyond the glass, only void.

The house had been moved. How, when were irrelevant questions. All he had now was the interior of the house, the only home he’d known for so many long years. Fear was beyond him, now, so were despair, helplessness and every other emotion. He was completely cut off from everything.

He sat down on the floor, crossed his legs and closed his eyes. The Scribe couldn’t feel his heart, couldn’t hear his breathing but was still alive in the house. Devoid of its books, he knew his chances of surviving this were slim. He would try, knowing that was all he could do: survive.

He sat and waited.

Breathing as slowly as he could, unable to hear, to feel, he waited some more.

The house held him close, hermetically sealed in the blackness of Void.

Something. Something on the edge of his attention.

A sound.

Faint and whirling as though sloshing through deep water and coming closer, rhythmic.

It swirled toward him and over him, enveloped him, lifting him and he could hear. In and out came the sound until he knew it was a voice, a man’s deep voice.

“Do you want to escape?”

The man in the house devoid of books opened his eyes, licked his lips and said, “Yes.”

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for the conclusion!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can't wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Insulated Man 2


All the man inside the house of books had known was solitude. He did his job, tended his books and outside of the very occasional delivery of new books by train, no one ever visited. The sound of a strange voice in the hallway after such devastation, the sound of any voice for that matter, was cause for alarm.

“Where the FUCK am I?” the voice said again. He stood as still as he ever had in his life, unsure. A string of curses and shouts flew from the hallway. Deciding to take some kind of action, he moved as quietly as possible through the carnage of the living room.

“Is someone there?” came the voice from the hall. The man in the house of books continued slowly, towards uncertainty. The world tilted away from him, his certain future of living out his days in this house now in doubt. A floorboard creaked. The voice from the hall said, “Is someone there?”

The man in the house of books put a hand into the open doorway facing the hall, waved and carefully followed until he could see into the hall. The man was wearing what could only kindly be referred to as rags, had long hair past his shoulders and a beard that reached his belly. The ragged man’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Are you the Scribe?” The man in the house of books nodded. The ragged man looked around and breathed heavily through his nostrils.

“How long?” The ragged man looked around the house, taking in the damage. “This place…” He walked in a small circle, avoiding books. “If I survived, where’s Esme? Where’s her book? Where’s her book!”

The ragged man began opening books and tossing them aside. Languages he’d never seen before were written on the front pages of these books; names he didn’t and would never recognize were tossed carelessly aside. “No, no, no, no,” he said. He opened and tossed more and more books. The man in the house of books tried to pick them up and begin restacking them, but the ragged man’s mania was taking over the room. “Where is she!”

The ragged man stalked through the house of books, randomly opening and tossing books away when he didn’t know the name in them, the tenant of the house of books following. Making his way to the living room he found the tome that had formerly held him. A red book the size of a dictionary, the thin vellum pages were filled with words arranged in two columns, but more than half the book was burned away, charred and still smoking. The ragged man could only stare at it. There were other books nearby - some barely held together - most charred to greater or lesser degrees, loose pages fluttering here and there. “Esme,” the ragged man said and collapsed.

The man in the house of books could only watch the newcomer wail and cry.

At last, a silence between the two men stretched and snapped when a pile of books fell over behind them. The ragged man met the other’s questioning stare.

“I’m one of the Chondria’s longlifers,” he said. “The book ran out of pages. It had to let me go. There’s no such thing as ‘to be continued’ in Brahmen’s world, is there?”

The man in the house of books considered this and nodded.

“Glad you agree,” the ragged man said. “Is it okay if I call you Scribe?” The ragged man’s erstwhile host shrugged.

“Good,” the ragged man said and reached out a hand. “I’m Jimmy.” They shook hands. “Where can I clean up?”

* * *

There’s a roaring in your ears. You can’t think, you’re angry beyond anything you’ve ever felt before. The roaring is just white noise, as loud as you’ve ever heard. You scream, raging at the darkness.

You’re wet. You realize that the floor you’re standing on is rock and it’s wet, too. The roaring is not just in your ears --- it’s in the air to your left. You turn right and the roaring is behind you and you can feel the spray of water on your back. You close your eyes tight as you can and open them, hoping they’ve adjusted to the lack of light now.

You can see dim shapes in the darkness. People? You can’t tell so you walk forward, slow and methodical, feeling your way with your bare toes. You run your hands over your torso and realize you’re bereft of clothes but you’re not cold. The roaring is lessened a little as you walk. Your eyes are letting in all the light there is and you’re confident you can see.

Your right foot is dangling in the air and you nearly fall forward. Instinctively, you twist your body to fall backwards. You land heavily on your hands and knees, then your elbow gives and you roll to your right. Scraped and bruised, you try to catch your breath. You tell yourself you’re safe. You think your heart will pound out of your chest.

You feel for the edge you nearly toppled over, patting your hands carefully in front of you until you find it. It seems to go for dozens of feet in either direction, so you decide to go back toward the roaring.

You realize it’s a waterfall and when you get there you can’t see through it, you can’t see around it or under it. It’s a perfect wall of rushing water so loud that it shakes you to your feet. You take a deep breath, feeling the atomized water slipping into your lungs, then take ten steps backwards. You run at the wall, shouting.

The water slams into you and you don’t go forward as you hit it, you go down. You are bashed with the force of ten gravities for a hundred feet into the churning pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Shouting was a bad idea because now you have no air in your lungs and you’re turning over and over in the pool. You don’t know which way is up so you can’t swim.

You see a face in your mind, the love of your life and you kick and flail your arms in an approximation of swimming. The current pulls you along and what you hope is upward and your lungs burn. You push, you pull and finally you’re on the surface, treading water, floating on the current downstream.

Catching your breath again, you see the gibbous moon above and a light on the shore to your right. You swim for the bank and the house with the light on.

* * *

“Hey, Scribe. Hey, wake up.” Jimmy was waving his hand in front of his host’s face. Startled, the man in the house of books fell off the dining room chair he always sat in. The formerly ragged man stood up straight and looked down at the human heap. “Wow, sleeping with your eyes open,” he said. “You’re stranger than your predecessor.” Jimmy bent now to help the man in the house of books to his feet. “Upsy-daisy’s how it goes.”

The house of books had only ever known silence since the insulated man’s arrival. He’d never seen anything, other than the volumes lining the walls, to indicate that anyone else had ever occupied this space. To have some sort of confirmation that at least one other person had been imprisoned this way was a small comfort.

The two men looked at each other, the Scribe embarrassed. The formerly ragged man was dressed and much more presentable. Jimmy had shaved off the beard and kept a mustache, his hair barely touched the tops of his ears.

The man in the house of books had sat down for only a moment when sleep had come upon him. He had meant to clean up more of the mess while the former prisoner had showered and shaved. He’d picked out a shirt, pants and shoes for the escapee then tried to re-establish order in the house.

Jimmy said, “Show me the outside door.”

The man was nonplussed, reassembling himself as much as possible, frowned a question to Jimmy. “Yeah,” he said in answer. “I’m leaving. I need you to show me the right door. I know you know which one it is.”

* * *

They walked to the front hall facing the door that led outside. “There are all sorts of alarms going off now,” Jimmy said. “The Wolf is on his way.”

The Scribe shrugged.

“Hm. I’d invite you along, but I’ve got business in --- well, elsewhere, anyway. I hope you understand. I can send help when I get a chance if you want.” A nod. “Okay,” Jimmy said. “Here goes, then.”

He put his hand on the doorknob tentatively, then firmly grasped it and turned it, heard the latch clack open. “It’s that easy?” The man in the house of books nodded. Jimmy stepped through without looking back. The Scribe closed the door behind his friend and smiled.

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for part three!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can't wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Insulated Man 1


The road that reached up the hill was thin, comprised of a few stray bits of gravel and a great deal of red dirt. Rainwater had carved worry lines in rivulets on either side. A single oak tree shaded the house at the end of the drive during summer days, the full shrubbery at its base was immaculately trimmed, and the gutters were straight and clean. It was a good house: not so large as to attract attention, not too small go completely unnoticed and painted a shade of green that fit in with every season.

None of this was strange.

There were never any deliveries to the house; no one had ever seen the man who lived there coming or going, on his porch or in the yard. There was no mailbox at the bottom of the hill and no wires ran from the highway to connect it to the rest of the world. There was no car parked in front, no trashcan ever appeared on Wednesdays to be emptied into blue Defenbaugh trucks. This was eccentric, even odd, but not strange.

Lights could be seen behind the heavy, always-drawn curtains at night. Occasionally the shadow of a man passed by one of the three windows facing the main road. A lost motorist once came to the front door of the house to find that there was no bell, no knocker, not even a knob on the door. It was a simple flat panel that shone in the sunlight as though it were new. The motorist knocked anyway and shouted his predicament through the door when a knock answered from the other side. A slip of paper appeared at his feet that gave him directions to his destination. The motorist took the paper and drove away.

Once back on the highway, the paper faded away and the motorist didn’t recall where he’d been but knew how to get where he was going.

Stranger still, inside the house, the man who had directed the motorist returned to his books. Towers of them lined each wall, crowded every walkway from floor to ceiling in every room on all available flat spaces. Leather, vellum, cloth; some with boards others not, all arranged carefully by size and stacked spine out. He knew them all despite the lack of titles and he touched some of them as he passed, feeling a little quiver here and there or remembering some little phrase.

He walked through the overcrowded house to the bedroom. The man inside the house of books lay on his bed and closed his eyes. He felt a wind hot on his cheek and rolled over to stare at a stack of books, some red, others green, many black. He moved his eyes from top to bottom counting the books in the stack until he fell asleep.

* * *

The interior of your hut is so dark that when you step outside you have to shade your eyes. The sky is clear and a happy kind of azure. Your village is small, nestled comfortably in the foothills near the river. You are the Hunter, your people’s champion and second only to the wise man in status. You stretch your muscles in the clear light of the day and make your way toward the river.

The cold water you splash over your face shocks you more awake and you put your head completely under the flowing water. Your long black hair mats across your face, shoulders and neck. You drink the clear water, strip off your loincloth and dive into the river swimming for the deepest point in the middle.

You stay under until your lungs near to burst and you count four large rainbow-colored fish swim past. Smiling, you are refreshed and your morning has begun.

There is a man-shaped shadow on the bank of the river, between you and your sword in your hut. Your dark eyes narrow, squinting against the sun’s brightness and you walk closer to the shore until you are only knee deep.

Calm and not intimidated by your size nor apparent strength, the foreigner is dressed in black and carries a sword of a design you’ve never seen before, not in all your years of fighting for the Romans. He stoops and picks up your loincloth, tosses it to you.

The stranger turns and walks from you.

He goes to your hut, looks inside the door and then stands away, waiting for you to catch up.

You can see that the girls from last night are still asleep inside the hut. You suddenly look around and notice that no one in the village is up and around. The stranger is smiling again when you look back at him. He is as large as you are, his blue eyes sunk deep in their sockets, and the cords of his neck ripple as he places himself between you and your hut.

“Your weapons are not necessary,” he says. “I am offering you a chance to live a long life of interest and service. You are a worthy Hunter and I am tired. I have watched you for these last ten years, since you left Hannibal’s service.”

“You speak no language I know,” you say. “How do I understand you?”

The foreigner smiled again, a habit that irritates you.

“I have never encountered such as you.”

“Nor are you likely to, ever again,” the man in black says. His dagger moves so quickly to your throat that you never have a chance. He’s grabbed your hair and exposed your neck.

“A long and interesting life or a quick pointless death,” he says in your ear. His hot breath stinks. “Choose.” The dagger breaks the skin at your throat and you can feel it move toward your ear, slowly.

* * *

Darkness outside, and heat still in the house. Rising from the bed, shaking his head the man put a hand to his throat to check for blood. Nothing. The man inside the house of books made his way to the bathroom and closed the door behind him with a quiet click.

When he came out, he ground the coffee beans he kept in a jar on the counter, poured water into the maker and pressed the start button. While that was brewing, he went to a cupboard and pulled out a box of cereal then to another cupboard to get a bowl. The rumbling started then.

He had never heard a rumbling like this before in the house of books. This was unlike the rumble of the train, and even less like the low booming of the jets that sometimes passed overhead. This rumbling was akin to an earthquake. Making his way through the maze of books, he heard some toppling over. Wending his way through the maze of tomes, he made for the living room.

Stacks of books were shaking, teetering on the verge of collapse. He rushed forward to pick fallen books up and try to replace them, but it was futile. All the man in the house of books could do was brace as many as he could with back and body. He was pelted, as the rumbling grew, by books falling on him. Sharp corners dug into arms and shoulders, even cut him, and he grimly held fast.

An explosion in the center of the room spilled outward in a rush of air that created a vacuum instantly filled by more air creating a thunderclap six feet from him. The pressure change made his eyes water, his ears ring. Everything he knew was crashing in around him.

There was a flash of light; a wind hurricaned around the living room. He thought he could hear a howl that wasn’t just the wind and might not have been human. It seemed far away, from outside the house but close. Coming closer.

Books tumbled down in sheets, an avalanche of boards and papers. He could see some of them tearing as they fell, spines breaking, covers bending. The man in the house of books could feel them snap and tear. He didn’t make a sound.

The wind shot books across the room like cannon balls cratering the plaster and lath walls, sending plumes of white dust and debris into the swirling air stinging his eyes and skin. He gave up trying to brace the stack and crouched down, covering his head. Falling books, their leaves flapping like mad crows, fell like hard sleet. A second thunderclap boomed over his head.
Then it was over.

Another stack in the hall avalanched downward in the sudden silence. He climbed to his feet and brushed himself off. The damage was considerable and would require time to clean and re-sort. He would have to sleep less, and that would be good given his dreams of late. Resolved, he began to pick up volumes and restore some semblance of order.

The voice came from deep in the hallway, surprised and angry. “Where the fuck am I?”

Thanks for reading The Insulated Man. Come back next week Click Here for part two!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

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