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.


Just Wendy said...

It appears you've been very busy.

Good stuff Jason :)

Jason Arnett said...

It's a little misleading because I wrote the story last May, edited it in September and scheduled these just before NaNoWriMo started. Posting options like scheduling things ahead of time makes this look easy.

Glad you're liking the story so far. Thanks!