Monday, March 25, 2013

Todd looked up, trying and failing to open his left eye. "Pus?" He shouted through the basement pitch. "Pus! Hit something if you're around." He listened: The sound of dripping water, the slow rustle of the sand and detritus against the blackened windows; finally, a wooden clank against a pole. A moment later, a flashlight clicked on.

The Octopus hung from a rafter, two limbs wrapped around the solid flashlight. It made sighing movements with its head and slowly traced the walls with the flashlight, surveying the destruction in a slow yellow tableau.

The washer and dryer were shattered, twisted metal fingers clawing at the wall and floor respectively, their doors in a corner, openings gaping like toothless, larval mouths.

Outside, the tornado siren still bayed.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Todd was stuck. Sat in a hotel, huddled by the clunking heater, writing and crossing out; rewriting over and over. He was stuck: Toa was in trouble and he couldn't do anything about it, this time. Todd had written a situation he couldn't save her from.

He sighed and crossed out another half finished paragraph.

The door clicked open and The Octopus sauntered in, looking pleased with itself. It held up a plastic grocery bag with a smiling, waving Asian Cat on it. With its free two limbs, it signed: Dinner! Surfed!

"Not hungry" Todd's reply was short.

 The Octopus deflated momentarily, then slid next to Todd by the rickety heater. Tentacles flicked across his screen: Trouble? Spelled out letter by letter.

Todd explained the situation. The Octopus thought for a good five minutes, then signed a solution. "No good." Todd replied, and explained why that wouldn't work.

Another five minutes. Another solution.

Another rejection.

The Octopus seemed to sigh. It thought, motionless, for a few hours while Todd wrote and wrote and struck through idea after idea.

At one point Todd looked up, remembered where he was and said, "Hey, you should eat something." The Octopus made its honking, laughing sound and shook its bulbous head, no.

The Octopus signed, "You first." and winked and they went back to massaging Toa's solution from the ether of their minds.

Seven of Eight

Inside the crater is a pool of water. Deep, deep water, in the middle is a grandfather clock set of bubbles, churning outward. There is thunder, an electrical storm roiling everywhere.

Toa is ash white again, but for her sleepless, raccoon eyes and her bleeding lips. The vines, faithful though they were, are parched.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Todd woke up in his bath tub with a throbbing arm and four mangled fingers.

The Octopus stared at him, hanging from the shower-curtain rod by two arms. It signed: Okay, you?

"Yeah, Yah. Did you kill the boar?"

The Octopus shook its head, but not sadly. It plopped down, and ambled out. Returned and, triumphantly, opened Todd's laptop, and opened the tracking app. "Boar, phone ate." Signed the Octopus.

"The boar ate my cellphone?"

The Octopus nodded, definitely triumphant this time.

"That's amazing! Its still under warranty!" Todd Grinned.

The Octopus held out an arm, with another three it signed: High Five! And they did.

The state of Todd's apartment was not, however, grounds for a High Five.

The sink slumped drunkenly against the pantry door while water spurted unevenly from the bent, twisted, faucet.

"My plates!"

"All." Signed The Octopus.

"My table!" Todd turned pallid. "My bookshelves." He sighed, slumping to the ground, hands wrung. "I built those. They were mine."

The Octopus waited, quietly; motionless. "Lap top. Safe." It signed.

Todd took a moment to muster words: "Yeah, awesome. Thanks."

The Octopus replied, "Writing too. Safe"

"True." Todd nodded and sighed and the Octopus sighed, too.

"Okay." Todd said. Where is my phone?




"Is my car okay?"


"Do I need to pack clothes?"



"Prepare good"


"Yes" The Octopus ambled into Todd's bedroom, leaving him in the bath tub --now cracked, Todd noted. His broken fingers throbbed. His a bump the size of a goose egg had lodged itself above his left eye. The bump pushed his brow down, slightly obscuring his vision. His right arm, the one with the hand hosting three mangled fingers also ached, dully. His ribs all felt speared when Todd stood. "That's enough." he muttered.

The Octopus was sitting on the remains of Todd's bed --mattress tattered

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Four bags of water will clean: many things.

A dying mother bird ash-cemented into its nest, refused to leave its seven eggs --also all cleaned.

A throat parched bloody.

Forty two finger tips.

The lips of a satyr.

Many more things, besides.

Todd was stuck. The boar had slunk back to his apartment and broken back in: up the fire escape and snorting through the door.

The boar had leaped, ballerina graceful, onto his kitchen table, then swan dived snout first onto it, hind hooves shattering the hanging light fixture. The table shattered, The Octopus woke.

Todd found himself flung to the floor --used to be the wall-- fell through his door and clung precariously, teeth grinding, to the slick black bannister, praying he didn't slip and fall the half block the wall of the next apartment building.

He'd been in the middle of Toa's climb up the edge of the crater. She was down to one flask of water and the climb was proving treacherous. Toa had lost two of her flasks, one empty, one full.

The boar screeched and the fire alarm started screeching, too. Smoke poured out and up the stairs to the ground --now the sky-- and Todd was dangling, about to fall through his door, through his kitchen, into his bathroom, into his shower if luck was a thing.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Todd stared at his computer, watching a movie, fingers poised, ready to write something. The movie was engrossing, entertaining, tugged at his heart strings. 

He smiled in the dark. 

The Octopus slept on his bed. Occasionally its eyes twitched. and an arm or a tentacle would whip around, catch something invisible and squeeze it. Once, and only once, writing momentarily spent, Todd caught three letters and what looked like a limb hug.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Toa awoke breathing airy pitch, throat parched. Glowing weirdly, her grandparents came to her, fed her metallic water. They apologized when she questioned the flavor and as she drank and drank and drank, her vision came back to her.

"This is a long one, I'm going to need you go get me more samosas." Todd told The Octopus.

How many more?

"Probably two dozen."

Todd wove a dangerous narrative, a subtle thing. He never knew if Toa was dead or if the ashen forest were able to reconstitute the physicality of the dead, or if it were the cave.

This land of the physical dead was very comforting to Toa. She was sequestered away at first, the dead being skittish about the living within their caves and halls. She was nourished on the water and what felt like fungus cakes, tasteless but nourishing, and after a few days her mouth was properly hydrated and the water tasted normal.

After a week of bedrest, during which her grandparents told her stories about her mother, and her other grandparents, who were usually off exploring somewhere dead came and told Toa stories about her father, who was quite the adventurer himself.

They told her how he'd wooed Toa's mother with his cooking skills, had hunted down the rarest of mushrooms and cooked them in an invention of his own making.

Toa laughed and smiled and after the week of mostly isolation, she was allowed into the main caves and the halls of the dead.

The dead all glowed, Toa knew that, but at first, it was dark regardless, though by the second week she could see by the glow of the departed.

Sometimes, Toa had strange dreams --gigantic spiders and a bat that was also her dead fifth uncle, and other strange family cum creature combinations.

"This is how it starts, at least," Todd said, around a clump of particularly spicy potato and dough. A fennel seed stuck in his teeth. and he continued, "Eventually she realizes that these aren't actual dead, that they're parasites pretending to be the dead, because Toa's blood is so delicious.

It's a slow process, but she starts to piece things together. And her real grandparents come back to her dreams, but the parasites are dream walkers, too, and there's a battle of the Grand Parents in Toa's mind and when the dust settles she asks the survivors a question but wakes up just before they answer her.

Then, Toa knows. She knows where she is and where she isn't, and that she can't yet just walk on out. But no one talks about Toa's dreams --hush shush.

It becomes a slow rolling prison break story. There are flashbacks and stories about Toa's parents and the plodding passage of time and her quiet accumulation of parasitic powers while she's deluded.

Eventually Toa starts exploring the caves just like she did the forest, before the torch fell out of the sky. She starts quietly, a tunnel here, a right instead of left there.

She gets lost and something glowing white, a quick larvae almost eats her, has her cocooned in it its hallucinogenic webbing, but the parasites save her. This happens three times, and each time the larvae are whiter and whiter.

Eventually Toa stumbles onto the larvae spawning grounds and

and eventually she finds a tunnel so smooth and so deep within the earth and that ends in a precipice drop so deep neither her vision nor a torch and her vision can reach the bottom. Toa threw one torch but it stuck to the side, trapped in the web of something, burning through the stickiness and twisting and swinging in a breeze too far down for Toa to feel.

The third torch, as Toa is walking away, she hears a whoosh, and a thunk, as if it has finally hit the bottom. The  eldest parasite shakes his head, quietly, in the dark. Toa pretended not to see the important gesture, but the village eldest knew, could see.

Toa grows comfortable here among the shale and the devilish stalactites,  but she does not grow old. Eventually, with slow sadness and soft madness (and over told violence), despite not having aged a day, Toa is the village eldest. It is here, when she is the most integrated, that she leaves.

Her grandfather, perpetually tear stricken leads her back to the surface, which is verdant again.

Toa travels back to her village and meets herself. So as to believe her, she dresses as a friendly crone, passing back into the village before leaving, a three sack caul hiding her true nature.

Another meteor strikes, this time Toa's village, obliterating even their dead. Toa lives; again finds the cave, hidden under her great grand parent's home. This time it is a pile of her family that is paper thin, that Toa pushes through.

Toa kills the ravening hyenas easily, drinks their blood, sheds her very skin and strides into the depths, all the way to the precipice drop so deep neither her vision nor a torch and her vision can reach the bottom. Not the dead nor the parasites could stop her and Toa collapsed to the edge of the drop and wept for three straight days. When Toa was empty, she jumped into the precipice drop

When she finally scaled the wall up to the precipice, her seventy fingers were all scabbed and scared, but Toa sat, plump, and knitted herself a new caul from spider silk stolen from the dark side of a moon hung in the depths of the precipice. New skin donned, so long, such care taken, she was again lithe. Toa skittered down all the tunnels she hadn't yet taken.

Toa found and filled four buffalo innards flasks with her tortured parasite-grandfather's tears and journeyed back to the cave entrance.

On her way to the entrance, she ravaged the larvae spawning ground, leaving only the queen and her three weakest subjects alive. The king of the larvae Toa snatched up, her seven legs stretching, and with her seventy scabbed fingers she squeezed and squeezed and pushed and ground the king of the larvae until he became a spear.

Returned to the mouth of the cave, Toa sat and waited, patiently.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Octopus left Todd's apartment, a black scarf wrapped around its center mass.

In the cold, its breath looked angry: plumes of steam puffing as it loped down the sidewalk, a wad of cash wrapped in an arm.

The Octopus shook the snow off its tentacles before loping up to the counter. The ancient Indian man behind the counter scratched under his turban with a pencil. The music was very up tempo, full of synthesized sitars and a simple tabla machine beat.

"Help you?" The ancient Indian man asked The Octopus, who carefully opened a  take out menu and pointed to the samosas.

"Veggie Samosas?"

The Octopus nodded.

"How many?"

The Octopus tapped the counter six times.

"Six samosas or six orders?"

The Octopus held up two arms.

"Two? Second? Orders?"

The Octopus nodded and blinked rapidly.

"Twenty minutes, okay?"

The Octopus nodded and blinked rapidly again.

The ancient Indian man disappeared behind a warped, stains-and-white door.

The Octopus loped over to the waiting area and carefully plocked onto a heavy plastic chair. It suckered up a magazine from the floor, leafed slowly through it.

No one else came in, it was 9:35pm on a Tuesday evening.

The Samosas came in a large brown bag, lined with tin foil. The chutneys were in there, too, two large plastic containers with sauce rubbing on the samosas.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Crone, the end. (No. "The Crone's End.")

Toa awoke at dawn, and startled upright, bones grinding softly: there was a Crone, huddled under a caul made of glowing spiderwebs. In the dark of the cave, Toa could not make out the crone's face, and she did not glow like her dead, but glowed none the less.

"Excuse me, hello?" Toa asked.

"Hello, love."

"Do I know you?"

The crone laughed and tossed four buffalo innards flasks, which sloshed and stayed shut, brushed the ash from Toa's ankles. "Water." The Crone hummed. "It should be enough. Give it freely and with love and keep your skin your wet and your own and you will find what you're looking for."

"How do you know?"

"Because if you give up now, everything ends."

"Am I dead?" Toa asked. The thought did not frighten her, but the glowing caul and the cryptic old woman were making her question herself.

"No, love, you're not dead. If you feel like a fired tree or a lopped larvae, then you're still feeling, aren't you?"

"I suppose." Toa answered. "I have a question. Can I ask you a question, crone?"

The Crone laughed. "Certainly." It cackled.

"I'm heading to the crater. I want to know what's in it. There's something pulling me to it. I want to know --"

The Crone rolled its head and stood. "How should I know what's in the crater? Ignorant, ignorant, love. Go and see for yourself. Even if I told you what I'd seen, by know!" More cackling, "By now, who knows what it looks like in there?"

"Four flasks?"

"All I could find." The Crone sniffed, and with that sniff, the crone was humble, a jumbled sound came from further into the cave and Toa realized she didn't know how far back it actually went.

"I drag --"

"I Know. I know how you got here, love. Shut up and go." The crone slid an unreasonably long spear out from under its caul. "Take this; it isn't aphrodisiac sappy, but I don't think you'll need that, now, eh? EH?" The Crone cackled again.

"How did you know I would --"

"Go, before I eat you!" The Crone shouted, stretching to Toa's height. It stamped its feet and the cave shook, deep red dirt pittering from the ceiling.

Toa peered into the shadows under the Caul's hood but could see nothing. She thanked the Crone for the water and the spear and drank a whole half of a bladder before setting out into the Ashen Forest.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Octopus stared angrily at Todd until he woke with a start, which wasn't very long. The Octopus had a hard stare.

It tapped Todd's laptop angrily, impatiently, with a staccato three tentacle tap-taaap-tp. The Octopus signed: Write more now, quickly. Over and over, and quickly until Todd sighed and closed his eyes and forced his weary fingers to move.

Todd wrote about how Toa was saved from the termites of the ashen forest by a passing herd of gorillas. He was looked at sternly. He was admonished for his lack of believability.

Todd rewrote the chapter four more times before coming to the notion that the termites forgot about Toa, and she passed in and out of consciousness from the pain of her decompression. Eventually her mind snapped and wiggled out of her body and, fresh without the need to concern herself with her flesh, Toa flitted about, up and over, and, through and under the ash until she found a cool cave, blocked by the paper thin corpses of a buffalo and its companion. Through this death Toa's spirit dragged her body --bloodying her elbows, her fingertips, her knees; finger and toe nails ground down by the corrosive ash, but finally resting in (momentary) safety, under the antiseptic darkness of the cave.

of the Second Seven

Inside the ashen forest, before she gets to the crater, but after the squid and the satyr storm, Toa had another oceanic debacle: after hydrating deeply and escaping the squid, Toa, in a stacked forest of what could have been exploded, sand blown, whale ribs, staggered, suffering from decompression sickness. Her joints ached, her body ground upon itself with every movement until it gave up, refused to move any more.

And as she lay, face down, feeble and twitching, a pack of exploratory hyenas found her scent among the searing dryness. Alone, facedown and paralyzed, Toa knew not that she was about to be eaten. As she was being chewed, the excruciating inability to move as her body was chewed on; her vines were gnawed away first, shredded and tossed hastily away, left to leak out in the new white sands. And this was what saved her, this time: the water from the leaking vines called out, through the sand, all the way down to a nest of micro-termites, sweltering, and they swarmed up and over and into and through the pack of hyenas. Hyenas being scavengers entered the ashen forest only rarely so were far more hydrated than poor, immobile, Toa, and the micro-termites took their fill, carrioneers cannibalizing carrioneers on the husk of a young woman.

They rested, briefly, termite senses working, and decided to come back for Toa's flesh later.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Foreign Deed

Todd began rereading the four dangers he put Toa through but it was hard to concentrate: The Octopus kept getting in the way, or slapping the screen with symbols and sign language too quick for Todd to read, and possibly even from Toa's language.

Distracted, with three sucked welts on his forehead, Todd closed his eyes and tried to recall the four dangers.

The third was a lonely squid, trapped under a sea of ash, bathed in it, suffocating, like a zombie of The Octopus.

Yes, of course. Before that was the searing heat of the recently charred land itself, but the Satyr's sadness followed Toa, a manifestation of his interrupted, unrequited love and the tears from the sky nourished her.

But that wasn't right. It was all out of order.

There was the searing heat, but Toa found a pool of water, a deep pool in the night and that slaked her thirst and bathed her of the suffocating ash, but woke the squid, who lied, pretending to be The Octopus, coated in ash was Toa, and *then* the Satyr's unrequited love broke cloudburst and laid bare the Toa and the squid's true colors.

Before all that, there had been an argument with her grandparents --they swore the way was left, but Toa knew it to be straight. Angry, her grandparents had kept her asleep for a straight day, in the sun, near to the smoldering edge of the fire, but as she tossed and turned a vine had wrapped around her neck, and as her grandparent's insistence and dreams tussled Toa more and more the rope wrapped and rubbed and tightened around her neck until it broke her skin, waking her and pulling Toa from her loving, misguided dreams.

There. Four dangers, indeed. Satisfied that he could recreate them if necessary, Todd swallowed the last crumbs of samosa and passed out, upright.
Todd sat back, looked up. "No," he said out loud. "That couldn't have taken two hours to write."

His stomach growled.

He rubbed his burning eyes.

The Octopus blinked at him. It signed: 26.

"No." Todd repeated again, eyebrows raised. "I didn't even. I didn't even poop." He said, quietly.

"Good stuff?" The Octopus questioned.

"I think so. I almost killed Toa twice --don't give me that look! I made her fall in love, too." Todd watched The Octopus, waiting for a response, an affirmation he'd done the right thing. No affirmations came.

A car pulled up, outside, and, later, drove off again.

"I need to eat something." Todd finally said, staring very pointedly at his keyboard.

He ate samosas from a restaurant blocks away. There were other things on the menu, but on Thursdays, Todd knew, the chef's true passion was conjuring samosas from nothing to perfection in twenty-three minutes. The Octopus was motionless both there and back, intentionally oblivious to Todd's lame, shambling apologies and excuses.

"I'm sorry. I need to read this, check it over. I could edit --" Todd was interrupted, the last of his third samosa whisked away by a suckered arm.

Too Late. No. Edits No. . . . Signed The Octopus . . . Grammar only. And it nodded, sharply.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Toa dreams of fire, so writes the writer named Todd.

She dreams of a world flat, without trees or fore-mountains and a fire burning in the distance. It is from a crater, self contained now, burning too quickly, too hot to devour the whole of the forest, but there are miles, so it looks from where the writer sees, of white ash and an ocean of heat waves and ossified trees, and plants, and animals, frozen mid step --if they could be--horrified a strong breeze would take them away, fertilize the world with their ghosts.

Toa was safe, at first, but the curiosity gnaws at her stomach, makes her hungry when she isn't. It whispers to her, pushing away her grand parents with breathy what ifs and, finally, she can no longer resist.

Toa planned for her journey meticulously,  three spears and so much vine, wrapped around her legs and arms and tummy and chest, all  tested --swung on from on tree branches -- limbs flailing as she sailed into the river with a gleeful splash.

Todd writes three, then four, then seven challenges for her, and she over comes each in turn.

First is a nest of snakes. Toa can barely face them, she is scared and sickened by the writhing mas of reptillian venomousness. They sense her heat as she tries to sneak past, and they slither hissing and striking, but her vines, for climbing the crater's edges, are thick and there's so much snake fangs do not find her skin, or where they do it is a gentle push and not piercing; it tickles a little. Eventually, fast, and smooth with her fire found and no need for secrecy, Toa reached the edge of the domain of the snakes. At the edge, Snake, the Snake of all Snakes, uncurled and Toa thought a tree had been possessed, like legends her aunt told her, one moonless night when she refused to obey her parents, refused to sleep. But it was Snake. They talked for a long time, winding around each other, coiling carefully, catastrophically, conversationally. Toa had only truth, but she kept it on her tongue, and Snake was so secretive, so circling, that it missed her spears, two down one up, that when it constricted quickly at the end of their conversation the tips sank into Snake's belly like fangs and it sprang off, bleeding and hissing, snarling, and so Toa passed through the entwined, wet domain of Snake and into a brightly floral part of the forest she had never experienced before.

This flora was sorphoric and disorienting, but again the spears saved Toa from stopping. Recall, dear reader, that the tree sap of the upward pointing spear is a stimulant and an aphrodisiac. As Toa slid into slumber, the spear tip penetrated the back of her neck, moist from the somnambulant environ the sap swept through her system, waking her, clearing Toa's thoughts. This flora wasn't some hidden other world! This flora was a small patch within her greater forest and Toa had been so seized by the pollen she'd been wandering in circles! Invigorated, mind racing but clear, it took Toa minutes of straight walking (heel toe, heel toe, heel toe) to leave it.

But a forest creature had been stalking her, and as Toa pushed through the radiance of the sorphoric flower patch into the gloaming forest proper, the satyr made his move. He was loud, and came at her with a smile and radiant palms and a grin like all her friends back in the village and the sap still slathered Toa's senses so she and the satyr did what Satyrs and their stalked do. She woke, refreshed, to the smell of cooking peacock eggs and fresh salmon and something earthy and field-like that Toa had never tasted before. The Satyr smeared mashed salmon on a slab of the field-like stuff and handed it to her, carefully and they ate better than Toa had eaten in years. Toa stayed with the satyr for a full week before her Grandparents found her, and in her dreams on successive nights they took turns and whispered, very carefully, very thinly, very pullingly, about the crater and the infinite fire and The Octopus. On the eleventh day, as Toa wound her ropes around her limbs The Satyr grew angry and, eyes narrowed took up a spear. He declared, "You'll be back" in his thick vowelless accent. Toa blinked at him, tears streaming from them both and then he was off, bounding back they way they came ten days ago. Her grandparents nodded invisible for the moment, and smiled at each other.

By the early afternoon, with her rope wound proper and her remaining spears and sated hungers, Toa once more set off toward the crater.