Saturday, September 19, 2009

Great Hites 70

This week we have Stories by:


Norval Joe <--------- This week's WinnerWinner
Ashley Redden
Jeff Hite

Lost and Found
By: Norval Joe

She feigned sleep while she listened to her mother grumble and drag on her jumpsuit. The clock on the table flashed the time. Her mother was late, as usual, for her shift. The little girl knew from the number of late night visitors and the creaking of the bunk above, her mother would be tired, irritable and late.
She avoided a probable clout and stayed on the floor, under the bunk and snuggled into her blanket.
"Lissie," her mother said, stopping at the door, "stay out of trouble, today. I don't want reports of you causing problems. Stay out of sight and I'll be happy when I come back."
"OK, Mom. I love you," she said to the scuffed black work boots and the pant legs of wrinkled brown jump suit. She watched them leave as the door opened and her mother left without a reply.
Lissie waited a moment to insure that her mother was gone, and squirmed from under the bed. She drug her blanket from underneath and folded it neatly. She made her mothers bed and placed her own blanket at the foot of it.
Someone tapped lightly at the door, in a recognizable pattern.
"Hi," Lissie said to another girl with short blonde hair and blue eyes, so similar to her own, that the two could be mistaken for sisters. "Come in, quick, before someone sees you."
The new girl looked up and down the passage before she slipped through the sliding plastic door, and sat on Lissie's mother's bed. "This is really small in here. You should get a family unit. Oh, here's a breakfast bar. It's one of the good ones, too. Has chocolate in it."
"Thanks, Bethany," she said. "Are you on your way to school?"
"Yeah, I skipped yesterday. My mom will get really mad if I get in trouble today. Here's what we learned so far. Make sure you get that crystal back to me later, I only have one other now." She tossed Lissie the crystal and headed for the door. "Oh, and erase the answer sheet before you start, or the program will skip to where we ended the other day."
Bethany stepped out the door and slid it shut. A moment later, she slid the door back open. "Sorry, I'm really an idiot. I forgot to ask, are you going out today?"
Lissie bit the side of her lip, thinking. "I don't know, Beth. I didn't sleep very well last night. It was too noisy in here, I think I'll go back to bed, til my mom gets off work."
"OK, whatever. If you do go out, here are some shoes. I hope they fit," Bethany said and left the compartment.
Lissie's eyes lit up and she ran to the door to lean her head out. "Thanks Beth," she said to her friends back as she headed down the passage.
She closed the door, took the shoes from where Bethany had left them on the table and sat in front of the data terminal. She dropped the crystal in the interface slot and keyed the download. A moment later the screen lit up with the fourth year student course work outline. Other seven and eight year olds on the Inter Galactic Battle Base, or IGBB, were studying together, in class rooms through out the base. Lissie didn't enjoy that luxery.
She worked for an hour at mathematics and grammar, but she was tired and fought to keep her eyes open.
"The shoes," she said. The idea of going out gave her renewed energy. She pulled the flat soled shoes onto her feet. Her toes pinched together where they pressed against the end of the shoes, but she would be able to walk. Maybe, she thought, she could wear them only when she needed to. Stairs from one level to the next, above or below, were constructed from expanded plastisteel and would be like walking on cheese graters. Without shoes, Lissie had been confined to the immediate surroundings of her mother's compartment. Bethany had given Lissie a veritable 'key to the city' in the form of shoes; she could now go anywhere her legs would carry her.
Lissie raced down the passage and around a corner, long tangles of dirty hair flew behind her, she sped for the stairwell.
Bare feet padded along the passage, the noise dampening pile of the carpet was intended to keep the small sleeping compartments quieter and more comfortable. Lissie ran in virtual silence. She was not the only person using these walkways in unheard. A tall man rounded the corner ahead and proceeded in Lissie's direct path. She turned instantly, hoped that he hadn't seen her turn, and walked as casually as possible in the opposite direction of the man.
"Young lady," he called to her. She stopped, without turning, she waited for the man to approach. She frantically searched her mind for a plausible excuse to be running through the hallways.
"Young lady," he said again as he walked up to stand at her back. She turned. He wore a uniform she didn't recognize and had to crane her neck to look up into the blonde man's icy blue eyes.
"I'm speaking to you girl. I demand the respect of a reply. Are you on your way to school?" His deep booming voice, forceful, not angry, shook her, and yet, it sounded familiar.
"Uh, huh," she replied. Unable to look away from his grim face.
"There are no schools near here, which one do you attend," he asked?
"Which one?" Lissie felt stupid. She didn't know how to answer the question. She didn't know where a school was. She didn't know what it would look like if she saw one. All she knew was that her friend went to one, and that it was two flights above this one. She asked, "there's more than one?"
"This is an Inter Galactic Battle Base. It's 10.5 billion cubic meters in size. There are more than 120,000 people aboard ship. Of course there is more than one school. What grade are you in," he asked?
Finally, a question she could answer. "I just started the fourth grade. I'm learning algebra and astrophysics. And grammar, but I've had that before. She thought about the lessons she had been studying just before leaving the compartment that day.
"Very good then," he said, he sounded satisfied with her answer. "Hurry on to class, before you miss too much."
"OK," Lissie said and started to run off.
"Oh, one minute." He stopped her. "What is your name?"
"Lissie. It's short for Felicity."
"I see," he said. He paused a moment, then asked, "Why aren't you wearing shoes?"
"They're too small. They hurt my toes. I have them here in my shoulder bag and put them on when I need to climb stairs or cross a large grate.
The giant space ship spun continously as it shot through space. The cetrifugal force created a psuedo-gravity and encouraged the flow of air and liquids throughout the ship. The expanded plastisteel was designed to accomodate this free flow of air by making the regularly spaced stairwells into large open air vents from the inner levels to the outer. The plastisteel was strong, light weight and airy. Expanding the plastisteel, however, made sharp edges that were damaging to shoes, let alone bare feet.
"You should ask your parents to go to supply and get a pair of shoes for you that fit."
"OK," she said.
His eyes flashed with anger, which he quickly controlled. "You need to learn to respond to your superiors, rather, your elders, with respect. You must use 'Yes sir' or 'Yes Ma'am'."
She had never heard those words before. Her mother certainly didn't ever use them, and her only other friend was Bethany. She carefully avoided all other adults.
"Do you understand me," he asked?
She winged it. "Yes sir or yes ma'am." She replied without a hint of sarcasm or malice.
The man's face darkened, and he growled, "Very well. What is your father's name."
Lissie knew that she was in deep trouble, then. She didn't like the feeling of being pushed, on the defensive. She declared, her back straight and head up, "I don't have a father. My mother's name is Jenny Mac Lean, but all of her friends all her 'Honey'."
Lissie thought the tall man would explode as his face turned bright red. A moment later, however, all color drained from it and his eyes softened. "Very well," he said again, "get to class, if you truly have one."
He left, this time, without a backward glance.
Within minutes Lissie found the stairwell. She put on the shoes and entered the door. She descended floor after floor, the stale filtered air gradually replaced with a rich, humid, pungency from the fermented sludge of the liquid waste recycling bays.
Lissie found piles of cast off materials in one of the outer rooms of the recycling center. She searched through bins of clothes and scraps of material for a serviceable pair of shoes. She pulled on a pair of boots and found, after lacing them, were more than a little big. She didn't have time to look for another pair before the door to the room opened. Lissie just managed to jump into a bin and cover herself with old clothes, before two men walked her direction.
"OK. Grab that bin and bring it to the shredder, " a man's voice said, "I'll get this one."
Lissie felt the bin shift and she almost screamed to let her out, she didn't want to be shredded. But within a heartbeat, the bin she was in, stopped moving, as the men pushed it aside to take the two they intended.
The day had become one of near misses, for Lissie and she felt shaken. She wanted to get back to her mothers compartment and get back under the bed where she would be safe and out of the way.
The boots were long and she tripped repeatedly as she climbed back up the stairwell. At least they didn't pinch her toes. She thought of the embarrassing encounter with the man in uniform, of how he had asked her about her shoes, and school, and her father. She would have to ask Bethany more about school, so she could sound more believable if she was questions again, in the future.
She left the stairwell and was well along the passage before she realized she was on the wrong level. Lissie checked an identifier tab above a door and found that she was two floors above her own.
This was the level of Bethany's school and Lissie became curious to get a first hand view of a class room. She wandered the passages listening at each door for the sound of children.
She needn't have strained to theat each doors. She rounded a corner and there it was; the school spread out directly from the passage. It was a wide open area of the level, many times larger than the small compartment where she lived. There were children of different ages at tables in groups and at work stations as individuals. All were engrossed in their activities and no one noticed her spying from the doorway.
She saw Bethany at one of the tables and decided to wait for her friend. It wasn't long before class ended and all the children filed out. Few gave Lissie a second glance, except, of course for Bethany.
"Lissie," her friend exclaimed and hugged her impulsively. Lissie thought how good it felt to be hugged. It was an new experience for her.
The two girls walked together. Lissie told of her adventure in the recycling center and of climbing the two extra flights, but said nothing about the man in the uniform.
The teacher passed the two girls and spoke to Bethany. "Hurry home, I want that report rewritten appropriately by tomorrow."
"Yes, sir," Bethany said.
"Come home with me," Bethany said. "My mom probably has something we can eat. I want you to meet her, anyway."
"OK. She won't get mad, will she?" Lissie was timorous, but the thought of food was enticing.
"No." Bethany assured her, "she likes me to bring friends home."

"Hi, mom. This is Lissie," Bethany announced when she slid open the door from the passage, and entered the family compartment. The tastefully decorated communal area was at least four times the size of Lissie's entire compartment. There was also a kitchen, dining room, study room, sanitation room, and bed rooms for the parents and each child.
"Wow." Lissie said. "This place is huge."
"My husband is a responsible man." Bethany's mother interjected. "He is the commander of a fighter pilot battalion. Housing is part of everyone's compensation. The more responsibilities, the larger space you have."
She walked over to Lissie. She looked the little girl over and noted, beside the objectionable odor, the worn out, ill fitted jump suit, oversized boots and mass of unkempt dirty hair. The woman couldn't help but recognize the similarities between her own daughter and Lissie. They both had a strong squarish jaw, serious mouth, and questioning eye brows.
The door to the compartment slide open again. "Daddy," Beth cheered, and ran to embrace her father.
"Hello, Honey," he said to his daughter, "I've missed you."
Lissie knew that voice. Not only did she recognize it as that man from the passage, earlier in the day, but she had heard those same words spoken, by this voice so many times in the past. As she lay under her mother's bed, in the darkness, warned not to make a sound, she had heard that same greeting, countless times. "Hello, Honey. I've missed you."
"Daddy, this is my friend, Lissie." Bethany said as she stepped back from her father's embrace.
He turned his icy stare toward the visitor, his serious mouth and questioning brow so similar to his daughter's.
"Yes, we've met. In the passage, earlier today." He said and gave Lissie a short but concentrated look, as he crossed the sitting room, and gave his wife a kiss.
"Cynthia," he said to his wife, "please come with me, I have something to tell you."
He turned back to his daughter. "Beth, honey." He paused and looked at the floor. After taking a deep steadying breath, he said to her, "Help yourself to dinner, we may be a while. Also, after you eat, show Lissie how to use the shower, and wash and brush her hair."
He followed his wife into the bedroom, but before he closed the door he said, "Lissie, I expect to find you in class with Beth, tomorrow. I've already made arrangements with her teacher for the transfer from your old school."
"Yes, sir." Lissie replied.
His smile was brief and sad, and he nodded his approval to Lissie as he closed the bedroom door.
When Lissie returned to her mothers compartment, much later that day, a package awaited her. In it were a new jumpsuit and shoes that fit properly.

Lotus Shoes
By: Ashley Redden

I was born in a small village in the northern hills of China in the year of the monkey, April of 1824. It is said that those born in the year of the Monkey are clever, intelligent, are very inventive, solve problems easily and have a thirst for knowledge. These attributes proved to be true throughout my life.

The exact village is unimportant save that it was located in the southern part of the north china plain. My family farmed alongside our fellow villagers in the ancient floodplains of the yellow river in what many considered the cradle of Chinese civilization. Of course none of the farmers in the village knew this fact or even cared. Though the soil in the valley was very fertile, life for the village farmers was very hard. Farming was done by the sweat of the brow and bend of the back making the young look old and the old appear truly ancient. Though there were many villagers, all lived a course existence.

My given name was Mei Lian which means beautiful lotus flower. According to my mother, the lotus has the ability to rise above the vulgar mud within which it began without being sullied. They named me thus because of my beauty as a child. Beautiful I was and still am a fact that has mattered greatly throughout my life. This would prove to be a blessing and a curse, but like many things in my life, one that I could not change directly but had to make the best of.

My mother began to bind my feet when I was very young, perhaps two years of age. By the time I was three or four, all of my toes except the largest on each foot had been broken. To say there was constant pain, unimaginable pain at times, would be a tremendous understatement. Sometimes I would notice my mother looking at me when she thought I was unaware with the most terrible look upon her face. She would always smile when I turned my head as if whatever the thought that was bringing her such distaste had never been there. I always wondered what I had done wrong to cause her so much pain, but would smile by best to match hers.

My family began to tell me over and over how lucky I was. My sisters were jealous that I sat inside all day while they worked in the fields, the toil beginning the long erosion of their youth just beginning to manifest. I began, even then, to associate pain with that particular word, lucky. As I sat by myself, being unable to run and sometimes unable to even walk when my mother had tightened the bindings because my body remained madding1y unaware that it was supposed to stop growing, watching my sisters and brothers run and play I would wonder at how lucky I truly was.

When I was twelve, I was sold into marriage. I say sold, because it was nothing if not a business dealing. My mother hugged me and told me to go with dignity into my new life. I smiled, even then I had learned to hide the pain in that way, and went willingly into the unknown.

I came to new life with as much dignity as I could bear. I was to be a sent to America, and must do as I was told, or else. Though we were never outright called slaves, slaves we were. Slave, indentured servant, conscript, they are all the same. The details of the compound are unimportant, what is important was that I survived my stay. In the west, cattle being pushed from one town to another are done so by means of a corral. If Chinese being sent to America were the cattle then this was surely the corral.

The or else became glaringly clear soon enough. The camp had several wells located prominently in the center. The most telling feature was the absence of a draw, no rope or bucket or anything else associated with bringing water up from any of the wells. The well structures were stark; each with no covering was open to the elements. We were told to follow instruction or be dropped down one of the wells. Our keepers proved this many times while I was there. It didn’t matter to them, man, woman or child, if you disobeyed, down the well you went. The lucky ones died on impact. The others, who survived the initial drop, surely suffered a slow often vocal bitter end.

It was during this time, before being sent to America, that I began to sing. My voice was heavenly, another blessing with which I had done nothing to obtain, but made use of when possible. I also learned, while staying at this corral for people, the subtle art of cooperation. Many were the times when being cornered by one of the wolves that prowled within the compound I was certain that my time had come to be tossed like so much refuse into one of those wells. But I continued to smile and sing and do what I was told avoiding that particularly gruesome fate. I do remember that I smiled most of the time that I was at the corral every moment of which I wept miserably on the inside.

When I was finally placed upon a ship born for America, even though my feet were still just as securely bound as they had been virtually my entire life, I felt more alive and free than ever before. I vowed to change my lot in life. I also changed my name to Ming-mei which meant smart and beautiful. I decided that these were the advantages that I had in this world and that my name should be reflective of this. I heard more than one girl speak of how lucky we were to be rid of the compound, but I quietly disagreed. Luck, for me, was nothing but a pox on life. I neither needed nor wanted any luck, I would make my own.

Upon entering America, I discovered that though the language and people were very different, some things did not change. This was another place that an unassuming lotus flower would be used up and discarded making way for the next shipment. I began to sing and make myself be known. A man happened to be enjoying my singing, along with the crowd that usually gathered. My keepers did not mind this for they begged money in return for the entertainment which some of the passersby obliged.

Though I had not noticed this tall pale man standing in the throng, he approached the wagon upon which I sat as we prepared to continue our long journey to somewhere in the American west, though exactly where I had not been told. He approached and asked about my shoes, the size of which was 3 inches long. Of course I knew only snippets of English, though I was learning all I could during the journey. One of my keepers spoke the tongue fluently enough and answered him.

It seems that he was interested in why my feet were so small. My keeper told this American that I wore lotus shoes explaining that my feet had been bound from very early in my life to resemble a golden lotus. The man seemed to rock back shocked and amazingly, seemed to pale even further. He looked back upon me then with new eyes wearing an expression that I had seen little if any of, compassion. He began immediately to speak in earnest with my keeper.

The next day I found myself in the presence of the tall pale man. He had bought me. I was suspicious then and quite sure now that he could not afford the stiff price set by my keepers, but miracles do happen. I’m proof of that. Well, he always insisted that he purchased my freedom not my person. But I refused to leave his side so he allowed me to accompany him west. I found out later that he was a Christian preacher taking the word of the lord into the wild places of this vast new land as commanded.

You are probably wondering how my English is so good, correct grammar and the like. Well, I may be Chinese born, but I am quite intelligent and very well read. I continued to learn English, painfully slow at first, but due to my diligence my understanding improved slowly at first then by leaps and bounds later. I ceased to be the property of the pale man and instead became his wife. He had always wanted me to unbind my feet, but a lifetime of binding had done unfaltering damage. I smile a lot now and have even learned to smile on the inside at the same time. Though I still hide pain, I am learning to express it, but old habits die hard and I find that I have so little pain in my life now as compared with before that it’s becoming easier to just smile and be happy most of the time.

We now live in San Francisco California and run a mission for the people there. I speak with the Chinese whose numbers have swollen since the discovery of Gold in what’s being called the great gold rush. They, like me, are a hearty folk. Those that immigrated from china and did not work did not survive. The ones that are left work like slaves which in some cases they essentially are.

I sing for them and speak about the one true God and for their part they listen politely and basically treat me like a queen. For my part, I am so appreciative. Sometimes when we are giving supplies, food and clothing, to those in need that many of the children will be looking for shoes that fit, more often than not, the shoes are much to big for their feet. When I hear complaining, I simply show them my tiny lotus shoes that still fit so well on my three inch feet. Their wonder at my smallish feet always seems to turn to embarrassment until I smile and laugh letting them off the hook. They always seem to laugh heartily, but I’ve noticed that the complaining evaporates like so much spilled water on a hot rock and does not return.

I think of my father sometimes and wonder if he knew where I was headed when he sold me into so called marriage. I whisper a prayer of forgiveness, and sometimes, I think that I may mean it.

I often think of my mother now as well, surely long dead ground down beneath the plow and the bearing of armies of children. I remember how she looked at me how I always wondered what I had done to deserve her resentment. I’ve begun to think that maybe what I saw in her expression was not a true expression of what was in her heart. I have begun to wonder if it was guilt being displayed there. After all, she was just a much a captive as I was, though in a different way. I try not to judge. What would I have done in her place? Would I have bound my beautiful child’s feet and sold her to slavery? Surely not, then again, who can say. I say a heartfelt prayer for her often that her heart should be at peace, mine is.

I also mutter a silent prayer for all of those who were tossed down those wretched wells. I ask God to have mercy on their souls. And though I know I should ask the same of their persecutors, I cannot as yet bring myself to do so. Perhaps in time I can find it in myself to forgive them as well, but it will be difficult. Their crimes are great. But who knows, through the lord all things are possible.

But the strangest thing of all has happened. Throughout my life I have railed at the very idea of luck. But as I look at my husband, speaking with such heartfelt compassion to everyone he meets, the joy and love in his heart overflowing into mine and making me whole. As I look at him I think of the word irony and how some words look simple, but have complex meanings. I had always before associated irony with tragedy which is often true. But now I find myself thinking of the word irony in a new tact. I’ve begun to consider the possibility that it might apply to me. After all, I have focused my entire life on making my own luck and not accepting that which came my way. But somewhere along the way, as I showed nothing but utter disdain for the word luck, something significant has changed. I look at my life now and consider myself, of all the inconceivable things…lucky.

Lost and Found
By Norval Joe

She feigned sleep while she listened to her mother grumble and drag on her jumpsuit. The clock on the table flashed the time. Her mother was late, as usual, for her shift. The little girl knew from the number of late night visitors and the creaking of the bunk above, her mother hadn't gotten much sleep. She would be tired, irritable and late.
She avoided a probable clout and stayed on the floor, under the bunk and snuggled into her blanket.
"Lissie," her mother said, stopping at the door, "stay out of trouble, today. I don't want reports of you causing problems. Stay out of sight and I'll be happy when I come back."
"OK, Mommy. I love you," she said to the scuffed black work boots and the pant legs of wrinkled brown jump suit. She watched them leave as the door opened and her mother left without a reply.
Lissie waited a moment to insure that her mother was gone, and squirmed from under the bed. She drug her blanket from underneath and folded it neatly. She made her mothers bed and placed her own blanket at the foot of it.
There was nothing left on the table for her to eat. Lissie looked through the drawers and closets and found a fruit flavored nutrition bar. She ate it quickly while she searched the rest of the compartment. She hoped her mother would bring something for her from the dining facility on her way back from work.
Lissie slid open the flimsy plastic door to the passage outside. She looked both ways and found it clear of people before she dashed out and down to the corner.
She ran through the dim passages of the habitation compartments wearing one of her mothers t-shirts, its collar so wide that it dropped off one of her shoulders and down to her elbow. She wore a pair of shorts and shoes that were, conversely, too small; cast offs from a legitimate, enlisted family. She had found them in the recycling center/waste dump on one of the starships outer levels on a previous exploration. Since visiting the dump she had felt a continuous urge to return, as if she had left something there, and forgotten what it was.
She heard voices approaching around the next corner. Lissie quickly located a panel, they were spaced every ten meters, and pulled it open. Inside the narrow, shallow panel, were electrical wires and refrigeration pipes. A diagram on the inside of the door identified each colored artery and vein, listed its purpose, origin and destination, to aid repairmen. If she squeezed inside and held the latch with one hand and a coolant pipe with the other, the door would stay closed enough for most passers by to be unaware of her presence.
Lissie heard the children laughing as they walked past, most likely on their way to classes.
Couples could sign on for the twenty year enlistment as a family and were authorized compartment space for themselves and two current, or future children. These children had their own sleeping chambers, clothing allotments, and food, guaranteed for the length of their parents enlistment. They were provided with education, sports activities, entertainment, and other diversions.
There was no provision for the children of enlisted members who signed on as individuals and fell in love on their journey, let alone the child of a drug addict who turned tricks to support her habit.
The voices of the children faded as they continued past Lissie, and down the passage. When they were gone, she cracked open the the panel, checked the way, and took off at a run. She had to hold the front of her t-shirt with her hands or it would catch between her knees as she ran.
She felt the inexplicable urge to return to the recycling level like a palpable wave as she reached the stairwell that would take her down to the outer levels. As she descended the stairs, the stale filtered air gave way to a pungent, humid, moldy smell. The desire to reach the recycling level became a tangible feeling in Lissie's stomach, like the hunger that was a constant part of her life.
This strange hunger was not unpleasant, but hopeful and optimistic. Ignoring the feeling in her stomach she raced down the length of the starship to the recycling center access. Waste management filled half the width of the Intergalactic Battle Base and the aft third of the ship, nearly 1000 meters, on one of the outer levels of the giant ship. Centrifugal force from the continuously spinning ship created a pseudo gravity and aided the flow of air, water, and other liquids through throughout the ship.
She entered to the sound of pumps and compressors, the interlocking rooms and passages forming a great labyrinth of offal. Waste from humans and machinery were cycled through tanks and filters. The urge drew her down one passage after another, a turn here and there, she charged forward as if she knew exactly where she was going, as if she had been there many times in her short life.
Her short life. She didn't know how old she was. Her mother guessed Lissie was about four or five. It wouldn't be hard to figure it out, to count back the years she had been on the ship, but her mother didn't really care. All she really cared about was getting enough credits to score some mist.
Base police had tried to locate the source of the euphoric inhalant sold illicitly on the ship. The syndicate of users and suppliers was to tightly closed, and too savvy of the investigators for the police to get it under control. However, only the serious addict had any negative effects from the drug, and most could be treated effectively through the sick bay, the police turned an apathetic eye from the trade.
Lissie crept into the room and edged along a catwalk a meter above the sludge being processed below her feet. Her eyes were drawn to a shadow on the wall opposite. She imagined the shadow was moving, pulsing, maybe oozing up and down the wall.
A rope, an arm, or tentacle, she didn't know what it was; something grabbed the little girl by the leg and jerked her off her feet. He pulled her so quickly, her head clearly missed hitting the catwalk as she fell and splashed into the thick, sticky sludge. Her screams were downed out by the heavy chugging of pumps as she was dragged toward the oozing shadow. She screamed and clawed at her t-shirt as the current of sludge pulled it up over her face. She grasped the shirt and pulled it down in time to see the tentacle pulling her legs into the creatures open maw. She screamed and cried as giant slavering tongues reached out, wrapped around her small body and pulled her into its undulating throat.
And then she was calm. Her head remained outside the mouth, her body completely enveloped, but she felt not the slightest fear.
The tongues surrounded her, held her, supported, and massaged her body. At first they were warm, but then cooled to accommodate her body temperature. They lifted her and bounced her lightly like a mother bounces and comforts as baby. The tongues weren't wet, as they had first appeared, but were, instead, covered with soft short hair like the fur on a puppies belly. The fur caressed her skin and drew away the sludge and anything else on her skin.
"My friend." A voice said inside her head. "I've been calling you for a long time. Thank you for coming."
Lissie floated in a euphoric half sleep. Her hunger was gone, and the aches and stiffness of sleeping on the hard plasticrete floor faded quickly. She had never been so comfortable and at ease.
The creature told Lissie stories of its home world, of its family, and finally of how it ended up on an IGBB light years from its origin. While it cradled Lissie in its center repairing her body and mind, the creatures tentacles searched the adjoining rooms.
Voices woke her in the first room of the recycling center. She lay between two of the transfer bins filled with articles of clothing waiting to be shredded. As the two men walked through the room, further into the center, she got to her feet and ran through the open front door.
She felt strong as she hurtled up the stairs to her floor, her long blonde hair, a glistening stream flowed behind her as she ran. Her ribs no longer shown through the skin of her chest. Her shoes fit her comfortably and her jumpsuit was clean and smelled fresh.
"I'm home," she said as she closed the compartment door, and looked for her mother, who hadn't yet returned, though the clock on the table said it was very late.
"You traveled safely," the creature asked, its voice clear in her head?
"Yes," Lissie replied. "No one saw me go. I'll see you in the morning?"
"Please. I will always be here. Always," the creature promised.

Bad Day, Good Dead
By Jeff Hite

I knew today was going to be a bad day when I put on my best pair of climbing shoes and they didn't seem to fit right. I don't know if it was that I had worn them to often or that the last time I wore them they got wet. Either way I didn't anticipate the fay that I ended up having. I should have know better and stayed in bed, but no, I had to get up. And here I am at the end of the day still hanging on a cliff edge, wondering what just happened.

I should back up a little bit and say that Larry did warn me that what we were going to be doing today was going to be dangerous. He also told me that I didn't have to go if I didn't want to. But, being the nice guy that I am and knowing what was at stake if things didn't go well today, I knew that I needed to go. Besides the way that I looked at every thing these days, it was better to die doing something that I believed in then to live and have my soul sucked away by inches at my old job.

When we first arrived Prometheus would not even talk to us for several hours, to matter how much we begged and pleaded. Even Larry was about to give up when he finally spoke.

“The Nymph, is she gone?”

“What?” I asked surprised to even get a response.

“There was a Nymph that lived in the tree above, did she forget about me or is she gone?”

“I will talk to her if she is still there.” Larry offered. To this Prometheus nodded his acceptance, and larry climbed back up the face of the cliff. After an hour he had not returned, and my muscles were beginning to cramp I was about to move when Prometheus spoke again.

“You are Human?” It sounded like a question but I knew he was making it as a statement.


“Then you will need to find a place to hide, or the eagle will find you a tasty morsel.”

Until that point I had kept my back turned to the dizzying sight that was literally the end of the world beyond the cliff's edge, but now I turned to see what Prometheus was looking at. The eagle was a huge grant beast, and even at this great distance I could see it was huge. It's wing span had to be at least 20 feet.

I spent only a moment looking at the great bird before I realized the urgency, and started looking for a place to hide. It was too far to the top for me to make it before she would be here, so I had to find something near my level. Then I saw it. About 30 feet to my right was an out cropping that I might be able to hide behind. I quickly scrambled to over to it, letting my line out only enough allow me to move. It didn't offer me much over, but it was better than nothing. I made it to the ledge and hoped that Larry was watching this and didn't try to come down while the eagle was here. When she arrived it looked as though she had not seen me because she went right to work on Prometheus.

I started to breath a sigh of relief, but that was when it happened. I never expected to hear anything quite like that. At least not from a god. Prometheus, was screaming first in terror and then in agony.

This was the same god that when I first saw him I could not tell were the shackles ended and his arms and legs began. He had been hanging there for more than a million years, since man had first used fire, but he had obvious not grown accustomed to this pain.

I waited listening to his screams for only a moment when I had made my decision. It was obvious to me that it was not that the eagle was cutting him open and eating his liver, it was torturing him. I could not watch it any longer.

I didn't know if what I was about to do would help in any way, but I knew that I had to do something. So with my piton hammer in my upper hand, and my lower hang lock ing off the line, I pushed out and toward Prometheus and the eagle as hard as I could. I watch in the intervening seconds as the emptiness swirled below me and wondered at what it would be like to fall all that distance, but then the moment was over.

My feet crashed into the eagle with a sickening snapping sound, and I brought the hammer down on her beak. She fell away from us then, down into the abyss below. She the great bird slipped below, I was left nearly on top of Prometheus, but on the other side. My line was not tangled in one of his shackle chains, and I had lost on of my shoes.

When I had recovered a little I looked over at the god. If possible he looked worse than then we had first seen him. His side had a ragged tear in it and blood flowed freely from it down the right side of his body. I knew in the rational part of my mind, I knew that he could not, would not die. But that was not the part of my brain I was listening to, at the moment due to the adrenaline coursing through my body.

“Larry, get down here, bring your extra climbing ropes and some bandages.” I didn't wait for a reply “It is going to be alright, we are going to get you up on the ledge above and see if we can stopped the bleeding, and maybe close up that wound, just hang in there ok.” I was not sure if he could hear me because his eyes were closed and his head lolled forward.

“Rob I am going to toss the line down, what is going on down there?”

“Don't worry about that now, just get down here and help me.”

“Rob, the Nymph...”

“Later ok,” I said cutting him off. I did my best to untangle myself from the chains above, and hope that my Tarzan impression had not damaged the line too much. Then I lowered myself down so that I was just about level with his feet. The Stanchion that had been used to fasten him to the wall was huge, so I knew there was no point in trying to move it, but the chains were not very large. I pulled my ice axe from my pack and began working on it.

As it turns out, that an ice axe is not a very effective tool against god forged chains, but in the end I was able to free his leg. I started to move to the other side when I saw Larry. He had brought some water and was trying give it to the still unconscious Prometheus. He had also managed to bandage the wound. The Bandage the was soaked with blood, but it looked as though the bleeding might have stopped for the time being.

“Do you think the rope will hold him,” Larry asked when he saw me?
“He is not that much bigger than either of us, and the lines are rated and three times our body weight.”

“Alright then. Once you get that other leg freed I will get the harness on him. I hope he wakes up before we need to move if, I don't want to have to try to pull him up.”


It took me another hour, both of our ice axes and one of the piton hammers to brake through all four chains. By then Prometheus was awake. He had been watching us as we broke through the last of the chains but said nothing. With the last chain broken I lowered myself down level with him again.

“Prometheus, do you have the strength to climb?” He nodded his head. “Good, then when we get to the top we can rest a bit and properly tend to those wounds.”

“They no longer need any tending,” he answered and carefully turned around to face to rock wall. Then he doubled up one of his fists and smashed a rock that protruded from the cliff's face.

“That had been rubbing against my back for the last million years.” Then without another word he climbed to the summit.