fiction

2019-05-12 14:00 fiction reel

ReeL Order

Millr and Taryn sat on the porch. It was dusk, the sky melting away in buttery yellows and a broad stroke of violet. The bats had just come out, they zipped back and forth eating bugs, maneuvering in the sky through intermingled patterns with occasionally startling reversals. The yard extended out to a grove, on one side, and the old warehouse on the other. The fence that once separated the two was mostly gone, becoming a rusty, obsolete boundary. The rotting shells of a few trucks still sat in the overgrown lot, abandoned when the drivers were dissolved into a slurry of bio-matter.

Millr didn't know what the warehouse had been, it was empty by the time he moved here. Weapons maybe. Electronic components. Ag-tech. Something anyway, enough to get them targeted by the Shrubs.

Millr and Taryn moved into this house because it wasn't too big, it wasn't too small. There were no Shrub fields nearby. The house wasn't far from town but it wasn't very close either. After Surrender they probably could've taken a mansion—the Shrubs had been efficient eliminating leaders of the military-industrial complex. Those places were tombs. Most people avoided them, not just out of fear, but often from plain disgust. What good had it all been? In retrospect it seemed obscene.

Sometimes deer came across the yard, less about foraging and more about egress to the grove. The sounds of them coming through the brush was common. Tonight, however, instead of delicate hooves and a gentle exploratory progression, there was stumbling, snapping branches and other flopping noises of men. Millr could see the shapes of them out there, as they got closer to the house he could make them out. It was the Sheriff and his deputies, dressed in absurdly aggressive tactical gear, the haphazard strapping, jiggling pouches, and Velcro patching making their already fat bodies appear like loaded, fertile beetles awkwardly crawling forward to some ritual of insemination.

"Dck," Millr said quietly as the Sheriff and his men rushed ahead onto the porch, one of them stumbling on the stairs, launching forward while his gun swung around his body with measurably applied velocity.

"GET DOWN ON THE GROUND," several of the men yelled simultaneously.

"It's a porch," Millr said calmly and reflexively, then reflecting that this fact could be interpreted as resistance. He heard a subsequent chorus of "DOWN NOW" from the clearly excited deputies. Their tactical gear squeaked. Both he and Taryn, who'd so far only uttered an acerbic "relax, for God's sake," got down onto the porch where he saw closely the wood he'd promised to repaint this summer. One of the deputies put a knee hard into his back.

"Dck," Millr said again, the name muffled by the porch.

"I warned you Millr," the Sheriff said, stooping down above him, "the Governor's been ordered by higher ups to stop distribution of those ReeLs. Terrorist shit, they say."

"Where's your warrant," Millr asked. He smelled the porch.

"Ha," the Sheriff uttered. The man with his knee in Millr's back echoed the Sheriff's laugh, but meaner and stupider.

"Let the man up Jhn," the Sheriff said. Jhn moved heavily off of Millr, who got up creakily.

He saw Taryn standing in the corner, arms crossed, her eye glaring with vicious anger. A deputy stood in front of her with his hand on his gun.

"The other guys are ripping your house apart. If you just tell us where they are, might save you some trouble," the Sheriff said.

This is idiotic, Millr thought, but I don't want them trashing the house.

"In the basement," Millr said, "by the work bench."

"Good man," the Sheriff said, nodding at Jhn who went inside the porch door, through which Millr and Taryn could hear banging and crashing.

"Those motherfuckers," Millr heard Taryn say.

In a few minutes a deputy came out onto the porch carrying an old cardboard box full of ReeLs. He was smiling.

"Find one of the copier things too?" the Sheriff asked.

"Yup." The deputy, pleased with himself, pulled a dark gray slab from inside the box and handed it to the Sheriff.

"Well, well," he said, turning it end over end a few times without any clear purpose, "looks like you've been busy." He shoved the copier back into the box, making a dense clattering noise against the other ReeLs.

Millr didn't say anything. Randomly he wondered where they got the box. Probably something on a shelf in the basement, its contents now thrown all over the floor.

"See, I know we talked about this. You can't believe how much royal shit the Governor is getting about these things. This," he pointed at the box of ReeLs, "is anti-Shrub terrorist propaganda. At least that's what they tell me. I'm on the short end of the fucking stick, Millr, and I do not like it one bit." He shooed away the deputies holding the box. "Look, I'm not going to drag your ass in, I don't know how much point there would be in that anyway."

"How much do you want?" Millr asked.

The Sheriff smiled broadly and openly.

"Whatever you've got."

2019-04-14 18:00 fiction reel

ReeL Sweet

She heard something in the brush. She stopped short. Why did she stop short? It didn't sound familiar. Had it rolled. Normally little feet. There it was again. She scanned over the foliage. Leaves were settling, a twig balances against a small rock, swiveled with some unseen agent of momentum. Then she heard the same sound behind her. She turned quickly. Again, nothing but traces of passage. Was it circling her? She looked in two separate 180 degree arcs.

There.

The husk was covered with fine hair and trembled. It bolted to one side of her, moving faster than she could follow. But she saw it come to rest, wrapping spring-like stalks back around itself, maybe protectively, and exhaling air through several membranous flaps that stuck back down with gluey imprecision. It was aware of her, probably attracted to her heat and her sweat. She stared at it and it froze. She took a step forward carefully. It shuddered slightly but did not move. As she took another step she slowly reached around to the back of her belt and withdrew the short, very sharp knife. Still it did not move. She kept her eyes on it, concentrating, and she held the freed knife behind her back.

A little closer.

She had seen them before, from a distance, in clumps, they climb up the trunks of Shrub crops, clustering themselves around the tops. They must've been Shrub pollinators, she thought. And new. This is how fast the Shrubs worked, growing and evolving. She might see these for a few months then never again. She slowly crouched down. There was no movement now, she could detect no life. Playing dead, as much as a plant needed to, if it was that. Something in-between like all Shrub things. She imagined plunging the knife into it. Splitting it open like a melon. Sweet. Fruit smell, a tang maybe like grapefruit. Then it rustled. She held the knife tightly, her hand beginning to slick on the grip. Her muscles were contracted and tense. Then it let out a noise, she could see the flaps open and there was a sound like a mewing, a helpless noise. She backed away, causing it to contract. Again it mewed. She put the knife back into its sheath. She stood and watched it. It made a small movement towards her, crying again. She didn't know what to think, did it want something from her?

She turned, back the way she came, there was work to do. She went a dozen steps when she heard it behind her, this time letting out a sharper, insistent call. Christ, she thought, it's following me.

2019-04-08 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Deal

Willm walked through the lanes created by the haphazardly placed cars of the caravan. Some tents had been put up. Stands that had been pulled behind cars and trucks were opened. He smelled weed and piss and campfire. Behind him there was a shriek, then an outbreak of laughter.

Most of the stuff caravans sold was shit. Jerky made from roadkill. Weird, abrasive fabric recycled from who knows what. Religious items, roadside reliquaries. Curiosities and hokum. Home cures. Questionable dentistry services, raccoon teeth implants or a quick spackling job. Doctors that might have once been certified, now chain smoking mercenaries. Bad legal advice and fortune tellers. Pain givers and pain takers. Delectable and rare tidbits—at least that was the pitch, along with all the other pitches, delivered with practiced verisimilitude. Every caravan was mostly the same caravan, more or less the same cast of characters, winding their way across the country, trading for what they could and providing some entertainment wherever they stopped.

Willm liked the caravans but they weren't without friction. He knew the sheriff got his cut, but sometimes the town became confrontational and they were told to leave. When they were here naturally business at the market was off. This bred resentment, yet everyone went, and everyone denied it.

He slowly poked around. He was looking for ReeLs they sold in caravans, the oddities, rejects, occasional classics. The hardware might be antique, and hit or miss, but now and then you'd find something great. Once he'd picked up an old experimental ReeL, if you'd call it that, which must've been made with a first generation rig. It was full of strange non sequiturs, moments of disparate, unexpected beauty. At first he didn't know why the ReeL hadn't been overwritten. Maybe other people had watched it the way he watched it, and had formed a similar connection with it—the story was no story, it was like spying on another person's dream. He knew someday he'd grow tired of it, lazily deciding it wasn't worth recycling, and it would end up back in a caravan.

Then Willm turned a corner and saw Bug. He was talking to one of the sellers, standing next to several large bins full of electronic and mechanical hodgepodge. Bug had a few things in hand already, and was haggling. His eyes were made absurdly large and distorted by his corrective goggles as he swiveled his head back and forth, thoroughly, over the items in the bin. As Willm approached he saw the parts Bug had collected more closely and was positive they were for making drones. Very illegal. Not that Willm hadn't done precisely the same thing too, although not in a long time. It was fun but wasn't worth the hassle if you ever got caught. And these days the gov seemed more aggressive about enforcement.

What was Bug doing making drones, he wondered. Before he walked up he studied Bug for a moment, bargaining with the owner, he watched his posture, he watched his minimal but effective hand gestures. These were techniques he'd seen Bug develop when they were growing up, if they could call themselves grown up now, as if Bug were refining a tool. Because of his odd appearance Bug had learned to become intimidating.

"Bug," Willm said.

Bug looked up, saw Willm and executed as close to a smile as Willm was likely to get, then continued the task of looking through the bins.

"Willm," Bug said blankly, "help me find one more receiver."

"Sure." Willm began routing through the opposite bin.

"I remember you were good at this," Bug said, flipping over a corroded, cracked electronics board, "you still good?"

"I don't think I've forgotten anything," Willm replied.

"Interested in some work?" Bug asked, "I've got a project that could use somebody like you."

2019-04-06 14:08 fiction flash-fiction

Fixtures

The train car was sitting on a forgotten extension off the end of the line. He'd found it by accident. One cold, gray day he was hunting rabbits with the old rifle. He wasn't having any luck. He went farther into the forest, farther than he'd ever been. He thought he saw a rabbit bolt over a sparsely wooden hill and he followed it. When he emerged on the other side he saw the train, vines covering one end, on rails which emerged intermittently from ground cover, that curved away off into the woods. He could see the weather-beaten roof from where he was. And yet the windows were unbroken. He could see remains of decorative embellishments on the dark, red lacquered sides. There were accents of gold, and chrome, now tarnished. The wheels were covered in rust. He approached cautiously, although he wasn't quite sure why. The train car was a strange, ancient outgrowth. It was part of the forest now anyway, he thought. But the beauty of it intimidated him. A rabbit darted past, he ignored it. He walked to the back of the car, which had broad, rounded windows, and he grabbed the now dull brass hand rail and pulled himself up to the first step. The door was equally ornate, and finally faded by nature. He grabbed the door handle and turned it, seeing hints of the dimly lit interior through the cloudy window. He stopped short before entering. He had the sensation he was violating a law, but he didn't know which law. The inside of the train car was musty. The long, thin room was lavish, the furniture, the decorations, all were faded but undamaged. He lingered. He felt as if, in some sense, this had been prepared for him—or, at least, it had been carefully placed in order to be seen. He didn't sit down. He looked out the window into the trees. It was a painting to him, a dissection of the essence of the forest presented with specific intention. The silence was hypnotizing. He stopped thinking about who may have left it here, or why it was abandoned. He could feel the oriental rug under his shoes and the hardwood below that. The stained glass lamp made from a thousand hand cut pieces was indelible, the silver fixtures next to it extensions of this interior. It was his. He placed the old rifle, with its clumsy, cracked wooden stock, into the bucket meant for umbrellas. This was his now, and he did not have to leave.

2019-03-24 20:14 fiction flash-fiction

Wonder.

He said. If you are inclined and the shadows from the buildings are not too cold and long. Stretch. Be aware of the present situation but do not dwell on intentions. When we conceived of the rituals, he said, we did not anticipate the gross partitions, or the gradual shift in attention. We must adjust. Pass quietly. If you are seen you will evaporate, being nothing but more mist in the fog we struggle within. Solidify. When the time comes you will become aware of the transitional mantra, it will ring in your ears and evict from your lungs in a thunderous clap. He dipped the brush into the pot again, preparing another stroke. Be ready, he said, for a collision. Create in yourself a map of imaginary worlds, an entire universe if necessary. Surrender. There is no recourse or commandments. There is no justification or solution. there are no allies but everyone is your friend. Cages are built slowly, he said, raising the broad ink filled brush. And you must endeavor to navigate the visceral substance, you must collect the rubble and dance in a way that instills an invisible compulsion. He brought the brush down in a mighty and confident arc, erasing everything he'd done.

2019-03-09 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Isolation

Once in a while he wondered how long he'd been down here. At first he kept very close track of time, but then it became exhausting. There were small, thin, rectangular windows along the edges of two walls which let in light and could be cracked open in the summer. All he could see out of them at eye level was bushes and grass. The windows were solidly placed, well built. He was positive he couldn't fit through them, but he thought about it often. When it was warm he would stand on boxes and stretch his arm out, tossing crumbs so that he could watch the birds and squirrels.

He never wanted to be involved with ReeLs. His father was from Taiwan and helped create them. Although he wasn't sure his captors knew this—he looked Asian so he must know how these things worked right? Unfortunately he did. His father had taught him electrical engineering, but he'd really wanted to be a musician.

The wrong people found out he was doing ReeL repairs. Worse, that he'd been making improvements. After Surrender it had become dull but consistent work, so he started altering the hardware—out of boredom mostly.

He remembered his father's rigid stoicism. That's what the hardware was like, inflexible. What if it was a bit more like jazz? He listened to John Coltrane and he made the ReeL hardware better. One night his door was kicked in and he was dragged out of bed. He didn't see them, they wore masks, he never saw their faces.

Once in a while he wondered how long he'd been down here. Whoever was keeping him here certainly had a lot of ReeL parts. Some looked brand new, which was impossible. He ignored this. He had a quota to fill. If he met the quota he got better food, he was given beer. If he missed the quota, food got shitty, there was no more beer. Building ReeLs was the last thing in the world he wanted to be spending his time on, but at least he'd convinced them to give him some music. They brought him a vintage Japanese record player and vinyl records. Whoever they jacked for it had kept everything in beautiful condition. There was more classical than he cared for in the crate of records, but there was some real jazz too. Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Mingus. He put on "Bitches Brew" and wept.

His captors rarely communicated. There wasn't much need to. He'd get his quota for the week. It didn't matter if he finished in the first day or the seventh as long as he finished. Shipping day was the only time he saw them. Although not their faces, they were consistent about keeping the masks on. There was a tall one and a short one. He would help them load boxes onto a primitive elevator. The building must've been an old factory, this was the only way up. A third person was up there working the pulley and rope driven platform. The two trusted him enough now to let him help with the boxes—it took a long time to be trusted and he knew he could use it to his advantage. Every day he told himself he would get out of here.

Until then he had to build ReeLs, and this took great care and attention, especially with the primitive tools he'd been given. He'd learned in a well equipped workshop so he knew he was spoiled.

He had to remain sane. This was important. He decided months ago, was it months?, that he would change the way ReeLs worked. He'd been thinking about it for a long time. His little tweaks in the past didn't compare, this would be a fundamental change. The ReeL would rely on organic routines, asyncopation, cognitive improvisation. Over time this would alter the viewer, it would make reality more interesting and ReeLs less interesting. Eventually nobody would want ReeLs anymore. One way or another he'd be free.

2019-02-28 13:02 fiction flash-fiction

Side Effects

She was in both places at the same time, he double checked. Was it a trick of the light? But then one of her waved at him. He waved back, acknowledging. The other her appeared confused — who was he waving to? He felt guilty. The first her observed his reaction and responded with bewilderment. A celestial condition, he wondered, something quantum. He'd read a book about it, once, about the fickle guts of the universe. We might be gone in an instant, he remembered thinking. Maybe, he supposed, instead of disappearing we repeatedly reappear. Just as likely. How many more of her will there be? There would have to be changes. Two, fine, but three or more? The grocery bill. The small car. What about sleeping arrangements? It could become awkward quickly. And what about more than four? What if this were a kind of exponential situation? Two, then four, then eight, sixteen, and so on. Soon the world would be populated by her. The resources of civilization would be strained then buckle. He glared, squinting, as if trying to ascertain the potential for splitting the divisional substrate, powered by fuel of some random snag in quantum fabric. He looked out across the courtyard, a chorus of instantiation, looking to his left he saw an epoch of himself, arranged like a corner of mirrors, self-reflecting. Nothing could be done. He took her by the hand and then the other, he introduced them. They would muddle through these new conditions as best they could.

2019-02-24 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Roots

Millr took out the second ReeL, placed it down and opened it.

Then he was somewhere outside, but he couldn't see very far because of fog. No—it was smoke. He smelled smoke. Was it a forest fire? It tasted like that. It wasn't nighttime yet, he could make out a pale circle of sun on the horizon. But it would be night soon.

He heard two things. In front of him he heard the roar of fire. It was large enough to suck in air, he could feel it, whipping flames and bursts of wind. It must be a large, he thought. And behind him he heard voices, farther away at first, then closer. He couldn't hear what they were saying but he could hear a tone of urgency. He waited, assuming he was supposed to meet them to advance the story.

A moment later out of the haze he saw three people approach. Two men and a woman, sweating, wearing t-shirts or bandanas over their faces. One of the men was bare-chested. They were moving quickly. When they saw Millr one of them said "Hey! Don't just stand there, come on!" leading him along.

A first person ReeL. That's an unusual choice, Millr thought, except for porn and retros. All those decades of the same, repetitive games people had gobbled up had created low expectations, any deviance from the format would be met with disappointment. He expected this one to deviate. Like the first ReeL this too had something special and substantive that he noticed immediately. It wasn't merely production values, he thought, there was a distinct aura of subversion and anxiety. He couldn't place it, he didn't know how it was achieving this, but it drew him in. He felt compelled to follow these people.

They went ahead of him, almost running. The temperature was rising. "Why are we going towards the fire?" he yelled. They ignored him.

Suddenly out of the haze a burning Shrub crop staggered forward, moving obscenely, lurching, while fire burned away the upper half. It made a disturbing wheezing noise, like it was painfully gasping for air. He wasn't sure which crop this was, but he assumed it was one of the lesser known, dangerous species that could be found deep in the countryside.

He moved out of the way. The shambling, burning mass stumbled forward a few feet more then collapsed, exuding a burst of sparks.

He'd lost sight of the men and woman, but he heard shouting nearby. He ran towards the voices. Figures emerged out of the smoke, there were people standing in a circle around another plant, this one different than the last, taller, at least ten feet tall. It had a large, thick stalk ending in a flanged opening, out of which hung a vine-like appendage. Without warning the vine whipped around in an arc, creating a snapping sound and catching one of the people on the side of the head with a loud thwack. The person grunted and was thrown to the ground, unconscious. "Look out!" the others yelled.

Each person was holding something—a pitch fork, a spear-like piece of fencing, a long pointed shovel, a machete, an old pole saw. The people adjusted themselves, tightening their circle around the plant. Without a word, or seemingly any other coordination, they rushed forward, closing the circle and attacking the plant with the various implements. The plant struggled. The whip-like tentacle quivered and flailed, but the attackers were too close for it to be effective. They struck, hacked, and cut into the plant, chopping away parts of it, skewering other areas. The people acted silently with oddly precise violence. The plant made no sound. Soon it stopped moving.

The circle relaxed, people backing away then disbanding. He saw them fade into the smoke. He followed one of them as well as he could given how little he could reliably see. He heard more shouting from various directions. He went towards an outburst, wondering if this were another scene like the last. He knew that if the makers of the ReeL were good they would add sufficient variation to keep him interested. And he was interested. He found himself breathing heavily, his heart was pounding.

But he couldn't locate the source of the voices, he was ascending a hill and the smoke was clearing.

That's when he saw her. She was huge, a dozen times the size of a normal person. She was immediately recognizable, but it couldn't be her. She was made of leaves and sticks, she was constructed from hay bales and ears of corn. There were squash and soybeans, there were tomatoes and grapes and hops and cannabis. Her hair was great rolling swaths of seeding grasses. Her arms and legs were covered in bark. Her eyes were pools of clear water topped by beds of flowers. And birds flew around her, pecking occasionally, hovering sentinels. As she stepped forward slowly she became part of the soil, it merging and transforming into fertile land, tendrils of growth spreading out from each point of contact.

He saw more of her, copies of her—he saw maybe twenty along the horizon. They were moving slowly in the same direction across the landscape, towards the Shrub citadel, the gigantic mound of alien vegetation that punctured the Earth. And he saw fields around it burning, Shrub fields.

2019-02-05 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Friendly

Willm knew he was close to the trailer park because of the smell of rubbish. Since it was comparatively cramped, all the normal things saved and composted, the collected refuse, was piled, scattered and hoarded in great quantities and in close proximity. The inhabitants of the town, many whose grandparents had also lived here, loved the odor because it reminded them of their abundance of resources.

Willm reached the edge of town and was greeted by a half dozen scrawny barking dogs. One might nip at him but it was only bluster. He saw a thin column of black, acrid smoke in the distance, probably someone melting something down. You weren't supposed to do that, the Shrubs didn't like it—at least that's what the provisional government claimed. To his left was a cluster of small log buildings, right at the edge of a sparse forest that they were probably cut from a generation ago. This is where the trailer people did their town meetings, their tax collection, their dispensing of rudimentary justice. In front of him was a level plot of land with a patchwork of muted colors from a couple hundred trailers that had been repaired and re-repaired over the decades. A few people moved around, coming or going. Nobody paid attention to him other than the dogs who had gone from territorial to excitedly jumping and tail wagging.

He was here to see Bug. He knew where Bug lived because when they were little their parents were friends. At least Willm assumed Bug still lived here. Since they both started doing business in ReeLs, they didn't hang out anymore, they met at different places to do business but that was it. This is what it must feel like to be an adult, he thought.

Willm walked down and around the thin streets that once had meandering electric carts but now was traveled by foot and bicycles. He remembered where Bug's trailer was, his memory was pretty good with things like that. He found it quickly. The trailer hadn't changed much—the miscellaneous, old lighting was still strung around the edges of the roof. Bug's father put up Christmas lights one year and never took then down, over the years adding to it, savoring the municipal notoriety it gave him. On the free side and at the small frontage of the trailer there was a common mix of detritus and gardening. Half of it looked like marijuana, the other half maybe badly tended vegetables. He didn't remember Bug's folks being big smokers. The steps and the sides of the trailer were bright green with mildew, several of the windows were cracked and fixed with tape that was now dirty and peeling.

As he went up the steps he listened but didn't hear any activity inside. There was a large spiderweb and a single fat spider in the corner of the awning. He knocked on the door and waited. Then he heard someone inside moving. The door opened half way and he saw Elln, Bug's mother. She was older of course. Her eyes were red and she looked puffy like she was smoking and drinking a lot. They stared at each other for a moment.

"Does Bug still live here?" he asked.

"Do I know you?" Elln squinted at him.

Did she normally wear glasses? He couldn't recall. Bug wore big, thick glasses, always had, and this combined with his bony, ant-like skull was how he acquired the nickname. Willm assumed poor vision must've been genetic.

"My name is Willm, you knew my parents..."

"Oh!" she said, eyes widening with recognition. "I was so sorry to hear about your parents!" She flung the door open wider. "Come in!" She grabbed his arm lightly, pulling him into the trailer.

"Thanks."

"You want a beer? Local, real good," she asked.

"OK."

He knew the beer they made in town, it was strong. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it had a whiff of burning tires.

She reached for a tall, already opened bottle close to the edge of a cluttered kitchen counter. Willm sat at a round table near the window. He carefully pushed at a pile of dishes, paper, and accumulation of little bits and pieces to make room for the beer glass. The place was a mess.

"How's..." Willm suddenly struggled to recall Bug's father's name, "...Jm."

She poured obviously flat beer into two glasses, one dirty, one clean.

"Jm moved out years ago," she didn't miss a beat. "And Bug moved out recently. So it's just me now." She smiled at him wearily. "But tell me about you. You've grown up!"

She sat at the table opposite him, also pushing stuff out of the way. "Hey, you want some weed? Goes with the beer."

"No, thanks, the beer is good," he said. The beer wasn't good.

"So what are you doing with yourself these days?" A wisp of graying hair fell down and she pushed it back behind her ear.

"I do a little business, here and there," he said.

"I see. You work with Bug sometimes?"

She called him Bug too, he thought, calling him by his real name, Alln, would've been strange at this point.

"Un-hunh. You know where he's living now?" he asked.

Under the table he shifted, moving one leg up, bumping into her.

"Oh, sorry," he said. He blushed slightly.

"That's OK Willm," she said, smiling. "I always asked Bug what he did, and he would say the same thing, here and there, that kind of stuff."

Under the table she moved her foot forward next to his, touching with a calculated pressure. He didn't move. He coughed.

"Bug lives pretty far outside of town now," she said. "I don't know if it's a commune or what," she added, "artists I guess. I think they're artists of some sort."

The pressure of her foot against his increased. He coughed again then raised the glass and drained the rest of the beer hoping it would prompt her.

"Want some more beer?" she asked.

"Yeah, that'd be great," he said.

She stood, reaching over to grab his glass but without taking her eyes off of him, then she went to the counter where the bottle was. He stood too, moving quickly over to the counter in pretense of politeness, but really to be closer to the door, ready to leave. She smiled at him.

"So do you know where they live out there? Bug and the rest of them," he asked.

"Well I've never been there," she said, pouring out the last of the beer which looked syrupy with yeast, "but it's a place out by the Shrub fields. I don't know why they'd be out there, it would give me the creeps." Then she lowered he voice, "I was told sometimes you can hear them talking, the plants I mean."

"You don't know which house do you?"

"You're too young to remember, but I'm pretty sure it's what used to be Ynder Farms. The family disappeared around the time of Surrender."

"Probably got melted by Shrubs for those fields," he said.

"Probably, yeah," she said. She looked a little sad, staring at the beer in her glass.

"OK, it was great seeing you again," Willm said, slugging down the rest of the beer and suppressing a grimace.

"Aw, gotta go? You sure you don't want any weed?" she said.

"I'm good, thanks."

"Come here," she said. She held out her arms. Reluctantly he stepped in and she hugged him, saying "All grown up." He let her strenuously squeeze him for a few moments then he shifted his weight forcing her to let go.

2019-02-03 15:00 fiction flash-fiction

Recruiter

When he woke up in the middle of the night the devil was there, on the couch.

"I was thirsty. I had a strange dream in which I was very thirsty. So I decided to get up and get a drink of water," he said.

The devil nodded, acknowledging this as a reasonable course of action.

"What are you doing here?" he asked the devil.

The devil was red of course, but always a paler shade than he'd expected. And there were the horns — but they were understated, even manicured. He wasn't wearing a robe, or intimidating, perhaps suggestive leather accessories, but quite ordinary clothes. The pants were slim, in a tan, cotton twill. The shirt was a quiet checkered pattern with the top two buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up to the upper third of his forearms. He was wearing an apple watch. The shoes were Clarks. And the socks, which he saw about an inch worth, were predictably scarlet.

"I'm just checking in. Touching base," the devil said. "Have you considered the opportunity?" he asked.

"I'm not sure it's a good for for me right now," he replied.

"I hear you, I hear you," the devil said, "although the perks are amazing. Really top notch."

"Yes, so you've said."

The devil shrugged. "I mean, you don't have to take my word for it, just ask Lewis, in your bathroom. He'll tell you."

"Lewis? In my bathroom?"

"Right," the devil nodded enthusiastically, "in your bathroom. You had to piss anyway, yes? While you're up? I figured you and Lewis could talk about the position, about the culture. No matter what you decide it never hurts to keep networking, right?"

"Yeah," he said.

The devil sat and smiled. He did have to urinate. He could also get a drink from the bathroom sink, although this is something he generally eschewed, but given the circumstances he'd make an exception. He walked a few feet to the bathroom, reflexively hitting the light switch without looking as he stepped in. There was Lewis, he assumed, standing in the bathtub.

"Hi, I'm Lewis," Lewis said.

"Hello Lewis. You don't mind if I pee a bit do you?" he said, lifting the seat.

"No, no. Go right ahead," Lewis said cheerily.

He began to pee.

"I mean, look, I don't want to seem like I'm trying to sell this to you," Lewis said.

"OK," he replied.

"I'm not the kind of person who normally tries to recruit people," Lewis added.

"Sure," he said. He urinated more forcefully.

"But this is really a unique opportunity. I had my doubts too, but it worked out great. Nice folks, smart folks, very supportive. And the perks–"

"Yes, the perks are amazing," he said, finishing up then hitting the handle.

2019-01-25 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Star

The seeds came out of the bag with a pop. She sawed back and forth with the bow, which spun the distributor at the bottom of the bag. It was inelegant, she thought, this walking and swaying, like a drunk, invariably she moved her head with the sawing of the bow, like she was listening to some invisible ground song. She would glance occasionally at the seeds as they landed. Soon they would sprout, maybe, if they weren't eaten by birds, if they fell onto amenable land, with sufficient sun, not too much, and the right amount of water. It was a matter of odds, put down enough seeds over enough time and the plants would grow, they would grow everywhere. Once there were plenty of them, across every town, lot, vacant road, and next to every Shrub field, then they would flower. Not until then.

She started to sweat with exertion, pausing to tie a bandanna over her head. Her canteen was almost empty. In the distance she saw the rusty carapace of a house roof. She'd ask them for water, if anyone was there, she'd done it before. Likely the house was abandoned. She was pretty far out, the town was miles behind her, she didn't know how many. She was always careful. But she believed there was a recognition of her ordained task, that down deep, wherever it was people knew these things, they would realize her and she would be safe.

She slung her seed bag back and started across a rolling, wild field. As she got closer she sensed activity, although not yet seeing anyone, she vaguely felt movement, the way birds and cows can feel true north, she thought. Her mother taught her this, her mother-sister, the older her, the other her.

There they were—she saw people come around the corner of the house. She was some distance away, and she crouched behind a low bush. The people were a little older than her, but young. There were six of them and they each carried a piece of equipment—black and boxy things, a few with dangling wires like spilled innards. This was technology of some sort, it had to be expensive since nobody made that stuff anymore. They were taking these things into the house. Then a seventh person came around the corner. He was wearing a contraption. It was a kind of black cage around his torso with bars that went up above his head and curved outwards, each terminating in a small glass orb. Instead of walking into the house he stood for a moment, turning, looking out over the fields. She remained absolutely still. She wondered what he was doing, was he looking for her? No, he moved on, walking in an arc around the house. He was looking, in a special way, technological witchcraft maybe.

When he passed she quickly moved out from behind the bush to a corner by the porch and the slanted, rotting basement doors. She heard voices down there.

She was thirsty. She looked for a spigot on this side of the house but didn't see one. She'd have to chance going into the house, there was probably a bathroom near the front, there usually was. She'd be in and out before anyone knew she was there. It would be easier that way, they seemed busy.

The front door was cracked open. The handle and lock were broken a long time ago. The house had a familiar smell like most of them did—emptiness, mildew, mice, maybe the tang of a dead thing. This one wasn't bad though, and it might not even leak much. But why were these people here? If they could afford tech like that then they had to be rich. Or maybe they stole that stuff. Perhaps she should've been scared, but she wasn't.

There was a bathroom, the door didn't open all the way, she squeezed in. She took off her old army-green canteen from the place on her belt. There was a slight sloshing sound from the tiny amount of water left in the heavy plastic container. She looked at the sink. If she turned on the faucet they would hear it in the basement. But, she thought, they would assume this was their friend, the one that went around the side of the house.

The window next to her in the bathroom looked out across a Shrub field, closest to where she was seeding. She was seeding along its edge, that's what she always tried to do. In the Shrub field she saw tall, studded stalks ending in clusters of large, sharp leaves. There was no comparison with anything from the area—in fact there was no comparison with anything from Earth. These plants were from somewhere else, maybe where the Shrubs came from, no one knew. People had eventually come to identify the purposes of Shrub field, there were different kinds—one species generates power, one generates fruit, but this one nobody really understood. She knew that in the autumn, before the Shrubs took the crop away overnight quickly and quietly, these plants uprooted themselves and milled around in groups making a low, wheezing sound, as if they were compressing air in anticipation. It was only then that they were dangerous. If you happened into the field you would be cut to pieces by the razor sharp, stiff leaves which they collectively lowered to protect themselves.

If the farmer and his family who used to live here weren't killed by protein bombs, they certainly would've fled after the Shrubs started growing their crops here. That doesn't explain these people, she thought, why were they in the house?

She turned the tap on slowly, hearing gurgling from pipes below. Water suddenly evacuated from the faucet, then became a predictable stream. She waited a moment for the water to clear the pipes then she put the canteen under it. When it was full she capped it and turned off the tap which squeaked.

She moved to leave the way she came in. She paused. She could hear voices in the basement through the door in the hallway. Creeping up next to the door she leaned in and listened. They were setting up equipment. Hand me that wire, someone said. That doesn't go there, someone else said.

She walked down the hall and left the way she came in. She'd go back to seeding. When she was past the stairs and walking towards the brush she'd previously hidden under, she heard a voice behind her. She turned.

"Hey you!" It was the guy wearing the black metal cage.

She didn't say anything, she stared, feeling the fresh weight of the full canteen hanging on her belt.

"I know who you are, you're that girl, the resistance farmer," he said. He flipped a couple of latches on the cage and took it off himself more nimbly than she expected.

"Yes," she said. She didn't move any closer. There was no point in lying, everybody knew who she was.

"See this thing here?" He crouched down pointed at the black contraption. "Know what it is?"

"No," she said.

"It's a rig, to make ReeLs," he said.

"Oh," she said. She didn't know what that was, although she'd heard the word before.

He stood there smiling, looking at her, and said "How would you like to star in a ReeL?"

2019-01-12 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Market

"There has to be more than one girl. It can't be the same one we saw here in the market years ago, she was so young," Taryn said.

Millr straightened some of the things on the shelves behind them. All of it antique. Radios, miscellaneous appliances, a few tools like drills and popular repair kits, manual typewriters, some cleaned up, early era electronics, eye glasses, and an array of worn, weathered boots. If you wanted a ReeL, which many people did, you had to ask, all of that was done in the back.

"I can't explain it, it's her though," Millr said.

"I'm not disagreeing with you," Taryn said.

"Maybe mothers and daughters? I'm at a loss to explain it. You remember her, at the market, with the bag, the what do you call it—"

"A seed fiddle. A newer kind of seed fiddle anyway," Taryn said.

"And there was a bounty on her," Millr said.

"I'm surprised she showed up here, everybody knew she was wanted," Taryn said, "maybe she needed to be seen."

"I'm even more surprised she showed up in a ReeL," Millr added.

"Where'd you get it from?" she asked.

"Usual place. That kid Willm. I guess he has a new source. He seemed excited about how much he could get for them," Millr said.

"There's more than one?" Taryn asked.

"Yeah, but I haven't brought it in yet, I wanted to see how the first one did to figure out if I could charge more," Millr said.

"And you haven't watched it yet?"

"Not yet," he said.

Millr and Taryn heard a large crash, then the descending clattering of objects settling. They stuck their heads out of the kiosk, looking down the lane which was crowded with shops on both sides. Deputies were hovering over the contents of several shelves of stuff from Mr Wlkrsun's place. The sheriff stood in front of Mr Wlkrsun, between him and the deputies, with his hands on his hips, his uniform a bit grubby, a bit ill fitting, his gun belt drooping drastically, held up perhaps only by stubbornness.

"They're early this month," Millr said.

Taryn groaned. "How much will it cost this time?" she said.

They could hear the sheriff progressing up the lane, small rustling, a few tense words but no more torn down shelves.

"Millr," the sheriff said as he and his deputies came to his kiosk, the last on the end, before they would proceed up the opposite lane.

"Dck," Millr said. He'd known Dck since high school. They didn't get along then, and they didn't now, however time and age siloed their dislike of each other into relatively moderate exchanges. Dck never addressed Taryn, this would've jeopardized this sufficiency.

"Governor's undies are in a twist," Dck said.

"Well ain't that sumptin," Millr said.

"There's a ReeL going around that has people worried. Inflammatory. Anti-Shrub," Dck declared.

"An illegal ReeL?" Millr said, mocking surprise.

"You wouldn't happen to know where something like that comes from, would you Millr?"

"No sir, I would not." Millr slid a billfold across the counter towards the sheriff. Dck reached out with familiarity and confidence, examining the contents of the wallet. A deputy behind him yawned.

"Good man. I can always count on you Millr," the sheriff said, removing the bills and stuffing them into his pocket. "But let's just say, if I was the kind of guy distributing stuff that gets the governor agitated, I'd probably try to avoid it and go back to selling Heckle."

"That's good advice," Millr said.

The sheriff gave Millr a final noncommittal glance then summoned his deputies with a lazy wave and moved around the corner.

"He's going to start asking for more," Taryn said.

"Yup," Millr said.

"Because of that ReeL," Taryn added.

Millr said, "If it wasn't that, it would be something else, he won't change."

That was it, he thought, people needed to see the ReeL because it would change them. He was sure of this, but without precisely understanding why. Instinct, he supposed.

"You're not going to stop selling them are you?"

"Nope," he said.

2019-01-02 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Popular

"You got any ham today?" Willm asked.

"Yup," the owner said.

"Ham and cheese sandwich. Mustard. No mayo," Willm said.

"Good, we're out of mayo," she replied.

Finally, what has it been, two months? Willm thought. As he waited for his sandwich he heard the door open behind him but he didn't look around. Two men sat down, one on either side of him. He knew one better than the other.

"Willm," Mrko said.

Mrko was only slightly older than Willm but he got the sense that Mrko had lived hard. Mrko ran one of the smaller ReeL teams.

"And you know my associate Lrz," Mrko said, gesturing to the large man on the opposite side of Willm. Lrz said nothing, he did not smile.

Willm looked around nervously.

"Don't worry, don't worry, no exchange of goods today. We would never do business here. This is more of a social visit," Mrko said.

"Oh?" Willm said. The owner of the diner put a plate with a ham sandwich on it down in front of him. He looked at the sandwich with regret.

"Yeah," said Mrko, "so how's the ReeL trade these days—you sell stuff to that guy at the market? Millr?"

"That's right, Millr," Willm said.

"Newest ReeL is popular, very popular I hear," Mrko said. He ran his finger down the five or six items on the menu in front of him.

"Oh yeah? Didn't know that," Willm said, glancing sideways at Lrz, who remained expressionless.

"That's the word. Problem is, from my point of view anyway, is that it's not one of ours," Mrko was grinning.

Willm felt uncomfortable. Lrz reached over and picked up half of Willm's sandwich. Willm didn't look but he could hear Lrz biting and chewing.

"Lrz is hungry I guess," Marko said offhandedly. "I'd love to meet this new ReeL maker, something this popular. There are probably a ton of things I could learn from them. Who did you get the ReeL from?"

"Bug," Willm said after a brief pause. He considered lying, but realized it was futile. Mrko would find out eventually, and if Willm lied he'd get a bad rep. Everybody knew what everybody else was up to.

"Bug," Mrko repeated.

"Yeah I'm guessing he knows the makers, he seems to know a lot of people," Willm said, glancing down at his plate.

"He does. We know Bug too," Mrko said. He tapped the menu absentmindedly. "Well, thanks Willm. We'll ask Bug about this rising star. There aren't many of us that do this, you know? We've got to stick together."

Mrko stood, slapping Willm on the back. Lrz stood, and placed unfinished crusts from the sandwich back onto Willm's plate.

"Lrz thanks you for lunch," Mrko said. "Alright Willm, we'll see you soon I'm sure, have got some great stuff in the pipeline."

"OK, see you," Willm said.

After they left he mechanically ate the remaining half sandwich and paid. The owner raised her eyebrows at him.

He knew that ReeL was something special, just like he told Millr. The price would go up, maybe a lot. He wondered if he could find Bug before Mrko did. He'd see if there were any more ReeLs, he didn't have any idea about how quickly these new makers worked. And he wondered what Mrko would do. He had resources, maybe he'd buy all the new ReeLs that he thought were competition and sit on them. Certainly wouldn't be the first time something like that happened. But this one was special. Willm couldn't explain it. He wanted everybody to see it. He didn't want these kinds of ReeLs to disappear. He didn't know why it was important, but it was important.

Outside the diner he sat on the stairs and retied his sneakers, securing the laces tightly.

2018-12-31 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Machines

Millr lowered the heavy, slatted wooden partitions over the two exposed sides of his kiosk, then secured them with several thick, weighty iron locks. He was lucky to have gotten this kiosk at the end of the block—a triangular space where the two major foot paths merged. He'd won the space in the lottery, and he'd won the lottery by a very generous payment to the man running the lottery. Business was good.

He took a couple of small bags of trash and placed them in the cart attached to his bicycle. Everything would be reused, recycled or composted. He said goodnight to his neighbor who responded without turning around, thrusting a waving hand up into the air.

There were plenty of shops that stayed open at night. The market lit up with paper cages full of fireflies and strings of recycled diodes that lacked any consistent hue. Big, graphic banners offered food and drink, or semi-legal repair jobs, or black market recombinations.

You will not create more machines. The third Shrub law.

Recombiners brazenly ignored the thousands of pages of guidelines by the provisional government about how to follow the law. Their argument, when they were occasionally arrested, was that nothing new was invented, nothing new came into existence, they were merely swapping, repurposing, reconditioning. And yet there wasn't much they couldn't make if the parts were available.

The slabs that ReeLs were put on were different—complex micro-circuitry built by a multi-national before Surrender and designed with every intention of thwarting reverse engineering. But it was only a matter of time, Millr thought, before the Recombiners make something that works out of old broken toasters and antique handsets. It won't be pretty but he bet somebody would get it done. Then what would he do? He made a nice income this way, everybody came to him, maybe he'd have to start over, maybe he'd have to negotiate with the Recombiners and that little shit Willm. That kid was viciously smart, and maybe nuts, but that could just be age talking. He didn't know what would happen, but he knew he had to expect change. Twenty years ago he thought he had it all planned out, then the Shrubs happened.

Millr pulled his bike, hauling the trash, up to the market bins. This was part of the agreement of market business, you gave them your trash and they got everything out of it they could. Trash was gold. There was always someone watching over the bins, the people in charge doled this job out as a coveted reward to the low level denizens of the system. It was an easy job and you could get first pick.

Today Blly was the guy watching over the bins. Blly had no front teeth and consequently tended to spit on you if you were standing closely, particularly if he was worked up by any number of constant inequities.

"Millr," Blly said.

"Blly," Millr said.

"That new ReeL, Millr," Blly said.

"Yes, Blly," said Millr.

"Anymore like that?" Blly asked.

"Oh, I don't know, I get what I can. You like it?" Millr said.

"Yeah. I like it. A lot. You seen it?" Blly asked.

"A couple minutes. Pretty busy, can't see them all," Millr said.

"A lot. I liked it a lot. You should see it," Blly said.

"OK Blly, I will."

Millr emptied the cart with Blly's help.

As he rode home he thought about this brief exchange. Blly wasn't, how you'd say, a connoisseur. He preferred guffawing at Heckle, those short ReeLs with dumb, repetitive jokes or footage of people doing painfully stupid things. Often Heckle was simply a rearrangement of stuff already in other Heckles. They were very popular. Millr was surprised Blly had this latest ReeL, he was even more surprised Blly liked it enough to say something. Millr told himself he would watch the entire thing when he got home.

As he neared the outer edge of the market he had to navigate through clusters of incoming crowds. Night people coming in, day people going out. He walked his bicycle and tried to keep the pedals from snagging on other bicycles or peoples' bags. Yeah, business was good, plenty of people came to the market. When he was a child there used to be shopping malls and his memory of them was of strange, vast sterility, places that were abandoned financially but had yet to become actually decrepit. You could wander in the large, climate controlled halls and hear the echo of your own footsteps, maybe punctuated by an electronic ping from a lonely, nearby machine. These places would've disappeared one way or another, Shrubs or no Shrubs, he thought.

Once the market faded behind him he could get some more speed on the bike, feel the wind in what was left of his hair. There were copious properties on either side of him, empty, vines and trees having taken over the land and the buildings so that they looked like noble, ancient creatures, moving slower than could be perceived, towards spawning grounds somewhere far up the street.

The buildings thinned out and there were fields. Probably houses were once here, he thought, but now the land was used to grow food. He passed a few then turned off onto his road.

At the front of his own house was ample evidence of at least three unfinished projects. He saw Taryn in the back, moving compost. Trash was gold.

He went into the house and put his bag down. He'd traded for a decent bottle of wine and he opened it. He had work to do, to prepare things for market tomorrow, but he was eager to see the ReeL, the newest one he'd gotten from Willm that Blly liked. He took the bottle of wine to the basement. In the back, next to his work bench, he stooped down and removed a section of the uneven flooring. Inside were dozens of ReeLs, leaning together neatly. He extracted one at nearest edge. Yup, that was it. He always copied the latest ReeLs that came through, for himself. Copying was relatively straightforward. You placed the source at the bottom, then an identically sized, proprietary copier slab on top of it, which was black, not gray. Then the destination slab was put on top of that. Press the appropriate corners and the top slab will match the bottom one—whatever ReeL that was on top will be replaced, gone. Copier slabs were uncommon. He had two. One he kept locked in the kiosk, the other here. He constantly worried about losing them or them breaking.

Of course the harder part was producing the ReeLs in the first place. You needed special, old, pre-Surrender equipment for that. It was still a mystery to him who did actual production. He knew there were three, maybe four, crews that produced the black market ReeLs. The ReeLs created by the government weren't worth consideration, they were consistently terrible, laughably awful.

He placed the ReeL on the table, turned it on and sat back. He'd seen the first minute or two when Willm gave it to him. His initial impression was negative because the lighting was so dark, he preferred ReeLs that were big and bright. But as he watched, there was something about this one, a closeness, a richness. It quickly drew him in. Perhaps it was relative contrast but the few colors here were intense. He suspected immediately that they had shot this with a different rig. A couple minutes after this, he was positive. His pulse quickened. Where had they gotten it? Was it one of the old indie rigs or had they actually figured out how to make their own? Visually it was more impressive than anything he'd seen in forever. And nobody else would've seen anything like this in decades. He remembered the early ReeLs, the ones that were art, the great ones, but that kid Willm wouldn't know about anything like those, they were all gone, almost all gone. Only the most insipid, crowd pleasing junk had survived on the dwindling set of hardware, an unfortunate devolution.

The atmosphere here is dense, I can taste it, I can feel the texture of it. And where was it set? It looked like they were in a Shrub field. A power field. The rocking motion of the tall, huge solar leaves created an oscillating effect, giving it a disquieting impression of being underwater. Things swooshed, back and forth. The sound, he realized, was loud, but in the background almost pure droning.

We followed a girl through the field, at dusk. Was she running from someone? There was an urgency in her movement, she weaved and dodged. She came up out of the field onto a hill. The ascent had a revelatory feeling. In the distance he could see a Shrub citadel—the green, jagged, amorphous mound likely a hundred feet high at its peak, as if a giant gardener had dumped a huge pile of sticks and leaves on the horizon. Parts of it glistened with wetness. Other parts seemed to move slowly, a time-lapse of creeping vines, the slow motion of an opening flower which you're internally aware of but hesitant to declare as motion. It changed, it shifted.

The girl stood there. We were standing to one side of her, but slightly behind. So far we haven't seen her face. The human dwellings around the citadel stretch almost to the hill. The girl raises her arms, holding them to the sky, which has become darkly clouded. In the distance we can see something on the Shrub citadel. A spark. Then fire. The citadel begins to burn.

When the ReeL ended Millr realized he was covered in sweat. He heard Taryn's voice at the top of the stairs.

"You down there? Awful quiet," she said.

"Yeah," Millr said.

"You OK?" she asked.

"Yeah," Millr said.

"Ah. OK. Really?" she asked.

"I think you should see this," Millr said.

2018-12-26 14:43 fiction flash-fiction

Beastie

Directly above the metal edge he saw a single moist, dark eyeball, set in a broad, furry cranium. The truck pulled away rapidly, acceleration caused the eye to reflexively widen.

He didn't know where they took the beasties. They were harmless really — massive, shaggy, passive creatures. Except that they started appearing in huge numbers. Certain areas of the city were brought to a complete halt. Major roadways closed down. They would stand there, thousands of them, calmly, still, stubbornly resistant to any common coercion. Scientists said they were a new species, but they didn't understand why or how the beasties had gone unnoticed until now, or why they were suddenly drawn to major population centers, highways, office parks, shopping centers. Anywhere, it was said, they were most unwanted and most in the way.

Collectively they emitted a sound in a subtle frequency that had peculiar effects on some individuals. A tranquilizing reaction. Almost everyone could agree that the purr of the herds was pleasant, like that serene fugue you might slip into as a child, while you absentmindedly hum along in the same tone as a mundane appliance like a vacuum cleaner. An audio simpatico maybe, a lazy resonance.

He watched the truck pull away. Where would they be brought? The public distaste for violence against the beasties was clear. So often municipalities would, at night, laboriously ship them out. They didn't resist. He wondered, would they be loaded onto ships and sent to a distant, barren island? There were too many of them now for this, there were more and more every month. He was drawn to them.

He decided instantly, impulsively, to find out where they were going. Several more trucks were lined up for departure. He ran to the back of the line and the back of the last truck. He pulled himself up the gate and then squeezed in over the lip. He could tell they were close, all around him. They were warm and the fur smelled like wet grass. He pressed himself against the side of the truck and the shoulder of a one of them. He couldn't move or twist upwards to see the face above him but he soon felt a wide, rough tongue gently licking the top of his head. With a jolt the truck drove forward.