Try, Try Again

When he walked into the apartment, his roommate looked up from his book.  “How did it go?”

He slumped into one of the armchairs.  “She broke up with me.”

His roommate looked puzzled.  “Wow.  Serious déjà vu.  How many times have we had this conversation before?”

“I’ve lost count.  Maybe a dozen?”

“A dozen?!”

He shrugged.  “Give or take.”

“You’ve gone back about a dozen times, and each time she breaks up with you?  I think it’s time to take the hint and move on.”

“I almost had it right,” he protested.  “I could tell.  She nearly didn’t break up with me.  I think I can fix it on the next go round.”

“I don’t have the benefit of remembering our previous conversations like you do, so you’ll have to indulge me.  How many times have you said that?”

“Don’t remember.”

“Uh huh.  So you’ve lived through the same day over and over trying to stop this one woman from breaking up with you.  How long do you intend to do this?”

“As long as it takes.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It’s not like I’m wasting time.  I can do this over and over and never lose a day.”

“But you never move forward!  You plan on just staying stuck here?”

“I’m getting tired of this same argument.”

“Quit going back, then.”

“What’s the point of being able to relive a day if you don’t try to fix your mistakes?”

“But you haven’t fixed anything.  Whatever you’re doing isn’t working.  Maybe it’s bigger than just this day.  Don’t you think it might be time to let go?”

He sighed.  Was it time to give up on this and let time move forward?  “Maybe you’re right.”

“Just go to sleep.  Let today go and see what tomorrow brings.”

“I suppose so.  Well, I guess I should go to bed before I change my mind.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.  See you tomorrow.”  His roommate grinned.

He smiled back to acknowledge the jab and walked down the hall to his bedroom.

*     *     *

When he walked into the apartment, his roommate looked up from his book.  “How did it go?”

He slumped into one of the armchairs.  “She broke up with me.”

Smash

Detective Daniel Simmons hung up the phone and stood up.  His partner, Raymond Mercer, followed suit.  Ray didn’t need to be told; the look on Dan’s face was all he needed.  Only after they were in the car, with Dan driving, did Ray say anything.

“So let me guess.  The blue giant again?”

“I think they’re calling him Smash this week.”

“Smash?  Really?  Haven’t these journalists ever read a comic book?  What kind of superhero name is Smash?”

“He’s not a hero.”

“Come on, Dan.  I know he’s not by the book, but you can’t deny that he has helped us out.”

“I may not have read as many comics as you have, Ray, but even I know that it never ends well for average citizens when freaks like this guy come to town.  They tend to attract other freaks.  Before too long, they’re destroying the city.  I don’t care about vigilantes, but people are going to get hurt.”

“So you’ve said before.  I think you’re worrying for nothing.”

“I hope you’re right.”

They pulled up in front of an apartment building.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

“So where’s the scene?”

Dan pulled the key out of the ignition and opened his door.  “Inside.  I forgot to tell you that this isn’t about Smash.  Teenager.  Some kind of accident.”

“Oh.”  The disappointment was obvious in Ray’s voice.

Inside the building, they were met by the building’s manager.  “This morning, a couple of tenants complained about noises and a smell coming from the basement.  When I went to check…  Well, I better show you.  This way.”

He was nervous and twitchy, but that wasn’t unusual when someone who isn’t used to it confronts death.  The detectives followed him down a flight of stairs.  A foul odor became obvious before they took five steps.  It smelled like a high school chemistry lab that was in dire need of some cleaning.  At the bottom of the stairs, an open door was clouded by a thin veil of haze.

Dan tried to hold his nose against the stench.  “What was he doing down here?”

The manager shrugged.  “You tell me.”

Inside the room, beakers and test tubes littered a make-shift workbench.  Several of them were broken.  Others contained unrecognizable fluids of various unnatural colors.  Notes were scattered about the area.  Legs on the floor protruded past a shelving unit.  Dan went to investigate the body.

Despite the number of dead bodies he had seen in his career, he wasn’t prepared for this.  A teenage boy lay on the floor, but half of his torso was misshapen and colored a bright shade of blue.  An expression of pain contorted his face.  Whatever had happened, death had not come quickly enough.

“Dan, you’d better look at this.”

“Same here, partner.”  Thankful for a reason to turn away, he headed back to Ray who was looking through the notes.  “Be warned, it isn’t pretty.”

“I bet.”  Ray shoved a paper in his face.

“What does it say?”

“Just look.”

At the top of the page, in a very careful, handwritten lettering, was written: “Recreating the Blue Giant: Attempt #4.”

Dan looked up at Ray.  “This means…”

Ray nodded.  “Yep.  The kid was trying to make himself into another blue giant.  He has notes on how the guy we know was transformed.”

“How does he know that?”

“Looks like a bunch of speculation from the internet.  Different crackpot, pseudo-scientific theories.  He was testing them out, one by one.”

“So all these chemicals…?”

“We better call a hazmat team right away.”

Dan looked around at the laboratory equipment.  Had he and Ray been exposed to something toxic?  For that matter, what about the other tenants in the building?

“Still think he’s a hero, Ray?”

The Storyteller (part six)

“That is not how I remember the story,” Ara began after they had reached the fire.

“Perhaps it loses something in my telling,” Aaron replied.  They sat a few feet apart, each on their own bench.  He could not guess what she would do after catching him trying to escape.

“Perhaps,” she said thoughtfully.  “Though I often find a difference in stories is due to the purpose of the teller.”

“And what is my purpose?”

“I am not sure.  Maybe I’m wrong.”  She fell silent again.

Aaron did not want to speak, to interrupt her thoughts.  Trying to escape had been a risk, but now that it had failed, he found himself wondering what it would cost him.

The fire drove away the night chill, making it almost uncomfortably warm.  The rest of the village remained still and quiet.  Whatever was going to happen would be between just the two of them.  However, he had to remind himself that both Ara and the child had snuck up on him earlier, so it was very possible there were a dozen people nearby that he was unaware of.

“So you want to leave?”

Aaron felt his body relax a little.  Until that moment, he hadn’t realized how tense he had become waiting for her to speak.  At least now they could get to wherever this was going.

“Rather than wanting to leave, I’d say I didn’t want to die.”

“Die?” Ara sounded genuinely confused.

“Yes.  I thought you might kill me to protect the village from outsiders.  Isn’t that what you were trying to decide?”

Though she may have intended it to, Ara’s laugh did little to calm his fears.  “You are more paranoid than I am, and I didn’t think that was possible.”

Now it was Aaron’s turn to be confused.  “But Eres said that…”

“Eres?  Oh.  Yes.  I suppose she did.”

“Did what?”

“She told you this?”

“Yes.”  Aaron felt uncertain; there was no solid ground for him to get his footing.

“I wondered why she was so sure you would try to sneak away tonight.”  She was definitely not talking to him now, though he still saw no one else around.

But Aaron was still trying to find something that made sense and didn’t wait for her to come back to him.  “Why would she tell me such a thing if it weren’t true?  Why did she want me to sneak away?”

Ara turned back to him.  “Because I told her to.  I told her to enable your escape somehow, anyway.  I wanted to see what you would do.  When you ran into one of the children, I mean.  And I was impressed.  Mason is good at pretend, but he was actually interested in your story.

“The boy…?”

“Yes.  He was following you.  Told to approach you when it was a good time.  Oh, I suppose if you had tried to hurt him, I may have had you killed.  But if you had just walked away, we would have let you go.”

“So it was…  a test?”

“I suppose you could call it that.  I wanted to see how you’d act when you thought no one was watching.  To get a better sense of who you really are.”

“Did I pass?”

“What?”

“Your test.”

“Oh.  In those terms, you passed.  But it’s not just a yes or no.  After all, you never answered my question.  Do you want to leave?”

Aaron’s thoughts were racing.  Eres had misled him.  His life was not in danger?  That was still a little unclear, but he felt less threatened now.  Who were these people?  Why had Jonon even brought him here?

“What if I do?  Want to leave.”

“That’s simple enough.  I’d have Jonon take you out of the village, make sure he got you good and turned around, and then drop you off somewhere.”

“So you’d let me go?”

“Of course!  I didn’t ask you to come here.  If you want to depart, I won’t stop you.”

“And if I want to stay?”

Her face grew more serious, more reserved.  Leaving was easy, it seemed.  Staying would be more complicated.  “If you want to stay, we would have much to discuss.  I do not yet know if you fit in here.  Is it worth the resources it would cost?  But your time with Mason speaks well for you.  I am more inclined to say yes than I was earlier.  Do you want to stay?”

Aaron didn’t know the answer to that.  An hour ago, he was certain the people of this village wanted to kill him.  But that had been a trick, a lie.  Still, lying was not a great start to his introduction to the village.  Nor was being tied up and brought here against his will.  And Ara seemed happier to have him go.  Yet there was something appealing about this place.  He could not identify what it was, but his curiosity was roused, and he was not certain he wanted to leave it behind.

“I guess I don’t know.  Do you need an answer right now?”

The slightest of smiles tugged at the corners of Ara’s mouth.  “No.  No need to make long-lasting decisions tonight.  Sleep sounds like a welcome end to a very full day.  Will you stay in your room tonight?”

“You aren’t going to kill me?”

That prompted a chuckle.  “I promise, as long as you harbor no ill will towards the people of this village, you have nothing to fear here.”

“I suppose that will have to do.  And sleep does sound very appealing right now.”

 

The end, for now.

The Storyteller (part five)

Aaron slipped through the darkness, trying to remember the way out of the village.  The cloudy sky was a mixed blessing, as it made it easier to stay hidden and also harder for him to see his way.  What he could see he did not recognize, but he reasoned that if he kept going in one direction, he would eventually reach the wall.  Then he could follow that to the gate.  As long as he wasn’t discovered.

Jonon seemed nice enough, despite tying him up.  Eres, too, though he had only just met her.  But even if Ara was a good person, he did not want to risk her judgment.  He was not ready to give up on his life just yet, however difficult it might be.  So as soon as he could after nightfall, he snuck out.

The guard was distracted.  Or asleep.  Perhaps it was not a usual duty for him.  Whether because of that or something else, it had been a simple enough matter for Aaron to avoid him on his way from his hut.

In addition to the darkness, the silence around also cut both ways, though he suspected it worked against him more than for him.  He had to keep moving and do so quietly.  Others in the dark may be still, not giving him any clues as to their presence.  Yet he listened for sounds, and went slowly as he walked along unfamiliar paths.

He stayed near walls of buildings, touching them to help guide his steps.  After some time, he did hear sounds and began to drift in their direction.  As he drew closer, the sounds grew into the clear snap and pop of a fire.

Even more cautious now, he backed away from the noise to continue on his way.  Keeping the sounds on his left served as a guide to keep his bearings.  The village was bigger than he thought, but it couldn’t be much further.  Wishing for a bit more light, he kept moving.

“Who are you?”

Aaron’s heart stopped.  Behind him, he could just make out a child looking at him.  The boy was rubbing one eye as if he had just woken.  Aaron was grateful he was alone, but what should he do?  So many options spun through his head, most of which he quickly dismissed.  But he also could not let this child give him away.

The boy perked up a bit.  “Are you the storyteller Jonon brought back?”

“I guess I am.”

“Are you going somewhere?”

If only he could guess what the boy would do, Aaron might have had some idea how to react.  Were the children as fearful of outsiders as the adults?  Yet the boy seemed excited by the prospect of a storyteller.  Perhaps that was a way out of this.

“Do you like stories?”

The boy nodded, a big smile on his face.

Aaron sat down and gestured that the boy should follow suit.  This was a risk, staying in one place, but so was every other option.  “We need to stay quiet, so we don’t wake anyone else, but I can tell you a story.”

An even bigger smile.

“Many years ago, long before you were born, human beings wanted to unite the moon and Earth.”

“Why?”

“There are many reasons that have been given.  Some suggest that one village sought a weapon to defeat another.  Others believe one man was trying to win the love of a woman.  I like to think it was curiosity and a desire to learn.”

“Oh.”

“Whatever the reason, one man set out to reach the moon.  He tried many times to make the journey, but each time ended in failure.  He had nearly given up when he was approached by a woman who said she could get him to his destination.”

“She could?  What did she want?”

“Very good.  There is always a price, and there was this time, too.  It was small enough.  She simply required that nothing be brought back.  The moon was to be left intact.  He agreed.  She showed him how to use a special fire to launch himself away from the Earth.  The trip was spectacular, as the ground grew small below, and the moon loomed large ahead.  Finally on the moon, he explored for a day and a night, amazed at everything he saw.  When it was time to leave, he picked up a rock and put it in his pocket.  Upon his return, the woman knew immediately that he had broken his promise.  She took the rock from him, and forbade any human beings from ever visiting the moon again.”

“But why did he take the rock?”

“That’s enough, Mason,” another voice interjected.  Aaron turned to find Moth Ara standing behind him.  “Off to bed with you.  I need to speak with the storyteller now.”

“Yes, Moth.”  The child quickly stood and hurried off into the night.

“Aaron, please follow me.”

He moved slowly.  The thought of running tugged at him, but he shoved it away.  He doubted she would be alone.  Resigned, he walked behind her back towards the fire.