Etiquette

0361 - Medusa

The hissing of her serpents echoed in the stone chamber. He’d followed all the clues: the puzzle games on the open internet, the more difficult tests that came first through the dark web, and then, later, through the mail.

 

The mail! Seriously! Who even used the postal service anymore? Well, other than Amazon and politicians, anyway.

 

But after months – years – of Facebook friendship, Discord chats, and late-night text marathons, he’d worn her down.

 

“I want to meet you,” he’d said for the seventy-millionth time.

 

“Find me if you can,” she’d challenged.

 

And he had.

 

The legends said people froze because she was hideous. But she wasn’t. She was power embodied: sinuous beauty, with eyes that could penetrate your soul, legs that were long, toned, and tanned, and a voice that coiled itself around you almost as tangibly as a warm scarf.

 

He couldn’t help but stare.

 

“What, forgotten how to use your words?” she teased.

 

He could only nod dumbly.

 

She rolled her eyes. All of them. Not just those on her face. “It’s not polite to stare,” she said, a note of sadness coloring her tone. “Didn’t your grandmother ever warn you that your face would freeze that way?”

 

A drop of drool pooled in the corner of his mouth.

 

“She was right.”

TSR: For Your Health. For Your Future

TSR For Your HealthThe presenter is a woman in her late forties. Old enough to convey gravitas and command respect. Youthful-looking enough that appearance-oriented audience members will not read her as “old,” and tune out.

 

Her dark brown hair is pulled into a loose bun. Her make-up is subtle. Her pearl necklace and diamond-stud earrings are the epitome of taste

 

She is wearing a red sheath dress with a lab coat – a perfectly tailored lab coat – over it. Her black pumps have a conservative heel.

 

When she speaks, it is in a low-pitched soothing voice, halfway between a flight attendant and a psychotherapist.

 

The projected images on the screens to either side of her change to mirror her topic.

 

“TSR – Total Spine Replacement. For decades our orthopedists and neurologists have been working together to refine this process.”

 

“As so many projects did, it began with a spark. Our chief of R&D nearly lost his son in a car accident – that was before ground-cars were banned and replaced by CTG flitters. Cloud-to-ground vehicles are one life-saving mechanism.“

 

“TSR is another. “

 

“No longer will survivors of devastating accidents be relegated to years of pain management, rehab, braces, and mobility devices. No more will children born with severe spinal defects have to live with diminished capabilities and physical therapy.”

 

“With TSR we can replace the entire human spinal column, first replacing the main neural connections with retractable synthetics, which allow us to remove the spine as one unit.”

 

She continues, walking her audience through a procedure that looks awfully realistic for a computer model. (It is a computer model, right?)

 

“Finally, we complete the procedure with our Bio-Orthopedic Reintegration Geometrics machine. How many of you are Star Trek fans? Well, we are, too, but we promise: this BORG has nothing to do with assimilation.”

 

She holds for the expected laughter. “Clinical trials – human trials – are set to begin in two weeks, on rigorously vetted volunteer subjects. Thanks to TSR our patients will be walking, running, climbing – or just picking up their children – by Christmas.”

 

The lights come up. She favors the audience with a pleasant smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Thank you for coming today. I’ll take your questions now.”

 

Later, behind the curtains, she faces her superior. “It went well,” she says. “I think we’ll see increased numbers of volunteers. This group of physicians specializes in severe spinal trauma.”

 

“Excellent,” her superior responds. “I require nourishment. Join me for dinner; we will discuss the launch of phase two.”

 

The woman in red gives a nod, but her neck locks and she must lift her hands to straighten her head.

 

Her superior stares at her through slitted eyes. “Get that servo checked out. We can’t have you glitching during a presentation.”

 

The presenter’s eyes widen ever so slightly. But she gives the appropriate response: “By your command.”

 

Star-Crossed?

Naiad Spring via Flash Prompt“Hello, Naiad,” he chuckled. “How’s the water?”

It was the same greeting he offered every morning, as soon as her head broke the surface of the water.

And every morning, she gave the same response, “Jump in. See for yourself.” It might have seemed like a brush-off, save for the warmth in her voice and the flirtatious wink with which she punctuated her reply.

But all he ever did was flash his insouciant smile and turn away from her, walking into the forest until the sound of his hoofbeats was completely overwhelmed by the rushing of the falls.

She, of course, watched him go until the mist and spray coming off the tumbling river obscured his form. And it was a beautiful form. His top half featured a broad chest and muscular arms while the lower part of him sported chestnut hair, firm, strong hindquarters, and fetlocks that were positively swoon-worthy.

Their little ritual was repeated every morning, and the looks that passed between them grew longer, the tones of their voices more intense. Still, they never deviated from their script.

The day his lips found hers almost at the very second she surfaced – before he had straightened his neck and spine from bending to sip from her spring – was the day she knew she had to send him away forever.

“I don’t get it,” her sister shared. “He’s single; you’re single. What’s stopping you from just going for it?”

“You know that saying about if a bird and fish fall in love, where do they live?”

“Yeah, so?”

“How much more difficult must it be for a siren and a centaur?”

Her sister had stared at her for a full minute before throwing a rock past her head. The younger woman’s laughter rippled forth like the concentric rings on the surface of the water.

“What’s funny?”

“You are. I mean, I thought you were supposed to be the smart one.” When she didn’t reply, her sister asked scornfully. “Honestly, where do you think seahorses come from?”

No Angel

Swallowing Light via Flash PromptShe called him a god, and compared him to an angel.

He was no angel.

But he might have been a god once. Or maybe he would be a god later, in her future. Time ran in circles around him, and this wasn’t his first adventure in human form.

She knew, of course.

He got the feeling she could see right through him.

“What are you?”  She always asked the question in the middle of the night, after they’d shared physical pleasure. “Are you even real?”

“Didn’t what we did feel real?”

“Well,” she said. “There’s real and there’s real.”

“Is this real?” he asked, and tickled her. “Or this?” he asked and kissed her.

She giggled against his mouth.

He swallowed her laughter. Then he spit out her soul.

He was definitely no angel.

And he remembered now. He wasn’t a god.

He was the devil.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Dice via Flash Prompt

 

“Fail.”

“I roll to disbelieve.”

“Fail.”

“I roll to disbelieve.”

“Fail.”

“I roll to disbelieve.”

“Fail.”

The room grows colder. The shadows take on form, and reach out to grab me.

Across the table from me, the Other pushes back Her hood.

“Silly boy,” She says, not quite flirting. Her voice is warm and seductive on the surface, but underneath it’s like She’s raking razor blades over my skin. “Even if you’d succeeded, I’d still be coming for you. Disbelieving in Me doesn’t negate My power, only your awareness.”

“But I’m not ready… I’m too young.”

“Not so young,” She counters. “You knew enough to buy the fate dice.” She leans across the table so that Her black eyes are staring into mine, and into my soul. “Try a different wish.”

I think for a minute, and then I know – I KNOW – what I must do.

“I roll to live. “

“FAIL!”

She kisses me. Her breath is hot and moist but Her tongue is like a dagger in my mouth. I feel Her sucking the life out of me.

Later, I stand in the protection of Her cloak, and watch as my girlfriend Natalie enters my hospital room. I see the woman I love glance at my bed, take in my still form, and sit next to my body. I observe as she pries the dice from my hand.

“I’m glad you’re out of pain,” Nat says. “I know this last year has been hard. The tubes and the chemo… I just wish… I just wish I could be with you.”

Natalie collapses onto my unmoving chest, sobbing. The dice fall from her hand and tumble to the floor, a pair of soft clicking sounds telling me where they’ve landed.

Next to me, She whispers the word I’d wanted to hear. Before. Now, though – if my heart had still been beating, the blood it pumped would have run cold.

“SUCCESS!”