Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Nuances of Consequence

            Meldi sat reading a book – not one of his own, as he had long ago exhausted their wisdom, but one of the novels that the chief enforcer had lent to him. It was a piece of historical fiction that drew parallels between Terek the Ruthless and the mythical Stalin. Meldi had heard of the book before, as it was quite well-received, but he found there to be little subtlety in the distinction between the story’s villains and heroes.
            He was in a holding room for now – though the enforcement officers had done what they could to make it comfortable until more appropriate accommodations could be made.
            Periodically, Meldi came very close to forgetting about the bandage on his face. The bottle had broken, and a few shards of glass had embedded themselves in his cheek. The wound was superficial, but it would likely scar. A younger man might have enjoyed the prospect of such a distinctive new characteristic, but Meldi could only imagine how his mother would cry if she saw what had happened to her poor boy’s face.
            A poor boy of fifty-seven years. A poor boy who was a necromancer, even if he hardly conformed to the stereotype.
            The enforcers had the bottle’s thrower in custody, but Meldi was under no illusion that that would be the end of it. The North East Colonists had more reason than anyone to fear the undead, given their history, but it was that history that had drawn him to this frigid country in the first place.
            Meldi had grown up hearing stories about the Bone King, and the hellish dystopia that he ruled within the Wastes. He had not, as a child, wanted to replicate that power. Like any good Vastani boy, he looked forward to the day that they took back the mainland.
            But Bernardo Meldi had been privileged enough to travel. He had seen the world from other perspectives. He learned a bit more about the Vansa that had existed before, and though they did not deserve their fate, it did cast the Reclaimers’ vision into doubt. At nineteen, Meldi realized that a defeat of the Bone King would not lead to some recovered golden age.
            He began to study the Bone King – who had in fact been a human being once, with the name, presumably an alias, as it did not have the sound of a Vansan name, of Mogra Thesh. At first he studied him out of morbid curiosity – here was the most monstrous human being who ever lived. To even suggest otherwise was a crime in and of itself, literally in Vastanos though only socially in other parts of the world.
            Meldi found nothing to sympathize with in Mogra Thesh, which brought him some relief, knowing that there was some truth to the version of events that he had learned as a child. Yes, the man was a mass-murderer, even before his final living act.
            But certain crimes have a statute of limitations. A twenty-year-old man who steals a television set will not be arrested when he is eighty. The crime is distant.
            Yet how long would it take to forgive the deaths of millions? In a living human’s frame of reference, with only so much time, the answer may be as good as never. But Mogra Thesh became the Bone King a thousand years ago. He was a fact, a facet of the world. Any justice that would come to him would arrive a thousand years too late.
            What was the point?
            Furthermore, what had he done since? The bone constructs of the Waste were not the souls of the dead trapped in some painful existence as slaves. They were wholly new beings – whether sophisticated magical machine or conscious beings, he couldn’t say. Other than himself, the Bone King had not truly raised the dead, but instead created his own bizarre life cycle with the remains of one type of being transforming into another kind of being.
            So the ultimate shock, when a young Bernardo Meldi did his research into the Bone King, was that this most notorious necromancer in history was hardly a necromancer at all.
            Such thoughts would not endear him to the people of the North East Colony. Indeed, such disparagement of the Bone King might even draw the ire of the pair of his creations that remained in the town.
            Meldi had become absorbed with the story of Mogra Thesh, particularly his travels abroad before his return to Vansa that precipitated the Doom. It seemed obvious to Meldi at least that Thesh must have gone to the Forest of Dusk that would, centuries later, become the North East Colony. Who else was there to learn from? Paul Airbright had died hundreds of years before Thesh was born. It had to be the Icelord – that strange, inhuman figure sometimes called Hazhed-Funir – that had taught the man who would become the Bone King.
            Meldi followed in the Bone Kings’s footsteps. But he assured himself that he would always be bound by ethics. Mogra Thesh had been a doctor, but he had violated his oath. Bernardo Meldi would not commit that same sin.
            Meldi tossed the novel down on his cot, not bothering to slip in a bookmark. The enforcement chief, a man named Harrick, had appeared with two cups of coffee.
            “Not to your tastes?” asked Harrick as he handed him a cup, eyeing the book.
            “I may take it up again.”
            “How’s the cheek?”
            Meldi put a hand to the bandage. “I can hardly feel it.”
            “You don’t know anyone in town?”
            “Not really. I have not been here for a long time.”
            “That was when you… raised? Is that the term?”
            “I suppose the most accurate term would be revive. Yes, the last time I was here I revived Ana.”
            Harrick leaned back against the wall and took a sip of his own cup. “That was...”
            “Eleven years ago. Ana was fourteen. You know, it doesn’t feel that long.”
            “Long before I ever met her then.”
            “I am sorry, Detective Inspector. I realize that this must have come as a great shock to you.”
            “She didn’t know?”
            “No. I don’t believe so. Unless her parents told her… but I don’t think they would have. I advised them not to.”
            “They moved away. Elgrin, or somewhere like that, I want to say. Don’t recall when. She didn’t talk about them much. I didn’t like to pry. I figured, maybe a more traditional sort of family, not so happy with their daughter’s lifestyle, if that’s the euphemism.”
            Meldi nodded. “A wish granted can make one fear some sort of price. It is a factor I confess I did not consider when I undertook the procedure.”
            “Most evil in the world happens because of an inability to understand the nuances of consequence.” Harrick stared at the cover of the novel on the cot.
            “I was confronted with a situation that demanded expediency. Not all the consequences were negative.”

            Her eyes were filled with tears from exertion. She had done her best to rearrange Lisenrush to distribute the weight evenly on her shoulders, but the pain was immense. Every step, it felt like every vertebra was being pounded into its neighbor. Her muscles screamed, and the wound – healing but definitely not yet healed – was a roar of indignant fury. The Ranger-Captain’s breaths were too quiet to be heard, and Ana prayed that she was not simply imagining the rising and falling of her chest.
            She stumbled as she lifted one foot onto the asphalt road, nearly toppling over. She passed the large wooden sign, with a painted swordfish leaping out of the water over the words “Welcome To Port O’James.”
            The first car passed them, as if there was nothing odd to see. The second car stopped, and a tall, broad blonde man stepped out, seemingly unsure of what he was seeing.

            “Call for help,” said Ana. And with that, she fell, Lisenrush collapsing on top of her.

(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2015)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Shadow Salesman

            The worst thing was that they didn’t seem to be doing anything to him. Jim was constrained – Henry had strapped Jim into a chair, which was baffling, as Jim’s own body was normally as fluid as a cloud of smoke, more or less. Now, however, he was somehow stuck. He knew, in a second-hand way, what it was like to be human, and this was like having several joints dislocated at once. Except it wasn’t exactly painful – it just felt wrong.
            He felt solid, as if he were made of matter. When his fingers rested on the wooden arm of the chair, they spread ever-so-slightly, shaped by the simple pressure of a round object and a flat object pushed together by gravity.
            But he wasn’t an object. He was a demon. He wasn’t made of atoms and molecules. And so the fact that his body was acting like he was made him terrified.
            That and the faceless men.
            They would appear and disappear suddenly, without warning. They never did anything except stand there and stare at him with no eyes. And then they would be gone.
            That was not normal.
            Jim was a demon, and he could become totally invisible, intangible, and undetectable by the vast majority of humans. Yet even then he was still there. And as long as he was there – even if he wasn’t made up of the same sort of matter as humans were – there was some way to detect him. These things just blinked into existence and out as if they were figments of his imagination.
            They did not reflect light or cast shadows. They were invisible except that they could clearly be seen. Jim wondered what they would look like to a human. He imagined most people didn’t even see them, or rather, they didn’t realize that they saw them. Jim wasn’t even sure why he was able to see them – his sense of vision was a borrowed approximation of the human version, mixed with his own native sense of sight that predated his choice to be a demon.
            The chair wasn’t in some dank basement or dark closet. He merely sat in the living room where he had been captured. They didn’t seem to mind his being there. Henry Thall left after binding him there. So now Sweet Clara would simply sit in the room and meet with the various assassins that Thall hired. And Jim would watch.
            Jim watched Clara. He had been forced back into invisibility – the assassins who arrived seemed to all know not to ask why there was a chair with leather straps on the armrests in the room. They likely thought it was there for intimidation’s sake.
            Clara had a valet who attended on her. She dealt with the various “contractors” with poise and professionalism. He dearly wished he could touch her mind, but the physical shape in which he had been bound also seemed to limit his abilities. He was practically just a human, albeit an invisible one who, if somehow turned visible, would look like a human-shaped cloud of swirling smoke.
            The faceless men blinked away in the middle of one of her interviews. It was unsettling, not knowing when they would reappear, but Jim felt a wave of relief every time they stopped existing anywhere near him.
            “Clara,” he said. It had been several days, and he wasn’t sure why he decided to speak up now. Perhaps he was getting lonely. He was certainly bored – terror that goes on for so long becomes part of the boredom.
            “I’m not supposed to speak to you,” said Clara. That was a good sign. “Supposed” implied that she was forbidden yet desired some sort of contact.
            “Clara,” he whispered. “Do you see them, when they’re here?”
            “I thought so. You know they aren’t even your typical sort of magic like I am.” Jim craned his neck, doing his best to check behind him and ensure that one of them was not somehow standing there. “Clara, when did you start seeing them?”
            “Shortly after I met Mr. Thall.”
            “And have you observed them…”
            “I don’t want to talk about it.”
            “And yet you are talking about it. And I think I know why. I think you’re terrified of those things. And you should be. Clara,” he said, realizing that the tone of voice he was using was much like the one he used when trying to convince a person to become a serial killer – which was a little odd, given that what he meant to suggest would benefit her as well as him, but at least it was persuasive. “Because I’m terrified of those things. And do you know what I am?”
            “A demon?”
            “Mr. Thall keeps me safe. I’m useful to him. He won’t let them harm me.”
            “You’re assuming, Clara, that the faceless men are working for him.” If Jim had a real face – or at least one whose swirling-smoke pattern did not obscure facial expressions  - he would have given a patronizing frown. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
            Clara was quiet for a long moment. Jim might have smiled if he were not so uncomfortable and frightened himself.
            “Clara…” and here he hesitated. A hard sell could put some people off. Merely knowing that you were trying to convince them of something was enough to make such people stonewall the salesman. He wondered which kind of person Clara was. Yet all he had was what he had observed – a performer, certainly, and one who was doing a job, but doing it well – not out of pride, but some kind of desperation. It was not easy to detect all of this under the blanket of creeping fear, but it was there.
            That suggested this was a position of convenience. She was not a fanatic to Thall’s cause, whatever the hell that was. That suggested that Jim should take a rational course in his argument, yet the ever-present threat of the faceless men arriving and… doing something… added a desperation that required the rhetorical equivalent of a slap in the face.
            “You’ll need to get out of here. If you want to be free of him. This house is his way of controlling you.”
            “It is how I am paid.”
            “No it isn’t. It’s not for you. It’s for appearances. It’s the brothel he’s put you in.”
            A flash of recognition. Had he been able to move his arm he would have had to restrain himself from pumping his fist. Yes! Of course, she had been a prostitute. That explained the desperation. Retrein was not a good place to ply such a trade. There were no “Street Priestesses” here – only whores. And now Clara’s face read like a book. She had been in some slum, or even on the streets. Thall had offered her a job, and she was in no position to refuse. But money and safety did not breed fanatical loyalty.
            “I can help you,” said Jim, struggling not to laugh at the fact that he actually meant it.
            “I don’t… need your help.”
            “Do you want to live here until Henry Thall murders you? Before those faceless men grow tired of his games and do to you… whatever it is they’re going to do?”
            “And what is that?”
            “I have absolutely no idea. But I can’t imagine it’s anything pleasant.”
            “Where will I go?”
            “Anywhere. If you feel guilty about any of the murders you’ve taken part in, you could go to Mr. Airbright. Or not. Honestly, the murders don’t really bother me that much, but then, I’m a demon, and you’re a human.”
            Clara stepped back. “Suppose I was interested. How would you help me? You’re trapped here.”
            “Possibly.” Jim pulled at one of the straps, just to be sure that he was still stuck there, and that this desperate measure was truly called for. “My body is trapped here. But yours isn’t.”
            “I don’t understand.”

            “Clara, what do you know about demonic possession?”

(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2015)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

4. Shanasee Rain King Motel, Room 7

4. Shanasee Rain King Motel
Room 7
1:00 AM the Next Day

            The man in the black suit pours himself a drink. It’s tequila, from agave grown outside Damana. He is careful with alcohol. His father – and yes, even men like him have fathers – was an alcoholic. He shouldn’t touch the stuff at all, but he needs something to help him relax.
            It’s been a long day. The woman in the black suit has refrained from the kind of idle chitchat that makes long drives up and down their massive country bearable. She’s angry with him.
            He is always careful not to wish to go home to Damana. Wishes like that can lead to pining, and that can distract from work. He is confident they will achieve containment, but he does not know that he will be the one to catch the thing.
            Designation: Templar One.
            Origins: Question mark.
            Nature: Unknown.
            Threat: Very High.
            Sentience: Unknown.
            Contagious: Unknown.
            It is this last unknown that made the woman in the black suit so angry with him. The man in the black suit did not watch Eris Oceans as she stumbled into the desert, to die of heat stroke or dehydration. In a way, she had already died before they even found her.
            The man in the black suit takes a sip from his glass. He has already put the bottle away.
            This is not the way that things usually go. Most of the people he finds in the wake of one of these incidents are able to go on and live fairly normal lives. The luckiest are the ones who remembered nothing, at least consciously. A little neurosis is a small price to pay for a life free of cosmic horror.
            The man in the black suit takes off his jacket and hangs it on the hook the motel has kindly provided next to the bathroom. He pulls the knot of his tie loose and draws it slowly out of his collar. It is made of silk, and feels smooth as it runs along his fingers. It is black, just like his jacket and pants and shoes. He removes the shoes and peels off his socks, placing them neatly on the bed.
            He slowly unbuttons his shirt. He removes it and hangs it up over the jacket. The fluorescent bulb illuminating the sink hums, and he stares at himself in the mirror. The light is not flattering, but he has no need of flattery. He looks into his own eyes and stares for a solid minute.
            He thinks about who he is, how he became what he is, and how he came to do what he does. The woman in the black suit is younger than he is. She is young enough to be his daughter. He expects that she will come to understand eventually. Poor Eris Oceans is dead – this many days in the desert would ensure that. Her companion is dead as well – of that, the man in the black suit can be certain beyond any doubt. These deaths are monstrous, to be sure, but unavoidable.
            And the woman in the black suit will come to understand that eventually, though it might be years before she accepts that truth. For what it is worth, he hopes that she sleeps well tonight, though he doubts she will. She is in the next room over. He has no idea whatsoever what she is doing in there.
            The man in the black suit runs his hand along his cheek, feeling stubble poking through. His hair has grown longer than he prefers to keep it. And his eyes are tired. He looks paler than usual. The color seems to have drained even from his eyes.
            He has driven fourteen hours today. He is going to sleep soon.
            He removes his pants and folds them, laying them across the top of the chair. At this point, he re-checks the lock and bolt on the door. He ensures that the blinds obscure the entirety of his room. He examines the smoke detector and any vents in which there could possibly be some sort of surveillance equipment. He does not expect to find any, and ultimately he is not surprised.
            He returns to the sink-counter, with its square of tiled floor beneath it and harsh mirror-light. He removes his underwear and places it on the bed behind him, next to the socks.
            The man in the black suit pulls the crumpled paper bag from under the sink. Slowly, ritualistically, he unfurls it, allowing him to reach into its mouth. He pulls the knife and the towel from out of it. The towel still smells like bleach.
            The knife is an old one, and it is probably time to take it in to get the handle re-bound. The sheath is also starting to fall apart, but he takes excellent care of the blade.
            He sets the towel and the knife on the counter that stands just outside the bathroom, where the sink is. He then pulls other items from the bag – a whetstone, a lighter, a bottle of pure alcohol, some larger adhesive bandages, and a suture needle with thread.
            He sharpens the knife. He does this for several minutes. He cleans the knife now, pouring the alcohol along the blade. He then wets the towel with alcohol and rubs the usual place on his abdomen.
            He has some basic medical training. He knows where to put the knife so that it does not damage any important organs or sever any major blood vessels. He has done this many times before. You should not worry for his physical safety.
            He takes two deep, calming breaths, and he pushes the point of the knife into the spot on his abdomen. It is sufficiently sharp, and a bead of blood drops down. It does not hurt yet.
            He takes another deep breath and then slowly, carefully, pushes the knife in farther. First it is cutting skin. Then it is pressing through muscle. He nearly winces, but he has practiced enough to know that this would make things far worse.
            The knife is now over an inch into his body. He focuses on the pain. He conjures, in his mind, the face of Eris Oceans. He sees her, worn and bloody and missing an eye. He sees her identification photo – a record of the woman she once was. The pain becomes excruciating.
            He forces himself to imagine her, hearing her voice not as the small and high-pitched trauma-victim mouse-sound, but as that of a healthy adult woman.
            “She is dead,” he says, whispering, but loud enough for himself to hear.
            He pushes the knife in further, a very deep, animal part of his mind screaming to stop, to relieve him from the pain.
            He does not listen to it. He stares into the mirror, the harsh fluorescent light, with its slight green tint, making the bright red blood look almost brown or black. He stares into his own eyes as the knife cuts deeper into his flesh.
            “Her name was Eris Oceans.” He repeats this like a religious chant.
            His eyes have gotten red. He can feel blood – that which is not spilling onto the tile floor beneath him – rushing to his face, swelling it. He is almost there.
            He turns the knife now, ever so slightly, not enough to shear the skin, but the pain flares through him.
            And you killed her.
            And now a teardrop forms in his right eye. It rolls down his stubbly cheek and cascades down his chest and finally to the floor.
            He takes a deep breath. His shoulders feel weak, and they shake a little as he does so.
            Gingerly, he removes the knife. There is a great deal of blood – more than he ever expects. The incision is about an inch across. He clamps the towel to his stomach. He then removes it and cleans off the wound with the alcohol. He sterilizes the needle and then begins to sew up the cut.
            The physical pain continues as he makes stitch after stitch. But before long, the wound has been closed. He ties off the thread and cuts it with the knife.
            He cleans the wound once again, barely noticing the sting of the alcohol. He places the bandage over it and then begins to clean up. He washes the knife clean and ensures that it is perfectly dry before he returns it to its sheath. He places the items back in the paper bag – all except the towel.
            This towel has been cleaned several times. It has served him well. But the bleach smell has seeped into it from its repeated washes. He takes one of the fresh towels from the motel and puts it in the paper bag.
            Tonight he’ll offer to get the woman in the black suit something for dinner – something of a peace offering, perhaps. Regardless, under the pretense of getting food, he will also transport this towel somewhere out in the desert, where he will burn it.

(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2015)


Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Missing Icebox

            Nascine ran.
            She wasn’t sure if they were following her. There was a patter of rain that made every leaf in the forest canopy above her act as a percussive instrument. She was not a stranger to the wild, but she felt more comfortable in cities. Cities had things like alcoves and alleys at relatively regular intervals, and the forest had been built only by comparatively random elements.
            All she could do was try to find the dark spots, heading for shadows. If the Agents were heading after her, she could not tell.
            She wasn’t entirely sure where she was. She had not even heard of Muiggenschire before coming here, though the climate definitely felt like home. Finding herself winded, she looked for a suitable hiding spot. There was a half-rotten tree trunk leaning over a little ditch that she figured she might be able to fit in. After a quick check to make sure there wasn’t some wild animal inside, she crawled down into it.
            In retrospect, it was not a terribly good hiding spot, only because it was too obviously a good hiding spot. The ditch, log, and stump essentially created a three-quarters barrier to sight, with the opening facing away from where her pursuers would be coming from. And while that made it more likely they would run past her, it also meant she could not see them coming.
            She waited, trying first to take quiet, shallow breaths, but then giving up, reasoning that the sound of rain was going to drown out such a small sound anyway.
            Nascine sat still for minutes. It was actually somewhat peaceful. Despite the cold, and the recognition that she was now absolutely covered in mud, she felt oddly refreshed. He eyelids began to droop, and she felt a soothing warmth spread through her body as she felt the shadow envelop her and…

            It had been an hour, she thought. At that point, she was shivering, and decided that staying in that ditch was no longer an option. Besides, it seemed she had lost her pursuers – if they were even still looking, they would probably have scattered far enough that she would be unlikely to come across any of them.
            When she crawled out of the ditch, she looked around. The forest seemed strangely different. She could not decide what it was that gave her that impression, but she had the strangest feeling that she had not gone into that ditch in the same forest that she now found herself in.
            Could it be another one of those shared spaces? she thought.
            If it were, it would certainly make it harder for them to find her – she doubted any of the House Agents were going to crawl into every ditch that they found.
            But perhaps her mind was simply playing tricks on her.
            She kept walking forward, relying on her own sense of direction as best she could. It wasn’t easy to tell where the sun was, given the clouds, but she thought she was heading north by northwest.
            Abruptly, the forest gave way to a rocky ledge about five feet above a narrow river. There were buildings on the other side.
            Wait, I’ve seen these buildings before, she thought.
            She was in Exbrooke, a rather fancy neighborhood in the eastern part of Ravenfort. The name of the neighborhood jumped out to her, and it took her a moment to remember – the disastrous Jaroka mission down in Narcia! It was coming back to her. They had designated a safehouse here in Exbrooke to serve as a panic-hole in case anything went catastrophically wrong before they got out of the country.
            The Rookery had plenty of these properties in rotation. It felt as if it had been ages since she had been “rescued” by Barclay– assuming the man hadn’t been the one to drown her himself. She felt a pang of guilt when she realized she hadn’t even thought about what might have happened to Chris Thatch, who Nascine still thought of primarily under his cover identity, James Tarson.
            The safehouse was fairly compartmentalized – it had been purchased with the budget for the mission, and it was possible that the Rookery would eventually rotate it out of use and sell it back on a public market, but it was unlikely that had happened yet. The Jaroka mission, in a way, had not really ended. As lead on the mission, she would have needed to sign some paperwork, and she did not remember doing so. As far as she could figure, only she, Thatch, and Kilarny – who had died before they met up with her in Narica – would know. The records would be there, but one would need to know where to look. She had no idea what was really “safe” anymore, but if she had had a chance to run, that’s where she would have gone. It stood to reason that Thatch might have gone there.
            She looked down at herself. She was a mess, with mud caked on to her clothes and even in her hair. She walked over to the river – the Vinely, as she recalled, a tributary to the Lockey – and cupped some of the chilly water in her hand, rinsing off as much of the grime as she could. When she got to the safehouse, she would enjoy a nice long shower, and certainly a cup of tea.
            She got a few looks on the street, as she made her way to the address. Thankfully the house was right over the river, so she did not have to go too far into the city. She tried not to think too much about the people seeing her. People saw strange things in cities all the time, and it wasn’t unthinkable that she had slipped and fallen face-first into a patch of mud. Exbrooke had more parks than developed blocks. She prepared a little anecdote in case anyone asked, but she knew that no one would.
            When she came to the house, she felt ready to collapse. Her rainy nap under the log had hardly been all that energizing, but more exhausting was the mental effort to decide what to do when faced with the convolutions of the House. It was tempting to think of them as mystical in power and scope, but they were just people. And even if they weren’t, the teachings of Kerahn stated that the gods aren’t really all that much more intelligent or mysterious than people.
            There would be a time for further contemplation. She had, she hoped, done something that the House would not predict – neither telling a lie nor the truth to the Queen – but she felt no closer to discovering who the mole was within the Rookery.
            Maybe draw a bath instead of taking a shower, she thought as she reached the door. She tapped the door in a few places – they used a keyless lock, both to frustrate anyone trying to pick the decoy keyhole and also to ensure that a fleeing thief would be able to get inside without needing to carry the key on them.
            She walked into the kitchen and ran the faucet, running the water through her hair – hair that she had allowed to grow far too long. That was when she noticed the dust.
            There was an enormous amount of dust on the counter. Yes, the place had been unoccupied for at least months now, but surely that wouldn’t account for such a layer unless someone had left a window open.
            Also, the electric icebox was missing.
            Nascine pulled her hair back. She looked to the door. There was a trail of muddy footprints leading into the kitchen, yes, but there was also a streak of mud that led down the hallway to the basement steps.
            Nascine walked down the corridor. She pulled off the baggy sweatshirt that Barclay had given her – it felt good to get the soggy thing off, and her shirt underneath was dry, other than the sweat from her exertion.
            The light was on in the basement.
            She saw now the yellow glow of incandescent bulbs spreading up through the open doorway. She stepped closer, and then she heard a low thud. A moment later, the light cut out.
            And then she heard a voice call out in pain.

            It was Tartin.

(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2015)