The Gatehouse

transition

“…and this, ladies and gentlemen, is where the family most oft exited the manor if they wished a stroll down the North side of their estate…”

Well-trained and well-rounded tourist faces followed their guide’s directing hand, staring out the open side door. A few, “Oohs” and phone-clicks captured the view but most eyes slid back, puppy-eyed, to the mustachioed leader. Meredith glanced up from examining the iron stove but the subservient herd completely blocked the opening. She’d look once they trundled on.

“Over here,” the guide continued, “In this alcove, one finds a few items the family may have used for such an excursion.”

*Click* *click* captured the made-in-China umbrellas and slickers hanging on IKEA hooks. Meredith rolled her eyes.

“Shall we continue on to the servants’ quarters?” Murmurs of assent answered him. The tour guide turned smartly and ducked up a narrow set of stairs. “Mind the head,” came back to them.

“And the waist,” Meredith mumbled, eyeing the first few tourists and wondering how they’d get through the space. She stopped, her garden view finally unobstructed. Some force, some memory, some power held her; staring out the opening.

I’ve been here before, she thought. She knew.

But how ridiculous. This was her first visit to England. It was her first visit overseas at all, only made possible by an impulsive coworker’s double-booking. Only Karen would be wealthy and ignorant enough to pay for two vacations in the same week. A similar impulse to now had compelled Meredith to take Karen up on her discounted offer…

Meredith stepped nearer the exit, still not quite in control of her mind or self. Was it the worn, polished stone path; the neat, trim, British grass; or the charming stone brickwork of the cottagelike gate house before her? What reminded her, drew her, pulled at her?

Her eyes flitted to the arched, weather-beaten wood door. Her feet sandaled down the path toward it. From so near the building, she could see and appreciate its age but also the original care and detail put into its workmanship. She could not imagine building the walls and windows, peaks and arch, all with a barrow-full of tools and only the hands God gave you.

Simon. Simon had built the gatehouse. He’d made the door. How she knew that, Meredith could only guess. The further she walked away from the tour group and the closer she drew to outside, the more antique memories trickled into her mind.

Father had asked Simon to build it on the East side but Mother had wished it here, atop a slight knoll before the moors began. Meredith’s pace quickened. The afternoon sunlight danced into her eyes just as she pressed her hands against the garden door and pushed.

“Meredith?” she raised a gloved hand to shade against the bright light to her left. There, beneath a tree, leaned a surprised young man in riding gear.

“Edmund,” she breathed. Recalling herself, she corrected with, “Good afternoon, Mr. Manfield.”

He stood away from the tree and strode toward her in haste. Removing his cap and taking her hand in his, he said, “But, your father said you never again desired my company.” His eyes searched her face beneath her hat brim, imploring.

Meredith could scarcely think above her rising excitement and beating heart. Father, father… She met Edmund’s gaze, blushed, looked away.

“What is it, Mere -Miss Howard?”

“Father,” she began. “‘Twas all Father’s doing. He forbade me to speak with you, but-” Here, she drew enough courage to meet his gaze once more. “I know that, if I heed his warnings, I shall be miserable the remainder of my days.”

A smile brushed against Edmund’s lips and lit his eyes more warmly still. It came again, staying this time. She’d always loved his smile.

He kneeled, right there amoungst the heather and the wet grasses. “Meredith Howard, I could never live, knowing I were the cause of a lifetime of misery.” Smiling wider, he said, “I will go and speak with your father -this very moment- with you by my side.”

Rising, he grasped her hand more firmly. She felt his strength and love through both their gloves as, together, they walked back to the arched wood door. Edmund pulled it open and she glanced at it as they passed. Simon had just stained it, and it looked nearly new.

Remembered for Sue Vincent‘s Thursday photo prompt: transition.

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens

WINNER of the Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest

For several contests now, I’ve wanted to do a multi-person tie. You are all doing so terribly!

(That’s a compliment.)

But… since you’ve all skipped to this part anyway, the winner is Michael B. Fishman.

Don’t Skippy Over Me (or I’ll Be Back in a Jif)

by Michael B. Fishman

I like chunky peanut butter sometimes –
and sometimes I don’t.

Ask me why,
or don’t,
(I don’t care)

Peanut butter’s rough.
The chunks? A diamond in the rough.

That’s because I like peanuts and . . .
I
don’t
like
peanut
butter.

It’s not even butter!

Once upon a time there was a peanut farmer who became President. A giant named Fezzik came along and asked if he wanted a peanut. The President-to-be said no, but he asked the giant where he could fill up his empty peanuts. The giant didn’t know, but some other guy – I can’t visualize him so neither will you – came along and said “I know!” The President-to-be said, “Where?” and non-visualizable man said, “The Shell station!”

And they laughed.

And the peanuts laughed.

“Ha!” they all laughed

Laughter is like a diamond.
(I don’t know why but it makes for an interesting simile)
Life is just rough
(That’s not a simile, I don’t know what it is)

We eat peanut butter
and watch the butterfly flutter.
From the golf putter to the stonecutter
Some of us put it on bread and eat it with that white stuff that drips from a cow’s udder.

Congratulations, Michael! You are the most terrible poet of the week!

My multi-way tie desire was due to SO MANY of the poets messing with the meter in a very intelligent way, rhyming (then, not), and choosing such awful subjects that I wonder if Diana gave them lessons from last week….

Michael’s very slight push above the rest was how mismatched his poem was. We had a lovely poem going, then …a paragraph?, then back to another sort of poem (I think). Terrible!

By no means worse (better?), here are the rest of the entrants:

Precious Stones

by Greygirlieandme

It’s tough
Being a diamond in the rough.
I’d rather be an emerald
Set in fourteen carat gold
When I am old.
Or perhaps a sapphire
If you think I should aim a bit higher
What about a pearl?
If I was the mother of an earl
I’d give you a string
Made of oyster vomit
No, that’s not it
Is it?
It’s grit not vomit.
My precious….
My precious…
Oh sorry, that’s something different
From a nasty little gent.
Maybe he’s a diamond in the rough
Finding life a little tough.

—–

A heart-felt lamentation

by Bruce Goodman

Quite frankly my dear I don’t give a stuff
when you say to accept you as you are:
that you are a diamond in the rough.
But enough is enough.
Tough!
I want a divorce.

When you eat your food with your mouth open…
well! that’s not being a diamond in the rough
but straight out bad manners.
I’d rather eat with my horse.
Tough!
I want a divorce.

Just because you have no legs
and have no arms and have to be spoon fed
is no reason to eat with your mouth open.
Tough!
I want a divorce.

And you can keep the wheelchair.

—–

Untitled piece

by Dawn D

There once was a youngster
Who lived in a dumpster
She begged and clawed
Through the bitter cold
Till the day she morphed into a stunning princess.

—–

Untitled piece

by Peregrine Arc

Diamond, ouch, you’re too rough.
Diamond, ouch, cut that out.
Diamond please, stop stop stop.
Wait, that’s not what this prompt is about?

Shiny, shine, shine shine.
I’m Rihanna’s Diamond in the Sky.
Gleam.

—–

A Mean Girl

by H.R.R. Gorman

I’m a diamond –
See my perfect shine!
I’m prettier than you,
No need to whine.

So get in line
I ain’t got the time!
You don’t want a dollar
Waitin’ on a dime!

Your face is a crime,
So listen to me.
Tan that white skin,
Get some vitamin D.

Fat like your mommy,
You can’t wear that top.
Ain’t gettin’ no boyfriend
When you look like slop.

C’mon girl, chop-chop!
Your pits smell like waste!
And you gotta lose inches
Off that extra-large waist!

No wonder you’re chaste.
That hair’s a nightmare
With all that va-voom!
It’s like you don’t even care.

What’s that you declare?
You say I’m bad stuff?
Not even a diamond
In form most rough?

Shut up you’re stupid.
Your mom’s stupid.
Go home, idiot,
I hate you.

—–

Please Mrs Patterson

by TanGental

Please Mrs Patterson
Roger’s an awful little pest;
He’s only gone and stapled
My earlobes to his desk.
*
Please Mrs Patterson
Roger really is too much;
He’s liquidized our gerbil
And sprayed him on my crotch.
*
Please Mrs Paterson
I’m not sure we can take much more;
Roger’s borrowed Harry’s toolbox
And nailed Gemma to the floor
*
Please Mrs Patterson
Things are getting out of hand;
Roger’s kidnapped Maisie Wellbeloved
And buried her in sand.
*
Please Mrs Patterson
You’ll really have to stop it;
Roger’s only gone and taken Bob
And strapped him to a rocket.
*
Please Mrs Patterson
You must stop being craven
Roger’s stuffed poor Bill with pitted dates
And put him in the oven.
*
Please Mrs Patterson
I know he’s had it tough
But Roger’s more your psychopath
Than a diamond in the rough.

—–

Ordinary

by Anneberly

A diamond in the rough
Isn’t that tough

As he dances in the daylight
And even at night

He thinks he’s quite elegant
Ha! Like an elephant

His mannerisms aren’t too shabby
Pretty lazy like a tabby

His intellect isn’t book smarts
He’s got a gigantic heart

People think he’s quite gruff
This diamond in the rough

—–

My Fair Lady

by Jordy

I once met a lass who was really darn crass.
Liked her so asked her to go fishing for bass.

Pretty fine, want to make her mine. But my Ma won’t agree. Her mouth is to rotten and her spit always hits my knee.

She thought she was haute but tore up her coat.
Was how she stepped on the boat. You know.

I went to get gun powder to fix it all up.
But it began to sizzle and got her all frup.

She screamed and hollered at lil ole me.
Then walloped me a good one that set my lights free.

We rasseled and rolled when she tried to pull off my head and throw it in a bowl.

Hell bells, diamond in the rough!
Darn if she ain’t the fair lady for me!

—–

On the links

by Bladud Fleas

On a tee I swunged
at the moment you did cough
and sliced my diamond in the rough
many minutes we sought
and didn’t find it
but I had another one
so didn’t mind it

where is that diamond now
I now wonder
that one I lost cos of your blunder
it makes me cry I don’t know
why, it’s not a game I like
it’s a spoiled hike, I’d prefer
to ride my bike. Across the fairway
just about when you’re gonna strike.

—–

Untitled piece

by Violet Lentz

Little Gemma Johnson
Was quite the catch, I’d heard them say
Though a little rough around the edges
She’d make a fine wife someday

Little did I know- t’was me
They’d arranged as her betroth
never having laid my eyes, on
This little diamond in the rough

The matrimonial day arrived
Our families filled the church
She lifted her veil for our first kiss
And my guts lept to a lurch

Eyes askance, under twisted brow
Nose bent off to the side somehow
Lips so thick she couldn’t pucker
I knew right then, there’s no way I could……

Whoa is me I can’t be wed
Alone is how I’ll stay in bed
She’s no diamond- rough or other
If I have to wed, I’ll take her brother!

—–

Too classy to have friends.

by Molly Stevens

It’s hard to be the only one
Refinded mongst the diamonds in the rough.
You say tomato,
I say tomahtopuff.

Tomahtopuff’s not a word, of course,
But I wanted things to rhyme.
You’d know that if you were in my class,
Instead of subpar subslime.

I’ve looked for others who are equal
To my decree of finesse,
But alas they’re moving parts unknown
Without a forwarding address.

You may think it’s craps
Sitting alone atop that pinochle.
But it’s not in the cards
To lower my standards.

—–

Untitled piece

by RhScribbles

Diamond in the rough

Rough diamond

Cracking windows is tough

I need a diamond

One with rough edges

Edges to scratch glass

Glass walls that keep me out

Out and not in

In with the gang

Gang of a thousand

Thousands of diamonds that sparkle

Sparkle and shine illuminating

My world with possibilities

Life is rough,

I mean tough

—–

Again: what I say pushes a poem to first is not what I always look for. The other entrants and their highly creative measures change the standards each time!

Good work, and tune in tomorrow to see next week’s prompt.

Geode

There’s that geode again.

 

By the way, Michael: D. Wallace Peach created this graphic that you can use (if you want) as a badge of honor as the winner:

Skinwalkers, XLVI

They paused outside the door. “N. Reed; Pul,” Stone acknowledged, exiting just after they did. He continued past them and down the corridor. Nathan’s eyes adjusted to the lighting to watch the broad-shouldered man retreating and he realized the suspension drops’ influence had worn off. Worn off… Off… Something’s off… A thought struck him. Turning to Pul, Nathan exhaled and made a show of lightly stretching his shoulders and neck.

Pul chuckled. “That was some performance in there, Nathan Reed.”

Nathan stood up on his toes, continuing his casual pretense. “Thank you, Pul.” He stood flat again. “I thought I may as well fix six blemishes with one patch.”

Pul laughed again. “That you did.”

“Still,” Nathan continued, “I’d hate for you and the others to catch trouble for any damage or waste to that many materials.” He met Pul’s eyes and raised one brow. “I’d calm if I could see them delivered.”

He watched the expressive executive’s own eyebrows rise in surprise. Pul had clearly not thought of this possibility. “Oh! Oh, of course!” As Nathan desired, Pul then spun and reactivated the door behind them. His motions were more hurried than last time. Before the entry had pulled to the side completely, Pul was back inside the red-lit room. Nathan stood right behind him.

“Pul! What are you doing?” a familiar, shrill voice demanded. Nathan stepped to the side and saw just the woman he wished to, in just the position he suspected. Caill stood very near a work station in a stiff posture. Upon spying Nathan, her hands began twisting around each other.

Surprised, Pul cleared his throat. A jiff passed and he cleared it again.

Nathan moved around him and walked in Caill’s direction. “We returned to deliver the samples,” he said. “I thought you and your associates might want to ensure their safety.” Stopping a little over a meter away, he stared right at Caill’s eerily-shadowed face. “It would be a thick loss to Carapace otherwise.”

The proud and crafty woman, once a prowling wolf, seemed more an outlands rodent now. Her hands wound round and round, and she stepped back from him involuntarily.

“But, perhaps,” he said, and paused, “That is precisely what you were doing.”

“Oh!” Pul recovered. “Of course! That’s what you were doing, Caill.” He gave a nervous laugh and came forward as well. “Well, then -I guess we’ll help. Which stations have you packaged?”

Caill appeared to be trying to remember something, and Nathan suspected it to be how to think on her feet. “I… um,” she said. “I actually just got started.” She smiled at Pul; it looked painful.

“Right,” Pul responded. “Then I guess we’ll work on the last rows while you start where you’re at.”

The rabbit twitched her gaze from Nathan, to Pul, to her hands. She finally stilled her hands, sniffed at the air, and nodded. “O-of course.”

Nathan smiled and returned to assist Pul. Really, he thought, What other choice did Caill have?

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XLV.
Read to Skinwalkers, XLVII.

Skinwalkers, XLV

The workers maintained their precise, quick pace through the remaining steps of membrane construction. Nearly a half-workcycle passed before the room’s red light illuminated a 10 centimeter square strip of perfect, useable synthdermal material at each station.

Nathan continued his roving inspections throughout, beginning them as a vulture and ending as an eagle. The team’s satisfaction was palpable. The judging executives’ surprised pleasure and respect was apparent in Stone‘s occasional nodding, Pul’s outright grin, and Caill’s pursed-lip jealousy. Nathan, himself, felt proud enough to burst through his Fantastique-owned skin.

He had passed the inpracticum, the second interview stage. He had to be the top pick; no other applicant would possibly think to change the program nor to watch for tricks.

“Set the bar so high, no one has a chance to even think to get a step stool,” his lab leader in Advancement Studies had told them all. Good old J. Wilson, onetime founder of the now-controversial Skinwalkers Corporation. “Never trust the skin you see,” was another of his. Nathan frowned, remembering the brilliant man. Too bad J. Wilson hadn’t applied his own advice about trust when public opinion went South, and Skinwalkers’ Heads needed a man to blame.

“Set your samples in suspension,” Nathan announced. The six workers complied, storing their scientific art in the appropriate bay beneath six desks. He watched and heard six pairs of hands disinfect just below the work surface, then clasp expectantly atop the same surface.

Almost in unison, they and Nathan turned to Stone, Pul, and Caill. There was a pause as the three in charge held a silent conversation. Stone nodded, and spoke aloud, “You may return to your normal cycle duties.”

Nathan felt a slight drop in the room’s happy environment as his temporary team accepted their perfunctory instruction and rose to comply. On impulse, he said, “Excellent work, everyone.”

The backward glances and pleased, hidden smiles of the workers touched him, even while the confused and shocked (in the case of Caill) expressions of the executives brushed against his conscience at the same time. Their preoccupation with his audacity served to distract from a final, grateful look Quý sent to Nathan just before exiting.

He morphed a potentially-sappy smile into a more grim model as he turned to his three judges. He strode forward and was pleased to see them recoil somewhat at his approach. “Your tablet,” he said, offering it to Stone. Stone took it; an automatic gesture. Nathan worried the man might forget to keep his hold upon it, as Stone swung it back to his side while keeping his attention on Nathan.

Nathan returned their stares; allowed their confusion. As usual, Caill recovered first. He could watch her thoughts push across her face as her furrowed brow, eerie in the room’s dimness, cleared to realization then drew together in determination.

“I trust,” he said, beating her to vocalization, “This means we are finished.”

“Oh!” Pul responded. “O-of, of course.” Caill shot him a poisonous look. “Erm, are we done?”

Stone moved his head downward in affirmation; he was obviously fond of expressing himself that way, Nathan thought.

“Yes, of course,” Caill said, as if they had not all been delaying. “Pul, guide N. Reed to departure.”

Nathan hid his amusement from all but his eyes, trusting in the poor lighting to shield his feelings from Caill. At Pul’s guiding gesture, he stepped past her and Stone and out into the much brighter corridors of Carapace.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XLIV.
Read to Skinwalkers, XLVI.

Skinwalkers, XLIV

Six workers stood; six red-shadowed forms walked quickly to where Nathan had directed. Once seated, the six hurried to retrieve necessary intra-dermal materials from their new stations’ storage bays.

Nathan walked round them in a pattern designed to appear even and fair, yet focused his attentions on the worker named E. She had exhibited the most hesitancy and the longest working time, not to mention the most attention from Caill -as unobtrusive as Caill thought she was being in paying those attentions.

Despite those concerns and observations, Nathan saw no negative reaction from D, the young man who stepped up to work with E’s matrix. Considering, Nathan cleared his throat. “Due to the more intricate nature of this step, you will have a full tick’s time to complete it.” He continued walking as he spoke. “Subdermal construction is a specialty of mine, and I will be closely monitoring each worker’s efforts.”

E’s left hand twitched away from her task and she stole a glance at Caill. Nathan saw this but pretended he had not. He circled the redlit, wedge-shaped amphitheater in measured steps. His slipshods made little sound in the soft flooring but he knew that even the three executives felt and dreaded his approach.

Each of the six workers responded with a tensing of shoulders or arms, a rush to pull the material he or she needed, or a quick turn of head toward his bent scrutiny.

Each of the three persons monitoring the proceedings, meanwhile, responded according to personality. Stone did not change expression; Nathan’s more shocking announcements caused the stoic man to move his hand-clasping from behind his back to his front, or the reverse if he found them already before him. Pul, for his part, took to bouncing on the balls of his feet and a twitching of head and facial features into exactly what feeling struck him. Caill’s reactions were the most interesting for Nathan to observe, since the woman persisted in both shielding her emotions and being ignorant to how obvious that shielding was.

Her hands would jerk forward to wring around each other until she realized what they were doing and desisted. Sometimes, she caught them before contact; other times, not till a full jiff or two later. Their progress depended on the severity of her reaction. When hand-wringing was not enough, she paced a step or two -the distance, again, depending on severity.

Nathan made up his mind. After looping near D and stopping to admire his handiwork, Nathan strolled to E’s station. The woman grew more intent upon her model. He leaned down quite near her to watch.

In a voice just beneath a whisper, he said, “Whatever you have been told, I assure you: completely destroying your assigned step will ruin the materials for not just one, but six dermal samples.” Her hands shook and her eyes darted to his hovering face. “Do not look to Caill for approval,” he added, before she could. “You and I both know that she will discard you faster than a defective membrane if outed.” E snorted a silent, somber laugh but pretended to keep her focus on the task at hand.

“You also know the Heads at Carapace will not appreciate such an expensive waste of materials,” he continued, raising a hand to point at her sample. To any visually eavesdropping, he ensured their exchange had the appearance of casual instruction or curious query. “If they do not terminate this entire team, they will assuredly ask for the one responsible, and Caill is not the sort to volunteer for termination.”

“Now,” he moved his finger to a more specific location, “Let’s remove this ‘vessel’ and choose a more lively one.”

E jumped a bit. “Of course,” she said, barely audibly but with more composure than her previous actions had indicated. Picking up a pair of tiny tweezers, she extracted the plastic tubing she had inserted in place of an actual vessel.

“Thank you,” Nathan whispered. Without changing expression, he gestured to another area and asked, “What is your name?” He saw Caill pacing. Toward them.

“Quý,” E breathed.

“Thank you,” he said again. He rose and straightened his suit. In a normal tone, he said, “Excellent layering. Your placement will ensure a seamless tissue integration.” Caill paused and feigned an interest in C’s progress, to her side. She then turned and paced back the other direction.

Nathan smiled, the sort he saved for victory.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XLIII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XLV.

Skinwalkers, XLIII

Crude as Nathan’s rented outfit might have been compared to the skins used by Caill, Stone, and Pul, it served its masking purposes well. More than once, he felt enough of a burning stare from the three executives to elicit a rise in body temperature. Nathan’s normal epidermis, he was certain, was flushing and sweating. Not that he’d rented the cheapest skin possible, of course. Otherwise, the sweating alone would have ruined any adhesion and left him looking like a melted candle.

Nathan couldn’t help but picture such an image under the red glow of the inpracticum lab lights, the tenaciously trusting glances of the workers, and the ever-present scrutiny of the three in charge.

Still, the group assigned beneath him was skilled. He felt grateful to the state of the current job market for that, although not for much else. Once equipped with new supplies for the task, Workers A-F crafted with a rushed efficiency that surprised and pleased him. He felt his natural intellect and past education surfacing from a half planetcycle’s disuse, barely keeping up with the flying fingers, tools, and computer-generated figures before him.

A lesser man might have recoiled from the challenge. A lesser man might have considered leaving the room at the first sign of a dark, enclosed space and the expectation of impossibility. Nathan Reed was never a lesser man.

“Set your matrix, and prepare to relocate,” he announced after a half-tick. All but E were finished; E close enough to move within a jiff. Five expectant, redlit faces lifted to his, joined by the sixth after a pause. “You will move across and up, with the exception of the back position,” he said. Raising his voice for the benefit of his judges, he continued, “When directed, A will move to B, B to C, C to D, D to E, E to F, and F down to A. The success of your creation will be judged by the one who comes after you.”

He stopped to allow them to think on this. Not wishing to obliterate a necessary amount of teamwork, he added, “The ease and exactness with which you craft your portion will result in six working samples within the same space that mediocre teams make only one.”

The rotating model of a dermal matrix floated above the front of the room. Nathan stepped below it. Still holding the tablet Stone had given him at Caill’s direction, Nathan swiped the display to show the next step. Colored demonstrations of cell and vessel integration replaced the first step over his head. “Are there any unfamiliar with this process?”

His gaze locked briefly with each worker. Each face returned a similar expression of cool experience, though A and E also glanced at the large display or at Caill. He made a mental note to watch D’s reaction to E’s work after the switch. One faulty cog would make for complete failure, but he knew no better way to expose a trap set for new applicants.

“If your current matrix is set, rise and move to where you were directed.”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XLII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XLIV.

Skinwalkers, XLII

Nathan needed only a brief read-through to learn the basics of his task, though he knew he’d have to return to the screen for specific biological terms. One didn’t naturally memorize references such as dermal fibroblasts as easily as collagen bundles, after all.

He also knew he could not work with a team from the center of a stage. Determined, he walked to the nearest workstation on his left. “I am Nathan Reed. What is your name and skill set relevant to dermal bioengineering?”

The worker stole a look at the three executives before answering. “I guess I can go by A.” Her voice reminded Nathan of a balloon he’d played with once as a child, one that had developed a leak. “I have many skills but I’m tasked with matrix prep -preparations.”

Nathan nodded. “Thank you.” He moved to the next desk on the right. “Are you assigned as ‘B,’ then?” This worker nodded, her ponytail bouncing with the movement. “And what is your task?”

Calm and collected but barely audible, B said, “For this ‘cycle, cell and vessel ingrowth.”

Nodding and thanking B, Nathan moved to the next worker. He turned out to be D; the person to his left was C. Nathan thereby learned that each worker was an assembly-line step in a basic synthdermal construction.

With the exception of a few disagreeable glares aimed his direction, Caill and her associates kept to their position of observation during his interviews. He wasn’t certain they would maintain this silence with his next announcement.

Returning to the stage at front, he stated, “Our inpracticum is simple, given the advanced skills and knowledge that you all clearly possess.” He allowed the praise to sink in for a jiff and a half before dropping his bombshell. “Therefore, and to avoid waste and boredom, we will be addressing the assignment in a different manner.”

He tapped at the tablet screen, expanding the first step. Grasping the space just above the surface, he pantomimed pulling then flicking into the air above and behind his person. The image complied. Three-dimensional models of dermal matrices floated where all could read them. “Is there a technician here who does not know how to construct a matrix?”

No one raised a hand nor spoke aloud. A few tugged at an ear or scratched at a cheek. Most looked around to see what the others might do; particularly, the suited ‘others’ who were usually in charge.

“Excellent,” Nathan said, in his best managerial tone. “Then, we will all be doing the first assignment. Synchronously.”

“N. Reed!” Caill began, “I do not-”

“Furthermore,” he continued without interruption, “When that step is complete, you will move to the side or down and work on your neighbor’s matrix when we begin cell and vessel construction.”

The workers were very intelligent and skilled persons. They blinked back at him in a bit of a shock.

“Any questions from those who will be working?” If Nathan had thought Caill appeared diabolical in the redlight, he would have appreciated seeing his face just then. A protest had been forming on Caill’s lips before she caught his look. He saw her intended censure; saw, with satisfaction, its retraction.

“Excellent,” he repeated. “Then, we begin.”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XLI.
Read to Skinwalkers, XLIII.

Skinwalkers, XLI

Nathan mentally cursed the Suspension Drops as he stood in the newly-formed dark. Despite the redlight influence, he could not see anything.

“N. Reed?” Pul asked with concern.

“A moment.”

Nathan used his reprieve to squint, blink, and peer around. Black nothing resolved into red bits. The red bits became various light sources. Those red sources reflected from equipment on desks and the expectant faces of a handful of seated laboratory workers.

Turning to the eerie face of Pul at his shoulder, Nathan announced, “I am ready.”

“Excellent,” answered the voice of Caill. “We’ve already lost time waiting for your arrival.”

Tracing the sound of her strident voice, Nathan found the executive standing just a few paces beyond him and Pul at the front of the room. She was scowling, her features appearing more demonlike than usual in the crimson ambiance. “Then, by all means, outline the inpracticum,” Nathan responded, mildly.

Caill scowled further, he thought. Straightening pose and lifting chin, she complied. “This is one team of research adherents. They represent who you might be working with if assigned.” She paced, a nervous gesture. “You are to lead them through a randomly-assigned task provided by Stone.”

“Stone?”

“Here,” the succinct executive provided. Nathan turned his body to view a back corner of the room. Stone did not look as sinister as his female colleague in the redness; his masculine features instead gave the impression of a face chiseled in a mountainside. He strode forward and handed a tablet to Nathan.

Without even glancing at the display, Nathan accepted the tablet and marched to where Caill awaited. “If you don’t mind,” he said, almost deferentially. She moved, stepping down to stand warily beside Pul and Stone.

“Now,” Nathan said, addressing his new team, “I am Nathan Reed. We will be working together this inpracticum and for many cycles henceforward.” He ignored an intake of exclamation from Caill. “Let us see what we will accomplish.”

Nathan fought the internal anxiety of the small space, the stares of so many strangers, and the challenge of whatever his assignment might be. To the view of his expectant audience, however, he was confidence and control.

Glancing down, he read the tablet’s instructions. His wristwatch beeped; it was time to get started.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XL.
Read to Skinwalkers, XLII.

Heavenly Upheaval

ancient-architecture-art-164324 (1)

Miniscule man, pleading    up    up     up
To heaven’s crying firmament;
Sobbing down cemented sides
Of the citadels of shadowed faith.

No comfort here, outside halls of hell
Topped by stone-shaped demons;
Leering, spouting speakers are they,
Grotesquely grinning a gurg’ling flow.

Their curling tongues lick sewer lies
That wash no sin, only pointed horns;
Artistic expressions of monsters
Spitting heaven’s waste   down    down     down.

Timid heaven-bound thoughts falter,
Deluged in gargoyle vomit:
Mocking faith-dead mental misery
With beast-retched waste water words.

 

In response to The Literati Mafia.

Skinwalkers, X

The name elicited an intake of breath from Pul, a twitch from Caill, and a frowning swallow from the ever-serious Stone. Nathan knew the shame all those in the grafting industry felt upon hearing the name, yet also knew the power given those who spoke the truth without fear.

Again, his comm projected a lighted image. In fact, it began spanning through a few, pausing for about a microtick on each. The first was one Nathan had lifted from his alma mater’s netsite: a gleaming laboratory of metallic surfaces, transparent suspension tanks, and LAD-illuminated work stations.

“As noted on my jiǎnlì, formal training in this area was conducted through SciTecMed: the top training facility nearest my area.” He felt his tone crack slightly, but hoped his audience was not so perceptive. Clearing his throat to cover, he continued, “I studied under the same director who initially founded Skinwalkers.”

The three executives grew more serious, but did not repeat their initial, surprised reactions.

As his comm moved on, so did Nathan. A stock anatomy illustration hung in the space between them, rotating artistically. “As such, we acquired the latest research on grafting.” He paused; added, “Beneficial and detrimental.”

He initiated the switch to the third picture, which was his own. He felt a slight emotional tug as blues and greens reflected from the windowed walls and executives’ faces. The scene was his research project, the one he had never finished. He knew Caill, Stone, and Pul would not have enough time to scrutinize all the elements captured in the image; that those elements simply made for an artistic representation of a live project.

“My personal studies were concerned with absolute biodermal fusion.” He thought he saw Caill pull away, though the movement may have been completely internal. Nathan filed away a mental note to examine later, at his leisure. Her associates seemed to draw closer, instead, as he spouted technological jargon to expound on his topic.

A chirping beep from the watch interrupted his concluding remarks. Again, they all jumped slightly. Now was Caill’s turn to ask, “Why do you still wear that thing?”

Nathan smiled his own executive smile. “Another time, perhaps.”

Her mouth closed reprovingly. Her eyes noted the point scored. Well, thought he, If you’re going to always attack, expect others to do so when you’re vulnerable.

Stone, of course, was unaffected by their little exchange. Pul seemed aware that Caill’s mood had worsened somewhat, as he tactfully said, “For whatever reason, it’s helpful to note that our time is spent.” He rose, followed closely by the others, and extended a hand.

Nathan followed their example, but paused at the friendly gesture. Slowly, keeping his eyes on Pul’s honest face, he reached his right hand out and accepted the firm handshake.

He saw Caill bend to retrieve the comm, and moved to quickly intercept. “Thank you,” he told her, sternly, as he deactivated the feed and pocketed it.

They all straightened in an executive seriousness, sizing each other up. Nathan thrilled, internally, at the shift in expressions and overall mood of the room. He knew they not only saw the man he claimed to be, but accepted him.

Stone nodded at Nathan; said, “We’ll notify you of results.”

Nathan kept his face straight as he returned the nod. First Stone, then Pul, and lastly Caill turned from him and exited through the very panel they had entered. The outside work area seemed overbright compared to their muted meeting room, especially with the additional human movement and accompanying energy.

He followed the three suited backs again, in a reverse order of their original entry path. Stations to the left and right formed a flashing hallway back to a plant-lined wall and transparent double doors. The odd podium and blank wall of the lift lay beyond. His interviewers stopped and turned to face him once again.

Holding her hands behind her, Caill attempted a smile. The gesture lifted her lips above the definition of a frown, but did little else to her habitually crafty expression. “N. Reed,” she stated. He inclined his head marginally; she stared for a bit, then walked back the way they had come.

Nathan turned to face Stone, whose acknowledging gesture indicated a predominant feeling of respect. He, too, returned back to the work area.

Pul was nearly grinning. The man almost put his right arm on Nathan’s shoulder, to guide him, as he walked forward and pushed against the doors with his left. They entered the lift area together, whereat Pul ran his own comm against an unobtrusive panel behind a convenient fern of some variety. The wall opened, lightly chiming as it did so.

Nathan looked at Pul one last time as he entered the lift, and nearly stumbled at the plethora of emotions within the man’s eyes. “Goodbye, Nathan. It’s been a pleasure,” Pul said, and meant it.

The reflective side slid across his view, leaving Nathan with only his own grafted face and surprised eyes to look at.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, IX.
Read to Skinwalkers, XI.

Feeling lost? Go back to the very beginning with Skinwalkers, I.